50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't be Wrong is the debut by Alabama-raised, Austin-based Caroline Sallee, aka Caroline Says. There are rays of youth beaming through this music, but they never outshine a kind of maturity that betrays the fact that Sallee was just 22 years old when 50 Million was made. After college she took a job as a waitress in Yellowstone as an exercise in solitude and independence. With the money she saved there, she took a transformative journey via Greyhound to explore the West Coast before returning to Alabama where she would record her debut album in her parents' basement. 50 Million puts us in the seat right next to Sallee where we can feel the warm West Coast light through the window, the bus route charting the lines between our youth, and our delayed future.
Sallee's gift lies in pitting the familiar against the unexpected with a delicate assuredness, never compromising the one for the other. These kinds of debuts can sometimes feel like an over-promise of what is to come, but in the case of Caroline Says there's clearly plenty more thread to be unraveled. It'll be a pleasure to see where the next bus ride takes us.
Akinetic, the new album from Chicago songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall's one-man polymathic project In Tall Buildings sees its creator plunge headlong into allegories of communication, loss, impulse, vice, and mass-denialism. With the addition of producer and engineer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) Hall crashes through the aforementioned subject matter with brightness and lucidity, yielding his most intelligent and focused songwriting yet. Working out of his house with Deck in Pilsen, Chicago, Hall's efforts yield ten tracks of spacious and textured handmade pop, comprising one of the most sharply written and deftly recorded home-studio albums in memory.
Where his previous titles were natural documents of his musicianship and songcraft, Akinetic arose from deliberate intent to write in concrete pop forms, lyrically informed by what he observed of modern culture, namely its fixation on technology-driven pseudo-progress at the cost of direct communication. "Rather than merely dwell in an inviting musical bed," Hall states, "I wanted to write songs with intentionality that would more directly declare themselves to a listener instead of just passively inviting them in."
That this was all achieved by one person playing every instrument, gently guided by a kindred and veteran co-producer, denotes Akinetic as the greatest height yet reached for In Tall Buildings.
Austin's Balmorhea has always made beautiful music, but that pulchritude has often belied the underlying sensuality that makes their music so inviting. The band takes a giant leap forward, embracing that sensuality, on their bold and variegated new album All is Wild, All is Silent. Now a six piece, the band known for their understated simplicity and restraint has produced an album as complex as the workings of the lonely human heart.
All Will Prosper, Keith Kenniff's latest album under the Goldmund moniker, is a collection of 14 traditional Civil War-era folk songs and one contemporary track "Asoken Farewell." Kenniff has always been a student of Civil War history and culture. From the Ken Burns documentary series on PBS to Bill Carothers' solo piano album The Blues and The Greys, he has studied and enjoyed the music that tied friends and families together in a time when the nation was being torn apart.
Recorded over a period of 5 years in various houses in Massachusetts, Oregon, and North Carolina, Kenniff's arrangements feel fresh and intimate, while retaining the wistful charms and timeless appeal of the originals. In part the album's intimacy is created by his recording technique. With the top of the piano left completely open, microphones were placed close enough to capture the mechanical movement of the keys being pressed and the pedals squeaking. Similarly the acoustic guitar is close-mic'd, tracing the sounds of his fingers scraping and plucking the metal strings. The result creates a rich, almost hyper-real environment, where the tiniest details are magnified and brought to the surface.
"This music is first and foremost about what can be done together, live in a room, to both transcend and reclaim ourselves from the noise of public living. I'm waging a sort of secular, one-man liturgy here; a public act grounded in ritual. These songs offer wordless hymns and pulsing harmonic frameworks one might use to focus their own contemporary values. Instrumental music particularly offers the opportunity for personal interpretation and reflection. In this ever-fucked world, that seems perpetually in short supply.
"I've been creating instrumental music a long time now, under my own name and via bands (Slow Six, Wires Under Tension). I've also built software a long time - yes, I do this for Google. I did my time in Princeton's PhD program for music composition, NYU's Masters of computer science program, and at Bard studying creative writing. I worked live sound for years at NYC clubs now gone (CBGB's, Brownies) while immersing myself in minimalism, assisting LaMonte Young. As a string arranger I get to work with lots of great artists including John Congleton, This Will Destroy You, and Meshell Ndegeocello to name a few."
Based in Nashville, but raised in a coal miner's company house on the banks of Buffalo Creek, WV, Stone Jack Jones is the descendant of four generations of coal miners. After being rejected from military service in Vietnam due to epilepsy, and discouraged from pursuing the coal mining business, Jack decided to start wandering. By the time he landed in Nashville, where he met Roger Moutenot, Patty Griffin, and Kurt Wagner, Jack had worked as a carny, an escape artist, a ballet dancer, a professional lute player, and even owned a strip club.
Ancestor was produced in collaboration with Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney, and many others), and features contributions by Patty Griffin, and Lambchop members Ryan Norris, Scott Martin, and Kurt Wagner. Intensely meditative, the album patiently explores the hardness of the coal mines, the mystery of suicide, the comfort of a dog's love and acceptance, the idea that forgetting all you know can be the first step towards hearing and reconnecting with your muse, and one man's gratitude for the love he's been given and the life he's had the chance to live.
Anne, the second album By Toronto saxophonist and composer Joseph Shabason, is a tonal essay on degenerative illness. Delicately and compassionately woven with interviews of Shabason’s mother from whom the album takes its name, Anne finds its creator navigating a labyrinth of subtle and tragic emotions arising from his mother's struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Across the nine vivid postcards of jazz-laden ambience that comprise the album, Shabason unwraps these difficult themes with great care and focus revealing the unseen aspects of degenerative diseases that force us to re-examine common notions of self, identity, and mortality.
Shabason's uncanny ability to manoeuvre through such microscopic feelings is mirrored by his capacity to execute a similar tightrope-walk through musical genres. His music occupies a specific space that is as palpable as it is difficult to pin labels to. On Anne's second track "Deep Dark Divide" rays of effected saxophone shine behind clouds of digital synthesizer that echoes the sound of jazz in the late 80s, but with a Jon Hassell-esque depth of sensibility that consciously subverts the stylistic inoffensiveness of that era. There is detail and idiosyncrasy beneath Shabason’s dawn-of-the-CD-era sheen that elevates the album far beyond a mere aesthetic exercise.
Indiana-born, everywhere-based singer-songwriter Peter Oren possesses a remarkable singing voice, low and deep and richly textured: as solid as a glacier, as big as a mountain. It rumbles in your conscience, a righteous sound that marks him as an artist for our tumultuous times, when sanity seems absent from popular discussions. The songs on Anthropocene are direct and poetic, outraged and measured, taking in the entire fucked-up world from his fixed point of view.
Oren attracted the attention of Ken Coomer, the former drummer for Wilco and a producer in Nashville. Together, the duo assembled a backing band featuring some of the city's finest session musicians, including keyboard player Michael Webb (John Fogerty), singer Maureen Murphy (Zac Brown Band), and guitarists Sam Wilson (Sons of Bill) and Laur Jaomets (Sturgill Simpson). On Anthropocene they provide stately backing for Oren's songs, with drips of pedal steel and quivers of strings subtly reinforcing his observations about the state of the world. "Throw Down" bristles with energy and resolve, penned for "the people on the far, far left," Oren says, "the anarchists and the rioters. There's not often a voice that's trying to understand those people or defend those positions."
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and currently residing in Beverly, Massachusetts, violinist, vocalist and songwriter Aisha Burns began playing violin when she was 10 years old, and has been touring and recording since 2006. Soon after moving to Austin in 2005, she gained her start with folk-rock outfit Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band, and joined the instrumental ensemble Balmorhea on violin in 2007. After years of secret singing, she released her solo debut Life in the Midwater in 2013. Called "twisting, ethereal...arresting" by Dazed Magazine, and praised for its "delicate intimacy" by NPR, Life in the Midwater explored mortality and relationships with candor and wisdom. Her new album Argonauta, is a collection of songs about her struggle with the grief of losing her mother, while also navigating a new relationship, and ultimately trying to figure out what the new normal is for her life.
Saxophonist and composer Joseph Shabason's debut Aytche builds a bridge off of the precipice his forbears established, skirting jazz, ambient, and even new age with the same deliberate genre-ambiguity that made their work so interesting.
Aytche is a document of exploration both inward and outward. Every step taken in sound-design mirrors a stride in emotionality, as Shabason employs a variety of effect pedals to coax rich moody textures from his instrument. He explains, "I feel like robbing the sax of the ability to shred by effecting it and turning it into a dense chordal instrument really helps the instrument become something that it's not usually known for." Aytche deals with themes of degenerative illness and assisted suicide with eloquence that instrumental music rarely achieves regarding any subject, much less such difficult ones.
Album highlight "Westmeath" approaches Aytche's subject of inspiration head-on. Here, the album's only verbalization appears in the form of an interview with a man discussing his father's trauma and eventual suicide after surviving the holocaust. Though we only hear a few obscured words and phrases from the interview, the impact is powerful. For Shabason, whose grandparents survived the holocaust, this selection is anything but frivolous.
For the past eight years the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have nurtured and refined their creative partnership as the core members of the band Balmorhea. Though their first album on Western Vinyl Rivers Arms (2008) garnered some remarkable press, their self-titled debut, recorded in 2006 and released in 2007 best captures the duo's unique magic as it first blossomed. With no label, distributor, manager, publicist, or booking agent the duo quietly self-released their first recordings and started playing live shows. Now, seven years later Western Vinyl is honored to have the opportunity reissue the band's self-titled album, and make it available on vinyl for the first time ever.
In preparation for this special reissue, the audio was lovingly remastered, drawing out even more of the nuances... magnifying the sounds of Muller and Lowe's fingers on the instruments, and teasing out the textures that set these recordings apart from the rest of their catalog. Throughout the album the distant sounds of Texas grackles, the warm summer rain, the steady rhythm of crickets chirping, and creaking wooden stools, all seeping in to cradle the notes in a restrained din of primordial wonder.
Since the year 2000, Salim Nourallah's music has received praise frompublications such as Time Out New York, Amplifier, Salon.com andRollingstone.com. The public's appreciation for his work was clear when heplayed SXSW 2004 to a standing room only crowd, for his debut of Polaroid.Salimâ€šs latest release, Beautiful Noise, finds him reflecting on themes ofmortality, aging, lost love and, refreshingly, hope as an antidote todespair. His keen pop sensibilities shine through on songs like"Montreal," a McCartney-esque anthem to the joys of coupledom and "TheWorld Is Full of Peopleâˆ‘" a ballad filled with fatherly worries and love. On Beautiful Noise Salim connects with his listeners with emotional andengaging songwriting, comparable to the Beatles, Wilco, Big Star, or Beck.
Belly of the Lion, is David Wingo's much anticipated sophomore effort under the name Ola Podrida. Chockfull of unsentimental love songs, the album pulses with the burgeoning sexuality borne of feral adolescent summers spent in the sprawling suburbs of the South. It's hard not to be wooed, as the songs gingerly lay to rest the calamities that inevitably befall an adventurous heart.
Blast Off Through the Wicker documents Art Feynman looking for life in the lifeless, questioning what it means to be living. There is a calm, disciplined pocket to be felt in everything Feynman does; krautrock slink, staccato bounce, and pentatonic bursts of Nigerian Highlife fuzz pour on the temporal canvas with unquestionable ease, never falling in the wrong place. Even more admirable is, that his "canvas" is a four-track tape recorder, and that Blast Off features no loops or drum machines despite its aesthetically faithful motorik and afrobeat underpinnings. Nowhere is this fact more surprising than on album standout "Slow Down" which pulses along infectiously with a crunchy backbeat, and deftly arpeggiating bass lines that are so locked-in that it would be hard to fault an unknowing ear for assuming the whole thing is tediously programmed.
There are gentler sides to Blast Off that conjure the spacey tenderness of Arthur Russell inventively and respectfully, without adopting their muse's palette wholesale. In this regard Blast Off is an endearing collection of songs that capture the ear with warm-yet-clear cassette aesthetics and spot-on musicianship, both of which form an angle that points lovingly to Feynman's deep and varied influences. Make no mistake-- this one truly is alive.
Based in Nashville, but raised in a coal miner’s company house on the banks of Buffalo Creek, Based in Brooklyn, but raised in Louisville, singer-songwriter Dawn Landes has been writing songs for most of her life, and at 33 already has more than a decade of experience as a professional producer and engineer. After leaving NYU where she studied psychology and literature, Landes began honing her production and engineering skills, working at Stratosphere Sound (owned by James Iha, Adam Schlesinger, and Andy Chase), and at Philip Glass' personal recording studio, before launching Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn with partners Steve Salett and Gary Maurer.
Her new album Bluebird was produced in collaboration with good friend Thomas Bartlett (known for his work with The National, Sharon Van Etten, Rufus Wainwright, Antony and the Johnsons, and many others), and features contributions from Tony Scherr, Rob Moose, and Norah Jones.
Press coverage of Bluebird will understandably present this album as Dawn's answer to her ex's "divorce record". However, like any great songwriter, she's abstracting her personal narratives enough to leave them open to interpretation and a larger meaning. Bartlett's spartan production keeps the vibe intimate, making it easy to connect with these naked and honest songs which manage to rise above the context in which they were written.
The Bruce W. EP by Kohn is the fifth installment of the Western Vinyl portrait series, which has included Bonnie Prince Billy, Papa M, AppendixOut, and Anomoanon, and is scheduled to include others such as Robert Lippok and Mick Turner. In the portrait series, artists provide aportrait in the form of a photo, drawing, painting, etc along with two or more songs about, inspired by, or from the point of view of the individual in the portrait. Jurgen DeBlonde, aka Kohn, has a lot of love for Bruce Willis in his his musical heart and has decided to pay homage to this hero of heroes with a six song EP. The six tracks together with the artwork created by Kohn, complete his portrait of the heroic heartthrob.
In September of 2017 the Austin-based instrumental band Balmorhea released Clear Language, an album which prompted NPR's Bob Boilen to say "I'm madly in love with this albumâ€¦it's one these ambient records and beautiful records that I've just listened to over and over again." To create Clear Language, the duo returned to their roots, working simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise the album.
Now, just a few months later the duo returns with the CHIME / SHONE 7" vinyl for Record Store Day 2018. Recorded during the Clear Language sessions, the two tracks "Chime" and "Shone" flow gracefully with a clear-eyed sense of reflection, as these two old friends transmit unfettered meaning through simple sonic gestures that resonate with the cosmos as much as they echo the pulse of a human heart. In a culture dominated by the loudest, ostentatious voices, Lowe and Muller continue to prove the power and importance of restraint and minimalism.
A decade-plus on the road, near-constant musical output, and shifting creative priorities caused the revered Austin duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, to soberly assess the band's future. What, in the form of Balmorhea, was there left to say? And did they have the energy to say it? Stranger, the group's maximalist, genre-leaping full-length from 2012, had already seemed to trace the group's farthest bounds. And, over the years, they'd worked with a roving cast of accomplished string and rhythm players to craft a glassy-eyed, sage-brushed, instrumental Americana that, while celebrated in The New Yorker, Pitchfork and The Atlantic, among myriad other press, and attracting the film, ad, and television worlds risked pigeonholing them for good.
As they had in the beginning, in 2006, Muller and Lowe worked simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise Clear Language. A relaxed, clear-eyed wonder tumbles through these songs like herons lancing through Kerouac's "hungermaking" fog. Clear Language is the sound of two friends transmitting unfettered meaning in a milieu choked by double-speak at every turn.