When they were setting out to write their new six-song recording, As Above So Below, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor of AZURE RAY were intent to depart from their original sound; that lushly haunted, dreamy folk pop that was born twelve years ago with their self-titled debut. “We wanted to go for something completely different,” says Fink. The raven-haired duo, who met and began playing music together at fifteen years old in Birmingham, revived the band in 2010 after a seven-year hiatus to release the full-length Drawing Down the Moon. “For Drawing Down, we focused on revisiting the very first AZURE RAY record. That approach facilitated Orenda and I bringing our sound together stylistically and emotionally after working so many years apart,” explains Taylor. “For As Above So Below, we wanted it to be more like AZURE RAY in an alternate universe.”
And certainly the themes of alternative universes, Mother Nature, beginnings, endings, and re-birth surface in the songs. There is a wiseness in the fabric of the record, an understanding of the wisdom and patterns of the Universe and a sense of magic–whispers of gypsies telling fortunes in dreams, and a coming to terms with our powerlessness to the wills of nature and cycles of love. “It was hard not to think of those things,” laughs Fink, “Maria was eight months pregnant during recording!” Sonically As Above is a sparser, more minimal and more electronic experience than past albums. “We looked for inspiration from James Blake, Nicolas Jaar, and APPARAT in keeping the music minimal and modern but still working as a textural and emotional extension of the lyrics.” Conveniently, Fink is married to Todd Fink of the celebrated electronica band THE FAINT, so they didn’t have to look far for a guide into digital territory. “We enlisted my husband and Andy LeMaster (BRIGHT EYES, NOW IT’S OVERHEAD) as our dream team,” says Fink. The Omaha-based Finks then packed up for Birmingham, where Taylor is now based with her boyfriend and baby. “Todd and I moved in with Maria and her boyfriend for a month to focus on experimental production and ideas before we even went to Andy’s studio,” says Fink. “Then the four of us holed up at Andy’s and worked side by side for another month.”
Longtime fans will be comforted to know that while in some ways As Above So Below is a departure, what isn’t left behind is that unmatched, dreamy essence that arises when Fink and Taylor harmonize. You know an AZURE RAY song when you feel it–it’s chilling and familiar, like a draft of wind on the heart. It’s a haunted dreamscape that’s so compelling and evocative it’s seen its way onto many soundtracks, appropriately as the protagonist is falling in or out of love. AZURE RAY captures expertly that fuzzy feeling, the unknowns of the beginnings and the deterioration of the endings, they are guides through the dark corridors and unknown passages of the heart.
As above, so below. As in nature, Fink and Taylor heed, so in our lives.
David Dondero is a modern-day troubadour, a minstrel, a bard, a rolling stone, a traveling wilbury - he gets around, and wherever he goes, he makes music. He's been getting around to odd parts of America, making music - of a primarily transient, narrative, and acoustic variety, in the tradition of great American troubadours of decades past - since the early '90s. Originally he did it with a band called SUNBRAIN, with whom he recorded three albums, before opting to go it alone. Since that decision, Dondero has recorded seven studio album and one live one.
Most striking about Dondero's music is his voice - which isn't the most tuneful, but is confident, varied, emotional, and direct, nicely suiting his musical style - and his great guitar fingerpicking, which sometimes sounds like it came straight out of the Appalachian mountains, sometimes sounds bluesy, and sometimes even sounds vaguely classical. Other stark instrumentation - lonesome accordion, harsh echoing percussion, and most of all, lots of fiddle - connects Dondero further with the American folk tradition. Some songs are rock-minded, some desolate and hushed, some are detached, some extraordinarily confessional, some are twisted, some straightforward, some are happy, and some sad. But all bear the mark of a quality songwriter who knows a thing or two about living.
Here's what Dondero had to say about his new album, # Zero with a Bullet, out August 20th via Affairs of the Heart:
Have you ever gone from Berlin to Tasmania? Then, from the Klutina River in Alaska down to San Francisco via Honolulu, Austin, and on to Frogmore, SC? All in one album? Not knowing where to next? Well, that's where I've been and where I'm trying to get. The great not knowing... like a wind that's blowing, rolling... “Wherever you go, then there you are.” The holy unforgiving blacktop sanctuary has become a wife and family to me. This is the 7th installment in a series of words put to soundscape which paint the picture of my life. Jobs, love affairs, battles with bottles and so on. # Zero with a Bullet. The title… yeah, I know where I stand in the game. Doesn't mean I'm not gonna keep playing. I didn't think I had another song in me, but here we go again. They just crept up and wouldn't leave me alone; wouldn't let me sleep! I don't even know where the hell they came from or remember how they got here. These goddamned songs!
