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Posts Tagged ‘Fire Records

Chosen One: Brigid Mae Power

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“Its hard for me to be interested in music unless it goes deep into a feeling.”

—Brigid Mae Power

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The first week of June marked the eagerly anticipated new full length from the London-based, Irish songwriter Brigid Mae Power. The sublime “Head Above The Water” is the first record for Power on Fire Records after a pair of widely acclaimed albums for U.S. independent Tompkins Square (2016’s self titled LP and 2018’s “The Two Worlds”).

“Head Above The Water” was recorded in Glasgow’s fabled analogue studio The Green Door with Alasdair Roberts co-producing alongside Power and Peter Broderick. Unsurprisingly, with two such revered fellow songwriters as Broderick and Roberts involved, one can discern the sensitivity here to allow Power’s own voice take center stage. The production is beautifully crisp with an impressively wide sonic palette, while also giving Power’s own imitable vocals the space it requires, letting the myriad nuances and endless subtleties take hold of the listener in the process.

The album’s players include Roberts’ own band (Hamilton Beck, Stevie Jones, Liam Chapman; Peter Broderick and Brían Mac Gloinn (Ye Vagabonds), where arrangements are beautifully and subtly varied across the album’s ten compositions (from the piano-led ballads of both title track and “Wearing Red That Eve” to the folk gems such as “I Was Named After You” and the Joni Mitchell-infused “Wedding Of A Friend”), recalling the spirit of Bert Jansch or Planxty, where no single note is superfluous but rather is considered both instinctively and sensitively to highlight Power’s own singularly unique and soul-stirring songs. The use of pedal steel guitar with upright bass and drums provides the captivating rhythm section throughout. Similarly, Mac Gloinn’s impeccably understated contributions (bazouki, violin, fiddle) provide for another set of textures here, giving the wider palette a more Irish-based context, which helps give Power’s songs a delicate link to such Irish treasures as Planxty or Van Morrison before her.

Album opener (and lead single) “On A City Night” provides a beautifully immediate and irresistibly lush introduction to Power’s latest opus. “City lights or country skies at night / Which do you prefer? / He said to me with a smile / And eyes so pure” Power sings in the opening verse, introducing the recurring theme of motherhood throughout the album, where a sense of bright hope and vulnerability often occupy the same planes as that of one’s own innermost feelings of doubt, fears and worries. A sense of fully embracing new beginnings and brighter horizons – while overcoming self-doubts and embracing change often provide a running thread too, as Power sings: “I can’t quite believe / How easy it’s been for you / To let go of everything / You previously knew”.

The heart-stopping piano-led ballad “Wearing Red That Eve” is a hugely affecting ballad which finds Power reflecting on an old memory of a time spent in New York which, while simmering to the surface of her mind powerfully reflects finding one’s own voice and inner strength amidst adversity. The striking use of colour and imagery has also been an intriguing part to Power’s songbook (“From those mountains I draw something deep / Their warm colours and their rough peaks / In my mind I climb them under a burning sun”), something Power’s own artwork (an established visual artist in her own right) equally manages to evoke with much purity and vibrancy.

Equally moving is “I Was Named After You” which, like all of Power’s divine songs, could be sung a cappella and the affect would be no less monumental. The lyrics are stripped back and pared down to only its essential core, revealing a lament of true vulnerability and utter transcendence. The song is more akin to listening to the most cathartic or cleansing of songs, as the intricately layered arrangement expands and flourishes (flurries of flute, fiddle and guitars offset Power’s honest, thought-laden questions) emanating a song of remarkable power where strength and vulnerability are one.

Tempos shift on the pulsating “We Weren’t Sure”, beginning with an acoustic strum and meditative vocal, the composition gradually builds to its fearsome outro of congas, percussion and drums, forming a rhythmic delight after Power affirms: “I’ve come out knowing / That I’m Sure / I’m completely sure”, producing another magical moment of empowerment.

“I Had To Keep My Circle Small”, with it’s pulsating strum and breathtaking harmonies (supplied by Broderick here) is one of the many treasured moments across “Head Above The Water”. “I needed you to favour me / I needed you to favour me / That is not a bad thing at all” sings Power while the arrangement’s glorious harmonies and many feather-light nuances are reminiscent of “Automatic For The People”-era R.E.M. or the songbooks of Nick Drake or Bill Callahan. The song builds to a soul-shattering climax, where layers of voice and sound combine and reverberate, reaffirming Power’s private realizations.

After the fittingly-included cover of Planxty’s “The Blacksmith” (a song, which, together with “As I Roved Out” have been memorably covered by Power live over the years), comes the spellbinding title-track and album closer, where – like so much of Power’s cherished songbook – it feels like we’re bearing silent witness to Power’s innermost musings all on our very own. The song finds Power reminisce about a memory of a lost soul from a distant past, whose faded dreams and lifetime regrets – with a “pain that can’t be helped” – come to the fore. While Power notes his losses and past pains, she also sings: “His sense of what matters is really strong” before touchingly leaving us with the sincerest of wishes: “I wish you luck with your losses from before”.

Once more, the specific and the universal merge wholly as one as Power’s songs – like they always so effortlessly do – traverse both the real (and imagined) and ascend into a near-spiritual realm. For Power’s music, like all the great songwriters of bygone times, truly exists outside of time.

“Head Above The Water” is out now on Fire Records.

https://brigidmaepower.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/brigidpowermusic/

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Interview with Brigid Mae Power.

Congratulations on your enthralling new solo album “Head Above Water”, an album that feels truly like a culmination, where all points in your musical path leads you to this engrossing destination. Firstly, please talk me through the recording sessions that took place in the analogue studio The Green Door in Glasgow and introduce to me your band for these sessions? Did you have most of the songs fleshed out at this point (lyrically and musically) prior to recording?

BMP: Thank you! It was such an enjoyable experience to record the album and in these lockdown days I’d give anything to be able to go and play live with those musicians again! The band that played on the record live are Peter Broderick (drums + violin, backing vocals), Alasdair (electric guitar, piano, violin, backing vocals), Brían MacGloinn (bouzouki, fiddle, vocals), Stevie Jones (double bass), Liam Chapman (percussion) and myself (guitars, vocals, piano). Then a few overdubs were added after which involved Hamilton Belk on pedal steel, Peter on synths/random sounds and myself playing mellotron organ, piano… I think I’ve remembered everything there!

I had all the songs ready to go lyrically and structurally. I had sent on some demo recordings and chords to the guys and kind of just basically said have a go at playing along with them. When we got to Glasgow, we had a very short rehearsal the day before, just a couple of hours, and then the next day we just got to it! We just figured things out pretty quickly. I like to get the recording process done as quick as possible, and I kinda like what comes out of musicians when they’re on the spot… I like to do things in 2-3 takes max usually.

The wonderful Alasdair Roberts co-produced the album (alongside you and Peter) and also plays on the record. I’d love for you to describe the colours and insights Alasdair brought to the process of making “Head Above Water”?

BMP: Well the main thing that really sticks out for me with what Alasdair brought to the process is with the song ‘Wearing Red That Eve’. He had the idea to take the guitar out completely and just have me singing, with him playing the piano. He had the idea to have me singing without playing an instrument at the same time so I would have a different quality of singing I guess, being able to focus totally just on that.

He really opened up that song entirely into something different… something more jazzy, I’m not even sure how to describe! But I love what he did.

Alasdair also was really helpful at arranging the lineup of musicians for the live recording, giving ideas of who would play what and when, in a very open way. He also lended such a varied musical energy to the songs, one might presume he is totally traditional or more of a folk player but he is very versatile!

What I immediately love is the widened sonic palette on display throughout these songs and the adventurous new sonic terrain that is fearlessly tapped into. I feel the duo of “We Weren’t Sure” and “I Had To Keep My Circle Small” serve the empowering and utterly captivating moments of part B. Again, the rich instrumentation and daring arrangements serve the ideal backdrop to your immense vocals. In terms of witnessing these songs develop from the solitary writing process to capturing these songs live to tape; this must have been quite a special experience to be part of?

BMP: Yes, it was really great to hear how they turned out. It always takes me some time to be able to listen back and hear something with a clear listening slate if you get me but I was really happy with how those both turned out. ‘I Had To Keep My Circle Small’ was maybe the trickiest out of all the songs to do… we tried another version entirely in the studio but it sounded too cheesy ha. It was a struggle to get the right vibe for that song.

‘We Weren’t Sure’ was a LOT of fun to do in the studio. There’s one mellotron overdub but otherwise that song is pretty much sounding exactly how it was when were playing it. It was fun and came out so weird, in a good way.

Album opener “On A City Night” begins with your beloved son’s wide-eyed curiosity and child-like wonder (asking you whether you prefer city lights or country skies at night). I’d love for you to discuss this infinite source of inspiration you draw from this special soul in your life and how his ruminations and world views seep into your own train of thought and mind, so to speak?

BMP: I’m so lucky to have this little boy in my life. Saying that, during quarantine, we naturally drive each other mad 50% of the time. But the other 50% is really magical. I’ve always been a more observant and listening kind of person and I really believe if you really watch and listen to kids they are just incredible. Their look on things is so fresh, they’re very connected to the truth of things. He’s very creative and free. And he’s so optimistic. He’s been my teacher in a way!

So yes, he is really inspiring to me. Life and nature and how things circulate around is inspiring to me and something I always need to bring myself back to. Being in touch with this little force of nature every day is a blessing.

As ever, an undeniable power and resolute spirit permeates throughout these songs; in effect keeping your head above water. The song-craft yields immeasurable emotions and a whirlwind of feelings. Do songs (such as these songs captured on the latest album) come to you quickly could phrases and ideas slowly simmer before the final result is in sight? I wonder do you find the song-writing process for you changing in any way- from perhaps your Tompkins Square debut or back to the “Told You The Truth” mini album?

BMP: My song-writing process has largely stayed the same. It usually starts off with the melody on the instrument first and then humming over that. Then words can kind of come to me for that specific tune, or I have a look in some of my notebooks and see if any of my writing feels like it fits into the melody I’m working on. Sometimes words I’ve written a long time ago will fit into a new melody and vice versa – sometimes I’ll have an old melody that I’ve been working on for years and I’ll write new words.

I guess with this album there are a lot of songs based on memories but that wasn’t intentional. I really don’t think much, to be honest, about how to write or what to write or whether it all fits in with each other. I just trust that it does and if it doesn’t sound right then I’ll not add it to the album… but I kind of work in a mostly thought-less way. I work from feelings and mostly unconsciously. I’m not an “ideas” kind of person… but the phrase “Head Above The Water” was floating around in my head for a while for sure. Sometimes little snippets of phrases will pop up for me and I’ll do my best to remember them!

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Your beautiful cover of Andy Irvine’s folk song “The Blacksmith” is the penultimate track. I love how it fits so perfectly among your own material. Can you discuss your love for this song and can you remember first hearing it?

BMP: Hmm I think the first time I heard it was when someone posted on facebook a youtube video of Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny playing it live. Since then I’ve just loved it and didn’t want to hear other versions because I just loved that one so much! I can get a bit repetitive like that. When I like something I really like something! So I played it over and over. Then someone, I don’t remember who, suggested online that I do it as a cover. So I have been playing it live for a while now, and so, often after I’d play it people would ask me which one of my CDs it was on, and it wasn’t on any, so I promised a few people that I would eventually record it and now I have!

I always wanted to sing with Brían because I sooooo love his singing voice. While he was in Glasgow recording with us I suggested it as a sort of last minute thing to do. We didn’t have much time left but Alasdair arranged a format that we could try sing it in and it worked really well. I’m really glad we had time to give it a go!

Your voice is the magical spell that forever emanates from the songs: a wholly unique and incredible sound. Take me back to your earliest musical memories and the different singers and albums and performances that served inspiration for your own unique singing style?

BMP: Oh thank you, that’s a really nice compliment!

Hmm well, I don’t think about my singing style much at all, I remember just always liking to sing and finding some ways of singing easier to lean into than others. I like to sing a lot of wordless melodies, I think that started originally from imagining an instrumental solo while I’m singing a song, but being the only player I would just sing it myself!

My earliest memory of singing (and there is video footage) is of me singing ‘Itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini’ on top of a table in the family living room when I was like 3. God knows why that song, I think it was on an advert on the time. I remember everyone was laughing because it was funny, but I remember taking it so seriously and really feeling like “this is a big performance right now”. I really loved the limelight when I was little and always sort of knew I would do singing. But shyness overcame me as an older child and I didn’t sing again really until I was an older teenager.

I was deeply moved by the singing of Aretha Franklin. She had a huge impact on me when I was about 16/17. I loved blues singers also like Etta James and for the first few years when I was singing, I was deeply influenced by that style. I couldn’t help though have traditional inflections on my singing and the more I let go and sang naturally as I went into my 20’s I sort of let those traditional inclinations come out more.

Another huge influence for me vocally was Tim Buckley. I had grown up listening to Jeff Buckley (also an influence) but when I heard Tim, wow, I was just floored. I felt like that naturally I liked to sing kinda like that too… like holding out notes for a long time… I just hadn’t heard anyone else do it before I heard him. So then I just let myself naturally sing however felt best.

The presence of piano ballads “Wearing Red That Eve” and the album’s title track creates that striking intimacy and delicate beauty that hits you deeply. Growing up, did you learn the guitar or piano first?

BMP: On that track its actually played by Alasdair Roberts and I am instrument-less which is rare on my songs. But I grew up playing piano first. I taught myself when I was probably around 13/14. I played the accordion growing up, then slowly figured out how to play the trad tunes on the piano. Then I got really into boogie-woogie piano as a teenager, and got obsessed with playing in that style! I really actually for a while wanted to be a serious blues piano player rather than a singer songwriter!

I started playing guitar when I was 21.. I usually play in DADGAD tuning!

Your ability to draw something deep from the well each time when it comes to creating a new batch of songs awakens something deep within (in terms of the listener’s experience). As the composer and writer, are you aware of that special spark as a song comes into life? Needless to say it must be a very intuitive and natural process.

BMP: I think I always like to go deep. I’m sort of like that as a person. I’m not really good at on the surface stuff, talking on the surface etc. I like to get to the root of things very quickly, which is frustrating for some people to be constantly dug at, but I definitely like to dig deep. I don’t really know any other way. Its hard for me to be interested in music unless it goes deep into a feeling.

Sometimes I am aware of the feeling when a song comes to life, but sometimes it takes some time. There’s a lot of doubt for me with songs I’m writing and usually it’ll have to sit with me a few months before I notice that it has a spark that I need to take further.

Lastly, what is the song that surprised you the most (upon hearing the final version)?

BMP: ‘I Was Named After You’ surprised me a lot. It had started out as a sort of tender song with just finger picking guitar in the demo we made. But when we did it in the room it felt like something kind of spooky happened. It has a kinda ethereal energy to me that song. Part of it is about my grandmother Bridget’s spirit so its kinda ghostly anyway, but I was really surprised where that song took off too. It’s probably one of my favourites on the album!

“Head Above The Water” is out now on Fire Records.

https://brigidmaepower.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/brigidpowermusic/

 

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June 23, 2020 at 7:04 pm

Albums & Reissues Of The Year: 2014

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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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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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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 ‘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.

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‘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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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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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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Web: http://fracturedair.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FracturedAir
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Fractured_Air
Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/

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Step Right Up: Ela Stiles

with one comment

Interview with Ela Stiles.

“People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not.”

—Ela Stiles

Words: Mark Carry

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Earlier this year marked the debut solo release of Sydney-based singer-songwriter Ela Stiles on the Australian independent label Bedroom Sucks (who celebrate their fifth anniversary this year). The gifted musician has been integral to the Sydney independent music scene these past few years (as a driving force in Melbourne outfit Bushwalking, releasing two records with the band, and as a member of indie favourites, Songs, amongst others).

The exceptional debut record forged by Stiles is composed entirely of a-cappella performances, where her solo voice captures an intensity and raw beauty that few could summon with an array of instruments at their disposal. The musical compositions are reminiscent of New York-based composer, Julianna Barwick and her scintillating looped choral patterns. The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is one such song to leave you utterly dumbfounded. Based on different vocal patterns, both melodic and rhythmic, the sublime creation conjures up the timeless sound of folk music and traditional African sounds.

The gorgeous acoustic guitar-based folk lament, ‘Misplaced Charity’ is a timeless folk gem featured on the brand new ‘5 Years of Bedroom Suck Records’ compilation containing a plethora of indie gems and lo-fi classics in the form of Blank Realm, Scraps, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Full Ugly and a host of other exclusive and rare gems.

This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.

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Interview with Ela Stiles.

Congratulations Ela on your truly beautiful solo record, a collection of breath-taking a-cappella performances that never ceases to amaze the listener. Can you please discuss this particular project, Ela and the new direction of having your voice as the solo instrument?  

Ela Stiles: I have always loved singing, I think I am better at it than playing any other instrument and had been thinking of making a solo album for a few years. I’m not sure I remember where the idea first came from but probably from listening to folk stuff in particular some acapella songs by Anne Briggs. To be honest I think one of the main reasons I made it an acapella record was because I wanted to do something entirely on my own, I have always collaborated with people in the past and wanted to know that I could write an album on my own and perform the songs with my own voice alone, although I do incorporate guitars into my live shows as well now.

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The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is such a beautiful and moving piece of music, reminiscent of Julianna Barwick’s recordings. I would love to gain an insight into the song’s narrative please, Ela? ‘Kumbh Mela’ conjures up the timeless sound of Ethiopian music and age-old traditions of folk music. 

ES: Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. Although I’m not religious, I like the idea of some aspects of religion and how it can affect people in such strange and intense ways – good and bad. This song is a fictional story about the Kumbh Mela that I made up after doing a lot of reading about it and spending a lot of time in India where you see religion in nearly every aspect of life, it was on my mind.

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The album comprises very much of two parts, where the opening section comprises several a-cappella performances and the closing side is one single vocal drone. Please talk me through the recording process of these two parts? Did you envision from the outset the album would be sequenced in this way?

ES: The A side of the record was recorded first with my good friend Jack Farley in Melbourne. I guess these songs are a collection of short more traditional folk songs. I didn’t want to use any effects or too much layering with these ones. I wanted them to sound pure. I liked the idea of being brave and letting one voice sing alone. I think once I had recorded these ones I envisioned that the B side would be different because I had moved past those ideas by then, I wanted to experiment more with vocal drones as I had started to on the A side and also move away from the (mostly) love songs to something deeper I suppose.

I recorded the 11 minute drone myself – it took a long time because I did it all one after the other I didn’t copy and paste or loop or anything, I just created it from scratch and kept adding more and more harmonies and intensities, after that it was run through tape machine. Then I recorded the 3 ‘songs’ over the drone with another friend of mine John Duncan in Sydney.

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You are also a member of the wonderful Melbourne outfit Bushwalking. Please take me back to the band’s beginnings and how you, Nisa Venerosa and Karl Scullin first crossed paths with one another? Is there a new record planned? Also, I imagine the work with Bushwalking served a major source of inspiration for your own solo material?

ES: Bushwalking began when I met Karl at a show in Melbourne in like maybe 2008 or 2009?? He introduced Nisa and I and we all became really close after recording some songs together then decided to become a band. I guess we didn’t really know what the band was going to sound like until maybe mid way through making that first record (First Time). And I guess after playing together for a while we sort of arrived at a sound which is more in tune with the second record (No Enter) but had also sort of evolved from the first one if that makes sense!

I’m not sure if Bushwalking shaped my record or not, people have said that it must have but I don’t really see that so much. A big part of Bushwalking’s sound is Nisa’s and my voices together and the singing is quite precise which I don’t think is the case on my record. I think my voice is kind of all over the place on my album, quite different to how we sing in BW which is very uniform and precise. We have been talking about doing another record yes, but I don’t think realistically we can start jamming again until December. But yeah another record is on the cards at some point I’d say.

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What singers and records were defining for you to become a singer and to write music in the first place? As an integral part to the Sydney independent music scene, what bands and artists are you most obsessed with these days?

ES: I got kind of obsessed with folk and traditional songs before making the record and was I guess influenced by singers like Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins who are the more traditional folk singers and I always liked the acapella songs of theirs and the way they sing. I like singers who have interesting and imperfect voices. That’s why I guess I want to push my voice into a different realm, although I still like those traditional elements of the old folk stuff.

People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not. I am also interested in chanting and eastern music which probably influence my singing style. That’s something that I would like to explore with the next record.

Edith Frost, Verity Susman, Josephine Foster and Nico are a few singers who I love, also obviously Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins as I mentioned above. Its hard to pick Sydney bands cause there are lots of good bands! But I’d say Orion are my new favourite band 🙂 also love Holy Balm, Angie and Knitted Abyss.

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What forthcoming projects do you have on the horizon, Ela? What do you think the sophomore solo record will comprise of?

ES: As well as working on a new solo record, I have been working on an album for the past year or so with Jensen Tjhung who plays in a couple of bands from Melbourne – Lower Plenty and Deaf Wish. We’re hoping to release it mid next year. I have also been playing guitar (and singing a bit) in The Roamin’ Catholics who are a Sydney punk band, we will be recording an album at the end of August which I am really looking forward to! Lastly I am making a record with Max Doyle and Stevie James (both of whom who I used to play in the band ‘Songs’ with) not sure when that will come out but we’ve been working on it for a while!

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This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.

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‘Ela Stiles’ is out now on Bedroom Sucks Records

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http://bedroomsuckrecords.com/artists/ela-stiles/

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Written by markcarry

October 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Time Has Told Me: The Moles

with 4 comments

Interview with Richard Davies.

Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.”

—Richard Davies

Words: Mark Carry

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This year marked the release of legendary Australian band The Moles’ first comprehensive retrospective collection, courtesy of independent label, Fire Records. ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ 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 sound of orchestral pop, psych, garage and indie gems that inspired many bands (such as The Flaming Lips) and wowed audiences worldwide. 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).

A series of EP’s were released at the turn of the 90’s – ‘Untune The Sky’ and ‘Tendrils and Paracetamol’ – that would eventually see the release of the band’s first full-length release in 1992 (also titled ‘Untune The Sky’). The Moles re-located to New York, where they released a pair of seven inch singles (packaged together as the Double single EP). A move to London followed that lasted a year (that would include recording a John Peel session and many great gigs) and in 1994, the original line-up of The Moles split.

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‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.

http://www.firerecords.com/

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Interview with Richard Davies

It’s wonderful to ask you some questions about the music of The Moles, Richard. Please take me back to the late 80’s in Sydney where The Moles began? I would love for you to discuss the music scene happening in Sydney during this time. Also, can you recount your memories of forming the band The Moles, and who played with you in the original line-up?

Richard Davies: The Sydney music scene was a no-goer. It was crap. Lots of crappin’ covers bands doing songs not worth covering. Not organic in any sense. Really, a drag. There were a couple of good bands, one called Crow, and The Moles. (We weren’t “good” but we were good). Not much going on at all. Had to get out of there to do anything of interest!

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One of the great hallmarks of The Moles is how richly diverse and utterly compelling the songs are; belonging very much to the here and now, packed with such a freshly innovative sound. I would love to gain an insight into the creative process and particularly, your song-writing please? I feel that you must have a myriad of ideas and inspiration ceaselessly surrounding you, and writing non-stop. Would that be the case?

RD: I must say your questions are particularly celtic. It seems I can’t help writing. Also I like impact in music, intensity. Not intensity that comes from relentless distorted guitars and screamed vocals. That kind of intensity is reductionist – although done with wit, like say, The Stooges, it has artistic merit as well. So, I am restless, and I like surprises.

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Growing up and indeed during the formative years of your musical-upbringing, what records made a biggest impact upon you, Richard? Were you heavily immersed in music from a young age? I’d love to know what instruments you first learned to play? 

RD: I played nothing properly until I was about 20. I twanged on a terrible Korean guitar, the brand was called ‘Kapok’, which is kind of like the sound it made, when I was 15. Just one string, aping Beatles basslines and Johnny Cash lead guitar. Upon reflection that was more sophisticated than I imagined.

My Dad, Welsh old-school chain smoking WWII veteran, would come in and say “Put down that bloody twanger”.

When he wasn’t telling me to leave the bloody twanger alone (and I mean guitar by that) we would both listen to Simon and Garfunkel, The Bee Gees, and even The Beatles at a stretch. He would drink scotch on New Year’s Eve and shed tears to Handel’s Messiah, though he was an atheist. I never had the chance to ask him to explain that discrepancy. I inherited a couple of records from my sister Anne, Sam n Dave, The Exciters’ “Tell Him”, and one early crackling Parlophone vinyl single by The Beatles.

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The debut full-length album, ‘Untune The Sky’ was released in 1992, after a string of EPs. The album opener — and my first taste of witnessing the indie-pop brilliance of The Moles — ‘Bury Me Happy’ is a scintillating and heartfelt slice of indie-bliss. Do you have any particular memories of writing this song, and indeed recording the track in the studio? It’s such a perfect opening to a remarkable record. 

RD: When I was in my early twenties I was a slow learner on the social front. A little behind the pace. Now I realize my shyness was likely due to my deafness, which is quite profound. My friends would go to the student union bar and chug beers and try to pull girls. I would smile a lot and sip Coca Colas. I think that environment and my quiet reaction to it was what that song was about.

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What was the recording process like for ‘Untune The Sky’. What was the set-up like? I imagine a lot of the tracks were recorded in one or two takes, as there is such a raw and immediate feel to these takes. 

RD: Most recorded very quickly. We were bootstapping it. That was the only way to make a record, nothing deluxe for The Moles and their ilk. In one studio, the engineer was very upset that we wanted to try a thing called an “over-dub”.

Since there was no window from the control room to the recording “area” I should have appreciated his concern. There were some rats in the studio however.

He complained that a band should “come in, do a cover, and get out”, and not screw around or waste his time with stuff like writing their own songs or recording overdubs.

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Is there a song you’re most proud of from ‘Untune The Sky’, Richard?

RD: ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’ is, as has been described, the crown jewel of the recorded output of The Moles, although I’m partial to ‘Accidental Saint’ and a few of the others too. I like ‘Wires’ and ‘Curdle’, they get the job done.

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I love the aesthetic and flow to the record, and how the songs are formed from such a vast sonic canvas.  Also, I love the hidden details embedded in the songs, for example ‘Curdle’ which contains some audio-recording/found sounds during the intro. How important was this aspect to the music-making process for you? 

RD: Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.

I love the concept. The name and the idea is a license. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry.

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The instrumentation, which is really daring and adventurous is another reason why the record sounds so ahead of its time and resolutely unique. Were there particular techniques you employed during the recording sessions?  I love the addition of brass on tracks like ‘Surf’s Up’ and the worlds of sound that are so effortlessly unleashed. Was the song-title an ode to The Beach Boys’ album? (One of my favourite moments of ‘Untune The Sky’ arrives on the chorus refrain of ‘Surf’s Up’ where you sing “Let the waves roll over me”). 

RD: ‘Surf’s Up’ was about a recurring dream I had for many years of taking a nap at the part of the beach where the waves roll onto the sand, and the water is warm, and it is very calming and soothing. It always helped me wake up refreshed and enthusiastic.

The Moles are music-and-ideas-first by necessity. They never did and never will depend on business strategies, tactics, log-rolling, posturing, name-calling, back biting, and petty fighting, which seems to happen to even the most aesthetically “pure” bands the longer they are around.

The only thing The Moles possess now that they never did before is connections — to powerful and imperious musical neptunes who cast their mighty tridents upon certain objects, and in certain directions, and lo, I’m answering these questions for you.

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I must say the album centrepiece for me, must be ‘Lonely Hearts Get What They Deserve’. The backing harmonies and piano/organ sounds are breathtakingly beautiful. There is a vivid sense of loneliness etched across the sprawling canvas of sound. Also, your vocal delivery is immense, charged with raw emotion. I would love for you to talk me through the construction of this song and your memories of writing/recording it? 

RD: That was the first song I wrote that was ‘complicated’. It was complicated musically, and emotionally. It was the second or third song I tackled. It came out of a troubled period with a girlfriend in my early twenties, the usual thing that people get mixed up in with relationships, finding out what is involved in being in love beyond the first few weeks. I had it written in a little brown notepad along with ‘Bury Me Happy’ and ‘Accidental Saint’, which came out of the same period. It was an intense time, more happy than is reflected in the song.

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A short time after the release of ‘Untune The Sky’, the group re-located to New York, where you released a couple of seven-inch singles. Following this, you moved to London and gathered critical acclaim from all corners. Was there a feeling of dismay, following the release of the debut record and despite receiving unanimous praise, commercial sales wouldn’t follow? Did The Moles tour a lot during your stint in the UK? What were your impressions of the music world at this time? 

RD: The Moles, at the time we were praised, were working in factories, a candle factory in London on the 11.00 PM-7AM shift. I was stealing tomatoes off street stalls to add to the pasta for dinner.

A bloke from Spiritualized’s record label said “Mate, we shall set you up, I’ll shall give you 70,000 pounds.” Well, OK…

“Come down to the office and we’ll get you sorted, yeah?” Well, alright.

“See that bloke over there? That’s Brett Anderson mate…” Well, OK…

I was already 28 and knew, despite my sensitive artistic nature, that the joke’s on all of us. No-one gets off free. I’m no more of an angel than anybody else, no less of a shyster.

I have received kindly compliments and salutations from all kinds of artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and poets. I also remember, back in those days, standing at a bus-stop in Stoke Newington in the rain. A filthy crotchety old bastard, the kind that only London can produce, was standing next to me and he thought I was too close to him with my umbrella, and he said “Yer, you’re no good at all, you’ll ‘ave a coom-down mate.” That’s the first and only thing he said to me.

It’s all part of the fun.

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This year marked a special retrospective release of The Moles, entitled ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences’ containing a treasure chest of bonus material from various EPs and singles. It must be a lovely feeling for you to see this musical document of The Moles been given the light of day? Looking back on the music of The Moles today, does your perspective of these songs change for you, in any way? 

RD: When I play Moles songs, I am putting on the cowl. There is a particular attitude. It fits me better than most other incarnations. It is the most natural habitat.

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Following The Moles, you of course went on to create utterly timeless sonic creations, alongside Eric Matthews in Cardinal; a collaborative project with Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices) under the name of Cosmos, and your own outstanding solo records. Do you feel there is a common thread inter-woven in all these works? With the virtue of hindsight, in what way do you think the chapter of The Moles led its way into the musical projects that followed? 

RD: At this stage The Moles feel like where I am most comfortable.

 


 

themoles_firerecords

Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.

http://www.firerecords.com/

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Written by markcarry

September 9, 2014 at 10:21 am

Chosen One: Wooden Wand

with 2 comments

Interview with James Jackson Toth.

“Ask anyone who writes songs — other things get sacrificed on the altar of the song. It isn’t martyrdom, though — it is, like the song says, “a kind of coma (but also), a kind of crown”.”

—James Toth

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Loney John Hutchins/Kyle Hamlett

woodenwand_Kyle Hamlett_Battle Tapes studio in Nashville

‘Farmer’s Corner’ is the title of the latest record by the song-writing luminary, James Jackson Toth AKA Wooden Wand. The American songsmith has been responsible for a plethora of truly transcendent works under various guises this past decade, encompassing psych folk, roots/country and blues. The recent releases of Wooden Wand — including the formidable ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ and this year’s ‘Farmer’s Corner’ — marks a career peak in Toth’s empowering songs of redemption.

A marked positivity abounds the scintillating nine sonic creations that comprises Toth’s latest masterpiece. ‘Sinking Feelings’ is a gorgeous country gem that conveys the uplifting spirit of Wooden Wand’s rich canvas. The clean guitar tones are reminiscent of the pristine sound of Buddy Holly, while the harmonica-led passages conjures up the sound of new beginnings and endless possibilities. The opening lyrics resonate powerfully as Toth sings “You gotta make a pact with the earthly body / Make a trade and take a stand.” The fresh country sound could belong to any array of timeless gems such as ‘Harvest Moon’ era Neil Young or Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’. The chorus refrain of “Don’t let those sinking feelings draw you in” offers ceaseless solace, sung beneath a delicate guitar-led melody. One of the album’s lyrical highlights arrive at a later verse: “In every looking glass there’s a crack / Where the looking glass looks back.” As ever, the narrator’s poetic prose and imaginative wordplay leaves you mystified.

Another tower of song is ‘Dambuilding’ which could perhaps be seen as the album’s centerpiece. A cinematic feel permeates the head-space of eerie banjo notes, soaring pedal steel and warm percussion. A bleak atmosphere is effortlessly created as the central protagonist lets go of his past and sets foot on a new frontier, wherein a new day is dawning: “Trying not to worry / I told myself I’d better hurry / And buried everything I could stand to lose.” Half-way through, a beautiful interlude of guitars (rhythmic pulses of banjo notes are interwoven with a ripple-flow of pedal steel) rise to the forefront of the mix. The song becomes a representation of the songwriter’s mind, an insight into the creation of art, in which a lovely parallel exists between Toth’s masterful songcraft (and the song-writing process of collecting ideas and inspiration) and the process of dam building: “There was no time to be nervous / As I kicked up the dark with purpose / Soon the water rushed through my knees and over me.” The music flows effortlessly into your consciousness, like the water-flow that fills the vast plains of land.

‘Farmer Corner’s cycle of intimate songs were recorded along the singer-songwriter’s travels. The new songs were recorded as he wrote them, resulting in a liberating and spontaneous process. The sessions for ‘Farmer’s Corner’ involved over six sessions in four studios, spanning three states, and the dutiful task of amassing the tracks would begin. Remarkably, the latest Wooden Wand album marks the first self-produced Wooden Wand album, having producers at the helm for the previous outings. The majority of the tracks were aided by the supreme talents of electric bassist Darin Gray (On Filmore, Jim O’ Rourke) and guitarists William Tyler and Doc Feldman. In addition, Toth also called on friends in St Louis, Nashville, and his current home in Lexington, Kentucky. As ever, a wonderful sense of musicianship is etched across the album’s sprawling canvas, as the seamless layers of immaculate instrumentation forms the ideal backdrop for Toth’s engaging and illuminating song-craft.

The opening lyrics of the dazzling epic cut ‘Port Of Call’ perhaps best explains the sonic trajectory of Wooden Wand: “We do not decorate / We like an empty space / We like to fill an empty space.” The hypnotic bassline and Keith Richards-esque guitar wizardry (think ‘Let It Bleed’) on display is filled with endless stellar moments (particularly, the divine funk of bass towards the song’s close). ‘Gone To Stay’ is a more sparse blues track that brings ‘Farmer’s Corner’ to a fitting close. A gospel feel radiates brightly throughout. Elsewhere, ‘When The Trail Goes Cold’ is a divine slice of Americana that echoes the spirit of Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand (a distant companion to the similarly cathartic ‘Corridor’). ‘Adie’ is a stomping 70’s rock opus with an infectious groove and killer riff. The expansive sonic terrain covered throughout ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is a joy to witness. ‘Home Horizon’ is an achingly beautiful ballad that feels close to Toth’s previous song-writing master-class of ‘Blood Oaths of the New Blues’. To echo Swans frontman, Michael Gira, the narrative of Toth’s timeless song-craft “leaves you mystified, both smiling and sad.”

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‘Farmer’s Corner’ is available now on Fire Records.

http://www.woodenwand.org/
http://www.firerecords.com/

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Interview with James Jackson Toth.

Congratulations, James, on the latest Wooden Wand masterpiece, ‘Farmer’s Corner’. It’s a pleasure to ask you some questions about this latest record. I love how that spark of spontaneity is clearly evident that illuminates throughout the album’s nine songs. Can you please discuss the latest album and the narrative that lies at the heart of ‘Farmer’s Corner’?

James Toth: Thank you, Mark — I’m really glad you like it. Narratives usually only become obvious to me after the album is finished, and this time, I noticed that Farmer’s Corner is a relatively “affirming” record. There are some pretty positive songs here – Sinking Feelings, Home + Horizon, Port Of Call, Gone To Stay, etc. If there is a theme, it’s that.

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What is remarkable about ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is that it’s the first self-produced Wooden Wand album. I would love to gain an insight into this aspect of the music-making process. What was the experience like? How did you find it shaped the final sound and feel to the record?

JT: I didn’t really understand that I was producing the album until halfway through. Excepting home recorded things, every album I’ve ever made in the studio was made with a producer of some kind. I like having a producer, and I like the idea of collaborating with someone whose work I respect who will leave their fingerprints on the record somehow, but this time, I decided I didn’t need that input. I just started recording the songs as they were written, more or less, to capture the excitement of them before they started feeling over-rehearsed and stale. To do this, I had to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. There are obviously things on this record that many producers would not have been OK with, like the ‘cocaine country’ phaser on my acoustic guitar. I didn’t want to have to defend those decisions or answer to anyone when it came to that sorta stuff.

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The last time we spoke, you described [previous Wooden Wand album] ‘Blood Oaths Of The New Blues’ as a truly collaborative process where you were simply a member of the band. I feel this is still the case on the new record where I feel each band member contributing a big part to the record’s sound. Do you feel ‘Farmer’s Corner’ is another collaborative album, James?

JT: Less so. That is not to diminish the extraordinary contributions of everyone involved — especially Darin Gray, who really should have gotten a co-producer credit on more than half of these songs — but because I was assembling people almost as an experiment (some of these people were meeting for the very first time in the studio, just hours before we tracked a song), and more or less conducting. But everyone’s individual parts were mostly their own, save for the sort of ‘riffs’ and harmonies and certain parts I had written and included on the demos. But overall, less band input than with the Alabama contingent — with those guys, there’s no ‘pulling rank’ or having ‘final say’ — after the songs are written, decisions about where they go are made more or less by committee. Luckily, we almost always agree. This time, I sorta felt like the captain.

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As always, you are joined by a wonderful ensemble of musicians — I think of The Band such is the peerless musicianship on display — with the guitar prowess of William Tyler, Doc Feldman, collaborator Darin Gray and bassist Darin Gray. Can you please recount for me these recording sessions? It must be a fulfilling and rewarding experience to have such a wonderful ensemble backing your penned songs? The music just flows out from each member.

JT: I will defer that compliment to the band, but thank you, and I agree. There were four sessions and each one was pretty magical in its own way. I will say the Lexington session that produced five of the album’s nine songs — with engineer Jason Groves — was especially positive. Everything just seemed to work.

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How much of a challenge was it to record in four separate studios (spanning three states) during the making of ‘Farmer’s Corner’? I feel that it must have been a liberating process to venture down new roads here, both in terms of geographical (new locations) but also the process of writing and recording the new songs during the same space in time? This aspect definitely resonates on the album’s tracks. I’d like to think of it like Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ album; it occupies a special moment in time.

