With Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow, The Skygreen Leopards expand on their strange pastoral folk-pop and enter center stage as one of the most unique voices in the new folk movement. The Skygreen Leopards are Donovan Quinn (Verdure) and Glenn Donaldson (Thuja, Blithe Sons, Franciscan Hobbies, Birdtree, Ivytree, etc.). Formed in 2001, Quinn and Donaldson met while responding to a cryptic ad in the paper looking for Lumberjack players (little wooden dancing men you play on a board for percussion and visual interest). After being bested by an Appalachian man, Donovan and Glenn began studying the stars together where Glenn, while tracing his finger along Orion, said, "Donovan, we are the Skygreen Leopards", and so they were.
The Skygreen Leopards originate from the Bay Area-based Jewelled Antler forest of bands. Donaldson co-founded the Jewelled Antler label in 1999, which has since released over 25 CD-R's ranging from straight field recordings & outdoor improv-folk to noise & fractured pop music. The Skygreen Leopards are without a doubt the most structured and accessible of these projects. Much of the Jewelled Antler music is recorded live outdoors on mini-discs & boomboxes while the Skygreen Leopards primarily focus on a surreal form of multi-layered folk-pop recorded on an old reel-to-reel housed in a moldy trailer on the back of a horse ranch. 12-string guitars, banjos, dulcimers, Jew's harps, organs, maracas, mandolins, harmonicas, ocarinas & reed flutes harmonize with the field-recorded songs of birds, barnyard animals & insects. This hedge of sounds is the backdrop for Quinn & Donaldson's mythological rants & hazy melodies.
The Union of a Man and a Woman are Neil Campbell, John Harouff and Kurt Beals, three high school kids from Stauntonä Virginia, who have been playing together since the age of twelve. Their tools of the trade are squealing, static-y guitars, a barely legal batch of broken cymbals contained in a little red wagon, the Millenium Falcon of sound systems and shear, youthful bravado. With them, they bring back all the best elements of the convergence of art-rock and punk in the eighties, borrowing as much from artists like the Dead C and Glenn Branca's army of noise guitarists as they do from more "socially important" and vital bands like Fugazi and Big Black. Yes, "there's a bomb in that baby carriage," and it is the Union of a Man and a Woman. Their non-negotiable brand of transcendent noise will convert you on the spot."Cutting its teeth on rock theoreticians like Bastro and Don Caballero, the trio has created a fully-formed machine capable of a wide range of post-punk athleticism, allowing a jarring mix of tight starts and stops, giant walls of sound and studied experimentalism to somehow coexist within the span of a single song. What's more impressive is that THE SOUND OF... was recorded live in the studio with only the vocals overdubbed. Keep an eye on these three -- they may end up rocket scientists by the time they hit their mid-20's."-- Tad Hendrickson, CMJ
Saturday Night, the first proper solo album from Tim Darcy (Ought), comes from one of those crossroads-type moments in life where one has to walk to the edge before knowing which way to proceed. Each track is woven to the next in a winding, complex journey through a charged, continuous present. There are love/love lost songs like the standout, almost-New Wave "Still Waking Up" in which a Smiths-esque melody builds upon an underbrush that recalls 60s AM pop and country. Darcy's unmistakable, commanding voice and lyrical phrasing are, as they are in Ought, an instrument here: vital to the entire affair. There's a line in "Tall Glass of Water," the album's Velvet Underground-nodding opening track, where Darcy asks himself a rhetorical question: "if at the end of the river, there is more river, would you dare to swim again?" He barely pauses before the answer: "Yes, surely I will stay, and I am not afraid. I went under once, I'll go under once again." That river shows up again and again in the lyrics of Saturday Night. It's about how wonderful it can be to feel in touch with that inner current. It's about how good it feels to make art, and how terrifying; how you don't always get to choose whether you're swimming or drowning as we grow and move through life, just that you're going to keep diving in. That's the impulse that links all the songs on Saturday Night, makes them glow.
For the last decade, Tim Heidecker (along with his comedy partner Eric Wareheim) has proven to be one of our cult-comedy greats with his Adult Swim series "Tim & Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!" and "Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories." He's starred in indie films and played sold out stand-up sets around the world.
