The expansive American experience Lonnie Holley quilts together across his astounding new album, MITH, is both multitudinous and finely detailed. Holley's self-taught piano improvisations and stream-of-consciousness lyrical approach have only gained purpose and power since he introduced the musical side of his art in 2012 with Just Before Music, followed by 2013's Keeping a Record of It. But whereas his previous material seemed to dwell in the Eternal-Internal, MITH lives very much in our world - the one of concrete and tears; of dirt and blood; of injustice and hope.
Across these songs, in an impressionistic poetry all his own, Holley touches on Black Lives Matter ("I'm a Suspect"), Standing Rock ("Copying the Rock") and contemporary American politics ("I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America"). A storyteller of the highest order, he commands a personal and universal mythology in his songs of which few songwriters are capable - names like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom and Gil Scott-Heron come to mind.
MITH was recorded over five years in locations such as Porto, Portugal; Cottage Grove, Oregon; New York City and Holley's adopted hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. These 10 songs feature contributions from fellow cosmic musician Laraaji, jazz duo Nelson Patton, visionary producer Richard Swift, saxophonist Sam Gendel and producer/musician Shahzad Ismaily.
In 2000-2001, when this album was written, recorded, and conceptualized, Oneida was a pretty hectic organization, committed to confrontation and tragipsych and Wu-Tang and electro relentlessness. The record was made by the original quartet lineup of the band, founded in 1997; and the tour that followed the completion of the album in late 2001 was the final 35-date hurrah of this lineup. When the record finally saw the light of day in early 2002, the band hadn’t broken up but was in a process of irrevocable transformation.
Oneida began as a project, then became a gang. Come On Everybody Let's Rock (2000) and Anthem of the Moon (2001) were absolutely gang work, and Each One Teach One was a logical final blow. We had been through some intimate dances on the road with the medical and legal professions by this point, and we'd left some blood in most US states - and not always on purpose. So in some respects this record is a baring of scars. Our original label, Turnbuckle Records, had closed its doors with no warning in 1999, giving rise to the oldest tune on the album, "No Label"; and both extended pieces on the record, "Sheets of Easter" and "Antibiotics", conjoin pain and possibility in some more metaphysical or metaphorical ways that absolutely reflect our collective state of disorientation at the time.
The music on Each One Teach One was recorded in several different locations, under different circumstances, and using different compositional techniques. Some of the songs were built piece by piece through the recording and editing process; some were conceptualized ahead of time and approached with some science; and some were pure instinct. All four members of the band worked on composing â€“ like I said, this was a gang doing gang work â€“ and the final result, this album, is an accurate document of Oneida following the turn of the century.
Julie Doiron's stunning album DÃ©sormais, originally released via Jagjaguwar in 2001, marked a departure from the Canadian artist's grunge pop releases in the 1990s. Like its title might suggest, the intimate record is sung almost entirely in French. Across DÃ©sormais' ten tracks, Doiron builds a disarming and warm atmosphere - through minimally-composed fingerpicking, Doiron's soft voice steers a wounded sound. Even for the English-speaking listener, the cohesion of the LP's subdued, immersive atmosphere looms. DÃ©sormais clearly communicates a close, unflinching look at self-doubt submerged in melancholy.
Heart and Crime, released less than a year later in 2002, traverses much of the same territory. Written within the same time as DÃ©sormais, Heart and Crime is a companion to its predecessor, similarly vulnerable and scarce compositionally, save for flickers of brass or a piano line flitting in or out. Again, its weight comes from its somber simplicity, in Doiron's wistful voice and lyricism.
DÃ©sormais and Heart and Crime serve as visceral time capsules for Doiron's own personal history. It’s fitting, then that the records are also distinct placeholders within the Jagjaguwar canon. DÃ©sormais and Heart and Crime came at a time just as the label began to widen its scope. Doiron's work was amongst the first in a new era of Jagjaguwar artists that expanded the label’s roster and aesthetic, ushering in new and diverse definitions of Jagjaguwar's early dedication to emotional dissonance.
