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Label Of Love: Erased Tapes

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2013 marked the fifth anniversary of the London-based record label Erased Tapes. For the last five years the label have introduced to the world some of the most innovative and original artists making music today. To mark their fifth anniversary, the label released a very special limited edition vinyl box-set last year – the ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ – which includes previously unreleased recordings by it’s extensive roster of musicians.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
With contributions by: Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm

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Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the hugely influential record label Erased Tapes. It is amazing to think that in such a short space of time the label has released some of the most ground-breaking and vital music of recent times, with recordings by artists such as Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, amongst many others. Fittingly, on their anniversary year, the label released ‘Corollaries’, the new album by legendary pianist Lubomyr Melnyk, whose pioneering Continuous Music has inspired a generation of musicians. In the same year, Frahm’s highly-anticipated live record ‘Spaces’ documents and effectively captures the pulsating energy of the Berlin composer’s utterly transcendent live shows. 2013 also saw the release of London-based singer-songwriter Douglas Dare’s debut E.P. ‘Seven Hours’ and Peter Broderick’s ‘Float 2013’, newly remastered by Nils Frahm. The box set features exclusive, previously unreleased recordings made by the label’s incredible roster of artists. What makes it all the more exclusive is the fact that the compilation wouldn’t be digitally available until the end of the year (24th December, 2013 to be precise). A must have for music-lovers everywhere. The lovingly assembled and designed box-set (designed by Torsten Posselt at FELD Berlin) is dedicated to its beloved audience – the early Erased Tapes music explorer. I look forward immensely to the next five years as the roster of gifted talents continue to journey into new and unknown horizons of possibilities and wonderment.

The first 7″ contains the electronic wizardry of Rival Consoles (‘Daddy’ feat. Peter Broderick) and Kiasmos’ euphoric minimal techno soundscapes (‘Driven’). Ryan Lee West AKA Rival Consoles creates beguiling electronic creations that encloses an organic sound within the artist’s minimal analogue framework. ‘Daddy’ is a haven of electronic bleeps and glitches that conjures up the sound of German electronic music and the indie-electronic sounds of B. Fleichsmann’s Morr Music output. The opening notes of lazer-guided synths drives the moonlight ballad into a late-night tale of inner-contemplation and reflection. The addition of Broderick’s vocals heightens the track’s exploratory dimension. The vocal shifts in register and loops in layers across West’s similarly evolving synth melodies. Towards the song’s close, Broderick’s fragile voice asks “Daddy, can I call myself a man now?” where the organic and synthetic are combined that traverses directly into the human space.

Kiasmos is the brainchild of Ólafur Arnalds and Bloodgroup mastermind Janus Rasmussen from the Faroe Islands. The starting point usually is an electronic beat supplied by Rasmussen, that would, in turn be dissected by Arnalds and before long, a timeless melody is constructed that perfectly compliments the electronic voyage. ‘Driven’ is a killer-track that loops forever and is allowed to live and breathe, as the layers float majestically into the atmosphere. Think Holden’s ‘The Inheritors’ record as a reference point. The latest release, ‘Thrown’ E.P. contains the two stunning tracks ‘Thrown’ and ‘Wrecked’ with exclusive remixes by FaltyDL and 65daysofstatic.

Berlin composer and cellist Anne Müller’s enchanting ‘Walzer für Robert’ opens up a whole new world of joyous sound that is nothing short of captivating. The intricate arrangements of cello strings is blended effortlessly with Frahm’s healing piano notes. The dancing melodies is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take This Waltz’ where the listener is taken to the streets of Vienna and left to “yield to the flood” of the composition’s beauty. This piece of music represents the first glimpses of sunlight as a new day slowly unfolds with the promises of hopes, dreams and happiness. An essential record to own (and one of Erased Tapes many hidden treasures) is ‘7 fingers’ – the collaboration between the like-minded souls of Nils Frahm and Anne Müller. Having seen both artists live in various incarnations – Müller’s central presence to singer-songwriter Agnes Obel’s deeply affecting songbook, and Frahm’s solo shows – I long to witness both artists on stage together. With a new record currently being worked on in the trusted surrounds of Frahm’s Durton Studios, a follow-up will soon see the light of day.

On the flip-side is new signing New World’s End Girlfriend. Hailing from Nagasaki, Kyushu, Japan, the Japanese composer creates music that seems to contain all myriads of samples and fascinating sounds. The cut ‘Bohemian Purgatory Part 2’ (N.S.K.G. version) moves between house, techno and mish-mash of doo-wop/funk, breakbeat free-jazz and classical. It’s unlike anything you have heard ever before. The Erased Tapes album ‘Seven Idiots’ represents a new and unique voice in avant-garde/contemporary music that defies categorization. World’s End Girlfriend further highlights the label’s continual strive to push the sonic envelope and explore vast plains of sound.

The third 7″ represents the centerpiece to the Erased Tapes V collection. An exclusive new track by Portland-Oregon born artist, songwriter and composer, Peter Broderick is a joy to behold. ‘Give Me A Smile In 5’ offers a snapshot of Broderick’s beguiling songbook that has graced us with its presence these past several years. The opening lyrics evokes a foreboding mood, sung beneath swirling piano notes: “A fight was fought off the battlefield / Oh where is my brother, where is my brother?” The poignancy of Broderick’s songcraft and sheer emotional depth thus created leaves me endlessly dumbfounded. ‘Give Me A Smile In 5’ evolves into a dub-infused odyssey of vintage Burning Spear that adds a new dimension to the Mark Hollis-esque soundscapes (affecting harmonies, layered strings and subtle electronics) that creates an utterly timeless artistic creation. A profound sadness and openness of honesty permeates throughout the achingly beautiful lament.

“But when I face my loving mother
I feel ashamed, I feel the shame
I think about the end of thinking
With a smile, with a smile”

The gorgeous piano music of Nils Frahm is next. The previously unreleased ‘Little Boy In A Space Suit’ is delicately beautiful like a flower blooming in spring. Listen closely and you hear many found sounds hidden deep beneath. The soft touch of fallen leaves, sunlight pouring through a forest of trees. I’m transported to Virgina Astley’s first studio album ‘In The Gardens Where We Feel Secure’ such is the composition’s powerful magic to seep into the pools of one’s mind, and linger there, now and forever-more. One of my favourite Erased Tapes release comes from Oliveray – the collaboration between Nils and Peter – with the appropriately titled, ‘Wonder’. Released in 2011, the record has become a trusted companion and daily soundtrack for me. A wonderful sense of magic fills the space as the instrumentation of piano, violin, celeste, pump organ, guitar, voice and whistles unleashes heart-warming emotion into the surrounding stratosphere. I remember Nils one time telling me how his favourite thing in the world is the Bill Wells and Tape 12″ collaboration, entitled ‘Fugue’ (that I think was introduced to him by Peter!) It’s clearly evident upon listening to ‘Wonder’ that a similarly breathtaking sense of journey is attained here. A couple of glorious cover versions are dotted across the album; an acoustic guitar-based version of Efterklang’s ‘Harmonics’, and the Tiny Vipers song ‘Dreamer’ (written by Jesy Fortino). ‘Wonder’ is a sonic marvel that ceaselessly reveals hidden details of divine beauty.

The fourth 7″ comprises ‘Hanau Bridge’ by Codes In The Clouds and The British Expeditionary Force’s ‘End Of The New End’. Hailing from Dartford, England, Codes In The Cloud create enthralling guitar-based post-rock creations, reminiscent of Scotland’s Mogwai and Texans Explosions In The Sky. The intensity of the band’s guitar instrumentals stops you immediately in your tracks. On the flip-side, The British Expeditionary Force’s ‘End Of The New End’ is a piano-based heartfelt pop voyage that recalls the experimental pop of Why? and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. “I try to swim out the mess I’m in, I try to swim but I’m wading further in” is a lyric of the final verse that brings the indie-electronica infused ballad to a delicate close.

The closing 7″ is a timeless exploration into the heart of contemporary neoclassical music. Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds provides a formidable creation in the form of ‘Happiness Does Not Wait’. The piano-based melody forms the central theme that soon is joined by an uplifting string section that forms the ideal counterpoint. Having released a plethora of shape-shifting records on the London-based label (much like Peter Broderick), Arnalds represents one of the most compelling and distinctive voices in modern-classical music today. Arnalds’ debut album ‘Euology For Evolution’ was released back in 2007 and since then an array of indispensable efforts have seen the light of day, from ‘Found Songs’ and ‘Living Room Songs’ to 2010’s   ‘…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness’ and ‘Another Happy Day’ O.S.T.

The enriching Erased Tapes V collection culminates in a live performance of ‘String Quartet No. 2: III’ by A Winged Victory For The Sullen Chamber Orchestra. The Michael Nyman piece (originally taken from his recordings with The Balanescu Quartet) is wonderfully interpreted here as a gorgeous haven of windswept strings float to the surface. This performance was taken from the band’s concert in Brussels’ Ancienne Belgique as part of the label’s anniversary tour. Certainly, a piece of music as moving as this is a joyous celebration of the Erased Tapes journey so far. A Winged Victory For The Sullen is the stunning collaborative project between Stars Of The Lid founder Adam Wiltzie and L.A. composer Dustin O’Halloran. The band’s current self-titled album is one of the label’s crowning jewels and later this year will see the long-awaited follow-up.

