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.
This was unexpected. Citay’s 2007 album Little Kingdom made reference to everything from Thin Lizzy and acoustic Led Zeppelin, to Popul Vuh and early Mike Oldfield. So, when the band started asking remixers to rework tracks from Little Kingdom, we were more than a little surprised. As it turns out, the world needs Citay’s Remixes. From the ambient textures of White Rainbows’ “Eye on Dollar” remix to Cornershop’s Anthony Saffery adding sitar and percussion to “First Fantasy,” these are anything but typical remix rave-ups. These Are Powers’ Brenmar (aka Bill Salas) gives “Moonburn” a playful, skittering treatment, while Black Mountains’ Steve McBeam adds his effected vocals to “Former Child” – the end result sounding more like Metallica than like Aphex Twin.
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.”
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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.
We recorded a song called "My Mystery" a year and a half ago. Kind of a light number, vaguely danceable. Wistful, looking back not unfondly on time spent and dull misadventures had within the dead-as-a-doornail music industry. And the feeling of where it leaves you, like a rat in the middle of the ocean, though not as harsh as that; as if rats could swim an ocean's length. Anyway, the song was not in keeping with the shadow spirit of Poison Season, and so it got shelved.
Then one day DJjohnedwardcollins@gmail.com called me up and said, "You got any shit for me?"...
Destroyer's Poison Season opens swathed in Hunky Dory strings. Dan Bejar's a dashboard Bowie surveying four wracked characters - Jesus, Jacob, Judy, Jack - simultaneously Biblical and musical theatre. This bittersweet, Times Square-set fanfare is reprised twice more on the record - first as swaying, saxophone-stoked "street-rock" and then finally as a curtain-closing reverie.
Broadway Danny Bejar dramatically switches scenes with "Dream Lover," all Style Council strut and brassy, radio-ready bombast (echoes of The Boo Radleys' evergreen earworm "Wake Up Boo!"). This being Destroyer, its paramours-on-the-run exuberance is judiciously spiked by his deadpan delivery: "Oh shit, here comes the sun…"
Like the other DB, Mr. Bejar has long displayed a chameleonic instinct for change while maintaining a unified aesthetic (rather than just pinballing between reference points). No two records sound the same, but they're always uniquely Destroyer. His latest incarnation often appears to take sonic cues from a distinctly British (usually Scottish, to be precise) strain of sophisti-pop: you might hear traces of Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Orange Juice, or The Blow Monkeys. These songs merge a casual literary brilliance with intense melodic verve, nimble arrangements, and a certain blue-eyed soul sadness.
Playfully rueful, "Sun in the Sky" foregrounds cryptic lyrical dexterity over pop-classicist strum before gradually left-fielding into rhythmically supple, delirious avant-squall. It's as if Talk Talk took over a Lloyd Cole show. Originally released on a collaborative EP with electronic maestros Tim Hecker and Loscil (the latter's drones are retained here), a retooled "Archer on the Beach" suggests Sade swimming in The Blue Nile, smooth-jazz marimba melancholy dilated by ecstatic ambience. Flecked in heady dissonance, elusively alluring, Dan hymns its eponymous "impossible raver on your death bed" while implicitly beckoning the listener: "Careful now, watch your step, in you go."
That's Poison Season in essence: familiar yet mysterious, opaquely accessible. Arch, for sure, but ultimately elevatory.
Produced by JC/DC and recorded at their studio in Vancouver earlier this summer, Five Spanish Songs features musical contributions from Nicolas Bragg, David Carswell, John Collins, Stephen Hamm, and Josh Wells.
Dan Bejar writes:It was 2013. The English language seemed spent, despicable, not easily singable. It felt over for English; good for business transactions, but that's about it. The only other language I know is Spanish, and the only Spanish songs I really know are those of Sr. Chinarro, led by Antonio Luque. I've been a decades-long fan of how he conducted his affairs, his strange words, his melodies that have always felt so natural (this is important), his bitter songs about painting the light. Something about them, I knew I could do it...
Kaputt is his latest vision: an opulent, lyrical, game-changing masterpiece to rank with the choicest works of Sade, Scritti Politti, Simply Red and Steely Dan. For a more contemporary touchstone, feel free to consider it the sad-eyed psychic cousin of GAYNGS' smooth opus Relayted. These elaborate songs were lovingly crafted by a large studio ensemble of dedicated players; they are given fresh life on the road by an eight-piece touring band which will visit European shores for the first time this year.
Kaputt was released by the good people of Merge in North America, entering the Billboard chart at number 62 and receiving exultant hosannas from such august publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin and The Washington Post.
Over three full lengths, an EP, and five different live bands in four years, David Longstreth has created in Dirty Projectors a body of music of original and variegated beauty. The breadth of his talents as a songwriter, arranger, bandleader and singer call to mind Prince, Joni Mitchell, and Bjork. His constantly evolving sound — both live and on record — the sheer intensity of the music, and the originality of his voice set him apart. Among modern music makers, he is a maverick: a loner and a rebel. From beginning to end, Dirty Projectors' new offering, Rise Above, is a reimagining of Black's Flag seminal 1981 record Damaged. It is not a covers record. Longstreth attempted to rewrite his favorite adolescent album word for word, from memory. A concept so lofty might just be hot wind if Rise Above weren't such a hell of a record on its own terms. It resounds with a kind of elegant simplicity: beautiful interlocking guitar parts, gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, and some great songwriting. Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear manned the knobs, giving Rise Above the same rich sound that he brought to his own band’s acclaimed album Yellow House. Longstreth used the same musicians that appeared on the US tour on which he debuted these songs, and Rise Above captures the inventiveness and raw power of Dirty Projectors' live arrangements at long last.
Take the 101 north out of Los Angeles, and you'll pass by Agoura Hills, where the core duo of the band Dub Thompson grew up. Whatever you see in that town won't readily prepare you for the music they wrote while there, but you're free to look.
"Most everyone who's in a group who's our age lives on the Internet," says guitarist Matt Pulos. "The kinds of things that have shaped our band aren't anchored to any one time or place."
Pulos and his bandmate, drummer Evan Laffer, are currently both 19 years old, and are putting that line of thought to the test; their musical influences travel from the Midwestern malaise of Big Black and Pere Ubu, to Kraut pioneers Can and Kraftwerk, while bowing to the British belligerence of The Fall and This Heat.
Recording the album while living with Foxygen's Jonathan Rado at his rented house in Bloomington, the band had its first taste of a heavy Indiana summer, and all the humidity and insect life that buzzes along with it. "We woke up every day, ate hard-boiled eggs and stood on a porch," says Pulos of the experience.
Their first collection of songs slyly unties the shoes of genre and convention, shapeshifts mischievously, and tramples on the promises delivered on the name itself.
There are only eight songs on this rangy debut.
Intense blasts of hook-filled noise rock ("Hayward!"), rocksteady marionette stomp ("No Time"), hypnotic bouts of doomy poetics ("Epicondyles"), outlandishly sexy groove rock ("Dograces"), and a number of other bite-sized forays into parts unknown are made manifest across 9 Songs.
The vibes are strong here. Pulos sings and plays like he's working out long-standing grudges, pulling the most sinewy tones from an acoustic guitar and ripping huge chunks of demon flesh out of his electric. Laffer matches him step for step on the drums, an exacting presence behind the kit who pushes even the band's more placid moments into bouts of tension. Together they succeed in animating their musical ideas to startling, almost unnatural life. Reverb units, keyboards, samples and processing gluing everything together, saturated in the August heat and worn in until they sound second nature, it's like somehow you've been listening to these songs forever.
The Evening Descends… and worlds collide. First you hear the prodigious musical skill: the deft guitar work, the clever pop sensibility, the wild arrangements. But then on other end of the spectrum there is the innocent and youthful charm of a trio of lost boys who seem to have no business making music with such maturity and sophistication. Taken together, you have Evangelicals, a wholly demented ensemble from Norman, OK. Dabbling in glam, slipping in a little funk and soul, drinking the psychedelic Kool-aid, blasting the synths, cranking up the guitars, and wrapping it all up with a dose of pop smarts, The Evening Descends is the first great album of 2008.