Night Beds, the musical project of 26-year-old Colorado Springs native Winston Yellen, received much acclaim for his 2013 debut album, Country Sleep, scoring plaudits for its tortured take on alt country and Yellen's soaring vocals. But after finishing that album and before Country Sleep was even released, Yellen began experimenting with the kind of melancholic, neon-tinged R&B that makes up the mesmerising Ivywild.
The thread that weaves through all of Yellen's music and holds it together is his unmistakable voice - plaintive, yearning, soulful, heartbreaking. Whether it's ascending over the luscious epic-electronics of "Tide Teeth" or aching alone on Country Sleep's opener "Faithful Heights", Yellen's voice has a unique beauty matched by few of his contemporaries.
The second Night Beds album draws on Yellen's original love of Bill Evans through to J Dilla and is made up of what Yellen calls "sad sex jams" and was inspired by a long-term love and a break-up which looms large throughout the albums veiled lyrics. Its genesis can be found in the stoned night in Nashville when Yellen first heard Yeezus. Lying on the floor, Yellen blared the album at top volume.
Ivywild is a truly collaborative effort with a makeshift team of 25 musicians, notably Abe, Yellen's younger brother and closest friend - his credit on the album comes above Winston's own, so much value does he place upon the work Abe put in. Additional vocals come from Heather Hibbard, a singer from Maine who features on over half of the 16 track album, and was contacted by the gregarious Yellen through YouTube, after he found a video of her covering one of his songs. She came out to the studio the very next day.
Finessing the poignant assortment of songs was a sometimes painful task, but dedicated to the core. "I felt at some points we were losing our minds," he says. Initial versions of "Me Liquor and God" band "On High:" were 17 and 33 minutes respectively while "Finished" took four months to record. His editing process though was simple: "If it makes you cry, keep it in." Field recordings also flood the record, offering it a deep textural grain. "It is a luxury record, but it has a worn shirt feel," explains Yellen. "It's lived in. It's like a quilt - but it took forever, cutting up all the vocals and letting it breathe."
Strand of Oaks' HEAL was released early last summer on Dead Oceans, kicking off a year of big firsts and miles racked up on the odometer. Tim Showalter paid a visit to NPR’s Tiny Desk - and to nearly every state (plus multiple continents) on a non-stop tour. As a result, Showalter's most personal songs to date were allowed the chance to expand and change shape. That's where the deluxe version of HEAL comes in - to celebrate this newfound life and share some fan favorites. It's bookended with two covers, firstly a cover of Ryan Adams' "My Wrecking Ball" taped in Showalter's home of Philadelphia at WXPN, lastly a woozy rendition of The National's "Pink Rabbits". Rounding out the mix is a version of "Goshen '97" from Acoustic Cafe and a life-affirming rendition of "Shut In" for Hear Ya. Finally, it features an alternate mix of "HEAL" at the hands of producer John Congleton that sounds like Showalter's heart being dragged through sludge and fed through an amp.
Dark Bird Is Home doesn't feel like it came from one time or one place. The songs were captured in various countries, studios and barns, carrying a weather-worn quality, some dirt and grit. This is Kristian Matsson at his most personal and direct, deeper and darker than ever at times, but it's also an album with strokes of whimsy and the scent of new beginnings.
Ask Bill Fay about his relationship with his instrument and he says something revealing, not "Ever since I learnt to play the piano," but "Ever since the piano taught me..." What the piano taught him was how to connect to one of the great joys of his life. "Music gives," he says. And he is a grateful receiver. But, it makes him wonder, "Who is the sender?" Fay - who after more than five decades writing songs is finally being appreciated as one of our finest living practitioners of the art - asserts that songs aren't actually written but found. He recorded two phenomenal but largely overlooked albums for Decca offshoot Nova in 1970 and 1971. After 27 years of neglect, people like Nick Cave, Jim O' Rourke, and Jeff Tweedy were praising those records in glowing terms. Recorded in Ray Davies' Konk Studios, North London, Who Is The Sender? sees Bill expanding upon themes he has touched on from the beginning, spiritual and philosophical questions, observations about the natural world and the people in the city he has lived in all his life.
Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the true True American guitar Guitar player Player. That's as much a testament to his roving, rambling ways, or as to the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop.
Primrose Green begins near where All Kinds of You, his last record, leaves off but quickly pushes far afield. The title sounds pastoral and quaint, but the titular green has dark hallucinogenic qualities, as does much of the LP. The band is a mixture of new and old Chicago talent, blending both jaded veterans of the post-rock and jazz mini-circuits together with a few eager, open-eared youths.
Ryley didn't have much time to write this LP, so some of it he didn't. Bits of lyrics were improvised into full-blown songs in the studio, more often than not on the fly. The title track "Primrose Green" was nearly discarded after its incarnation on a bleak St. Patrick's Day spent in Oxford, Mississippi. "Primrose Green" is a colloquial term for a cocktail of whiskey and morning glory seeds that has a murky, dreamy, absinthian quality when imbibed, and a spirit-crushing aftereffect the morning after. "Summer Dress" is liftoff: seizing the mantle from Tim Buckley's Starsailor and perfecting its frantic jazz-induced fits. It was written in a dressing room in upstate New York, but perfected in rehearsal, veering between a six and ten minute epic. Contained here is the flawless conclusion, but reference the live set to experience the full possibilities of this anarchic work.
A forgotten roadside hotel in Tennessee yielded one song, "Same Minds", with just a hint of self-loathing. It was kicked around in rehearsal until taking its shape as a drifting bit of dreamy jazz. A 5-day stretch in Austin, mostly staying on Lechuguillas' Jason Camacho's tile floor with no blanket in a room barely large enough for one yielded most of the rest of the lyrics. "Griffiths Buck's Blues" was almost jettisoned but a thumbs-up from Jason kept it in the repertoire. Griffith Buck was named for a local artist and eccentric botanist in Ryley's hometown of Rockford, Illionois who has likely had few other songs named for him. "Love Can Be Cruel" spends almost two minutes "out" before becoming the song it was originally intended to be. Drummer Frank Rosaly pushes the song further and further until it borders on a cathartic meltdown to close out Side A.
Side B sets off with a shot of Americana, "On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee". It's an ode to the immersion baptisms Ryley's witnessed while walking along the banks. Unlike the idyllic memories of christenings under the weeping willows while a crowd looks on happily in their Sunday's best at the healthy young catechumens; the river was brown and polluted, and the participants dirty and tired and disinterested. "Sweet Satisfaction" presents some of Ryley's most intricate and ecstatic fingerpicking. It's hard not to recall John Martyn's early 1970s work, though Ben Boye's piano work is particularly revelatory here. "The High Road" was written while the trio of Ben, Ryley, and Brian Sulpizio (guitar) were on tour, opening for Cloud Nothings. Stuck crashing in a busted, unheated old house in New Orleans Ben sunk into a depression, Brian drank and Ryley drank, but also managed to turn out this ode to the rambling life.
"All Kinds Of You" is the oldest song included here. The title should seem familiar... it was written after his first LP, All Kinds of You, was finished, but the name seemed to fit that collection of songs better than anything else. Side B closes with a bit of tossback: "Hide In The Roses", the only solo jam included herein. Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin' Bajas), de-facto producer of the record, encouraged Ryley to use the extra studio time to bang something out, and this brilliant piece of Anglophilia emerged as the album's closer.
No one knows what the future holds for young Ryley Walker. Hardship and setbacks and dilapidated housing uncertainty only seem to spur him on creatively. Here, with this record, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success. A short lifetime of interminable practice and discipline have resulted in a masterpiece of an album, an album of a sort we haven't seen since the 1970s. If the world catches on, the Ryley that follows up this album may be a different sort of person, one who knows the taste of better liquor and comfortable bedding and might not be nearly as driven. I think he will be just as visionary, though less hungry, but either way... this is the time to get on the Ryley Walker bandwagon. Here, with Primrose Green, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success.
"That's the most intense fear and feeling - when you go to a show and you're actually scared," says Oliver Ackermann, guitarist and frontman of Brooklyn trio A Place To Bury Strangers.
"Or you can palpably feel the danger in the music," adds bassit Dion Lunadon, "Like it's going to fall apart at any moment and the players doing it are so in the moment they don't give a shit about anything else. They're just going for it. It's a gutter kinda vibe; everything about it is icky and evil and dangerous."
The same could be said the band's fourth album, Transfixiation. Rather than fixate on the minute details like they may have done in the past, the group, rounded out by drummer Robi Gonzalez, trust their instincts and try to keep things as pure as possible. Music is much more exhilarating when it's unpredictable even on repeat plays, and this is very much an unpredictable record. Gonzalez makes his recording debut with the band here, and it's obvious that he's helped pushed the band's recordings closer to the level of their infamous live shows.
"The one thing we have in common is this fire when we're playing," adds Gonzalez. "I don't know; it's real intense."
Recorded over four nights at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, this triple LP is a veritable best-of from a band at the height of their performative powers. Featuring scorching renditions of the best-loved songs of the Phosphorescent catalog, from Los Angeles to Song for Zula, Phosphorescent delivers a live album for all-time. Comes with album download.
Like the wild goose that the Portland-based trio are named after, the members of Greylag have all undertaken amazing journeys, migrating as if by homing instinct from different parts of the US, to create a self-titled debut album that's the latest must-have slice of verdant, far-reaching Americana. Greylag is rich in melody, mood and detail with a range that mirrors the distance between their individual birthplaces, creating a personal twist on some timeless musical traditions, embracing electric and acoustic with a sound that's both subtle and forceful.
Meet Andrew Stonestreet (lead vocal, acoustic guitar, originally from West Virginia), Daniel Dixon (lead guitar and other stringed things, keyboards, from Northern California) and Brady Swan (drums, from Texas). The venerated Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, The Shins) produced the album at Seattle’s Avast! Studio, who clearly knows a sublime enterprising combination of roots and rock music when he hears it.
The name Greylag looks and sounds strong but has developed more meaning for the band - It's a wild goose, from which all domestic geese originate, so it's the first survivor, and it's still wild, and doing things its own way - the 'lag' part refers to it being the last bird to migrate. It sits back and watches. We love the connotation.
After spending the past year touring the US and abroad, the Clavin Sisters have settled back into their LA digs long enough to bestow upon us a few more nuggets of dirty, blissed out hits.
Bleached had this to say about the title track: "For The Feel is a song we originally wrote for our full length but it didn't sound right once recorded so we held off on putting it on the record. Finally when it came down to recording it again we were really inspired by the sound of The Kinks, we even used The Kinks amp. I'm really glad we waited to release this song because now it's perfect."
On the flipside, they've churned out two jukebox classics; "Poison Ivy" is inspired by The Rolling Stones' take on The Coasters (and Bleached's love of both) and a live show favorite, The Damned's "Born To Kill" finishes out the sweaty dance party to perfection.
Limited, of course, and yours for the taking.
The new Bishop Allen record, Lights Out, is here at last. Here's what went into it: ten years, three full-lengths, twelve EPs, thousands of shows, a move out of Brooklyn, a new home in the wooly wilds of Kingston, NY, time off to score the films Bully and Mutual Friends, as well as an Anderson Cooper 360 special, months of demos, drum tracking in a sweat-lodge attic studio during a July heat wave, a wet Fall arranging guitars, bass, and synths in a now-chilly attic studio, the coldest December on record spent mixing, a close call with a frozen pipe and flooded hard drives, and a photo found on a friend's refrigerator.
Bear In Heaven's new album is aptly titled Time is Over One Day Old. It's a record with a visceral relationship to time and its processes. Where invulnerability and ambition can support you as you grow, at some point they become dead weight, and being true to yourself means casting them off, starting anew. This plays out as a powerful analogy for the band across the arc of it's career. They've always made intriguing records, here especially. It's easy to see why musicians fall hard for this band. They entice and envelop you. Any Bear In Heaven song will most likely greet you with a provocative beat, textural synthesizers and unassuming but adeptly supportive bass and guitar, all exquisitely arranged and glistening. Jon Philpot's high, smooth, strong voice is so tightly wound into the music that it can be easy to overlook the lyrics, Bear In Heaven's capacious third dimension. Philpot is a center-seeking, contemplative writer who captures the fleeting thoughts that underscore our emotional lives, the interactions with the world that are both difficult to express and anathema in daily conversation. While all of this can be said of any Bear In Heaven album, each varies wildly in tone and approach. 2007's Red Bloom of the Boom is ambitious and experimental. Beast Rest Forth Mouth (2009) was a pivotal record that still feels important, seductive and intense. On their 2012 LP I Love You, It's Cool the structural and musical ideas are challenging, and masterfully developed. For Time is Over One Day Old, we witness the band once again turning their gaze inward and prioritizing their evocative abilities in line with or even slightly ahead of technical skills. It feels very much in the tradition of BRFM in that way. It's beautiful; it's moving. Here Philpot and Adam Wills are more deeply collaborative than ever. This album is darker at times, louder than their others; it feels personal and direct. "If I Were To Lie" places Wills' bass groove front and center, "Demon" is riveting and propulsive in spite of its dark pointed lyric, and "They Dream" dissolves into three and a half minutes of deeply satisfying ambient synth work in its second half. Wills has always been the bands anchor, providing rock solid, rhythmic bass lines and guitars that blur the boundaries of Philpot's synth. Though in moments such as the final track, "You Don't Need The World," Wills cuts through with an audacious, biting guitar hook. It's a great culmination of the album's sense of release. This album isn't about being dark, it's about releasing darkness and frustration. When bands age well, their vitality takes shape. They wear, but with intention. They trim excesses. Throughout this album you'll hear a band at peace with themselves. They've learned to cut back on that which is merely impressive and to concentrate on simply what is crucial. For Philpot this is about making something lasting. "A lot of shedding, getting rid of layers and preconceptions… breaking up with old ways of thinking, old ways of being, starting to look at this thing in a new way and finding something positive." The result is a record that will stay with you.
From the first bars of HEAL, the exhilarating melodic stomp of 'Goshen '97' puts you right into Tim Showalter's fervent teenage mindset. We find him in his family's basement den in Goshen, IN, feeling alienated but even at 15 years old, believing in the alchemy and power of music to heal your troubles. "The record is called HEAL, but it's not a soft, gentle healing, it's like scream therapy, a command, because I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that's how I got better." HEAL embodies that feeling of catharsis and rebirth, desperation and euphoria, confusion and clarity. It is deeply personal and unwittingly anthemic.
Showalter was on tour, walking home on a mild autumn night in Malmo, Sweden, when he first felt the weight of the personal crisis that would ignite him to write HEAL. "It was a culmination of pressure," Showalter recalls. "My marriage was suffering, I'd released a record I was disappointed in, I didn't like how I looked or acted…so I'd gone on tour, I was gone about two years! I didn't take time to think about failure, but I knew I was going deeper and deeper…I was thinking, I have this life, but it's not my life, I haven’t done it right…"
When Showalter returned, he wrote 30 songs in three weeks, a process that proved difficult, but cathartic and at times invigorating. Previous Strand Of Oaks records were more skeletal, raw examples of folk-rooted Americana with occasional rock and electronic currents, that have now come to the fore. HEAL is a bold new beginning, with a thrilling full-tilt sound that draws on Showalter's love of '70s, '80s and '90s rock and pop, with the singer and guitarist playing the intense valedictory confessor.
Crucial to HEAL's sound was the man who Showalter chose to mix the record, the stellar alt-rock icon John Congleton. Showalter also re-connected with Ben Vehorn, synth expert and studio engineer extraordinaire, and drummer Steve Clements, who provides HEAL's thunderous, sinewy drive. Songs such as 'Shut In', 'Plymouth' and 'Woke Up To The Light' have a classic construction and mood, recalling '70s power-pop/ballads and the yearning ache of Big Star's late, great Chris Bell. Many of the songs on HEAL reveal an electronic undercarriage and towering drums that push the album's wired dynamic to its stretching point, especially on 'For Me', which expertly bridges the album's twin decades of influences. And if 'Goshen '97' recalls the molten energy of Dinosaur Jr, that actually is J Mascis on lead guitar. Despite the initials, the album's smouldering 7-minute epic 'JM' is not a Mascis tribute, but to the late Jason Molina, about having his music as comfort no matter how bad things get.
Which brings us to another crisis, this time much more serious and immediate. HEAL was scheduled for mixing on Dec. 26, 2013. Driving on the freeway Christmas Day, Showalter and his wife were involved in a car accident with a semi-truck, and were fortunate to walk away with their lives. Showalter suffered a, "pretty severe," head trauma, "which affected me much more than I realized at the time." Fearing delays, Showalter didn't let Congelton know about it, so the mixing session went ahead. "Being on the verge of death, and my thoughts being so closely tied to that, changed the album's direction," Showalter claims. "Together, we pushed it toward a much more cathartic sound that forces the listener to where I was at that exact moment, somewhere between almost dying and being absolutely fearless."
HEAL is not just a saviour for its creator, but for anyone who needs reminding of music's ability to heal, or just thrill. Showalter is taking out a full band to play, and finally, the kid who wanted to be a rock star at 15 might get his chance. Finally, he and Strand Of Oaks have much to celebrate.
Take the 101 north out of Los Angeles, and you'll pass by Agoura Hills, where the core duo of the band Dub Thompson grew up. Whatever you see in that town won't readily prepare you for the music they wrote while there, but you're free to look.
"Most everyone who's in a group who's our age lives on the Internet," says guitarist Matt Pulos. "The kinds of things that have shaped our band aren't anchored to any one time or place."
Pulos and his bandmate, drummer Evan Laffer, are currently both 19 years old, and are putting that line of thought to the test; their musical influences travel from the Midwestern malaise of Big Black and Pere Ubu, to Kraut pioneers Can and Kraftwerk, while bowing to the British belligerence of The Fall and This Heat.
Recording the album while living with Foxygen's Jonathan Rado at his rented house in Bloomington, the band had its first taste of a heavy Indiana summer, and all the humidity and insect life that buzzes along with it. "We woke up every day, ate hard-boiled eggs and stood on a porch," says Pulos of the experience.
Their first collection of songs slyly unties the shoes of genre and convention, shapeshifts mischievously, and tramples on the promises delivered on the name itself.
There are only eight songs on this rangy debut.
Intense blasts of hook-filled noise rock ("Hayward!"), rocksteady marionette stomp ("No Time"), hypnotic bouts of doomy poetics ("Epicondyles"), outlandishly sexy groove rock ("Dograces"), and a number of other bite-sized forays into parts unknown are made manifest across 9 Songs.
The vibes are strong here. Pulos sings and plays like he's working out long-standing grudges, pulling the most sinewy tones from an acoustic guitar and ripping huge chunks of demon flesh out of his electric. Laffer matches him step for step on the drums, an exacting presence behind the kit who pushes even the band's more placid moments into bouts of tension. Together they succeed in animating their musical ideas to startling, almost unnatural life. Reverb units, keyboards, samples and processing gluing everything together, saturated in the August heat and worn in until they sound second nature, it's like somehow you've been listening to these songs forever.