Sufjan Stevens: Silver & Gold
Who can save us from the infidels of Christmas commodity? Look no further, tired shopper, for your hero arrives as the diligent songwriter Sufjan Stevens, army of one, banjo in one hand, drum machine in the other, holed up in his room, surrounded by hymnals, oratorios, music charts, sacred harp books, paper-clipped-photo-copied Readers Digest Christmas catalogs—singing his barbaric yawp above the snow-capped rooftops.
His song is love; his song is hope; his song is peace, conjuring the fruitcake world of his own imagination with steadfast affection for the unattainable bliss of Christmas Promises -- summoning the company of angels, the helper elves, the shepherds keeping flock, the coupon-clippers, the marathon runners, the grocery store baggers, the bridge and tunnel drivers, the construction workers,the street sweepers, the single mothers, the rich and the poor, the walking dead, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, the Prince of Persia, and all the invisible hosts of heaven to participate in this absurd cosmic adventure, pursuing holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption with a sacred heart for the enduring love for the holiness of Christmas, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Raymond Byron and the White Freighter: Little Death Shaker
Going on five full-length records since 2004, Asthmatic Kitty?s Castanets has given us a wide-lens look at deconstructed Americana. Come September 4th, Castanets? Ray Raposa will debut a new band, Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, and a brand-new full-length, Little Death Shaker.
Where the ?Nets trafficked in improv and avant-country gone coal black, Raposa?s new stuff is pure roadhouse blues. Stripped of all noise influences and focusing on straight-up songs, Little Death Shaker is a record evocative of late nights and dusty parking lots, long drives and boozy hookups. This is the work of a dude who?s spent his youth and young manhood on tour and it comes through in both the music and the lyrics.
One of Little Death Shaker?s real charms is you can close your eyes and see these 13 tracks played live; you can see the drummer leaning over his kit with his brushes, the backup singers standing around the mic, beers in hand, eyes closed, swaying side to side, the lights crisscrossing the stage. In a world of records that bands can?t duplicate live, it?s crazy-refreshing.
Meet Raymond Byron and the White Freighters and their record Little Death Shaker. Here?s to the new.
Dots Will Echo: Drunk Is The New Sober / Stupid Is The New Dumb
?Drunk Is The New Sober? and ?Stupid Is The New Dumb? are the twin subtitles of Drunk & Stupid, Dots Will Echo?s debut album on Asthmatic Kitty, but those aren?t just arch witticisms, they encapsulate the apparent contradictions that power the New Jersey duo?s music. The warmly weird world created by multi-instrumentalist Nick Berry and drummer Kurt Biroc seems simultaneously sacred and profane, edgy and accessible, sad and transcendentally silly. What else would you expect from a group that describes itself as ?dour moralizers and drunken assholes? and identifies its key influences as ?A little bit The Incredible String Band, a little bit AC/DC??
Originally meant to be two separate discs (the vinyl version is a double LP with download codes for bonus tracks), Drunk & Stupid boasts 19 songs overflowing with insanely catchy melodies, endearingly off-kilter arrangements, and a strangely satisfying blend of the divine and the absurd.? As Berry says, ?We try to allow for the will of the universe to have a large part in our music. There must be something sacred in mistakes. This is our explanation for being fuck-ups.?
OMBRE: Believe You Me
A beautiful thing happened when Asthmatic Kitty artists Helado Negro and Julianna Barwick first met: they got to know each other. The result, a collaborative band, OMBRE, and a brand-new full-length record, Believe You Me.
Recorded as the newly acquainted pair were just becoming friends, OMBRE shows Barwick's clear, high harmonies and church choir sensibilities melding well with Helado Negro's rustic-Latin-psyche-folk meets big-city-summer-blockparty.
Tracks simmer with the mellow chording of nylon string guitars, bubbling electronics, and the comely pluck of harps; they rise high and mountainous with Miles Davis-y trumpet and then disappear altogether. There's a very old school jazzy soundtrack air to these sessions. (An inspiration to the sessions was Clu Gulager's 1969 film A Day With the Boys and Egberto Gismonti's fantastic late-'60s compositional jazz.) It has the feel of a hot summer day in Brooklyn, 1971, the sun through the tenements and everyone sitting in the shade watching the world drift by.
