Elfin Saddle: Devastates
Elfin Saddle deepens its compositional and conceptual agenda on Devastates, the band's third full-length album. It weds an operetta-style song cycle to an organic, junkshop aesthetic to great effect, forging a unique hybrid folk music that weaves Honda's trilling vocals (often singing in Japanese) and McKenzie's woodsy, unaffected baritone with threads of clattering steam-engine percussion, ukulele, accordion, glockenspiel and pump organ. The addition of Kristina Koropecki's cello alongside long-standing third member Nathan Gage (Shapes & Sizes) on upright bass allows for a doubly melodic/rhythmic low-end.
Recorded in a small abandoned chapel in rural Quebec, Devastates is intimate and humbly epic, anchored by a DIY aesthetic and fuelled by the desire to say something both critical and hopeful about our common earthly trajectory. This is profoundly un-escapist and engaged folk music that avoids the obvious trappings of folk traditions, grounding the listener in a sonic and narrative terrain that stakes out a highly original and distinctive definition of protest song.
Devastates is framed by the beautiful and subtly disturbing artwork of McKenzie, with its front cover conflagration of mutant birds serving as the perfect visual analogue for the album's themes. The 180gLP format is lavishly packaged with a full colour liner notes insert and a screenprinted art poster, both printed on archival paper.
Eric Chenaux: Guitar & Voice
With this fourth album for the label, simply and aptly titled Guitar & Voice, Eric Chenaux has made what in a literal sense can be called his first solo album, in that the recording features only his playing and singing; no guest or supporting musicians, minimal overdubs, and a rigorous structure that alternates back and forth between longform, mostly vocal-based tunes and shorter, cacophonously harmonious bowed-guitar instrumentals.
Chenaux sees the entirety of Guitar & Voice as balladry. The album's four tunes with singing are clearly ballads, but filtered through Chenaux's uniquely distorted, refracted, genre-defying lens. Jazz, consort-music, free/improv, Scottish folk, psych/noise, medieval, baroque and pop influences do not so much compete as synthesise in various ways across these four songs. Heartbreaking lyrics delivered in Chenaux's strong but gentle lilt are set against an ever-shifting array of sounds and strategies elicited from acoustic nylon-string guitar (with the help of a small but expertly-deployed chain of wah-, freeze- and fuzz-pedals). Traditional song structure and lyrical arcs manage somehow to anchor themselves to constantly surprising, unpredictable and virtuosic contrapuntal guitar work, always playing at/with the threshold of sonic experimentation and improvisation. Chenaux's ballads sound like no other.
Tindersticks: The Something Rain
The Something Rain brims and bristles with canny narrative thrust. Slinky, supple compositions are spiked with plenty of barbed edges and sparkling fizz. Right out the gate, album opener "Chocolate" features David Boulter's sequel to the spoken-word classic "My Sister" from Tindersticks' 1995 eponymous release. Boulter narrates the story while the band works up a brilliant, brewing crescendo, abetted by the swirling horns of long-time collaborator Terry Edwards. This is indeed a new Tindersticks classic ? edgier, more exuberant and more expansive ? that spurs The Something Rain into a song cycle of rolling, at times rollicking, and always inimitably Tinderstickian takes on smoky Northern Soul.
Staples' home studio Le Chien Chanceux has figured prominently throughout the Tindersticks reunification period, but with The Something Rain, this space ? and Staples' ongoing immersion in recording and mixing techniques ? has fully emerged as ground zero for the band's sound. For the first time, Le Chien Chanceux studio serves as the location for the entirety of a Tindersticks album production, and Staples himself is solely credited with the recording and mixing. The album sounds terrific, and is a testament to Tindersticks' continuing reinvigoration.
Sandro Perri: Impossible Spaces
Ronen Givony is a New York City music curator and writer and the following is excerpted from a text he wrote to accompany the release of Impossible Spaces:
After four years of writing, recording, and self-production, Impossible Spaces has delivered on the promise so abundantly present in Sandro Perri's earlier work; and with it, a synthesis of the experimental, electronic and singer-songwriter modes that have marked his evolution as an artist. On first listen, Impossible Spaces seems to position itself self-consciously as a collection of music about other music. In this sense, we can think of the album as one listener's personal map of music history, with various voices, phrases, and personalities materializing to guide a song for an instant before disappearing again. Upon further listening, however, and true to its title, the album reveals itself as something more conflicted, and seemingly contradictory: a six-part meditation on the binaries of absence and presence, the possible and impossible, with a symmetrical internal structure reflecting this back-and-forth dialogue from one song to the next, and an emotional push-and-pull within the personality of the singer and songwriter himself.
Colin Stetson: Those Who Didn't Run
To say Colin Stetson has come into his own in 2011 would be an understatement. February 2011 saw the release of Colin's universally acclaimed New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, his second official solo record and an album broadly received as a sonic, conceptual, compositional and technical tour de force.
Having premiered a couple of new songs at a small art gallery show in Montreal in May 2011, we were duly blown away (along with everyone else in the room) and encouraged Colin to consider recording them while still in their raw, stamina-testing glory. He agreed and brought in good friend (and now Grammy-winning engineer) Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Islands, Unicorns) to help capture the performances in Stetson's own basement rehearsal/studio space.
The resulting two pieces on this EP both clock in at around 10 minutes and are documented in direct, unadorned fashion, using a handful of mic positions and, as usual, no looping or overdubbing of any sort. These are brilliant single-take performances, one each for alto and bass saxophone, that mark their own sense of time in palpably physical and transporting fashion, showcasing Stetson's love for minimalism as well as his mesmerisingly mantric technical ability.
