Little Howlin' Wolf is a street musician, bluesman, actor, storyteller and truth seeker. He is also a true outsider, whose wrenching soulfulness and fire-brained intensity have been captured in a breadcrumb trail of confounding and intentionally obscure self-released records.
In the late 1960s Wolf -- born James Pobiega in 1950 -- was already a saxophone wailing fixture at the legendary Chicago hangout, Maxwell Street Market. By the mid-1980s he released nearly three dozen 45s. Those singles are sprawling journeys into Wolf's world vision, as told through his gravelly voice and an array of instruments in styles and influences not limited to: American Indian, Polish and gypsy folk musics, Voodoo, vocal chants, blues, calypso and avant jazz. Often, it's all filtered through overdubbed abstraction.
Wolf issued two LPs collecting some of those singles -- "The Guardian" (1982) and "Cool Truth" (1985) -- both now reissued by Family Vineyard."The Guardian" is a baffling, hyper-creative statement recorded between 1976 and 1982. It's also vastly sincere and some of Wolf's most accessible and deeply emotional songs, yet it orbits a universe known only by the likes of Captain Beefheart or Albert Ayler.
This reissue features replicated LP jackets, with Wolf's original transcendent liner notes, and labels bearing the Solidarity Solidarnosc Records name; never before seen photos; new essay by ethnomusicologist Ian Nagoski; and download coupon.
Childbirth is a "supergroup" in the sense its members are all in other hit bands (Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat, Stacy Peck of Pony Time) and also that they do good for the world while in costume.
Childbirth's forthcoming album, Women's Rights, is piss-your-pants funny - subject matter includes a trashy friend bringing coke to a baby shower ("Baby Bump") characteristics that warrant an instant "swipe left" on Tinder ("Siri, Open Tinder") and dating vapid IT douches ("Tech Bro."). Lyrics on Women's Rights are highly quotable - from "Tech Bro": "I'll let you explain feminism to me/If I can use your HD TV."
Like the majority of effective political art, Women's Rights shows rather than telling. The songs describe what is fucked up in the world so evocatively that it needs no commentary, and always with a biting sense of humor.
HWGM's new album Be Small finds the band taking a smaller approach to production and finding more intimate soundscapes - from the live, expansive sound of 2012's A Different Ship, produced by Radiohead's 6th man Nigel Godrich, to Be Small's direct-to-board hom-recorded album - it hosts no less acrobatics of musicianship and a singular sonic ambition.
Gracing the cover of Brooklyn band Small Black's new record, a mysterious woman walks alone on the dunes at dusk, amid pockmarked sand. She's the subject of a found photo, one of many rescued with the warmth of a blow dryer and a fireplace, by singer Josh Hayden Kolenik after Hurricane Sandy flooded his family's Long Island home. The faded image offers clues and invites viewers to construct their own narrative, one that escapes even the picture's taker, Kolenik's father. To put it simply, Best Blues is an album about loss, the specific loss of precious people in our lives, but also the loss of memories and the difficult fight to preserve them. "I spent months trying to scan all these images & letters, most covered with ocean dirt, and in doing so discovered what people often find in their family's past: that they are a hell of a lot like those who'd come before," says Kolenik. The chorus of standout "Boys Life" echoes this sentiment with the refrain "pictures of youth/picturing you," over a track that itself was an old demo re-discovered by accident by the band, during a late night jam session at a cabin in Upstate NY. The compassion of the record collects itself in the soft repeating mantra-esque hook in "No One Wants It To Happen To You".
The group's third full length release, written & recorded at their Brooklyn home studio, nicknamed 222, showcases a band still evolving, and embracing the unpredictable. Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums) have been recording, writing, and often living together, throughout the life of the band, establishing a closeness that has allowed them to achieve easy creativity and unspoken chemistry. After a year of recording, that band enlisted mixer Nicholas Vernhes (War on Drugs, Deerhunter) of Rare Book Room Studio to help complete the record.