Believe You Me's 36:19 minute run is a quiet storm that never puts you in danger?just a beautiful, refreshing summer rain to watch from your front porch, sitting next to a good friend. A new friend? Yes. Perfect. Even better.
The Welcome Wagon: Precious Remedies Against Satan?s Devices
Precious Remedies Against Satan?s Devices, The Welcome Wagon?s second full-length, is an apt sequel to their critically acclaimed 2008 debut, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon. Here, Vito and Monique simply throw those welcoming arms open wider, inviting the listener to join them for 51 minutes of church.
Those who enjoyed the Welcome Wagon?s debut album will notice their distinct sound again here ? loose, jangly, comfortable, a gathering of friends making music together. It?s at times jaunty and toe-tapping, at others quietly contemplative, an alt-folk gem that sounds very much like it comes out of the Asthmatic Kitty camp. But while the first album was recorded over the course of eight years in various venues, this one was done in five days at the library of an old rectory in Brooklyn. And while recording artist and AK co-owner Sufjan Stevens produced WW?s first album, he?s less noticeable on this collection, produced by Alexander Foote, who also plays guitars, organ, autoharp, percussion, and some piano. (Stevens does play banjo and piano and sings in the choir on several songs here.)
Vito says his songwriting is informed by his work as senior pastor at Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn?s Williamsburg neighborhood. ?A pastor is supposed to care for people, to help them to love God, to engage with their lives and their joys and their sorrows,? he says. ?I?m only interested in writing music that will speak to that. I?m writing as a pastor, wanting these songs to speak God?s truth into those situations.?
Shannon Stephens: Pull It Together
Pull It Together is Shannon Stephens? third album. Vulnerability has been replaced with a fierce confidence born of experience. Stephens sings out now with a voice free of youthful self-consciousness, filled instead with conviction ? and no small amount of anger at the state of the world. She has always distilled powerful emotions into her music but this time the emotional dial is cranked. From the sweetly swaggering ?What Love Looks Like? to the searing ?Your Fabulous Friends,? she balances cynicism with generous quantities of warmth, humour and empathy. Never is this fine balance more apparent than on ?Faces Like Ours? where Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) weaves his voice with hers in a duet that wryly dissects the injustice of racial and economic privilege. The result of this new approach is an album that is gritty, fluid, and more accessible than her previous work. Call it pragmatic pop: optimism balanced with the sharp-edged reality of life in 2012.
Denison Witmer: The Ones Who Wait
Denison Witmer?s newest album, The Ones Who Wait, is a reflection of this understanding of self and the growth that comes through life experience. It is an intimate reflection on the meandering path of life, on family and friendships, on death balanced with new life, on endings and beginnings. This ninth album marks a new maturity in Denison?s musical career, new layers of openness and subtlety revealed with each listen. Denison?s guitar and voice sit front and center, evoking a melodic warmth reminiscent of 70s-era singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne.
Alfred Brown: Library Catalog Music Series: Music for Moving in Slow Motion
Music for Moving in Slow Motion is about the slowing, halting, and reversing of the directional flow of linear time. It is about the significance of the possibly infinite space that exists between any two instants. It is about experiencing symmetrical time. At some moments the proverbial arrow for a single event is subtly (or not so subtly) manipulated, while at others, multiple events are frozen and superimposed onto each other, creating a hyper-simultaneity out of what was once sequence, thereby eliminating it. Time is treated as space, as an elastic solid that can be twisted and moved in any direction, and there is an attempt to find the smallest temporal unit, if it exists at all.
Effacer: Library Catalog Music Series: Music for Noise Reduction
This album was inspired by the commercial work Effacer does in audio mastering. Effacer figured that different noise reduction processes and audio restoration tools that are usually used to remove clicks/noises from tracks could be used to exaggerate different effects in my music. He started taking a sound with reverb, then use the dry version of that same sound, minus the reverb, and use that as the noise print for the noise reduction algorithm. Thus by removing the source sound, a ghostly sound (reverb) would be left behind. Effacer came up with a formula for this to create further sounds and textures: (source sound + effect) - (source sound) = artifact of effect. By putting these sounds together into tracks, add several years, and these experiments resulted in an album.