FRACTURED AIR

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Posts Tagged ‘Sacred Bones

Albums & Reissues Of The Year: 2014

with 14 comments

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

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

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Albums of the year:

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Grouper ‘Ruins’ (Kranky)

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

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

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‘Ruins’ is available now on Kranky.

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

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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

Chosen One: Marissa Nadler

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

“I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.”

—Marissa Nadler

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Earlier this month marked the highly anticipated release of unparalleled U.S. singer songwriter, Marissa Nadler’s latest full-length album, entitled ‘July’. As ever, a special record, steeped in a fragile beauty, is masterfully created by the gifted artist whose deeply affecting songs elicits a spectrum of deepest, rarest emotion. An enriching experience unfolds across the interwoven tapestry of ‘July’ that conveys (yet again) the rarity of this special songwriter. Having released six full-length albums in nearly a decade — in addition to a plethora of home recordings, cover records and collaborative projects — the star of Nadler continues to soar the star-lit skies above us.

Album opener ‘Drive’ serves the perfect opening song as Nadler sings “If you haven’t made it now / You’re never going to make it / Seventeen people in the dark tonight” on the opening verse. An immediacy and directness prevails. The poetic prose combined with pristine instrumentation (majestic harmonies and gorgeous guitar lines) evokes an intimacy and honesty that never ceases to amaze me. The light of hope flickers amidst the void of darkness as the beguiling refrain of “Waiting for the light” forges a lasting imprint on one’s mind. The utterly gorgeous pedal steel line coalesces effortlessly with Nadler’s mesmerising voice towards the closing sections. As the notes slowly fade, a vivid sense of longing comes to the surface, akin to Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ that begins a similarly evocative and life-affirming record, ‘Songs From A Room’, from another space and time.

Joining Nadler on ‘July’ is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Whiskeytown, Jesse Sykes) on lead guitar. At the helm of production duties is Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), a first-time collaboration for the pair. ‘1923’ reveals the hypnotic spell unleashed by the tight-knit group as a cinematic backdrop is magnificently formed beneath Nadler’s achingly beautiful lament. Delicate strings are placed alongside Nadler’s gentle acoustic guitar notes on the song’s bewitching intro. The first words sung by Nadler — almost whisper-like — sets the scene of estranged lovers: “1923 he sent a letter and it reached me”. A longing is embedded deep within the words, “I called you from another century / To see if the world had been kind and sweet”. The love-lorn pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and songbook of Red House Painters could form tangible reference points on ‘1923’. A timeless sound is created that is closer to a waltz than a ballad. The chorus refrain of “Baby come back to me” is one of the many truly transcendent moments captured as a Spector-esque wall of sound seeps into the pools of your mind.

‘Firecrackers’ showcases the power and glory of Nadler’s voice. The vocal delivery is a joy to behold, particularly on the rise during the chorus refrain, “Firecrackers / Burn into heaven on the floor”. Wandscher’s pedal steel forms the ideal compliment that reminds me of the close connecting worlds of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter and Nadler’s newfound ensemble. The spirit of americana is journeyed throughout the song’s trajectory as “We have drunk our summers away” is sung on a later verse. A love song — raw and bare — is unfolded before your very eyes: “I saw your face everywhere I looked / You sat across from me / And baby I’m a ghost when you’re away”. The acoustic guitar and voice of Nadler casts a magical spell on “We Are Coming Back”, a reminder of the endless capabilities of the singer-songwriter’s solo performance. One of my favourite lyrics appears on a later verse, “Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”.

The brooding tour-de-force, ‘Dead City Emily’ traverses the darkness of one’s fears, doubts and internal struggle, but it is clearly evident as Nadler sings “Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door” that the light of hope proves victorious. A loneliness hangs in the air: “I was coming apart those days” hits you hard and deep. A lovely parallel exists between ‘Dead City Emily’ and the cinematic folk oeuvre of Nick Talbot’s Gravenhurst. Some beautiful imagery of “birds flying in the breeze”, and the “colours on the trees” that “change from red to green”. ‘Was It A Dream’ is a gorgeous folk opus that evolves into a reverb-drenched cosmic country gem. The intricate arrangements of strings and guitar creates a symphony-like, celestial sound that awakens your senses and truly heightens all that surrounds you. The beautiful rise, as Nadler sings “Hoping I wake up / Somehow next to you” beneath a crescendo of strings provides one of ‘July’s (many) defining moments and breathtaking epiphanies. Somehow, the song feels like an amalgamation of the most lucid of dreams and the insular world of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Bell Jar’.

‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is a stunning piano-based, soulful ballad. An ethereal dimension is tapped into here — bringing to mind the likes of Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell — as a road trip (from New York to home of Massachusetts) becomes the focal point. The second verse could easily be a lost verse to Mitchell’s ‘River’: “Riding back to Massachusetts / Couldn’t even see / From snow the road was studded with Christmas trees”. An illuminating spell is cast upon the refrain of “I saw fire then” as the flow of words turn to embers of a burning flame. ‘Desire’ is a glorious tower of songwriting and reveals (perhaps) the most compelling songs of ‘July’. It is how Nadler is capable of translating music and words into such affecting, vast seas of emotion. Desire is painted so strikingly clear on the song’s sprawling canvas of sound, particularly on the chorus as Nadler sings, “I could fall for you / You had eyes for me”. The songbook of Leonard Cohen comes to mind as Nadler’s sheer poetry evokes a heart that is laid bare: “You’ve got no lines on your face / Mine are mapping out the spots where we lay”.

Similar to ‘I’ve Got Your Name’, a heavenly piano-led ballad brings ‘July’ to a fitting close. ‘Nothing In My Heart’ brings to mind luminaries such as Sharon Van Etten and Nina Simone. 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.

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

Congratulations, Marissa, on your truly stunning new record, ‘July’. Words fail to begin to describe the sheer beauty and profound impact this record has had on me these past few weeks. You must feel deeply proud of your latest album, it really feels a culmination. Before the recording sessions ever took place, can you recount for me the space and time these songs were written, Marissa? 

MN: Thank you for your kindness. I feel really good about the album…I mean as much as there are always little bits of things here and there that you could record over and over and over again. Nevertheless, once you release something like an album into the world, you just have to let it fly away. Part of the art making process is learning how to let go.

I wrote the songs last year in a very concentrated period of time. I didn’t write for a long time and then I sat down and wrote about 20 songs (9 of which got cut) for the album in a few months. I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.

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I would love to gain an insight into your song-writing process. As with all your formidable records, your beautiful prose and poetic words evokes a lifetime of emotions and memories, both old and new. For example, I would love to discover the significance of the album-title of ‘July’? 

MN: Well, the album details the events of my life from one July to the next. Randall actually was the one who named it because I was struggling. I had no idea what to name it. We recorded the album in July so he suggested it and I loved the idea. I like simple, one-word titles. They are bold. Obviously, this is not a summer record. There is nothing summery about it.

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The album was recorded in Seattle’s Avast Studio, working for the first time with producer Randall Dunn (Earth, SunnO))). Also, there is a wonderful cast of gifted musicians present on these sessions, forming the ideal sonic backdrop to your deeply affecting songs. I would love for you to please reminisce on the recording sessions for ‘July’? What were your main concerns and aims from the outset and what were the typical day-to-day routines like? I can imagine it must have been a special experience.

MN: You know, I had written all of the vocal layers beforehand as parts of the actual songs. So, the first few days in the studio I was alone with Randall at the board, tracking the guitar and vocals. Then we brought everyone else in!
Honestly, I really loved working at Avast! And I am looking forward to going back there for my next project.

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The album opener ‘Drive’ is a masterpiece. It’s a fitting opening to a truly captivating journey you take the listener on. The gorgeous layers of ethereal harmonies and tapestry of acoustic guitar notes conjures up the timeless sound of Jackson C. Frank, Sibylle Baier and so on. Your mesmerising vocals are wonderfully melted beneath the mix of divine cinematic sounds and textures. Can you talk me through the construction of this song please? There are certain lyrics here that resonate powerfully for the album as a whole, I feel. “Waiting for the light” — a sense of searching is interwoven throughout the record’s divine fabric — could serve the prologue to ‘July’. 

MN: Thank you. I think that ‘Drive’ is lyrically very autobiographical. It’s all in the lyrics, in terms of what the song is about. There’s a sadness and frustration I express during the song, but also hopefulness.

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‘Dead City Emily’ is a joy to behold. You sing “Colours on the trees / Change from red to green / It’s a dead city Emily” on the opening verse that always hits me deeply. It’s the immaculate instrumentation and production of the song, and how it evolves into full-bloom towards the closing sections. Did ‘Dead City Emily’ originate as a solo acoustic demo, Marissa? Again, the theme of light and hope/survival comes to the fore as the lyric of “I saw the light today” diffuse into the mix. This is (yet another) pinnacle of the album. 

MN: All of the songs originated as solo acoustic demos…though there really isn’t much else on that track. I mean there is Steve Moore on synth and me on 12 string…maybe some bass from Jonas.

This song is about the contrast between depression and hopefulness as told to a friend.

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I love the placing of the sparse piano ballads, ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ and closer ‘Nothing In My Heart’ in part B of ‘July’. A hidden dimension is tapped into here, giving the album a heightened sense of other-worldly oblivion. I would love for you to talk me through both these songs. The immense power these songs conjure up is nothing short of staggering, where the cosmic spirit of Judee Sill beautifully drifts in the air’s atmosphere.

MN: I really enjoyed writing both of the songs, especially stacking my vocals and creating those weird harmonies. ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is definitely about someone who did me wrong. Oh dear.

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You have a rich body of work already behind you, ranging from 4-track recordings and covers albums to immense full-length releases and a plethora of collaborations. Now with ‘July’ added as the latest chapter to your cherished songbook, I would love to gain an insight into the narrative that connects these works that ties the delicately beautiful works of yours together? I’m always amazed just how prolific you are: music ceaselessly flows from your heart and mind. A new release of yours is always a unique work of divine art.

MN: I have been pretty busy in the last decade or so. I enjoy singing and writing songs and sometimes I just don’t come up for air. It’s what I do. There’s really no narrative thread other than the fact that I’m writing about my own life and the people in it, like most songwriters do.

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You will soon embark on a U.S. and European tour. How much of an inspiration does traveling and seeing different cities and countries have on the inception of a new song? You must be looking forward to these upcoming shows. Will you be joined by your trusted ensemble or will they be solo shows?

MN: I have a new band with Janel Leppin on cello/synth/vox and Nina Violet on viola/lapsteel/vox. I’m excited but also a bit nervous. I just hope that my energy stays steady and I can stay healthy on the road. To be honest, I write most of my songs when I’m at home. When I’m traveling there isn’t enough time to really take in a city. One of these days, I hope to actually go on a vacation and really see some sights.

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Lastly, I would love to know what records you’ve been listening to most these past few months?

MN: Locrian, The Dirty Three, Catherine Ribeiro and The Alpes…

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

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http://marissanadler.com
http://bellaunion.com
http://sacredbonesrecords.com

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Written by admin

February 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

Time Has Told Me: F.J. McMahon

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Interview with F.J. McMahon.

“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”

—‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, F.J. McMahon

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Last Autumn, the unique song-writing voice of F.J. McMahon came into my path — unexpectedly and unannounced — thanks to Philadelphia-based harpist Mary Lattimore’s mixtape, entitled Keeper Of Beauty. The lush baritone and warm acoustic guitar of McMahon’s ‘Early Blue’ evokes the sound of age-old traditions — folk and americana — yet steeped in a bold, adventurous spirit that undeniably belongs to the here-and-now. Lattimore’s side-notes describes ‘Early Blue’ as “a winter song to listen to in the car”. The debut album, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released on Tiger Eye in 1969 — the only document of this gifted singer songwriter — encompasses songs of such emotional depth and striking immediacy that some four decades later, McMahon’s songbook ceaselessly generates new meaning and endless artistic detail.

The beautifully written album sleevenotes perfectly surmises the music contained on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’:

“F.J. McMahon is a quiet individual in an exciting way. This is evidenced by his singing style, guitar playing and songwriting. The lyrics to his songs hit you at an abstract angle and the come off with the logic and meaning in today’s restless environment. F.J. McMahon is an artist who has something to say and says it in a simple, earthy style.”

—Tiffany Anders (taken from Tiffany Anders’ essay on the sleeve notes to ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s 2009 reissue on Rev-Ola Records)

McMahon spent a year in Vietnam as a very young man and it is these harrowing experiences that found its way into the slipstream of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s deeply affecting world of song. His experiences in Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines had a profound effect on him and upon his return to the U.S. McMahon actively participated in anti-war movements. In the words of the singer-songwriter: “I went through so many experiences between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines and not just the usual experiences you think of, but because I was military police I got to see a lot of the stuff that goes on under the rocks and behind the scenes. It was obviously such a waste of people and money and material, but these people were getting wealthy off of it! And so I was depressed, disgusted, I mean it just shattered me.”

McMahon was discharged in 1968, having fallen ill with hepatitis after a year of service. While home, McMahon actively helped his friends get out the draft. A short time later, a collection of songs would be recorded on a budget of about a dollar and 98 cents. The local Tiger Eye productions in California, offered McMahon a small recording budget whereby two takes per song were put to tape. The back-up tracks were recorded first — taking no more than half a day — after which the vocals and lead guitar were recorded in the little Accent Records offices. ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was effectively captured to tape in about a day and a half.

The spirit of Townes Van Zandt, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin can be felt throughout the nine utterly transcendent songs of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ (the album’s title was named after the brand of bourbon popular during the period). The pristine guitar parts — rhythm and lead — performed by McMahon serves the resonating pulse to these particular recordings. The singular voice of McMahon possesses vivid shades of pain, torment, restlessness, hope and survival dotted across the sprawling canvas of sound. Joining the songwriter, Jon Uzonyi plays bass and Junior Nickles plays drums. The fresh and contemporary folk sound reminds me of ‘John Wesley Harding’ era Dylan, whose songs hit you deep and hard. A magical spark floats in the air as ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ captivates the heart of the devoted listener.

The album’s title-track — and album closer — is a miracle of song-writing that reveals the brutal honesty and directness of McMahon’s absorbing creations. Throughout ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ some gorgeous electric guitar lead parts are effortlessly blended into the mix. A sense of nostalgia is etched across the song’s narrative: “Now I’m sitting in my one-man room / One day at a time / Think about the times past / And a good ol’ friend of mine” begins the second verse. The song encompasses the hardship, struggle and pain inflicted upon the aftermath of war, and, indeed, internal struggle. The first words sung by McMahon — beneath the exquisite tapestry of drums and interwoven guitar — are words of sheer poetry direct from the depths of an artist’s heart:

“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”

‘Early Blue’ is wrapped in a yearning feel that slowly envelops your very heart and mind. An achingly beautiful lament is created here, and like a rising sun, rays of illuminating light gradually falls through the cracks of despair. The voice sings to you like an old, dependable friend. The lyrics evoke imagery of springtime and someone lost in the surrounding world, particularly on the endearing chorus refrain of “And I run away”. The words are simple, personal, and reflective of a distant past: “Early blue / I see you / Through my window / Becoming lighter / As the sun gets brighter / And the night goes away”. I feel the spirit of ‘Sunflower’ era Beach Boys ascend into atmosphere as an ocean of sadness permeates throughout. The closing verse serves a guiding light to keep on keeping on: “But I know it’ll happen soon / Early blue come to my room next morning / And I’ll try to go to sleep.”

‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a folk gem straight from the sacred songbook of Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash, and would fit perfectly on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. In the words of McMahon: “It’s written about a guy who is going to prison for avoiding the draft and the sentence for avoiding the draft is five years, and where you go to prison is Levinworth, Kansas in the federal prison.” The first words resonate powerfully as McMahon asks “How does it feel to feel free?” On the following cut, ‘Enough It Is Done’, a stream of irresistible blues licks penetrate the headspace where the feel and sound reminds me of the immaculate song-craft of Sixto Rodriguez.

‘Black Night Woman’ is a spellbinding love song. A late-night feel hangs in the air as McMahon sings “I remember when she looked at me / She had stars on her eyes”. The peerless musicianship and intricate arrangements of guitars, drums and voice is clear to witness here. Happiness and pain are sunk beneath the riverbed of time, as McMahon sings “I’ll continue beside her soul”. The lyric of “the uneasy feelings that call on me” on ‘The Road Back Home’s opening verse encompasses the dark subject matter of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ that reflects the songwriter’s mindset during this period of time. I feel the extraordinary body of work, created by F.J. McMahon, is an album to closely guide you along life’s pathway, reflected in song’s chorus, “I need someone to show me the road back home”. In just under thirty minutes, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ becomes a long-lost, lifelong companion.

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Interview with F.J. McMahon.

It’s a real pleasure to talk to you about your utterly captivating and shape-shifting record, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released in 1969. It was only last year when I first discovered this lost folk masterpiece and I feel very fortunate to have done so, albeit a few years late. The album was written and recorded quite soon after your time in Vietnam, where you spent a year as part of service in the military police. Can you please take me back to the space and time in which ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was made? Was it a case that the songs would just flow out from you, as you reflected on life and you’re deeply affecting experiences from being based between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines? 

FJM: It was the better part of a year before I wrote anything. After seeing the news, the demonstrations, riots and how the country had changed and attending funerals of kids killed in the war it all just kind of boiled over.

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It amazes me to learn that ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was recorded in about a day and a half. Your singular guitar playing and style combined with your poetic lyrics evokes such a vivid canvas of raw emotion. Can you please recount for me those couple of days in which the songs were recorded to tape, F.J.? I love the layering of the guitars on the tracks — the solos, the rhythm guitars — which is effortlessly placed beneath your lush baritone. You are joined by Jon Uzonyi on bass and Junior Nickles on drums. How did you first cross paths with these musicians?

FJM: The first day we (Jon, Junior and I) recorded the rhythm guitar, bass and drums. We did two takes for each song at PD Sound in LA. Second day I recorded the vocals and guitar lead at Accent in Hollywood. Scott Seeley the owner of Accent was working with Jon on his own album and Junior was just hired for the  first day. Scott Seeley played the keyboard on ‘Early Blue’.

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In terms of influences, what were the records, while growing up, that triggered your love for music? Were there particular songwriters and bands that served major inspiration for you to lead you on the song-writing path?

FJM: All early 50’s rock and pop. For guitar Duane Eddy, Ventures, all the country pickers and Hoyt Axton when he was a single folk act.

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The album’s title-track, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is a truly breathtaking closer to this special record. I feel the combination of the deeply honest and reflective lyrics and the sublime instrumentation of guitar creates in turn, the pinnacle of the album. Is it true that “Golden Juice” refers to the brand of bourbon that you drank while overseas? It makes for a wonderful title, either way. Lyrics such as “I was born like a star / Whose light had gone out long ago” and “The longer I live / The farther I find I’ve got to go” creates a profound impact on me upon each revisit. Can you please discuss writing this song, F.J. and indeed if this was the song that provided the pathway to the rest of the album? It really is a full-blown masterpiece.

FJM: Really kind words. The golden juice is I.W. Harper bourbon which is no longer made. I wrote this song second to last as it is the realization that what gives life its meaning is both the good and bad. You can’t appreciate one without the other.

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A beautiful yearning feel permeates throughout the gorgeous ballad, ‘Early Blue’. For your songs, are the words written on a page first, and a melody sometime later? I feel the spirit of albums such as Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ and the songbook of Gene Clark and Townes Van Zandt float seamlessly amidst ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’. I love the flow and aesthetics to ‘Early Blue’ and particularly, the minor key bridge as you sing “And I run away”. 

FJM: As a rule I find some chords and/or riff that I’m comfortable with and then just start humming and singing what ever words find their way out.

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Looking back on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, is there a song on the record that you feel most proud of? 

FJM: I have learned to like each one. As far as proud……….‘Five Year Kansas Blues’, a lot of people paid that price for their views.

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In the liner notes, you describe how the album’s lack of much-deserved attention and recognition was like “a harpoon to the heart for a long time”. Can you please discuss the reasons why you think this was the case? I can think of several other spellbinding albums from the early 70’s folk era that suffered from a similarly lack of good fortune. Did you tour a lot during this time, F.J.? If so, I can imagine you must have played some special concerts where you felt a close connection to the audience, particularly as your universal themes and painful subject matter resonates so powerfully?

FJM: It’s just hard when you put a lot into something and it just disappears, I would slip one of my tunes in a bar or hotel gig now and again. Sometimes folks would like it, sometimes they just clinked their ice cubes and got drunker.

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Forward several decades and ‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ gets its richly deserved re-release on the Sacred Bones record label, introducing your utterly compelling folk songs to a new generation of music fans. This must have been a special moment for you? Your work of true art receives its long-awaited acclaim and recognition. How do you see the album now, some forty years on, F.J.? For me, as a listener, I can’t believe just how fresh and engaging the songs are. The spark of creativity remains embedded deep within the album’s batch of transcendent songs.

FJM: I am constantly blown away by the how well it has been received in the past few years and very grateful. I suppose the down side is the songs seem relevant because the world is still so screwed up.

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You grew up in Santa Barbara, California and I read that you started your musical path playing trumpet in a grammar school. Can you recall the moment that triggered you to pick up a guitar and write your own songs? Also, I imagine you must have written poems quite a bit too? I find the words, alone on a page, is true art in itself when listening to your singing voice. What was it like to grow up along the coast? 

FJM: Growing up in Santa Barbara in the fifties and sixties was about as idyllic as it could get. I always wanted to be a writer but had a terrible time with alliteration. My regular stories turned out short and my short stories turned out to be songs, which I guess turned out ok in the long run. What first clicked with guitar was picking up an Elvis Presley fan mag. I thought: OK, this looks cool, beats the hell out of working at a store. What a road that started.

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‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a master-class in songwriting. Can you please recount for me writing this song? This song could belong on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ or any one of Fred Neil or Townes Van Zandt’s albums.  

FJM: Thanks again for the kind words. The Am, C, D progression just lends itself to story background. By this time I had been helping kids avoid the draft for almost a year. Some guys couldn’t get out of it and chose to go to jail. Most people don’t have the guts to make that kind of a decision of belief. I wanted to tell their story.

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I would love to know how central music is in your life today, F.J.? I would like to think you still play the guitar and write songs. If so, is there a place I can hear these post-‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ creations? 

FJM: Not a day goes by when I don’t listen or pick up the guitar and noodle around a bit. There are a couple of people thinking of re-releasing the original album with some added new songs or just putting out a second album. We’ll see what develops. Thank you very much for your interest. It’s well appreciated.

