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."
There is something unforgettable about great love songs, and Briana Marela's Call It Love wraps its welcoming arms around the subject, invoking all its complexity. Before writing the songs that would become Call It Love, Briana Marela was guided first and foremost by her instincts as a producer & engineer. Marela's original vision for this album was to dig into the two poles of her songwriting styles: her ambient, ethereal side and her brighter, beat-driven pop leanings. She enlisted the production help of Juan Pieczanski & Ryan Heyner of the band Small Black upon hearing their most recent self-produced album.
On this album, Briana Marela has made her proverbial giant leap, deepening her songwriting and expanding her palette to explore the sounds of love in beautiful, striking new ways. "Give Me Your Love" explores what Marela calls "love's immature, silly & selfish side." "Quit", the deep, dramatic centerpiece of Call It Love, was originally penned about a breakup with a longtime partner and written with the idea that she could give the song away to another artist. Instead, "Quit" is powerful and revealing in Briana's own hands. And, if "Be In Love" is the sound of falling in love, "Farthest Shore" is the sound of looking inward, of reckoning with and without ourselves. It is an intricate, cavernous song, setting a deceptively pretty melody over ominous drones and skittering percussion. And here, again, the contradictory becomes complementary.
After a string of well-received 7" releases on labels like Suicide Squeeze and Die Slaughterhaus, Dasher songs new and old have finally been smelted down into their debut album, Sodium. Dasher knifes out the chop-crunch guitar of latterday post-punk with a seething screech echoing the hardest horizons of the early 90's underground.
It's Trevor Sensor's voice you notice first. A deep bubbling black tar pit of a sound, it's a voice whose unique timbre resonates far beyond the constraints of the songwriting format. It demands the listener reaches for a new vocabulary.
The 23 year old's debut album Andy Warhol's Dream is part of a literate folk lineage that runs from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan through Tom Waits and onto the likes of Bon Iver, Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens today. It’s an unflinching honest album, transcendent in its exploration of self and sonically a collision between the classic and the forward-thinking.
Sensor's debut EP for the label, 'Texas Girls and Jesus Christ', was written on a borrowed acoustic guitar and took him out into the world. 2016 saw him tour Europe before hitting the road in the US for tours with Foy Vance and The Staves.
Andy Warhol's Dream was recorded to tape at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio and produced by both Jonathan Rado of Foxygen (The Lemon Twigs, Whitney) and songwriter/producer Richard Swift (Damien Jurado, Foxygen). His backing band featured members of Whitney.
On these 11 songs Sensor doesn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as flings it out in the darkness of the front rows that sit beyond the glare of the single blinding spotlight. This is the sound of one man’s soul laid bare, facing life head on.
Early in 2016, The Besnard Lakes released their finest album to date, the magisterial A Coliseum Complex Museum and toured worldwide throughout the following months. Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, the couple at the heart of the band, had spent the previous summer on their annual retreat to their namesake Besnard Lake. In a place with so much personal significance, they spent time writing the music that was to form the album. Culling the tracks down to an album proved a difficult task and inevitably there were tracks they loved that just didn't quite fit with the overall album.
So it is with delight that almost exactly a year on, the band are able to release this 12" of two brand new, exclusive tracks written and recorded at the same time as the album. "Laura Lee" is a sibling track to the album's illustrious first single, "The Golden Lion" - spacious reverb-y drums echo around an almost sci-fi vocal line sung by Olga Goreas. Meanwhile, the title track "The Divine Wind" is the Besnard Lakes at their expansive, psychedelic best: a sustained keyboard building through to a bombastic coda, complete with Lasek's unmistakable falsetto.
If you ever needed a reminder of just how unique, beautiful and far-reaching this band is, then The Besnard Lakes Are the Divine Wind delivers. They’ll be on tour on the west coast of North America in December and worldwide throughout 2017.
Saturday Night, the first proper solo album from Tim Darcy (Ought), comes from one of those crossroads-type moments in life where one has to walk to the edge before knowing which way to proceed. Each track is woven to the next in a winding, complex journey through a charged, continuous present. There are love/love lost songs like the standout, almost-New Wave "Still Waking Up" in which a Smiths-esque melody builds upon an underbrush that recalls 60s AM pop and country. Darcy's unmistakable, commanding voice and lyrical phrasing are, as they are in Ought, an instrument here: vital to the entire affair. There's a line in "Tall Glass of Water," the album's Velvet Underground-nodding opening track, where Darcy asks himself a rhetorical question: "if at the end of the river, there is more river, would you dare to swim again?" He barely pauses before the answer: "Yes, surely I will stay, and I am not afraid. I went under once, I'll go under once again." That river shows up again and again in the lyrics of Saturday Night. It's about how wonderful it can be to feel in touch with that inner current. It's about how good it feels to make art, and how terrifying; how you don't always get to choose whether you're swimming or drowning as we grow and move through life, just that you're going to keep diving in. That's the impulse that links all the songs on Saturday Night, makes them glow.
