Castanets: Decimation Blues
The world is loud. The wind blows hard. We need songs for shelter, and Raymond Raposa can build a shelter from almost anything: the sun-bleached bones of a drum track and a couple spare organ chords; a carpet of creeping synth arpeggios, a scaffolding of multi-tracked harmonies, a few scraps of alto sax to prop up the whole structure. Decimation Blues, Raposa's sixth release as Castanets, marks a decade of scavenger architecture.
Decimation Blues sees Raposa stepping out in front of the hermetic persona he's crafted over ten years. There have always been shards of pop songs glinting in the dark corners of Castanets records. Here we get whole gleaming edifices. Decimation Blues is the music of a man who's learned to live and build among the wreckage - twelve seemingly offhand, secretly meticulous tracks that we can hunker down in. "Still always good to be alone in someone else's home," Raposa sings. He'll lend us his place, or teach us how to fix up our own. Come in out of the rain, put your shoes by the fire. The walls might shake, the wind might howl, but you'll be safe here a while.
Mozart's Sister: Being
Since attracting a ton of buzz for her entrancing live shows and for first EP Hello, Mozart's Sister (aka Caila Thompson-Hannant) has been head-down in her bedroom writing her debut album. For anyone who's been following her work - and for new listeners - Being is Mozart's Sister expressing macrocosmic ideas about life with panache and abundant hooks.
Inspired by Discovery-era Daft Punk, Post-era Bjork, and Betty Davis, Caila produced, recorded and wrote the album using a cheap sound card and Ableton software, approaching it with a do-it-all-by-my-fucking-self ideology.
Being is fundamentally a pop record. But if you're looking to catalog her music more than that, you're going to have a hard time; Caila describes Being as an intentionally fractured album. "It was far reaching. Things didn't always connect, but that was part of the whole idea," she says. Which is representative of the best music, and maybe the best of life: looking for order in chaos, not always finding it, and living with whatever happens next.
You know. Just, being.
My Brightest Diamond: None More Than You
The more influences My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden absorbs from the world around her, the less she sounds like anybody else.
Still, It's worth noting the strange paths these five new tracks took on their way to None More than You, My Brightest Diamond's latest EP. The lullaby "Dreaming Awake" was originally performed as a duet with circular-breathing sax titan Colin Stetson. It opens this disc in a tense, minimal Son Lux Mix, but Lux's raw electronic treatment only draws more attention to Worden's achingly tender vocal performance. Meanwhile, the layered orchestral arrangement on the flipside's Mason Jar Mix was created for an improbable guerrilla recording session that brought the cops to a decaying power station in Yonkers - but this richly detailed accompaniment only brings out the raw urgency of her songwriting.
"Dreams Don't Look Like" originated as silent movie music, an extract from Worden's score for The Balloonatic by Buster Keaton. "That Point When," a song Worden initially arranged to sing with the Orchestra for The Next Century, defies gravity too: musically and lyrically ambiguous, majestically lighter-than-air.
In fall of 2014, Asthmatic Kitty Records will release My Brightest Diamond's fourth full-length, This Is My Hand.
Lily & Madeleine: Lily & Madeleine (Acoustic Sessions)
Sufjan Stevens: Enjoy Your Rabbit
Originally released in 2001 before Michigan and Illinois, Sufjan Steven's Enjoy Your Rabbit foretells his 2010 electronic Age of Adz. Though overlooked by many, there are fans who regard Enjoy Your Rabbit as Sufjan's greatest work.
Departing from the singer-songwriter format of his debut Asthmatic Kitty Records album, A Sun Came, Rabbit is a collection of fourteen colorful instrumental compositions combining Sufjan's noted gift for melody with electronic sounds to create an unusually playful and human - not to mention humane - electronic experience. Great for dancing, driving, writing, cooking, painting, running, walking, and of course, eating Chinese food, Rabbit features nearly eighty minutes of music that will truly soothe the savage breast, whatever that means.
