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2016-08-19
Ryley Walker: Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

The preceding years have been extraordinary for Ryley Walker. In March, his second album, Primrose Green, emerged to critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut, and Mojo - in the process, earning admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker's life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan - as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley would later embark on a British tour. A sprawling tour of the USA around Primrose Green presented a perfect chance to workshop ideas for what would eventually become his third studio album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.

On the album, "The Roundabout" represents a symbolic return to Chicago, while other songs are directly wedded to Ryley's actual return there. Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track "The Halfwit In Me" most audibly bear the imprint of Ryley's improvisational sessions with Wilco multi-instrumentalist, Chicagoan and producer Leroy Bach, while "Funny Thing She Said" is an unflinching study of separation set to a shimmeringly supple ensemble performance.

Soft, slo-mo explosions of melody intermittently burst through the distant thunder of the verses on "A Choir Apart". Intriguing, surreal images are meted out by "I Will Ask You Twice", like a malfunctioning slide projector; and, perhaps best of all, the stunning finale, "Age Old Tale", which spiders out from an Alice Coltrane-inspired reverie into a sustained rapture that very few artists have managed to achieve.

Ryley Walker: Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Deep Cuts Edition)

The preceding years have been extraordinary for Ryley Walker. In March, his second album, Primrose Green, emerged to critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut, and Mojo - in the process, earning admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker's life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan - as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley would later embark on a British tour. A sprawling tour of the USA around Primrose Green presented a perfect chance to workshop ideas for what would eventually become his third studio album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.

On the album, "The Roundabout" represents a symbolic return to Chicago, while other songs are directly wedded to Ryley's actual return there. Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track "The Halfwit In Me" most audibly bear the imprint of Ryley's improvisational sessions with Wilco multi-instrumentalist, Chicagoan and producer Leroy Bach, while "Funny Thing She Said" is an unflinching study of separation set to a shimmeringly supple ensemble performance.

Soft, slo-mo explosions of melody intermittently burst through the distant thunder of the verses on "A Choir Apart". Intriguing, surreal images are meted out by "I Will Ask You Twice", like a malfunctioning slide projector; and, perhaps best of all, the stunning finale, "Age Old Tale", which spiders out from an Alice Coltrane-inspired reverie into a sustained rapture that very few artists have managed to achieve.

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2016-06-17
Mitski: Puberty 2

Ask Mitski Miyawaki about happiness and she'll warn you: "Happiness fucks you." It's a lesson that's been writ large into the New Yorker's gritty, outsider-indie for years, but never so powerfully as on her newest album, 'Puberty 2'. "Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one's almost more destructive than the other," she says. "When you realise you can't have one without the other, it's possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for that other wave." On 'Puberty 2', that tension is palpable: a both beautiful and brutal romantic hinterland, in which one of America's new voices hits a brave new stride.

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2016-05-06
Destroyer: My Mystery

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?"...

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2016-05-06
Julianna Barwick: Will

Julianna Barwick's revelatory third full-length, Will, is a surprising left turn for the Brooklyn experimental artist. Conceived and self-produced over the past year in a variety of locations, the ominous, compelling Will is a departure from 2013's Alex Somers-produced Nepenthe. If that last record conjured images of gentle, thick fog rolling over desolate mountains, then the self-produced Will is a late afternoon thunderstorm, a cathartic collision of sharp and soft textures that sounds looming and restorative all at once.

Will comes off of Barwick's busiest period in her career to date following Nepenthe - a spate of activity that included playing piano for Yoko Ono, performing at the 25th annual Tibet House Benefit Concert alongside such kindred spirits as the Flaming Lips and Philip Glass, the Rosabi EP and an extensive touring schedule that included her first-ever shows in Japan.

Her life over the past several years has largely been lived in transit, and as such the genesis of Will was not beholden to location; Barwick reflects on this cycle of constant motion. "You're constantly adjusting, assimilating, and finding yourself in life-changing situations."

That sense of forward propulsion is largely owed to what Barwick describes as Will's "synthy flava," an ingredient she was inspired to add to her vocal loop-heavy formula after demoing equipment for synth maker Moog. Another new wrinkle Will introduces in Barwick's sound: Mas Ysa's Thomas Arsenault, who lends his richly complex vocals to "Same" and "Someway." The beguiling, beautifully complicated Will is the latest proof yet of Barwick's irresistibly engaging talent.

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2016-04-15
Kevin Morby: Singing Saw

Singing Saw is a record written simply and realized orchestrally. In it, Kevin Morby faces the reality that true beauty - deep and earned - demands a whole-world balance that includes our darker sides. It is a record of duality, one that marks another stage of growth for this young, gifted songwriter with a kind face and a complicated mind.

Morby opens Singing Saw with "Cut Me Down", a song of tears, debts and a prescient vision of being reduced to nothing. "I Have Been to the Mountain", "Destroyer" and "Black Flowers" continue to explore beauty and freedom, seizing upon the rot that seeps into even the supposedly safest of realms; peace, family and romantic love. By the end of the record on "Water", Morby is literally begging to be put out once and for all, like a fire that might burn all the visions away.

Travels beyond his mountain walks, near his Mount Washington home in Los Angeles, inform songs like "Dorothy", which recounts a trip to Portugal, witnessing a fishing ritual and luxuriating in the aura of a bar light-tinged reunion with old friends. The touching innocence of "Ferris Wheel" stands alone in stark simplicity amidst the lush sonic textures of the album. Here, the album is balanced by Morby's signature sweetness and joie de vivre.

In the end, Morby fulfills the promise many heard on his first two albums, bringing his most realized effort of songwriting and lyricism to fruition. The songs of Singing Saw reflect the clarity that comes from welcoming change and embracing duality, and the distillation of those elements into an entirely new vision.

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2016-04-01
Bleached: Welcome The Worms

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.

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2016-02-19
Marlon Williams: Marlon Williams

"Each song is a character," says Marlon Williams of his self-titled solo debut: a remarkably assured and diverse nine-track tapestry, united by one of the most versatile and evocative voices you'll hear this or any other year. "I don't really ever sing out of character. Even if it's a very personal song, once it's written it doesn't belong to me." Recording the record at home, utilizing The Sitting Room in Lyttelton Harbour (New Zealand), Williams' deep-rooted bonds birth an eclectic, yet cohesive set that ranges from acrobatic opener "Hello Miss Lonesome" to the wry coffee house wisdom of "Everyone's Got Something To Say", via Rubber Soul-ful zinger "After All" and "Lonely Side Of Her"'s beauteous barroom empathy. Its author’s easygoing gender fluidity is expressed through his revelatory, androgynous reading of the traditional lament "When I Was A Young Girl", previously hymned by Nina Simone and Feist, among others. This ability to truly inhabit his material illuminates Williams' majestic rendering of such diverse touchstones as classic orch-pop ballad "Lost Without You" and conceptual, 1974-vintage nugget "Silent Passage" (originally by Bob Carpenter, a Canadian of First Nations heritage). These covers blend seamlessly with novelistic noir standouts "Strange Things" and "Dark Child" (co-credited to childhood choral pal Tim Moore, now a palliative care nurse), which deliver gallows humor with a widescreen groove.

Having been nominated for 5 New Zealand Music Awards, an Australian ARIA Award and completed sold out album release tours, this Southern Hemisphere star's eagerly awaited international release should see Marlon Williams soar.

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2015-11-13
Mark McGuire: Beyond Belief

Mark McGuire's albums are, amongst many other things, strong arguments for the album and for the stereo system. They're not just music; they're statements, and they demand to be experienced by the best sonic means available. They're throwbacks, not in style, but intent and effect. Put another way -- they don't make them like this anymore.

The wall of sounds contained therein constitute a degree of ambition uncommon since the 70s heyday of McGuire's forebears -- Gottsching, Eno, Fripp. This is not laptop music.

Beyond Belief, his second full-length for Dead Oceans, finds McGuire now well on the way of his own trip. Fantastical liner note tales written to accompany and set the stage for his mostly-wordless songs delight and confound. Throughout nine tracks we find an unrelenting drive to refine, build upon, focus and maximize the effect of an already remarkably prolific body of work. Though deservedly known for his virtuosic multitracked guitar playing, McGuire in fact plays every bass / synth / piano note, and every beat on the album himself, his vocals more prominent than ever before. 26 months in the making, the passion going into Beyond Belief is self-evident, and the effect is overwhelming.

Like many before him, McGuire isn't entirely comfortable with the critically-bestowed 'new age' tag, but the resonance is there particularly in McGuire's prose, and it's not unreasonable that he appeared alongside venerated new age masters Iasos and Laraaji in The New York Times' appraisal of the new age music renaissance ('For New Age, the Next Generation', Mike Rubin, February 16, 2014).

Running nearly 80 minutes, the bold and fearless Beyond Belief is McGuire's magnum opus to date, but in truth, there is no end in sight for McGuire's vision, making any such assessment wholly premature.

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2015-09-04
Kevin Morby: Moonshiner b/w Bridge To Gaia

In anticipation of Kevin Morby's Dead Oceans' debut in 2016 and in support of a thorough fall touring schedule, "Moonshiner" and "Bridge To Gaia" are two unreleased gems from Morby's reliably powerful, yet understated work.

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2015-08-28
Destroyer: Poison Season

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.

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2015-08-07
Night Beds: Ivywild

Night Beds, the musical project of 26-year-old Colorado Springs native Winston Yellen, received much acclaim for his 2013 debut album, Country Sleep, scoring plaudits for its tortured take on alt country and Yellen's soaring vocals. But after finishing that album and before Country Sleep was even released, Yellen began experimenting with the kind of melancholic, neon-tinged R&B that makes up the mesmerising Ivywild.

The thread that weaves through all of Yellen's music and holds it together is his unmistakable voice - plaintive, yearning, soulful, heartbreaking. Whether it's ascending over the luscious epic-electronics of "Tide Teeth" or aching alone on Country Sleep's opener "Faithful Heights", Yellen's voice has a unique beauty matched by few of his contemporaries.

The second Night Beds album draws on Yellen's original love of Bill Evans through to J Dilla and is made up of what Yellen calls "sad sex jams" and was inspired by a long-term love and a break-up which looms large throughout the albums veiled lyrics. Its genesis can be found in the stoned night in Nashville when Yellen first heard Yeezus. Lying on the floor, Yellen blared the album at top volume.

Ivywild is a truly collaborative effort with a makeshift team of 25 musicians, notably Abe, Yellen's younger brother and closest friend - his credit on the album comes above Winston's own, so much value does he place upon the work Abe put in. Additional vocals come from Heather Hibbard, a singer from Maine who features on over half of the 16 track album, and was contacted by the gregarious Yellen through YouTube, after he found a video of her covering one of his songs. She came out to the studio the very next day.

Finessing the poignant assortment of songs was a sometimes painful task, but dedicated to the core. "I felt at some points we were losing our minds," he says. Initial versions of "Me Liquor and God" band "On High:" were 17 and 33 minutes respectively while "Finished" took four months to record. His editing process though was simple: "If it makes you cry, keep it in." Field recordings also flood the record, offering it a deep textural grain. "It is a luxury record, but it has a worn shirt feel," explains Yellen. "It's lived in. It's like a quilt - but it took forever, cutting up all the vocals and letting it breathe."

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2015-07-17
Strand of Oaks: HEAL (Deluxe Edition)

Strand of Oaks' HEAL was released early last summer on Dead Oceans, kicking off a year of big firsts and miles racked up on the odometer. Tim Showalter paid a visit to NPR’s Tiny Desk - and to nearly every state (plus multiple continents) on a non-stop tour. As a result, Showalter's most personal songs to date were allowed the chance to expand and change shape. That's where the deluxe version of HEAL comes in - to celebrate this newfound life and share some fan favorites. It's bookended with two covers, firstly a cover of Ryan Adams' "My Wrecking Ball" taped in Showalter's home of Philadelphia at WXPN, lastly a woozy rendition of The National's "Pink Rabbits". Rounding out the mix is a version of "Goshen '97" from Acoustic Cafe and a life-affirming rendition of "Shut In" for Hear Ya. Finally, it features an alternate mix of "HEAL" at the hands of producer John Congleton that sounds like Showalter's heart being dragged through sludge and fed through an amp.

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2015-05-12
The Tallest Man On Earth: Dark Bird Is Home

Dark Bird Is Home doesn't feel like it came from one time or one place. The songs were captured in various countries, studios and barns, carrying a weather-worn quality, some dirt and grit. This is Kristian Matsson at his most personal and direct, deeper and darker than ever at times, but it's also an album with strokes of whimsy and the scent of new beginnings.

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2015-04-28
Bill Fay: Who Is The Sender?

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.

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2015-03-31
Ryley Walker: Primrose Green

Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the true True American guitar Guitar player Player. That's as much a testament to his roving, rambling ways, or as to the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop.

Primrose Green begins near where All Kinds of You, his last record, leaves off but quickly pushes far afield. The title sounds pastoral and quaint, but the titular green has dark hallucinogenic qualities, as does much of the LP. The band is a mixture of new and old Chicago talent, blending both jaded veterans of the post-rock and jazz mini-circuits together with a few eager, open-eared youths.

Ryley didn't have much time to write this LP, so some of it he didn't. Bits of lyrics were improvised into full-blown songs in the studio, more often than not on the fly. The title track "Primrose Green" was nearly discarded after its incarnation on a bleak St. Patrick's Day spent in Oxford, Mississippi. "Primrose Green" is a colloquial term for a cocktail of whiskey and morning glory seeds that has a murky, dreamy, absinthian quality when imbibed, and a spirit-crushing aftereffect the morning after. "Summer Dress" is liftoff: seizing the mantle from Tim Buckley's Starsailor and perfecting its frantic jazz-induced fits. It was written in a dressing room in upstate New York, but perfected in rehearsal, veering between a six and ten minute epic. Contained here is the flawless conclusion, but reference the live set to experience the full possibilities of this anarchic work.

A forgotten roadside hotel in Tennessee yielded one song, "Same Minds", with just a hint of self-loathing. It was kicked around in rehearsal until taking its shape as a drifting bit of dreamy jazz. A 5-day stretch in Austin, mostly staying on Lechuguillas' Jason Camacho's tile floor with no blanket in a room barely large enough for one yielded most of the rest of the lyrics. "Griffiths Buck's Blues" was almost jettisoned but a thumbs-up from Jason kept it in the repertoire. Griffith Buck was named for a local artist and eccentric botanist in Ryley's hometown of Rockford, Illionois who has likely had few other songs named for him. "Love Can Be Cruel" spends almost two minutes "out" before becoming the song it was originally intended to be. Drummer Frank Rosaly pushes the song further and further until it borders on a cathartic meltdown to close out Side A.

Side B sets off with a shot of Americana, "On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee". It's an ode to the immersion baptisms Ryley's witnessed while walking along the banks. Unlike the idyllic memories of christenings under the weeping willows while a crowd looks on happily in their Sunday's best at the healthy young catechumens; the river was brown and polluted, and the participants dirty and tired and disinterested. "Sweet Satisfaction" presents some of Ryley's most intricate and ecstatic fingerpicking. It's hard not to recall John Martyn's early 1970s work, though Ben Boye's piano work is particularly revelatory here. "The High Road" was written while the trio of Ben, Ryley, and Brian Sulpizio (guitar) were on tour, opening for Cloud Nothings. Stuck crashing in a busted, unheated old house in New Orleans Ben sunk into a depression, Brian drank and Ryley drank, but also managed to turn out this ode to the rambling life.

"All Kinds Of You" is the oldest song included here. The title should seem familiar... it was written after his first LP, All Kinds of You, was finished, but the name seemed to fit that collection of songs better than anything else. Side B closes with a bit of tossback: "Hide In The Roses", the only solo jam included herein. Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin' Bajas), de-facto producer of the record, encouraged Ryley to use the extra studio time to bang something out, and this brilliant piece of Anglophilia emerged as the album's closer.

No one knows what the future holds for young Ryley Walker. Hardship and setbacks and dilapidated housing uncertainty only seem to spur him on creatively. Here, with this record, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success. A short lifetime of interminable practice and discipline have resulted in a masterpiece of an album, an album of a sort we haven't seen since the 1970s. If the world catches on, the Ryley that follows up this album may be a different sort of person, one who knows the taste of better liquor and comfortable bedding and might not be nearly as driven. I think he will be just as visionary, though less hungry, but either way... this is the time to get on the Ryley Walker bandwagon. Here, with Primrose Green, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success.