Denison Witmer: Denison Witmer
Denison Witmer is Denison Witmer, a culmination of a story that started at the birth of independent music in the early 2000s.
He began his career in 1998 with Safe Away. Three albums, dozens of hard, long tours, and several years later, Denison released his most popular record Are You a Dreamer? in 2005. The industry changed quickly though - losing its focus on singer-songwriter folk music.
Instead of bowing to the pressure to follow musical trends, Denison continued to refine his sound, becoming more confident in creating something subtle and sublime. His music grew up as he did; a couple of years ago, his dad passed away, and in 2012, he became a new dad.
So, since Dreamer, there's been time, craft and perfection, and slow and quiet reflection and production. Now there?s Denison Witmer.
Fans who liked Dreamer, Denison's best-selling record, will love Denison Witmer. They?ll appreciate that Sufjan Stevens, William Fitzsimmons, and Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Amos Lee) all appear on this record. They?ll love the way Denison has figured out what works. They?ll appreciate the attention to detail, in songwriting and in production.
And for those new to Denison, they?re not not alone; there?s a whole generation of young songwriters in their early 20s that grew up listening to Denison. They?ve heard and respected a finely honed style that pulls from a tradition of folk singer-songwriters going back 40 years to Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Carole King, Neil Young, and even Woody Guthrie.
Artists only get once chance to self-title a record. Denison chose a good one.
Fol Chen: The False Alarms
Fol Chen make the soundtrack to a future that never was. To listen is to leave the comfort of nostalgia and land with both feet in a bolder 21st century. The False Alarms (Asthmatic Kitty, March 19) continues the band's electro-pop odyssey, now with a honed character and a more distinct palette of sounds. Fol Chen has also traded its cloak of anonymity for defiant confidence featuring Sinosa Loa as its new front voice.
It's pop music for people who aren't sure where or when they are, but who know it's nowhere they've been before.
Helado Negro: Invisible Life
Press play on Invisible Life and you lose your season. Roberto Lange - Helado Negro - is talking to you in Spanish. He?s talking to you, perhaps with more volume, in the language he?s been teaching us all over the past three years through the lessons of the seductive full-length Canta Lechuza, the sub-narrative exploration EP Island Universe Story One, and the all-in collaboration,OMBRE, with Juliana Barwick. This immersive curriculum, paired with our own capacity for feeling, will make Invisible Life visible. At least as much Roberto Lange wants us to see of himself. Translate the name of that first song for the first clue: it illuminates you.
Jon Philpot, The Bear In Heaven frontman, is one of a key few contributions on the album, including more old friends like Eduardo Alonso (Feathers) and Matt Crum (Lange?s longtime bandmate in ROM), as well as kindred and vast spirit Devendra Banhart. Banhart?s guitar on ?Arboles? multiplies the whispered dream of Helado Negro into technicolor parallel existences. Roberto Lange, the conductor, the man alone, has always kept his family close, even if its definition has expanded from his mother?s kitchen to the long-stretching road that sends him from one show to the next.
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.