Austin-based musician Abram Shook is a remarkable wellspring of ideas when it comes to songwriting. When he sat down to write his third album, he produced two distinct batches of songs, one very personal collection titled Love at Low Speed, and a darker, more detached collection titled Love in the Age of Excess. Due to time and money constraints, he opted to only record the more personal album, which explores themes of love, loss, and connecting with others, all themes he's been careful to avoid on previous albums. As he explains, "I avoided the subject of love in the past because I thought it was a cliched, overwrought topic. What else could I really add to the cannon? Writing the album directly coincided with some pretty big changes in my life, mainly the ending of an 11 year relationship." Love at Low Speed proves that Shook has plenty to offer on these topics, and that he's at his best when he digs deep, mining his years of experience for confessional tales peppered with hard-wrought wisdom.
The production on the new album is fittingly more intimate and organic than what we heard on his previous albums Sun Marque (2014) and Landscape Dream (2015). Inspired by the unique worlds of sound David Bowie created throughout his career, Shook and close collaborators Christopher Cox and Grant Johnson kept the album's production focussed from beginning to end. "With Love At Low Speed I wanted to use a more consistent pallet of sound to tie things together better than I had on my previous records. A touchstone album for me has always been Club Da Esquinha (Milton Nascimento/Lo Borges). It explores multiple genres but filters everything through the same beautiful production arrangements which lends to its cohesion. I think in the back of my mind I'm always striving to achieve something close to that album's rare blend of unique songwriting and challenging production choices without sacrificing a certain pop sensibility that invites new listeners." Their efforts paid off, and throughout Love at Low Speed the world of sound they created balances Shook's tender tenor with sensual bass grooves, and strings provided by Austin's Tosca String Quartet. Mixed by Noah Georgeson (known for his work with Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Andy Shauf, et al) the album has a clarity and warmth that focuses your ear on Shook's emotional delivery.
Shook grew up in California where he spent his days surfing, studying jazz, and absorbing the rich radiant music of Brazil and West Africa, before moving to Portland, and then Boston, before finally settling in Austin, TX over 10 years ago. "Settling down in Austin for a longer period of time has allowed me to establish a rich community of peers to draw from for influence and support. With time comes trust, and I’ve learned to give over some control to others in hopes to gain a perspective on songwriting that I might normally overlook." In addition to becoming an important part of Austin's creative community, being landlocked for a decade, has helped Shook develop an affirming perspective on his past, which helps him quell his anxiety, and focus on his creative pursuits. "I write about a California that no longer exists in the nostalgic form that I hold in my memory, just as the people that have journeyed in and out of my life are no longer the same either, nor am I the same to them. If everything is malleable at all times that means I am too, and that’s a notion I can take comfort in."
After ten years in the instrumental ensemble Balmorhea, Rob Lowe is releasing his first R&B-inflected solo LP, Slow Time, under the moniker RG Lowe. The record, while incorporating elements from pop and choral music, largely looks back on the warmth and spiritual ecstasy of early R&B through the disjunctive lens of contemporary life. Lowe, who plays keys, guitar, and provides the vocals on Slow Time, wrote and arranged about forty songs from 2014 to 2015 at his studio in Austin, TX, where he resides. He then headed to Philadelphia to record most of the album with producer Jeff Ziegler, whose raw and energetic production work on albums by Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs had inspired him. Though his wordless vocals appeared occasionally on Balmorhea's albums, on Slow Time we hear the impressive range and malleability of his voice as he glides from hymnal backing harmonies, to melismatic bridges, to punchy choruses and pained screeches that stretch his voice to its unbelievable limits.
I Can Feel the Night Around Me, the third album from Philadelphia's Nightlands, showcases Dave Hartley's finely tuned ability to layer his voice and conjure some of the most beautiful and elaborate virtual choirs in modern music. If his first two records were vocal layering experiments, his third stands as Hartley's thesis statement: "I was determined to use vocal stacking to enable my songwriting, not shroud or obscure it."
He recorded most of the album alone in a cold warehouse basement, which he affectionately calls The Space -- it's where The War on Drugs (of whom Hartley has been a core member for the past decade) formerly rehearsed and stored their equipment. "The dissonance between the sound of the album and the atmosphere in which it was recorded is pretty striking," Hartley says. Indeed the music seems more geographically inspired by the microclimates of the Lost Coast and the moonrises of Big Sur than the post-industrial cityscape of North Philadelphia. Perhaps his periodic westward sojourns and healthy obsessions with mid-career Beach Boys albums and Denis Johnson's Already Dead: A California Gothic were influencing him more than he was aware.
Under the Botany moniker, Spencer Stephenson creates rich psychological and emotional experiences through audio. His music is a thoughtful attempt to convey the non-verbal through his particular mental prism, where sounds have potent symbolism in ways that are all but forgotten in the modern world. On Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw, the 28-year-old producer and composer continues dissolving the borders between his disparate-yet-beloved psych, hip hop, and ambient influences. Album standout "Au Revoir," is a shimmering piece of sampler-psychedelia that bolsters verses by rapper Milo, and gracefully leads into the drum-less hum and crackle of "Birthjays". Matthewdavid - the high-priest of ambient bass himself - lends a rare vocal feature to the uplifting burner "Glow-up" while the electro-inspired "Bad CGI" stitches Bambaataa chants and sci-fi flutters to a shamanic pulse, then morphs into a late-night opiated channel-surfing montage, and the seams rarely appear.
Deepak Verbera, the third LP by Austin's Spencer Stephenson aka BOTANY, bends the beat-driven path carved by the composer's first two records into meterless cosmic territory, juxtaposing free jazz arrhythmia with cathedral-filling harmony, ringing off the temple walls with soaring grandeur. The billowing textures that loomed behind his previous output break unabashedly into the foreground, shedding the beats that once stenciled them in. What arises in the absence of discernable rhythm is a psych-inflected scrapbook of atmospheres with tremendous sonic and emotional breadth.
In essence Deepak Verbera is a soundscape record created through methods usually found in hip-hop; vinyl samples, looped vocal phrases, pulsing bass, and warm synths all shimmer with kosmische-indebted splendor, like Popol Vuh with MPCs and a stack of secondhand records.
"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."
Written and recorded at the same time as their recent full-length Split Stones, the New Varieties EP continues Lymbyc Systym's exploration of the power of disparate halves coming together to form a unique whole. The idea serves as an analogy for brothers Jared and Mike Bell's long-distance relationship, as well as their compositions - a unique synthesis of live emotion and electronic precision.
Picking up where their last album left off, the EP's upbeat opening track "Opposing Bodies" features the same melody found on "Scientific Romance", the final song on Split Stones. Exploring darker and more introspective territory, "Differential" features big reverberating snare hits, emulating the crack of a whip often heard in old Spaghetti Westerns. On the album's anthemic title track "New Varieties," the band brings back their powerful Clavinet sound paired against Brazilian influenced rhythms and cascading piano lines.
The EP closes with Austin-based producer Botany's remix of "Opposing Bodies," turning Lymbyc's clean, head-bobbing rhythms and infectious arpeggios into a gauzy, mind-bending soundscape of smeared textures and chaotic rhythms.
Matt Schneider's work under the Moon Bros. moniker is time-out-of-mind cooing folk played at painstakingly patient speeds - a decorous and underheard contribution to the ambient folk fray. Perhaps his recordings are projections of future scores to Cormac McCarthy adaptations; perhaps front porch Dust Bowl blues gospel. Either way, Schneider is a pointedly preeminent experimental guitarist in this day and age.
This iteration of Moon Bros. is a network of a few high-minded Chicago improvisers: Matthew Lux (Iron & Wine, Exploding Star Orchestra), Dan Bitney (Tortoise, Isotope 217), and Sam Wagster (Cairo Gang).
In 2012 Trevor Montgomery released Navigated Like the Swan, his first album under the Young Moon moniker. According to The Wall Street Journal "It engulfs the listener - and sometimes even the narrator...", while Consequence of Sound called it "...powerful and heartfelt...". Soon after its release, the relationship that inspired those songs unraveled, leaving Montgomery at an all-time low, living on a houseboat out of necessity, and unable to write songs, or even play guitar. "That part of me was broken. My life was pretty broken as well" says Montgomery.
Though he eased back into the habit of playing music on a daily basis, something was still missing. Drummer Syam Zapalowski was a Young Moon fan, and started pursuing Montgomery about playing live shows with him. Zapalowski's persistence and encouragement led Young Moon to expand to include Montgomery's longtime collaborator Danny Grody on guitars and synths, and Jeff Moller on bass. "It was a natural progression for Young Moon. I needed to have more dynamics and volume to tell the stories the way they were laying out in my head," says Montgomery. Inspired by the newfound potential of a full band, the songs that make up the new album Colt started coming together.
Peter Broderick’s Music for Falling From Trees, is a 29 minute piece, in seven sections, created for a contemporary dance by London's Adrienne Hart. Adrienne told Peter she was looking for a score of piano and strings, so he left the guitar and his voice aside and focused entirely on those two timbres. The dance tells the story of a man in a psychiatric hospital, and his struggle to maintain his identity. Beautifully utilizing piano and strings, the music evokes a melancholic and playful narrative.
Listeners familiar with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's previous album Euclid (an album that prompted Dazed to call her "...one of the most pioneering musicians in the world.") will no doubt notice her heavier use of vocals on her new album EARS. On all but one song, her gently ecstatic swells of vocals emerge to soar over a dense jungle of synths and woodwinds.
After initially composing on a Buchla analog synth, she wrote arrangements for a woodwind quintet, added vocals, and further refined the pieces with granular synthesis techniques she developed in her sound design work (she contributed sound design to Panda Bear's "Boys Latin" video, and handled sound design and original compositions for Brasilia co-written by and starring Reggie Watts).
Kinetic arpeggios of synths pulse, often buoying her graceful vocal mantras, while woodwinds breathe and flutter, emulating the wildlife Smith observed while growing up on the West Coast (she even studied recordings of slowed down bird calls prior to composing these pieces). Though some of her gestures echo the musical tropes used by early minimalist composers, the world she creates on EARS is uniquely hypnotic and full of life, not unlike Miyzaki's film NausicaÃ¤, which she cites as an inspiration.
By the time he was 15, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Carter Tanton was already playing bar shows in his hometown of Baltimore. Two years later, he caught the attention of Gary E. Smith, best known for discovering and producing The Pixies. After working together for a year, they parted ways, but Tanton never slowed down. In the mid-2000's he released a couple of EPs with his band Tulsa, prompting Rolling Stone's David Fricke to claim "...his indie-seraphim voice is not of this world...", and after a particularly impressive live set KEXP's John Richards said "...he's one of the best singer-songwriters in the country today."
Over the years, Tanton has toured and recorded with numerous artists including Marissa Nadler, Strand of Oaks, Lower Dens, and The War on Drugs. In 2012, he assembled Freeclouds, his first collection of songs for Western Vinyl. A couple of years later, Tanton moved to England where he wrote all of the songs on his new album Jettison the Valley. His old friend and collaborator Marisa Nadler contributes lead vocals to "Jettison the Valley", and Sharon Van Etten sings on "Twenty-Nine Palms" and "Through the Garden Gates".
From the moment you hear the bristling boom-bap chorus on album-opener "Totally Mutual Feeling," it's apparent that Lushlife's third full-length finds the Philadelphia rapper-producer at his most introspective. Themes of isolation and mortality permeate Ritualize, a cinematic hour-long odyssey co-produced by enigmatic production trio, CSLSX (pronounced "Casual Sex") and featuring contributions from Ariel Pink, Killer Mike, Marissa Nadler, RJD2, and more. With CSLSX at the boards, an entire universe opens up for Lush, where the pulsating Juno synths of '80s LA night music sit side-by-side with gorgeously propulsive indie-leaning jams, and low-fi soul burners too. The resulting LP is a post-blog-era joint that seems to exhale the whole of the 20th century in a single, fascinating breath.
Though he may not be a household name, Kenniff's evocative, distinctly American music has become quietly ubiquitous in the past few years, often appearing on NPR, in films, on TV, and in ads for Apple, Facebook, and Google among others. Recorded over the course of three years, the material on his new album Sometimes functions as a journal, documenting brief moments in Kenniff's day when he could turn to the piano as a source of solace and unending creative possibilities. Kenniff wrote and recorded everything on the album with the exception of the track "A Word I Give", which is a collaboration with preeminent Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, who once described Goldmund's music as "...so, so, so beautiful."
In an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Keith Kenniff discussed his appreciation of Civil War era music, and it's ability to covey "...so much story in so few notes." Similarly, these improvisations manage to be richly evocative despite their technical and compositional simplicity, using subtle details and dynamics to express what might otherwise be inexpressible.
Brothers Jared and Michael Bell have been making music together as Lymbyc Systym since 2004. On their new album Split Stones they explore the power of disparate halves coming together to form a unique whole. The idea serves as an analogy for Jared and Mike's relationship, Lymbyc's sound, and the mind/body dichotomy.
Recorded largely in their respective home studios, the duo went to Dallas to track live drums at Elmwood Recording, where they mixed their previous albums Shutter Release and Field Studies with John Congleton. The album opens with "Generated Bodies", a song that starts as a colossal instrumental rock track, but quickly evolves into spirals of chordal synths and electronic beats, mirroring the band's metamorphosis over the past decade. Other songs like "Split Stones" and "Pulses" find the band experimenting with longer cinematic song structures, leaving behind the short "pop" song structures they've delivered on previous albums. The album veers into full on dance mode on "Paraboloid" before things wind down with the sunny groove of album closer "Scientific Romance".
