The shimmering sound of Tramp both defies and illuminates the unsteadiness of a life in flux. During the 14 months of scattered recording sessions, Sharon Van Etten was without a home - crashing with friends and spreading out her possessions between various locations. The only constant during this time was when Van Etten returned to the garage studio of The National’s Aaron Dessner.
The resulting album is an assured and strident one, and Tramp showcases an artist in control of her powers, incorporating vivid arrangements and instrumentation into the songwriting. It is a startling collection, filled with as much defiant rock as pious, minimal beauty. There are declarative hymns and remarkably sultry numbers. Tramp features many stupendous guests, as well, including Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Julianna Barwick, and Beirut’s Zach Condon, and Dessner himself.
For Simon Joyner's tenth proper album, he's joined by his working Omaha band, the Fallen Men. What they've created is a dark, rock-and-roll, beginning or ending of an era, seven leaf catalogue of people (skeletons) and their troubles (blues). Sounding like Doug Yule-era Velvet Underground, Dylan with the Band (or is it Neil Young and Crazy Horse?), and Sister Lovers damaged Big Star, this is unlike any other Simon Joyner record.
The song cycle begins with a cobblestone street inviting a man in an open window to splash the bricks below, to the cadence of It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), and ends with a man walking down the street waiting for the rain to wash him clean. In between is all the news fit to sing. Joyner knows it takes a worried man to sing a worried song and the songs here are certainly worried, peopled by bruised lives, but make no mistake, this is not hopeless music
The early 90’s lo-fi explosion coincided with and was precipitated by the emergence of hundreds of small independent tape labels, many of which onlyexisted long enough to release one compilation. It was during this heyday that Simon Joyner contributed some of his finest material to various intrinsicallylimited edition releases. Beautiful Losers: Singles and Compilation Tracks 1994-1999 collects all such compilation appearances and the few singlesmade during these years, including the perennial favorite “One for the Catholic Girls” and “Burn Rubber”, recently covered by Bright Eyes.This was such a prolific period for Joyner that he usually contributed his best songs of the moment to whoever requested a track, instead of reservingthem for his proper albums. You’ll find here varying degrees of sound quality and various approaches to songs, from solo acoustic to full band, but whatties the collection together is the strength of the material. This isn’t filler. The same themes that haunt his large scale work are explored here: death, love,the politics of time. Fans of Joyner’s albums can now stop searching for the impossible to find cassettes and out of print 7” records.We’ve compiledeverything here, even the songs Simon would rather forget. For those unfamiliar with Simon Joyner’s music, this compilation is a good place to start as itserves in the same capacity as the original compilations and 7” records, to introduce the ambivalent audience to the ambitious songwriter.
In over a decade of artistic exploration, Simon Joyner has never been content to make the same record twice. Lost With The Lights On is Joyner’s ninth album, and it is a sprawling document in the grand tradition of the post-Dylan singer-songwriter epic. It begins with the narrator declaring “I got sick in the rain on some holy day, dreaming of St. Teresa and I lost all your pills after they spilled out of the bottle into my possible futures.” Joyner is a benevolent guide and he wants to see us succeed, so he’s got to show us all the burned out basements and blown bridges and the traps along the way so we know how to survive them when they come for us, and they always come for us. By the end of the album, the narrator of “Forgotten Blues” can’t see out his window, he can only see his reflection in it. Simon Joyner was born in New Orleans and ended up some time later in Omaha, Nebraska where he has lived for the last two decades, writing and making music. He is an influential local hero with a devoted international following. “Simon Joyner, in one huge, gorgeous gesture, singledhandedly takes American song into his hands and reshapes it into a previously unimaginable creature, a gorgeous thing that lives and breathes on the floor in front of your stereo speakers, and that has eyes into which you can and will look for hours on end, seeing in them things you always wanted to see but had never had the courage to look at directly.” - John Darnielle, Puncture
Originally released in 1997 and having sat in storage unit purgatory (growing finer) for the greater part of a decade, Jagjaguwar proudly unearths and re-distributes this visceral British take on American outdoor spirituality.