This album is chock full of Yogi Berra-isms, shattered Kerouacian dreams, “Air Conditioned Nightmares”, beer bellies, big belt buckles, cowboy monkeys, and an extremely subtle bloody human sacrifice. It's a reflection of broken hearts and busted wallets. Carolina moons, and the process of lightning striking the fire from a tree. There's an overzealous job boss talking down to his employees... and his crew holding him hostage in the end. All the while, a lonely barefoot stripper is so bored with her job, cursing her customers' neediness, “like little birds in the nest... waiting to be fed... just babies in their momma's eyes”, she said.
I recorded this one at a nice studio in Omaha, NE called ARC (Another Recording Company) with A.J. Mogis in July 2009. His beard was in full effect. It only took us 2 hours. Just kidding. I thought he did a wonderful job and several friends of old and new met up to eat popcorn and play. I tried to throw in everything in the kitchen sink, but threw out what didn't work. So, in the end, the sink had just a couple dirty knives and a broken spatula covered in dried up eggs. The meal was good though and the eggs were fresh from the back yard in east Austin... yolks as orange as
I remember seeing a man on the street ranting and raving drunkenly at Camden Locks, London. An acquaintance of mine said “he's always Jesus from 12 to 6... then he's Beelzeebubba from 6 to midnight!” I understood completely. I'm 40 this year... can you believe that? They say 40's the new 20 right? Well, hell... it's not a death march... it's a life march. Gotta live it up now... #1's and zeros. Look through the screen and what does it tell you? I'll be the zero... # Zero with a Bullet!
- David Dondero (Austin, TX - April 2010)
Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor singing together is a match made in heaven (or maybe hell, if the devil has anything to do with this, which would not be surprising). You might know Taylor from previous solo albums or bands, but most likely from Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. He was the guitar player who also wrote and sang “Snake Hill” and “Air Mattress” on the album Outer South. If you’ve seen Maria Taylor play, then you have most likely seen Kate in her band either playing keys, drums or bass, and most importantly, harmonizing the soft beautiful background melodies. Nowadays, Kate and Taylor have joined hand in hand and formed a band. Ladies and Gentlemen, DEAD FINGERS, might just be what you’ve been waiting for!
In a time when guy-girl duos are becoming quite popular, this one is not just some gimmick, however perfect the timing and package may be. You would almost think Kate was married to her manager, or record label exec. who was having them act like they were romantic just to sell tickets and albums. But in fact, this Alabama duo are recently married and the two just recorded their first self titled full length with Bruce Watson (RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough , AA Bondy).
While showing a wide range of styles, ranging from duet styled songs like those of John Prine and Iris DeMent, X, or Lee Hazelwood and Ann Margaret, to straight up great classic rock bands like the Stones, Beatles, or even Traveling Wilburys, this band should find a nice home with fans of more current duos like She and Him, Jenny and Johnny, or Civil Wars.
flare acoustic arts league
Let’s chat about a phenomenon everyone knows (if not from your own life, then at least from the movies): In a particularly nice situation a certain song is playing, accidentally—say, on the radio. From that moment on this song forever and always will be associated in your mind with that situation, the person you’re with, that incredibly special feeling, etc. “They’re playing our song…” someone suddenly purrs, casting a knowing romantic glance at his beloved—in line at the supermarket checkout, maybe. As if the song were responsible.
Sentimental nonsense I call it.
Would you like to know what a great song is? Here we go…
In 2009 I heard a truly great song. The particular situation I was in when the song struck me is irrelevant, for it was insignificant and thus disappeared into the background after the first line. “When we die don’t look for me / In that special place you’re sure you’ll go,” LD Beghtol sang softly, then added baldly: “’Cause they don’t like my kind up there / For the Bible tells me so.” At that very moment nothing else mattered; everything else had to get in line—at the far end, behind these incredible 7 minutes and 13 seconds of music. The song was “Love Finds Andy Warhol,” which is by turns wholehearted and witty, political and personal, neat and nasty; simply put: a dream. It can be found on Cut, the fantastic, challenging last album from LD’s project FLARE ACOUSTIC ARTS LEAGUE, a band often regarded as an “insiders’ tip.” And here lies the problem: How can a song that reigns supreme—no matter what other beautiful songs there might be—how can an album with such style be just an insiders’ tip? Why isn’t LD Beghtol automatically showered with the boundless love and admiration he deserves? What the heck is going on here?
If you are blushing with shame now, that’s the spirit. Here’s your second chance. LD Beghtol, who incidentally sang some of the most beautiful songs on MAGNETIC FIELDS’ 69 Love Songs and with his band LD & THE NEW CRITICISM recorded the most remarkable Lisa Germano cover under the sun—to say nothing of his own wonderful original songs—has completed a new record, his fourth by now under the moniker of FLARE. Two EPs: Big Top and Encore… Appearing together for the first time under one roof!
In addition to the regular CD release, Big Top/Encore also comes in two beautiful special editions:
1) The so-called “Kidz Box” CD in sort of like a DVD case, but it has a convenient handle and is shocking pink. It’s designed to be carried around to show all Berlin Mitte hipsters with their weird bikes and absurdly small children’s backpacks precisely on which side their bread really should be buttered.
2) The heavyweight vinyl LP features gorgeously inscrutable cover art by the estimable Alex Lukas, plus loads of little goodies inside—stickers, postcards and temporary tattoos, etc. The extra-special golden ticket superdeluxe edition (good luck finding one!) also includes a mysterious envelope of forensic evidence, perfect for CSI aficionados and FLARE completists.
And if the packaging has caught your eye, just wait until you hear the music. Then once again everything—the whole paraphernalia—will have to go to the end of the queue. Behind this pretty façade exists an album even catchier and more accessible (but not the least bit less exciting) than its predecessor. Big Top/Encore is packed with brilliant, mosaic-like tunes where horns and strings perform circle dances with wee metallophones, decorative handclaps and other surprising fillips. And every note and every pause equally make perfect sense.
The opening song, “Last Clown Standing” is a veritable hit: energetic, organ-driven, heartsick and hopeful at the same time. The picture it evokes is a vast ruined circus—the loss of childhood innocence, the sickening debris and ashes—from which LD’s wonderful voice raises not one but a whole flock of phoenixes.
But LD’s voice is not the only one carrying the songs: Flare is a collective. Here the ineffable Dana Kletter finally gets the attention she deserves. This lady once was hired to sing the parts that were too high for Courtney Love to sing on HOLE’s Live Through This album; later Dana even got a gold record for her troubles, but has yet to receive any royalties. Here she duets in perfect harmony with Beghtol on “Does This Sound Appealing?” And yes, it sounds more than appealing. Among the record’s two-dozen-plus other contributors are Jon de Rosa (from the AARKTICA collective), cellist Julia Kent (of Anthony & the Johnsons/Devendra Banhart fame), rowdy Spanish troubadour Remate, and the exquisite Kendall Jane Meade (MASCOTT/SPARKLEHORSE). With each song and every sound, the playfulness and complexity framing FLARE are further revealed.
In addition to the eight originals, two cover versions are found on the EPs: “Yes I Do (Merry-Go-Round)” is a string-drenched cover of the PSYCHEDELIC FURS’ classic, and a loving homage to Furs’ timelessness; on this track, Jon and LD do their best helium-besotted Flo & Eddie vocal impersonations. The miniature “Bruises”—an a-cappella version of a deeply moving song by THE REAL TUESDAY WELD (aka Stephen Coates, the Clerkenwell kid himself)—blends seamlessly into LD’s scruffy bubblegum anthem, “Candyman Pariah.” In this new context “Bruises” loses some of its heaviness, and even gains an almost positive undertone. Almost.
There will be two singles from Big Top/Encore, one from each EP: “Hideous Ethnic Stereotype,” a dead funny, less-than-two-minute pop gem about familial horrors including religion, incest and booze; and “Scenario,” my personal candidate for this year’s Übersong. “Scenario” is Pop in its purest form, with a wonderfully insidious melody, mariachi horns, toy piano, and a break that sneaks up on you so quietly from behind you’re left puzzled and enrapt. “Scenario” also stars some of LD’s most vicious (and funny) lyrics. That’s how you polish off an ex, m’dear! Whilst waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, for example. So that he will choke on that stupid “They’re playing our song” hogwash.
And if for some absurd reason my personal praise hasn’t been enough to convince you to take the rest of the day off for Big Top/Encore and forego all else, I suggest—right now, this minute—that you read the following words by Gail O’Hara (SPIN/Time Out New York/chickfactor co-founder) and Daniel Handler (whom you may know as Lemony Snicket—that’s right, the guy played by Jude Law in the screen adaptation of the first three “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books). Handler, by the way, also plays accordion with the MAGNETIC FIELDS. Not the worst references, are they?
13 things you should know about ld beghtol
by gail o’hara
1) historically his musical shenanigans have surfaced under these names: flare, moth wranglers, ld & the new criticism, flare acoustic arts league, the three terrors, the magnetic fields
(see 69 love songs for his vocals and graphic design influence), and so on.
2) after fleeing the beautiful south (memphis, actually) in 1995, mr beghtol arrived on the island of manhattan to corral the finest musical talent from within and beyond the city limits, including mascott’s kendall jane meade, folksinger dana kletter and aarktica’s jon de rosa and so on.
3) he is an art-directing designer who has had a hand in many of popular music’s most fetching compact disc packages, along with moving fonts and pictures around at publications including chickfactor, the village voice, outdoor life and others. he worships at the altar of peter saville.
(and neville brody).
4) he is maudlin, fearless, pretentious, brooding, angry and bored. on a good day.
5) as a vocalist, he can do girly choirboy but mostly is a channeler/flamekeeper of such 80s miserable pop gods as mark dumais (crash) and steven patrick morrissey.
6) his lyrics tend to be razor sharp, devastatingly witty and full of truths most people are afraid to articulate.
7) he’s one of the country’s leading murder ballad aficionados.
8) crazy, all-over-the-place multi-instrumentalist—including marxophones, aqualins, glocks, ukes (but not on the new album), handclaps, bass, wheezy antique keyboards, etc.
9) he is very much a man out of time and a very funny writer.
10) currently an inmate of bushwick (that’s brooklyn), ld slept through 9-11.
11) this bearish chap was sporting extreme facial hair configurations long before it was de rigueur.
12) he is a collector of strange and terrifying objects including victorian memorial photography and obscure mütter museum-worthy medical instruments.
13) a career insomniac, he is outrageously prolific.
Combining elements of both rock and folk music, along with disturbingly personal sentiments, dark humor, and a voice able to channel both the falsetto highs of Neil Young and the wavering raspy low tones of Leonard Cohen, Toronto's Hayden Desser has spent the last 15 years creating uniquely affecting music.
The critically acclaimed musician first appeared in the early '90s armed with only his four-track tape recorder, his unexpectedly low vocal range, and an extremely detuned guitar. Going simply by the name Hayden, he recorded his self-released cassette, In September, in 1994, and much of the material included evolved into his first proper LP, 1995's Everything I Long For. Initially self-released on his own Hardwood Records, the debut disc toed the line between beautiful and horrifying, touching on simple details of human interaction as well as delving into macabre tales that still retained an oddly personal edge. After a year of touring Canada, E.T.I.L.F. was picked up by Outpost Recordings (Geffen) and was released worldwide in early 1996. Tours of the U.S., Europe and Japan took up most of 1996, as well as writing and recording the title track to the Steve Buscemi-directed Trees Lounge. Hayden’s second full-length record, The Closer I Get (1998) was recorded in Toronto, Bearsville, N.Y., Seattle and Los Angeles. After another year of touring, Hayden closed the book on chapter one of his musical endeavors.
“These are songs that take you down a path to a garden so lovely, your eyes will well up with tears.” - Alternative Press
The next couple of years went by without any performances, but during 2000, Hayden began writing and recording in his Toronto home. The self-produced collection of songs was titled Skyscraper National Park and was released in 2001 to world–wide critical acclaim.
“Everything about this record – musicianship, songcraft, lyrics – is superior.” - MOJO
The following year, a live concert double CD was released, Live at Convocation Hall, a glimpse, for the listener, into what makes Hayden’s appearances such a favourite among his ever devoted fan base. His natural rapport with the crowd, along with an honest demeanour, has continued Hayden’s reputation as a unique and charming performer.
“His low-key piano and guitar, and oft-unruly vocals, are even more stunning live.” - Village Voice NYC
In 2004, Hayden released his 4th studio album. Elk-Lake Serenade continued in the direction of Skyscraper with its collection of warm and memorable recordings. 2004 also heralded Hayden’s return to the road with several tours that took him as far as Australia and New Zealand.
“...an artist of remarkable depth and potential, becoming someone who inspires comparison rather than invites it.” - HARP
After a long period of writing and recording, Hayden returned in early 2008 with his 5th full length studio record. In Field & Town is his most musically diverse and textured record to date. It captures his penchant for self-referential fiction and emotionally heavy songs and laces them with sharp hooks and smart lyrics. After supporting THE NATIONAL in Europe in November of ‘07, Hayden completed a sold-out theatre tour of Canada. And following an April tour supporting Feist, In Field & Town was released on Fat Possum in the U.S.A. where he has been touring non-stop.
“In Field & Town is a gorgeous, melancholic and personal mix of music.” - Creative Loafing
“...a superb collection of vibrant, if sometimes surprisingly upbeat songs.” - Paste
"Hayden abides by a philosophy of tranquility, and his still, organic folksongs are easy and soothing, as reassuring as an old wooly blanket." - New York Times
The album will be released in Europe in November 2008 via german label Affairs Of The Heart.
“The lovely yet horrific “The Minaret” is the ultimate antiwar song for today.” - SPIN August 2007
“Intriguing” - Billboard August 4, 2007
“A master storyteller” - Paste August 2007
John Vanderslice wrote the bulk of his new album while knee-deep in legal limbo after a visa application for his girlfriend, a French national he met in Paris, was rejected by US Immigration.
The songs and themes in Emerald City are fueled by an era of deep insecurity and paranoia; they develop in front of a backdrop of ritualized and mythologized current events. Lyrically, JV's characters and storytellers track Manifest Destiny from burning wagon wheels to two-bedroom homes with full amenities in Bakersfield, California.
Along that rough road, there are bewildered commemorations, peace-lovers and revenge-lusters, psychotic reactions to unnamed episodes, and the grief-stricken and the vengeance-hungry wrapped up in the same skin. Weaving throughout the entire album is the ever present danger of opposition. But at its simplest, and captured with straight autobiography in album closer "Central Booking", Emerald City is made up of JV's love songs - confused and angry, afraid and defeated.
Emerald City was tracked quickly, and mostly live at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. The album was performed by David Broecker, Dave Douglas, Ian Bjornstad, Scott Solter, and JV. The record's title refers to the Green Zone in Baghdad.
The Euro pressing also features 2 bonus tracks, “The Hospital” and “Mother Of All Dead Time Factories”.
From the back porch of her house in Birmingham, AL Maria Taylor must have a great view over the city. Or a valley. Cozy barbecues that last until the late evening hours, when the moist heat slowly gives way to a cooler breeze. Red wine is drunk. Laughter echoes down the hill. Or so I imagine it.
Overlook Road also gave name to Maria's new album, her fourth solo outing to date. Here she breaks with conventional song structures, carefully, the song always in sight without losing her undiluted sense of melody. Eager to try out new things, Overlook is a vital display of her growth as an artist, always challenging herself, within the boundaries of her self-chosen range. Also vocally Maria has become more daring. And it suits her well. Overlook was recorded in her hometown at Ol Elegante studio with friend and neighbour Lester Nuby III (VERBENA, VULTURE WHALE) engineering. After stops in Athens, GA, Omaha and Los Angeles she has returned to Birmingham, deep in the southern United States. Here she can develop in the bosom of her family. Brother Macey and sister Kate live here too. And a large number of highly talented musicians, old and new friends, who helped in the making of this record. Browan Lollar (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) handled lead guitar on all tracks, while adding acoustic and lap steel throughout; Macey (The Mystic Valley Band, A.A. Bondy) played bass on the entire record, adding banjo, organ, and keys; and Nuby provided his formidable drumming skills on two tracks while Taylor played drums herself on the other four with drums. Kate played and sang on a couple of songs, including “Matador,” and dad Macey, Sr. played mandolin and sang on “Bad Idea?”. Taylor even hired LA-based but Birmingham-native Daniel Farris to mix the album, and her friend, local artist Margarette Simmons, designed Overlook’s artwork.
Much of Overlook is about the searching and uncertainties that come with growing up and growing older. The songs vary in sound from alluringly bold and immediate, and softer contemplation. “Masterplan” is the taut, simmering intro to the album’s richness – all thundering drums, jangly guitar, and soaring keys – as Taylor’s evocative vocals haunt like a warning bell. “Matador” then shifts gears to a sultry, lusciously modern take on ‘60s pop strut unlike anything she’s written before. Relationship-gone-sour tale “In A Bad Way” follows later in the album and shares a similarly seductive, but looser, groove. The old-time shuffle of “Bad Idea?” could have been heard in a 1920s speakeasy, while the sunny guitars of “This Could Take A Lifetime” belie the dark and longing ache found within the song’s bedrock. All through Overlook, Taylor’s voice is illuminating, drawing listeners in with its warm and resolute yet vulnerable grace.
Maria Taylor gained initial fame with her band LITTLE RED ROCKET when she was still a teenager. Or a glimpse thereof. Geffen signed the group, but as fate would have it, with the acquisition of the label through Universal Music Group the band was dropped soon after, before they could release their second album. Even then, at her side, her childhood friend Orenda Fink, with whom she now set out to write new songs. Songs unlike anything they had ever written before. Fragile, intimate songs. Acoustic guitar, soft electronics, delicate, almost aspirated chant. AZURE RAY were born. The rest is history. Or so they say. AZURE RAY released two albums with Athens based label Warm Records - the Maria Taylor written “Displaced" from their self-titled debut album, released 10 years ago in 2001, still is one of the most popular songs among fans today. Then with the move to Omaha an EP and album followed on Saddle Creek. Moby became aware of the two chanteuses, was so intrigued by her voices that he asked them to sing on a new record of his, 18. They ended up not only singing a song, “Great Escape”, but also co-writing it. In 2005 Maria and Orenda went their separate ways, focused on their respective solo careers. Until September of last year when a new AZURE RAY album was released, Drawing Down the Moon.
In the time between, Maria has released a trio of solo LPs - 2005’s 11:11, 2007’s Lynn Teeter Flower, and 2009’s LadyLuck, the latter featuring appearances by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and long time collaborator Andy LeMaster of NOW IT’S OVERHEAD -, all to wide critical acclaim.
“terrific albums… that bleed wistful beauty” - NPR
Her music has also been frequently featured on popular TV series like for instance Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, Bones, One Tree Hill and Greek.
Nik Freitas is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist living in Los Angeles, CA. A self taught musician and engineer, Nik records and plays everything on his albums. He has released four full-length records since 2002, the most recent being Sun Down in 2008.
Freitas has toured his own music extensively, supporting such acts as BRIGHT EYES, RILO KILEY, Jason Lytle of GRANDADDY, and AZURE RAY.
In early 2008, Nik became a member Conor Oberst's Mystic Valley Band. For the next two years, Freitas played guitar on and toured for Oberst's 2008 self titled solo album, and 2009's Outer South, including having two of his own songs featured on the latter.
In February of 2010 Nik joined the live performing band for the Danger Mouse and James Mercer project BROKEN BELLS, and spent the year playing guitar on the road with the band.
Between all the touring, Nik was recording his own music at his home studio in Los Angeles. With the constant movement, limited time and space, and after playing electric guitar in bands for the previous few years, Freitas began incorporating electronic instruments into his music. Guitar solos and live drums were now being replaced with old early 80's synthesizers and drum machines, mixing organic acoustics with analog sound generators, beats and digital swells.
With a small window inbetween touring with BROKEN BELLS last fall, Nik self-released a five-song EP entitled Center of the World in October which was followed by a mini-U.S. solo tour. The small collection of songs were taken from these new recordings spanning the past three years. Now that there is some free time, Nik is happy to announce that the new songs have been made into a brand new record, Saturday Night Underwater, due early summer 2011.
the dead trees
DEAD TREES are a bunch of nomadic dudes. To be more precise, they are Michael Ian Cummings (vox, guitar), Todd Dalhoff (bass, vox), Matthew Borg (guitar, vox) and Noah Rubin (drums, vox).
They formed the band in Boston, in January 2007, released their debut Fort Music EP shortly thereafter, then packed up and moved all the way west to Portland, Oregon. Somewhere along the way, Fort Music fell into the hands of STROKES guitarist Albert Hammond Jr, who took the DEAD TREES on two US tours supporting his solo effort. The dudes lived in Portland for two years, worked odd jobs, and wrote and recorded their first full-length album, King of Rosa. After releasing the album on Milan Records in late 2008, they spent most of the next year on the road with bands such as THE WHIGS, Adam Green and MGMT, as well as touring Europe, Brazil and the U.S. as LITTLE JOY’s backing band.
At the end of 2009, the dudes moved again – this time to Los Angeles, where they link up with producer Noah Georgeson (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, LITTLE JOY, Adam Green) for their best recording to date: a buoyant, scrappy and tuneful collection of songs whose positive vibes were definitely influenced by the DEAD TREES’ new home. “I feel inspired by LA,” says Cummings. “There is space here to think and write without getting distracted. I know no one here, and I kind of like it that way. The sunshine doesn’t hurt either.” The album titled WHATWAVE was recorded earlier this year in the Hollywood Hills at New King Sound, and features musical contributions from LITTLE JOY’s Fabrizio Moretti, Binki Shapiro and Rodrigo Amarante. The DEAD TREES are paying for the album with donations pledged by fans and supporters on fundraising website Kickstarter.com. “The grassroots outpour of help has been amazing!” says Cummings. “We’ve completely funded our record independently.”
Being a happy band is not an easy choice. Happy bands by their very nature attract suspicion, we like our artists to be tormented, tortured, driven by dark passions and psychoses, starving in attic rooms or laid out on tenement floors.
THE ELWINS couldn’t be further from this if they tried. Each track on their debut album, And I Thank You resonates with the joy of its creation and the happiness that fills the room when these four young Canadians take up their instruments and play. This is not an issue for THE ELWINS, they are content to use their music to bring joy. The question is, can you put down your preconceptions and embrace a debut that sparkles with the kind of guitar pop last seen round these parts when THE SHINS were in their infancy?
Formed in Ontario in 2008 by childhood friends Travis and Matt, THE ELWINS weren’t really a serious proposition to begin with by their own admission until the addition of Feurd, a face around the music scene and well known to the pair. That commitment got tongues wagging and the appearance of their debut eponymous EP in 2010 not only led to tips from tastemakers across the country but a string of support slots in Canada and the USA with the likes of Brendan Canning, TOKYO POLICE CLUB and BORN RUFFIANS alongside appearances at South By South West, CMW and Pop Montreal.
Which brings us to that debut album, And I Thank You. Recorded in Seattle with Bill Moriartry in the producer’s chair (BLONDE REDHEAD, ISLANDS, Stephen Malkmus) and L. Stu Young (PRINCE, SUM 41) on mixing duties, the album resonates with a love of classic pop from the obvious (THE BEATLES, THE BEACH BOYS, Cat Stevens) to the more obtuse (Zappa being a particular favourite of Feurd’s). Thus it should be no surprise that the ten tracks rarely burst the three minute barrier yet pack a suitcase of hooks and the odd handbrake turn; And I Thank You may be built on classic pop but THE ELWINS aren’t interested in being revivalists.
Such ingenuity extends beyond their songs. Committed to the band full time audience members at shows in Canada and the US have visited the merch table to discover items that go beyond the usual T-shirts and badges, all hand crafted by the band. So there are, throughout the continent of North America, houses in possession of such varied ELWINS items as sunglasses, pillowcases, stacking mugs and underwear. Even their attitude to touring marks THE ELWINS out as different, Travis’ culinary abilities during recording translating to the tourbus where the usual fare has been replaced by a menu far from the ordinary.
THE ELWINS will make their debut visit to the UK in May, promising high energy shows and plenty of that joy that resonates throughout their debut album. Until then why not challenge those preconceptions, put a smile on your face and settle down to And I Thank You?
Late last fall Tim Kasher went north for the winter after nearly a year of touring in support of CURSIVE’s 2009 release Mama, I’m Swollen. Leaving sunny Los Angeles, it was in the frosty valley of Whitefish, MT - nestled next to Big Mountain and Glacier National Park - that he set about writing and recording his debut solo album, The Game Of Monogamy.
The album’s classical opening and its closing begin with an uneasy refrain of plucked notes on a harp, setting the tone for The Game Of Monogamy. The theatrical arrangements and lush instrumentation of the album’s moody orchestral pop evoke a 1950s, pre-sexual revolution atmosphere, and set the stage for a dilemma that remains thoroughly modern. The protagonist’s arc in The Game of Monogamy spans the wide range of distinctly human emotions tangled up around relationships in a starched shirt society. Call it the score for our collective sexual plight: expression routinely becomes repression in the name of romance. Kasher’s vision is as keen as ever, unapologetically honest, unflinching, and self-reflective.
Recorded during January at SnowGhost Music as well as his Whitefish rental home, The Game Of Monogamy marks the first time Kasher has written, recorded, and produced an album under his own name. Venturing independent, he fully took on the writing process and the result is more of an arranged record than his past releases. A tribute to his artistic drive and creative freedom, the album neither borrows from nor begs comparison to his two bands, CURSIVE and THE GOOD LIFE, and all are grounded in the singular voice and perspective of his writing. Kasher enlisted Patrick Newbery (trumpet/keys for CURSIVE; also of LACONA and HEAD OF FEMUR) to help with the arrangements and the production, and to play on the record. MINUS THE BEAR’s Erin Tate and CURSIVE’s Matt Maginn also play some drums and bass, respectively. Members of the Glacier National Symphony were recruited for the classical instrument parts, which include strings, harp, oboe, flute, and trombone.
Renowned for his literate, lyrical, and thematic songwriting, Kasher’s albums with CURSIVE and THE GOOD LIFE have been praised by key press, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, The New York Times, Alternative Press, Spin, and Entertainment Weekly, among many others. He made his network television debut with CURSIVE on The Late Show with David Letterman in March 2009, performing “From The Hips” off Mama, I’m Swollen. Kasher has been an acclaimed force in music for the better part of the past two decades. And, with his bands, he has released nine albums since 1997.
On: Jarid del Deo
From the get-go it seemed risky. He wasn’t that good a guitar player. His performance was shaky. He’d criss-crossed the U.S. living in the woods of New England, the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, out to the flatlands of the lower Great Lakes. Skipping out on responsibility. In and out of money, love, jail. But the songs were there.
Then, he’s back up in the Northwest, Seattle exactly. He was trying to make good on some intentions. That’s where I found him working as a house cleaner. He said it was good work for him. Stabilizing. Something about staring into the penetralia of stranger’s lives helped him to see things clearly, get back on track. He was recording again. I took a chance on him. Snow Tires. That was back in ’08.
Got a postcard from him just the other day, he’s on the move again. This time he’s in Southwest Florida, living on the Gulf of Mexico. Says he’s got a new record, wants to come to Europe, but he needs my help. I’ve never been a gambler, but I keep putting my money on this long-shot. We’re all a little restless, all a little rough. Fuck it, I’ll take a chance, I’m on a winning streak.
- Jan Schewe (Hamburg - January 2010)
UNBUNNY's rainy Fourth-of-July sound is woody, earnest, yawns slowly, and then stretches out in front of you. The songs are built around fragile chord progressions that reference bittersweet observations and experiences. It's the kind of music created late nights in attics and practiced in basements. Del Deo's lyrics are sharp, relatable, and intimate, conveying the feelings you’ve always wished you had the guts to articulate.
Ten years ago, the members of WINTERSLEEP began working on songs in a small apartment in Halifax, NS. This is the second most notable thing about this particularly drab apartment complex next to the fact that, due to an oversight by the architect, if the pool on the roof was ever filled – the building would tip over. The songs they created were strange, full of rural ghosts and forgotten landscapes.
A decade later, WINTERSLEEP – who can now be referred to as ‘Juno Award winners’ in promotional documents such as this – have brought their distinctive sound to audiences across many territories and continents. The band’s latest trek was in support of 2010′s New Inheritors, an album that the Wall Street Journal claims, “broods, bellows and stalks the listener with soaring vocals, punching drums and waves of guitars.” It saw them perform across North America, the UK, Ireland, continental Europe, and ended under the receptive lights of The Late Show with David Letterman.
It was during this time that an abundance of ideas & new material began taking shape, via late night voice memo’d bedroom demos, hallucinogenic dreams of Paul Schaeffer, and soundcheck experiments recorded while touring with acts such as WOLF PARADE, THE HOLD STEADY, THE MACCABEES & EDITORS.
Late in the summer of 2011, the group fleshed out these new ideas with Scottish producer/friend Tony Doogan (BELLE & SEBASTIAN, MOGWAI) and Dave Fridmann (FLAMING LIPS, MERCURY REV, MGMT) at the legendary Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York. Secluded in the same woods that had already seen the creation of so much amazing work, the group committed themselves to long, focused recording sessions…and the occasional badminton match. Doogan can crush a bird. Who knew?
“Hello hum. I am the dying lung of the town you left. I was beginning to fear, beginning to fear that you would never come back.”
Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner spent much of the first WYE OAK record, If Children, submerging their songs of youthful love and dread in a distortion haze, but the band’s new record, The Knot, starts with a bell. From the first, clarion-clear note, WYE OAK’s collective vision is sharpened on The Knot, a set of songs that sway, stretch, and scream while always reaching outward for personal connection.
As ever, Stack’s production layers his own multi-instrumental arrangements over Wasner’s woozy compositions, but musically, too, things sound more precise. There is perhaps less squalling feedback than before, but lingering violin and pedal steel bring out the droning Americana that has always informed WYE OAK’s sound. Throughout The Knot, Wasner's lyrics explore the metaphorical possibilities of the album's title, assessing the ways, voluntary and otherwise, that our ties to other people define our experiences. The Knot encompasses romantic possibility as well as unromantic obligation.
WYE OAK started as two friends recording songwriting demos together, but their basement project has since evolved to include tours of America and Europe, and a home on legendary label Merge Records (America) as well as aspiring European label Affairs Of The Heart. The Knot reflects that burgeoning confidence and comfort while maintaining the intimacy and emotional directness that are the band's hallmarks. Only good things can come of a band this curious, honest, and oblivious to current trends. Pay attention.