Ben + Vesper is the pure extract of marital bliss you've always wanted but were afraid to ask for. Crushing love songs hide themselves among shopping lists while shadowy omens take the shape of swelling laundry piles. Ben + Vesper’s words and sounds are forged in the fires of an eight year matrimony and a musical collaboration of nearly a decade. With a butter-yellow Telecaster and a hushed croon, Ben brings the listener down a sonic path filled with weathered charm and absurdity, until lost in the dim light of a spooky old forest. The thicket creeks and calls and whispers with the voice and delicate accordion of the ever radiant Vesper, granting safe passage to the most discerning ear. Together, they beckon the weary soul towards a rich spread and surround them with a faithful and talented party of players, making music that strikes hard at any heart that has ever loved and lost.
Hailing from Northern New Jersey, these wedded troubadours have just announced their most ambitious and diverse collection of songs to date through two releases on the Sounds Familyre label. "More Questions" is the first of these to be released to the hungry masses in November of 2006. This seven song family affair features Kurt Weisman and Asa Irons of the acclaimed psych-folk band Feathers, Kurt's brother Chris Weisman, and Ben's brother Josh Stamper.
This record began in Ben + Vesper’s kitchen so many years ago over three bowls of vegetarian chili, a pan of cornbread, filtered water, and an agreeable dinner guest by the name of Sufjan Stevens. The occasion was an invitation to play at a house-concert series that Ben + Vesper hosted in their living room (which resulted in Sufjan’s first live show ever). This unlikely start to Sufjan’s performing career also resulted in an ongoing friendship and musical dialogue that has recently inspired Ben + Vesper to dish out another dollop of ambrosial pop songs titled LuvInIdleness. Here is the new EP that finally brought the dinner party full circle as Sufjan, in turn, invited the Jersey-based couple across state lines, harrowing train connections and two great rivers to record 16 minutes of listening glee.
If you don’t wish to try all this, then put on the CD, and you will be pleased to hear a heavy dose of Sufjan’s bright and varied arrangements underpinning each track, and Ben’s brother Josh plucking and bowing that unmistakably gorgeous upright bass. One of the greatest achievements of LuvInIdleness is the room provided for Vesper’s voice to really shine. On every song, Vesper can be heard striding out from the shadows of a backing vocalist to command each melodic turn with her distinctive range. This gives greater weight to Ben’s understated baritone as the two voices form a pleasing union throughout the course of the album.
LuvInIdleness is not only a really satisfying listen, but also a celebration of enduring friendship.
HONORS reveals a more confident and adventurous Ben + Vesper, who have surrounded themselves with good friends who happen to be perfectly suited to translate Ben + Vesper’s songs into a pleasing and universal vernacular. Here is an album that is full of dance party music for the unsung heroes of the world. Here is an album that is brimming over with eager anticipation from one track to the next. Impeccably recorded by Brian McTear, Amy Morrisey and Daniel Smith in a total of five days, HONORS is one of those albums that marks a moment in time, a moment worth recording and listening to and talking about for years to come. Four albums in four years on Sounds Familyre, and Ben + Vesper have gone and done it. They have graduated the school of rock, with HONORS.
"All This Could Kill You" is a fiercely beautiful and mysterious collaboration between husband and wife Ben + Vesper and their cast of siblings, grade school friends, brand new friends and friendly strangers. Produced and recorded by Daniel Smith (Danielson), this 13 song album smartly navigates through wildly disparate genres and styles and lands squarely in the ranks of good music that you simply cannot be without. If Ben + Vesper must be classified, one could parse it as such: 1/3 English Country Lane, 1/3 Croonsville, 1/16th Motown, 1/32 Brazilian Psychodelialand, 1/32 Dark Mythic Forest. All comparisons aside, this is music that innocently holds hands with innovation and accessibility. The great strength of this album is the mystical connection that is instantly apparent between the couple at the helm. The low hum resonance of Ben's voice floats and falls through one gorgeous melody after another, while Vesper effortlessly breathes every harmony like a shining maiden from the nether world. One gets the feeling that Ben + Vesper are singing to you alone, reciting the forgotten letters of an old friend written in a common language that lay dormant far too long. Every song offers instrumentation that is wonderfully diverse and concise derived from a team of formidable players, some well known, and some who are bound to be. Sufjan Stevens quietly sits on the floor with his banjo, woodwinds, vocals and piano while drummer David Smith punches each song into its full dance floor potential. Daniel and his wife Elin sing and whistle and snap and knit. But the manic men behind the curtain are Ben's older brother Josh and Ben's lifelong friend Chris Weisman. Together, they worked tirelessly to forge the backdrop of sound that has you edging ever closer to your speakers. Their arrangements are fine tuned in their complexities, yet breathe the air of improvisation that reference the hardship and playfulness of life while flatly condemning the cold claws of irony that have gripped so much independent music today. “All This Could Kill You” is an album that is 100% human and still winsome to the masses. This recording achieves what all timeless music does: to look squarely at the sufferings of this life and hold out hope like a weapon for all to wield, and to have fun all the while.
From producers Isaac Wardell and Mason Neely, joined by a remarkable collection of artists (including Diane Birch, Derek Webb (Caedmon's Call), Matt Bauer, Aimee Wilson, Ben + Vesper, Elin K. Smith, and Sarah Fullen), Ê»Salvation Is CreatedÊ¼ is exceptional in its humble elegance and haunting beauty. Some of the albumÊ¼s voices are coarse and fragile, some are soaring and victorious, some are perfectly bittersweet, and all are pulled together by a mesmerizing stylistic alchemy created when grand orchestral arrangements meet slow-burn R&B bass and guitar, and are joined by the winsome tinkling of the celeste, the woodsy low of bassoon, and intimate folk whisperings, to present the Christmas drama through carols both familiar and forgotten. The idea of faith abandons the realm of the Hallmark card and enters the real world,Ê»God with usÊ¼ comes with sobriety, but with joy that penetrates to the bone.
“For more than 30 years, pop music has suffered from a God complex—attaching a scarlet letter to artists who include the religious experience in their songs.
But a new generation of musicians from across the spiritual spectrum is emerging, discarding the trappings of the Christian-culture industry to reintroduce the transcendence, beauty and historical gravity of western scared music to the places where it belongs: dinner parties, road trips and back porches.
Come O Spirit brings together artists like Dave Bazan, Damien Jurado, Rosie Thomas, Dennison Witmer, The Welcome Wagon (featuring Sufjan Stevens) and Leigh Nash to revive 400 years of long-forgotten melodies and liturgical music. The brainchild of producers Isaac Wardell and Mason Neely, Come O Spirit interprets hymnody through lush, cinematic arrangements and a drop of Southern gothic mystique. It’s like a prayer.
Released Sept. 8, together with the Smith family and Great Comfort Records.”
This new work of minimal acoustic ballads is revealed through the musical architecture of darkness and light, plumbing lyrical poetics and an American gothic sound-scape for a composition that is ultimately unique and very Zimmerman.Great Small is the latest work in his musical legacy, one that began in the 1970s with Subterranean Cafe, (an art/rock band that yielded When Dinosaurs Melt and Right on Target). Through marriage and children, this ethereal hound dog continued to channel his musical aspirations, molting into the acoustic Vancouver collective Threads of Gold, creating the ecclesiastical Stand by Night, and wrestling with his experimental solo project More At Stake.The recently released Great Small is a follow up to another solo gem from Vancouver-based Fact Records, The Northwest Years, a series of recordings archiving Zimmerman's oddball spiritual journey in Portland, Oregon. They still talk about Zimmerman there, where everyone knew him as the son of a Methodist preacher, living in a log cabin in the woods, only emerging in the local clubs to play visionary songs with an occasional backbeat. Something was burbling inside, a revelation of down home majesty, and he was running around with a dog-eared copy of Dostoyevsky, making sketches of the mind of God. Northwest is closure as much as Great Small is genesis, and the two albums together represent a shift of musical direction for Zimmerman.The sounds of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are here in Great Small, in a thick voice that can whisper, dance along a melody, or simply.growl. The imagery recalls the literati of Borghes and Calvino, a poetics of space that cites the "cities of our reason," [Influx], rotting buildings with no foundations [Interior], the fuzz of history and human memory, and God's fervent desire for union with man. Melodies are deceptively simple, and not above the occasional glockenspiel. The simplicity of these songs belies their complex interior, as they twist from the inside with spiritual warfare, gothic organs and howling children.- Melissa Herwaldt
Dan Zimmerman’s latest offering, Dreams of Earth, is the kind of work that exists only by a halfcentury spent listening and crafting songs. This kind of time ingrains in a man an understanding of how stories are told, of when to cut to the chase and when to linger on a word or a breath. From the ethereal backing vocals of Elin K. Smith and Timothy Hill, to the sublime guitar work of Tony Jones and the rock-and-roll steady rhythm section, to the light but masterful production hand of Daniel C. Smith, the music is a call to the ineffable, but it is grounded. It grooves and it moves with earthiness, dust, and sweat. Zimmerman himself is in fine voice and his own guitar turns and lilts and hammers with subtlety and swagger. All is vibrant and immediate: the space between the notes is felt as strongly as the notes themselves.
Zimmerman’s songs are a danger: protest songs raised against a passive dismissal of what heaven has pronounced good, against lack of engagement with the world as it exists here and now. Zimmerman is the Space Pilgrim whose feet are planted on solid ground. Dan ZimmermanDreams of Earth.
"COSMIC PATRIOT is a timeless pop balancing act between a stormy middle-earth apocalypse and something effortless, intimate, and unhurried. The writing, the band, the recording â€“ there’s complexity, darkness, and intensity, but it’s all so snug and woven and of-a-piece. It’s amazing how disarming a song that starts off with the battle cry, “Prepare for war, total warâ€¦” ends up being. Just as the listener finishes taking in the meaning of that chilling lyric, the song glides into a rousing homefires sing-along. Therein is the push-me-pull-me quality that exists throughout. Take “Everyday In My Heart,” which could easily be Johnny Cash covering the Cascades “Listen To The Rhythm Of The Falling Rain.” The clouds form and part, the raindrops and sunshine are interchangeable, and you couldn’t get the tune out of your head if you wanted..." -Glen Galloway, 2009
“Moment Soakers” is everything we’ve come to expect from Danielson, the musical articulation of a singularly poetic and ecstatic vision; music that simultaneously welcomes and surprises, moving both body and soul. Seven-inch vinyl was deemed the perfect format for this recording, and with its complimentary themes of flying and floating, ABBA’s “Eagle” (a long-time favorite of Smith’s) was quickly decided on as the perfect cover for the B-side.
The whole represents a new and welcome chapter in the Danielson oeuvre—a startlingly effective new band, a new thematic field (the locally-grown opus), produced with more sonic ambition than any recent Danielson effort, but without sacrificing the brave interior journey that we have come to expect from Daniel Christopher Smith: the world is complex, slightly dangerous, full of temptations, but there is still grace, beauty, meaning, and the music that is required to suggest all this is anything but easy, but that doesn’t mean it is not rewarding, beautiful, funny, sad, and generous.
In anticipation of the May 9th release of the mammoth new Danielson full-length entitled Ships, Sounds Familyreis proud to present one of three unique, limited edition 7" singles: “Dry Goods Dry Power” b/w “Left-Handed Smoke Shifter”. Recorded at Electrical Audio Studios by Steve Albini, “Dry Goodsâ€¦” finds Daniel Smith with his friends Edith Frost and Darin Gray (Grand Ulena/ Brice Glace / Dazzling Killmen) playing and singing along to rhythms created by Daniel’s Heartbeat and someone knocking on a door. Two additional 7’’ singles will be released simultaneously on Anticonwith a song performed and produced by Why? and an album track remix by J. ChristiaanPalladino, and Kill Rock Stars (with two songs produced by Kramer).
September marks the beginning of a season in which we look back upon and celebrate some of our favorite Danielson titles from a rich back catalog that has spanned over a decade. This epic journey of retrospection begins with the vinyl reissues of Tell Another Joke At The Ol’ Choppin’ Block and Fetch The Compass Kids (both being released on Secretly Canadian) and Tri-Danielson!!! (Alpha/Omega) (being released on Sounds Familyre). In addition to being back in print for the first time since 2001, these reissues have some unique attributes such as: Tell Another Joke At The Ol’ Choppin’ Block is now available as a 2x12" LP format (as opposed to the 2x10" format in which it debuted) and includes 4 bonus songs from a live WFMU session from 1996. Tri Danielson!!! (Alpha/Omega) has been partially remixed and fully remastered and makes its vinyl return dressed up in a brilliant new gatefold jacket along with a very special bonus track. Remember this is just the kick off of a busy season for Danielson, so stay tuned...
“I put this album up there with Ted Sandquist’s “Courts Of The Kings,” Phil Driscoll’s “I Exalt Thee,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” It makes me remember Mississippi John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotton. If you like Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” and Danielson’s “Ships” and Sufjan’s “Seven Swans” and, maybe, “Deep Calls To Deep,” you’ll love “Thankyou.” I wish I could just send one to everyone at my own expense. Then you’d know exactly what I am trying to say. In fact, maybe I will. â˜º” â€“ Lenny Smith
Old Friends is a record of excitement, managing a tension between control and chaos, harmony and discord, old and new; a tension that is always teetering, but never stumbling. There is also a comfortableness to the music—the same kind of comfort you feel when you’re with people you’ve known for a very long time; the comfort to risk, to stretch, to laugh. Old Friends is very special music. It is music not unlike the phenomenon of friendship itself: a sublime oddity.
Anyone who ever had a Solid Gold Heart -- wouldn't they want to turn around and share it? Of course they would. Jad Fair and Danielson do. And their 11 tracks of sweet collaboration, collected under said title, sound like what you might expect: gleaming tunes of sincere sing-speak, resplendent with sparkling back-up vocals and warmly melodic, inventive instrumentation; a sunshine-bright outlook of positive encouragement to keep "rockin' on the side of goooood" -- because, after all, "We deserve chocolate cake/ We deserve apple pie/ Enjoy your life ..."
While not a household name outside of Norway, Jorn Aleskjaer has been writing and performing music for nearly 20 years. He's released four studio albums with the indie pop band The Loch Ness Mouse with two of those albums being nominated for "Pop Album of the Year" in Norway. Now, Jorn Aleskjaer finally debuts as a solo artist.
This record sounds like a long lost classic, the sort of record you might wish you could come across crate digging in a second hand record store in a remote town in the Norwegian countryside. The production perfectly channels that '70s AM radio pop hit sound and just flavors the melodies to the point that the songs sound so familiar, like they really are already hits in your memory. The musical scope stretches from Todd Rundgren-like pop-soul to Beach Boys harmony escapades, but at the center of the album are Jorn's raw and emotional, often Dennis Wilson-esque songs and performance, and the intention has been to capture this natural flow and rawness also in the studio.
Give the album a few plays and the melodies will be stuck in your head. Truly modern retro hits offered for new listeners to discover.
‘Who Was And Is And Is To Come’, the first installment of a new two-record set from veteran songwriter Lenny Smith, is folk music through and through. It is the good story told about people and their Maker, about earth and heavens, about dirt and sky and the horizon where they embrace.
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight rounds out 2015 with Preparation Age, a new 5-song one-sided LP. It was recorded during the same sessions as a forthcoming 2016 full-length and serve as companion songs and a taste of what is to come. They build on the solidly crafted pop songs of 2014's The Best of Boiler Room Classics through sonic experimentation and take the band's sound into a hazier new territory combining influences from the synth-based rock of Wheat, Grandaddy, and Flaming Lips with Beach Boys inspired vocal harmonies. Throughout Preparation Age, Mike Adams manages to tell stories of forgotten friends and everyday people, turning fear and anxiety from the departed past into something pleasing and beautiful. In the more perfect universe next door, 2016 is the year for Mike and the boys' magnum opus crowning achievement that will earn them a well-deserved gold record. For 2015, in the here and now, it's Mike Adams At His Honest Weight's Preparation Age.
Preparation Age is presented in a limited vinyl-only release of 500 copies with the B-side featuring an etching and including a digital download code.
Octagrape emerged in 2012 as a mild case of stunted spontaneous combustion from Glen Galloway's (Soul Junk, Truman's Water) wandering imagination. Glen had a handful of weird hooks and songs he didn't know what to do with and started to play some solo shows. The band expanded into a four piece as Glen enlisted skate photographer O Bartholomew to play bass, Ely Moyal (Truman's Water) on drums, and Jason Begin on guitar. Red UFO came together as part of a batch of 30 songs recorded quickly and live-in-the-studio. From the fried pulse of opener "Real Light" to the final seasick euphoric rinse of "Trevor Cobalt", this kind of sums up the live experience all squashed up in cheap old compressors and oozing out any opening available.
Take one-half of Trumans Water mod I (Glen Galloway and Ely Moyal), add Vytear noise-dub head Jason Begin, send them on four quick tours and a trip to Gonerfest, add Alexander Dausche on the most electric bass... and what have you? A unit with road warrior ears, poor bleeding hands, and a strange desire to cover four of the wild jams they treasured the most on those all-night drives through Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Major Mayor Maxion Marble features "Syntoptikon" from Twisted Village's Major Stars, "Ghost Punch" from Sacramento's Mayyors, "Verfremdungseffekt" from Pluto's Dymaxion, and "Melted Moon" from Tokyo's Marble Sheep. Tribute, homage, thrill-bent annihilation. A 4-song cover EP.
Emotional Oil is the missing link in Octagrape's wild early 4-track jam spigot. "Eternal Hair" is Jason Begin's first octasong, with Glen Galloway scrawling mad vocal lines about careening tornado phobias and mistaken identity over top. "Teenage Baboons" is a song about Jell-O sunlight capturing and pixilating all possible future nostalgias. "Soviets": a monster riff Glen somehow unearthed while connecting Major Stars to Modulo 1000 and bouncing low sparks off a couple slapback glammed out verses. It pulls its cold-war glow from a secret stash of ancient vacuum tube storerooms hidden deep in the San Bernardino mountains; keep your comrade warm. The EP's closer is "9-Eyed Lion", and it bulldozes like some schlep ghostwriting songs about unanimous relating with Mott The Hoople. There's a clear sense of the royal stalking pain of a ravenous beast that's got you and yours completely surrounded, keeping the entire village up in shifts all night. Lighters. There is conquest, drool, saber-rattling, capture/freedom, and a roaring return to the question, "Was it ever?" The B-side features an etching by John Ringhofer (Half-handed Cloud) as an interpretation of a young Jude Galloway doodle. Cutaway: all the mind is a stage. All the required stages are out of sequence. There is a podium and a feeding-back mic for you to sing epically through to your own frontal lobe.
San Diego garage rockers return with their new full-length recorded with Chris Woodhouse (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall) and Ben Moore (Hot Snakes, Pinback). Featuring Glen Galloway (Trumans Water, Soul-Junk), Ely Moyal (Trumans Water), Jason Begin, and Alexander Dausch. The band channels their over-the-top insatiable live energy into 18 new songs and a blistering cover of Swell Maps' "Vertical Slum." The results are a blend of Octagrape's hottish live tune-delivery-syndrome and curbed bursts of studio as instrument. Desperate stabs at blending the songwriting un-writing lessons they appeared to learn on the Major Mayor Maxion Marble covers EP with a forced step into no/new/neu-wave. Jinxed sophomores managing to prune themselves into a number of unexpected shapes only to crush bits of woolly nectar out of each. And all of it delivered with the utmost urgent confidence that the rest of the listening universe needs to hear this as badly as they need to unburden themselves of it...
“Luxuriating within the lustrous musical harbor of the Ortolan sisterhood is the great strength of Stephanie Cottingham's lyrics. She talks of space and place, street corners, trees, and “sitting here reading this all on the ground.” We are able to explore these rooms with her, dream alongside her, join her in the desire to “Be So Bold” and “wish I could liveâ€¦to the fullest”. We know with her that “I was meant for something more”. We face “Sticky Situations” in the midst of which we struggle to “make things better” and believe the best about people and ourselves. Daniel Smith's fine production has framed all this in such a way that there is little to hinder our entrance.
Music like this is rare. It addresses us kindly, directly, without pretense or irony. It is not cool or hip or self-contained. It is unabashedly vulnerable, open to encounter. It's not often anymore that you hear the music of young people. Not just young people, but anyone who is still engaged in becoming who they are. Ortolan includes us in the family, encouraging us to grow along with them. As we walk from room to room, past painting after painting, here is something that invites us to pause, enter in, and to become a kindred participant in its quest.”
-Dan Zimmerman, 2009