Lily & Madeleine: Lily & Madeleine
Like truth, beauty resides in simplicity. When it manifests itself, it doesn?t require elaborate arguments or proofs; you can?t debate someone into apprehending it. It?s apparent and all it requires is appreciation, or perhaps even love. Such are the songs of Lily & Madeleine.
Understandably, when their debut EP, The Weight of the Globe, came out earlier this year, much was made of the fact that Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz are teenagers: Madeleine is eighteen and her sister is sixteen. Surely, that?s important given the impressive talent on display. On that release as well as on Lily & Madeleine, their debut album, these two young women sing with a spare elegance that?s all the more breathtaking for seeming to come to them so naturally. Both Lily and Madeleine can sing powerfully, but you will find no show-off pyrotechnics here. They are not afraid of fragility or vulnerability.
The songs on Lily & Madeleine trigger profound emotional effects. The shimmering recollections of that summer, that girl, that kiss, the scent of that evening air, the heat of those afternoons, all float in and out of consciousness as these songs play, transporting you to the world inside you that knows everywhere you have been, but that does not know time, or its passage, or its end.
Shannon Stephens: Something Good
Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temple II
Psychic Temple II is a labor of love envisioned by Chris Schlarb to bring his most far-ranging inspirations to life ? as he puts it, ?a dream ensemble that could never actually exist.? The ensemble?s sophomore release was painstakingly constructed over more than a year with the cooperation of some of the most progressive musical minds from a staggering variety of genres.
Psychic Temple II reaches beyond the long-form experiments of its predecessor for a more tightly focused yet conceptually dense collection whose songs are no less exploratory for their briefer durations. Schlarb also includes three cover songs by composers who share his boundary-demolishing mindset: Joe Jackson?s ?Steppin? Out,? Frank Zappa?s ?Sofa No. 2,? and Brian Wilson?s ??Til I Die,? a gorgeous, lesser-known Beach Boys song that features vocals by Sufjan Stevens, Castanets? Ray Raposa, and Cryptacize?s Nedelle Torrisi.
The New York Observer called Schlarb?s debut solo album, Twilight & Ghost Stories, ?40 minutes of avant-garde bliss,? while Interoceans, recorded with experimental jazz duo I Heart Lung, was chosen by NPR as one of the top five jazz albums of 2008. He composed the score for Nicklas ?Nifflas? Nygren?s video game Nightsky and has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and Meet the Composer.
Lily & Madeleine: The Weight of the Globe
Written over the course of their summer vacation and recorded in three days, The Weight of the Globe is a musical snapshot by teenaged sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz at a pivotal moment in their lives.
Each song on The Weight of the Globe was written as a discrete, self-contained folk-pop statement, but due to the real-time circumstances of recording it, the EP holds together like a collection of interconnected short stories. Taken as a whole, the songs chart a journey from love to disillusionment to heartbreak; the narrator's weariness in "Tired" persists into "Things I'll Later Lose" ("I've been hearing things, and I've been losing sleep"), while the words to "Back to the River" seemingly return to the same mythic river that flows through "In the Middle."
There's nothing calculated about The Weight of the Globe. As sincere as it is precociously sophisticated, it marks the auspicious debut of a strikingly talented musical family.
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.
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.
Ero Gray: Library Catalog Music Series: Music for Your Mouth
Ero Gray was raised in a tent in the Sierra Nevada foothills, lived most of his adult life in San Diego, CA, and Brooklyn, NY, and now resides in Portland, OR. He is a founding member of the bands The Nylon-Coated Cats and Rad Unicorn & the Ecstatic Virgins; has released electronic music under the aliases Professor Kermit and Golden Poultry Error, has recorded and remixed Soul-Junk, Therefore, Bogs Visionary Orchestra, and the Castanets, and plays the ongoing role of producer Papa Alabaster in the Land of a Thousand Rappers project. He adores his wife Suzanne and prefers to always be surrounded by music that he doesn't really understand.
My Brightest Diamond: All Things Will Unwind
All Things Will Unwind is the third, stunning offer from Detroit based experimental pop chanteuse-My Brightest Diamond, aka Shara Worden. Known for her many collaborations with indie rock royalty (Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, David Bryne, The Decemberists, and The National) as well as her extraordinary original material, Worden is coming into her own as an artist and human on this 11 song recording. At once accessible and intelligent, the songs were written exclusively for celebrated chamber ensemble yMusic (Bon Iver, Antony & the Johnsons, The New York Philharmonic & Rufus Wainwright) and they are featured on each track.
The range of influences on All Things Will Unwind are as eclectic as its? author, but listeners will recognize hints of Roberta Flack, Regina Specktor, Edith Piaf and Antony & The Johnsons throughout the album. Inspired by becoming a mother, chats with legendary performance artist Laurie Anderson, presidential addresses, and class warfare, Worden is metabolizing her influences as only she can- with playful, profound originality. All Things Will Unwind is a picture of an artist maturing; considering joy and pain, beauty and horror, yet bravely standing in the tension between the two- and singing about it.
My Brightest Diamond: Be Brave - Single
Roberts & Lord: Eponymous
A supercombo team-up between Simon Lord (ex Simian) and Rafter Roberts, the Roberts and Lord duo present their Asthmatic Kitty debut,Eponymous! Roberts' rough and grimy (yet complexly arranged) analog backing tracks paired with Lord's clean, digitally-recorded vocals, gives these songs a tricky kind of depth that is immediately engaging. This effortless juxtaposition reigns throughout these 35 some-odd minutes. The album begins with “Mosquito,” a perfect example and touchstone of Roberts' loud, garage rocky, blown-outness paired with structure well-thought-out (but never lingered upon). Simon's lyrics tell the story of a man's love for a mosquito, his vocals backed by a crunchy oil-drum thunk of beats (a theme of this record.) Simon's lyric writing on “Mosquito” sets the tone for what's to come—and the tone is FUN. Influenced by nonsense verse poets like Ivor Cutler and Edward Lear, Lord gives us a simple, light-hearted return to innocence, a goodly love for good love, the capital F feel-goodness compressed into a chorus, the sweaty exuberance of a solid dance party with all your friends around you. And thus we present Roberts and Lord's Eponymous!
Scott Ogden and Malcolm Hearn: MAKE
The documentary, MAKE, is an intimate journey into the lives of four American self-taught artists: Prophet Royal Robertson, Hawkins Bolden, Judith Scott and Ike Morgan. Isolated and struggling with the disabilities life has dealt them, these artists all find their most powerful voice through art. Using the simplest of materials, they each produce work that is both sublime and at the same time completely their own. Primarily driven by scenes of the artists creating, their interwoven stories are told by the artists themselves as well as through family and friends whose lives they have touched. Vintage footage, quiet moments to reflect upon their work, and commentary by scholars and art historians help to round out the film.
Helado Negro: Canta Lechuza
Canta Lechuza is an intimate, personal beast, a solo affair built lovingly from live instruments, percussion, and field recordings, all processed through electronics, computers, and synthesizers. It is an album with very defined songs, its song-structure has been labored over; choruses count bigtime, confident breakdowns and digi-pop bridges are all part and parcel of the greater good. Canta Lechuza is dance music turned inside out?percussion plipping and plapping, basslines smooth and dry as a tube of blue neon. Deep-space micro-drones emerge from hibernation, growling out from a wash of sun-filtered haze?morphing, squeezing, then bending themselves around globular droplets of blood-red electro.