Siskiyou: Keep Away The Dead
Most of the tunes on Keep Away The Dead were born at Mara Hall in Mara, BC (pop. 350) where bed tracks were laid down in the crisp air during the depth of winter. The arctic atmosphere of that empty, cavernous, hardwood structure was the perfect complement to Huebert's sensibility: a tense and acute restraint; a shivering, biting, sometimes bitter rending of barebones, folk-inflected rock music.
With the addition of Shaunn Watt and Peter Carruthers, Siskiyou has coalesced into a superb, incisive four-piece band, honed over the past year by extensive touring in Europe and Canada, after which the quartet hit Vancouver's JC/DC Studio (Destroyer, New Pornographers) in early 2011, adding to the previous year's Mara sessions.
Siskiyou's debut was a stunning little scrapbook of short, sharp tunes; Keep Away The Dead ramps up with subtle care and clarity - something closer to a sonic novella. The resulting song cycle yields a strikingly cold-eyed, warm-hearted album, marked by quiet defiance and desperation, where each tune feels like another precious log thrown on a lone campfire burning in the cold night.
Evangelista: In Animal Tongue
Evangelista returns with a fourth album, following the critically-acclaimed Prince Of Truth (2009) that cemented Carla Bozulich's reputation for aesthetic quality, intensity and iconoclasm as she entered a third decade of tireless artistic and musical activity.
In Animal Tongue continues to broaden the sonic canvas against which Bozulich deploys her distinctive voice and lyricism, and reflects her escape from her Los Angeles home base and an increasingly nomadic existence. It was largely written and recorded by Bozulich, in a variety of locations, driven (in Carla's words) "by the forces of rocks, evolution, geology, drugs, boxing, everything-ology and dead stuff that makes the dirt and cement and the tress grow. Plus real versus fake!!!" The album steams and bubbles like a simmering cauldron, with carefully metered elements stirred and coagulating around a core of low-end provided by Tara Barnes on bass, seasoned with piano, organ and cut-and-paste arrangements by Dominic Cramp. The trio is augmented by Sam Mickens (The Dead Science), Shahzad Ismaily (Laurie Anderson, Secret Chiefs, Sam Amidon) and John Eichenseer (jhno), who contribute to several tracks.
In Animal Tongue is a superb addition to Bozulich's canon and as original a voice as can be found at the current nexus of punk, poetry, and experimental music.
Esmerine: La Lechuza
Co-founded ten years ago by percussionist Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and cellist Rebecca Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion), Esmerine enters its second decade with a new album and an expanded line-up: harp-player Sarah Page and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Barr. La Lechuza documents the evolution of Esmerine under the influence of this expanded membership, and is dedicated to beloved and internationally-renowned Montreal-based singer Lhasa de Sela, who died on New Year's Day 2010 at the age of 37 (all four of the Esmerine players were part of Lhasa's studio band for the recording of her final album). Guests include Colin Stetson (Tom Waits, Bon Iver, TV On The Radio) and Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre).
La Lechuza was shaped by another important collaborator, and a dear friend of Lhasa's: Patrick Watson, who recorded much of La Lechuza at his home studio in Montreal and who sings and plays piano on the album's centerpiece track "Snow Day For Lhasa".
La Lechuza ends on a special note, with a previously unreleased version of "Fish On Land" by Lhasa herself, with Bruce and Beckie (on marimba and cello respectively).
Most of the record was mixed by Mark Lawson (Arcarde Fire, The Unicorns).
Efrim Manuel Menuck: plays "High Gospel
Efrim Manuel Menuck is best known as co-founder of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and leader of Silver Mt Zion and has a combined thirteen albums under his belt. He is also co-founder of Montreal's Hotel2Tango recording studio, with dozens of recording, arranging and guest playing credits to his name.
Fans of Menuck will be well versed in his highly original and constantly evolving approach to the sound of the electric guitar. His recasting of various folkways through the lens of uncompromising punk-rock is also well-documented in the discography of Thee Silver Mt. Zion. Perhaps less appreciated is Menuck's work as an inventive signal-bender and sound-sculptor, with an overriding commitment to analog processing, tape manipulations, re-amping and other iterative strategies.
Efrim Manuel Menuck plays "High Gospel" rallies all of these talents and sensibilities to deliver a powerful and personal album that serves as an ode to his adopted Montreal hometown (where he has now lived for two decades), the passing of great friends (Vic Chesnutt, Emma) and new fatherhood. Entirely self-produced and tracked at various Montreal locations, the album offers a confident, focused, humble and enveloping song cycle.
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres
Matana Roberts is one of the leading lights of contemporary African-American experimental music, combining her widely recognized gifts as an alto saxophone player and improviser with an intensely engaged re-definition of American Jazz traditions.
Matana's COIN COIN project is the centerpiece of this engagement and re-definition: a multi-chapter work that combines conceptual scoring (graphic notation, 'chance' strategies), storytelling and historical narrative, performative theatre (personae, costume, multi-media), and a deeply considered channeling of personal ancestry and the 'universal' experience of Africans in America.
COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libre is the first official recording of this ambitious and powerful project. We invited Matana to assemble her Montreal group for a live in-studio performance at the Hotel2Tango facility, before a small but capacity audience of about 30 friends and supporters. The performance was stunning, literally bringing audience members to tears, and went to tape beautifully. The full 90-minute performance was then edited down to around 60 minutes.
While it may sound trite, we truly feel this music speaks for itself. It rallies adventurous improv, experimental voice and narrative, a wide array of black folkways, and Matana's impassioned lead playing to tremendous emotional and conceptual effect.