Best Blues finds the band in their sweet spot: the smoky intersection of considered & vulnerable songwriting and loose, almost nonchalant ambience. The addition of piano flourishes, trumpet (Darby Cicci of The Antlers), hidden acoustic guitars and Kaede Ford's ethereal vocals provide new dimensions to the band's already expansive sonic palette. Cut-to-the-chase rippers "Back at Belle's" & "Checkpoints" embody & build on the group's signature gritty yet focused electronic sound. While the more pastoral tracks, such as "Between Leos," & "XX Century," skeletally based on recorded improvisations, find the band painting a more nuanced, assured aural portrait. The repeating of the line "twentieth century" on closer, "XX Century", serves as a coda for the album, offering a simple summation of what Best Blues' intent has been from the opening Casio stab: an attempt to re-examine the past, but also one to let it go.
Whether it's someone searching or someone who doesn't want to be found, we can't help but be drawn to the drifters. Steven A. Clark is that next stranger to roll into town, a restless artist recasting R&B. He's a straight-talker in a genre filled with wish-fulfillment, whimsy and cliched beats; think the Outlaw Josey Wales raised on N.E.R.D. and 808 & Heartbreak.
Briana's lyrics are forceful, and throughout her second album, All Around Us, traditional song structure gives way to plainspoken declarations that pull back the record's shroud. Her first single,"Surrender" is musically delicate at first, with flickering blips and chords that float into earshot like fireflies. "Take Care of Me" is the album's brightest and most immediate song, a buoyant celebration of friendship with a skittering beat and a warm, sweet melody. And title track "All Around Us" is a stark but inspiring beauty, built on the memory of a family member of Briana's who passed away, and the sadness of not being able to say "goodbye" or "I love you" one last time. It is the balance of the abstract and the intimate that makes Briana Marela and All Around Us so special.
Minecraft - Volume Alpha is the work of German composer and musician Daniel Rosenfeld. Using C418 as his moniker, Rosenfeld crafted the sweeping soundtrack and vibrant sound design which helped breathe life into Minecraft's voxel-based universe. Fans and critics were universally enamored with his beatless, nuanced electronic pieces upon release. Popular gaming site Kotaku named it among The Best Game Music of 2011, calling the music "remarkably soothing," and The Guardian has compared Rosenfeld's delicate piano and sparse ambient motifs to legendary artists Erik Satie and Brian Eno. In an interview feature with C418, Polygon distilled Volume Alpha to its essence: "It's not bound by the retro aesthetic of Minecraft's graphics. It transcends them. The album is an attempt to uplift the combined game/music experience into the sublime."
I was five years old in 1982. I remember sitting on thick brown carpet, plugging in the joystick, and playing Yars Revenge on the Atari 2600. The music consisted of a single, oscilating drone. Thirty years later technology has granted us the wish of near-infinite possibilities: it's not uncommon for some games to feature vocal choirs and symphony orchestras. Of course, as Orson Welles famously remarked, "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."
A few years ago my friend Jay Tholen asked me to write music for his adventure game about a mute, handless clown named Dropsy. We talked about junkyards and circus tents, we looked at photos of open country roads and graffiti and neon lights. Jay showed me his early pixel landscapes and it made me think, perhaps video games represented a type of modern folk art. He embraced the limitations of medium and created something honest and beautiful. I wanted to do the same with the soundtrack.
The themes for Dropsy were composed almost entirely on piano. After months of preparation, I booked a single, 12-hour recording session and tried to leave enough space for each musician to contribute their own voice. Everyone looked at the images Jay provided and we talked about the different locations inside the game. I can hear the subliminal influences of Joe Raposo's early music for Sesame Street in the music now. I hear the mechanical pop of Devo and the doom metal of Earth. I hear the limitations working their magic. The music is alive.
Music For Dogs is a deeply personal album on which Gardens & Villa pokes, prods, and even strangely celebrates the zeitgeist of music commerce, pleasure culture, technological advances and the new home they've found in Los Angeles. The New Age and Eastern Religion sentiments that rippled across their first two albums (2011's Gardens & Villa and 2014's Dunes) have been swapped out with a new sort of zen pop- Nihilsm. What's Nihilism anyway but Buddhism with a fuck-it attitude? They've found a way to live on the firing line, a way to actually harvest creative energy from our sad Internet tendencies, the uncertain future. "My whole life fixation/See if we can make it underneath the radar," goes the respective call and response of primary songwriters Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen on "Fixations," a song about the beauty in bottoming out and then finding the false bottom. Lynch could mean living as a creative in the underground or living outside peripheral view of the NSA. Under the stewardship of visionary producer Jacob Portrait and with irreplaceable rhythm section Dusty Ineman (drums) and Shane McKillop (bass), "Fixations" — and a great deal of Music For Dogs — is really just Gardens & Villa doing what it has always done best. G&V creates Byzantine melodies and richly interwoven arrangements for synths, guitars and vocals that work incredibly well on a cerebral level, but wouldn't upset a late night Korean karaoke outing either.
The jaunty, jarring piano and bass that begin "Everybody" perfectly frame the song's anxiety-riddled themes of 21st Century voyeurism, surveillance and the turnstile of avatars intended to represent our true selves. "Everybody wants the new you/No one cares who you are," Lynch sings in a repeating chorus before the band collapses into a lovely out of time mall piano breakdown, which itself drops effortlessly back into the jaunty verse section. And the speedball ripper "Maximize Results" that begins the record is perhaps G&V's most ecstatic, vulnerable moment laid to record to date. It alone is worth the price of admission.
In the early 1990s, Luzmila Carpio's songs inspired the Quechua-speaking people of the Bolivian Andes to Yuyay Jap-ina - to "reclaim our knowledge" from a culture that marginalized indigenous people. These tapes, newly-restored and presented by Squirrel Thing Recordings (Molly Drake, Connie Converse), capture a vibrant celebration of a people and a language that would not be silenced.
Initially living in Brooklyn, guitarist/vocalist Brady Keehn and drummer/vocalist Melissa Scaduto made a jump to Los Angeles on a whim as the financial climate in New York became too much. Within months of being in LA, the two conveniently met bassist Kenny Elkin and guitarist/keyboardist Eddie Wuebben. Occultism, specifically a deeper understanding of astrology, was a connection amongst the band, hence the name Sextile, an astrological term that relates to harmony and the ease of expression of two seemingly different elements.
With urgency, the band quickly completed A Thousand Hands, a primitive form of rock n roll, melding surf punk, early industrial, ambient and post-punk. The album title is inspired by a form of spirit channeling that Wuebben was experimenting with one night. After doing open eye meditation for a long period of time, he observed thousands of hands reaching down towards him, violently in an extremely frightening, simultaneously exciting manor. The experience left such an impression on the band, it became the first track on the album as well the album title.
Still, whilst Sextile's journey on A Thousand Hands' has undoubted moments of bleakness & catharsis, the band express their will to live, to confront their demons and forge on in search of better days, making for a captivating & spellbinding listen upon the way.
The Scientists' 1981 wild debut bewildered Perth, Australia's punters with its charging anthems centered on themes of young love and alienation. Obvious in its rebellion yet more pop than punk, the self-titled "Pink Album" deftly embodied the tough-yet-danceable outsider aura of The Ramones, and its unheard of, feverish clip shook the shores of the geographically confined Swan Coastal Plain of down under. Recorded just as the lineup of guitarist-vocalist Kim Salmon (The Cheap Nasties), drummer James Baker (The Victims) and bassist Ian Sharples were breaking up, the album stands as a testament to the contagious chops of Perth's swelling pool of musical talent, and to the promise of Salmon's unwavering vision that would become one of the most celebrated acts of the Aussie underground.
After trekking east from the suburbs of Perth to take new root in Sydney, in 1983 the Scientists hooked up with producer Chris Logan, who's credited with the album's imposing sonic girth and rumbling low end, and premier Aussie punk label Au Go Go for an album that would define their unmistakably swampy, psychotic aura. These six songs revisited band leader Kim Salmon's interest in the Cramps and the Stooges,while adding in the repetitive dementia of Suicide and elements of cow punk twang, with Salmon's distinctly unrefined Australian accent snarling tales of lust, confusion and angst.
Persuasion is a trio of new tracks by Blondes. The duo's first offering since Swisher, Persuasion furthers the extemporized themes explored on that album but reveal Sam Haar and Zach Steinman to be as dexterous in the studio as they are at motivating live, primal techno.
With Haar and Steinman no longer living within earshot of each other, the distance has inspired a new work ethic. In the creative incubation since Swisher's release, the duo's improvisational practice honed live in club settings has evolved from excursive to immediate and exacted.
The engine of Persuasion is fueled by kinetic textures and decisions. Melodies follow unpredictable paths and flare into spiraling percussion. Soundssimultaneously rise and crash entering and exiting the different track environments. Still, the groove remains true, a grounding technique.
Space and time have refined Blondes blend of live dynamics and studio discovery. What sets Persuasion apart from their prior records is the sense of Haar and Steinman's maturation behind the controls, yielding more propulsive, assertive, and persuasive forces than ever.
Built In Sun is a new project from Joe Plummer; drummer for The Shins, Cold War Kids and Mister Heavenly. Joe also produced and co-recorded an all drum project called Hew Time, released on Joyful Noise in 2014. Joe has also toured and recorded with Modest Mouse and The Black Heart Procession on drums and percussion over the last 10 years. Built In Sun was created during touring breaks between The Shins and Cold War Kids releases. Built in Sun began as an instrumental idea, with inspirations landing somewhere between John Cales' "Fear", the punk vibe of the Wipers and John Reis, and his favorite soundtrackists; John Brion and Clint Mansell. After the first instrumental mixes were finished (with help from Richard Swift), he decided that the melodies just might be cool enough to ask a few of his pals to sing. Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession) was the first. Within a week, Pall had added vocals to most of the tunes. The songs now felt complete, and it felt good to collaborate with Pall again. With this, "Built In Sun" was complete, and is set to be released on PIAPTK, August 7th, 2015.
A NDO C Y is a continuation of the Abandoned City story, told as a tale of two sides. Side A features five tracks conceived during the Abandoned City sessions, a suite of songs that together form an exceptionally resonant whole. As with Abandoned City, these songs owe as much to minimalist techno as modern composition, which makes them particularly conducive to remixes. On Side B, experimental folk icon Devendra Banhart distills Abandoned City standout, "Agdam", to barely-there, fractured clusters of solitary piano strikes and swelling synths. By comparison, Eluvium's transformation of "Stromness" sounds almost shockingly euphoric, all cascading waves of distortion washed over a plethora of plucked piano pings. Included as a special bonus download is a stunning live album recorded in Yufuin, Japan in late 2014. The 40-minute performance is split into two 20-minute improvisations built on themes from Abandoned City. It's a gorgeous glimpse of live Hauschka, a world where songs you think you know become entirely new works of art at the mercy of Bertelmann's whims.
Heather Woods Broderick excels at distilling her experiences into a soulful melancholy that's enduring both for it's intimate relatable moments and its persistent sense of mystery. Her uncanny ear for evocative production and gorgeous vocal harmonies serves her well on her new album Glider. Throughout the album, the rich dreamlike atmospheres she creates hint at a darkness looming on the horizon, while the singularity of her ethereal voice always seems to linger long after the music has stopped.
As a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Heather has had the opportunity to record and tour with plenty of incredible artists including Horse Feathers, Efterklang, and Sharon Van Etten, which has kept her moving house and traveling around the world for much of the past decade.
For Jakub Alexander, the languages of music and visual art are permanently intertwined. And he's always been this way - from his birthplace in communist Poland, to growing up outside of Detroit, to his current home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. "When music like Gas, early Dial Records, and Mille Plateaux releases in the 2000s popped up in my headphones," Alexander begins, "it was completely visual for me. Something clicked from collecting pages out of old Architectural Digest magazines and being completely overwhelmed with inspiration for my own visions of interior architecture." The concept carries on still, now as an integral part of Body Complex, his second album as Heathered Pearls, which also features contributions from fellow Ghostly artists The Sight Below, Shigeto, and Outerbridge (mem. Beacon). Body Complex represents a new form of Alexander's visually inspired sound creation, but just as it points to changes in direction for the ambient-inclined producer, it also revisits the past experiences that make his music possible.