The closing note on the inner sleeve of the ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ reads: “At the end of all music happiness will be erased.” Over these past five years, the listener and early Erased Tapes music explorer alike, are blessed to have come across such a gifted family of music-makers that have served a trusted companion to each of our endless numbered days.

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The limited edition box-set ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ is available now on Erased Tapes.

http://www.erasedtapes.com

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Quotations.

“I can still remember the first song I ever wrote. My fingers were so small I could only do one chord on the guitar and I had to lay it on the floor to be able to play it because I couldn’t reach around it. I made a song out of that one chord and played it for hours on end, driving my whole family crazy. I guess from that point on I just kept exploring.”

—Ólafur Arnalds (taken from our interview in April 2013)

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“In Continuous Music, the piano is your lover, the piano is your slave, the piano is your glorious friend, it is your angelic friend. The piano is sort of like your breathing and it is a beautiful thing. I want every pianist to know that every piano on the face of this earth is their friend, so they do not fear the piano, but come to it with joy and say: “My dear friend, let’s make this music.”

—Lubomyr Melnyk (taken from our interview in March 2013)

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“That’s all I want to do, it’s not really about the musical concept but what it does to the listener. So throughout the album, it’s mostly about that, it’s a little bit like translating music into psychology and the other way around and to see how to structure that where people feel they can’t escape the experience, they want to be part of it and really want to know what’s coming next. They feel like anything’s possible. I’m working on that basically.”

—Nils Frahm (taken from our interview in January 2014)

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“When me and Nils play music together something magical happens. There is this energy in the air … a kind of energy that makes you think that anything is possible.”

—Peter Broderick (taken from our interview in October 2012)

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Five Questions with Ólafur Arnalds.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
OA: It’s hard to pick one. But I think premiering ‘For Now I am Winter’ for a sold out Barbican Hall earlier this year was pretty close to the top! Not just because how great the show was for me but also because my family traveled to London for the show and it was an emotional moment for us.

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(ii) Most proud work to date?
OA: Must not one always be proudest of his latest work? I am pretty proud of the new album anyway!

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(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
OA: Jon Hopkins, Imogen Heap.

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(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
OA: Balance life and music. Or combine the two better in a way that can provide for a healthy lifestyle. And of course to make like 7 more albums and 10 more soundtracks!

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(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
OA: Love, compassion, ambition, selection and friends!

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Five Questions with Peter Broderick.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
PB: There are too many to pick one! My tour in europe with Nils Frahm in 2009 was a special one …

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(ii) Most proud work to date?
PB: An unreleased collection of songs based on some very vivid dreams I had in 2009-2010.

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(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
PB: Scoring Miranda July’s next film.

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(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
PB: Spreading the love through music! Practicing my instruments, working hard to become a better musician and person.

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(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
PB: dedicated, organized, visionary, passionate, loving.

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Five Questions with Nils Frahm.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
NF: My first big tour with Peter Broderick in 2009.

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(ii) Most proud work to date?
NF: It is always an artists recent work, so: ‘Spaces’.

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(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
NF: Put me in a room with these ladies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZ4LCejQg8o

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(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
NF: I will work hard on keep surprising myself.

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(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
NF: All tapes will be erased.

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The limited edition box-set ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ is available now on Erased Tapes.

http://www.erasedtapes.com

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Label Of Love: City Slang

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Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

New City Slang releases adorn Spanish filmmaker’s Pedro Almodovar’s list of musical inspirations for his new film ‘Los Amantes Pasajeros’. The albums in question are the latest albums from two greats, Lambchop and Tindersticks. Lambchop’s ‘Mr. M’ album is the closest thing you can get to a solo Kurt Wagner album which is dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. In Kurt’s words, ‘I felt Lambchop had one more good record in us, and this time I was going to do things as directly and true to my desires as possible.’ The result is a heart wrenching jazz-folk opus of, and about love. ‘The Something Rain’ by Tindersticks is their debut for the German label and what an album it is. The album is a milestone in Tindersticks’ long and fruitful career, showing the band in a rejuvenated and truly inspired form. From the opening David Boulter spoken word of ‘Chocolate’ to the closing cinematic piece ‘Goodbye Joe’, compelling experimental rock of ‘Frozen’, jazz infused soul of ‘This Fire of Autumn’ and ‘Slippin’ Shoes”s gorgeous chamber pop noir, ‘The Something Rain’ is a stunning masterpiece in sound, emotion and style. The inclusion of both albums on the legendary filmmaker’s ‘stress lifting’ playlist is a testament to the sheer quality of ‘Mr. M’ and ‘The Something Rain’. In Almodovar’s films, music is a central character and is forever integral to the creation of the unique and wonderful world that Almodovar’s characters inhabits.

