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Posts Tagged ‘Abandoned City

Chosen One: Hauschka

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Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

“…you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different.”

—Volker Bertelmann

Words: Mark and Craig Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

hauschka_abandonedcity

A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has carved out a string of phenomenal neo-classical masterpieces from spontaneous improvisations (‘The Prepared Piano’); ‘Ferendorf’’s ode to his childhood home in Germany (which features intricate arrangements of strings and brass); the ‘acoustic techno’ of ‘Salon des Amateurs’ featuring drummers Samuli Kosminen (Múm) and Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns; and ‘Silfra’’s gorgeous collaborative effort with violinist Hilary Hahn. This year marked the highly anticipated maser-work of ‘Abandoned City’; a captivating record of illuminating soundscapes that marks Hauschka’s crowning jewel and most staggering work to date.

Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”

‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.

‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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Hauschka_5

Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

From your live shows, it’s really inspiring – to not only witness your music live but – to see the process. As a listener, you normally don’t get to obviously physically see how it happens so it’s amazing to catch a glimpse of that when you see your live show.

Volker Bertelmann: It’s something in a way that I was not intentionally in the beginning when I was working on prepared piano but in general the prepared piano is something that is mostly happening on the spot, you know. I mean it’s stuff that where you definitely have to create things while you are at the venue because the instrument is a lot of times different and the sound is different and the room – some pianos sound completely weird and others sound really beautiful – so there’s always a big difference between every evening.

I wonder too, Volker, with the new album ‘Abandoned City’– which I must say is my favourite of all the Hauschka albums – was it a case of using new approaches again on the new album? There is definitely a wonderful dub and electronic feel to the songs as well.

VB: Yes, it’s actually because in a way I was hoping to get back to a little bit to the roots without using any other instruments because I was doing a lot of electronic music beforehand and I was always interested in dance music and music as well like Aphex Twin or stuff like that and that was always music for me that I really love. And in a way when you go to the piano; suddenly it can happen that you miss everything like that because you suddenly have a different approach and the piano sounds so beautiful and clean, in a way. So for me, it was a really important to frame an angle that actually allows me to do as well like quite more experimental stuff and more dance stuff: the whole palette of sounds possible. On this record, all the sounds that are on there; there are no processed sounds by synthesizers and stuff like that; it’s all acoustic sounds used with delay and reverb.

That’s amazing in itself to think that it’s just acoustic sounds. On one level it’s not surprising because it does have that organic and very human feel. In one way, the music is quite sad but after many revisits, I must say I find it very uplifting where the pieces of music are filled with hope.

VB: Yeah, I mean to be quite honest that is something that I am very interested in, not that I am doing this intentionally. I mean maybe I am a person of hope and at the same time, I’m sad and I know that things at some point will be finished and life is just limited in a way and if you work on something all the time, you are always aware of the limitation of your life. And I think that creates a kind of interesting feeling in sadness and hope and you enjoy every day and stuff like that, and I had the impression ‘Abandoned City’ has a similar feel to it.

In a way there was something happening there: life was happening there; then all the life disappeared and then maybe new people are coming in or new animals are going into the village. So in a way, there is always this circle that represents hope – some new creation and at the same time it disappears at some point and there is death and from that something new is rising. So in a way I was hoping to find a circle like that and it’s not finished because I’m still interested in this theme. I mean ‘Abandoned City’ was much more superficial in the way that I just picked out the cities and now I’m working on a cycle of three pieces that are dealing with this circle of loss and death, and the new perspectives in a way.

Oh wow. So in a way, this could be the starting point of a series nearly?

VB: Yeah, and maybe it’s something because of my age. I mean I was always aware of it, even as a kid; you know I was aware that I have to find a way of enjoying every day so you never know when the circle is over [laughs]. I thought it would be a nice theme in the music and in a way it appeared at that time I was writing ‘Abandoned City’ my little son was born; Lucas and at that point I had the impression that I was very touched by that on one side. And on the other side I felt like I’ve experienced so much already myself and there was a lot of tension in myself and it felt like it was a nice expression of that.

When you did your research on each of the abandoned cities for each piece of music; this must have been a lovely process too, in a sense that you had the music but you wanted to put a certain city to a particular piece.

VB: Yes, I mean the music was already written so you know, for some people it may be strange that I have not visited some of those cities. For me it was like, first of all writing the music and then other times, I am trying to find an angle and what I feel when I’m writing the particular music. So I found a picture of an abandoned garage like a parking garage, in Las Vegas in a friend’s house, and I was telling them, “Man, I think this picture is exactly the stuff that fits totally to my music; can I use it as a cover?”. He replied “Yes it’s my picture, I actually took it when I was in Las Vegas” and so that’s actually the cover of the record.