Foxygen is the Big Bang of two combusting minds. It's the splayed Galaxy of polar geniuses Sam France and Jonathan Rado. It's a handshake with a knife behind your back. A sleepless night in a five star hotel.
You listen to Hang properly. You take in each moment. Each new melody that threads forward from the fingertips of one of this generation's finest piano men in Jonathan Rado. And you fall in line behind Sam France's sprawling and reckless lyric. Witness his mastery. Feel them struggle against the walls of their own creations. Follow them there. To the perimeter. To the exit sign.
Notice that the two young guys aren't there anymore. They're outside looking for another joint to haunt. They're already out of sight.
Ruins is Wolf People's new album, and its over-riding theme is that of nature reclaiming the land. The transcendence of life over politics, plants over people. It asks: where are we going and what comes next? If culture is history's narration, then Wolf People are custodians and conduits; electrified sages, if you will. Through them runs a time-line of a nation rising from bloody glory to existentialist confusion. Yet within Ruins, their album proper, lies a spirit of hope too, it is a reminder that society is no match for the mighty power of music and nature working in perfect symbiosis. Wolf People are time travellers, their tools mythology, history, hauntology, big riffs, bigger beats, electricity. Recorded in Devon, Isle Of Wight and London, Ruins is their most direct and instinctive work yet, simultaneously reaching back into a fecund past to tell us who we are today, while harnessing the power of modern technology and ideas to ponder unknown futures. Lyrically Ruins imagines how the planet might appear when society has finally fallen to dust and ash, and the creeping vines and nettles have reclaimed the land. It is the product of letting go of conceit, contrivance and, indeed, a career plan. Influences upon Ruins come in all shapes, size, contours and hues: the discovery of proto Sabbath/Zeppelin Scottish band Iron Claw, the lesser known landscapes of rural Bedfordshire, backstage Taekwondo stretches, Scandinavian psychedelia, fleeting rural epiphanies, Dungen, Trees, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, a group holiday on a remote Finnish island, and Jagjaguwar flipping out after seeing them play in Bloomington, Indiana and insisting it was time they made their Back In Black...
22, A Million is part love letter, part final resting place of two decades of searching for self-understanding like a religion. And the inner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding. The album's 10 poly-fi recordings are a collection of sacred moments, love's torment and salvation, contexts of intense memories, signs that you can pin meaning onto or disregard as coincidence. If Bon Iver, Bon Iver built a habitat rooted in physical spaces, then 22, A Million is the letting go of that attachment to a place.
When the four members of Preoccupations wrote and recorded their new record, they were in a state of near total instability. Years-long relationships ended; they left homes behind. Frontman Matt Flegel, guitarist Danny Christiansen, multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro and drummer Mike Wallace all moved to different cities and they resolved to change their band name, but hadn't settled on a new one.
And so where their previous album 'Viet Cong' was built in some ways on the abstract cycles of creation and destruction, 'Preoccupations' explores how that sometimes-suffocating, sometimes-revelatory trap affects our lives.
Opener "Anxiety" articulates that tension: clattering sounds drift into focus, "Monotony" moves at a narcoleptic pace by Preoccupations' standards, "Degraded" surprises, with something like a traditional structure and an almost pop-leaning melody to its chorus, and the 11-minute-long "Memory" is the album's keystone, with an intimate narrative and a truly timeless post-punk center.
All this adds up to Preoccupations: a singular, bracing collection that proves what's punishing can also be soothing, everything can change without disrupting your compass. Your best year can be your worst year at the same time. Whatever sends you flying can also help you land.
1. Preoccupations on clear vinyl2. Preoccupations on CD3. Bonus 7” featuring two covers, of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Key” and The Raincoats’ “Off Duty Trip”4. 11” x 17” poster featuring album art5. Digital download code for the album (containing 320kbps MP3s) redeemable two (2) weeks before release date on September 2, 2016
Anyone reckless enough to have typecast Angel Olsen according to 2013's Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in for a rethink with her third album, MY WOMAN. The crunchier, blown-out production of the former is gone, but that fire is now burning wilder. Her disarming, timeless voice is even more front-and-center. Yet, the strange, raw power and slowly unspooling incantations of her previous efforts remain.
Over two previous albums, she gave us reverb-shrouded poetic swoons, shadowy folk, grunge-pop band workouts and haunting, finger-picked epics. MY WOMAN is an exhilarating complement to her past work, and one for which Olsen recalibrated her writing/recording approach and methods to enter a new music-making phase.
As the record evolves, one gets the sense that the "MY WOMAN" of the title is Olsen herself, absolutely in command but also willing to bend with the influence of collaborators and circumstances. An intuitively smart, warmly communicative and fearlessly generous record, MY WOMAN speaks to everyone. That it might confound expectation is just another of its strengths.