The album I hold most dear to me is ‘Neon Golden’ by The Notwist. The album was released on City Slang in 2002. I will always remember the first time I heard The Notwist in the form of ‘One With The Freaks’, taken from ‘Neon Golden’. Every Sunday night I would stay up late, into the small hours of the morning and listen to Jay Ahern’s late night music program on 2FM. The show was my gateway into exploring new and alternative music. I felt the magic in the air’s airwaves for the three captivating hours, from 11PM ’till 2AM. As a teenager, at 17, a whole world of new possibilities opened up before me. Every weekend I spent waiting for the arrival of Sunday night and every Monday at school I would be lost in thought, trying to recapture the music that drifted in my ears from the night before.
My musical discoveries were endless. I first heard the exciting sound of electronic music from the likes of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and Kraftwerk. A new generation of electronic music in the shape of Four Tet, Manitoba and Schneider TM. The NYC guitar scene of LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, The Rapture and Interpol were burning brightly. Detroit were doing their thing with The White Stripes, Detroit Cobras, The Von Bondies among others all in full swing. Hip hop was introduced to me, from the legendary Jurassic 5 to new protoges on the Anticon and Def Jux labels. The guitar disco of the DFA label reinvented rock ‘n’ roll for me. Hour 2 was nearly always based on Americana and folk music. I fell in love with James Yorkston & The Athletes album ”Movin’ Up Country’ and M. Ward’s ‘Transfiguration of Vincent’. Oh, and I heard Chan Marshall (AKA Cat Power) for the first time, whose (classic) album ‘You Are Free’ was recently released at this time. The array of bands and artists I became obsessed with are too numerous to mention!

At this moment I realized I’ve transgressed from my original recount of the Notwist and ‘Neon Golden’. Jay Ahern played ‘One With The Freaks’ almost religiously every week. The song’s chorus ‘Have you ever been all messed up?’ sung by Markus Acher moved me hugely. Acher’s vocals were heartfelt and the song was both indie and electronica in equal measure. I was mesmerized, particularly at the moment when the electric guitars and drums crash in so magnificently. This, the DJ told me is ‘indietronica music’, the combination of the traditional indie music guitar/drums elements and electronic music’s experimentation. I soon scanned the shelves of Plugd, my local record store and happily found ‘Neon Golden’ gracing the ‘Electronica’ section. ‘Neon Golden’ is an album I’ve returned to most often in the last ten years, although Calexico’s ‘Feast of Wire’ (also on City Slang) could have broken this record! The album is the amalgamation of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. From the opening ‘One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand’ wrapped in seamless beauty to the closing lo-fi lullaby ‘Consequence’, the album is the most natural thing in the world. Since its release in 2002, The Notwist’s ‘Neon Golden’ is among the best, most vital and innovative albums of the 21st Century, and branded a universally acclaimed masterpiece. Frontman Markus Acher has said ‘We want (the music) to be fragile, vulnerable. And in a way we want it to include the weaknesses.’ The sonic and emotional journey ‘Neon Golden’ takes you on is otherworldly.

Hazy pop melodies drifts in and out, lo-fi ballads float slowly, beautiful, dreamy electronic textures circulate and delicate instrumentation creates an album of true magic. The poetic lyrics of Acher ring in your ear long after the music has stopped. ‘In your world my feet are out of step/my arms don’t move, my hands won’t grab’ is a lyric from ‘One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand’. A gently picked acoustic guitar, conga and soft woodwind sounds floats heavenly amidst Acher’s poetry before Martin Gretschmann’s electronic prowess arrives over heavenly strings. ‘Pick Up The Phone’ is perfect electronic pop with New Orderesque bass from Micha Acher, ‘Today I will step out of your past’ are Acher’s final words. ‘Trashing days’ opens with a banjo before Gretschmann’s magical electronic beats guides the song along before a gorgeous flute line enters on the chorus, ‘They’re skipping backwards, they’re trashing days,is that all they’re believing in?’ ‘Solitaire’ weaves its magic, containing a Michael Nyman sample. The violin and Gretschmann’s slowed down beats combine to form an utterly compelling dreamscape of sound. Acher sings ‘We stay here and bare until dawn everyday ‘ on the song’s chorus. I soon realized many off-shoot projects stemmed from The Notwist, namely Lali Puna, Tied & Tickled Trio and Console. These artists were often played by Jay Ahern, together with The Notwist, and often all consecutively for the ultimate German-electronic-indie-tronic journey. The album’s closer ‘Consequence’ is probably my highlight. In fact, the lyrics ‘Fail with consequence, lose with eloquence and smile’ is engraved on my precious ipod! The song is achingly beautiful with layers of intricate textures woven together. The album’s title-track is sublime. Flutes, banjo and layers of percussion creates the perfect backdrop for Acher’s vocals, ‘Neon golden like all the lights/Neon golden, don’t leave me here/For I glow’.

In 2003, I discovered Calexico. Their fourth studio album ‘Feast of Wire’ came out in February on the City Slang label. This was my most important musical discovery as over the past decade, Tucson Arizona’s finest have been my most beloved and cherished bands, unlike no other. Each new Calexico release is a celebration of pure joy. Equally, seeing them on tour is always of paramount importance. The band holds such significance to me that music without Calexico would seem unthinkable. Since discovering ‘Feast of Wire’ I discovered their previous masterpieces, ‘Spoke’, ‘The Black Light’ and ‘Hot Rail’. Listening only to Calexico’s studio albums is merely scratching at the surface. Before Calexico, Joey Burns (guitars, vocals amongst varied others!) and John Convertino (drums, vibes and more) were the rhythm section of Giant Sand and were in Friends of Dean Martinez. Furthermore, Calexico collaborated with a vast array of musicians, including Neko Case, Richard Buckner, Marianne Dissard, and more recently, Iron & Wine, Vinicio Caposella, Depedro and Amparo Sanchez. Calexico have written and composed scores for a wide range of films from the heart-wrenching Mexican documentary ‘Circo'(Aaron Schock) to the Fellini-inspired Dylan biopic ‘I’m Not There'(Todd Haynes). The wealth of music the band have produced and released over the years is staggering. Not to forget their many tour albums that are released in the space between the major label releases, all of which are essential listening.
‘Feast of Wire’ is a masterpiece of beauty and diversity. I first heard the album’s songs on Jay Ahern’s Sunday night alternative music program. The likes of Dirty Three, The Black Heart Procession and (labelmates) Lambchop were often close at hand! The night in question was a rare musical treat where Joey Burns was the guest for the full 3 hour duration. It reached epic proportions! I escaped to Tucson, Arizona, the expansive Sonoran desert, downtown Tucson, Wavelab studios, Craig Schumacher, Cormac McCarthy, the U.S/Mexican border and mariachis, folk, jazz, gypsy, latino music galore. During the show, the entire ‘Feast of Wire’ album in addition to sprinklings of older material was played. What I heard was simply the most exciting and momentous music, unlike no one else. The genres and styles of jazz, gypsy, folk, lo-fi indie, cinematic scores a la Morricone were immersed in their deep-rooted sound.

‘Feast of Wire’ opener ‘Sunken Waltz’ begins with an angelic accordion and acoustic guitar waltz before Joey Burns sings, ‘Washed my face in the rivers of empire.’ ‘Quattro (World Drifts In)’ is next and for me, is still the finest moment in Calexico’s songbook. John Convertino’s drums echo Joey Burn’s lyrics, ‘hit the ground running’. The sheer atmospheric feel and weight of the song is mind-blowing. Paul Niehaus’ pedal steel pours emotion, as do the soaring trumpets on the song’s chorus. A song rarely carries such power and emotion like ‘Quattro’. ‘Black Heart’ is sublime. The mesmerizing string section beneath Convertino’s illuminating drums creates a timeless sound. The song is cathartic and its magical power cleanses your soul, ‘..black heart, crawling its way to the four corners of the world’ Burns sings on the chorus. The album contains as many instrumentals as it does vocal tracks. ‘The Book And The Canal’ is my favourite of the instrumentals. A cinematic tour de force. Meandering piano builds into a crescendo before eerie cello strings appear halfway through. The piece isn’t even 2 minutes long yet the spell it casts is undeniable. This piece always brings me back to seeing Calexico perform in the Cork Opera House in 2003. The lights went off and ‘The Book and the Canal’ came on the venue soundsystem. A short black and white road trip video of Calexico (featuring all members exploring a city’s streets at nightfall) was shown before Calexico entered onstage. ‘Across The Wire’ transports you to the heart of the Mexican border. The song title is taken from Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel ‘Across The Wire’. The song offers a compelling look at life for those refugees on the Mexican side of the border. The song is full of hope and dreams, searching and longing. The rise where Burns sings ‘some say a new day will shine here’ is one of the defining moments of ‘Feast Of Wire’. The glorious mariachis and waltzing accordion is empowering, celebratory and casts light of hope on the darkness ‘across the wire’. The album is an artistic treasure and a feast of musical sounds and styles.

Nashville’s Lambchop is a band, like Calexico, who constantly inspire, no matter what sonic avenue they travel down. Kurt Wagner and co. came to Cork Opera House for their ‘Is A Woman’ tour in 2002. Fortunately, I witnessed this magical night. At 17, this concert (as well as Calexico in the same year at the same venue!) blew me away. I can always remember the presence Kurt Wagner exuded onstage, sitting down with his trademark Nashville Co-op cap and a book of lyrics close at hand. The musicianship in the band was clear to see. Tony Crow’s piano was in constant dialogue with Kurt’s storytelling. The intimacy of the night was something I will always remember. Sitting next to my brother and my Dad, I felt the special spark in the air brought by Lambchop’s deeply soulful creations.

‘Is A Woman’ is a Lambchop album I’ve returned to many many times since it was released 10 years ago. Each song pours with such raw emotion, creating an album of deeply affecting songs that resonates powerfully to this day. ‘The Daily Growl’, ‘New Cobweb Summer’, ‘My Blue Wave’, ‘I Can Hardly Spell My Name’, ‘Caterpillar’, ‘The Old Matchbox Trick’ are all vintage Lambchop. ‘I Can Hardly Spell My Name’ may be my favourite. Gorgeous female backing harmonies appear after Kurt sings, ‘this may not appeal to you, but I can hardly spell my name’. Tony Crow’s piano, Paul Niehaus’ pedal steel beneath Kurt’s gentle guitar provides a meditative soul sound. Moments of magic are dotted all over ‘Is A Woman’. Take ‘Autum’s Vicar’ with Kurt’s lyric on the bridge, ‘believe you me, believe me you’ is life affirming. ‘Caterpillar’ closes with haunting strings amidst Niehaus’ atmospheric lap steel. The title track evolves into a soulful reggae opus. ‘The Old Matchbox Trick’ contains a deep bassline groove. The lyrics on the final verse/chorus is perhaps my favourite of Kurt’s, ‘the old matchbook trick, keeps the table from wobble, slipped under the short leg, steadies the unsteadiness, of the lopsided conversation, makes a solid place to rest, arms and thought upon’.

‘Nixon’ is another masterpiece from Lambchop that came out in 2000, the predecessor to ‘Is A Woman’. This in fact was my first introduction to the ‘Chop, and what an introduction!! I remember my brother and I were in HMV and we saw the colourful autumnal artwork of ‘Nixon’ and blurb that read, ‘A tenderly gorgeous hybrid of country, folk and soul’. That was enough for us to dole out the cash! Like The Notwist’s ‘Neon Golden’ and Calexico’s ‘Feast of Wire’, ‘Nixon’ is a rare treasure which breathes significance and life’s insights. If ‘Feast of Wire’ introduced me to jazz and latin music, ‘Nixon’ introduced me to soul. Funnily, this album got me into Curtis Mayfield shortly afterwards. Whenever I played it, my parents would say his voice (Kurt’s soul falsetto) is like Curtis Mayfield!

The album is sublime. Words can’t paint the feelings I have for ‘Nixon’. The strings, clean guitar tones, Kurt’s soul voice, brass, bass grooves, country licks pour out of the speakers. Each song is an anthem with a message delivered by Reverend Kurt. My favourite all time Lambchop song is ‘You Masculine You’, the third song on ‘Nixon’. The song has such a wide dynamic range from the opening delicate string soaked verses to the cascading soul grandeur it becomes. Kurt sings ‘Don’t follow me’ in refrain over the swirling strings, guitars and drums proving to be ‘Nixon”s climax. It’s breathtaking and live, the song becomes something more, an anthem for a generation, embedded in a whirlwind of emotion.