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‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is available now, via Cherry Red Records’ Rev-Ola imprint HERE and via Sacred Bones Records’ The Circadian Press imprint HERE.

http://www.cherryred.co.uk
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com

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February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

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Howe Gelb ‘The Coincidentalist’ (New West)
“The Coincidentalist is someone who can read the coincidences but who doesn’t try to figure out their meaning. For if one tries to figure out the meaning it will be lost. The coincidences aren’t there to figure out but to point the way.” (Howe Gelb)
Since last year’s excellent Giant Giant Sand LP ‘Tucson’ – where Gelb draws from his beloved hometown for inspiration – legendary Giant Sand leader Howe Gelb will return this November with has latest solo work ‘The Coincidentalist’. The album is Gelb’s first release for New West Records. Over the last three decades Gelb has produced a mightily sprawling body of work – whether as Giant Sand or under his “solo” guise – and has peerlessly fused myriad genres and traditions into his own dusty, earthy trademark sound. Highlights are too numerous to list but personal favorites include Giant Sand’s ‘Center of the Universe’, ‘Glum’ and ‘Chore of Enchantment’, as well as Gelb’s ‘The Listener’ and ‘Sno Angel Like You’. ‘The Coincidentalist’ proves to be yet another career peak for Gelb, and is available on 5 November via New West Records. 

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Rachel’s ‘Systems/Layers’ (Quarterstick)
Rachel’s wonderful “System/Layers” sounds as immaculate today as it did a decade ago on its release on US independent label Quarterstick Records. Recently, Rachel’s – formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1991 – can be heard on the soundtrack to the visually immaculate Paolo Sorrentino film “The Great Beauty”, a film set in present-day Rome. The song used by Sorrentino is ‘Water From The Same Source’, a heavenly ballad and a timeless piece of music. Rachel’s are responsible for some of the most breathtaking and ambitious music over the last couple of decades. Tragically, founding member Jason Noble passed away in 2012 but has left behind a truly remarkable musical legacy in the form of Rachel’s beloved chamber music output. Also essential is the fabulous ‘The Sea And The Bells’. For all information on Rachel’s please see here.

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Zola Jesus ‘Versions’ (Sacred Bones)
Nika Roza Danilova returned this year with ‘Versions’, her fourth Zola Jesus studio album, released at the end of August by the Brooklyn-based independent label Sacred Bones Records. The album’s genesis began when Danilova was asked to perform at New York’s Guggenheim and, on accepting the invitation, she requested her wish to work with a classical composer who could arrange her songs for a quartet. The pioneering and versatile JG Thirlwell (Foetus) who is best known in industrial music circles, was recruited for this purpose and to fulfill Danilova’s artistic vision. According to Danilova: “Versions is about the bone of the music; taking approximations from past records and turning them inside out. With all framework exposed, the songs are given a new medium in which to evolve and bloom into their own tiny worlds.”

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Lucrecia Dalt ‘Syzygy’ (Human Ear Music)
Hugely talented Colombian-born artist Lucrecia Dalt – now based in Berlin – returns this year with the mesmerizing ‘Syzygy’, the much-anticipated follow-up to her second full length ‘Commotus.’ The record took shape quite by accident. When Dalt moved to a new place located in close proximity to a metro station, she soon discovered that the magnetic field of the metro affected the sound of the bass. Whereas her previous album ‘Commotus’ was largely centered on bass-driven melodies, ‘Syzygy’ sees a shift to a more dreamy, ambient-textured palette, as Dalt could only record the songs in the dead of the night, as she recounts: “I could only record at 4:30 am when the metro wasn’t working. So I love these kinds of accidents. I’m not sure if the new record would have shaped the way it did if I wan’t under that circumstance.” ‘Syzygy’ is available now on Human Ear Music.

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Chequerboard ‘The Unfolding’ (Lazybird)
Chequerboard is the moniker for Dublin-based composer John Lambert who released ‘The Unfolding’ – Lambert’s third LP – this year on independent label Lazybird Records. It has been five years since Chequerboard’s previous album, ‘Penny Black’, and ‘The Unfolding’ sees Lambert expanding on a more complex and panoramic sound than before. Collaborations on the record feature Seti The First’s Kevin Murphy and Crash Ensemble’s Kate Ellis (both on cello) as well as guest vocals from Eileen Carpio. Much like the beautifully textured and multi-layered sonic palette of Thrill Jockey’s Mountains, Chequerboard’s music is stunningly complex, mixing soft focus ambient vignettes with highly detailed, intricate guitar patterns. An album which reveals more upon every listen, ‘The Unfolding’ is a true delight.

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Lisa O’Neill ‘Same Cloth Or Not’
‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is Lisa O’Neill’s second album and follow-up to her 2009 debut ‘Has An Album.’ ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ confirms County Cavan-born O’Neill as one of Ireland’s finest and most unique young songwriters and was recorded with Dublin-based songwriter (and occasional Tindersticks contributor) David Kitt as producer with Karl Oldum on engineering duties. In the past O’Neill’s name has become better known with support slots with the likes of David Gray and Glen Hansard. A tour with the wonderful Scottish musician James Yorkston this November should be particularly special occasion for music audiences across the UK. O’Neill supports Glen Hansard on his solo Irish tour this October. ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is released on 18th October.

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Joni Mitchell ‘The Studio Albums 1968 – 1979’ (Warner Music / Reprise / Asylum)
Since last year’s Joni Mitchell boxset release – comprising Mitchell’s studio albums from her most prolific and creative period of the late sixties and seventies – the astonishing music and artistry of Mitchell’s can be explored by a whole new generation of music-lovers. The set contains Mitchell’s best-loved and most revered albums including the timeless string of albums at the turn of the seventies – 1971’s ‘Blue’, ’74’s ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ from 1975. The set also features such slightly less known gems as ‘Hejira’, ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ and ‘Mingus’, Mitchell’s beautiful Asylum Records album from 1979 dedicated to the life and memory of Charles Mingus who passed away in January of the same year.

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Peter Jefferies ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ (De Stijl)
Originally released on tape cassette by Xpressway, a label based in Port Chalmers, New Zealand, in 1990, the mystery and allure surrounding Jefferies’ debut solo album has only grown since. Hence, this year’s reissue of the New Zealander’s ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ via De Stijl Records (the first time that the vinyl has been repressed since the LP version of the album on Chicago’s Ajax label was out of print some twenty years ago). The collection itself is an engrossing set of songs highlighting the raw talents of Jefferies as a songwriter whose songs reveal much pain, sadness and indifference to a world which seems at complete odds to it’s author, while ultimately the album conveys a sense of fragile hope and soft light which diffuses Jefferies’ stark shadows with soft edges. A redeeming and life-affirming record.

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Kwes ‘ilp.’ (Warp)
‘ilp.’ is the debut album by Warp’s hugely talented London-based producer Kwesi Sey (who has worked with the likes of Bobby Womack and Damon Albarn in the past). The album’s ten tracks cut through every conceivable genre and style so effortlessly, fusing pop, electronic, hip hop, found sounds and ambient traditions to a mesmerizing effect (at times recalling Warp’s Bibio at his most expansive). The album’s hallmark is Sey’s vocal work, adding heart and soul to the beguiling, multilayered soundscapes beneath. Sey’s journey in music began when he was given a present of a keyboard from his grandmother (an instrument he still uses), and from the evidence of the hugely promising ‘ilp.’ expect a very bright future indeed for Kwes.

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Pharaoh Sanders ‘Elevation’ (Soul Jazz, Re-Issue 2013)
Soul Jazz Records’ Universal Sound recently re-issued Pharaoh Sanders’ classic ‘Elevation’ which was originally released on Impulse Records back in 1973. This was a golden era for Impulse when such jazz greats as Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Sam Rivers and Marion Brown were making records for the label. Sanders was one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, and worked with both John Coltrane in the sixties as well as Alice Coltrane in the following decade. Beginning with the album’s majestic title-track, ‘Elevation’ is a key cornerstone to the spiritual jazz genre and highlights Sanders as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists there ever was.

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