JT: There were pros and cons to doing the album this way. Again, it wasn’t really intended to be, like, a ‘road album’ or anything, and to be perfectly honest, my preference is still to sort of hunker down and record in the same place — to inhabit the record with no distractions. I like it when the day ends and no one has to pack up any gear you can just leave everything where it is to resume the next day. I think the ‘roving’ style worked really well for Farmer’s Corner, but I think the next album will be different. We’ll see!

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‘Dambuilding’ is one of the album’s stunning highlights. It’s such a tour-de-force. I love the dreamy, searching feel that permeates throughout. The banjo part adds to the sense of mystery. I would love for you to discuss this song, your memories of writing and recording it please? Your vocal delivery is sublime. Was this the first take?

JT: It was a first take, and a live vocal. Funny thing about that one was that we lost the master recording — some error between the tape and the digital — so I thought that was gonna be our “Second Arrangement” or something (if you know the Steely Dan story). But everyone liked that song so much, we just mastered from the rough mix we had, which was a high quality mp3. Maybe that’s supposed to be a secret. Ooops.

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‘Home Horizon’ is another vintage Wooden Wand song that could be found on ‘Blood Oaths’, perhaps a sister-song to ‘Outsider Blues’. I love the bassline and pedal steel lines. Can you please discuss the narrative to ‘Home Horizon’, James?

JT: I hadn’t made the connection with Outsider Blues, but that’s very astute of you, Mark! I can sorta imagine that the narrator of Home + Horizon is on his way home from playing the Outsider Blues festival or something. Dave Anderson played the great steel part on that, and Darin played bass. The idea behind the song is similar to that of Gone To Stay: the idea that bad feelings, bad memories, embarrassing situations, etc. are fleeting. Like I said, it’s a pretty positive record.

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How has your writing process changed, looking back over your rich body of work? I wonder are there certain rituals or habits you find integral to the writing process?

JT: Not really. The way I write has very little to do with intention, so I mostly do it the way I’ve always done it, by paying attention to things, sometimes at the expense of other things. Lately I’ve been wondering if I’ve missed out on a lot of other things in life in my search for great titles, great first lines, etc. Ask anyone who writes songs — other things get sacrificed on the altar of the song. It isn’t martyrdom, though — it is, like the song says, “a kind of coma (but also), a kind of crown.” People who don’t write tend to think of writers as very observant people, and this is true to an extent, but we also tend to be extremely selective about what we observe. Everything extraneous can come to feel like minutiae. A good example would be if you and your friend are walking on the street and you meet someone you both know and talk for a few minutes. Afterward, your friend says “That was weird that Bill had a giant monkey on his shoulder.” And you say “What monkey? I didn’t see any monkey. Can you believe he used the phrase ‘Jerusalem Syndrome?’”

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Please take me back to the recording session of ‘Sinking Feelings’. It’s such a gorgeous country gem. The harmonica and rhythm bring me back to ‘Harvest Moon’ era Neil Young and the beautiful guitar lines conjures up the timeless sound of Buddy Holly. As always your lyrics are sheer poetry (“Old friends come bearing the past / But impressions never last” is one example) that stay with you long after the notes have faded into the night.

JT: Harvest Moon was something I was thinking a lot about when the first few songs for this album were being written. It is not a record I listen to a lot, but that’s just because I’ve listened to it enough for one lifetime and can conjure it in my head whenever I need to hear it. But the first few songs I wrote for this one seemed sorta wistful, and I decided to go with that. But when Darin and William and Doc came in, everything got this sorta groove, which sorta countered the Harvest Moon vibes in a really good way. I think William will be really psyched you compared him to Buddy Holly.

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What were the records you were listening to the most during the making of ‘Farmer’s Corner’? Any current reading recommendations?

JT: I rarely listen to any music that sounds anything like Wooden Wand — that is, lyric-driven songwriter music. This is not because I don’t think there are some extraordinary writers making this kind of music, because I do, but I have to be really careful to not become influenced by, say, Bob Dylan, any more than I already am. So, these days, I restrict myself. The music I listen to for enjoyment nowadays has more to do with performances than compositions. So I will listen to “Nick Of Time” by Bonnie Raitt twenty times in a row. I will do the same with “When U Were Mine” by Prince, or “Cycles” by Sinatra, or “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gale, and pay very close attention to the phrasing, the choices the singer makes, things like that. I try to figure out why listening to Darryl Hall sing “North Star” feels like a drug high no matter how many times I hear it. What is that ineffable quality that affects me? And how can I cultivate that? I guess what I’m saying is I’ve been paying attention to singers, not lyricists.

I’m always reading five or six books at a time, which gets sorta confusing and makes for weird dreams. Best book I read recently was ‘The Soundscape’ by R Murray Schafer, which I guess is a pretty well-known sound studies book, but I just got around to reading it; some real poetry in there. My wife and I were reading some of the later Beckett things together, which somehow led to a brief Harold Pinter kick. Before bed I’ve been switching between ‘Soweto Blues’ by Gwen Ansell and ‘Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers’, by John Einarson and Chris Hillman; 60 pages in, Hillman seems pretty bitter. Lastly, a friend sent me a great collection of Jim Carroll’s poetry, so I’ve been reconnecting with him — I liked him a lot in high school and I guess I still like him as an adult.

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‘Farmer’s Corner’ is available now on Fire Records.

http://www.woodenwand.org/
http://www.firerecords.com/

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Wooden Wand Photograph credits:

(i) Battle Tapes studio in Nashville. Photograph by Kyle Hamlett.

(ii) James Jackson Toth, “the teacher’s lounge”. Photograph by Loney John Hutchins.

(iii) Photograph by Loney John Hutchins. “Studio is called “the teacher’s lounge”. We were the last session of an 8 year run there. He’s opening a new studio soon, not sure if it’ll be named the same…”  —Kyle Hamlett

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Written by admin

May 14, 2014 at 10:31 am