In 2010 Nicole Schneit aka Air Waves released Dungeon Dots, an album Aquarius Records called "...pretty much perfect pop music." For her new album Parting Glances, Schneit enlisted friends from Brooklyn's music community to contribute to the record, including members of Woods, Crystal Stilts, Ava Luna, and Hospitality. Additionally, Jana Hunter of Lower Dens contributes vocals to two songs.
The album's title comes from the 1986 film Parting Glances in which Steve Buscemi portrays a gay man navigating the difficulties of being in a relationship in Reagan-era New York. More than just identifying with the story, Schneit is interested in the in the lasting effect of the parting glances we share with strangers in our everyday encounters. She explains "You see all sorts of physical and emotional traits on the train. From people puking, making out, screaming, crying, laughing, dancing, grooming, etc. We encounter each other in the thick of our complex lives by simply looking at each other all the time. These glances are mundane and fleeting but also powerfully intimate." The lingering impact of those brief moments seeps into the details and imagery she delivers with energizing hooks and a disarming lack of pretense on Parting Glances.
Unlike the production limitations that defined the sound of Diane Coffee's debut My Friend Fish (recording drums on an iPhone, using a detuned guitar in lieu of a bass, etc) Everybody's a Good Dog was recorded in proper studios with an assortment of guest appearances, horns, and a string ensemble, finally bringing to life Fleming's deep well of talent and ideas. The album covers a lot of ground from sweet acapella harmonies, to bursts of big brass and Motown swagger, to unhinged psychedelic mayhem.
The album's unstoppable grooves and melodies were written with live performance in mind. "I like performing more than recording. It's like throwing a mini party each night that goes really well," says Fleming. When you hear him pouring every bit of his two decades of experience as a performer into these songs, it's clear that Diane Coffee is not a side project, it's THE project Fleming has been working towards his whole life.
Heather Woods Broderick excels at distilling her experiences into a soulful melancholy that's enduring both for it's intimate relatable moments and its persistent sense of mystery. Her uncanny ear for evocative production and gorgeous vocal harmonies serves her well on her new album Glider. Throughout the album, the rich dreamlike atmospheres she creates hint at a darkness looming on the horizon, while the singularity of her ethereal voice always seems to linger long after the music has stopped.
As a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Heather has had the opportunity to record and tour with plenty of incredible artists including Horse Feathers, Efterklang, and Sharon Van Etten, which has kept her moving house and traveling around the world for much of the past decade.
Landscape Dream is Abram Shook's follow up to 2014's Sun Marquee, an album VICE called "...pleasant as fuck." and Texas Monthly called "...compelling, weird, and lovely." Applying what he learned through writing and recording Sun Marquee, Landscape Dream is a natural progression, demonstrating how much Shook's songwriting and production acumen has sharpened over the past year. Sun Marquee was a learning process where songs were often forced out of experiments in recording techniques. As Abram explains, "I had a lot of thoughts I just threw out there, but often I arrived at dead-ends and had to figure out how to make something out of what was available." However, on Landscape Dream he "went back to writing with just voice and guitar and then used arranging, production, and recording ideas pulled from Sun Marquee." The effectiveness of his new approach is clear from the 70's rock of "Find It" and "Chelsea" to the African vibes of "Get Gone", the dreamy Brazilian vibes on "5AM" and "Beach Glass", and the slow-jam soul found on "Perfect", "Jaw", and "Vessel".
While on a writing retreat in the sleepy southern town of Benton, Mississippi, the members of New York's Ava Luna came across an abandoned house while on a walk through the woods. Overgrown, rotting, and littered with evidence of its past inhabitants, the maze-like dwelling would haunt their psyches throughout the writing and recording of their third full-length Infinite House. Like Borges' "Library of Babel", the seemingly endless rooms and hallways in the old house felt like a metaphor for the invisible, internal labyrinths, which the band explores lyrically and sonically on their new album.
Recorded by drummer Julian Fader and vocalist/guitar player Carlos Hernandez, and mixed by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Spoon, MGMT), it is safely their most polished recording to date. But their trademark intensity, mirthful humor, and angularity remain resolutely in place, the burnished surfaces illuminating the stories beneath like never before. By questioning, or maybe just forgetting the rules of the real world, on Infinite House the band has grown beyond the "nervous soul" descriptor they've been tagged with in the past, delivering an album on which nightmarish moments can phoenix into revelations that help us reconnect with the surreal magic in our everyday lives.