Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place (2011, Asthmatic Kitty)

RIYL = Eluvium, Grouper, Sigur Ros

Julianna Barwick, after releasing two indescribably gorgeous EPs, has finally graced us with this, her first full length album. According to Barwick, The Magic Place is named after a cavernous Louisiana farm tree from her youth, one whose twisting trunk and branches created a series of hollows – or rooms – with which you could enter and lay about in. On her debut (feels odd to say in 2011), Barwick manages the same effect with her gauzy, multi-layered vocals, wrapping them around each other in a swaddling quilt of sound – something you can enter and lay about in. It’s paralyzing in a way, it’s so beautiful. Of course, if you’ve listened to Barwick’s music in the past, this is no surprise. Her music is the kind that makes you want to stop everything else you’re doing (blinking, breathing) and just soak in the pure magnificence of tone that she’s created. Her voice is as close to angelic as I can imagine the human voice sounding. And The Magic Place does exactly what you wanted her previous two EPs to do – it extends. May not be possible to create something prettier than this.

Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

Friday, February 18, 2011

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

RIYL = Nat Baldwin, Peter Kolovos, Steve Reich

People are going to try to tell you that Colin Stetson, whose newest album, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (sequel to 2008’s Volume 1), is quintessentially a solo saxophone record created without looping or overdubs of any kind (save a short track with multiple French horns), accomplishes what he does by means of circular breathing. This isn’t true. Colin Stetson has pockets of cheeks within his cheeks: small flaps of skin of various sizes that can individually maintain reserves of air in service of a kaleidoscopic manipulation of tones. Add to this his dual trachea (falling down the throat in a helix spiral) and 6 lungs (2 original, 2 from a horse, thoroughbred, 1 from a goat, 1 from a whale (Said the Grammaphone was close, but wrong, counting only 4)) and the saxophoning on Judges becomes more plausible.

It’s funny to me that more than a decade ago, if you would’ve asked me my opinion about the saxophone, I would have proclaimed it the very lowest point in the history of musical invention. Personally, I found it hard to shake the damage musicians like Kenny G and Bill Clinton projected onto the instrument. I don’t know exactly what turned me, but Erin can testify, in the past couple of years I have become increasingly excited about the saxophone and how it’s scraped its way into more and more albums that I love. It’s kind of funny actually. Here I am, it’s 2011, and not only am I listening to a solo saxophone album, but since I’ve started to really digest Stetson’s playing on Judges, I feel I can honestly say that, at least for now, the saxophone is my favourite instrument. Junior high me would probably punch 2011 me in the face. 2011 me would laugh at how weak junior high me was and then tell junior high me that this dreaded saxophone album was put out on Constellation Records; you know, the record label with that new band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

So, about the album: Stetson, with his cheeks within checks, double trachea and multiple lungs, is plenty adept at managing an orchestra of sounds. Though, honestly, I had to listen to some of the tracks on Judges (the title track streaming below is a perfect example) 4 or 5 times before I could start to believe that Stetson had really managed all that he had with only a saxophone. Then I had to listen to it 4 or 5 more times before I could accept that he was playing this stuff without overdubs or looping of any kind (still having trouble with that one – seems like he’d need another couple of lungs to pull it all off). All in all, it’s an exhilarating experience listening to Stetson play. Add to that the bonus of Laurie Anderson’s pitch-perfect spoken word segments and the additional vocal work from Shara Worden and you have something very, very special.

I know I’m prone to hyperbole. What can I say? I love what I love. But Stetson’s work here on New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is simply in another league. Like this type of league. I can see Erin rolling her eyes about this right now, can see experimental fence-sitters all over the internet ho-humming about this, but trust me, it’s worth it. For all its ingenuity and instrumental proficiency – its genius – it’s a surprisingly accessible work. This is something that stands to be performed in orchestral concert halls, with weighty diamond chandeliers, gilded banisters and red plush seating as much as it does in dank back alley garages. A landmark album. Absolutely thrilling music on every level.

COLIN STETSON - Judges (preview) by Constellation Records

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mikey Please

Animator Mikey Please is anything but a one trick pony.  This guy has more awesome styles up his sleeve than he knows what to do with.  Here is a video that he put together as a one minute overview of some of the work he has done.  If you want to watch the full videos I highly suggest you spend a minute on his website.

Cloud Nothings - Cloud Nothings (2011, Carpark)

RIYL = Built To Spill, Wavves, Pinkerton-era Weezer

There’s not much that can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said about a million like-minded pop albums. This should be enough: Cloud Nothings makes me feel like a teenager; crush-happy, ridiculous, lovesick, hyper, listless. Congratulations to Cloud Nothings for being able to bridge the gap from a string of promising EPs to an actual honest-to-goodness great full length. Heaven knows that’s not always the case (I'm looking at you Voxtrot). Cloud Nothings: power-chord blitzing, air guitar inciting, perfect-for-car-rides-to-nowhere/the-beach indie pop/power-punk – something for the teenager in all of us.

Fond of Tigers - Continent & Western (2010, Drip Audio)

RIYL = Do Make Say Think, Tortoise, Little Women

Remember like a decade or so ago when instrumental indie rock or post rock or whatever was really at its zenith and bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor and even Explosions in the Sky, when they trotted along after them, were churning out these epic but ultimately predictable long-form jams and the claims that Tortoise was somehow infected with jazz were starting to wear thin and then, all of the sudden, the floor just fell through and they all disappeared? (True, some of them occasionally resurface with ever-decreasing relevance.) It seems like ever since then instrumental rock has been struggling to gain its footing. I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions – bands that have created really incredible instrumental and avant rock albums (heck, I’ve lauded plenty of them) – and there have been hybrids of every shape and size that have pushed the significance of these genre titles out the window, but I still have felt like there is a gaping hole that’s needed filling, something to really revitalize the idea of what instrumental avant rock can be. And then I listened to Continent & Western. And then I was happy and had hope for the future and for my son. And then I realized that Drip Audio is to me now what Constellation Records was to me in junior high: a bastion for the most challenging, forward thinking, insanely awesome, ‘I didn’t realize music could do this’ music out there. And Fond of Tigers, the label’s certifiable supergroup among supergroups, have gone and proved that there’s plenty of air left in the lungs of instrumental rock music yet. Continent & Western is a super deep, super solid record.


Guerra De La Paz

Fabulous textile art, inspiring me like no tomorrow, and also making me feel less bad about never hanging up my clothing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Mourning Star Series by Kazimir Strzepek

I recently finished reading the first two installments of The Mourning Star series by Kazimir Strzepek. The third and final(?) volume is yet to be released. The whole story starts like this:

Caboladies - Live Anywhere (2010, Aguirrre Records)

RIYL = Black Dice, Flower Man, Axolotl

I’m late to the game on this one (despite knowing about it when it was first released last year (I’m sorry)), but since there are still copies kicking around (can’t be many with only 330 originally pressed), I thought I would mention that, yes, it’s really-absolutely-totally swell-to-the-max. Of course, we’ve known this about Caboladies for some time. This recording sees the now duo of Chris Bush and Eric Lanham working live (no overdubs!?) for a Chicago radio show, and the set absolutely kills. What I wouldn’t do to see these two in the studio with their magic wands and caldrons (filled to the brim with recycled electronics), boiling up and casting all manner of electro-jumbled spells. Side A on Live Anywhere is just that, a luminescent jumble of texture spells and sounds, minorly percussive, and wonderfully synergetic. This wondrousness breaks down in the latter half of side A and on the opening half of side B into a shimmery more recognizably Caboladies’ dronescape in which lazers abound, and then into a slow series of soft breakdowns, light static and motored dying before picking up again on its tail end LP, bubbling up with synth key clusters and skittery electric animals pawing at the windows. So yeah, just another awesome, dense Caboladies record (and on vinyl to boot!).  Check it.

A2-Live Anywhere by Aguirre Records

Purling Hiss - Hissteria (2010, Richie Records)

RIYL = Birds of Maya, Comets On Fire, Residual Echoes

This sound (as the cover art expertly suggests) is the color of a dark room lit red and filled with smoke. That along with lots and lots of purple bodies added in, plenty of denim, clanging bottles and the like. The color of clanging. This is what it sounds like when you’re in that picture. With Hissteria and a set of headphones, this is being there, submerged. The sound Purling Hiss is coupled with an inseparable, audio-visual haze. Reminds me a lot of the first Black Mountain record and how they could’ve been if they’d’ve locked their gaze low and marched straight into the feedback rather than into the studio. It’s a bluesy, rock-drunk burner of an album that’s stumbled into a puddle of sub-basement noise drench; a hard rock thowback, spiked and barbed, worshipping the rock gods with pedal upon pedal upon pedal of grungy, sloppy guitar.   Hissteria is the second of two albums by Purling Hiss released last year, the second of two fiery holes in the short-sheet record of note-worthy rock, is the work of Birds of Maya guitarist, Mike Polizze. Super psychedelic, super hypnotic, super sleazy, super blown out, super spacey and super duper, to be sure.

Purling Hiss - Down on the Delaware River

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fefe Talavera

The art of Fefe Talavera.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (2011, Vagrant)

I’ve always really liked PJ Harvey. She is wily, wiry, gritty and scrappy, and her music follows suit. An artist of incredible integrity, Harvey’s discography has taken number of twists and turns over the years, always evolving, never bending to meet with anything outside of Polly Jean’s own hard-fisted vision, but still always falling just outside the circle of my very favourite artists. I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been rooting for her for years, knowing that it’s in her somewhere, that capacity to be an A-lister in the musical catalog of Mr. Nick Potter (as if she cared). She’d been at it so long though, I’d begun to forget about her a little bit. I was a bit careless with Uh Huh Her and White Chalk. A little disrespectful if I say so myself (not bad albums at all). But then she went on ahead and did this: Let England Shake. I’m am absolutely in love with this record. She’s done it. I’m still trying to catch my breath over this record. She’s always been consistent, always been good, but honestly, Let England Shake was totally unexpected. What’s better than this that has been released so far this year (granted, it’s mid-February)? For me, nothing. Not James Blake, not Destroyer, not even Deerhoof. Absolutely essential.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dth - Young Heart Sound (2011, Chinquapin Records)

You’re soaking in the substance of memory when listening to Young Heart Sound. It’s a big glass fishbowl of remembrance and, even more than soaking, you’re sinking down, calmly, through the years of fragmented memory, right into the fishy lungs of history, fluttering about in the liquid pulse of the stuff. –Or– Young Heart Sound is audio oxygen. Something you take in without a thought. Something you are sustained by. Something automatic. Something that you have known, perhaps unconsciously, since you were a child. A slow moving float of voices and subtly electric streams. –Or– Young Heart Sound is a surrealist home video where your mother, after she finds out that you’ve been out all night collecting leaves, begins to softly weep. She tries to hide it, but it’s no use, the tears float up through her fingers, eventually contacting the ceiling. You look out the window. You’re on the first floor and naturally the view is of the endless, arm-wrestling ocean lapping up against and salting the bricks. The bricks start to unbrick themselves from the house and to float away and you have the distinct feeling that the bricks are your history, so you go up into your room and bury yourself in the night's-worth of leaves you've collected, hiding from the deterioration of your past. You can't see the glass, but you know you are in the fishbowl. –Or– It will be ok. It will be ok.  Everything will be ok.

I Miss You // So Much // When I'm // Messed Up by chinquapinrecords

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Matthew Forsythe, Ojingogo and Beyond

I just discovered that Matthew Forsythe is prepping the sequel to Ojingogo for later this year, so in honor of this fabulous news, a brief review of that first inestimably influential (for me at least) book in addition to some of Forsythe’s magical illustrations.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mekhala Bahl

Drawings and Paintings by Mekhala Bahl. One of my top 5 favourite working artists right now.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sharon Van Etton - Epic (2010, Ba Da Bing)

A hearty staple in my musical appetite over the last few months has been Sharon van Etten's Epic. It's good ol' singer songwriter heartfelt crap, and it's lovely. It's also really fun to throw your voice around while singing along in the car, and don't worry, you will learn the lyrics quick cause they are very repetitive.  All of the afore mentioned attributes of this album sound negative, but seriously are somehow positive on Epic. It's just plain good song writing.  It's serene, beautiful, graceful, and subtle. It's country, no, no it's not.

Sharon Van Etten - Don't Do It

Ai Weiwei

Chinese art superstar, Ai Weiwei.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ultralyd - Inertiadrome (2010, Rune Grammofon)

RIYL = Lightning Bolt, MoHa!, that last track on They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

It seems that I’ve been trudging around waist-deep in deep-waste muck lately. Musically. Just a lot of murky, brooding, gnashing tunes, and Inertiadrome is no different. The constantly evolving (and devolving) Ultralyd makes good on their album title (best album title of last year, for sure) with a heap of gravel-spitting, clay-cracking, noise-rock and spilt jazz. “Lahtuma” starts things off, lurching forward with a lovely line of gear-grinded bass and some kinetic drumming that motors forward endlessly. Fact is, Inertiadrome is built on the rhythmic propulsions. That bass, those drums; the engine of this album. Laid atop them – their gears and their gears and their gears – is a mix of squalid, ear-purging skronk. This is a pack of dirty, endlessly rifting instrumentals meant to drive you six feet into the ground.  This is all no suprise of course, when you take into consideration that Ultralyd is one half MoHa! and the other half Kjetil D. Brandsdal (Noxagt) and Kjetil Møster (The Core).  I noisy supergroup, indeed.

Ultralyd - Contaminated Man

Zs - New Slaves II: Essence Implosion! (2011, The Social Registry)

RIYL = Little Women, MoHa!, the listed remixers

Essence Implosion! is the beast, cut belly to back to belly, twisted and pulled, stretching like a slinky, and losing its entrails and everything in the process. (As if the original New Slaves wasn’t gruesome enough for you.) Aptly titled, the follow up to 2010’s album-of-the-year is not merely a “remix” album, despite what the details imply. One almost wishes those cursory details didn’t exist for fear they would suggest this as bypassable; a novelty; a throwaway. Of course, those conclusions couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, though, the source material here is mined from that great and singular beast: New Slaves. However, indentifying those samples amidst the tectonic grumbling of Essence Implosion! is messy, approximating to picking through, by hand, the chaotic viscera twisted out of the beast. Like its predecessor – and very much unlike its predecessor – New Slaves II burrows into various guises, each equally maddening, each tied to the first with threads of muscle, each peppered with rust and grind. It’s a pretty grin-inducing affair and a wonderful compliment to the astoundingly versatile Zs album it apes.

Zs - New Slaves [Weasel Walter Remix]

Sam Bosma

Illustration and sketches by Sam Bosma.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rich Kelly

I don't know how it is that I just stumbled across this guy. Posters, sketches and paintings by Rich Kelly.

Aeroplane Trio - Naranja Ha (2010, Drip Audio)

I expect to write a fuller review of this album on Foxy Digitalis in the near future, but as for now, hopefully this brief paragraph will do. Drip Audio was kind enough to send me copies of three of their most recent releases and, I must say, I’m completely smitten with each. I’ve already spilled my fanboy guts all over Subtle Lip Can. Now: Aeroplane Trio and Naranja Ha. This album is absolute gold. From what I understand, the trio – consisting of JP Carter on trumpet/cornet, Russell Sholberg on bass/saw, and Sky Brooks on drums – formed over eight years ago and have never before Naranja Ha released an official album. That means there is 8+ years worth of skillful refinement and chemistry bred into this sucker. The group works from a hook-laden jazz template that swings and grooves happily before they blotch and smear their improvisations into more sickly territory. Naranja Ha is both slickly palatable and free-flowingly manic, never bowing down to conventions, but rather incorporating them into something more dynamic and interesting. The tug and pull is wonderful, ranging from ridiculously catchy to squalidly free form. I am by no means up on contemporary jazz and its touchstones, but I couldn’t imagine a more solid entry point than Aeroplane Trio’s Naranja Ha. As it stands, Naranja Ha promises to be a go-to jazz album in my catalog for years to come. (And, I haven’t watched it just yet, but it should be noted that the album also contains a DVD with a short documentary and live concert.  Bonus!)

Whitehorse by Drip Audio

James Blake - James Blake (2011, Atlas/A&M)

Yes, Forest Gospel loves James Blake just like everybody else.  Erin says, Bon Iver.  Nick says, Jamie Lidell.  Forest Gospel says, move over Justin Bieber.  Is there even a point to posting this?  Which is a funny thing to say since the album hasn't even been released yet.