Half-handed Cloud's Flying Scroll Flight Control presents Dada interior-architectural songs, in the mode of Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau, the sound of Robert Rauschenberg's cardboard combines, interrupted by Futurist noise intoner music of collision. They're integrated with the radiant flicker of Stan Brakhage's domestic/personal 1960s art films, the mechanized music of Conlon Nancarrow, Mister Rogers' avant-garde children's operas, and the methods of grunge-era home-taping alchemists Eric's Trip, with scriptures giving voice to the unknown. Particularly encouraged by German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys' desire to unite spirit and science, Half-handed Cloud's John Ringhofer identifies Flying Scroll Flight Control's arrangements with the most basic building blocks of life, the structures of atoms: mostly empty space and a dense core, around which thinner layers wind - tiny, slippery, whirring, fly-by electrons, perpetually in motion. The lyrics are primarily based on the most ancient, foundational, and audacious of Christian texts (possibly early hymns), quoted in the letters of Paul of Tarsus. The album features a 5-person female choir, manipulated recording tape, fuzz bass, clarinet, some piano, a child's Magnus air organ, rhythmic zipper, trombone, a cushioned stylophone stick, and intermittent backpacker guitar.
Making The Saint is my third full-length record. I love small records. When I say “small record," I think of Sandy Bull's Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, Bill Evans trio recordings at the Village Vanguard, Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting, or Thelonius Monk's sublime Solo Monk. Each of these albums is simple. They're direct. Making The Saint is a small record too. I didn't belabor it. The recording and mixing came quickly. I followed my instincts. This album is also a spiritual retreat for me; a healthy and necessary separation after so many strong collaborations. If you're Sufist, you’d call this khalwa. In Japanese Zen Buddhism, it's called sesshin. The Santerian process of Asiento requires the initiate to dress in white garments and avoid physical contact for one year. Like so many have done before me, I forced myself into a state of inner solitude to find something new. I hope you enjoy it, and you experience something similar while listening. - Chris Schlarb
Island Universe Story Three, out now, is the third in an ongoing series of EPs from Roberto Lange, a.k.a. Helado Negro. Not designed to "tease" or "build up to" or kill time between the Helado Negro albums, these releases shadow the LPs, moving darkly alongside them - and, like a shadow, may be more easily described by what they aren't than what they are.
They aren't outtakes or afterthoughts or byproducts or B-sides. These are fully filtered, distilled, unified recordings, chapters in a continuous narrative. They're less like the flipside of a record than they are like the dark side of the moon: always present but (until now) just out of sight. "It's a parallel to the continuum of the album," explains Lange. They're "something next to the albums, on kind of their own timeline," a second stream, offering an alternate glimpse into Helado Negro's ongoing process. Says Lange, "This is more of what I do. I'm really making music every day."
"SauvÃ© Par Sa Grace" - Hermas Zopoula
"Saved by His Grace." The album, like the title implies was a miracle in its completion. Recording began in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso almost 3 years ago and when the original producer started taking too much control, Zopoula fired him and went on a search for someone who he could work with more collaboratively. In a popular studio in the city, Hermas found Ilboudo Sylvain and Nadie Boureima. These two producers brought more live instrumentation into the heavily programmed sound that is so popular in West African pop music. Where most musicians would want synths and computer pre-sets to fill in their sound, Zopoula wished to include a little bit more raw-ness and use live balafons, guitar, and piano. That isn't to say that the synthetic sound of Zopoula's first release has disappeared, in fact it is still very much present. But the inclusion of more live instruments has created a more textured and nuanced sound.
Late last year the team had recorded ten new tracks and were ready to mix them when a jealous or angry fellow musician also recording at the studio snuck in one night and deleted the producers hard-drive! The only song that survived those sessions was "Venez Danser." Between shifts working for the national airline, Air Burkina, Zopoula was finally able to re-record and mix the remaining songs that are presented in the final version of "SauvÃ© Par Sa Grace." Despite the adversity and struggle that Zopoula endured throughout this recording these songs are filled with joy and gratitude. Enjoy!
I know it's only been a couple days but I miss you already. There's so much about you that I love - the way you approach situations in a relaxed and positive way, the way you absorb whatever strange element come at you and you just fold it into your nature. I admire you and your ease in the world, but it also stirs my anxieties about life - why can't I be so cool, relaxed, so positive? I'm always wrapped up in my crazy modern brain and life. But then I wonder, are you too? Maybe you're just as conflicted and human, but everyday you make the choice to express yourself in an uplifting and unselfconscious way. Can you show me how to do that? I love you, Reggae, and I want to learn.
love forever, Rafter
Sisyphus is the new name for the collaboration between Serengeti, Son Lux, and Sufjan Stevens (formally s/s/s), whose new project under this moniker is a self-titled album partly inspired by the art of Jim Hodges, and commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series in Minneapolis/Saint Paul.
Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center will present a retrospective of Jim Hodge’s work alongside a listening party of the new album in February, where fifty limited edition copies of the vinyl will be available for purchase.
Asthmatic Kitty Records and Joyful Noise Recordings will release the record more widely on March 18th, 2014.
Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms was created in the heart of hippy country, LA's Topanga Canyon, by a dental hygienist who was inspired by nature and by the cultural revolution going on around her. When Parallelograms was finished, it sounded like a masterpiece, but the label had pressed it so poorly, sales were non-existent. Obscurity beckoned.
But in the internet age obscurity can be discreetly transformed into a kind of niche immortality. By 2003, Parallelograms had become a cult album.
And slowly, Perhacs began making music again. In 2010, she connected with a new generation of LA musicians attuned to her vision, including Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price, both accomplished musicians and producers in their own right. The trio began recording the eclipse song, "River Of God", and what became a new album's title track, The Soul Of All Natural Things.
The Soul Of All Natural Things, for all its apparent serenity, is also a subtly polemical album, full of exhortations to take a step out of our frantic everyday lives. "We get too far out of balance and we must find a way to get back to our polestar," Perhacs says. "I have a deeper purpose. My soul is giving itself to the people; I want them to be helped, I want them to be lifted."
Like truth, beauty resides in simplicity. When it manifests itself, it doesn’t require elaborate arguments or proofs; you can’t debate someone into apprehending it. It’s apparent and all it requires is appreciation, or perhaps even love. Such are the songs of Lily & Madeleine.
Understandably, when their debut EP, The Weight of the Globe, came out earlier this year, much was made of the fact that Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz are teenagers: Madeleine is eighteen and her sister is sixteen. Surely, that’s important given the impressive talent on display. On that release as well as on Lily & Madeleine, their debut album, these two young women sing with a spare elegance that’s all the more breathtaking for seeming to come to them so naturally. Both Lily and Madeleine can sing powerfully, but you will find no show-off pyrotechnics here. They are not afraid of fragility or vulnerability.
The songs on Lily & Madeleine trigger profound emotional effects. The shimmering recollections of that summer, that girl, that kiss, the scent of that evening air, the heat of those afternoons, all float in and out of consciousness as these songs play, transporting you to the world inside you that knows everywhere you have been, but that does not know time, or its passage, or its end.
Psychic Temple II is a labor of love envisioned by Chris Schlarb to bring his most far-ranging inspirations to life â€“ as he puts it, “a dream ensemble that could never actually exist.” The ensemble’s sophomore release was painstakingly constructed over more than a year with the cooperation of some of the most progressive musical minds from a staggering variety of genres.
Psychic Temple II reaches beyond the long-form experiments of its predecessor for a more tightly focused yet conceptually dense collection whose songs are no less exploratory for their briefer durations. Schlarb also includes three cover songs by composers who share his boundary-demolishing mindset: Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” Frank Zappa’s “Sofa No. 2,” and Brian Wilson’s “’Til I Die,” a gorgeous, lesser-known Beach Boys song that features vocals by Sufjan Stevens, Castanets’ Ray Raposa, and Cryptacize’s Nedelle Torrisi.
The New York Observer called Schlarb’s debut solo album, Twilight & Ghost Stories, “40 minutes of avant-garde bliss,” while Interoceans, recorded with experimental jazz duo I Heart Lung, was chosen by NPR as one of the top five jazz albums of 2008. He composed the score for Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren’s video game Nightsky and has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and Meet the Composer.
Written over the course of their summer vacation and recorded in three days, The Weight of the Globe is a musical snapshot by teenaged sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz at a pivotal moment in their lives.
Each song on The Weight of the Globe was written as a discrete, self-contained folk-pop statement, but due to the real-time circumstances of recording it, the EP holds together like a collection of interconnected short stories. Taken as a whole, the songs chart a journey from love to disillusionment to heartbreak; the narrator's weariness in "Tired" persists into "Things I'll Later Lose" ("I've been hearing things, and I've been losing sleep"), while the words to "Back to the River" seemingly return to the same mythic river that flows through "In the Middle."
There's nothing calculated about The Weight of the Globe. As sincere as it is precociously sophisticated, it marks the auspicious debut of a strikingly talented musical family.
Denison Witmer is Denison Witmer, a culmination of a story that started at the birth of independent music in the early 2000s.
He began his career in 1998 with Safe Away. Three albums, dozens of hard, long tours, and several years later, Denison released his most popular record Are You a Dreamer? in 2005. The industry changed quickly though - losing its focus on singer-songwriter folk music.
Instead of bowing to the pressure to follow musical trends, Denison continued to refine his sound, becoming more confident in creating something subtle and sublime. His music grew up as he did; a couple of years ago, his dad passed away, and in 2012, he became a new dad.
So, since Dreamer, there's been time, craft and perfection, and slow and quiet reflection and production. Now there’s Denison Witmer.
Fans who liked Dreamer, Denison's best-selling record, will love Denison Witmer. They’ll appreciate that Sufjan Stevens, William Fitzsimmons, and Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Amos Lee) all appear on this record. They’ll love the way Denison has figured out what works. They’ll appreciate the attention to detail, in songwriting and in production.
And for those new to Denison, they’re not not alone; there’s a whole generation of young songwriters in their early 20s that grew up listening to Denison. They’ve heard and respected a finely honed style that pulls from a tradition of folk singer-songwriters going back 40 years to Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Carole King, Neil Young, and even Woody Guthrie.
Artists only get once chance to self-title a record. Denison chose a good one.
Fol Chen make the soundtrack to a future that never was. To listen is to leave the comfort of nostalgia and land with both feet in a bolder 21st century. The False Alarms (Asthmatic Kitty, March 19) continues the band's electro-pop odyssey, now with a honed character and a more distinct palette of sounds. Fol Chen has also traded its cloak of anonymity for defiant confidence featuring Sinosa Loa as its new front voice.
It's pop music for people who aren't sure where or when they are, but who know it's nowhere they've been before.
Press play on Invisible Life and you lose your season. Roberto Lange - Helado Negro - is talking to you in Spanish. He’s talking to you, perhaps with more volume, in the language he’s been teaching us all over the past three years through the lessons of the seductive full-length Canta Lechuza, the sub-narrative exploration EP Island Universe Story One, and the all-in collaboration,OMBRE, with Juliana Barwick. This immersive curriculum, paired with our own capacity for feeling, will make Invisible Life visible. At least as much Roberto Lange wants us to see of himself. Translate the name of that first song for the first clue: it illuminates you.
Jon Philpot, The Bear In Heaven frontman, is one of a key few contributions on the album, including more old friends like Eduardo Alonso (Feathers) and Matt Crum (Lange’s longtime bandmate in ROM), as well as kindred and vast spirit Devendra Banhart. Banhart’s guitar on “Arboles” multiplies the whispered dream of Helado Negro into technicolor parallel existences. Roberto Lange, the conductor, the man alone, has always kept his family close, even if its definition has expanded from his mother’s kitchen to the long-stretching road that sends him from one show to the next.
Who can save us from the infidels of Christmas commodity? Look no further, tired shopper, for your hero arrives as the diligent songwriter Sufjan Stevens, army of one, banjo in one hand, drum machine in the other, holed up in his room, surrounded by hymnals, oratorios, music charts, sacred harp books, paper-clipped-photo-copied Readers Digest Christmas catalogs—singing his barbaric yawp above the snow-capped rooftops.
His song is love; his song is hope; his song is peace, conjuring the fruitcake world of his own imagination with steadfast affection for the unattainable bliss of Christmas Promises -- summoning the company of angels, the helper elves, the shepherds keeping flock, the coupon-clippers, the marathon runners, the grocery store baggers, the bridge and tunnel drivers, the construction workers,the street sweepers, the single mothers, the rich and the poor, the walking dead, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, the Prince of Persia, and all the invisible hosts of heaven to participate in this absurd cosmic adventure, pursuing holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption with a sacred heart for the enduring love for the holiness of Christmas, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Going on five full-length records since 2004, Asthmatic Kitty’s Castanets has given us a wide-lens look at deconstructed Americana. Come September 4th, Castanets’ Ray Raposa will debut a new band, Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, and a brand-new full-length, Little Death Shaker.
Where the ‘Nets trafficked in improv and avant-country gone coal black, Raposa’s new stuff is pure roadhouse blues. Stripped of all noise influences and focusing on straight-up songs, Little Death Shaker is a record evocative of late nights and dusty parking lots, long drives and boozy hookups. This is the work of a dude who’s spent his youth and young manhood on tour and it comes through in both the music and the lyrics.
One of Little Death Shaker’s real charms is you can close your eyes and see these 13 tracks played live; you can see the drummer leaning over his kit with his brushes, the backup singers standing around the mic, beers in hand, eyes closed, swaying side to side, the lights crisscrossing the stage. In a world of records that bands can’t duplicate live, it’s crazy-refreshing.
Meet Raymond Byron and the White Freighters and their record Little Death Shaker. Here’s to the new.
“Drunk Is The New Sober” and “Stupid Is The New Dumb” are the twin subtitles of Drunk & Stupid, Dots Will Echo’s debut album on Asthmatic Kitty, but those aren’t just arch witticisms, they encapsulate the apparent contradictions that power the New Jersey duo’s music. The warmly weird world created by multi-instrumentalist Nick Berry and drummer Kurt Biroc seems simultaneously sacred and profane, edgy and accessible, sad and transcendentally silly. What else would you expect from a group that describes itself as “dour moralizers and drunken assholes” and identifies its key influences as “A little bit The Incredible String Band, a little bit AC/DC?”
Originally meant to be two separate discs (the vinyl version is a double LP with download codes for bonus tracks), Drunk & Stupid boasts 19 songs overflowing with insanely catchy melodies, endearingly off-kilter arrangements, and a strangely satisfying blend of the divine and the absurd.” As Berry says, “We try to allow for the will of the universe to have a large part in our music. There must be something sacred in mistakes. This is our explanation for being fuck-ups.”
A beautiful thing happened when Asthmatic Kitty artists Helado Negro and Julianna Barwick first met: they got to know each other. The result, a collaborative band, OMBRE, and a brand-new full-length record, Believe You Me.
Recorded as the newly acquainted pair were just becoming friends, OMBRE shows Barwick's clear, high harmonies and church choir sensibilities melding well with Helado Negro's rustic-Latin-psyche-folk meets big-city-summer-blockparty.
Tracks simmer with the mellow chording of nylon string guitars, bubbling electronics, and the comely pluck of harps; they rise high and mountainous with Miles Davis-y trumpet and then disappear altogether. There's a very old school jazzy soundtrack air to these sessions. (An inspiration to the sessions was Clu Gulager's 1969 film A Day With the Boys and Egberto Gismonti's fantastic late-'60s compositional jazz.) It has the feel of a hot summer day in Brooklyn, 1971, the sun through the tenements and everyone sitting in the shade watching the world drift by.
Believe You Me's 36:19 minute run is a quiet storm that never puts you in danger—just a beautiful, refreshing summer rain to watch from your front porch, sitting next to a good friend. A new friend? Yes. Perfect. Even better.