Max Clarke has a knack for conjuring up warmth in his music, like endless summer or ageless youth. The 27-year-old's debut LP, Hollow Ground, crackles with the heat of a love-struck nostalgia, woven together with a palpable Everly Brothers' influence and retro sound. It reaches back into decades of plainspoken, unfussy, and squarely American storytelling and pulls it forth into 2018.
Some of Hollow Ground bloomed from that same period of driven creativity that yielded EP Alien Sunset; both "Like Going Down Sideways" and "Don’t Want To Say Good-Bye" find new life on the LP.
The rest is new. There's "Till Tomorrow Goes Away," a sheepish love song, thrumming with twangy guitar and a two-step rhythm. "Cash For Gold" channels buoyancy; a doo-wop effect on the sleepy backing vocals build out the dreaminess of Clarke's own affecting croon.
Hollow Ground strikes the balance between cerebral and simplicity in his storytelling. His lyrics explore the raw realm of youth, its weightlessness and possibilities, but channeled through a lens of restraint. Someone who's old enough to know better but still gets drawn back in to the romanticism of teenage feelings - and knows how to take the listener along, too.
Where are we headed? What are we consuming, how is it affecting us, and why does everything feel so bad and weird sometimes? These are some of the questions posed on Ruban Nielson's fourth album as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sex & Food. Recorded in a variety of locales from Seoul and Hanoi to Reykjavik, Mexico City, and Auckland, Sex & Food is a practical musical travelogue, with local musicians from the countries that Neilson and his band visited pitching in throughout.
Sex & Food is the most eclectic and expansive Unknown Mortal Orchestra release yet, from the light-footed R&B of "Hunnybee" to the stomping flange of "Major League Chemicals." "If You’re Going to Break Yourself" and "Not in Love We're Just High" chronicle the effects of drugs and addiction on personal relationships, while the lyrics "Ministry of Alienation" drip with modern-day paranoia like the silvery guitar tones that jewel the song's structure.
The modern world, and all the thorny complications that come with living in it, loomed large on Ruban's mind while making Sex & Food. Though he's not afraid to get topical throughout, as evidenced on the surprisingly boisterous "American Guilt" or the roomy-disco medication-meditation "Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays".
A statement of selflessness, to be sure-but make no mistake: Sex & Food reaffirms the vitality of Ruban's voice in today’s musical landscape.
Preoccupations' songs have always worked through themes of creation, destruction, and futility, and they've always done it with singular post-punk grit. The textures are evocative and razor-sharp. The wire is always a live one. But while that darker side may have been expertly explored, it's not quite the same as having been fully, intensely lived. This time it was, and the result is 'New Material', Preoccupations' deepest and most fully realized record to date. In it lies the difference between witnessing a car crash and crashing your own, between jumping into an ocean and starting to swallow the water.
Nap Eyes are all Nova Scotians by raising and temperament, acclimated to life on an Atlantic peninsula linked narrowly to the rest of North America. I'm Bad Now, which follows enigmatic frontman Nigel Chapman's quest for self-understanding, is their most transparent and personal to date and constitutes the third chapter of an implicit, informal trilogy that includes Whine of the Mystic (2015) and Thought Rock Fish Scale (2016). While Nigel composes songs in their inchoate form at home in Halifax, Brad Loughead (lead guitar), Josh Salter (bass), and Seamus Dalton (drums), who live a twelve-hour drive away in Montreal, augment and arrange them, transubstantiating his skeletal, ruminative wafers into discourses that transcend. The band provides ballast and bowspirit to Nigel's cosmical mind, this album lending itself to a new sonic clarity, depth and range to match his effortless melodies and extraordinary writing.
