My Brightest Diamond: This Is My Hand
This Is My Hand is a journey beyond the composition of music. "I had this 'back-to-basics' moment of reading how humans were making sounds before we were using words," says Shara. The opening track on This Is My Hand, 'Pressure,' is an invitation. Within seconds of lowering the needle, listeners hear a sharp, drum-rolled call to attention, courtesy of the Detroit Party Marching Band. What follows is a Shara-choreographed whirlwind of horns, woodwinds, beats, xylophones and synths. The ensuing 'Before the Words' ("Before the verse there was the sound") and the title track are no less direct in exploring and defining the fundamentals of not just pop music, but, well, life. "This is my voice/ this is my heart / this is my choice," sings Shara. 'Apparition,' the final track, is a Tron-like electronic, slow-motion departure from the physical world. Produced by Shara herself and keyboardist Zac Rae, This Is My Hand is a bold chapter in the unfurling MBD story. Its exploration of music and its rhythmic urgency escort Shara's chamber-music aesthetic out of the chamber and back into the dance hall and rock bar.
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.
Helado Negro: Double Youth
Helado Negro recorded Double Youth, his fourth LP, in his home studio with a computer, his voice, and telepathic input from a poster he found buried in a closet in his childhood home. Seeing the poster evoked a sudden rush of memories, but also a sense of isolation and separation. Who was this person in the photo? And what else had Helado Negro forgotten? The poster's impact was so significant, it framed a new recording process for HeladoNegro and now serves as cover art, title, and the conceptual framework for the lyrics and song structures.
Helado Negro certainly owes something to his contemporaries, Bear in Heaven, Young Magic, Empress Of, Prefuse 73, and School of Seven Bells, but Double Youth is more a spiritual long lost cousin to the great masters of funk, like Parliament, Prince, and George Duke, whose finely tuned beats married the ear with the body in new ways. Bass drum machines in Double Youth pulse like a robot dance movement. Bass undercurrents fuzz. Sine waves tickle the brain stem. The melodies weave through the air like a fish. And Helado Negro's voice, which grows more and more confident with each record, is a cool, clean dance partner to the beat and melody.
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