Half-Handed Cloud: Flying Scroll Flight Control
Half-handed Cloud's Flying Scroll Flight Control presents Dada interior-architectural songs, in the mode of Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau, the sound of Robert Rauschenberg's cardboard combines, interrupted by Futurist noise intoner music of collision. They're integrated with the radiant flicker of Stan Brakhage's domestic/personal 1960s art films, the mechanized music of Conlon Nancarrow, Mister Rogers' avant-garde children's operas, and the methods of grunge-era home-taping alchemists Eric's Trip, with scriptures giving voice to the unknown. Particularly encouraged by German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys' desire to unite spirit and science, Half-handed Cloud's John Ringhofer identifies Flying Scroll Flight Control's arrangements with the most basic building blocks of life, the structures of atoms: mostly empty space and a dense core, around which thinner layers wind - tiny, slippery, whirring, fly-by electrons, perpetually in motion. The lyrics are primarily based on the most ancient, foundational, and audacious of Christian texts (possibly early hymns), quoted in the letters of Paul of Tarsus. The album features a 5-person female choir, manipulated recording tape, fuzz bass, clarinet, some piano, a child's Magnus air organ, rhythmic zipper, trombone, a cushioned stylophone stick, and intermittent backpacker guitar.
Chris Schlarb: Making The Saint
Making The Saint is my third full-length record. I love small records. When I say “small record," I think of Sandy Bull's Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, Bill Evans trio recordings at the Village Vanguard, Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting, or Thelonius Monk's sublime Solo Monk. Each of these albums is simple. They're direct. Making The Saint is a small record too. I didn't belabor it. The recording and mixing came quickly. I followed my instincts. This album is also a spiritual retreat for me; a healthy and necessary separation after so many strong collaborations. If you're Sufist, you’d call this khalwa. In Japanese Zen Buddhism, it's called sesshin. The Santerian process of Asiento requires the initiate to dress in white garments and avoid physical contact for one year. Like so many have done before me, I forced myself into a state of inner solitude to find something new. I hope you enjoy it, and you experience something similar while listening. - Chris Schlarb
Helado Negro: Island Universe Story Three
Island Universe Story Three, out now, is the third in an ongoing series of EPs from Roberto Lange, a.k.a. Helado Negro. Not designed to "tease" or "build up to" or kill time between the Helado Negro albums, these releases shadow the LPs, moving darkly alongside them - and, like a shadow, may be more easily described by what they aren't than what they are.
They aren't outtakes or afterthoughts or byproducts or B-sides. These are fully filtered, distilled, unified recordings, chapters in a continuous narrative. They're less like the flipside of a record than they are like the dark side of the moon: always present but (until now) just out of sight. "It's a parallel to the continuum of the album," explains Lange. They're "something next to the albums, on kind of their own timeline," a second stream, offering an alternate glimpse into Helado Negro's ongoing process. Says Lange, "This is more of what I do. I'm really making music every day."
Hermas Zopoula: Sauve Par Sa Grace
"Sauvé Par Sa Grace" - Hermas Zopoula
"Saved by His Grace." The album, like the title implies was a miracle in its completion. Recording began in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso almost 3 years ago and when the original producer started taking too much control, Zopoula fired him and went on a search for someone who he could work with more collaboratively. In a popular studio in the city, Hermas found Ilboudo Sylvain and Nadie Boureima. These two producers brought more live instrumentation into the heavily programmed sound that is so popular in West African pop music. Where most musicians would want synths and computer pre-sets to fill in their sound, Zopoula wished to include a little bit more raw-ness and use live balafons, guitar, and piano. That isn't to say that the synthetic sound of Zopoula's first release has disappeared, in fact it is still very much present. But the inclusion of more live instruments has created a more textured and nuanced sound.
Late last year the team had recorded ten new tracks and were ready to mix them when a jealous or angry fellow musician also recording at the studio snuck in one night and deleted the producers hard-drive! The only song that survived those sessions was "Venez Danser." Between shifts working for the national airline, Air Burkina, Zopoula was finally able to re-record and mix the remaining songs that are presented in the final version of "Sauvé Par Sa Grace." Despite the adversity and struggle that Zopoula endured throughout this recording these songs are filled with joy and gratitude. Enjoy!
Rafter: It's Reggae
I know it's only been a couple days but I miss you already. There's so much about you that I love - the way you approach situations in a relaxed and positive way, the way you absorb whatever strange element come at you and you just fold it into your nature. I admire you and your ease in the world, but it also stirs my anxieties about life - why can't I be so cool, relaxed, so positive? I'm always wrapped up in my crazy modern brain and life. But then I wonder, are you too? Maybe you're just as conflicted and human, but everyday you make the choice to express yourself in an uplifting and unselfconscious way. Can you show me how to do that? I love you, Reggae, and I want to learn.
love forever, Rafter