But who is Tim Heidecker? Is he a real man with all the regular feels? Well, yes, of course he is. He resides on a hill in Glendale, CA, up to his armpits in diapers, bills, his mortgage, in the workaday life of a writer. It's this pedestrian side of his life from which Heidecker pulls the fodder for the aptly titled In Glendale, his first earnest collection of songwriting under his full name.
In Glendale shows Heidecker shifting deftly from the mundane to the idiosyncratic; from the sentimental to the caustic; from the earnest to the humorous. His knack for crafting catchy tunes amid curious subject matter pops up in spades across In Glendale. "Ghost In My Bed" is a lovely little number about cutting off someone's head, sticking it in a plastic bag and burying it beneath the Hollywood sign.
After an album's worth of songs about Hollywood murder fantasies, diaper changes and even a cameo from director David Gordon Green, you're left desperately trying to wipe the smile off your face.
It's Trevor Sensor's voice you notice first. A deep bubbling black tar pit of a sound, it's a voice whose unique timbre resonates far beyond the constraints of the songwriting format. It demands the listener reaches for a new vocabulary.
The 23 year old's debut album Andy Warhol's Dream is part of a literate folk lineage that runs from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan through Tom Waits and onto the likes of Bon Iver, Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens today. It’s an unflinching honest album, transcendent in its exploration of self and sonically a collision between the classic and the forward-thinking.
Sensor's debut EP for the label, 'Texas Girls and Jesus Christ', was written on a borrowed acoustic guitar and took him out into the world. 2016 saw him tour Europe before hitting the road in the US for tours with Foy Vance and The Staves.
Andy Warhol's Dream was recorded to tape at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio and produced by both Jonathan Rado of Foxygen (The Lemon Twigs, Whitney) and songwriter/producer Richard Swift (Damien Jurado, Foxygen). His backing band featured members of Whitney.
On these 11 songs Sensor doesn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as flings it out in the darkness of the front rows that sit beyond the glare of the single blinding spotlight. This is the sound of one man’s soul laid bare, facing life head on.
While recording Unknown Mortal Orchestra's latest release, Sex & Food, Ruban Nielson, his longtime collaborator Jacob Portrait and his brother Kody Nielson, found themselves in the Vietnamese city of Hanoi playing and recording with local musicians at Phu Sa Studios. The studio, normally used for traditional Vietnamese music, found the band jamming on sessions dubbed IC-01 Hanoi: exploring the outer edges of the band's influences in Jazz, Fusion and the avant-garde. The musicians pitched in with ____ and Ruban and Kody's father ___, a Jazz musician in his own right, helped lay down the saxophone lines heard throughout. At its core Hanoi is a record of exploration, finding its closest antecedent in Miles Davis' experimental On The Corner – itself a record full of nods toward avant-garde composers and Jazz outsiders alike. Hanoi finds Ruban amplifying and stretching out on lead guitar, with a blown-out and wandering fuzz tone that slinks throughout the sessions. Kody and Jacob match Ruban's melodic diversions with aplomb, mining their talents to finding as easy a role in the fusion of funk as they do in the more ambient and abstract tangents on Hanoi.
Where are we headed? What are we consuming, how is it affecting us, and why does everything feel so bad and weird sometimes? These are some of the questions posed on Ruban Nielson's fourth album as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sex & Food. Recorded in a variety of locales from Seoul and Hanoi to Reykjavik, Mexico City, and Auckland, Sex & Food is a practical musical travelogue, with local musicians from the countries that Neilson and his band visited pitching in throughout.
Sex & Food is the most eclectic and expansive Unknown Mortal Orchestra release yet, from the light-footed R&B of "Hunnybee" to the stomping flange of "Major League Chemicals." "If You’re Going to Break Yourself" and "Not in Love We're Just High" chronicle the effects of drugs and addiction on personal relationships, while the lyrics "Ministry of Alienation" drip with modern-day paranoia like the silvery guitar tones that jewel the song's structure.
The modern world, and all the thorny complications that come with living in it, loomed large on Ruban's mind while making Sex & Food. Though he's not afraid to get topical throughout, as evidenced on the surprisingly boisterous "American Guilt" or the roomy-disco medication-meditation "Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays".
A statement of selflessness, to be sure-but make no mistake: Sex & Food reaffirms the vitality of Ruban's voice in today’s musical landscape.
The threads of our past never unravel, they hover like invisible webs, occasionally glistening due to a sly angle of the sun. On Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson reflects on relationships: airy, humid longing, loss, the geometry of desire that occurs when three people align. Where Nielson addressed the pain of being alone on II, Multi-Love takes on the complications of being together.
Multi-Love adds dimensions to the band's already kaleidoscopic approach, with Nielson exploring a newfound appreciation for synthesizers. The new songs channel the spirit of psych innovators without ignoring the last 40 years of music, forming a flowing, cohesive whole that reflects restless creativity. Cosmic escapes and disco rhythms speak to developing new vocabulary, while Nielson's vocals reach powerful new heights. "It felt good to be rebelling against the typical view of what an artist is today, a curator," he says. "It's more about being someone who makes things happen in concrete ways. Building old synthesizers and bringing them back to life, creating sounds that aren't quite like anyone else's. I think that’s much more subversive."
While legions of artists show fidelity to the roots of psychedelia, Unknown Mortal Orchestra shares the rare quality that makes the genre's touchstones so vital: constant exploration.
II builds on the break-beat, junk-shop charm the 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Ruban Nielson came to be renowned for following Unknown Mortal Orchestra's self-titled 2011 debut, and signals the solidification of the band's position as an endlessly intriguing, brave psychedelic band. UMO is unafraid to dig deeper than the rest to lock into their intoxicating, opiate groove and bring rock’n’roll’s exaggerated myths to life. Written during a punishing, debauched touring schedule during which Nielson feared for both his sanity and health, II illustrates the emotional turmoil of life on the road, painting surrealist, cartoonish portraits of loneliness, love and despair.
It’s been four years since the first Volcano Choir album, Unmap, provided a glimpse into the collaborative mindset between a singer and a band that inspired him. Ideas were minted, written at a distance and realized in the studio; edges sanded back and flaps tucked in, the craftsmanship of the endeavor bearing evidence of the craft itself, and the technology used to assemble it. Unmap strove to find strands of life between the ones and zeroes - a carefully constructive narrative that showed the listener through its darkest passages like a tour guide leading their wards through a cave, with nothing but a slack length of rope and the senses of sound and touch. Just as importantly, it brought these people together, setting an expectation: be your own band. Achieve transference. Learn how to play these songs in the live setting. Tour Japan. Do some dates in America. Pull the life from the record and share it with tiny segments of the world.Repave brings Volcano Choir into sharp focus. The glitch-laden, cautious presentation of the band’s previous work serves as points of both reference and departure across these eight songs, the product of growing conviction and trust, of a fully-operational rock band, gifted in shading and nuance, and rumbling with power. It’s the sound of the creative process as it evolves and ultimately explodes, the seamless interleaving of electronic and acoustic/amplified instruments, multithreaded with the timbre and technology of the human voice as it enters and exits the equation. Moreover, Repave is the sound of confident musicians extending their reach to anthemic peaks and pulling back to reveal moments of real vulnerability, sure enough of themselves to let them stand on their own.
If Repave reminds you of other kinds of records from the past decade or so, it’s done so on the bonds between the members of Volcano Choir, how their friendships were fortified over the years-long process of writing and recording these songs. There is an openness to this work that won’t be taken for granted – real, moving tales of change, sadness, loss and truth grace the wordplay of these tracks, an account of life between the fringes of poetry and reality. With each verse you can sense that someone, somewhere is listening to this music and getting stronger, feeling better, learning to open up their soul.
Volcano Choir is Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Matthew Skemp, Daniel Spack, Justin Vernon and Thomas Wincek
Volcano Choir is an assembly of Wisconsinites Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Jim Schoenecker, Daniel Spack, Justin Vernon, and Thomas Wincek. You might find these old friends also frequenting records and stages under different monikers, Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver. The collaboration predates the meteoric rise of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project, with original songwriting dating back to the summer of 2005, right around the time the Bees first toured with Vernon's previous band DeYarmond Edison.
While entirely a studio record, the collection doesn't suffer from the overburdens of a digital pile up or over-thinking. Rather it breathes and convulses in equal measure, radiating an inherent dynamism found only in the voluntary bondage of intimacy. With influences ranging from David Sylvian and Steve Reich to Mahalia Jackson and Tom Waits, it might be more accurate to say the group's influence is music itself. You can hear it in the care and real love generously applied to each moment of Unmap. With the vibe of some intimate backwoods gospel, plus a spirit of patience and thoughtful repetition, the music of Volcano Choir is as dynamic as it is lovely.
Unmap ultimately came together over a weekend in November 2008 in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, at Justin and Nate Vernon's recording studio. And while it is at its heart a record about the allure of being with people you need and making something with them, it is also a document created by musicians with rare gifts getting together to exorcise their ideas about beauty. This scaffolding of loops and off grid tempos for choral style vocals offers a state of continual surprise, call it unexpectation.
Unmap marks the debut full-length from Volcano Choir, the collaboration between Collections of Colonies of Bees and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Wilderness's third full-length album entitled "(k)no(w)here" was conceived as one musical piece, and the impetus for this composition came from an invitation to collaborate with renowned visual artist Charles Long at Long's exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in Spring of 2008. The eight identifiable parts of "(k)no(w)here" are not readily separated from each other, such is the flow from and into each part. Created in ways different than the previous Wilderness self-titled album (2005) and the Wilderness "Vessel States" album (2006), "(k)no(w)here" still retains the Wilderness sound, with some evolution. On the new album, James Johnson is sometimes joined vocally by Colin McCann (aka The Lord Dog Bird, whose self-titled debut was released by Jagjaguwar in the Summer of 2008). And, as on previous albums, McCann performs on guitar, Brian Gossman on bass, and William Goode on drums, but the resulting community of all these parts comes across as more dynamic, and the perceived space they inhabit seems more vast.
Wilderness is an unconventional band from Baltimore, Maryland, whose apparent musical pedigree stems from the likes of the Fall, This Heat, Savage Republic, Public Image Limited and Joy Division - without sounding like any of them -, and whose music is every bit as spiritual as it is visceral, as nuanced as it is overt, and as communal and all-embracing as it is culturally alienating and nihilistic. Embodied most recently in their second full-length record called Vessel States, the music-art of Wilderness attempts to glide above definitions or categorizations, especially those that are self-serving or manipulative. Yet the band is fully aware that striving for this kind of purity is most likely futile. Every human expression builds on or is connected to previous expressions, and the music of Wilderness will be packaged, commodified and connected to other forms of things beyond their understanding or control. This tension between the intended and the actual, and the awareness that this tension exists, may best sum up what Wilderness is all about.
This quartet’s self-titled debut conjures images of Metal Box-era Johnny Lydon fronting Savage Republic or Explosions in the Sky. Cascading guitars build into the most beautiful pop epiphanies, as though the Edge were leading a modern day Popol Vuh up the mountain before us. Wilderness’ debut is the culmination of three years steady work by four dear friends. Their songs touch on numerous themes like living through the end of capitalism, the beauty inherent in beauty, staring at the sky, listening to the woods, feeling the landfills topple and swell, vibrations in the market place, collective brain harvesting and the absolute falling all around the opinionated as the opinionated fall all around the absolute. The record is about your perception. It is ultimately a celebration of life that serves as an impetus to stand in a place and aim music towards itself. The four human beings that comprise Wilderness have been making art and music, living and travelling together for over 10 years. They live and work in Baltimore, USA.
Ruins is Wolf People's new album, and its over-riding theme is that of nature reclaiming the land. The transcendence of life over politics, plants over people. It asks: where are we going and what comes next? If culture is history's narration, then Wolf People are custodians and conduits; electrified sages, if you will. Through them runs a time-line of a nation rising from bloody glory to existentialist confusion. Yet within Ruins, their album proper, lies a spirit of hope too, it is a reminder that society is no match for the mighty power of music and nature working in perfect symbiosis. Wolf People are time travellers, their tools mythology, history, hauntology, big riffs, bigger beats, electricity. Recorded in Devon, Isle Of Wight and London, Ruins is their most direct and instinctive work yet, simultaneously reaching back into a fecund past to tell us who we are today, while harnessing the power of modern technology and ideas to ponder unknown futures. Lyrically Ruins imagines how the planet might appear when society has finally fallen to dust and ash, and the creeping vines and nettles have reclaimed the land. It is the product of letting go of conceit, contrivance and, indeed, a career plan. Influences upon Ruins come in all shapes, size, contours and hues: the discovery of proto Sabbath/Zeppelin Scottish band Iron Claw, the lesser known landscapes of rural Bedfordshire, backstage Taekwondo stretches, Scandinavian psychedelia, fleeting rural epiphanies, Dungen, Trees, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, a group holiday on a remote Finnish island, and Jagjaguwar flipping out after seeing them play in Bloomington, Indiana and insisting it was time they made their Back In Black...
Recorded in an isolated house in the Yorkshire Dales, Fain is the sound of a band at the peak of their creative powers. It’s an honest and natural album that allows its stories and melodies to breathe. The album draws on more traditional English and Scottish folk melodies than anything they’ve done before, but not straying from the drop-out fuzz-rock route they’ve made their own.
Tidings is the first dark and frenzied offering from London's Wolf People — an alchemistic compendium of English classic rock that has been doused in wine, its pages left red-stained, blurred and melded in the most interesting ways. The quartet — and first UK rock band to join the Jagjaguwar inner circle — is eager to stress that Tidings is not a proper album per se. Collected from recordings made by Jack Sharp in Bedford, England between 2005 and 2007 (and mostly before the band as it exists now was formed), Tidings is wild with tape hiss, feedback and background noise — a fecund broth of sounds competing for the listener's attention. Stitched together in a style reminiscent of Faust or early Mothers Of Invention, the songs lay nestled in snatches of field recordings, winding tapes, squealing feedback, studio outtakes and the voices of dead relatives. The tunes themselves are full of hissing guitars, distorted blues harmonica, acid rock, mystical flutes and crackling tape, often based on updated versions of classic blues structures and half-remembered English folk songs. These recordings form the prehistory of a band that have recently garnered a reputation for blistering live performances around the UK. Their sound has evolved to include the diverse influences and musicianship of Jack's three colleagues and, as such, Tidings serves as index of possibilities.
Steeple is the first album proper from Wolf People and represents the emergence of a fully fledged band from the fragmented, haunted bedroom meanderings of their Tidings singles compilation, released earlier this year. Recorded in a converted chicken barn on the grounds of a 17th century Welsh mansion, Steeple takes on a heavier sound while maintaining the arabesque electric guitars, groove-laden drums and ethereal vocals that characterized its predecessor.
Cheerfully aware of the English rock band cliché of “getting it together in the country," the quartet did it anyway, inspired by the rural isolation of West Wales to conjure shifting rhythms, entrancing folksong and smoke-fogged, riff-stoked jams. Steeple captures a band in metamorphosis, bridging frontman Jack Sharp’s earlier solo efforts and the speaker-shearing attack developed in concert over the past four years. Now an accomplished live unit, the quartet have shared stages with the likes of The Besnard Lakes, Dinosaur Jr, Dungen, Endless Boogie, Lightning Dust and Tinariwen.
While the bulk of recording took place in Wales, the remainder was undertaken during post-day job, late night sessions in Sharp’s bedroom studio. The results are both more coherent and nuanced than previous outings, with Sharp’s keen ear for a tune complemented by heady instrumental passages that veer between dreamlike traditional melodies and feedback onslaughts. Proud of their heritage, both musical and cultural, Wolf People's vision faithfully reflects the myriad environments the group's members move between — the British countryside and various cities (Bedford, London and North Yorkshire) — while offering a universally appreciable set of songs for this age or any other. Wolf People are Jack Sharp, Joe Hollick, Dan Davies and Tom Watt.
On their debut self-titled album, Women embraced sonic brashness that deeper examination revealed to be tinted with sly pop melody. With their second album "Public Strain", the band has honed a sound truthful to that reverb drenched noise while allowing the pop sensibilities to surface into clearer focus.
This exact balance of delicate and dense is a pervasive thread throughout the album, reflecting the contradiction of the band's environment buried in urban sprawl framed by prairie landscape. Whether twisting through the urgent krautrock of "Locust Valley", an exercise of harmony through simplicity, or climaxing with the bittersweet melody of "Eyesore", the album somehow builds luminous contrast out of a palette of grays.
Sometimes light and spacious, at other times eerie and dense with an ominous weight, this self titled album touches upon Velvet Underground, Swell Maps or This Heat while not really having any obvious precursors - a lo-fi masterpiece cloaked in layers of vibrato and guitar wash.