At its heart, Hundred Acres - the third full-length from Wisconsin singer/songwriter S. Carey - finds him grounded and confident, writing the strongest songs of his career. More direct than ever, there is a wellspring of confidence in this new batch of songs that allow for ideas to remain uncomplicated while laying bare the intricacies of life.Written in between touring schedules and the growth of his family, Carey produced Hundred Acres at April Base in Fall Creek, WI with support from his regular crew and contributions from the likes of Rob Moose (yMusic), Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Sophie Payten (Gordi). He employed a smaller, more focused scale of instrumentation than on his previous albums while writing mostly on guitar instead of his go-to piano. Using more traditional song structures instead of the Steve Reich-ian repetitions of his past work, a new balance is struck that creates something unique. The result is a collection of poetic yet clear-eyed songs that both stand brightly on their own and tightly weave together to create a powerful album.
In late 2013, Preoccupations - then known as Viet Cong - released a small-run cassette EP only available on tour. Over the course of a year, Matt Flegel and Scott Munro worked in their basement studio with a mess of old and run down equipment to build a set of fresh material. Joined by bandmates Daniel Christiansen and Michael Wallace, the band completed work on an debut cassette. What emerged from the studio was a mixture of sharply-angled rhythm workouts and euphoric '60s garage pop-esque melodies, balanced with a penchant for drone-y, VU-styled downer moments, and became a hard-to-find classic.
How do you best describe Angel Olsen? From the lo-fi, sparse folk-melancholy of her 2010 EP, Strange Cacti, to the electrified, polished rock 'n' roll bursting from 2016's beloved and acclaimed MY WOMAN, Olsen has refused to succumb to a single genre, expectation, or vision. Impossible to pin down, Olsen navigates the world with her remarkable, symphonic voice and a propensity for narrative, her music growing into whatever shape best fits to tell the story. Phases is a collection of Olsen's work culled from the past several years, including a number of never-before-released tracks. "Fly On Your Wall," previously contributed to the Bandcamp-only, anti-Trump fundraiser Our First 100 Days, opens Phases, before seamlessly slipping into "Special," a brand new song from the MY WOMAN recording sessions. Both "How Many Disasters" and "Sans" are first-time listens: home-recorded demos that have never been released, leaning heavily on Olsen's arresting croon and lonesome guitar.The b-sides compilation is both a testament to Olsen's enormous musical range and a tidy compilation of tracks that have previously been elusive in one way or another. Balancing tenacity and tenderness, Phases acts as a deep-dive for longtime fans, as well as a fitting introduction to Olsen's sprawling sonics for the uninitiated.
"Alien Sunset" is a collection of home-recorded "demos" from Max Clarke's time living in Chicago (Side A) and New York City (Side B). Each track has a sturdy, four-legged American quality, but also contains a gentleness and sense of stolen privacy. The arrangements are both dense and airy, decadent without sacrificing an ounce of effervescence. Something about this EP looks back over time’s shoulder, but it isn't really "retro" music, it just glitters in a way you don’t often hear these days.
If this collection can be said to have any sort through-line, a whiff of motif, it revolves around the obvious delight Max takes in singing his heart out, despite variegated agony. The lyrical work moves from simple, diary-like musings, self-consciousness on the dance floor and general lust problems, to illuminated text. As a lyricist, Max draws upon the Romantics and Symbolists of the rock and roll poet tradition; "Song of the Highest Tower" was written the day Lou Reed died and is an adaptation of a poem from Rimbaud. The project itself, Cut Worms, borrows its striking and ambiguous imagery from the William Blake poem, "Proverbs from Hell": The cut worm forgives the plow.
Jamila Wood's cultural lineage - from her love of Lucille Clifton's poetry or letters from her grandmother or the late 80s post-punk of The Cure - helped structure the progressive, delicate and minimalist soul of HEAVN, her debut solo album released summer of 2016 on Closed Sessions, now set for a re-release by Jagjaguwar and Closed Sessions in October 2017. "It’s like a collage process," she says. "It's very enjoyable to me to take something I love and mold it into something new." A frequent guest vocalist in the hip-hop, jazz and soul world, Jamila has emerged as a once-in-a-generation voice on her soul-stirring debut.
Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Woods grew up in a family of music lovers. An artist of substance creating music crafted with a sturdy foundation of her passions and influences. You'll find the bits and pieces of her past and present that make Jamila: family, the city of Chicago, self-care, and the black women she calls friends. True and pure in its construction and execution, her music is the best representation of Jamila herself: strong in her roots, confident in her ideas, and attuned to the people, places and things shaping her world.
Written in Montreal, Los Angeles, Asheville, Topanga, Laguna, Big Bear, coastal Nicaragua, and on a sleepy ship traversing the Pacific ocean, making Aromanticism was a 3-year adventure into the parts of the self that society encourages us to silence for the sake of our sanity.
The album title was chosen before any of its songs were written. The not-yet-in-the-dictionary definition of an "aromantic" is simply someone who doesn't completely feel romantic attraction. I'm just trying to get it out from over the red squiggly line.
Aromanticism features performances and production contributions from Matt Otto (Majical Cloudz), Thundercat, Joshua Willing Halpern, Paris Strother (KING), Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Rob Moose, Ian Chang (Son Lux), Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders), Nicole Miglis (Hundred Waters), Ludwig Gorannson, Cam Obi and more. All of the lyrics and vocal arrangements were written by me. Genre is shirked while choir-inspired vocal layering is employed in order to explore the multiplicities that are contained within a single person. - Moses Sumney, June 2017
Midnight Sister is brought to you by the isolating landscape of the San Fernando Valley - its colors, diners, lunatics, neon lights. Midnight Sister's Juliana Giraffe and Ari Bazoulian, both lifelong residents of this storied valley, have only become more inspired by the area's mythology over the years: its two-faced magical wonderland and tragic circus.
Giraffe, 23, an AndrÃ© 3000 fashion disciple and daughter of an LA disc jockey, was raised almost exclusively on disco and David Bowie. Her lyrics and lyrical melodies were composed gazing out from a tiny retail window on Sunset Boulevard. Her Rear Window-like longing allowed her imagination to run wild and cook up the wild narratives that would fill Balouzian's compositions. Balouzian, 27, classically trained and already a go-to arranger for odd-pop names like Tobias Jesso Jr. and Alex Izenberg, is inspired by the immersive, almost visual language of Stravinsky and Ravel as much as the cinematic jeu d'esprit of Altman's Brewster McCloud and Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love.
Saturn Over Sunset, their debut album, is a shared musical vision of Hollywood's oddest corners. It is the baroque, eldritch alley you must pass through to fine the speakeasy night of your life. You’ll come out bleary-eyed and the sunrise will be pouring all pink and orange through the smog and palm trees.
On the farm in rural Australia where 24-year-old Sophie Payten - AKA Gordi - grew up, there's a paddock that leads down to a river. A few hundred meters away sits another house, which belongs to her 93-year-old grandmother. The rest, she says, "is just beautiful space. And what else would you fill it with if not music?"
And so she did, first tinkling away on an out-of-tune piano, and then on the acoustic guitar she got for her 12th birthday. Gordi's first foray into songwriting came in the form of performances at her school’s weekly chapel. There the chrysalis of the music she's making now — a brooding, multi-layered blend of electronica and folk, with lyrics that tend to avoid well-trodden paths -- began to form. "I often find that writing about platonic relationships," she says, "can be a great deal more powerful than writing about romantic ones." "Heaven I Know," the first single from Gordi's debut album Reservoir, is an example of just that. With the breathy chant of "123" chugging along beneath the song's sparse melody and melancholic piano chords, "Heaven I Know" gazes at the embers of a fading friendship. The ramifications of loss ripple throughout Reservoir, which she wrote and recorded in Wisconsin, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, and Sydney. Gordi produced two of the tracks herself ("Heaven I Know" and "I'm Done"), and co-produced the rest.
When it comes down to it, the running thread of the album is its lyrics. "Music is kind of what encases this story that you're trying to tell," says Gordi. Her stories are stark, honest, and soul-searching. Like "the trifecta" of Billy Joel, Carole King and James Taylor that sound-tracked her upbringing, she's unafraid to sit in contemplative melancholy — a place she calls, fittingly, "the reservoir."