"VEIL (For Greg) is a carousel ride inside a digital rock tumbler, a battle between gnomes and mercury termites for a maple tree's soul, and the reflection of a pile of Moog turtles in a bathroom mirror's swamp sweat. Throbbing Gristle reimagined as zen garden desk accessory." — William Gass
Gracing the cover of Brooklyn band Small Black’s new record, a mysterious woman walks alone on the dunes at dusk, amid pockmarked sand. She's the subject of a found photo, one of many rescued with the warmth of a blow dryer and a fireplace, by singer Josh Hayden Kolenik after Hurricane Sandy flooded his family’s Long Island home. The faded image offers clues and invites viewers to construct their own narrative, one that escapes even the picture’s taker, Kolenik’s father. To put it simply, Best Blues is an album about loss, the specific loss of precious people in our lives, but also the loss of memories and the difficult fight to preserve them. “I spent months trying to scan all these images & letters, most covered with ocean dirt, and in doing so discovered what people often find in their family’s past: that they are a hell of a lot like those who’d come before,” says Kolenik. The chorus of standout “Boys Life” echoes this sentiment with the refrain “pictures of youth/picturing you,” over a track that itself was an old demo re-discovered by accident by the band, during a late night jam session at a cabin in Upstate NY. The compassion of the record collects itself in the soft repeating mantra-esque hook in "No One Wants It To Happen To You".
The group’s third full length release, written & recorded at their Brooklyn home studio, nicknamed 222, showcases a band still evolving, and embracing the unpredictable. Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums) have been recording, writing, and often living together, throughout the life of the band, establishing a closeness that has allowed them to achieve easy creativity and unspoken chemistry. After a year of recording, that band enlisted mixer Nicholas Vernhes (War on Drugs, Deerhunter) of Rare Book Room Studio to help complete the record.
Best Blues finds the band in their sweet spot: the smoky intersection of considered & vulnerable songwriting and loose, almost nonchalant ambience. The addition of piano flourishes, trumpet (Darby Cicci of The Antlers), hidden acoustic guitars and Kaede Ford’s ethereal vocals provide new dimensions to the band’s already expansive sonic palette. Cut-to-the-chase rippers “Back at Belle’s” & “Checkpoints” embody & build on the group’s signature gritty yet focused electronic sound. While the more pastoral tracks, such as “Between Leos,” & “XX Century,” skeletally based on recorded improvisations, find the band painting a more nuanced, assured aural portrait. The repeating of the line “twentieth century” on closer, “XX Century”, serves as a coda for the album, offering a simple summation of what Best Blues’ intent has been from the opening Casio stab: an attempt to re-examine the past, but also one to let it go.
The cover of Brooklyn-based Small Black's second LP, Limits of Desire, features a photo of a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, completely naked, divided by its triangular arc. They're close, but they can't get any closer. It's a moving depiction of connectivity and interaction in the 21st century and it serves as a sort of source code for the record.
Limits of Desire is Small Black's most accomplished album yet. It's a crystalline realization of a sound they've been building toward since their self-titled EP in 2009. Now a full-time four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion), the band have moved way beyond the hazy home recorded sound of their previous releases toward a full-fledged, but still self-produced, clear approach. Where 2010’s New Chain was a lesson in maximalist pop, Limits of Desire finds the band trimming their sound to the essentials, yet hitting new and unexpected heights with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the existing Small Black palette. Tonally the songs sweep and glide over lush keys, bolstered by lyrics that illustrate the semi-abstract moments of lost opportunities and misread signs, hinted at by the cover image. The title track whirls softly, and channels luminaries Tears for Fears and The Blue Nile, anchored by Pieczanski's punchy bass as Kolenik sings: "Other lives droned/ far from the grass where I lay/ each eye stared out the opposite way." As much as the record is about looking for deeper connections, it's also about avoiding real life, if only for a moment—getting out of your own head just long enough to calm down and find perspective.
“Free At Dawn” and “No Stranger” do what fans have come to love Small Black for, only better. They’re smart pop bangers tinged with a specific brand of melancholy that slowly build to night-affirming climaxes. While "Breathless” ups the tempo, over synth stabs, with lyrics that tackle apathy and uncertainty with catchy grace: "I'm standing in tomorrow's way/ future's fine/least it seems okay." It paints a concise portrait of a generation struggling with unlimited freedom and malaise.
The band builds on a rich history of synth pop by making a thoroughly modern album, on both the front and back end. One that seeks out cohesion, connection and calm in a world that won’t sit still. Limits of Desire doesn't attempt to provide any solutions, but coming to terms with not finding the answers feels infinitely more fruitful.
New Chain is the debut long-player from New York’s Small Black. The Brooklyn group have succeeded in melting together locked and popped drum-shudder, gauzy spirographic synths and subtly contagious, half-remembered melody into ebullient bursts of evocative, subliminal and thoroughly modern pop. The songs are equally informed by the rhythmic bounce and stylistic swagger of more left-leaning contemporary radio rap and R’n‘B as it is the submerged kaleidoscopic swirl of the early 4AD dream factory. Formed at the tail-end of 2008 as a bedroom recording project, Small Black first made waves with their eponymous debut EP.Throughout it, Small Black allowed their addictive, stay-gold hooks to unfurl themselves gradually over repeated listens. And now, slightly more immediate and polished than its predecessor, Small Black's new album New Chain remains a continuation of this contrasting ethos – a delirious smudging of the lines between melancholy and nostalgia, tension and celebration, unabashed pop music and experimentation. A thinker’s party record? A party-hardy thinker’s record? Not sure. All we know is that New Chain is one of the most involved, intriguing and effortlessly human collections of organic pop music you’re likely to hear this or any other year.
After months of thawing out in an uncle's attic, Small Black emerged with one of 2009’s catchiest debut releases. The Small Black EP, as it is called, melds strange beats, dreamy synths, tape hiss and laid-back melodies into pop jams. Teaming up with longtime collaborators Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin, the band then fleshed out their bedroom sound, combining both live and sampled drums, live bass, keyboards and samplers for their live performance.
Now 2010 sees Small Black teaming up with Jagjaguwar for a deluxe re-mastered release of their debut EP with two extra songs added, “Kings Of Animals” and “Baby Bird Pt. 2.”
Such gimmick-free sentimentality can often prove too difficult to finagle, but "Despicable Dogs" is a guaranteed soul-stirrer. -- Pitchfork (Best New Music)
South's self-titled debut is one part mood-music for the masses. For bookworms, it is an exegesis on the great ambient-rock moments of the 20th century. Some would call it the soundtrack to vacancy. Repetition has never been so substantial.Incorporating such things as tightly wound loops and arpeggiation into their music, South redefines these devices through songwriting and orchestration to arrive at something that is intricate but simplistic in tone. Aside from the sweeping sounds of the keyboard, everything is done organically. It is when other instruments are added and time signatures are layered that South's sound is discovered.South are three well-heeled souls from Richmond, Virginia: Patrick Phelan and Nathan Lambdin, the principle songwriters, and Tod Parkhill, who contributes drum parts. They are joined on-stage by a larger supporting cast which has grown with their music: most often Bryan Hoffa on bass, Jess Bittner on vibraphone, Peter Neff (a Pan American and Labradford contributor) on hammmered dulcimer, and either Via Nuon (Drunk, Bevel) or Rick Alverson (Drunk, Spokane) on keyboard.
Little Hours is the patient sheen of stillness after a short, violent burst of intention. The lingering, resonant decay of a nail being hammered into wood. A piano laden marriage of small hopes and quiet violence. In Church Hill, a borough of Richmond, Virginia, there is a small yellow cottage. Next to the cottage is an austere replica of a mid-nineteenth century, white Federal period house. The members of Spokane hand built the structure over the course of 2006 while recording and revising their first new album in four years, Little Hours. The record is both a document of and an aural parallel to that difficult, meticulous process. In the emotional vein of folk singer Jackson C. Frank with the textural emaciation of composers Zbigniew Preisner and Morton Feldman, the songs themselves are hinged on concepts of failure and stillborn ideas, on the conflicted process of building or birthing a cerebral image into the world. There are the echoes of insistent cats running through the skeletal frame of the house, pillaged, infant birds in their mouths, left half-dead at the foot of the hole where the stair would be. Little Hours is packaged in a vinyl sleeve with both record and CD inside, 50 of which are handmade and numbered. It features the core ensemble of 2003's Measurement, which MOJO magazine called "a uniquely enthralling treasure", along with contributions from members of Brooklyn's orchestral, minimalist band Gregor Samsa,
Spokane is not for people who want to belong to something. On Measurement, their fourth full-length, a shift emerges from the terse, melodic strings that have marked their previous recordings, to a sparser terrain occupied by long, empty spaces and tenuous ambiences. With the addition of Robert Donne (Labradford, Breadwinner, Cristal) on bass, Rick Alverson and Courtney Bowles reduce their songs to an unsentimental narrative, stripped of excesses, resisting the grandiose crescendo that has become so popular in thematic and orchestral music. On “Temporary Things” Alverson and Bowles hollowly imbue the phrase “Should we talk about something else” with an unsettling domestic familiarity. “Addition”, sung solely by Bowles, searches relentlessly for an accountable presence: “There’s something you’re not saying”. And “Protocol” evolves from dependable clockwork into a harrowing, indecipherable whine. In its subtlety and patience Measurement vacillates between the vulnerable and the cold, between resignation and meek defiance, ultimately assuming its own unique place of surety and quiet definition. On “Cities”, a couple laments “Oh Convention / The willing wait out on the lawn / I never wanted to be one / I never wanted to be one”. Undertaking the sort of fragile examination the “closed-space” novels of Samuel Beckett explored, Measurement takes the minutiae of daily life and magnifies it. Mixed by Brian Paulson (Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco). Recorded by R. Alverson and Bryan Hoffa.
Spokane's second full-length THE PROUD GRADUATES finds quietness abundant in the most unlikely places. Written and produced by Rick Alverson (former frontman for Virginia-based band Drunk), this record, like the CLOSE QUARTERS EP recently released by Spain's Acuarela Records, is a more dynamic expansion of the terse, melancholic and at times minimal compositions explored on last year's debut full-length LEISURE & OTHER SONGS.These eight songs are like visiting the rubble of a home that once held commotion and laughter. Coupling the spare and orchestral, the album draws in tone from influences as diverse as Simon and Garfunkel's PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY & THYME, Leonard Cohen's SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE, The Cure's FAITH and Galaxie 500's ON FIRE. According to one writer, "like Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, Alverson's lines trigger emotions in your consciousness with the lightest touch."Assisting Alverson in the studio and on the road is Courtney Bowles, who performs backing vocals throughout the record. Also contributing to the record are old and new collaborators, including violinist Karl Runge and ex-Drunk cohort Bill Russell. Recorded mostly at home in Richmond, Virginia, this record was mixed in Los Angeles by Rich Costey.
Not all sediment settles at the bottom of the river. Some dirt stays in the water and becomes dissolved and suspended in the big, shapeless ocean. LEISURE & OTHER SONGS, the debut Spokane full-length, examines this sort of sedimentary existence. Written by Rick Alverson, shortly following his return from Albany, New York, after a failed attempt to find a home in New England, this album is resonant with the inability of finding permanence anyplace but where one finds oneself already: bending over a sink, sitting in a chair to tie one's shoes, or nodding resignedly to greet a neighbor. Musically, it is a lush and uniquely-mixed tapestry, involving a large number of instruments and players. It evokes the songcraft of Drunk, of which Alverson is a founding member, if it were less collaborative and more singularly arranged. It is a very strong work that comes solely from the much harder school of songwriting which strives to commingle music and words without sacrificing either.Spokane is Rick Alverson's new "more solo" project. Having been the principal songwriter for Drunk in the course of their four full-length records and two EPs, Alverson has decided to explore a more personal vision with Spokane. He is touring domestically as Spokane this fall and will be performing with Drunk this winter when the group tours Europe and the U.K. LEISURE & OTHER SONGS was co-produced by Patrick Phelan, who also contributed instrumentation.
Sunset Rubdown was once the moniker under which Spencer Krug released low fidelity solo recordings. The project has long since evolved into a full band, and Dragonslayer is the third full-length recorded by the whole group. Besides Krug, it features the three musicians who originally signed on: Jordan Robson-Cramer on drums, guitar and keys, Michael Doerksen on guitar and bass, and Camilla Wynne Ingr on keys, percussion and vocals. And now, for the first time, newest member Mark Nicol can be heard on bass, drums, and percussion.
Sunset Rubdown's previous release on Jagjaguwar, Random Spirit Lover, was a studio-built album, in that much of it was written while recording (built up in separate layers, with almost all the vocals needing to be overdubbed). With the new album, the band wanted to try something completely different. It was a very conscious decision, and not a "natural progression." The result is an album that feels honest, natural, and straightforward. The musicianship is left in the open, unassisted by studio magic, and the songs are left to justify for themselves their own screwy pop-rock existence.
Dragonslayer was recorded in the fall of 2008. Sunset Rubdown hope that the true strength of this new album is a hidden complexity that emerges slowly from within the straight production and raw musicianship, and from what sounds at first to be an only slightly skewed approach to pop. They hope it's like that one friend of yours who looks unassuming and normal, but once you get to know him it's obvious he's basically crazy.
The woven lyrics and singular songwriting style heard in Sunset Rubdown invoke a mythological world, where magical narratives and tiny metaphors give shape to ordinary objects in the room; sometimes beautiful, sometimes beastly. The moniker was first born to bare the solo bedroom recordings of Spencer Krug, but has since evolved into a full-fledged band. Now enter Sunset Rubdown's third full-length record, "Random Spirit Lover", featuring twelve songs that bleed in and out of each other, mixing portents with theatrics, confusions with conversions. The dark glamour of the music beneath the half-baked revelations in rhyme creates a tone of high drama, blown-out and overt, but the stage is wild and the roles aren't clear, so the sincerity of the work and the spontaneity of the recordings can't help but shine through the formality of structure.
Jagjaguwar is proud to reintroduce the complete recordings of Supreme Dicks in the form of Breathing and Not Breathing, a four CD set that includes both of the band's studio albums, The Unexamined Life from 1993 and The Emotional Plague from 1996, along with 1994's Workingman's Dick, a collection of early archival recordings, and the 1996 EP This Is Not A Dick, which has been fleshed out with rare and unreleased tracks. Also available are 2xLP editions of The Unexamined Life and The Emotional Plague, neither of which has been previously released on vinyl.
Swan Lake is the musical group featuring celebrated songwriter-mystics Daniel Bejar (of Destroyer and New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (of Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade) and Carey Mercer (of Frog Eyes and Blackout Beach). While their debut album was a beautifully-weaved mash-up of their disparate song-writing styles, often with layer upon layer of various melodies and stylistics thrown into a collaborative cauldron to magical, and at times discordant effect, their second album Enemy Mine reflects a more stripped-down, more deliberate approach to collaboration. It's as if they really tried to just make nice songs together.
Swan Lake is the new band featuring Daniel Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) and Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes).
Beast Moans is their debut record featuring, among other things, beast moans, starling voices, cobra hi hats and arpeggiating pianos. The songs are great weaves, showcasing the famous and very distinctive songwriting styles of Bejar, Krug and Mercer. The sum is definitely greater than the parts, and at distinct points on the record a new "combined" style emerges that throws whole heaps of magic into the air, sounding like nothing else.
When the three "come together" (as if stuck in a sea-storm, in a sinking boat, forced to bail together), we first glean some grudging camaraderie. But, like rugged individualists after the storm, parting at dry crossroads, their work on Beast Moans can still be the sounds of each individual muttering under his breath, and not the chorus of exclamation and supplication to the raging maelstrom that is the hallmark of "collaboration". It's good either way.
Beast Moans was recorded in a summer cottage town in Canada, and in Victoria, in a house where Krug and Mercer are familiar with and Bejar feels comfortable enough. It was "self-produced."
Unique among their furrowed brow peers, The Besnard Lakes are unafraid to marry textured, questing headphone sonics to the honeyed pleasure of radio hits past: the rapture of My Bloody Valentine entwined with the romance of Fleetwood Mac. Imagine dreamy Beach House riding Led Zeppelin dynamics, with unabashedly androgynous vocal harmonies.
Channelling their obsessions with the paranormal as well as the dark arts, A Coliseum Complex Museum is populated by cryptozoological creatures (The Bray Road Beast, Golden Lion) while also luxuriating in natural phenomena and beauty (The Plain Moon, Nightingale). These themes are sincere yet good-humoured. The LP's title jokily refers to a landmark-heavy road sign spotted on tour in Texas, the varied emotional impulses within reflected by its environmentally warped artwork.
With Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, The Besnard Lakes create a distinct and dreamy headspace, an enigmatic and somehow familiar placelessness. It happens in such a way that both the close and casual listener find themselves immersed in the generous sonic vision, one moment as timeless as the next.
There is a war now. The message has been sent through short wave in code. The Besnard Lakes twisting chronicle, or fever dream, of spies, double agents, novelists and aspiring rock gods has turned violent. Loyalty, dishonor, love, hatred all seen through the eyes of two spies, fighting a war that may not be real. One follows the other as they receive coded messages and spread destruction.The city is burning, and it's to the benefit of music obsessives everywhere. Once again, the husband-and-wife duo of Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek has crafted a majestic, sprawling vision of guitar bombast and captivating pop experiments. With the aid of Besnard members Kevin Laing on drums and Richard White on guitar, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night is a dense, ambitious recording, experimenting, as always, with the studio as instrument.
The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night calls upon the influence of ELO and finer parts of the Alan Parsons Project in its orchestration. Still helped by the Ghost of Beach Boys Past, the album is more Dennis Wilson than Brian, and more Peter Green Fleetwood Mac than Lindsay Buckingham. The album is a dark bliss-out that folds the eerie guitar epics of the Montreal band's breakthrough into a wall of affected drones and atmospherics, but with a toughened immediacy and grit that gives the form a much-needed shove over the cliffs, making for a haunting, provocative swan dive into the crushing tide.
Volume I" is the debut album by the Besnard Lakes, that preceded their recent opus "The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse" which was released on Jagjaguwar in early 2007. "Volume I" was originally released in 2004, and, at the time, The Besnard Lakes were comprised only of husband-and-wife team Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. The Besnard Lakes have just recently become critical darlings, on the strength of their live performances throughout North America and Europe, as well as with their second full-length record "The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse", which quickly made it onto numerous and budding best-albums-of-the-year short-lists by a whole range of music-listening pedigree -- critics, casual and not-so-casual rock listeners, garden variety pop fans, and headphone junkies. Carrying the Breakglass label name, "Volume I" is distributed throughout the world with the help of Jagjaguwar.
Rich with Beach Boys style harmonies, Roy Orbison reverbs and orchestra, Pink Floyd's pacing and Freddy Mercury's falsetto, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse is a luxurious foray into sound and music. This is the second record by The Besnard Lakes, Montrealers by way of Western Canada. Their independently released previous record, Volume I, came out in 2004, and it was noticed by critics but was largely overlooked by the public at large. On both records, The Besnard Lakes have shown that they are masters of finely-honed experimental pop songs that invoke the eerie Lynchian setting as aided and abetted by the music of Julee Cruise. But, on The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse, the band throws into the mix a mad dash of Fleetwood Mac proportioned swagger and ambition. Not so incidentally, the Besnard Lakes have created a masterpiece that will resonate within all quarters, amongst critics, casual and not-so-casual rock listeners, garden variety pop fans and headphone junkies.