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Step Right Up: Two Medicine

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One constant throughout the process was an expectation that the sound and feeling be something I desired to listen to repeatedly.”

—Paul Alexander

 Words: Mark Carry

two medicine pic

Last month saw the eagerly awaited debut solo album from Midlake bassist Paul Alexander. Under his Two Medicine moniker, Alexander crafts immaculate psych pop odysseys that navigate the hidden depths of the human heart. In a similar fashion to his Denton prog folk outfit of Midlake; Two Medicine’s songbook is at once wholly familiar and mysteriously unknown: sparse folk songs drift across the ether of Laurel Canyon and divine pop spheres dissolve across vast skies of Beach Boys grandeur. Like any remarkable record, the sounds captured on tape somehow permeates deep and far: forever delivering new meaning and rare significance.

If ever a lyric epitomized the spirit of a record it’s the gorgeous chorus refrain of lead single ‘Gold’. Alexander sings “If you dig this gold/It’s all you wanted and more” beneath crystalline synthesizer motifs and a seductive bass groove. ‘Astropsychosis’ becomes a journey of self-exploration, infiltrating the forests of one’s mind, desires and dreams. A sacred dimension is effortlessly – almost innately – tapped into here; as the songs inhabit the forest space (in which Two Medicine’s title blossomed from).

The glorious opener ‘SF’ contains rich psychedelic textures and sumptuous guitar tones that meld beautifully with Alexander’s heartfelt vocal delivery. Layers of shimmering vocals and electronics form a dense haze, evoking the spirit of Scandinavian groups – and kindred spirits – Efterklang and Dungen.

The stunningly beautiful lament ‘tmrw’ traces the lineage of those early 70’s folk masterworks of Vashti Bunyan or Bert Jansch. On the opening verse, Alexander sings “I got a call today/It’s curtains for the sparrow” beneath a soft strum of acoustic guitar. Quiet solace surrounds the melancholic shades of the fading dusk light.

The album’s title-track conveys the luminous space and artistic brilliance of Two Medicine’s debut full-length with reverb-laden piano notes and dazzling rhythmic pulses (akin to the era of The Band’s timeless ‘Music From The Big Pink’ LP). Alexander’s solo journey has only just begun.

‘Astropsychosis’ is out now on Bella Union.

two medicine 2

Interview with Paul Alexander (Two Medcine/Midlake).


Congratulations Paul on your stunningly beautiful Two Medicine debut solo record, it’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions. Firstly, please describe this public park in Montana – in which your project name I believe was taken from – and the source of inspiration nature and this particular place’s history seeped into the songs make up?

Paul Alexander: Thank you for the kind words. Two Medicine is an area with immense, mountainous valleys and glacier fed lakes in the southeastern corner of Glacier National Park. I’m sure I’m no different from most folks who visit, the place makes an impression. There is something daunting and a bit foreboding about it, as if the mountains know your thoughts. I think similar feelings found their way into the songs for sure, directly and in metaphor.

The majestic harmonies, immaculate production and pristine instrumentation are just some of the hallmarks of this formidable record. I get the impression the making of ‘Astropsychosis’ was an incredibly liberating experience? I would love to gain an insight into the record’s inception and over what time period have these songs been blooming into life?

PA: Thank you. The record was written and recorded over a 15 month period, beginning in early 2016 and ending the spring of 2017. I had a few ideas when I started, but the majority of the material was written and arranged in the studio. At the time, I had sung a good amount of backing vocals, but had never been the main vocal, so it was definitely a stroll into the unknown! I half expected the project to be abandoned, not knowing if my writing would be strong enough to warrant the energy required to finish. In hindsight, it has been quite liberating, but the process itself was often overwhelming.

A truly timeless pop sphere permeates the headspace throughout the record’s nine tracks, echoing shades of Midlake but also beautifully navigating new sonic terrain. Did you have specific reference points (be it studio albums or feelings or colour) in terms how you envisioned this record (from the outset)? What were the most challenging aspects to the creation of ‘Astropsychosis’? 

PA: Initially, I was imagining a blend of Pet Sounds with late 80’s/early 90’s shoe-gaze/dream-pop. I’m not so sure that’s really what has emerged, but it’s the world I was looking towards at the time. Most of the songs started on acoustic guitar and I tend to stack vocal harmonies, so I suppose a kind of dream folk was always hanging around, for better or worse. The project was largely a solitary endeavor, so the hardest part was to not get swallowed up in a world of minutia.

Life’s fleeting moments feel distilled on the album’s captivating title-track. ‘Gold’ is a timeless pop gem, a song I feel I have known all my life. The seductive groove to ‘SF’ is divine. But I love how the darker lyrical content is effortlessly placed beneath these pop motifs and intricate arrangements. Can you shed some light on your song-writing process and indeed if some of these songs proved much easier/quicker to write than others?

PA: Thank you. Honestly, I don’t have much of a defined process, especially since these are some of the first songs I’ve written. I tried a few approaches, yet there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to why one thing would work or another wouldn’t. One constant throughout the process was an expectation that the sound and feeling be something I desired to listen to repeatedly. Sometimes, I just didn’t think an idea was very good after I took a step back. At that point it didn’t matter how hard I had worked on it, I didn’t hesitate to find the delete button.

I suppose that most songwriters and composers can write quickly, but getting something I was willing to show others proved to be difficult. ‘Oblivion’ was probably the easiest from a composition standpoint, I had the core ideas in a few days and the arrangement came quickly compared to other songs. The synthesis aspect also developed quickly on that one, which was great. Every song developed in it’s own way, but that is mostly down to working solo, as I can only record one part at a time.

Please describe your studio set-up, a space you must be well acquainted with from Midlake recordings? 

PA: Eric Nichelson from Midlake acquired the bulk of the old recording equipment and the studio where we recorded AntiphonCourage of Others & John Grant’s, Queen of Denmark were also recorded on the same gear, but in a different studio. He was very kind to give me access throughout the entirety of the process, all I had to do was work off hours. It was a luxury for sure, as it was the only system I really knew at the time. The system is Radar, which is a bit different from the DAWs people usually use. You have to have a console and outboard, as it kind of works like a tape machine but records to a drive. It was one of the best opportunities of my life, to sit down with equipment I knew well and focus on being creative on my own ideas.

Please take me back to some of your most cherished memories with Midlake and making music together within this special group of musicians? 

PA: I really enjoyed our first Glastonbury, on the Park stage in 2010. It was a pretty great moment for us to be back on tour after the challenge of making Courage. The Glastonbury crowd was very gracious and made us feel like we belonged up there. Roundhouse in London the same year with John Grant and Jason Lytle was also really special. Speaking of John, making Queen of Denmark was a total blast. He wasn’t as well-known as he is today, but we all were really excited about his music and were super stoked to be a part of it. The Trials of Van Occupanther was a great record to be a part of, though very challenging to make. We often struggled in the studio, with lots of labor in delivery room. There were some nice times with Tim, the moments when I knew he loved what he was hearing. I think making the title track was one of those. The song was blowing us all away, then McKenzie and I started up the tape machine and got the bass and drums in a take, we knew it instantly.

A deeply spiritual and cosmic realm is wonderfully inhabited in this solo work of yours. Can you recount your memories of the recording process – and musical guests that guested on these sessions? Did you have this batch of songs fully formed in your mind prior to these sessions? 

PA: Making this record was arduous and cathartic, and I started it with so much doubt. The first 3 months were slow, I was getting a lot of sketches down but nothing had truly materialized into something I was confident in. One week, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Kuopio’ both took really big steps almost simultaneously. I was really excited and sent them to Simon. He wrote back, was very encouraging and basically said, ‘I’m digging it!’ That had to be the biggest ‘wind in the sails’ moment. Eric Nichelson played some really nice guitar for me on a couple of tunes and my buddy Evan Jacobs played keys on another. Another big hat’s off to the great Matt Pence, who played all the drums and was basically my therapist during mixing.

‘Astropsychosis’ is out now on Bella Union.

Written by admin

December 13, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Label Of Love: Bella Union

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Words: Mark Carry, illustration: Craig Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by admin

July 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm