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
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
Sisyphus is the new name for the collaboration between Serengeti, Son Lux, and Sufjan Stevens (formally s/s/s), whose new project under this moniker is a self-titled album partly inspired by the art of Jim Hodges, and commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series in Minneapolis/Saint Paul.
Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center will present a retrospective of Jim Hodge’s work alongside a listening party of the new album in February, where fifty limited edition copies of the vinyl will be available for purchase.
Asthmatic Kitty Records and Joyful Noise Recordings will release the record more widely on March 18th, 2014.
Linda Perhacs: The Soul of All Natural Things
Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms was created in the heart of hippy country, LA's Topanga Canyon, by a dental hygienist who was inspired by nature and by the cultural revolution going on around her. When Parallelograms was finished, it sounded like a masterpiece, but the label had pressed it so poorly, sales were non-existent. Obscurity beckoned.
But in the internet age obscurity can be discreetly transformed into a kind of niche immortality. By 2003, Parallelograms had become a cult album.
And slowly, Perhacs began making music again. In 2010, she connected with a new generation of LA musicians attuned to her vision, including Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price, both accomplished musicians and producers in their own right. The trio began recording the eclipse song, "River Of God", and what became a new album's title track, The Soul Of All Natural Things.
The Soul Of All Natural Things, for all its apparent serenity, is also a subtly polemical album, full of exhortations to take a step out of our frantic everyday lives. "We get too far out of balance and we must find a way to get back to our polestar," Perhacs says. "I have a deeper purpose. My soul is giving itself to the people; I want them to be helped, I want them to be lifted."
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.