I am very curious about the state of mind when you are performing music on one side but also when you are composing in particular?

VB: Composing is something you know, in a way you have to clear your mind constantly to start from scratch and create something new. This makes it sometimes very difficult because of course you know what you have done before and so you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different. I think this is also a life-circle which is a mental circle and particularly with this record, I was much freer in terms of form and I think I was much closer to the way I performed live than the albums before. On the previous albums, a lot of times it was conceptual albums in terms of I was using albums to create dance music or in a way, I always had songs in mind which I didn’t have with this album. This album was more like an endless stream of music.

That’s very interesting because the album does feel more like a performance in the way that you can imagine you are playing the piano in your living room when listening to it.

VB: Yes, I mean that is how I was working on it. I was creating music while I was in my studio I just pressed record and then I recorded it. I go into my living room and just start performing; that’s what I mostly do, I press record and what’s coming out of my hands will be recorded and I make the decision whether I like it or not.

And this is the Bechstein, the grand upright piano?

VB: Yes, it’s a grand upright. I mean for the last four records I recorded with this. Actually it’s my first piano that is like a real concert piano and the older records I recorded with quite old pianos that I was given by people as a gift because I had no money for affording the piano. The next step might be that I’m looking for a grand piano; you know in a way there is always developments [laughs].

It’s really interesting too, you know with yourself and other pianists/composers like Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick and so on, it’s amazing how each of you; you all have your own sound but there is also this thing that you are searching for new ways of generating new sounds.

VB: In a way I have the impression that each of those guys you mention are experimenting their way very much; they are not interested in borders even though I would say there’s always a difference in terms of the accessibility. For example, I think Nils’ music is quite accessible for a lot of people while Peter and I, we might be much more at the edge sometimes which I think in a way for me it’s very interesting because you can stay at the edge you can always create stuff that is at the edge for your whole life.

But if you start getting into accessible mode, it’s very hard to get back. I had this experience when I was younger; I was in this hip-hop band and I realized that once you are forced on making hits it makes you very vulnerable in terms of the next step you have to do. So, I’m very glad I’m not forced to make the next record a big-selling album because the places I play are so huge they have to fill them. There’s also some tension in there, of course you are always aiming for making a career but at the same time you can be a kind of bargain, you know. I’m very glad where I am right now because everything is big enough where I can travel all the time and on the other side, I don’t have to go into stadiums [laughs].

You must also be influenced by John Cage and all his theories and the whole prepared piano process?

VB: To be quite honest, I mean in some interviews I mentioned him already. But in the beginning when you are connected with hip-hop or pop music you never come across people like that you know, so I was completely disconnected from that guy. By working with prepared piano sounds, I was getting much closer to John Cage and I love actually the humour and the way he thinks about sound in general. It’s so liberating and he was doing that already like twenty, thirty years ago and so I’m such a big fan of his theory as well of his music. It’s for me a very uplifting artist.

I wonder for you growing up and stuff, what was the first kind of music you got into? Were you in bands first before you ended up on your piano path?

VB: Well the first thing is that I learned classical piano as a kid from nine years old. Then I was in my first band at the age of twelve where we played Rolling Stones covers and a lot of rock music. It was at the beginning of the eighties because I was born in ’66 so in 1978 I was twelve and so maybe it was the end of the Beatles era and I was totally influenced by this kind of music at the time and still think that the music and songs created at the time is incredible. So in a way I was trying to write songs at that time with my band.

From there, I went into all sorts of rock bands like keyboards and synthesizers and I wrote music for singer-songwriters and all sorts of stuff. Then suddenly after the hip-hop group and the whole hits discussion – it was a major record label – I had the feeling that I had to change something because it was not really me. You know, I’m not a really big fan of the show to be quite honest. If I want to perform, I want to perform aesthetically nice and I want to do every now and then something with video or more like an installation where people watch but in general I’m not interested in having a big live show with me being the focus of the set of the show; like I’m coming with smoke out of ground of the stage, you know that’s not my thing. But if you go into a poppy area, you have to do that because the stage size is so huge and you have to get more and more into light and big laser shows and you have to be the focus and all the fans are cheering even before you get onstage without playing a bloody note.

