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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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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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Mixtape: I Think I Knew [A Fractured Air Mix]

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I Think I Knew [A Fractured Air Mix]

A selection of some of our favourite music released in the first six months of 2014.

To listen on Mixcloud:

http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/i-think-i-knew-a-fractured-air-mix/

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Tracklisting:

01. William Tyler ‘Whole New Dude’ (Excerpt) [Merge]
02. John Murry ‘Glass Slipper’ [Ruby Works]
03. The War On Drugs ‘In Reverse’ [Secretly Canadian]
04. Marissa Nadler ‘Firecrackers’ [Bella Union / Sacred Bones]
05. The Delines ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’ [El Decor / Cortez]
06. Cate Le Bon feat. Perfume Genius ‘I Think I Knew’ [Wichita / Turnstile]
07. The Moles ‘This Is A Happy Garden’ [Fire]
08. Greg Gives Peter Space ‘Electric Eel River’ [Erased Tapes]
09. Hauschka ‘Thames Town’ [City Slang / Temporary Residence]
10. Roll The Dice ‘In Deference’ [Leaf]
11. Trans Am ‘I’ll Never’ [Thrill Jockey]
12. Jamie xx ‘Girl’ [Young Turks]
13. Caribou ‘Can’t Do Without You’ [City Slang / Merge]
14. Hydras Dream ‘The End’ [Denovali]
15. Yann Tiersen ‘Meteorites’ [Mute]

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The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

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Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.

Mixcloud / Soundcloud

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Mixtape: I’ll Read You A Story [A Fractured Air Mix]

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i'llreadyouastory

I’ll Read You A Story [A Fractured Air Mix]

To listen on Mixcloud:

http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/ill-read-you-a-story-a-fractured-air-mix/

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Tracklisting:

01. Boards Of Canada ‘Reach For The Dead’
02. Klara Lewis ‘Shine’
03. Tim Hecker ‘Live Room’
04. DARKSIDE ‘Metatron’
05. Homeboy Sandman ‘Wade In The Water’
06. Ella Jenkins ‘Wade In The Water’
07. Jonny Greenwood ‘Open Spaces: Suite from “There Will Be Blood”’
08. Walter Schumann ‘The Night Of The Hunter, Pt. 2’ [excerpt]
09. Colleen ‘I’ll Read You A Story’
10. Psarandonis ‘O choros tis vrochis (Rain Dance)’
11. Hauschka ‘Who Lived Here?’
12. Lambchop ‘Catapillar’
13. Harold Budd & John Foxx ‘Adult’
14. Birds Of Passage ‘Ashes To Ashes’
15. Christina Vantzou ‘Going Backwards To Recover What Was Left Behind’
16. Walter Schumann ‘The Night Of The Hunter, Pt. 2’ [excerpt]
17. Mikolaj Gorecki ‘Three Pieces In Old Style: I (Movement one)’
18. Barbara ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’

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The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

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Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.

Mixcloud / Soundcloud

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Ten Mile Stereo

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A Winged Victory For The Sullen ‘ATOMOS VII’ (Erased Tapes/Kranky)
This April marks the hugely anticipated return of the impeccable duo of A Winged Victory For The Sullen as a co-release between London-based independent label Erased Tapes and the Chicago-based Kranky label. Comprising the majestic talents of the duo Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid) and pianist Dustin O’Halloran, ‘ATOMOS VII’ is bound to capture — just like it’s glorious self-titled predecessor — the imagination of every single music listener lucky enough to cross paths with it. As O’Halloran has stated: “We never imagined 2013 would be such an explosively creative year. The first record took us two years from start to finish, but in the micro span of time over last summer we were able to change the formula for the way we write, record, and let go. It was incredibly liberating.”

‘ATOMOS VII’ is available on 28 April via Erased Tapes/Kranky.

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Christina Vantzou ‘No.2’ (Kranky)
Kansas-born artist, film-maker, musician and composer, Christina Vantzou returns this year with the spellbinding ‘No.2’, and follow-up to her equally gorgeous debut ‘No.1’, released at the beginning of 2012 on the Chicago-based label Kranky. Made over a four-year period, ‘No.2’ sees Vantzou re-unite with Stars Of The Lid and Winged Victory For The Sullen’s Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and the internationally renowned arranger Minna Choi of the San Francisco based Magik*Magik Orchestra. ‘No.2’ also features the addition of further instrumentation (previously not heard on it’s predecessor) with the use of bassoon, oboe, and an enhanced string section augmenting Vantzou’s timeless and dreamlike floating worlds.

‘No.2’ is available now on Kranky.

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Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)
Available 27 May on Jajjaguwar, ‘Are We There’ is Brooklyn-based songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s follow-up to her monumental ‘Tramp’ LP from 2012. Thus far, ‘Taking Chances’ has been made available online, revealing a less stark and cleaner sound, yet remaining as utterly captivating and wholly engaging as always. Check out Van Etten’s official website HERE for some wonderful pre-order bundles, including clear vinyls, limited edition 7″, and signed prints of photographic cover art by Van Etten.

‘Are We There’ is available on 27 May via Jagjaguwar.

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Hauschka ‘Abandoned City’ (City Slang)
The impeccable talents of German composer Volker Bertelmann has been widely evident for many years now via Bertelmann’s Hauschka guise. Using the prepared piano as his starting point (Bertelmann positions pieces of foil or paper on the strings of his grand upright piano to create new sounds), Bertelmann has been wowing audiences far and wide over the last decade or so. ‘Abandoned City’ is Hauschka’s latest full-length, available via Berlin-based independent label City Slang (Calexico, Lambchop, The Notwist) and was recorded at his home studio over the course of ten days following the birth of his first son. Talking about the album’s title, 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’ is available now on City Slang.

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ORCAS ‘Yearling’ (Morr Music)
ORCAS comprise the duo of Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard) and Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below), who release ‘Yearling’, their hugely anticipated follow-up to their Morr Music 2012 debut ‘Carrion’. For it’s wonderful follow-up, ‘Yearling’, Meluch and Irisarri are joined by Martyn Heyne (of Efterklang) on guitar and piano, and Michael Lerner (Telekinesis) revealing a gorgeous sonic tapestry and an infinite array of emotions throughout, amounting to another pristine, understated sonic gem.

‘Yearling’ is out April 4th in Europe and April 15th in the US on Morr Music.

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The Delines ‘Colfax’ (Decor / El Cortez)
Led by Richmond Fontaine’s principle songwriter, the novelist Willy Vlautin, The Delines are the newly-formed group featuring Vlautin alongside his Fontaine drummer Sean Oldham, Amy Boone (The Damnations), Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists), Tucker Jackson and Freddy Trujillo. Thus far, the single ‘I Won’t Slip Up’ has been revealed, featuring the stunning vocals of The Damnations’ Amy Boone, the gorgeously soulful and late-night feel echoes Richmond Fontaine’s ‘We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River’ while the heartfelt lyrics (“I get so tired of people / Always worrying about me”) are typical Vlautin; imperfect and true and straight from the heart. The Delines will have a new 7″ single out on record store day called “The Oil Rigs At Night” which features two tracks not on the forthcoming album. The Delines will tour the UK and Ireland this June (tour dates HERE).

‘Colfax’ will be available on Decor on 01 May 2014.

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Lavender Country ‘Lavender Country’ (Paradise Of Bachelors)
This year North Carolina-based label Paradise Of Bachelors re-release Patrick Haggerty’s hugely affecting landmark 1973 self-titled LP by Lavender Country. As Paradise Of Bachelors say: “Widely recognized as the first openly gay country music album—and cited as such even by Nashville institutions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and CMT—the landmark self-titled 1973 LP by Lavender Country stands as nothing less than an artifact of courage, a sonic political protest document of enormous power, clarity, and grace. The record reflects Haggerty’s experiences: his upbringing on a tenant dairy farm in rural Washington, on the Canadian border; his dismissal from the Peace Corps on the spurious grounds of his sexuality; and his righteous struggles as an outraged young gay man navigating the Pacific Northwest in the immediate aftermath of Stonewall.”

‘Lavender Country’ is available on 25 March via Paradise Of Bachelors.

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Cate Le Bon ‘Mug Museum’ (Turnstile)
Cate Le Bon is an artist hailing from Carmarthenshire, rural West Wales and is currently a resident of Highland Park, Los Angeles, having relocated across the pacific to record her latest album ‘Mug Museum’. Her first album ‘Me Oh My’ was released on Gruff Rhys’s Irony Bored label in 2009 and was followed by ‘CYRK’ (OVNI/Turnstile) which was released to widespread acclaim in 2012 and saw her play live across the world. A frequent collaborator, Cate Le Bon has added vocals to the likes of Neon Neon and Manic Street Preachers in recent times, while Perfume Genius contributes vocals on ‘I Think I Knew’.

‘Mug Museum’ is available now on Turnstile.

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Valentin Stip ‘Sigh’ (Other People)
Montreal’s Valentin Stip has quietly released one of the finest electronic albums of the year thus far in the form of ‘Sigh’, available now on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label. Valentin Stip’s story thus far is best surmised by Stip’s Soundcloud profile:
“My name is Val, I was born in Paris. I started playing piano when I was seven. Missing my piano too much in Montreal, I started playing around with the musical abilities of my computer and have been making electronic music since then…”

‘Sigh’ is available now on Other People.

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Woods ‘With Light And With Love’ (Woodsit)
Brooklyn’s beloved folk collective Woods have been amassing a wonderfully enduring and timeless body of music since the band’s formation in 2005. Albums such as ‘Sun And Shade’ and ‘Bend Beyond’ have introduced the band to new waves of fans and admirers over the years, enchanted by the band’s “DIY” ethos, impeccable musicianship and an innate appreciation for melody. As Wooden Wand’s James Jackson Toth has said: “With Light And With Love is an album of deeply psychedelic, deeply satisfying songs for a new age of searchers, of Don Juan and Animal Chin alike.”

‘With Light And With Love’ is out April 15th on Woodsist Records.

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The Story Of An Artist: Iker Spozio

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Interview with Iker Spozio.

In our new regular section – entitled “The Story Of An Artist” (named in tribute to the American singer, songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston) – we will be focusing on the artists who have brought their own distinctive artwork and indelible mark to the independent music scene. First to contribute is the wonderful Italian artist and illustrator Iker Spozio, who currently resides in the northern Spanish coastal town of San Sebastián. Spozio’s name has become synonymous with the independent music scene over the last number of years, with the creation of record sleeves for such independent labels as London-based Second Language and the Brighton-based label Fat Cat Records. Spozio’s work graces the sleeves for such bands and composers as Colleen, Adrian Crowley, Mark Fry, Delia Derbyshire and Hauschka. Over the years, Iker Spozio’s reputation for a master craftsman, engraver, illustrator and painter of immense talent and versatility has been widely evident for all to see.

Words: Craig Carry, Artwork: Iker Spozio

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“Self Portrait” based on El Greco’s “El caballero de la mano en el pecho”.

Even if the Italian artist Iker Spozio is not a household name to you, his distinctive artwork has bound to have passed your eye on more than one occasion. In fact, the chances are his artwork adorns some of your most prized and precious records in your collection. Spozio’s artistry has adorned albums by some of the most inspiring musicians in the independent music scene. Musicians such as French composer Colleen, Irish songsmith Adrian Crowley, German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) and the legendary English folk songwriter Mark Fry – to name but a few –  have all had their music beautifully adorned by Spozio’s immense artistic gifts.

Most notable in his musical work is his ongoing collaboration with the gifted French composer Cécile Schott (aka Colleen). The pair have been partners for many years and their symbiotic relationship has produced a string of truly memorable and everlasting records over the last ten years or so (with Spozio creating both album and e.p. sleeves as well as concert posters), Spozio applies the visuals to Schott’s music, both as deeply immersive and enchanting as each other. Their most recent collaboration has come in the form of Colleen’s current album, “The Weighing Of The Heart”, an album released last May on London-based independent label Second Language. The album is an extraordinary achievement for both Schott and Spozio, where both artists sought new departures in their ever-expanding artistic visions. The resulting work (both in sight and sound) is a true joy to behold.

Iker Spozio’s work has thus far been as impressive in its versatility and scope as well as in its unwavering and passionate attention to detail. Throughout his varied work (across commissions, personal work and longterm projects) there is a huge emphasis placed on craftsmanship where virtues of both patience and skill are always in evidence. Spozio’s versatility as an artist is nothing short of breathtaking, his portfolio showcasing works across many mediums including watercolour, engravings, monoprints, pencils and india ink. Often, the work is a hybrid of many techniques combined together – where a truly remarkable appreciation for each process’ own intrinsic qualities can be discerned – yet such works never serve to lose any sense of vitality as Spozio’s own distinctive graphic approach can always be appreciated and admired. For any work which bears the name of Iker Spozio can safely be described as something truly precious and singularly unique.

Most recently, Spozio’s work has been published as part of Mark Fry’s “Dreaming With Alice” songbook, a limited, special edition publication which collects together for the first time Fry’s lyrics and sheet music from his seminal 1972 album “Dreaming With Alice”, an album which is today recognized as one of the most defining records of psychedelic folk music. Spozio’s work here encompasses a series of twelve specially commissioned engravings which serve to beautifully illustrate Fry’s dreamlike and mysterious sonic masterpiece. Like any of Iker Spozio’s masterful handmade work, the imagery – like those from an everlasting and recurring dream – will journey straight to your eyes (and heart).

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Taken from “Dreaming With Alice” Songbook, engraving.

Firstly, congratulations on the magnificent achievement of the recently published “Dreaming With Alice”, the lovingly assembled songbook containing Mark Fry’s lyrics and sheet music for his seminal ’72 LP of the same name. The project is obviously very close to your heart as you have expressed a deep admiration for Mark Fry (as both musician and painter) in the past, as well as sharing a close friendship over the years. You also featured Mark Fry heavily in your fabulous “Morning” music magazine when you memorably interviewed him back in 2009 for the issue’s second edition.
So, first off, I would love to ask you can you remember the first time coming across “Dreaming With Alice?” What effect did it have upon you when you first heard it?

I first came across “Dreaming With Alice” about fifteen years ago, when I was still living in Italy, my home country.
I was just starting to work as an illustrator, back then, but also had a “proper” job as a graphic designer for a company which did websites. This job allowed me to pay my bills and also, of course, to cover my badly needed monthly fix of music!
I used to get my pay and then drive straight away to the bigger town in my district, Varese, where there used to be a pretty big and nice record shop, called La Casa del Disco. I soon became friends with one of its clerks, a guy in his fifties who had lived first-hand all the psyche, folk and folk-rock era. He used to suggest me all kinds of amazing records, describing them with contagious enthusiasm and in the most colourful ways. He’s the one who sold me Mark’s album, in its unofficial CD version released by Akarma.
I perfectly remember the particular day I got the album and playing it at home: I really got blown away by it, especially by the eponymous song, that seems to constantly appear and disappear like a ghost all over the record.
I still find it hard to believe that I’m friends with Mark, now. It’s definitely a pleasure and a privilege to me.

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“I Lived In Trees”, LP sleeve for Mark Fry & The A Lords (Second Language, 2012).

You created the wonderful artwork accompanying Mark Fry & The A. Lords LP “I Lived In Trees” which was released in 2011 by Second Language. As this was effectively Fry’s return to music for the first time in over thirty years it was clearly a truly special project for all concerned. I love how deeply evocative your artwork (including the concertina inner sleeve) is to the music within. I also love how – on the one hand – we have strong dominant shapes and forms, yet, we’re also presented with so much texture, imagery, colour and detail. It’s one of my all-time favourite sleeves! Could you talk about the artwork for “I Lived In Trees”, the process and techniques involved and the resulting sleeve?

Well, actually “I Lived In Trees” is the second album after Mark’s “come-back”, following 2009’s “Shooting The Moon”.
I’m delighted to know you like the artwork for “I Lived In Trees” so much, since it’s also a favourite of mine. The idea for a tree being the subject of the sleeve came from Mark, while the format suggestion came from Second Language’s mastermind Glenn Johnson.
I thought it would be a nice concept to depict a tree that would be visible in full only when the concertina would be completely unfolded. This allowed me to insert various elements, sometimes incongruous, in each panel, making each section of the booklet kind of self-sufficient but also part of a whole.
Technically speaking, the background was painted in watercolour, then all the elements were inserted in the typical collage way, using various papers and textures I had prepared beforehand.

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Taken from “Dreaming With Alice” Songbook, engraving.

If we return to the “Dreaming With Alice” songbook and the twelve accompanying illustrations that accompany this special publication. Firstly, just to confirm, these are linocuts?

Yes, they are.

Since there is such an amount of detail and varying focal points across the various compositions, I imagine you must very carefully “sketch” these out beforehand? How does the process between the inception of your idea through to the realization of the completed artwork happen for you?

Yes, indeed, I design, or should I say “plan”, everything in detail beforehand, especially when I’m working on an engraving, a technique that seldom (or never) allows one to have second thoughts.
I must confess that I’m quite a perfectionist, when it comes to my artwork. Maybe too much for my own good, since there is always the risk of getting too rigid and clinical in pursue of a perfection of sorts. That’s why, especially in recent times, I have been kind of forcing myself to “let go” and surprise myself through less thoroughly planned projects.

I love how you have used both reds and blues separately across the work. It seems to create a distinct contrast for the series as a whole, and seems to represent that idea of fantasy and reality for me. What was the significance of the use of colour for you here?

At first I thought of using more colours than those. But, in the end, I found that red and blue were really the most suitable for the project, both technically and aesthetically. The colour choice for each illustration was based on my feelings and the perception I had of each song in Mark’s album. It’s hard to explain: I just found some songs to be “blue” and others to be “red”!

Actually, I seldom use more colours than the primary ones, in association with black and white.
Dealing with colour is not something that came really naturally to me. I used to work in black and white only for several years, until I decided to overcome my lack of confidence and try my luck in the technicolour world!

I love how your work can appear quite abstract and fluid here, yet it always seems so rooted in the world of reality and representation. Recurring imagery such as birds, figures, the moon, floral elements and musical imagery are interspersed throughout. The use of space – both positive and negative – is also so striking and makes for almost multiple versions of the same piece. In terms of the series itself, are the individual artworks done specifically for songs in mind from “Dreaming With Alice” or are they more loosely based on the music?

The illustrations are completely based on the actual songs, and they usually feature elements drawn from the lyrics.
Some of the engravings are more descriptive, others less so. I must confess that I have a marked tendency towards abstraction, which I tried to keep restrained in this particular project. I think that abstraction often got to the surface, anyway, mostly due to the fact that at the time I did these particular illustrations I was extremely interested in African art and its tendency to translate reality into geometric shapes and patterns.
The Odyssey project, which I did not long after completing the Dreaming With Alice songbook, shows my more abstract side, and its illustrations, which are still based on the characters and events described in the book, are so minimal that one may find it difficult to immediately associate them with the text.

If the opportunity arose for you to do a similar project for another classic album (of any time or period), which would it be and why?

Hhhm, tough question, here, since I’m such a music “freak” that it would be a hard choice to make: too many wonderful albums around…
A particular favourite of mine, though, is Burning Spear’s first LP, which I consider a masterpiece. I would love to illustrate it.
Actually, right now I’m working on a series of paintings inspired by Jamaican songs. They are going to be completely abstract, since I believe that music such as dub, which relies so much on sound treatment, could hardly be translated into descriptive images.

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“Run Run se fue pa’l Norte”, inspired by Violeta Parra’s song of the same title.

Just to talk a little about your earlier work and the formative influences on you as an artist. What were the initial sources of inspiration for you to create art? Were there specific art movements in art history or specific painters you were drawn to at the beginning? Since your work encompasses a wide range of various techniques – such as painting, engraving, linocuts – I imagine there must be such a variety of people who have influenced you in your own approach as an artist?

My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather were all painters, so art, painting specifically, was part of my life since I was a child. I always drew, but it took me quite some time to make the decision to fully devote myself to painting and illustration. It actually came gradually, and in parallel with my passion for music, since the very first works I got published were for indie labels I followed.
I like almost all art, so it would be difficult for me to choose some specific artists or movements as my favourite ones. I must say, though, that, being an Italian, I surely was influenced from the very beginning by all the Renaissance greats, Piero Della Francesca and Paolo Uccello in particular. The Bauhaus has always been a source of inspiration to me, as well as some “eccentric” painters such as Piero Di Cosimo, Léon Spilliaert and Odilon Redon. In a more “graphic design” context, I’d like to mention Neil Fujita and his work for Columbia Records in the fifties.

For the record, what are the techniques you most commonly use?

I first worked mostly in black and white, using indian ink and various kinds of pens and brushes. Then I really got into engraving techniques, such as linocut. I prefer to mix techniques up, though, so I often combine the aforementioned ones with watercolour, gouache and acrylic paints. I also do monotype a lot, a technique I particularly enjoy, since it gives one an endless array of possibilities.

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“The Weighing Of The Heart”, LP sleeve for Colleen (Second Language, 2013).

Now, to turn to the music of Colleen and the hugely enriching and stunning work that has resulted from that truly special collaboration. Firstly, I’ll point out that Colleen (aka French musician Cécile Schott) is your partner for many years now and you have been creating the artwork for her albums as Colleen for the last decade or so. The resulting “collaboration” has most recently been this year’s magnificent “The Weighing Of The Heart” album. It’s obviously such a personal and special project for the two of you, not least since it’s the first Colleen record in five years. I know it sounds clichéd, but it just so perfectly embodies visually the music within (for example, Coleen’s new focus on rhythm, colour, and movement). There’s also so much else in the sleeve, including the reference to the Ursa Major constellation, the Egyptian book of the dead and also the location of San Sebastián, where yourself and Cécile now live.
I would love if you could talk about “The Weighing Of The Heart”, the artwork and the new elements found in this new work of your’s and what influenced you in the making of the artwork?

The making of the artwork for “The Weighing Of The Heart” took me an extremely long time, since I really wanted to give it my best. It’s a very important album for both myself and for Cécile, who was getting back to recording music after a fairly long hiatus.
I actually did three different versions of the cover artwork, but never was completely satisfied with what I came up with.
I think that the final one, the one Cécile and I were both happy with, reflects well the changes we’ve both experienced in our respective arts: Cécile’s new poly rhythmic compositions and more “colourful” approach to music coincided with a tendency I had developed to get my works busier and brighter in terms of colour. As far as I’m concerned, I believe it’s a consequence of my passion for traditional African art and also an influence of Juan Gris’s cubism.
It’s funny because I hadn’t heard a single note of Cécile’s new music until I had finished the artwork, so it’s the result of a kind of telepathic communication between the two of us if both music and images work along fine.

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“Les Ondes Silencieuses”, LP sleeve for Colleen (Leaf, 2007).

It would also be such a huge pleasure for me to ask you about the sleeves for both “Les Ondes Silencieuses” and “The Golden Morning Breaks” here as well. Both those records hold such a special place in the hearts of music fans and both of the sleeves distill so beautifully the space and time in which both those special Colleen albums were made, and embody the particular mood and atmosphere of both records too.

I’m pleased that you like those particular sleeves, even if I must tell you that I find it kind of hard to look back to that particular era of my work now… I don’t feel really connected to it anymore. Actually, the cover for “Les Ondes Silencieuses” is probably the very last “official” artwork I did in that pen-and-ink, Beardsley-esque style I had been working with. Oh, well, I still have a soft spot for that sleeve though, since it has such a “home-y” feeling to it… Cécile and our cat are on it, and the landscape is a familiar one: it could well be taken from the place where we live now or from my hometown in Italy.

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“Black Magic and Its Expose”, engraving, taken from “Master & Margarita”.

Last year your project – encompassing fifteen engraved panels, all handmade and hand-printed – based on Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” was exhibited in the Bulgakov Museum in Moscow. This must have been such a proud and special occasion for you? And this project stemmed simply from your wish to illustrate each chapter from one of your favourite books?

It was a true honour for me to have my illustrations exhibited in Bulgakov’s Museum. The museum is actually in the house where the writer lived and wrote some of his books, including “Master And Margarita”.
When I got the offer to do that exhibition I was really moved, since I enormously admire Bulgakov, both for his work and for the determination he put into it despite the terrible living conditions and restrictions that were imposed on him by the Communist government.
I just wanted to pay a small tribute to him through my work, but unfortunately got stuck creatively midway through and never managed to complete it.
The original idea was to do 43 linocuts!…

Literature has also played a major role in your work as an artist. Which books and authors have you most admired?

I’m a huge fan of classical Russian literature: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Leskov, Lermontov and, of course, Bulgakov.
I also like early twentieth century russian poetry, Esenin in particular.
Generally speaking, I love the golden era of novel-writing, mid and late nineteenth century.
Other particular favourites of mine are Stendhal, Conrad, Maupassant and Tommaso Landolfi, maybe my most beloved author of all. He’s not well-known outside of Italy (actually he’s kind of considered as an “outsider” also there), but I find he wrote some of the most interesting works in Italian literature, especially when it comes to short stories.

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“Arrival at Pylos”, taken from “The Odyssey”, a series based on illustrating each chapter for Homer’s Odyssey, collage, monotype and sprayed watercolours.

Film has equally been important for you, I know in the past you have talked about such filmmakers as Marcel Carné and Tarkovsky. Which films and filmmakers would you recommend the most?

Tough question again! Hard for me to choose a few ones only!
I would definitely recommend some of the classic French movies of the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Carné is a big favourite of mine: I love “Hôtel du Nord”, “Le jour se lève”, “Quai des brumes” and, especially, “Les enfants du paradis”, definitely my all-time favourite movie (along with Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”).
All the French cinema of that era is really interesting though, especially for the particular flavour of the language used.
French is a fabulous language, so rich and inventive!
I also love silent cinema, the German one in particular (Murnau, Lang, Dieterle, …)
Of course I have a soft spot for classic Italian authors, especially Mario Monicelli, and for music documentaries. A particular music doc I’m totally in love with is Margaret Brown’s “Be Here To Love Me”, devoted to the life and the music of the late great Townes Van Zandt. It’s most probably the best (and most moving) music film I’ve ever seen.

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“Mark Fry”, monotype, taken from “Morning” #2.

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“Norman Jopling”, engraving, taken from “Morning” #2.

Lastly, to music, and I have to at this point mention your incredible music publication “Morning” (named after the Peep Show’s song of the same name) which you published, illustrated and designed yourself. What’s so special and unique about “Morning” is that you effectively went on a personal quest to seek out those bands and artists from the past who you felt were unfairly forgotten and neglected by the music press at large. The resulting interviews are so poignant as the reader can really get the impression that these conversations were from the hearts of the respective musicians and they valued the opportunity so much. The art direction is a thing of beauty too (imagery comprises either your own artwork or the use of previously unpublished photographs) and is such a far cry from the mostly fairly generic nature of music media at large these days.
Could you recount your fondest memories you have had from your time creating and publishing “Morning”?

The concept behind “Morning” was to publish a magazine in the spirit of vintage periodicals such as “The Yellow Book” and “La Revue Blanche”, aesthetically speaking, and devote it to the music I really love. It focused mostly on artists I personally felt had not had the recognition they deserved, either in their time or even today, when some “underground” musicians of the sixties, seventies and eighties have been re-discovered and become sort of cult-figures.
My idea was to let the musicians talk as much and as freely as possible about their lives, their creative processes and their careers.
I really enjoyed working on “Morning”, especially since all the artists I approached were extremely enthusiastic and committed to the project. It was a truly rewarding experience on a human level.
I only have fond memories about it, so it would be impossible for me to choose a particular one, but perhaps it feels particularly special that Sybille Baier accepted to be interviewed (“because it’s such a nice little project”, as she said – and indeed it was: I only published 150 copies of the first issue). As far as I know, this interview is the only one she has ever given – isn’t that cool?…

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“Sibylle Baier”, monotype, taken from “Morning” #1.

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“Dreaming With Alice”, the illustrated collectible songbook featuring twelve specially commissioned linocuts by Iker Spozio (together with Mark Fry’s sheet music and lyrics) is available now HERE

For all information on Iker Spozio and to keep updated with new works please visit:

http://www.ikerspozio.net

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To read our interview with Colleen please see here, and for our interview with Mark Fry please see here.

Very special thanks to Iker and Cécile for their time, patience and warmth.

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