Similarly with Calexico, Lambchop have released countless tour albums for the fans over the years and each one documents the band in a particular moment in time. Recently both bands have released their tour albums in one box set; Calexico’s ‘Road Atlas’ and lambchop’s ‘Tour Box’ are steeped in inspiration and wonder. Lambchop’s liner notes say, ‘Making things difficult since 1992’. For the listener, Lambchop have made some of the most beautiful, moving and transcendent music of our time. The sound of Lambchop transcends time. Asking ‘What is your favourite Lambchop album?’ is like being asked what your favourite Beatles album is. It’s never a constant. It changes with time. It changes depending on life’s current circumstances. One day it could be ‘Rubber Soul’, the next day ‘Revolver’ or ‘Sgt Pepper’. Likewise with Lambchop, the latest ‘Mr. M’ is my current fave. A short time ago it was the double-album of lush instrumentals, thoughtful ballads and rousing rock of ‘Aw C’mon/No You C’mon. I love their older albums too, released during the nineties. ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ is their debut and contains classics such as the infectious ‘Betweemus’, and the achingly beautiful ‘I Will Drive Slowly’. At the time of its release, Lambchop were pronounced as ‘Nashville’s most fucked-up country band’ with their unique songcraft and style(s). Since 1992, Lambchop have evolved into becoming American music’s true national treasures.

The German electronic artist Schneider TM (AKA Dirk Dresselhaus) was another discovery I made via Jay Ahern’s late night radio program, on the City Slang label. I first heard his collaboration with Kpt. Michi.gan on ‘Light 3000’. The electronica track is a re-working of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths. I was already familiar with the Morrisey/Marr original but this complete re-interpretation was absolutely mind-blowing. I don’t think a better cover version has been made since. Schneider TM’s ‘Zoomer’ album was released on City Slang in 2002. Exciting and fresh electronic pop sounds painted each of the album’s eight tracks. The opener ‘Reality Check’ starts with a strumming acoustic guitar accompanied with strange effects and electronic blips. A lyric is ‘beware of the matrix, and keep a warm heart inside’. Schneider TM’s vocals are reminiscent of Beck and like Beck himself, creates exciting and cutting edge music. At the same time ‘Zoomer’ was out, Manitoba AKA Dan Snaith released his masterpiece, ‘Up In Flames’. Although this very album was released on the Leaf label, almost a decade later, Dan Snaith would release a classic electronic album ‘Swim’ under the ‘Caribou’ moniker, on the City Slang label! I fell in love with Dan Snaith’s unique sound found on ‘Up In Flames’. The single ‘Jacknuggeted’ is sublime as is the beautiful music video that accompanied its release. A great electronic-indie musician who effortlessly combines rhythms, percussion, electronics, jazz, indie/psych music among other styles, forming a unique and revelatory sound. Dan Snaith’s masterpiece arrived in 2010 under the Caribou moniker. ‘Swim’ was borne out of Snaith’s desire to create “dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water”. ‘Swim’ is an organic dance record with remarkable sonic detail and textures. Snaith has been at the forefront of electronic music for a decade, with the likes of Four Tet, who are capable of creating utterly compelling and transcendent music. I can’t wait for Caribou’s follow-up to ‘Swim’! Also, the remixes to ‘Swim’ are essential listening.

More recently, a wave of indie-rock acts have been signed to the City Slang label. Most noticeably, Tu Fawning’s album ‘A Monument’ is an enchanting and truly interesting album. The opener ‘Anchor’ is reminiscent of Beach House and many fine indie pop moments are scattered across the nine tracks. Laura Gibson’s ‘La Grande’ feels ancient and new all at once, whose voice echoes the great Karen Dalton. Indie acts Get Well Soon, Nada Surf and O Death make their own distinct indie rock sound. Arcade Fire released their third album, ‘The Suburbs’ on City Slang to huge critical praise and cemented their reputation as the best indie rock groups around. The best of 2012 is yet to come with the imminent release of ‘Algiers’ by Calexico. The album was recorded in New Olreans so expect yet another melting pot of sound from New Orleans via Tucson Arizona.

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August 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Label Of Love: Bella Union

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Words: Mark Carry, illustration: Craig Carry

Why most of the music on your ipod consists mostly of Bella Union artists is a testament to the phenomenal output of awe-inspiring music that the label has  released since it was founded back in 1997.

2012 sees Bella Union celebrate its 15th anniversary; fittingly it’s the same year Dirty Three return with their rejuvenating work ‘Toward The Low Sun’. Many of the full-blown classic albums released over the years on the forever reliable independent label come from the legendary Australian trio. The elements of violin (Warren Ellis), guitar (Mick Turner) and drums (Jim White) combine to evoke an overwhelming spectrum of human emotions. On ‘Toward The Low Sun’, their eighth album, they remain peerless as improvisers of instrumental intensity and beauty. Spanning Bella Union’s lifespan, Dirty Three albums ‘Ocean Songs’ (1998),’Whatever You Love You Are’, ‘Cinder’ (2005) and the latest ‘Toward The Low Sun’ (2012) firmly grace the music world. As Ellis has said, ‘There is a dialogue within the group that we are still keen to explore’.