So I’m interested in creating music where it’s more about an experience with both of us like when the audience gives you something and I give the audience something. So we are both in a room and we share. That’s what my feeling is and then I made the decision at some point that maybe the only way to do it is by playing the instrument that I can really play good and that I have to find a way of experiencing me as a solo performer without any nets under me by performing improvisation. I think that’s the best decision that I have made for myself and I am very thankful that people give me the feedback that I should continue. Sometimes you can imagine that you are doing this and people are saying ‘Please, don’t come back’ [laughs] but they don’t and they’re really forcing me to do my next thing and I’m very happy about that.

Even looking ahead, Volker do you have other projects in mind?

VB: Right now, I have a one year residency with MDR Symphonic Orchestra in Leipzig which is the hometown of Bach and I’m working there with the symphonic orchestra now for a year and a conductor called Kristjan Järvi who is a very well-known classical conductor but also having a great experimental ensemble called the Absolute Ensemble so he is a guy with a real connection with more modern music and classical music. He invited me and asked me if I would be interested in writing music for the symphonic orchestra. I wrote my first two pieces in September and recorded them already. And the next three pieces – which is the cycle of three pieces I told you about – this will be a composition for orchestra without me, there’s no prepared piano by me in there, just the orchestra. I want to figure out now what does the orchestra sound like without me and then I can incorporate myself at some point and I can perform both; I’m expanding.

And do you hear the pieces performed by the orchestra along the way?

VB: They perform the pieces onwards and the pieces are also notated now and they are offered to all sorts of orchestras in the world. I don’t know if they want to play it; that’s one thing. And another thing I am working on new solo piano pieces because in a way when I was in Japan two weeks ago, I felt that my style of performing and incorporating electronics has changed. I think it was getting different so I had the impression that I have to record something and there’s also still an open record for that I want to record with my friend Samuli Kosminen, the drummer from the band Múm. The two of us, we have performed so many times that we really would love to work together. All these plans are in the air.

The other thing I want to continue with Hilary Hahn, the violinist, we have plans because we really love working together and we perform live every year maybe three or four times which is awesome that we still work together but I’m not in a rush. There’s so much stuff happening that I’m glad I can stretch this into the next couple of years.

One last thing Volker, I wonder are there certain albums or records you’ve been listening to lately?

VB: To be quite honest for me at the moment it is quite difficult to listen to music. The only thing I am listening to a lot of music on classical radio which is called WDR 3 because at the moment I am extremely interested in all variations of classical music that is written just to get an idea you know, what is the spectrum I have to work with when I’m working with the symphonic orchestra and that is for me at the moment very interesting.

If I could point out one composer that I really adore, it is Schoenberg, I am a big fan of his music. Whenever I have the time I try to listen to music of his.

And do you have a particular favourite?

VB: I mean there is one piece called ‘Verklate Nacht’ which means ‘clearing night’ in a way and it sounds a little serial and I think sometimes the music is for a string sextet. It’s an awesome piece, like really dark but at the same time very romantic. Schoenberg was also a twelve-tone composer where he started at some point to experiment with music by not using melodies and tonal music and I think this is at the edge where he was thinking ‘I have to change because I have done everything that I can do’ which is also an interesting development in everyone’s life, you know, in my opinion I have done everything I can do and now I have to change the city or change the style or change my living, you know all these things.

As you say, it’s that whole thing about circles and how everything comes back and forth really.

VB: Yes, yes absolutely and Schoenberg’s music at that time really encourages.

 


 

abandonedcity_web

‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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Written by markcarry

January 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Albums & Reissues Of The Year: 2014

with 14 comments

The following is a selection of the albums and re-issues that had the greatest impact on us for a wide range of different reasons. As difficult as it proved to settle on a final (and very concise) selection, we both turned to these special albums most often throughout the year. 2014 has been a year which has produced so many absolutely wonderful and truly special albums, here’s our personal selection of some of these (with a selection of ten albums and five re-issues).

Words: Mark & Craig Carry, All artwork: Craig Carry

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Albums of the year:

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Grouper ‘Ruins’ (Kranky)

‘Ruins’ was made while U.S. musician and artist Liz Harris was on an artist residency (set up by Galeria Zé dos Bois) during 2011 in Portugal’s Aljezur region. The location would provide a striking influence to Harris’s subsequent recordings (recorded in typically minimal fashion: a portable 4-track, Sony stereo mic and an upright piano) while the sense of both departure and a new-found freedom flow throughout ‘Ruins’ and its majestic and dreamlike eight tracks. During her Aljezur residency, Harris would embark on daily hikes to the nearest beach where she would encounter the ruins of several old estates and a small village. As Harris has said: “The album is a document. A nod to that daily walk. Failed structures. Living in the remains of love. I left the songs the way they came (microwave beep from when power went out after a storm); I hope that the album bears some resemblance to the place that I was in.”

‘Ruins’ is a stunning achievement which proves all the more astonishing considering the already extensive (and consistently breathtaking) recorded output of Grouper since the mid 00’s. ‘Clearing’ is arguably Harris’s most singularly beautiful song conceived to date. As Harris sings: “What has been done / Can never be undone” over a gorgeously delicate piano line we embark on yet another wholly unique and deeply personal odyssey under the stewardship of Harris’s very heart. Like a silent witness we hold our breath as we remain under Harris’s spell throughout (from the timeless ballad ‘Holding’ to the closing epic drone-heavy tour-de-force ‘Made of Air’). ‘Ruins’ is a quietly breathtaking force of nature: an album made as much by Harris’s own hands as by the moonlight’s illumination in the night sky or the evening sun’s last rays of faded half-light.

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‘Ruins’ is available now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grouper/
http://www.kranky.net/

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Print

Caribou ‘Our Love’ (City Slang/Merge)

One of my most memorable moments of this past year was undoubtedly witnessing Caribou’s storming live set at 2014’s Body & Soul festival. A euphoric feeling ascended into the summer evening skyline as each transcendent beat and luminous pop-laden hook flooded our senses. The majority of 2010’s glorious LP ‘Swim’ was revisited, from the tropicalia-infused ‘Odessa’ to the hypnotic ‘Sun’ and all points in between. Dan Snaith & co’s set further confirmed the legendary status of Caribou; whose innovative and utterly compelling sonic creations (where elements of krautrock, dance, jazz, soul, hip-hop, and electronic soundscapes form one irresistible, mind-blowing sound spectrum) have long served a trusted companion for the independent music collector.

This year marked the highly anticipated fifth Caribou studio album, ‘Our Love’, which, in many ways, nestles beautifully between its predecessor ‘Swim’ and Snaith’s more techno-oriented project of Daphni. Lead single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ is an instant classic with a seamless array of melodic patterns and soulful vocals that evokes the soul-stirring songbook of Al Green as much as it spans the history of the dance floor. Several of the songs were co-written by gifted Canadian composer/violinist Owen Pallett (whose own solo record ‘In Conflict’ has been one of the most original, daring and innovative records of 2014) and Pallett’s distinctive violin-led melodies coalesce effortlessly with Snaith’s visionary dance structures.

Numerous remixes have since seen the light of day (where new perspectives and insights are drawn and re-configured) with the latest example being Carl Craig’s techno mix of ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’. Much in the same way as ‘Swim’, I know (and firmly believe) ‘Our Love’ will remain as vital and significant for many more years and decades to come.

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‘Our Love’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Merge (USA).

http://www.caribou.fm

http://cityslang.com
http://www.mergerecords.com

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Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)

When Jersey-native and New York-based songwriter Sharon Van Etten first announced the arrival of ‘Are We There’, Van Etten’s fourth full-length and follow-up to her 2011 seminal work ‘Tramp’, she had these words to share: “I really hope that when someone puts my record on that they hear me.” Of course, Van Etten’s wishes have clearly been fulfilled. If there’s one thing we can firmly establish by now it is this: Van Etten makes music from the real world; a world of real events and real people with real feelings. Subsequently, steeped in a sometimes harsh reality, Van Etten’s songs are imbued with fears, struggles and (often) much pain. Much like Chan Marshall’s pre ‘The Greatest’ recorded output, Van Etten bravely examines her own life’s immediate surroundings and relationships to share her most innermost confessions and feelings for us all to bear witness. Through Van Etten’s songs we too can find our own deepest feelings long hidden in the shadows of some forgotten, distant dream.

‘Are We There’ is Van Etten’s first self-produced album (The National’s Aaron Dessner produced its predecessor ‘Tramp’) and features a host of wonderful musicians, including: Torres’s Mackenzie Scott on vocals (who toured extensively supporting Van Etten); Heather Woods-Broderick (on strings and vocals); Mary Lattimore (harp) as well as Van Etten’s trusted and formidable rhythm section (Zeke Hutchins on drums and David Hartley on bass). The use of vocal harmonies (Van Etten, Scott and Woods-Broderick) is a pure joy to witness. The resultant musical arrangements are stunningly cohesive and yet genuinely innovative, providing for many moments of challenging and divine musicianship — at times wonderfully dense and strikingly tactile (‘Our Love’ or ‘Every Time The Sun Coms Up’) — other times remain starkly sparse (‘I Know’) but, importantly, such intricacies of musicianship and arrangements only ever serve the song.

“Everybody needs to feel” sings Van Etten on ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’. It’s a sentiment that best serves the phenomenal and beloved artist that is Sharon Van Etten and ‘Are We There’. It’s another step to becoming your own true self. It’s a destination no one is ever likely to realistically reach but striving for it is proving to be Van Etten (and her sacred songbook)’s true towering achievement.

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‘Are We There’ is available now on Jagjaguwar.

http://www.sharonvanetten.com/
http://www.jagjaguwar.com/

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Print

Clark ‘Clark’ (Warp)

‘I Dream Of Wires’ is a documentary based on the phenomenal resurgence of the modular synthesizer; exploring the passions and dreams of people who have dedicated part of their lives to this electronic music machine. The splendid documentary — released earlier this year — features interviews with Ghostly’s Solvent (who co-wrote the film in addition to composing the film score), Carl Craig, Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) and Warp’s Clark. Reflecting on this particular film now, I feel it is precisely this exploration of passions and dreams that filters into the dazzling music of  UK’s Chris Clark. The unique blend of utterly transcendent electronic creations is forever steeped in a rare beauty, filled with endless moments of divine transcendence.

This year marked the eagerly awaited release of new self-titled full-length (and seventh for Warp), following up 2012’s magical ‘Iradelphic’. The gifted producer’s meticulous touch can be felt throughout, from the cold-cut classic ‘Unfurla’ to the blissful synth-laden ‘The Grit In The Pearl’. Dance music for the here-and-now that breathes life and meaning into music’s endless possibilities.

As Clark has said: “Music is like sculpture. It’s like trying to capture a moment of ultimate momentum, and distill it forever”.

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‘Clark’ is available now on Warp.

http://throttleclark.com/
http://warp.net/

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hauschka_abandonedcity

Hauschka ‘Abandoned City’ (City Slang/Temporary Residence Ltd)

Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”

‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.

————

abandonedcity_web

‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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stevegunn_wayoutweather

Steve Gunn ‘Way Out Weather’ (Paradise Of Bachelors)

The flawless North Carolina-based independent label Paradise of Bachelors has yet again been responsible for a string of modern-day Americana masterpieces, not least the latest tour-de-force from the ever-prolific, Brooklyn-based guitar prodigy and songsmith, Steve Gunn. This year’s ‘Way Out Weather’ feels like a natural culmination where every aspect of Gunn’s deeply-affecting songs — poignant story-telling quality, immaculate instrumentation and intricate musical arrangements — is heightened as the towering eight creations hits you profoundly and stirs your soul. 2013’s ‘Time Off’ was the starting point of Gunn’s song-writing path, having collaborated closely with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, The Black Twig Pickers and a host of others in recent times.

A timeless feel permeates every corner of the record. The recording sessions took place at Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York, featuring a formidable cast of musicians (and Gunn’s long-term collaborators) further adding to the widescreen, cinematic sound to ‘Way Out Weather’s sprawling sonic canvas. Longtime musical brothers and kindred spirits Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Stygian Stride, Rhyton.)

On the utterly transcendent album closer, ‘Tommy’s Congo’, shades of Sonny Sharrock beautifully surfaces beneath the artefacts of time. The deep groove and rhythm interwoven with this vivid catharsis is nothing short of staggering. The cosmic spirit captured on the closing cut — and each of these sublime recordings — permanently occupies a state of transcendence. As each song-cycle unfolds, the shimmering worlds of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue or the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St.’ fades into focus. ‘Way Out Weather’ is dotted with captivating moments from the ways of a true master.

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‘Way Out Weather’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.

http://steve-gunn.com/
http://paradiseofbachelors.com/

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laghdu_poster

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Dan Trueman ‘Laghdú’ (Irishmusic.net)

2014 has been a remarkable year for Ireland-based composer Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Firstly, January saw the release of contemporary quintet The Gloaming’s stunning self-titled debut album via Real World Records. Subsequent concerts would be performed across the globe (including Sydney’s Opera House) to mass celebration and widespread critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as touring with his other band, the Irish/Swedish quartet This Is How We Fly, across both Ireland and Europe, Ó Raghallaigh also performed a series of truly special solo concerts (entitled “In My Mind”, a solo fiddle and film show) across the length of Ireland for the month of October. Despite the hectic touring schedules, Ó Raghallaigh also released two stunning works: the solo album ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ (via Dublin-based label Diatribe Records) and the mesmerizing ‘Laghdú’, a collaboration with U.S. fiddle player Dan Trueman.

‘Laghdú’ (an Irish word which translates as: a lessening, a decrease, a reduction) is a hugely significant work for many reasons. Most notably, it was Trueman who first introduced Ó Raghallaigh to his beloved ten-string hardanger d’amore fiddle (custom-made in Norway by Salve Håkedal) during September 2000. It is the simple dialogue and deep connection which exists between the pair (both performing identical instruments and identical baroque bows) which is a pure joy to savor. Two traditional pieces are performed by the pair (‘The Jack of Diamonds Three’ and ‘Fead an Iolair’) while the remainder of ‘Laghdú’ comprises original compositions written and arranged by Trueman and Ó Raghallaigh. The dynamic range is nothing short of staggering — from the near-silent to the nigh-on orchestral, at times exploding joyously from their hybrid 10-string fiddles, at times barely there — holding time still in the process. The resultant eleven heavenly tracks occupy both the realms populated by the most ancient forms of traditional music as well as those thrillingly in-between spaces carved out and inhabited in modern neoclassical composition of the most utterly enchanting and truly sacred kind.

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‘Laghdú’ is available now via Irishmusic.net HERE.

http://www.caoimhinoraghallaigh.com/
http://www.manyarrowsmusic.com/
http://irishmusic.net/

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Christina Vantzou ‘N°2’ (Kranky)

‘N°2’ is the second solo album by the Brussels-based artist and Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou and, like its predecessor, ‘N°1’, was issued by the formidable Chicago-based independent label Kranky. Written over a period of four years, ‘N°2’ finds Vantzou reunited with Minna Choi — of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra — and regular contributor Adam Wiltzie (A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Stars Of The Lid) who Vantzou effectively began her musical career with when the duo made music as The Dead Texan (Vantzou was keyboardist as well as film-maker, illustrator and animator). A wide sonic palette is used throughout, from the gentle ripple-flow of piano notes on the album’s penultimate track, ‘Vostok’ and prominence of harp on the achingly beautiful ‘VHS’ to the rapturous crescendo of strings of ‘Going Backwards To Recover What Was Left Behind’ where an emotion-filled sadness engulfs every pore. Elsewhere, slowly shifting layers of brass and woodwind drifts majestically in ‘Brain Fog’ before brooding strings come to the fore, resulting in a cathartic release of energy. Layers of angelic voices appear and disappear throughout, forming not only a monumental symphonic movement but also an other-worldly choral work.

Indeed, the most appropriate analogy to imagine while attempting to surmise the sheer magic of ‘N°2’ is the act of making those frame-by-frame animations Vantzou has so patiently and laboriously created in the past: while they are meticulously worked on, over such a long and painfully slow process, the results yielded are both stunningly imperfect and remarkably pure. It’s a characteristic which runs through all of Vantzou’s breathtaking art (from her drawings and sleeve artwork to her dreamlike slow motion film works) which truly heightens all that surrounds you.

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‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.

http://www.christinavantzou.com/
http://www.kranky.net/

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Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)

New Zealand-based composer Alicia Merz has been quietly amassing a soul-stirring collection of albums under her Birds Of Passage moniker over the past five years or so. ‘This Kindly Slumber’ — released by German independent label Denovali Records — is Merz’s third solo full-length album and features Merz’s spellbinding lyricism (at times recalling Mark Linkous or Daniel Johnston in their open honesty and raw emotion). Like Grouper’s Liz Harris, Birds Of Passage’s power emanates from minimal musical arrangements (vocal takes are often first takes) where a sense of both purity and intimacy is conjured by Merz throughout, providing for an unforgettable listening experience. As we delve into the innermost caverns of ‘This Kindly Slumber’s mysterious and complex maze of real and imagined landscapes; the sensation one feels is akin to the finest of Murakami’s fictional prose or the most ancient of children’s nursery rhymes and folklore tales. Interestingly, Merz holds a deep fascination with nursery rhymes since a very young age and ‘Ladybird, Ladybird’ is combined with ‘And All Of Your Dreams’ to powerful effect. Elsewhere, the deeply personal ‘Yesterday’s Stains’ contains an openness and honesty rare in music.

‘This Kindly Slumber’ is a life-affirming journey which finds Merz navigating the darkest of nights while facing her gravest of fears. On the other side of this kindly slumber we realize that even the darkest of shadows lie closest to light: through the sacred and secret songs of Birds Of Passage we learn that in every moment of hopelessness exists hope. For that, we can be eternally grateful.

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‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available now on Denovali.

http://birdsofpassagemusic.com/
http://www.denovali.com/

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Marissa Nadler ‘July’ (Bella Union/Sacred Bones)

‘July’ (which documents Nadler’s life events from one July to the next) is the ever-prolific U.S. songwriter’s latest opus of longing and hope. The album can be read and interpreted autobiographically but, crucially, like all of Nadler’s songbook, songs are masterfully left open to the listener’s interpretation. Interestingly, Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), is at the helm of production duties on ‘July’; providing a first-time collaboration for the pair. Accompanying Nadler is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Jesse Sykes, Whiskeytown) on lead guitar. However, as is always the case with such a truly unique songwriter, it is Nadler’s breathtaking voice and impeccable lyricism which quietly dominate proceedings. Like such kindred spirits as Missourri songwriter Angel Olsen or British folk legends Vashti Bunyan and Bridget St. John, Nadler’s music captivates the mind (and heart) of each and every listener fortunate enough to cross paths with her. From album opener ‘Drive’ to the forlorn closing piano ballad ‘Nothing In my Heart’, immediacy and directness prevails throughout ‘July’. Transcendental moments abound, from the poetic lyricism to ‘We Are Coming Back’ (“Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”) to the brooding tour-de-force ‘Dead City Emily’ which combines both gut-wrenching honesty (“I was coming apart those days”) and heart-stopping beauty as, ultimately, the prevailing sense of hope outlasts all struggle and inner-conflict (“Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door”).

As the lyrics of ‘Drive’ return to my mind: “Still remember all the words to every song you ever heard”; I feel those very words reflect the empowering feeling in which the cherished songbook of Marissa Nadler ceaselessly awakens (and continues to re-awaken) in me.

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‘July’ is available now on Bella Union (EU) and Sacred Bones (USA).

http://www.marissanadler.com/

http://bellaunion.com/
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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Reissues of the year:

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The Moles ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ (Fire)

Looking back on 2014, the first sounds which come to my mind is Australian band The Moles and the magical first-time discovery of their music in the form of their first retrospective ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’, released via Fire Records. The double-album is packed to the brim with impeccably constructed pop songs, heart-breaking love songs and just about every shade and nuance in between (spanning punk, shoe gaze and indie rock). ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ (originally released in 1991) and follow-up ‘Instinct’ (the latter was heralded by The Sea And Cake’s Archer Prewitt as being “as close to perfection as any Beatles or Beach Boys record and it stands on its own as a classic in my book”) and a whole plethora of b-sides and rarities, culled from various EP’s and singles. Led by Richard Davies (who later would join Eric Mathews and form Cardinal), The Moles were formed in Sydney in the late 80’s and unleashed a resolutely unique songbook which would prove hugely influential on a whole host of diverse bands (The Flaming Lips, The Sea And Cake). The original band line-up consisted of Glenn Fredericks, Richard Davies, Warren Armstrong and Carl Zadra, friends from law school who were fans of Flying Nun, The Fall and The Go Betweens, drawing their name from a reference to ‘Wind In The Willows’ and spy novels (John Le Carré and Graham Greene).

What’s most apparent on this defining release is that the truly unique vision (in both Davies’s songwriting and The Moles’ music) deserves to be known — and embraced — the world over. “It’s always an adventure. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry,” Richard Davies told us earlier in the year, on discussing The Moles. It’s a sentiment which could not be more true for The Moles and their utterly visionary and absolutely essential music.

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‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ is available now on Fire Records.

[Richard Davies Facebook Page]
http://www.firerecords.com/

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Lewis ‘L’Amour’ (Light In The Attic)

When Light In The Attic Records reissued the much-fabled, timeless cult-classic ‘L’Amour’ by Lewis (originally released in 1983 on the unknown label R.A.W.) not much was known about the whereabouts of its esteemed author, not least the actual identity of “Lewis”, for that matter. The sense of mystery only deepened when consulting the album’s liner notes: Was Lewis still alive? What has he been doing in the intervening years? What other musical treasures are lying around only awaiting to be discovered written by this elusive figure? Crucially, without even beginning to dig any further into biographical detail (or absence thereof), it’s clear that, on listening to ‘L’Amour’, Lewis created nothing short of a bona-fide masterpiece. Heartbreak is immediately evident from Lewis’s lonesome, brooding, ghostly baritone from album opener ‘Things Just Happen That Way’ (“I took her hand / She took my heart”) while a sparse set-up of whispered voice together with only piano, synthesizer (or an occasional plucked guitar) remains throughout — recalling Waits or Springsteen at their most hushed and introspective best — creating a defining album of heartbreak — and love — in the process.

And what about the biographical gaps? Indeed Lewis was, as it turned out, a pseudonym. Lewis’s true identity has proved to be that of Randall Wulff (as confirmed by famed L.A. photographer Ed Colver, who had shot the über-cool cover-shoot for L’Amour’s album sleeve). However, for the purposes of the Light In The Attic liner notes, the mystery remained unsolved (after a long two-and-a-half year search). That is, until August 2014, when the real-life Randall Wulff was found (read Light In The Attic’s amazing article HERE) — alive and well and still quietly making his own masterful music — in what must have been the year’s most enchanting and heart-warming of stories.

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L’Amour’ is available now on Light In The Attic.

http://lightintheattic.net/artists/691-lewis
http://lightintheattic.net/

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One Of You ‘One Of You’ (Little Axe)

One of the most stunning re-issues of recent times came this year via the Portland, Oregon-based label Little Axe Records (a label founded when Mississippi Records split into two labels in 2011), with it’s issuing of a self-titled LP by One Of You. The author’s name and identity remains anonymous but we do know this startling collection was made by a Czech immigrant to Canada who set up her own Scarab label in the early ‘80’s, releasing music under the pseudonyms One of You and The Triffids. Having fled her homeland in the late sixties to emigrate to Canada for hopes of a better future and life there, One Of You’s music would be imbued with a prevailing sense of loss, regret and much hardships. The music itself, written in both Czech and English, and arranged in typically minimal fashion (synthesizer, guitar, organ) touches upon outsider folk, folk-psych, Eastern European folk and minimalist music traditions. One Of You’s deeply affecting, timeless music yields moments of powerful intensity while a whole spectrum of emotions, images and textures are unleashed beautifully upon the listener all at once.

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‘One Of You’ is available now on Little Axe.

http://littleaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/one-of-you-s-t
http://www.littleaxerecords.com/

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K. Leimer ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ (RVNG Intl)

RVNG Intl. is a Brooklyn-based music institution that operates on few but heavily fortified principles, dealing with forward-reaching artists that ceaselessly push the sonic envelope. From visionary luminaries such as Julia Holter, Holly Herndon, Blondes, Maxmillion Dunbar et al, RVNG Intl. has consistently delivered some of the most adventurous, enthralling and breathtaking records this past decade. One of the label’s cornerstones has become the awe-inspiring archival series which has featured (and celebrated) musical pioneers Craig Leon, Ariel Kalma and K. Leimer. The third installment of the archival series — released earlier this year — was Seattle-based sound sculptor, K. Leimer and a vast treasure of ambient voyages entitled ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’. I simply cannot think of a more special musical document to have graced my life this past year than Kerry Leimer’s resolutely unique and deeply human canon of pioneering ambient music.

A glimpse into Leimer’s creative process is touched upon on the compilation’s liner notes: “The loop provided an instant structure – a sort of fatalism – the participation of the tape machine in shaping and extending the music was a key to setting self-deterministic systems in motion and held clear relationship to my interests in fine art.”

‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ offers the perfect entry point (across an exhaustive double-album and thirty spellbinding tracks) into the beautifully enthralling and ever-revolving world inhabited by the special soul of Mr. Kerry Leimer.

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Fikret Kızılok ‘Anadolu’yum’ (Pharaway Sounds)

Although technically issued at the tail end of 2013, legendary Turkish folk singer Fikret Kızılok (1947-2001)’s exquisite collection of singles from 1971-75 (compiled into a 14-track set entitled ‘Anadolu’yum’ and issued by Pharaway Sounds, a subsidiary label of Light In The Attic Records) proved — like the many equally formidable Pharaway Sounds releases — a true haven for music lovers. Merging genres and fuzing styles almost at will (as evidenced by the immense musical arrangements drawing from such diverse sources as Western influences, India and his own native Turkey), Kızılok’s diverse appetite and deep appreciation for music shines through in every one of this magical compilation’s fourteen tracks. From the heavenly and beautifully forlorn Anatolian folk masterpiece ‘Anadolu’yum (1972&1975)’ to the irresistible sitar-aided ‘Gün Ola Devran Döne’ (1971), Kızılok’s musical path would be dictated by numerous external obstacles of the day (namely, the political unrest of his native Turkey throughout the 1970’s) while a pressure to conform to audience’s expectations (Kızılok was a pop phenomenon in Turkey, regularly charting instant hits) proved immense in the intervening years, while he would become most often associated with his best known love ballads from his considerable 1970’s output.

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‘Anadolu’yum’  is available now on Pharaway Sounds.

http://lightintheattic.net/

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All designs and artwork by Craig Carry: http://craigcarry.net

With very special thanks to all the wonderful musicians and labels for the true gift of their music. And a special thank you to all our readers for reading during the year.

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