Saltland: I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us
Saltland is the new project led by Montreal-based cellist Rebecca Foon (Esmerine, ex-Silver Mt. Zion), joined by Jamie Thompson (Unicorns, Esmerine) on miniature percussion, programming and signal processing.
I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us is a beautifully restrained debut album that telescopes the directness and delicacy of Foon's compositional and vocal styles into lush, twilight atmospheres aglow with luminescent tendrils and flickering particles. Foon sings of childhood innocence lost, of serene utopic reveries and downcast dystopic horizons, and the search for soft, stoic strength in a darkening world, in most cases propelled by Thompson's handmade percussion and understated programming/processing.
The album's ambience also owes much to the work of Mark Lawson, the award-winning producer (Arcade Fire) who collaborated closely with Foon to record and mix these songs. With contributions from Laurel Sprengelmeyer and Jess Robertson (Little Scream), Mishka Stein (Patrick Watson), Colin Stetson (Bon Iver), Sarah Neufeld and Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) among others, Saltland offers up an unassumingly immersive debut album of searching songs that blend several core influences into a distinctively naturalistic sound. Saltland stakes out a unique space where minimalism, shoegaze, dream-pop, coldwave, chamber music, drone and ambient/electronic coexist and coalesce.
Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Colin Stetson established himself as an intensely original solo composer and performer in 2011 with the release of the widely acclaimed New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, which ended up on countless year-end lists. Anyone who has seen Stetson in solo performance can attest to the stunning physicality of his circular-breathing technique and capacity to produce a seemingly impossible palate of multiple voicings simultaneously in real time.
New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light is the final installment in a trilogy of solo albums, again recorded live in single takes and again mixed by groundbreaking producer Ben Frost. Colin's membership in Bon Iver has also led to vocal contributions from Justin Vernon for this record, who appears on four songs, and whose voice constitutes the only overdubbing on the album.
New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light is the most cohesive and fully realized of Stetson's solo albums to date. It should reliably stand as the apotheosis of the New History Warfare trilogy, and certainly signals the full flourishing of Stetson's unique talents as both composer and performer, pressing his arsenal of virtuosic techniques into the service of vivid, impassioned and conceptually astute songcraft.
Jerusalem In My Heart: Mo7it Al-Mo7it
Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) has been a live audio-visual happening since 2005, with Montréal-based producer and musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh at its core. Moumneh is a Lebanese national who has spent a large part of his adult life in Canada and has been a fixture of the Montréal independent music community from his early days as guitarist in various notable 90s hardcore bands to his tireless activity as a sound engineer and producer over the last decade.
With performances occurring 1-3 times per year, no two JIMH events have ever been the same, with Moumneh's vocals and purposefully blown-out sonic sensibility as the single constant.
JIMH has always been an immersive sonic and visual live experience; on the musical side, an evolving effort to forge a modern experimental Arabic music that weds melismatic singing in classical Arabic modes to electronic compositions with a punk-rock production sensibility. Mo7it Al-Mo7it, a unique and profoundly emotive album of contemporary Arabic music, captures and conveys all of this.
Jerusalem In My Heart has lately solidified around a core duo of Radwan Ghazi Moumneh carrying musical duties and Chilean filmmaker Malena Szlam providing live visuals using analog 16mm film projections and multiple site-specific screen installations.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don?t Bend! Ascend!
A full decade ago, Godspeed You! Black Emperor released Yanqui U.X.O. with no publicity or press availability, no marketing plans, no cross-promotions or brand synergies, driven by word-of-mouth from a passionate and committed fanbase galvanized by the group's sonic vision and its dedication to unmediated, unsullied musical communication.
To suggest that such simple principles and goals have become harder to maintain and enact a decade later is an understatement, but Godspeed is looking to try all the same. The band wants people to care about this new album, without telling people they should, knowing full well that these days, anti-strategy risks being tagged as a strategy.
The band has been blazing its own path again since 2010. We think they have made a new record that maintains if not exceeds the standards of their previous work. After almost two years of post-hiatus practicing, playing and touring, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! delivers two mighty sides of music that are definitively stunning, immersive and utterly true to the band?s legacy. The future looks dark indeed, but on the evidence of this new recording, Godspeed appears wholly committed to staring it down, channeling it, and fighting for some rays of sound (and flickers of light) that feel hopeful and true.
Hangedup & Tony Conrad: Transit Of Venus
Kanada 70: Vamp Ire
Pacha: Affaires Etrangeres
Various Artists: Musique Fragile Vol. 02
A limited edition series of 3xLP box sets with extensive screenprinted art/packaging for the slipcover box, the individual LP jackets, and three different posters (one for each album). Volume 02 features "lost" and/or recuperated recordings by Hangedup + Tony Conrad (previously unreleased 24-track and 2-track sessions captured in Montréal several years ago), Kanada 70 (aka Craig Dunsmuir, compiled from his many obscure CD-R bedroom recordings released in Toronto since the mid-2000s) and Pacha (aka Pierre-Guy Blanchard, from a CD-R released in Montréal in 2009). A trio of stunning instrumental albums, all remastered for vinyl and pressed on 180gLP in a hand-numbered box set edition of 500.
Les Momies de Palerme: Brūlez ce coeur
Les Momies De Palerme is the Montreal-based duo of Marie Davidson (violin, synths, vocals) and Xarah Dion (synths, vocals). Brūlez ce coeur is the first official full-length from the group, who create an uncategorisable sound built up from a core of keyboards, processed violin and voices: slow-paced without being ponderous; synthetic without being retro; methodically restrained and strangely devotional without being easily tagged as ethereal or gothic. Brūlez ce coeur is often like an ersatz sacred music: canticles on acid, full of strange quirks and avant sounds while remaining soothing, meditative and incantatory.
Recorded at David Bryant's (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Set Fire To Flames) studio The Pines in Montreal, Brūlez ce coeur takes advantage of the fantastic acoustics of this space and Bryant's fine collection of spring and plate reverbs.
Brūlez ce Coeur was originally released as part of Constellation's Musique Fragile Vol. 01, a three-album collection of recordings by new artists in an elaborately-packaged limited edition box set. Now available as a stand-alone CD release, the album comes in a beautiful 4-colour screenprinted jacket with artwork by Jacinthe Loranger.
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.