We, the music listeners, continue to ‘explore’ new bands and artists through the devoted output of the Bella Union label. The record label was founded by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde of Scottish alternative rock band Cocteau Twins who created a heavenly, ethereal dream-pop collage of sound. Since 2002, the label has been run solely by Simon Raymonde. Unsurprisingly, it is this unique blend of dream pop that is apparent on the Bella Union roster of like-minded acts, who have the necessary freedom to create their art.

A seamless array of gems have been discovered and re-discovered over the past fifteen years. Fleet Foxes self titled debut (2009) and follow-up ‘Helplessness Blues’ (2011) epitomizes the magic realm of music discovery the label so clearly thrives on. Beach House’s utterly stellar dream pop creations: ‘Devotion’ (2008), ‘Teen Dream’ (2010) and ‘Bloom’ (2012) conveys the immense level of artistic depth within the Bella Union sphere. The enrapturing, elegant sound of The Czars ‘Goodbye’ (2006), the life-affirming concept record ‘Glory Hope Mountain’ from The Acorn (2007), irresistible French chanteuse Francoiz Breut ‘Vingt A Trente Mille Jours’ (2001) and Midlake’s transcendent ‘Trials of Van Occupanther’ (2006) are just some of the many glowing embers of artistic brilliance showcased by Bella Union.

I was first introduced to Bella Union in 2004 in the form of a free label sampler CD from my ever-dependable local recordstore Plugd in Cork. The title was ‘Beneath The Surface Vol. 1′ and upon first listening I knew I needed to explore deeper, beneath the surface. The hauntingly beautiful solo piano of Dustin O’ Halloran scattered among the astral indie pop of Trespassers William and the evocative ‘Through December’ by Laura Veirs opened up a heavenly wall of sound. My highlight was the fourth track, ‘Little Pink House’ by The Czars. I was (very) late in discovering this very special band, fronted by the great John Grant. The song encompasses free jazz, gospel and late night blues that hits you straight to the heart’s core. More recently, John Grant has embarked on a solo career; his debut album ‘Queen Of Denmark'(2010) was lavished upon with critical praise from all corners of the music world.

Later in 2004, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs released her second studio album ‘Carbon Glacier’on Bella Union.The album consists of immense simplicity and unerring beauty. The isolated songwriting style contained within the winter laments evoke the cold, harsh landscape of the Colorado Rockies that formed Veirs’ childhood. Layers of gorgeous instrumentation (banjo, piano, glockenspiel, vibraphone, trombone, guitars, percussion) creates moving folk music, the effect of which is transcendent. On the opening track ‘Ether Sings’, Veirs sings ‘All the time spent dreaming is never lost’ illustrating how the album, like so many Bella Union releases, is for the dream space.

An equally special album arrived four years later, from the multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, whose ‘Home’ (2008) album was his Bella Union debut. Amazingly, Broderick was a mere 21 years of age when making this record. A wonderful fusion of field recordings, found sounds and folk/americana creates a breathtakingly beautiful ambient-folk soundscape. It’s an album I’ve returned to countless times, and each time something new can be discovered. ‘And It’s Alright’ builds into a blissful folk pop gem and ‘Not At Home’ is simply sublime. Live, Peter Broderick is a spectacle to behold. Alone on stage with his array of instruments close at hand, he loops violins,musical saw, piano, vocal harmonies, in turn creating music that transcends time.

The Bella Union album that I must pick as my all-time favourite must be ‘Teen Dream’ by Beach House, released in January 2010. The special chemistry that exists between Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally creates such powerful, compelling, unique dream pop of sheer beauty. Their live performance at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona is one of the best concerts I’ve ever witnessed. Furthermore, their latest album ‘Bloom’ looks to be one of the most important albums of 2012, and beyond.

Later this Summer, Bella Union acts galore grace the idyllic South England Dorset countryside, at the End Of The Road festival. Dirty Three, The Low Anthem, Midlake, Beach House, John Grant, Jonathan Wilson, I Break Horses, Lanterns On The Lake among many others will truly inspire audiences from August 31st to the 2nd of September 2012. Bella Union’s 15th anniversary is a real cause for celebration and ‘with the notes in my ears’ I look forward immensely to the next 15 years.

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July 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm