"That's the most intense fear and feeling - when you go to a show and you're actually scared," says Oliver Ackermann, guitarist and frontman of Brooklyn trio A Place To Bury Strangers.
"Or you can palpably feel the danger in the music," adds bassist Dion Lunadon, "Like it's going to fall apart at any moment and the players doing it are so in the moment they don't give a shit about anything else. They're just going for it. It's a gutter kinda vibe; everything about it is icky and evil and dangerous."
The same could be said the band's fourth album, Transfixiation. Rather than fixate on the minute details like they may have done in the past, the group, rounded out by drummer Robi Gonzalez, trust their instincts and try to keep things as pure as possible. Music is much more exhilarating when it's unpredictable even on repeat plays, and this is very much an unpredictable record. Gonzalez makes his recording debut with the band here, and it's obvious that he's helped pushed the band's recordings closer to the level of their infamous live shows.
"The one thing we have in common is this fire when we're playing," adds Gonzalez. "I don't know; it's real intense."
Guitars as jet engines; guitars as haunted electronics; guitars as filling-melting white heat: A Place To Bury Strangers' new album Worship is explosive, visceral, and dark. APTBS' DIY-braintrust of Death By Audio wizard Oliver Ackerman and bassist Dion Lunadon continue the evolution of songwriting that began with Onwards to the Wall, the band's 2011 EP. Now on Worship, they interweave threads of krautrock, dream-pop, and 80s goth without ever losing the edge that is quintessentially Strangers. Unhinged dissonance is artfully framed within a fiercely dynamic and assured melodic sensibility. Standout "You Are The One" is a coldwave white squall, with Ackerman coming through like an austere and menacing Damo Suzuki. Later on "Dissolved," the band methodically builds an atmospheric battle charge only to take a hard left mid-song into pure, shimmering Cure territory. There are ambitious, trend-bucking choices at every turn.
"This album was written, recorded, mixed and mastered by A Place To Bury Strangers. It is our vision of what our music should sound like in 2012, not someone else's interpretation," says Lunadon. "Every sound on the album is made by us and our tools; tools created by us, used on no other recordings, and purposefully built for this project. This is real. Some of it is the band being in complete control — bending, shaping and building the songs and the sounds. Other parts are the band relinquishing control and letting the songs and sounds take over and produce themselves. We are not trying to reinvent ourselves, but simply push ourselves further in all aspects of our music."
"We made this, we recorded this, we did everything," adds Ackerman. "Yes, we chose to do this and no, we didn't have to but we think it is pretty cool. No producer made us. We didn't go to school for any of this and we don't have time for tutorials. We invented this and now we are sharing it with you."
Onwards to the Wall packs every bit of the searing sonic maelstrom listeners have come to expect (nay, demand!) from Brooklyn's A Place To Bury Strangers. Yet, the adroit songcraft that's always been there is brought more the fore, pop hooks are repurposed and more instantly recognizable. Now joined by bassist Dion Lunadon, formerly of The D4, Ackerman has found a crucial companion in pulling timeless melodies from their jet engine textures. Standout "So Far Away" takes all the pure pop perfection of The Box Tops' "The Letter" and shoots it through with a barely-harnessed dark energy and snarling propulsion. The title track carries a similar balance of classic, 60s-pop hooks and doomed-out vibes, employing a boy-girl vocal tradeoff that's at once both sexy and menacing. A handful of contemporary bands are currently exploring the new limits of loud. And here, APTBS proves that they have not only been leading that charge for some time now, but that they are also evolving and maturing on those front lines.Onwards to the Wall is a fresh, complete artistic statement from APTBS. It’s a new chapter, a prelude for what awaits us on the horizon. It is a taste of greatness to come.
The album started with visions of large monumental sounds inspired by Heizer and Turrell; American works on a grand scale, monuments, dirty hands and an epic American masculinity. Dust, Stone, Sky, Earth.
These broad, bold strokes would come to pass but not quite as expected.
A Sci Fi aesthetic narrative emerged. Tackling distant pasts and future humanism, the pain and idiocy of our contemporary culture. How to deal with it open heartedly? The boredom, the sadness and speed. The plots within plots of Dune mirrored in many layers of sound. Creating 3D sonic atmospheres that our songs and singers inhabit.
Our story, a story, all stories. Told in verses, in underground language, in sub frequencies. Not audible, only felt, intuited, imagined in some deepest psychic space that you are yet to know. A strange story. Of the future, of yourself. Of everyone. We are all we are, only this and yet we move forward. Along some line to somewhere. And who knows?
Finally, after over a month of unanswered emails and text messages, blown deadlines, and pleas to finish and turn in their new album, last week, a large brown cardboard box showed up at the Dead Oceans doorstep. It had “SHINJU TNT” scrawled across the bottom of the box in black magic marker, and the return address read only "AK, Detroit." Opening it revealed a sincere but poorly made diorama of futurist swirling spaces filled with toy astronauts and dinosaurs, four blown out song fragments on a TDK CDR in a ziplock bag, three pictures, and a typewritten note from Akron/Family. A post-it on the bag declared the band refused to send the full album to anyone but the vinyl pressing plant, for fear of leaking and possible lost revenues.
Akron/Family spent the end of 2009 and half of 2010 exploring the future of sound through Bent Acid Punk Diamond fuzz and Underground Japanese noise cassettes, lower case micro tone poems and emotional Cagean field recordings, rebuilding electronic drums from the 70's and playing them with sticks they carved themselves. Upon miraculous resuscitation of the original AKAK hard drive, the album layers thousands of minute imperceptible samples of their first recordings with fuzzed-out representations of their present beings to induce pleasant emotional feeling states and many momentary transcendent inspirations. This album is titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT. We have no idea what that means.
Opening with a groove unlike anything Akron/Family have ever laid to tape, the first track on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free kicks off a new chapter for the band. The percussive thunder and anthemic electric guitars of “Everyone is Guilty” make a bold statement, touching on everything from Fela Kuti to Sly and the Family Stone in under six psychedelic minutes. This is not the Akron/Family you think you know.As “Everyone is Guilty” fades into “River” the band returns to something they have always been known for: writing a timeless hook. “River” delivers Ali Farka Toure-like guitar work, but this song is all about the infectious vocal melody. As the album unfolds, Akron/Family’s musical explorations are virtually without limits. Whether it’s the celebratory sing-along gospel of “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon,” the lush folk sounds of “Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version),” or “MBF,” which lies at the intersection of primal punk rock and heavy free jazz, Akron/Family are a band boiling over with ideas. Their musical vocabulary runs deep – it’s not just Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead that inform Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. Akron/Family feel at home on this album, confident and self-assured. Following a year of making things bigger and wilder live, the band returns to something simpler on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. With limited outside assistance, this trio has made a focused, powerful and unified work. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free maintains the communal spirit of the big band that won audiences over throughout the world, but it showcases Akron/Family at its core – three musicians, equals, creating music from deep within. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is something undeniably special and immensely powerful. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is the new psychedelic rock.
Alex Lahey's debut full-length, I Love You Like A Brother, comes fresh off the back of her breakout in 2016 when her "You Don't Think You Like People Like Me" single was inescapable, landing her a spot in Australian radio network triple j's prestigious Hottest 100 of 2016, a Best New Track nod from Pitchfork, and helping her to earn "Artist ToWatch" status from Stereogum. The song's universal tale of rejection took Lahey global - its message, she says, is the flipside of the usual break-up scenario: "Yeah, you're right. It's not me. It IS you." And that no-shit-taken attitude is the backbone of I Love You Like A Brother. From the stomping title track "I Love You Like A Brother" to the gently moving "Money," Lahey's debut long-player tells it like it is.
Bear In Heaven's new album is aptly titled Time is Over One Day Old. It's a record with a visceral relationship to time and its processes. Where invulnerability and ambition can support you as you grow, at some point they become dead weight, and being true to yourself means casting them off, starting anew. This plays out as a powerful analogy for the band across the arc of it's career. They've always made intriguing records, here especially. It's easy to see why musicians fall hard for this band. They entice and envelop you. Any Bear In Heaven song will most likely greet you with a provocative beat, textural synthesizers and unassuming but adeptly supportive bass and guitar, all exquisitely arranged and glistening. Jon Philpot's high, smooth, strong voice is so tightly wound into the music that it can be easy to overlook the lyrics, Bear In Heaven's capacious third dimension. Philpot is a center-seeking, contemplative writer who captures the fleeting thoughts that underscore our emotional lives, the interactions with the world that are both difficult to express and anathema in daily conversation. While all of this can be said of any Bear In Heaven album, each varies wildly in tone and approach. 2007's Red Bloom of the Boom is ambitious and experimental. Beast Rest Forth Mouth (2009) was a pivotal record that still feels important, seductive and intense. On their 2012 LP I Love You, It's Cool the structural and musical ideas are challenging, and masterfully developed. For Time is Over One Day Old, we witness the band once again turning their gaze inward and prioritizing their evocative abilities in line with or even slightly ahead of technical skills. It feels very much in the tradition of BRFM in that way. It's beautiful; it's moving. Here Philpot and Adam Wills are more deeply collaborative than ever. This album is darker at times, louder than their others; it feels personal and direct. "If I Were To Lie" places Wills' bass groove front and center, "Demon" is riveting and propulsive in spite of its dark pointed lyric, and "They Dream" dissolves into three and a half minutes of deeply satisfying ambient synth work in its second half. Wills has always been the bands anchor, providing rock solid, rhythmic bass lines and guitars that blur the boundaries of Philpot's synth. Though in moments such as the final track, "You Don't Need The World," Wills cuts through with an audacious, biting guitar hook. It's a great culmination of the album's sense of release. This album isn't about being dark, it's about releasing darkness and frustration. When bands age well, their vitality takes shape. They wear, but with intention. They trim excesses. Throughout this album you'll hear a band at peace with themselves. They've learned to cut back on that which is merely impressive and to concentrate on simply what is crucial. For Philpot this is about making something lasting. "A lot of shedding, getting rid of layers and preconceptions… breaking up with old ways of thinking, old ways of being, starting to look at this thing in a new way and finding something positive." The result is a record that will stay with you.
I Love You, It's Cool is the first time Bear in Heaven has sounded so unapologetic and so evolved, so risky and so redeeming, so focused and so finessed. After years of restless exploration, this feels like a definitive arrival. I Love You, It’s Cool is music written in the present tense but ready to speak to the future. The work is its own rarified reward.
Ask Bill Fay about his relationship with his instrument and he says something revealing, not "Ever since I learnt to play the piano," but "Ever since the piano taught me..." What the piano taught him was how to connect to one of the great joys of his life. "Music gives," he says. And he is a grateful receiver. But, it makes him wonder, "Who is the sender?" Fay - who after more than five decades writing songs is finally being appreciated as one of our finest living practitioners of the art - asserts that songs aren't actually written but found. He recorded two phenomenal but largely overlooked albums for Decca offshoot Nova in 1970 and 1971. After 27 years of neglect, people like Nick Cave, Jim O' Rourke, and Jeff Tweedy were praising those records in glowing terms. Recorded in Ray Davies' Konk Studios, North London, Who Is The Sender? sees Bill expanding upon themes he has touched on from the beginning, spiritual and philosophical questions, observations about the natural world and the people in the city he has lived in all his life.
Bill Fay is one of English music’s best kept secrets. At the dawn of the 1970s, he was a one-man song factory, with a piano that spilled liquid gold and a voice every bit the equal of Ray Davies, John Lennon, early Bowie, or Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker. He made two solo albums but his contract wasn’t renewed, which left his LPs and his reputation to become cult items. But he never stopped writing, the music kept on coming. Now, in his late sixties, he has produced Life Is People, a brand new studio album that shows his profoundly humanist vision is as strong as it ever was.
The new Bishop Allen record, Lights Out, is here at last. Here's what went into it: ten years, three full-lengths, twelve EPs, thousands of shows, a move out of Brooklyn, a new home in the wooly wilds of Kingston, NY, time off to score the films Bully and Mutual Friends, as well as an Anderson Cooper 360 special, months of demos, drum tracking in a sweat-lodge attic studio during a July heat wave, a wet Fall arranging guitars, bass, and synths in a now-chilly attic studio, the coldest December on record spent mixing, a close call with a frozen pipe and flooded hard drives, and a photo found on a friend's refrigerator.
Bishop Allen builds upon the extraordinary first years of their career with Grrr…, which Dead Oceans will release March 10, 2009. The band fronted by Justin Rice and Christian Rudder is best known for making and self-releasing an EP each month for an entire year, then reworking some of the best songs for a highly acclaimed label debut (The Broken String). The rigorous EP project, and the extensive touring that has followed it, have allowed Bishop Allen to hone their craft: writing, performing and recording music. The resulting album, Grrr..., reveals that after five years of comparisons to other artists—Jonathan Richman, The Kinks, Bright Eyes, Spoon, etc., in rave reviews from Rolling Stone, SPIN, Entertainment Weekly and many others—Bishop Allen has developed an artistry and sound that are unmistakably their own. One thing that distinguishes Bishop Allen’s music is the quality of the writing. Rice’s literate lyrics, which The Los Angeles Times has praised for their “poetic insight,” have a universality that has made them resonant to listeners of all ages and earned them champions ranging from the young comic actor Michael Cera to the National Public Radio host Scott Simon. Each of the 13 tracks comprising Grrr…is a succinct composition, and yet the album also coheres seamlessly as a cycle of song. The melody and/or rhythm of one track is often contiguous with the next. As always, Rice and Rudder are responsible not only for the writing, but the lion’s share of the playing and the recording: the guitars, pianos, marimbas, ukeleles and vocals.
2006 was a big year for Bishop Allen - The band recorded and self-released an EP every month of the year. Fifty-eight songs later, they completed one of the most ambitious recording projects in recent memory. Their 2003 debut, Charm School, was a hooky indie-pop gem, but Bishop Allen's EP material proves far more sophisticated and addictive. With the EPs, Bishop Allen's pop smarts sound timeless, escaping the indie-pop idiom and revealing a language informed by the Kinks, Dylan, and the Zombies. While it was in motion, the EP-a-month project was the toast of the blogosphere, but it wasn't just an online phenomenon; it garnered the band attention everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to NPR's Song of the Day. This adulation all happened without the benefit of a record label or publicist. Bishop Allen was truly DIY, recording and releasing their own records and booking their own tours. In early 2007 the band struck a partnership with Dead Oceans and the first fruit of this relationship is Bishop Allen's sophomore album, The Broken String. If Bishop Allen made a huge musical jump from the 2003 debut to the 2006 EPs, the band made a quantum leap on The Broken String. If Ed Sullivan were alive today, Bishop Allen's story-songs would be ripe for prime time. The Broken String is not just a great record by Bishop Allen standards. It is poised to be the pop soundtrack to the summer of 2007.
Los Angeles-based sister duo Jennifer and Jessie Clavin knew things were going to be different for their band Bleached sophomore LP Welcome The Worms. Not only had they managed to charm world renowned producer Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, The Strokes, Elton John) to join the sisters and their bassist Micayla Grace in the studio, but Jen and Jessie had been crawling out of their own personal dramas. While emotionally spinning, they dove head first into music.
The three girls spent time writing the 10 song LP at a remote house in Joshua Tree, away from the distractions of the city. Other times Jen and Jessie worked alone, just like when they were teenaged punk brats playing in their parents' garage, imitating their heroes The Slits, Black Flag and Minor Threat.
In the studio, Chiccarelli and co-producer Carlos de la Garza (Paramore, YACHT) helped the band perfect their fervent songs into fearlessly big pop melodies. They drew inspiration from the iconic hits of everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Heart to Roy Ayers. The result is an ambitious rock record with a new found pop refinement that somehow still feels like the Shangri-Las on speed, driven forward in a wind of pot and petals, a wall of guitars in the back seat.
On the heels of three well-received singles comes Ride Your Heart, the bombastic debut album by LA band Bleached. Sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin match their ability to blend a mix of freewheeling '77 punk with vintage sunny Southern California melodic rock and roll; creating blindingly bright hooks and dark heartfelt lyrics about love, loss, and the crazy fun moments in between.
The Clearing is the third album by the Bowerbirds, and as is often the case for bands that have found steady success, they had more time and better resources to make it. This is a bigger record, then, with bolder sounds and a broader scope. Thing is, these songs don’t cede to the increased production demands. The guitars and strings, codas and bridges simply make these thoughts more urgent, more vital and more necessary, but not one bit less permanent.
Upper Air is the product of months spent away from nature and away from home, touring endlessly with the likes of Bon Iver, Phosphorescent and John Vanderslice and on their own, on both sides of the Atlantic. The fodder for songwriting has changed, and so have the songs. Upper Air moves away from the singular sound and sentiment; each and every song on Upper Air is a journal entry that stands on its own, each a unique, beautiful piece. The arrangements are subtle: acoustic guitars, organ, piano, autoharp, violin, percussion, upright bass and more are used throughout the recording. Usually though, it is just a few of these instruments delicately supporting Moore’s voice, the anchor of every song. Everyone struggles when they try to describe this music, including us, but we’ll try: it has the spirit of Richard and Linda Thompson, the currency of Devendra Banhart, the addictively sweet melodicism of Iron & Wine, but it churns with an underlying energy closer to a Beirut or something farther out, more raw, more wild. The most notable part is this: The songs don’t hide behind the instrumentation, the deontological conviction, or, frankly, anything; and that is what makes Upper Air undeniable, simple, and breathtaking.
Only once every ten years or so does one hear a new band this good, this bursting with ideas, this audibly in love with music… It is beyond stunning. This band is the complete package.” Ears tend to prick up when a record review sings praises like these, especially when the praises come from the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, as they did recently on his Last Plane to Jakarta website hailing the Bowerbirds’ debut album, Hymns for a Dark Horse. Dead Oceans is overjoyed to be sharing the sounds of Bowerbirds with listeners worldwide. Hymns for a Dark Horse was originally released in July of 2007 on Burly Time Records, and now will be issued in an expanded form featuring two bonus tracks. Upon the initial release of the album, Pitchfork graced it with an 8.4 and "recommended" stamp of approval, saying: “[Bowerbirds] churn out deceptively pleasing folksongs about plants and animals and the unforgivable things we do to them... hypnotically pretty and a little bit weird, characteristics of the very best kind of Americana music. Bowerbirds do for backyards what the Hold Steady's done for parking lots-- translated place into sound.
Like a stunning spring morning, Saltwater is buoyant, expansive pop, with an astonishingly sure hand of craftsmanship. With a light and lilting poise and the unique perspective of Crane, Saltwater is a quixotic melange that is both understated and startlingly honest. This is our Martin Crane – the restless, yearning, young musical adventurer - balancing raging power, with a lovely articulation of deep feelings.
Stitches, the new album from Califone, touches on all permutable definitions of the word- its episodes of discomfort and healing rendered with exquisite beauty and craftsmanship. The listener moves through a landscape of Old Testament blood and guts, spaghetti Western deserts and Southwestern horizons, zeroing in on emotions and images that cannot be glanced over.
In some regards, Stitches harks back to those earliest days of Califone, yet the ultimate outcome sounds like the work of an artist reborn. Rutili says. "Instead of writing from my balls and brain, this time I wrote from the nerves, skin, and heart."
In an underground music landscape where 140 characters equals “journalism” and lone MP3s propel bands to momentary internet stardom, bands are here today and gone tomorrow. Califone is a band that defies this blueprint. Their albums are full of layers and textures, offering endless depth, entire universes to lose yourself in – and beyond the thick spectrum of sound, they do something even more important: They write great songs. Califone is a band that will stand the test of time. The band is at the peak of its powers on All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, its sixth song based album. The long-awaited follow-up to 2006’s acclaimed Roots and Crowns, the album is the strongest collection of songs in a career with no shortage of strength. The subtlety and detail of Califone’s previous work is present here – the atmospheres are carefully nuanced, the percussion is both rattling and melodic, the melodies are rich and soulful, interspersed throughout softly strummed folk and electrified blues. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is a dense collage of sounds, expertly formed into fully realized pop songs. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is the record that the great Roots and Crowns hinted at. The songwriting is fleshed out, the musical vision is boiling over, the sonic experimentation is indulgent and dense, yet there’s a great cohesion, a sense of purpose and a newfound focus to this Califone effort. Never has the band felt so vibrant, so alive, on one of their albums. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is built for the long haul. Make space on your record shelf, because this one is here to stay.
Citay makes a joyous return on Dream Get Together, the San Francisco cosmic wanderers’ expansive third full-length album. Many of the touchstones from Citay’s previous work remain intact – flourishes of Led Zeppelin, Eno/Fripp, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Popul Vuh and ELO can be heard throughout – but a newfound swagger pushes Dream Get Together way over the top. Seldom has there been a more obvious choice for an album opener than “Careful With That Hat,” a song propelled by a deep groove and swing that practically begs the listener to stand up and air-drum wildly. The vocals soar, the lead guitars catch fire and the mammoth solo (courtesy of guitarist Josh Pollock) builds to an ecstatic explosion. One highlight of Dream Get Together is “Mirror Kisses,” a song Feinberg wrote specifically for guest vocalist Merrill Garbus (of Tune-Yards) to sing in three-part harmony with Harbour and Press of Citay. With the soaring Ebow guitars and vocal harmonies, “Mirror Kisses” is Citay at its most lush and melodic. In contrast, “Hunter” is Citay at its most excessive – a triumphant instrumental anthem that somehow bridges the gap between Klaus Schulze and The Scorpions. This is the shot across the bow. Citay have arrived on Dream Get Together.
Welcome to Citay’s Little Kingdom. It’s an otherworldly place, full of psychedelic swirl, soaring harmonies and grandiose jams. Little Kingdom is the second album from San Francisco’s Citay. It’s an epic journey, and an album that sounds out of place in 2007 – a classic in the purest sense. Like Citay’s 2006 self-titled debut, the ‘70s rock sensibility is intact; Thin Lizzy, acoustic Led Zeppelin, Big Star and the Byrds all remain touchstones. But Little Kingdom moves further into ambitious composition, referencing Popul Vuh, Animals-era Pink Floyd, the Fripp-Eno collaborations, and early Mike Oldfield. The twin leads are still huge, the ballads still sweet, but Citay is reaching for more on Little Kingdom. Little Kingdom is lush and beautiful; a grand, epic work that harkens back to day when studio excess was encouraged and a premium was placed on composition. To borrow a line from Arthur’s review of Citay’s debut, “this is an album without a sell-by date, with a song for every season.”
Of his 12th studio album and its enigmatic title, Destroyer's Dan Bejar offers the following:
Sometime last year, I discovered that the original name for "The Wild Ones" (one of the great English-language ballads of the last 100 years or so) was "Ken." I had an epiphany, I was physically struck by this information. In an attempt to hold on to this feeling, I decided to lift the original title of that song and use it for my own purposes. It's unclear to me what that purpose is, or what the connection is. I was not thinking about Suede when making this record. I was thinking about the last few years of the Thatcher era. Those were the years when music first really came at me like a sickness, I had it bad. Maybe "The Wild Ones" speaks to that feeling, probably why Suede made no sense in America. I think "ken" also means "to know."
ken was produced by Josh Wells of Black Mountain, who has been the drummer in Destroyer since 2012. The album was recorded in its entirety in the jam space/studio space that the group calls The Balloon Factory. However, unlike Poison Season, ken was not recorded as a "band" record, though everyone in the band does make an appearance.