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Albums of the year: 2018

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Presented here is a list of our favourite (ten) albums from 2018. As difficult a task as this proved, we decided ultimately to choose the albums that we found ourselves turning back to time and again over the last twelve months. 

 

10. Earl Sweatshirt – “Some Rap Songs” (Columbia Records)

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Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, otherwise known as Earl Sweatshirt is a rapper, producer and DJ whose third studio album ‘Some Rap Songs’ was released last month to universal acclaim. The sublime hip hop voyage deals – in part – with the loss of his father, poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile.

“Me and my dad had a relationship that’s not uncommon for people to have with their fathers, which is a non-perfect one,” Earl wrote. “Talking to him is symbolic and non-symbolic, but it’s literally closure for my childhood. Not getting to have that moment left me to figure out a lot with my damn self.”

On the opening verse of the seductive dub groove ‘Shattered Dreams’, Sweatshirt asks “Why ain’t nobody tell  me I was bleedin’?” Masterful production and sun-blissed harmonies serve the rich ebb and flow of the cut’s gradual flow. The rapper pleads “Please, nobody pinch me out this dream” beneath the dreamy, hypnotic beats on the following line.

Memories of his father permeates throughout the lucid ‘Red Water’: “Papa called me chief/Gotta keep it brief” beneath stunning soulful  pop hooks. On the R&B inflected rhymes of ‘Nowhere2go’, the Los Angeles rapper explains the need to “redefine himself” and ultimately ‘Some Rap Songs’ finds Kgositile do exactly that.

The poignant ‘December 24’ is a menacing, slow brooding gem that places Earl’s poetic prose beneath cinematic piano tapestries. ‘On The Way!’ contains a sumptuous soul/funk groove. The tempo is slowed on the transcendent single ‘The Mint’ (featuring Navy Blue), another slice of pristine hip hop that serves a parallel alongside the likes of Madvillain and J Dilla such is its divine spell.

This compelling fifteen-track album reflects a hip hop artist that has further evolved and continually develops his unique and immense talents.

‘Some Rap Songs’ is out now on Columbia.

http://earlsweatshirt.com/
https://www.facebook.com/EarlSweatshirtMusic/

9. Marissa Nadler – “For My Crimes” (Bella Union/Sacred Bones)

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Marissa Nadler, one of the most cherished songwriters of our time, returned with her captivating eighth studio album ‘For My Crimes’ last Autumn. The Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter has carved out eleven deeply affecting and soul-stirring sparse laments whose immediacy and emotional depth resonates powerfully throughout.

It feels as if the essence of the song is captured magnificently to tape wherein each beautiful folk noir exploration navigates the depth of the human heart with naturalness and ease. In contrast to the more polished and layered records that came previously (the magnificent ‘Strangers’ and ‘July’ LPs), Nadler’s intimate song cycles contain quite minimal instrumentation that crafts a hypnotic spell and striking intimacy (intersecting the sound worlds of Townes Van Zandt and Stina Nordenstam).

Nadler co-produced For My Crimes with Lawrence Rothman and Justin Raisen at Rothman’s Laurel Canyon studio, House of Lux. A stellar cast of incredible female musicians joined the recording sessions,  including vocals from Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and Kristin Kontrol, Patty Schemel (Hole, Juliette and the Licks) on drums, Mary Lattimore on harp, and the great experimental multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin on strings.

Some of the finest, most empowering songs of Nadler’s career is dotted across ‘For My Crime’s intense narrative. Emotive strings and meditative acoustic guitar drift beneath Nadler’s majestic vocal delivery on the windswept beauty of the album’s glorious title-track (and fitting opener). Nadler asks “Please don’t remember me/For my crimes” on the deeply moving, dusk-lit chorus.

The swell of electric guitar and drums create a post-rock grandeur on the sublime ‘Blue Vapour’: a raw energy is unleashed with each and every pulse. The hard-hitting impact of Nadler’s supreme songwriting gifts is distilled on the heartfelt lament ‘Dream Dream Big In The Sky’ which feels as if the words and music are somehow encapsulated in the faded dreams of the clouds above.

‘For My Crimes’ is out now on Bella Union/Sacred Bones.

https://www.marissanadler.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MarissaNadlerMusic/

8. Tirzah – “Devotion” (Domino)

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The year’s finest debut album undeniably comes from London-based songstress and producer Tirzah. The immense talents of this young artist can be felt throughout the album’s utterly contemporary and unique eleven songs. Steeped in R&B, soul and pop spheres, Tirzah’s fresh and alluring compositions very much belong to the here and now whose beguiling song structures forever push the sonic envelope. ‘Devotion’ is written and produced with composer and childhood friend Micachu with gorgeous pop sensibility and minimal production at the heart of the album’s gripping heart and soul.

The striking immediacy – and directness – of these songs makes a profound impact. The deeply affecting downbeat-soul of ‘Gladly’ is a delightful, heart-warming love song with hypnotic vocals and gradual beat. “All I want is you/I love you/Gladly, gladly, gladly” sings Tirzah on the breathtaking chorus. There is simplicity in the song (so it seems) but a complexity in the emotional connection. A gospel, R&B lament. ‘Holding On’ contains a quiet confidence and strength as the 80’s synth pop feel radiates throughout. Again, the minimal nature of these songs forges such deep emotions and colour.

The album’s towering title-track features guest vocalist Coby Sey with his soulful falsetto serving the perfect counterpoint to Tirzah’s understated voice and pristine beats. “So listen to me” is repeated like a mantra; reminiscent of James Blake’s downtempo creations. Tirzah sings “I want your arms” on a later verse, sung with such emotion and sincerity. This duet forms the vital heart of the album’s second half.

The guitar funk groove of the following cut ‘Go Now’ packs significant weight: “Don’t raise your voice to me” is sung in a delicate, near-hushed falsetto on the opening verse. Vulnerability is inherent in this breath-taking soulful lament. Acoustic piano patterns serve the sonic backdrop to the sparse ‘Say When’, brimming with melancholic shades of loss, “I felt you gone and now I am lost”.

Devotion’ heralds a significant new voice in contemporary music.

‘Devotion’ is out now on Domino Recordings.

https://tirzah.net/
https://www.facebook.com/TirzahMusic

7. Mary Lattimore – “Hundreds Of Days” (Ghostly)

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Having first discovered Los Angeles-based harpist and composer Mary Lattimore’s 2013 debut ‘The Withdrawing Room’ (released on Desire Path Recordings), each new release has been a hugely exciting discovery. On this year’s ‘Hundreds Of Days’ – and third release for the prestigious Ghostly label – Lattimore’s ethereal, dream-wave bliss of her harp-based compositions casts a spacious, luminescent and captivating sound world of unknown dimensions.

The gorgeous album opener ‘It Feels Like Floating’ feels just like that: the sacred harp tapestries drift in the ether of faded dreams amidst swathes of celestial harmonies. Utterly timeless. Jonsi’s Healing Fields remix is a fascinating re-interpretation that conveys the inspirational quality of Lattimore’s hugely unique and shape shifting compositions.

Guitar, keyboard and percussion is added on the poignant folk gem ‘Never Saw Him Again’: forging a dreamy pop opus from a past we have not yet quite arrived upon. The soundscapes and intricate layers continually build, as if reawakening some once-vivid memories of a loved one. The sparse ‘Hello From the Edge of the Earth’ maps the human heart and Lattimore’s love of the natural world. The lyrical quality of this piece is quite something to behold.

Baltic Birch’ blossomed from Lattimore’s trip to Latvia where she was struck by the abandoned resort towns along the Baltic Sea.  A desolate landscape is etched across the ambient soundscapes with the electric guitar haze recalling Lattimore’s collaborations with Jeff Ziegler.

The LA-based harpist – in much the same way as fellow contemporaries Julianna Barwick, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and so on – possesses the ability to transport you to an entirely new realm wherein the music becomes beautifully buried in the pools of one’s mind. ‘Hundreds Of Days’ is yet another gleaming treasure in the composer’s storied career.

‘Hundreds Of Days’ is out now on Ghostly International.

https://marylattimoreharpist.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/harpistmarylattimore/

6. Actress & London Contemporary OrchestraLAGEOS” (Ninja Tune)

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‘LAGEOS’ is the utterly compelling, shape shifting debut full length release from renowned electronic producer Darren Cunningham (aka Actress) and the London Contemporary Orchestra. At the heart of this captivating record is both artists’ ceaseless fascination with sound wherein new pathways of discovery are forever attained.

The first traces – committed to tape at least – was last year’s beguiling ‘Audio Track 5’ EP. The divine title-track (which is also found halfway through the record’s second half) comprises of beautifully drifting strings that float amidst crunching percussive rhythms and piano patterns. The splicing of the various components creates a shimmering odyssey of rapturous, luminous soundscapes, where the abstract techno sphere is masterfully blended with modern classical elements. Importantly, lines become blurred throughout ‘LAGEOS’, one cannot pinpoint to any one musical landscape, for it is a far-reaching kaleidoscope of timbres, textures and tones.

LCO’s Hugh Brunt has described the collaboration as being “about exploring an ambiguity of sound that sits between electronic and acoustic spaces.”

It is a joy to discover new contexts and insights into the cherished Actress discography as classics such as ‘Hubble’, ‘N.E.W’ and ‘Voodoo PosseChronic Illusion’ become a deep stream of consciousness and energy flow. The meditative bliss of ‘N.E.W’ with an endless array of enchanting instrumentation, supplied by the LCO, flows deep into your veins. The irresistible cosmic groove of ‘Voodoo Posse’ serves the record’s fitting penultimate track before the joyously empowering ‘Hubble’s techno fueled odyssey maps one’s innermost fears and dreams.

‘LAGEOS’ is out now on Ninja Tune.

https://www.ninjatune.net/artist/actress
https://www.lcorchestra.co.uk/

5. Low – “Double Negative” (Sub Pop)

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The much beloved Minnesota trio sculpted one of their finest, most empowering works to date with ‘Double Negative’, released earlier this year on the Seattle label Sub Pop. In similar fashion to 2015’s ‘Ones and Sixes’, the band enlisted B.J. Burton (James Blake, The Tallest Man on Earth) for production duties but here, the dazzling experiments are developed much further, forging deeply moving collages of cinematic, charged rock odysseys that seep into one’s very own consciousness. Abrasive beats and dazzling electronic components melt alongside Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s heavenly – soul searching – harmonies and Neil Young-esque guitar echo and reverb.

A dark undercurrent permeates throughout the record, reflecting these dark, uncertain times we find ourselves in. The brooding and hypnotic ‘Trying To Work It Out’ is classic Low with the slowcore bliss of Sparhawk’s highly emotive vocal delivery: “I saw you at the grocery store/I know I should have walked over and say hello/It seemed like you were in a hurry/I didn’t want to slow you down/So I figured out I should let you go.” Dissonance abounds. In many ways, the record serves a parallel with Nick Cave’s latest ‘Skeleton Tree’ – both records are borne out of a sea of darkness and despair but both records ultimately possess an incalculable empowering capability.

The delicate beauty of the meditative ‘Always Up’ is a precious ballad that depicts the frustration dispelled by the world today. The chorus refrain of Mimi Parker’s angelic vocal delivery “I believe I believe I believe I believe/Can’t you see Can’t you see Can’t you see?” emits a cathartic energy flow that is steeped in an unfathomable beauty. Rawest of emotions flood out of these recordings, feeling both vital and colossal in equal measure.

How the songs fade into one another is another marvel of ‘Double Negative’: the multi-layered textures and static that envelopes the space; creating something considerably larger than the sum of its parts. ‘Fly’ is one of the album’s most stunning moments with its Mimi Parker-led soulful dimension “Leave my weary bones and fly” is the deeply affecting chorus that reduces you to tears upon each visit. How the infectious bass groove melds with Parker’s falsetto leaves you dumbfounded such is its unwavering beauty. Uncertainty breathes heavily throughout. But there is hope buried deep in its gorgeous soulful strut.

‘Double Negative’ is out now on Sub Pop.

https://www.chairkickers.com/
https://www.facebook.com/lowmusic/

4. Djrum – “Portrait with Firewood” (R&S Records)

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UK producer Felix Manuel (AKA Djrum) is responsible for one of the most poignant, soul-stirring electronic records of the year with his R&S debut full-length ‘Portrait with Firewood’. The wide range of sounds – everything from modern classical and ambient soundscapes to gripping techno and dubstep flourishes – is one of the hallmarks of this remarkable tour-de-force. The emotional depth of Manuel’s electronic works is perhaps the most alluring trademark of Djrum’s scintillating sonic voyage. For example, the intoxicating electronic-infused classical opus ‘Blue Violet’ (one of the most mind-bending tracks of 2018) unleashes a timelessness that is all too rare in today’s dance music. Analog synths and strings are masterfully woven together amidst beautifully cinematic spoken word segments. “Do you remember how you told me about lightning striking? All of those things you told me to wait for?” is softly uttered by a female voice, beneath meditative piano notes. ‘Blue Violet’ details love, passion, obsession and all points of the human condition – the spirit of Nils Frahm and Jon Hopkins radiates throughout this towering composition.

Waters Rising’ sees Manuel collaborate with vocalist Lola Empire, crafting a beguiling soulful R&B techno gem. Several of Djrum’s piano improvisations serve the initial sketches of these compelling explorations. Techno bliss is etched across the album’s central tracks ‘Creature Pt 2’ and ‘Sex’; the latter fusing introspective piano and violin motifs and intoxicating techno/jungle beats (further highlighting the boundless nature of Djrum’s enveloping sound).

Describe by Djrum as a “confessional record”; the melancholic shades come to the fore on the record’s final third. The highly immersive ‘Sparrow’ is one of the record’s defining moments wherein a spoken word segment floats majestically beneath intricate layers of jazz inflections: “I’ll show you my scars/You show me the stars”. A rich poignancy is inherent in each of ‘Portrait with Firewood’s luminous musical works.

‘Portrait with Firewood’ is out now on R&S Records.

https://djrum.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/DjrumMusic/

3. Penelope Trappes – “Penelope Two” (Houndstooth)

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London-based artist Penelope Trappes’ sophomore full-length ‘Penelope Two’ – and follow-up to her essential debut ‘Penelope One’ for Optimo Music – casts a hypnotic, luminous spell through its stunningly beautiful song cycles: drenched in reverb that somehow drift into the ether of our innermost fears. The stark intimacy of the Australian-born composer’s compositions is what strikes you immediately; evoking the timeless spirit of early 4AD artists (This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins) and kindred spirits of Grouper’s Liz Harris and Tropic Of Cancer.

On the album’s gripping centrepiece ‘Maeve’, the chorus refrain of “let go” is repeated beneath delicate piano chords and lucid guitar haze. I feel ‘Penelope Two’ becomes a process of letting go: to allow the waves of anguish and pain wash over you and, in  turn, to wrap your troubles up in dreams. The raw emotion distilled in Trappes’ soaring vocals casts infinite rays of solace and hope as light flickers from within the depths of darkness.

The way in which the drone infused ambient instrumentals (‘Silence’; ‘Kismet’; ‘Exodus’) are masterfully interwoven with the vocal-based song structures (‘Connector’; ‘Burn On’; ‘Maeve’) creates one cohesive whole of staggering beauty and emotional depth. The ethereal dream pop gem of ‘Connector’ possesses endurance to overcome the darkness. The immaculate production and divine soundscapes immerses the listener inside a wholly other realm. The chorus refrain “I am the connector” epitomizes the magical, far-reaching qualities of Trappes’ immense songwriting prowess.

‘Penelope Two’ is out now on Houndstooth.

https://penelopetrappes.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/penelopetrappes/

2. Julia Holter – “Aviary” (Domino)

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The peerless Los Angeles songwriter and composer Julia Holter has long been carving out the most ground breaking and breath-taking avant pop masterworks and this year’s ‘Aviary’ reveals an artist at the peak of her powers. The album’s enthralling fifteen compositions explore further into bewitching experimental terrain as an abstract canvas of vivid textures, colour and timbres ascend into the forefront of one’s heart and mind.

The immaculate instrumentation and mesmerizing arrangements – a constant throughout Holter’s cherished songbook – lies at the heart of these stunning song cycles. The epic ‘Chaitius’ opens with gorgeous orchestration of strings, brass and choral lines that conveys the kaleidoscopic vision of the American composer’s newest musical venture. These sprawling, vast pieces feel as if the soundscapes could glide forever into infinity (and beyond). Holter sings “Open my wings with joy” on the opening verse; conveying the artist’s search for love and solace “amidst all the internal and external babble we experience daily”. The way the composition evolves and develops is akin to a process of self-discovery or acceptance. The vocoder/spoken word segments emits such rich imagery that reflects “the melting world” of today’s chaotic world we find ourselves in. Euphoria and an awakening sensation abounds on the glorious crescendo of Holter’s trusted ensemble (double bass as ever adding seductive rhythmic pulses to the sacred sound worlds effortlessly created). The continual striving for direction never feels far away: “Who will tell me what to do? Don’t say to feel so alove.”

It is clear with ‘Aviary’ that Holter effortlessly delves deeper into experimentation with sound; perhaps the first cue for the song’s inception was a sonic idea during the music-making process. The hypnotic, meditative lament ‘Voce Simul’ begins with a cosmic jazz bassline groove beneath Holter’s hushed vocal delivery and ethereal trumpet lines. The spoken word passages are masterfully blended with this cinematic backdrop: “I was just about to go outside” utters Holter on a later verse – inviting the listener on a wholly unique journey. As ever, the past and future become masterfully placed together – at once akin to “a distant mirror” of “a hundred minds” as Holter asks “How did I forget I’m part of the dust?”

The lead single ‘I Shall Love 2’ combined with its sister song – and symphonic rejoice – ‘I Shall Love 1’ form integral components of each half of ‘Aviary’s striking narrative. The former is yet another pristine pop oeuvre with gorgeous melodic flourishes and an awakening of the senses. The song’s deeply empowering rise “That is all that is all/There is nothing else” is a joy to savour; I visualize the moving scenes of the guiding angels in Wim Wender’s ‘Wings of Desire’ who listen to the thoughts of its human inhabitants. In a similar fashion, ‘I Shall Love’ (both movements) offers comfort and warmth.

The soaring beauty of ‘Words I Heard’ is steeped in 60s pop grandeur and Laurel Canyon pop perfection. How Holter’s achingly beautiful voice blends with the strings evokes a dream within a dream; a labyrinth of ancient and modern times – transposed to one sprawling, poignant canvas. The creative process is beautifully articulated on the fitting album closer ‘Why Sad Song’: “Oh ideas, Idea – oh why the words are made of?” But it is the dazzling, contemporary pop tour-de-force ‘Les Jeux To You’ that illustrates just how far ‘Aviary’s journey takes you on. The playful use – and richness – of words combined with the futuristic pop backdrop carves out something wholly unique and otherworldly. The deeply moving quality of Holter’s sacred artistic works is forever etched in the song’s gripping foundations: “I can hope for it today/I wonder though, if my heart tells me everything I need.”

‘Aviary’ is out now on Domino Recordings.

https://juliaholter.com/
https://www.facebook.com/juliashammasholter/

1. Nils Frahm – “All Melody” (Erased Tapes)

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Our most cherished record of the year undoubtedly comes from world-renowned, Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm’s latest masterpiece ‘All Melody’.

The immense beauty – and immensity – of the far-reaching soundscapes dotted across “All Melody’s musical landscape is a joy to savour. A myriad of sacred tones are effortlessly spliced together like that of the double helix pattern of each DNA molecule found inside our cells. It is as if a towering composition like “Sunson” unfolds, mutates, and transforms before your very eyes: the soaring juno synthesizer is melded gorgeously with the otherworldly sounds of the handmade pipe organ. The seamless array of colours and textures creates an empowering ripple flow of emotions. Choral odysseys dissolve into this vast sea of forgotten dreams. As the piece continually builds, the interlinked rhythms are forever over-lapping; magical moments within moments are captured at each and every pulse.

Modern-classical, dub and avant pop spheres are masterfully blended together on ‘A Place’. The inner dialogue between the components (choir, strings, percussion, synthesizer, and rhodes) creates a deeply bewitching symphony of celestial sounds. How the female voice is mixed with the luminescent juno synthesizer provides a significant milestone in “All Melody’s mind-bending oeuvre. Gripping dub beats awash with soul-stirring strings. The sonic terrain has expanded, almost exponentially. It feels as if a deep symbiosis exists between all of its vital elements; each one inter-dependent of one another, reacting, breathing and growing as the loop drifts forever into the ether of unknown dimensions.

The possibilities are endless. “#2” fades in – almost subliminally – as the embers of “All Melody” gradually dissolve. Techno bliss is masterfully etched across the sprawling canvas of synthesizer arrangements, creating, in turn, psychedelic dreams orbiting the furthest reaches of one’s inner consciousness.

The album’s penultimate track “Kaleidoscope” conveys the visionary nature of Frahm’s music: the pattern of the interwoven elements (choir, organ and synthesizer) is constantly changing; forever in motion and altering in sequence (in turn, generating endless possibilities). The immaculate exploration feels at once ancient and utterly contemporary; a joyously uplifting creation with its dazzling ebb and flow akin to a river finding its sea.

All Melody” is a defining record for the ages. This is a journey into sound.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://www.nilsfrahm.com/
https://www.facebook.com/nilsfrahm

Guest Mixtape: Marissa Nadler

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We are delighted to present to you a special guest mixtape compiled by the world-renowned Boston Massachusetts-based songwriter Marissa Nadler. 2016 saw the release of Nadler’s latest masterpiece, “Strangers”, released via Bella Union (UK) and Sacred Bones Records (USA). “Strangers” finds Marissa Nadler’s sonic palette expanding (synths and drumbeats are at times added to Nadler’s voice and guitar). But despite the added instrumentation and more intricate arrangements, a purity forever remains in the treasured songbook of Nadler’s forever timeless oeuvre. Beautiful subtleties exist within the sonic tapestries while striking imagery such as disintegrating cliffs, towering skyscrapers, darkening woods and deep rivers are offset with characters often feeling at odds with the world they find themselves in (or more accurately find themselves suspended into, all of a sudden). There’s a tangible sense of contrasting dichotomies lying at the heart of “Strangers” (between the familiar and the unfamiliar; safety and danger; darkness and light; life and death) which makes the journey Nadler takes us on all the more real. Tangible. Life-affirming. And like a silent witness we can quietly navigate that darkness with her. For we are not strangers after all.

Marissa Nadler – Fractured Air Mix – January 2017

01. Gene Clark“Gypsy Rider” (live) (Firefly Entertainment)
02. Scott Walker“Duchess” (Philips)
03. Black Mountain“Cemetery Breeding” (Jagjaguwar)
04. Black Mountain“Space to Bakersfield” (Jagjaguwar)
05. William Bell“I Forgot To Be Your Lover” (Stax)
06. Sonny Sharrock“Who Does She Hope To Be?” (Axiom)
07. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds“Rings of Saturn” (Bad Seed Ltd.)
08. Funkadelic“Maggot Brain” (Westbound)
09. Angel Olsen“Shut Up Kiss Me” (Jagjaguwar)
10. White Lung“Kiss Me When I Bleed” (Domino)
11. Grouper“Headache” (Yellow Electric)
12. Grouper“I’m Clean Now” (Yellow Electric)

‘Strangers’ is out now on Bella Union (UK) & Sacred Bones (USA).

Compiled by Marissa Nadler, 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

https://www.facebook.com/MarissaNadlerMusic
https://marissanadler.bandcamp.com/

Albums of the Year: 2016

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Presented here is a list of our favourite albums from 2016. As difficult a task as this proved, we decided ultimately to choose the albums that we found ourselves turning back to time and again over the last twelve months. The exercise also reminded me of memories when growing up of reading interviews featuring our favourite musicians, what used to strike me so much was the number of times they would describe their favourite albums as being like “friends” to them. These albums were anything but material possessions, these wax and cardboard sculptures were simply part of their lives: their very identity, even. The following is a selection of sixteen albums released during 2016 which we feel fortunate to now call friends of our own.

Artwork: Craig Carry
Words: Mark Carry

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(i). Oliver Coates – “Upstepping” (PRAH Recordings)

Several ground-breaking records from 2016 can be attributed to the gifted talents of British cellist and composer Oliver Coates. The London-based composer’s sophomore full-length release ‘Upstepping’ is undoubtedly the year’s most accomplished, innovative and compelling musical journeys with its meticulously crafted and sumptuously layered cello-based compositions that carves out techno-fueled waves of pure bliss and transcendence. ‘Upstepping’ is indeed (in the words of Coates) “pumped-up body music”. From album opener ‘Innocent Love’, which immediately evokes the sound of Four Tet’s ‘There Is Love In You’ with its hypnotic female vocal line to the deep house groove of ‘Perfect Love’ (think Autechre, Aphex Twin), a world of shimmering cello-based sound-worlds are being channeled from the cosmos. Coates’s current activity of “distorted cello play over sequenced dance music” (Coates wrote for his exclusive Guest Mixtape) remains the most ground-breaking and original sounds to have surfaced in 2016.

“Upstepping” is out now on PRAH Recordings.

http://www.olivercoates.com/
https://www.facebook.com/olivercoatesmusician/

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(ii). Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “EARS” (Western Vinyl)

Last Spring during a conversation with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, she described her primary objective for her latest full-length ‘EARS’: “I wanted to create a sense that the listener was on a 3-D motion ride through a futuristic jungle and I had to create an arc from start to finish that took the listener on a journey”. These eight otherworldly compositions created by the L.A. based composer and producer were immediately noted for their extraordinary colours, textures and striking multi-dimensional forms. The rich instrumentation encompasses a myriad of organic and synthesized sounds as Smith’s utterly hypnotic voice melds with her trusted Buchla synthesizer and an intricate array of woodwind and brass arrangements. Cosmic bliss appears at each and every turn: the dazzling mantra of ‘Rare Things Grow’ is steeped in African music traditions; ‘Envelop’s meditative melodic pulses and the epic closing transcendence of ‘Existence In The Unfurling’. Later in 2016 came the equally exceptional ‘Sunergy’ LP – a collaboration between Smith and electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani – as part of the RVNG Intl label’s FRKWYS series.

“EARS” is out now on Western Vinyl.

http://www.kaitlynaureliasmith.com/
http://westernvinyl.com/

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(iii). Jóhann Jóhannsson – “Orphée” (Deutsche Grammophon)

This year saw the eagerly awaited new studio album – and first in six years – from the renowned Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Incorporating music for solo cello, organ, string quartet, string orchestra and unaccompanied voices, ‘Orphée’ represents Jóhannsson’s finest hour, whose fifteen divine compositions captured here feels like a distillation of the master composer’s life’s work. The utterly captivating ‘A Song For Europa’ belongs in the same stratosphere as Gavin Bryars’ ‘Jesus Blood’ such is its cinematic brilliance: a spoken word sample becomes embedded deep in the music, speaking so profoundly. ‘A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder’ is steeped in unwavering beauty as rejoice and hope flicker onto the horizon amidst a soaring string section (performed by Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra). A lost companion to George Delerue’s ‘Camille’.

In the words of Jóhannsson: “Orphée is for me about changes: about moving to a new city, leaving behind an old life in Copenhagen and building a new one in Berlin – about the death of old relationships and the birth of new ones”. As ever, the Icelandic master composer has crafted a challenging, utterly breathtaking and shape-shifting experience. A piece such as ‘Good Night, Day’ (featuring Jóhannsson’s close musical collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir) paints life’s fleeting, transient nature onto a vast canvas of enchanting sound, before ‘Theatre of Voices’ (conducted by Paul Hillier) brings ‘Orphée’ to an astounding climax.

“Orphée” is out now on Deutsche Grammophon.

http://www.johannjohannsson.com/
http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/

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(iv). Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Skeleton Tree” (Bad Seed Ltd.)

On lead single – and album opener – ‘Jesus Alone’, a devastating apocalyptic world descends upon us amidst sparse arrangements of piano and brooding synthesizer drones: “You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field/Near the river Adur.” On Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ sixteenth studio album, a captivating, harrowing and deeply moving experience is forged as Cave’s songs navigates the heart of darkness.

The achingly beautiful gospel lament ‘Rings of Saturn’ exudes a healing power, which could belong on ‘The Boatman’s Call’ alongside ‘Brompton Oratory’. Scenes from John Hillocat’s ‘The Road’ (one of the many breathtaking scores Cave & Ellis have penned) is etched across the heartbreaking, tear-stained canvas of ‘Girl In Amber’. On a later verse, Cave mourns: “I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the world/In a slumber til your crumble were absorbed into the earth.” A brooding darkness seeps into your bones on ‘Magneto’ – the album’s most gripping and intense moments – where buzzes of electric guitar drifts beneath Cave’s whisper-like pleas. The hypnotic mantra of “In love, in love, I love, you love” shares the cosmic spirit of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ ventures in the slipstream. A catharsis permeates the “heaven bound sea” of ‘Anthrocene’ with surreal, near-mythical dimensions somehow attained, which could depict Herzog’s ‘Aguirre, The Wrath of God’s haunting, doomed expedition. The sublime ecstasy of ‘I Need You’ is wrapped in impossible beauty; an empowering ballad that could belong to the ‘Lyre Of Orpheus’ sessions.

Skeleton Tree’ is a lament from the depths of darkness and despair: “With my voice, I am calling you.”

“Skeleton Tree” is out now on Bad Seed Ltd.

http://www.nickcave.com/

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(v). Jessy Lanza – “Oh No” (Hyperdub)

The Canadian songwriter and producer’s sublime sophomore full-length ‘Oh No’ (Hyperdub) showcases an artist at the peak of her powers, crafting some of the most beguiling synth pop creations of 2016 (and beyond). Made in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, with production partner Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys, the seductive pop hooks and R&B gems crafts a joyously uplifting haven of euphoric sounds. As Lanza says “I want to make people feel good and I want to make myself feel good”. Infectious energy permeates ‘VV Violence’ and ‘Never Enough’ (reminiscent of classic Junior Boys and Caribou) whilst elsewhere the stunning ballads ‘I Talk BB’ (Lanza’s voice ascends to the forefront of the mix) and ethereal haze of closing cut ‘Could B U’. The infectious groove and affecting vocal delivery of ‘It Means I Love You’ crafts one of the record’s defining moments, soaked in reverb and compelling drum machines. Most recently, ‘Oh No No No’ remix EP has surfaced, with gorgeous reworks by DVA (‘Going Somewhere’), DJ Taye x DJ Spinn’s remix of ‘Could B U’ and Morgan Geist’s rework of ‘I Talk BB’.

“Oh No” is out now on Hyperdub.

http://jessylanza.com/
http://www.hyperdub.net/

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(vi). Peter Broderick – “Partners” (Erased Tapes)

The gifted American composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has crafted his most captivating, emotive and transporting works to date on his latest masterwork ‘Partners’. This collection of solo piano music not only sees the beloved sound sculptor come full-circle in many ways but also delving deeper and further into music’s boundless orbit and life’s great mystery than ever before. In essence, the artist has effectively removed himself from the activities of the sounds he makes, in turn, creating piano music so pure, mysterious and far-reaching, evoking the timeless sounds of older generation masters such as John Cage and Lubomyr Melnyk. Hugely inspired by John Cage’s chance techniques and visionary spirit, Cage’s own composition ‘In A Landscape’ serves the vital pulse to ‘Partners’s aching canvas (having fallen in love with the piano once again during the process of transcribing this seminal piece, note-by-painstaking-note). Compositions such as the utterly transcendent ‘Carried’ unleashes a haven of heart-wrenching emotion as celestial harmonies meld effortlessly with mesmeric piano patterns, and ‘Up Niek Mountain’s drifting cosmic reverb-laden piano tapestries become interwoven deep inside the listener’s thoughts and dreams. The closing ‘Sometimes’ is a cover version of Brigid Mae Power’s divine ballad, the record for which is dedicated to Brigid. A freedom abounds on ‘Partners’ as the sacred piano notes become transcribed from the very composer’s subconscious mind.

“Partners” is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://www.peterbroderick.net/
http://www.erasedtapes.com/

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(vii). Xylouris White – “Black Peak” (Bella Union)

Xylouris White is the inspired collaboration between Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian, Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White. Both composers are legends in their own right, the former through his Cretan lute-led sounds of the Xylouris Ensemble, the latter through his membership of mythical Australian trio Dirty Three and myriad of collaborations over the years. The sheer expanses covered on the band’s sophomore full-length ‘Black Peak’ is staggering. The opening rock opus ‘Black Peak’ and ‘Forging’s momentous rock’n’roll rhythms are followed by the poignant parable of ‘Hey, Musicians!’ and divine epic love song, ‘Erotokritos’. Ancient traditions are interwoven with contemporary, avant-garde musical structures, forever embedded deep inside a mysterious, enchanting and cosmic space. ‘Black Peak’ invites the listener to inhabit the far-reaching plains of life’s mysterious and kaleidoscopic landscape. As depicted on the striking narrative of ‘Hey, Musicians!’, music indeed never ends.

“Black Peak” is out now on Bella Union.

http://www.xylouriswhite.com/
http://bellaunion.com/

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(viii). Loscil – “Monument Builders” (Kranky)

The Canadian ambient artist Scott Morgan’s latest masterwork unleashes a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout; belonging to a dichotomy of worlds where an engulfing cloud of prevailing darkness prevails in tandem with the radiant light of hope and survival. Delicately beautiful ambient soundscapes drift majestically in the ether alongside the more intense, pulsating sound worlds. Take for example, how the fragile pulses of ‘Deceiver’ flows effortlessly into the glorious crescendo of ‘Straw Dogs’ or how the stunningly beautiful album opener ‘Drained Lake’ is gradually followed with the techno-infused ‘Red Tide’. A wall of intense moods, colour and textures flood these sonic creations, creating one of Morgan’s most accomplished and concise records to date. The addition of horn arrangements (recalling Philip Glass) immediately casts an ethereal quality; harmonies meld beautifully with a collection of old synths, warm textures of drone soundscapes.

“Monument Builders” is out now on Kranky.

http://www.loscil.ca/
http://www.kranky.net/

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(ix). The Avalanches – “Wildflower” (XL)

2016 saw the return of The Avalanches after sixteen years with their long-awaited second album. The pertinent question for the duo was how could a band follow-up a seminal classic like ‘Since I Left You’ but the duo have managed to create a kaleidoscope of rejuvenated, cosmic sounds. An endless array of samples, hip-hop rhymes, lucid beats, celestial harmonies and pop-laden hooks fill ‘Wildflower’s exhilarating voyage where cameo appearances from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis, Father John Misty and Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick all stop by. ‘Wildflower’ is one of those perfect summer records: the Laurel Canyon-era sunshine pop of ‘If I Was a Folkstar’ and ‘Because I’m Me’s funky soulful strut and seductive Ariel Pink-esque ‘Subways’ are just some highlights. The heart-stopping ‘Saturday Night Inside Out’s dreamy haze and poignant epicentre serves the perfect closer to ‘Wildflower’s glorious psychedelic pop oeuvre.

“Wildflower” is out now on XL Recordings.

http://www.theavalanches.com/
http://xlrecordings.com/

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(x). Amiina – “Fantômas” (Mengi)

Icelandic outfit Amiina’s latest adventure, ‘Fantômas’, was originally composed as a live score to a silent masterpiece from 1913 (‘Fantômas’ was a French silent crime film serial directed by Louis Feuillade, based on the novel of the same name). Importantly the music stands on its own, independent of the visual narrative that, in turn, marks a brave new chapter in Amiina’s cherished songbook. The band’s Fantômas score is menacing, dark and brooding as it is steeped in delicate beauty and vivid hope. The cinematic opening title-track begins with a slow rhythmic pulse before haunting strings cast an eerie disquiet. The main theme’s melodic motif is masterfully revisited on the sublime ‘Lady Beltham’ before vivid dappling of light ascend on ‘Crocodile’. The closing electronic-oriented ‘L’Homme Du Noir’ explores adventurous new horizons. As ever, immaculate instrumentation of violin, cello, drums, percussion, metallophone, table harp, ukulele, and electronics graces the listener akin to the gradual fading light at dusk or a bird’s majestic flight across vast skies.

The score Fantômas premiered in Paris in 2013 at the prestigious, Théâtre du Châtelet, where Amiina, together with musicians James Blackshaw, Tim Hecker, Loney Dear, and Yann Tiersen, took part in a special Halloween event (curated by Tiersen), celebrating the centenary of the Fantômas series, directed by the French film director Louis Feuillade in 1913-1914.

“Fantômas” is out now on Mengi.

http://www.amiina.com/
http://www.mengi.net/

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(xi). Carla dal Forno – “You Know What It’s Like” (Blackest Ever Black)

The Australian singer-songwriter’s masterful debut solo album ‘You Know What It’s Like’ marked undoubtedly the year’s most dazzling and exciting debuts. Released on the prestigious Blackest Ever Black imprint, lead singles ‘Fast Moving Cars’ and ‘What You Gonna Do Now?’ revealed adventurous avant pop song structures to get beautifully lost in. Forno asks “Did you want this to last a long time?” over a gorgeous haze of meditative bassline grooves and drumbeat on the luminous ‘Fast Moving Cars’. Forno’s voice – a truly formidable instrument – melts and dissolves in the other-worldly pop spheres, conjuring up the timeless sound of ‘Tragedy’-era Julia Holter and Brian Eno’s visionary early 70’s pop gems. A striking emotional depth resides throughout, reflecting on failed relationships, love, loss and the impermanence of it all. Loneliness is etched across the canvas of the album’s title-track, sharing the colours and shades of Miles Davis’s ‘Kind Of Blue’ and Nico’s celestial voice with its yearning, searching feel: “What you gonna do now that the night’s come and it’s around you?” Elements of dub, post-punk, psychedelic folk and avant pop sounds shimmer majestically throughout: from the late 60’s psych folk of ‘Drying In The Rain’ to the dub-infused odyssey ‘DB Rip’s wave of synthesizers. The stripped-back closer ‘The Same Reply’ serves the record’s most breath-taking moments; distilled in lost love.

“You Know What It’s Like” is out now on Blackest Ever Black.

https://www.facebook.com/carladalfornoyes/
http://blackesteverblack.com/

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(xii). Andy Stott – “Too Many Voices” (Modern Love)

The renowned UK producer Andy Stott delivered his highly anticipated follow-up to 2014 classic ‘Faith In Strangers’ in the form of ‘Too Many Voices’ last Spring via the peerless Manchester-based imprint Modern Love. The gifted producer continued to explore new sonic terrain and tap into new emotional depths with gorgeous dub step, electronic, grime and 80’s synth pop flourishes. On Stott’s fourth studio album, breathtaking synth washes of ‘New Romantic’ (with nods to This Mortal Coil) and soulful seduction of ‘Butterflies’ (the record’s lead single) are interwoven with utterly compelling dubstep techno for the dancefloor (‘First Night’) and crystalline ambient chill-wave bliss (‘On My Mind’). The title-track and album closer perhaps serves the record’s glorious climax with masterfully arranged choral harmonies (supplied by longtime vocal contributor Alison Skidmore who appears on half of the record) and euphoric production (think Holly Herndon crossed with the Yellow Magic Orchestra), providing one of the tracks of 2016 in the process.

“Too Many Voices” is out now on Modern Love.

http://modern-love.co.uk/

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(xiii). Katie Kim – “Salt” (Art For Blind)

‘Salt’ sees the revered Irish musician explore deeper into the ethereal dimension, for which she has long ago established. The hypnotic guitar drone of ‘Day Is Coming’ envelops the deepest of fears and anguish, culminating in a swirling symphonic haze of heavenly harmonies and brooding strings. ‘Someday’ is a delicately beautiful piano lament and searching prayer for hope. The striking intimacy and hypnotic spell cast by the gifted songwriter throughout ‘Salt’ unleashes the most deeply affecting batch of songs to have been unearthed for quite some time. Sonically, the latest record is a partnership between O’ Sullivan and producer John Murphy, whose expansive, guttural soundscapes of album opener ‘Ghosts’ and centerpiece ‘I Make Sparks’ are masterfully contrasted with the closing fragile piano ballads ‘Thieves’ and ‘Wide Hand’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives with the pulsating ‘Life Or Living’; a euphoric exploration into the depths of darkness. An image depicted on the second verse becomes the engulfing embodiment of ‘Salt’s realm of raw emotion and blissful transcendence: “Holding my hand now the tides incoming/Make us a shield so the light won’t get in.”

“Salt” is out now on Art For Blind.

https://katiekim.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/DANCEKATIEKIMDANCE/

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(xiv). Marissa Nadler – “Strangers” (Bella Union, Sacred Bones)

“Strangers” finds Marissa Nadler’s sonic palette expanding (synths and drumbeats are at times added to Nadler’s voice and guitar). But despite the added instrumentation and more intricate arrangements, a purity forever remains in the treasured songbook of Nadler’s forever timeless oeuvre. Beautiful subtleties exist within the sonic tapestries while striking imagery such as disintegrating cliffs, towering skyscrapers, darkening woods and deep rivers are offset with characters often feeling at odds with the world they find themselves in (or more accurately find themselves suspended into, all of a sudden). There’s a tangible sense of contrasting dichotomies lying at the heart of “Strangers” (between the familiar and the unfamiliar; safety and danger; darkness and light; life and death) which makes the journey Nadler takes us on all the more real. Tangible. Life-affirming. And like a silent witness we can quietly navigate that darkness with her. For we are not strangers after all.

“Strangers” is out now on Bella Union (UK) / Sacred Bones (USA).

http://www.marissanadler.com/
https://marissanadler.bandcamp.com/

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(xv). Brigid Mae Power – “S/T” (Tompkins Square)

Brigid Mae Power’s stunningly beautiful latest solo full-length – and Tompkins Square debut – is an album drenched in reverb-soaked emotion and lament. Enchantingly performed and produced, the record showcases a songwriter of immense talent in a soundscape that naturally merges itself to Brigid Power’s engulfing sound. The magic lies in the songwriter’s expression of raw emotion, in all its delicate beauty. Themes include transformation, change, motherhood, acceptance, strength, courage and trust. In the words of Power, the album is about “trusting if you lose yourself or your way — you can come back.”

Such is the album’s timeless brilliance, the nearest parallels that can be drawn to Power’s quietly unassuming, divine artistry are those blessed folk spirits of bygone times such as Sibylle Baier, Tia Blake or Margaret Barry. As reflected in the lyrics of closing heartfelt lament of ‘How You Feel’, this deeply personal and intimate set of songs become a place of hope and solace where the path laid out in front you is filled with the light of day and sea of love.

“Brigid Mae Power” is out now on Tompkins Square.

http://brigidmaepower.com/
http://www.tompkinssquare.com/

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(xvi). Syrinx – “Tumblers from the Vault (1970–1972)” (RVNG Intl)

A collection of experimental synth music culled from the early 70’s Toronto music scene is beautifully celebrated by the ever-indispensable Brooklyn-based RVNG Intl label on the shape-shifting, genre defying musical document, ‘Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)’. The band in question are the avant-garde three-piece Syrinx whose wholly unique hybrid of chamber pop and electronic experimentation crafts an utterly timeless journey into the limitless possibilities of music. The dreamy, lo-fi gem ‘Hollywood Dream Trip’ remains as vital and fresh as the day it was recorded. The sprawling epic ‘December Angel’ dumbfounds the listener in its sheer beauty and compelling sound: a piece of music from some future age, unknown and mysterious all at once. Psychedelic flourishes are etched across the more electronic-oriented ‘Ibistix’; the amalgamation of distorted voices and cosmic strings creates a symphony of rapture and transcendence.

Syrinx consisted of composer and keyboardist John Mills-Cockell, saxophonist Doug Pringle, and percussionist Alan Wells. Syrinx’s self-titled debut arrived in 1970, followed in 1971 by ‘Long Lost Relatives’, which is highlighted as the first album on Tumblers From The Vault. Re-issue of the year, hands down.

“Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)” is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://igetrvng.com/syrinx-tumblers-vault/

Designs for the first ten albums are by Craig Carry, a limited edition series of screen prints (each edition is limited to 25 copies) have been created to coincide with Fractured Air’s favourite albums of 2016. Prints will be available to purchase online from January 2017. 

With very special thanks to each and every one of our readers. Wishing you all a peaceful and happy new year.

https://fracturedair.com/

Chosen One: Marissa Nadler

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

“The times you think of speaking
There is nobody near
The times you think of listening
There is nothing to hear
There is nothing to hear”

—Bill Fay, “Narrow Way” (1971)

Words: Craig Carry, Interview: Mark Carry

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For well over a decade now, the beloved Boston Massachusetts-based songwriter Marissa Nadler has been quietly amassing a soul-stirring body of work which is both unrivalled amongst her peers while (almost effortlessly) managing to channel the same spirit as earliest U.S. folk musicians from bygone times. Two years on from the mesmerising “July” (an album that “details the events of my life from one July to the next”) there are noticeable points of departure on “Strangers”, Nadler’s seventh full-length album, released via Bella Union (UK) and Sacred Bones (USA).

Interestingly, “Strangers” finds Nadler’s sonic palette expanding (synths and drumbeats are at times added to Nadler’s voice and guitar). But despite the added instrumentation and more intricate arrangements, a purity forever remains. Beautiful subtleties exist within the sonic tapestries (feint synth passages hinting at harmony or choral works, recalling the likes of Bert Jansch or Townes Van Zandt, L.A. Turnaround or Our Mother The Mountain, for example). Crucially, Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Black Mountain) remains on production duties. Like kindred souls Tucker Martine or Thomas Bartlett, Dunn’s mystical sleight of hand somehow manages to faithfully preserve the spirit of his subject’s artistry while making the songs an even more heightened experience for the listener in the process. He manages to bring us closer, even – we are less strangers than witnesses – all the while meticulously fine-tuning Nadler’s prized songs, only always for the sake of the song.

While previous works have been explicitly “autobiographical” in nature, lyrically there is a certain sense of the surreal mixed with the personal here. Songs do not seem to occupy clear focal points while their genesis don’t seem to be limited only to lived experience. Imagery such as disintegrating cliffs, towering skyscrapers, darkening woods and deep rivers are offset with characters often feeling at odds with the world they find themselves in (or more accurately find themselves suspended into all of a sudden). There’s a tangible sense of contrasting dichotomies lying at the heart of “Strangers” (between the familiar ad the unfamiliar; safety and danger; darkness and light; life and death) which makes the journey Nadler takes us on all the more real. Tangible. Life-affirming.

While the listener looks to navigate their own way through the dense maze of Nadler’s grippingly challenging and irresistibly cinematic sonic canvas on “Strangers” one finds oneself looking for recognisable points of reference, as if on the search for evidence of the familiar (reassurances, even). The lack of a fixed point of view (and therefore no clearly defined sense of a known space or time) forms the basis to Nadler’s haunting gothic tales here. We find ourselves suddenly suspended inside an already-moving orbit or an already-unfolding story with no known sense of a beginning or ending. The startling effect is akin to experiencing the short stories of George Saunders, Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetée’ or perhaps the still photographs of Paolo Pellegrin.

Like all of Nadler’s previous works, it proves a futile exercise to limit an album’s achievement by merely isolating individual songs. For Nadler has over the last twelve years also attained a true mastery and wide-eyed appreciation to the full potential of the album as an individual piece of work, a living document to her own craft (and life). From the heart-stopping piano-led ballad “Divers of the Dust”, we can immediately feel the impending sense of danger that may be about to unfold: “Divers of the dust / You can help me if you must”. “It’s hard to know / When to let go” sings Nadler in the haunting “Katie I Know” (interestingly, referencing names – whether fictional or otherwise – has often formed the basis for some of Nadler’s most prized songs, take “Dead City Emily” or “Janie In Love” for instance), it seems like a perfect analogy to what a songwriter’s mindset must be: constantly aware of the present tense even as it becomes the past, open to every living experience as it unfolds in the here and now. Whether such gifts can be attributed a blessing or a curse must be oftentimes blurred.

As the world in the songs of “Strangers” begin to disintegrate and dissolve around us, moments of epiphany and realisation abound too. Central characters find themselves at places they formerly called home only to find themselves feeling an unnerving sense of alienation; only seeing the unfamiliar in the familiar. Other moments of realisation occur on “All the Colours of the Dark” when Nadler sings: “This is not your world anymore” across a glorious backdrop of chime-like piano notes and a steady (as if reassuring) drumbeat (recalling the timeless songs of Mark Linkous’s Sparklehorse).

Indeed, Nadler’s divine art has always been about losing oneself in a moment only to regain that sense of self (ultimately through the songwriter putting pen to paper) once more. The cycle continues as we continually – and ultimately – find out more about ourselves in the process. One can always find solace and hope in the joy that Marissa Nadler’s timeless songbook brings, for she majestically navigates that narrow way so we don’t have to. And like a silent witness we can quietly navigate that darkness with her. For we are not strangers after all.

“Strangers” is available now on Bella Union (UK) and Sacred Bones (USA).

http://www.marissanadler.com/

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

Congratulations Marissa on your sublime new record, ‘Strangers’. This batch of songs represents your finest work to date; such empowering songs of heartbreak awash in a kaleidoscope of ethereal and otherworldly musical patterns. Please discuss for me the making of ‘Strangers’ and how the (music-making) process changed in any significant way from your previous ‘July’ LP?

Marissa Nadler: Thank you so much for the very kind words. My process is always about the song. You can’t build a house without the foundation. These songs could have gone many different directions sonically, though I knew I wanted the melodies, structures, harmonies, lyrics, instrumental lines to remain the same. I was more open to experimenting this time around with adding drums and creating more dynamics in a purely musical sense.

‘July’ marked your first collaboration with producer Randall Dunn and he remains at the helm for ‘Strangers’. I feel this deep dialogue between you both can be felt throughout the new record’s expansive and adventurous sonic terrain. Can you talk me through the transformation of these songs (from the original demos) as they bloom into their final entities? How do you feel the collaborative process has developed with Randall?

MN: I think Randall has a very good pulse on what my influences are- ranging from girl groups to spaghetti western soundtrack- to shoegaze- to 70s prog rock to classic rock to country balladeers.. I think he’s also into stuff I’m not as familiar with, and working with someone who brings their own unique influences into the mix can result in a unique amalgamation of sounds. He’s also a great friend and has a wonderful circle of talented musicians with him that make working with him even better.

‘Katie I Know’ embodies the rich beauty (forever) inherent in your mesmerising folk tales. Tell me about the characters depicted in ‘Strangers’, Marissa? The layering and sumptuous arrangements of a song such as this leaves a profound impact on the listener. I wonder was this song a significant breakthrough or gateway into the rest of the record? 

MN: I don’t think of them as characters (this record or the last few).. They are real people in my life but I guess they’ve become characters now that they are in these songs.
Katie I know is a really personal song. I’m very happy you like the layers. I wasn’t sure what people were going to make of it but at the same time I knew that I was happy with it so…

Please take me back to the recording of ‘Strangers’? One record that comes to mind when reflecting on the immaculate production and highly emotive quality is Julee Cruise’s ‘Floating Into The Night’. ‘Strangers’ encapsulates that ethereal dream-pop realm so masterfully. Would you often have reference points (in terms of records or perhaps poetry, authors, films) when it comes to beginning a new chapter in one’s songbook?

MN: I honestly don’t intentionally go about making any certain genre. Influences just have a way of getting into the brain. I will say that the impetus is not usually books or records.. it’s usually personal relationships and experiences that are catalysts to my songwriting.

The sparse lament ‘Dissolve’ serves the perfect close. Again, the record’s aesthetic quality and dynamic range creates a surreal backdrop to your deeply moving songs of loss and heartbreak. As always, an undying light of hope resides deep in the songs. Can you shed some light on the writing process, Marissa? 

MN: Thank you. My writing process is very organic and intuitive. I just led the melody lead me.

What do you feel were the defining records for you Marissa, in terms of leading you towards your songwriting path?

MN: There’s so many it’s truly impossible to list.. but I would say generally that I gravitate towards pure music.. pure voices, pure emotion. It doesn’t matter what genre. My first true music loves were Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Elliott Smith, Townes Van Zandt, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, Neil Young. I mean more than anything I truly grew up immersed in those kinds of songwriters.

I would love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories: the first song you wrote, the records in your family home that made a big impression and your life in music to this day? 

MN: I have to say that I have very few childhood memories that are more than colors and feelings. It’s very strange but I do not know the first song that I wrote. I remember always loving to sing though.

“Strangers” is available now on Bella Union (UK) and Sacred Bones (USA).

http://www.marissanadler.com/

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May 28, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Fractured Air 32: A Far Cry (A Mixtape by Cillian Murphy)

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Fractured Air 32: A Far Cry (A Mixtape by Cillian Murphy)

To listen on Mixcloud:

http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/fractured-air-32-a-far-cry-a-mixtape-by-cillian-murphy/

 

Tracklisting:

01. Evenings ‘Goodbye Forever’ [Friends Of Friends]
02. The Books ‘Smells Like Content’ [Tomlab]
03. SBTRKT (feat. Caroline Polachek) ‘Look Away’ [Young Turks]
04. Tonstartssbandht ‘5ft7’ [Dœs Are]
05. Peter Peter ‘Une version améliorée de la tristesse’ [Audiogram]
06. Panda Bear ‘You Can Count On Me’ [Paw Tracks]
07. Blake Mills ‘If I’m Unworthy’ [Record Collection, Verve]
08. Amen Dunes ‘I Know Myself’ [Sacred Bones]
09. Los Angeles Police Department ‘Seven Months’ [Forged Artifacts, Chill Mega Chill]
10. Tweedy ‘Fake Fur Coat’ [dBpm, Anti-]
11. Neil Young ‘Motion Pictures’ [Reprise]
12. Tobias Jesso Jr. ‘Hollywood’ [True Panther Sounds]

Irish actor Cillian Murphy has starred in numerous award-winning roles over the years; for film, theatre and television. Murphy made his stage breakthrough in Enda Walsh’s ‘Disco Pigs’; the special collaboration also resulted in 2012’s blistering one-man show ‘Misterman’ and 2014’s ‘Ballyturk’, starring Murphy alongside Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea. With two seasons filmed to date, BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’, written by Steven Knight, stars Murphy as Thomas Shelby set in 1920’s Birmingham and co-starring Sam Neill, Helen McCrory and Tom Hardy. Murphy’s extensive film work to date includes: Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’, Ken Loach’s ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’, Neil Jordan’s ‘Breakfast On Pluto’, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Rufus Norris’s ‘Broken’ and Ron Howard’s ‘In The Heart Of The Sea’, due for release in March 2015.

To listen to Cillian’s previous mixtape, ‘Seeing Things’, click HERE.

To follow Fractured Air you can do so on Facebook HERE, or Twitter HERE.
http://fracturedair.com

Albums & Reissues Of The Year: 2014

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

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

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Albums of the year:

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Grouper ‘Ruins’ (Kranky)

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

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

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‘Ruins’ is available now on Kranky.

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

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Caribou ‘Our Love’ (City Slang/Merge)

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

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

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

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

http://www.caribou.fm

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

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Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)

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

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

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

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‘Are We There’ is available now on Jagjaguwar.

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

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Clark ‘Clark’ (Warp)

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

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

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

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‘Clark’ is available now on Warp.

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

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

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

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

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

http://hauschka-net.de/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christina Vantzou ‘N°2’ (Kranky)

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

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

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‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.

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

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Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)

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

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

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‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available now on Denovali.

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.marissanadler.com/

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

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Reissues of the year:

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

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

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

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

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

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Lewis ‘L’Amour’ (Light In The Attic)

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

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

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

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

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One Of You ‘One Of You’ (Little Axe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fikret Kızılok ‘Anadolu’yum’ (Pharaway Sounds)

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

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

http://lightintheattic.net/

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

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

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Web: http://fracturedair.com

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

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Chosen One: Amen Dunes

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Interview with Damon McMahon.

“If you’re listening to the ‘White Album’ or ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star or you know, ‘Let It Be’ by The Replacements – that’s a kind of shitty example but has the ballad break on the middle of the record and there are some acoustic songs on it – those records are so diverse and that was what my brain was formatted with as a young kid. I think I always try and make diverse music because of those records.”

—Damon McMahon

Words: Mark Carry

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Amen Dunes is the musical guise of Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Damon McMahon who has delivered one of 2014’s most affecting and infinitely special records in the form of ‘Love’, released on Sacred Bones Records earlier this year. A spiritual dimension permeates throughout ‘Love’s sprawling canvas of sound that captures the cosmic spirit of spiritual jazz greats such as Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders; ‘Astral Weeks’ era Van Morrison, the reverb-drenched guitar-pop odysseys of Galaxie 500 and the New York independent music scene. As ever, the latest Amen Dunes full-length forges an intimate and personal journey that lingers in the slipstream of one’s heart and mind long after the music has faded into memory’s past.

The solo project of McMahon’s Amen Dunes began with recordings made in Autumn 2006 in upstate New York. Those tapes were never intended for release but while living in Beijing for the next few years, McMahon would continue to write and record songs. Finally, 2009 saw the release of ‘DIA’ on Locust Music followed by the sublime ‘Murder Dull Mind’ (containing gorgeously sparse acoustic folk laments) on Sacred Bones Records in the summer of 2010. ‘Through Donkey Jaw’ would follow next, an album more fully-realized and a more band-oriented sound than previous works. ‘Love’ represents McMahon’s most compelling and accomplished batch of songs to date, where a cathartic energy is released with each tower of song.

In contrast to the largely improvisational first-take affairs of previous records, ‘Love’ is the product of close to a year and a half of continuous work. At the core of Amen Dunes’ sound lies a formidable trio of gifted musicians: McMahon (vocals, guitars) and his long-time collaborators Jordi Wheeler (guitar, piano) and Parker Kindred (drums). The recording sessions took place in Montreal with Dave Bryant and Efrim Menuck of God Speed You! Black Emperor and guest appearances from Colin Stetson (saxophone) and Iceage’s Elias Bender-Ronnen Felt (who duets on two tracks).

Some of the great hallmarks of ‘Love’ (and indeed the distinctive sound of Amen Dunes) is the album’s lo-fi production style, McMahon’s hypnotic voice (a powerful and healing force) and psychedelic guitar style. I like to see ‘Love’ as a vinyl LP in the classic sense, where a resolutely unique world unfolds as the needle is spun. Ten songs; ten visionary tales that encompasses an endless array of illuminating moments that in turn, shapes the world around you. Take ‘Rocket Flare’, for example (which opens part B of ‘Love’s fulfilling voyage).  This brooding opus exists in its own stratosphere; recalling the timeless spirit of ‘Zuma’ era Neil Young as Wheeler’s mesmerising guitars blends effortlessly with McMahon’s delicate vocals. ‘Sixteen’ takes you to someplace else. The tender piano ballad evokes a purity and innocence that could be taken from the cherished songbook of Daniel Johnston. Moments later, the Americana gem of ‘Lilac In Hand’ moves “like a shadow” into “the salty air”. The meditative lament exists in a separate time and place, somewhere familiar yet mysteriously unknown. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the record’s closing song, the album’s title-track and all of its eight-and-a-half minutes of glorious redemptive qualities and healing power. Delicate percussion and soulful piano chords embrace the deeply honest song-writing prose of McMahon. A sense of pain, loss — and yet flickers of hope and solace shine forth like embers from a burning flame — exudes from the achingly beautiful harmonies that conjures up the sound of The Beach Boys, Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’ and ‘Beggar’s Banquet’-era Rolling Stones. ‘Love’ feels like a culmination.

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‘Love’ is available now on Sacred Bones Records.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Amen-Dunes/
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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AmenDunes

Interview with Damon McMahon.

I had the pleasure to see you live recently in Poland as part of the ATP show with Dean Wareham. It was amazing to witness your live performance, it was really special.

Damon McMahon: Oh thanks man. That was a special show for me, it was very cool to be there.

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The reaction from the audience was lovely, where you could really sense the occasion.

DMcM: Yeah they were really amazing, they were very attentive.

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I must congratulate you on the new album, ‘Love’, it’s a really amazing record.

DMcM: Thanks man. Thank you.

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I was really interested to realize only recently how you took a lot of time on this album; it must have been really interesting for you to take your time with the songs this time around as opposed to doing it so quick and spontaneously?

DMcM: Yeah, it was a very different approach to things. The results were very different, you know. Instead of being impressionistic first-take kind of discovery of music, it was a real labour of love. And I worked on it for over a year which I’ve never done before. So yeah, it was a big shift.

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I love too how – they’re your own songs of course – there is a lovely collaboration between you and the members in the band and you could really sense that seeing you live as well; that kind of connection between you all.

DMcM: Cool, that’s good man. I mean it’s very important to think like, the way we interact as a trio is very important to the band I think. Me and Jordi Wheeler, the guy on piano and guitar – and the guy you saw play with us is a kind of temporary drummer who was playing all the original drummer’s parts, this guy Parker [Parker Kindred] – it’s very much like a symbiotic relationship.

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In terms of making the album then Damon, were they integral to the songs from the very start or is it a case you have them fully-formed in your head before you get to them?

DMcM: I have them fully written, I write all the songs – it’s all written when I bring them to the band – but they help give the songs a certain direction, I think. So Parker comes up with all the drum beats and Jordi will normally add a piano or a guitar part that’s strongly melodic and that part will really give the song a lot of character. I mean there are some songs where Jordi didn’t play on at all on the record. There are a handful of songs where it’s just me and Parker – I do all the overdubs and Parker plays the drums. Some songs like ‘Lonely Richard’, the slide guitar is Jordi and it’s a very definitive piece of the song. Or ‘Love’ for example, I wrote that on guitar but Jordi transcribed it to piano and that really changed things. And yeah, it’s just natural.

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That sounds great. I’m always fascinated with any band and how the songs always mutate or change as you go along.

DMcM: Yeah, I love changing songs. I like playing them different you know, over the years. I do this like a kind of jazz operation, in a way in that I have these standards and I like to alter them over the years. I mean some of these songs have been out forever. The song called ‘Baba Yaga’ that was on ‘Through Donkey Jaw’ I wrote in 2006, so I’ve been playing it for eight years and it’s still so fresh because we can hone new shit out of it every time, you know.

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Like any great album, it grows and grows but there’s a wonderful kind of spiritual element and sense of a journey on the album as a whole.

DMcM: Thanks man. Good, I’m happy that comes across. That was the objective.

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I must say ‘Lilac In Hand’ is one of my favourite songs. Again, like any song-writing, I love how there are certain lyrics – it could be more like a phrase – I love how they really stick with you as well, like “move like a shadow” for example.

DMcM: That’s great man. I think words are so important. For that song, I wouldn’t say they’re the most poetic on the record – I wouldn’t say there’s the most substances – but I put a lot more thought into the lyrics of ‘Love’ as there’s tons there. ‘Lilac In Hand’ is more like a short poem or something and it’s a little abstractive. I still feel that even if it’s abstract, the lyrics should have weight, and stick. Yeah, that’s cool, I’m happy that that comes across.

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I love too the range of styles you have on the album and the dynamic, you know as well. The lovely piano ballad ‘Sixteen’ and there’s the more band sounds. There’s that dynamic where it changes throughout.

DMcM: Cool, yeah it was really important for me. I’m a real LP obsessive. My whole life I’ve always studied the format of albums and the way people sequence and the way people balance albums out with productions. If you’re listening to the ‘White Album’ or ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star or you know, ‘Let It Be’ by The Replacements – that’s a kind of shitty example but has the ballad break on the middle of the record and there are some acoustic songs on it – those records are so diverse and that was what my brain was formatted with as a young kid. I think I always try and make diverse music because of those records.

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Well that really comes through because as you say even, as a vinyl too there is part A, B, C and D and you have all these different little worlds in the one overall album.

DMcM: That’s great man, I really care about that ‘cause I spend a lot of time figuring out the sequencing, the whole balance of it, you know. And I wanted this to be an album where you could listen to it on many levels. Let’s say ‘Lilac In Hand’ for example. My mom could like that song probably because it’s like a pleasant pop song but if you listen carefully, it has this kind of other mood to it. And even thematically, it sounds like nothing but even for ‘Lilac In Hand’, they’re all euphuisms for copping drugs in New York City. You wouldn’t necessarily know that but you know, all these songs have a second meaning and dimensions to them that are important to me.

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I’d be interested to know would a lot of New York and living there come through the songs so, almost sub-consciously?

DMcM: Definitely, yeah because Jordi, Parker and I are all from New York. Jordi was born in the city, Parker was born in Jersey and I was born in Philadelphia but we all grew up in New York and outside of New York so we’ve been here forever. Yeah, we’re very much New Yorkers and I think that this album is at once very organic and natural but also very New York and urban. I think of it as a New York album, for sure. I always wanted to make, you know as pretty as it gets it always has to be tough, it’s like a requirement. You can’t like, you can’t use them unless it has that toughness to it, it doesn’t work so I think that’s the way the New York thing comes across.

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I love too, how on the surface of some songs, there’s the brightness and those beautiful melodies but there’s that dark undercurrent, you know the contrast between dark and light as well.

DMcM: Yeah I thrive to carry that through, you know. I never want it to be just one or the other.

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Do you reckon Damon you will spend as long on your follow-up album or what the nature of the next record will be? I know it’s a bit early to say.

DMcM: I like every album to be very different. So my plan for the next album is for it to be relatively quick and clear and muscular so that’s the sort of idea I have for it, so far. So, more electric guitars and more volume and tight melodies, like that’s my idea. It’s coming out a year from now actually, it’s coming out in either September or October of next year. Actually I don’t really stop working I guess [laughs] I just got home from Europe a week ago so we were just on tour and I’ve been in the studio all week recording a new EP that’s coming out in January. So, last night I had this amazing recording experience because my friend Ben Greenberg who has a project called Hubble and he also played bass in The Men for a while; he lives upstairs and he came downstairs and he played on a song with me – which is a cover of a This Mortal Coil song, a Tim Buckley cover called ‘Song to the Siren’ and we did a version of it last night and it sounds really beautiful so I’m excited about it. And that’s going to be out in January.

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Wow that sounds amazing. I love the art of cover songs, I’m always intrigued by that.

DMcM: Yeah me too. I love covers and the way you put your own stamp on things.

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And speaking of electric guitars, I love the sound you get on ‘Rocket Flare’.

DMcM: That’s Jordi, the lead thing is Jordi, yeah. I love that part too.

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For the recording sessions themselves, it must have been really fulfilling to record with the guys in Godspeed! You Black Emperor?

DMcM: Yeah it was man. It was cool. I love collaborating with people who are talented and to be able to witness and incorporate their abilities.

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In terms of records that you think were important for you, you know as a musician and artist, I wonder are there certain albums you think of that you’re obsessed with?

DMcM: I sort of have my favourite albums of all time that informs me a musical human and then there’s the music that I listen to today which is very different. I mean today, the only new music is electronic music and instrumental music from Europe. But the albums that informed me as a kid you know, ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star, ‘Forever Changes’ by Love, ‘Happy Sad’ by Tim Buckley, the ‘White Album’, ‘Exile On Main St’, ‘American Beauty’ by the Grateful Dead and the band The Las from Liverpool. Those are the albums I’ve been listening to since I was thirteen or fourteen. They’re like the bunch of records that are like my favourite of all time. But I’ve listened to so much over the years, it’s like a million different realms. At my core, I would say those are some of my favourite records.

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It’s cool too I’m sure you find yourself coming back to them again and again?

DMcM: Oh yeah, I’ve listened to those records like thousands of times.

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And with the touring recently Damon, I’d be curious to know if some of the songs have changed since you started touring a few months ago?

DMcM: They do change, you know. My favourite singers like Bob Dylan, Alex Chilton, Tim Buckley, people that change their own songs frequently you know, so I definitely like to do that as well. So, you know I’ll try to alter the lyrics and alter the melody line when I play live and Jordi does that too on guitar. It keeps it interesting.

It’s very exciting for me to be in Ireland because half of my family are of Irish descent; half of them are from Galway and half of them are from Belfast. So it’s going to be very meaningful for me to be there. So far, the Irish fans have been amazing. We met some Irish people in Manchester and they came to see us again in London, they were really awesome, very warm and generous.

 


 

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‘Love’ is available now on Sacred Bones.

Amen Dunes performs at The Workmans Club, Dublin (Tuesday 23rd September), Dolans, Limerick (Wednesday 24th September) and The Black Mariah @ Triskel Christchurch, Cork on Thursday 25th September. For full US and EU tour dates, please see HERE.

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/Amen-Dunes/
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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Written by markcarry

September 8, 2014 at 10:49 am