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Mick Turner “Don’t Tell The Driver” (Drag City)
The latest work by the ever-prolific Melbourne-based artist and Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner is a magnificently sprawling affair – comprising an expansive cast of musicians – and is perhaps his most accessible work to date. Equally renowned for his worldwide status as an internationally renowned painter as well as musician, Turner is best known as being one-third member (alongside drummer Jim White and violinist Warren Ellis) of the cult Australian trio Dirty Three. As well as Dirty Three’s considerable output (culminating in last year’s sublime “Toward The Low Sun”), Turner has also released records under the Tren Brothers guise (effectively Turner and White recording as a duo), as well as “solo” works (‘Don’t Tell The Driver’ is Turner’s fourth such record). The record – released by Chicago’s Drag City – is arguably Turner’s most expansive yet, featuring french horn, trumpets, piano, melodica, bass and the vocals (lyrics by Turner) are beautifully sung by Caroline Kennedy McCracken.

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Tim Hecker “Virgins” (Kranky)
One of the year’s most eagerly awaited albums came from the Montreal-based composer and sound artist Tim Hecker. “Virgins”, released by Chicago-based independent label Kranky, is yet another masterful recording by the Canadian musician, producing an album of staggering scope and beauty. Hecker’s work has been described as: “focused on exploring the intersection of noise, dissonance and melody, fostering an approach to songcraft which is both physical and emotive.” One of the finest of todays modern composers, Hecker is here joined by an impressive cast of musicians from the Icelandic-based Bedroom Community label; Valgeir Sigurðsson performs and mixes (alongside Hecker) and Paul Corley takes part in the performing and engineering, while the album was recorded at Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavík (as well as Avast, Seattle and Empac Concert Hall, Troy).

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Moonface “Julia with Blue Jeans On” (Jagjaguwar)
Spencer Krug’s fourth album under the Moonface moniker, “Julia With Blue Jeans On” is a highly personal, quietly affecting and truly moving album which will prove to be one of the year’s most masterful hidden gems. The album’s genesis came from Krug’s time creating 2012’s “Heartbreaking Bravery” – a despair-laden album written after a difficult break-up – while in Helsinki and recording with Finnish band Siinai. During the same period, the highly prolific Krug set off on another creative journey, inspired by “a rediscovery of love and a reconsideration of the Moonface persona he’d created for himself.”

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Laurel Halo “Chance Of Rain” (Hyperdub)
Released at the end of October on the Hyperdub label, “Chance of Rain” is the striking and sublime second album by American electronic musician Laurel Halo (aka Ina Cube) and follow-up to her debut 2012 LP “Quarantine”. The nine tracks which comprise “Chance Of Rain” showcases Halo (who is a classically trained musician)’s wonderful talents as both composer and producer where a breathtaking spectrum of sounds – industrial, electronic, techno, club, house – effortlessly form a cohesive and organic whole, producing a wholly unique and compelling album in the process. An album as striking and engrossing (much due to the breathtaking vocals as well as the distinctive production) as the grimly evocative sleeve cover art (by Halo’s father, the artist Arthur Chartow).

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Wooden Shjips “Back to Land” (Thrill Jockey)
The Ripley Johnson-led psychedelic quartet Wooden Shjips’ follow-up to their 2011 “West” LP is their most immersive and engrossing work yet. Recorded in Portland, Oregon in May 2013 over a period of an 11-day session at Jackpot! Recording Studio, ‘Back To Land’ mark’s the band’s first record to be conceived outside of their native San Francisco. From the opening title-track, a blissful, wonderfully melodic guitar-led song to the stunningly forlorn album closer (recalling Beck’s “Sea Change”), the engrossing soundscapes of Wooden Shjips are a joy to journey through (bands such as Pavement, Sonic Youth, Crazy Horse and Spacemen 3 come to mind). Album art (with multiple circular die-cuts) by Oliver Hibert (and layout by the wonderful Sheila Sachs) ensures the vinyl edition is a must have.

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Ghost Maps The Ocean From The River “S/T” (Casino Gravity)
Released on November 15th, Ghost Maps The Ocean From The River’s self-titled debut album comprises the new musical chapter in Jeff Martin (Halfset)’s hugely impressive career to date. The album features legendary multi-instrumentalist and indie-giant John McEntire (Tortoise/The Sea and Cake) as well as a special contribution by the immensely gifted pianist Tony Crow, long-term player in the legendary Kurt Wagner-led Nashville-based collective Lambchop. From the opening gorgeous minute-long piano and violin “Intro”, we are treated to a stunning meandering journey across oceans of heavenly sounds and unknown beauty. Current personal highlight is the majestic instrumental opus “If I knew Where I Was I’d Be There”, a piece that could belong on Lambchop’s Double LP “Aw C’mon / No You C’mon” or Efterklang’s “Piramida”.

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Omar Souleyman “Wenu Wenu” (Ribbon Music)
One of the most surprising albums of the year thus far came courtesy of “Wenu Wenu” (meaning “Where Is She?”) – aided by Kieran Hebdan’s production prowess – via the latest record by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman. Prior to his homeland’s civil war crisis hit, Souleyman crossed the Syrian border into Turkey. Souleyman was formerly a wedding singer in his native Syria, a position – as described in an interview with NPR – as “important for experimenting in different kinds of music. In the region where I’m from, weddings have been really important in mixing different kinds of musical heritage.” Souleyman has released a plethora of material – mainly comprising live recordings of his wedding performances and spanning hundreds of cassette tapes – and his stature only grew when he collaborated with Bjork and subsequently appeared in numerous festivals in both the US and Europe.

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Dean Wareham “Emancipated Hearts” (Sonic Cathedral)
Dean Wareham (ex Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman) released his debut solo record “Emancipated Hearts” via Sonic Cathedral earlier this month. The resultant mini-album (the record contains six tracks) is a treasure of a record, produced by Papercuts’ Jason Quever and features a beautifully fragile and understated set of songs, including five original Wareham compositions (featuring the politically-charged “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began” and “The Ticking Is The Bomb”) plus a cover of “Air” by The Incredible String Band. Also available on gorgeous limited edition orange 10″ vinyl.

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Recondite “Hinterland” (Ghostly International)
Berlin-based producer Recondite’s first album for Ghostly International is the gorgeous “Hinterland”, an album inspired by Recondite’s homeland of Lower Bavaria (indeed, much field recordings spanning various times of the year are included across the album’s ten tracks). Like the poetic tree-lined and light-filled monochromatic landscape photograph depicted on the cover, “Hinterland” proves a lush, near-spiritual listening experience and proves a landmark release for the hugely talented producer. As Recondite has said of “Hinterland”: “I tried to capture the area’s mentality and natural environment within the album. Particularly the moods that behold the emotions of the four seasons, which differ a lot in this region.”

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The Velvet Underground “Loaded” (Cotillion/Atlantic)
“I found a reason to keep living / Oh and the reason, dear, is you / I found a reason to keep singing / Oh and the reason, dear, is you” sings Lou Reed on “I Found A Reason”, taken from The Velvet Underground’s fourth album, “Loaded”, released in 1970 on Atlantic Records’ subsidiary label, Cotillion. The song, like any one from Reed’s considerable output – both as a solo artist and as principal songwriter with The Velvet Underground – confirms Reed as one of the finest and most gifted (and certainly most influential) songwriters of the last fifty years. Despite The Velvet Underground’s modest commercial success during their all-too-brief lifespan – from the late sixties until the early seventies – the band’s influence on new generations of musicians is as strong today as it ever was. Brian Eno’s famous and much-repeated quote (in reference to The Velvet Underground’s beloved, classic 1967 debut “The Velvet Underground And Nico” only selling a mere 30,000 copies) stated: “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

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Step Right Up: Foxygen

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Foxygen is the Los Angeles-based songwriting duo of Sam France (vocals, Olympia, Washington) and Jonathan Rado (guitar, keyboards, NYC). It is incredible to think they are both a mere 22 years-old, considering their masterful songcraft and their uncanny ability to craft a perfect pop song. In January 2013, their full-length album, ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic’ was released on the peerless indie label, Jagjaguwar. A kaleidoscope of Stones, Kinks, Zombies, Bowie, Beatles, and Dylan are etched on Foxygen’s remarkable sunshine-pop oeuvre of sound. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The collection of nine indie-pop songs are performed by Sam France, Jonathan Rado and Richard Swift. The album ‘We Are The 21st Century..’ was produced and mixed by Richard Swift at National Freedom. What lies at the heart of Foxygen’s songs is Richard Swift’s singular sense of melody. I was first introduced to Swift upon the release of a double-album of his, entitled ‘The Novelist/Walking Without Effort ‘back in the mid-00’s on the Secretly Canadian label. A certain lyric of Swift comes to mind: “Trying so hard to craft a rhyme with nickels and dimes”. The perfect pop opus, that is ‘The Novelist’ is barely twenty minutes long yet his poetic rhymes and intricate arrangements and production, shines brightly throughout. The instrumentation of mandolins, clarinet and guitars echoes the timeless sounds of Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney and Tom waits. As always, Swift’s melodies are things of beauty that radiates all of the sun’s rays onto your new day. I’d like to think Swift’s role as being the visionary producer, in the vein of George Martin for The Beatles. The musical telepathy between him and Foxygen’s France and Rado is clearly felt along the 21st Century’s compelling sonic journey. Album opener ‘In The Darkness’ is reminiscent of the opening ‘Sgt Pepper’ on The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper And His Lonely Hearts Club Band’ as France sings “So without further ado we’d like to introduce you to the darkness”. Glorious keyboards, guitar, brass, and 60’s pop laden-hooks flow endlessly beneath ‘In The Darkness”s cosmic and timeless whirlwind of sound. ‘No Destruction’ is next that wonderfully mixes Dylan circa ‘Blonde On Blonde’ and Pavement’s ‘Crooked Rain’. The result is an utterly compelling folk-pop gem. The array of backing harmonies conjures up the sound of Ray Davies and The Kinks. The opening line on verse 2 is perhaps my favourite Foxygen lyric: “I’m talking to my grandma who lost her arms in the war”. A few notes later, France sings “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore” that could be Malkmus singing of his dislike for The Smashing Pumpkins in ‘Range Life’. The sprawling vocals during the line “Oh but the door of consciousness isn’t open anymore” is an ode to Dylan and sounds somewhere between ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde On Blonde’.

My favourite must be ‘On Blue Mountain’. This song marks the genuine promise for what this young band could become, one or two albums down the line. The song opens with an organ and a seductive slow beat. The cosmic sphere tapped into here is paralleled with ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ by The Flaming Lips. A sonic depth and soulful dimension is penetrated. I love France’s soul-drenched falsetto on the verse, amidst the delicate guitar tones. The song evolves into a gospel indie-rock opus, that is nothing short of spectacular. The backing harmonies share the burning spirit of Jackson 5, and an anthem is born. The tempo slows on the second verse, as France Sings “I was looking through the bible”. The song turns from soul to blues in one fleeting moment. A windswept feel of nostalgia is etched gorgeously across the sonic canvas of ‘San Francisco’. The vocal interchange between Sam France, Jessie Baylin, and Sarah Versprille exudes the magical realm of the songs of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. A mystical charm radiates from the pop ballad that is placed perfectly between The Zombies and The Kinks. The art and beauty of a pop melody, as ever, lies at the heart of Foxygen’s mission as ambassadors of peace and magic.

A short interlude of a raging blues jam (think Link Wray and 70’s Detroit) forms the bridge between part A and B of the album. ‘Shuggie’ follows next. A beautiful, heartfelt soul-pop gem is born. ‘Shuggie’ contains a doo-wop feel and funk rhythm that exhibits the special realm of the lost classic ‘Inspiration Information’ by Shuggie Otis. The immaculate production and layers of instrumentation is a joy to witness. This was released as a single back in 2012, and continues to stop me in my tracks. The sound of The Band, Motown, and Phil Spector are floating in the song’s headspace, as a technicolor of sound is imprinted on your heart and mind. ‘Oh Yeah’ reminds me of Beck’s ‘Modern Guilt’ where a Dangermouse production and crystalline guitar sound comes in waves through the speakers. This song has it all. There are Keith Richards licks of fat guitar tones, T-Rex and Bowie-esque songcraft, and the irresistible soul-funk of Prince. Towards the end, as France shouts “Freak out”, raging guitars and drums conjure up the sound of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.

The title-track is the album’s rock ‘n’ roll anthem, as the vocals of “We are the 21st century/goin’ to kick your ass boy” exudes the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges. The falsetto vocals transports me to Eddie Cochran’s ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’. The closing section evolves into a sublime torchlight gospel refrain. ‘Oh No 2’ is a soulful pop ballad that belongs somewhere between Todd Rundgren’s 70s pop and the soundscapes of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. I cannot wait to hear what Foxygen do next. With ‘We Are The 21st Century…’ there are no borders and the possibilities prove endless.

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‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic’ is out now on Jagjaguwar. 

http://foxygen.bandcamp.com

http://www.jagjaguwar.com

Written by admin

April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm