Nat Baldwin: Dome Branches: The MVP Demos
In 2008 double bassist/singer-songwriter Nat Baldwin released Most Valuable Player, an album that led Pitchfork to say "?he brings fierce performances to these polished compositions." Now 5 years later, Western Vinyl is proud to be releasing the original demos from Most Valuable Player, which were recorded in 2005 and 2006.
After studying avant-garde jazz and improvisation with jazz legend Anthony Braxton, Nat Baldwin started writing songs featuring double bass and vocals. In 2005 he joined Dirty Projectors. In addition to his work with Dirty Projectors, he has performed on Grizzly Bear's Sheilds, Vampire Weekend's Contra, and Department of Eagles' In Ear Park. In between touring and recording with Dirty Projectors, Nat made time to record his 2011 album People Changes, an album that led Pitchfork to say "?whether Baldwin is singing with his throat or his bow, there's a thrilling felling of freedom to it all." More recently, he's been writing, recording, and arranging songs for a new album to be released in 2014. You can hear some of the new material live this September when Nat tours in the US and Canada.
Botany: Lava Diviner (True Story)
When our human experiences defy articulation, music and film can sometimes be the only languages we have to communicate with. In 1975, Peter Weir directed Picnic at Hanging Rock, a haunting film in which a group of schoolgirls disappear while exploring a volcanic rock in the Australian outback. Through the film, Weir explores landscapes of intense memory, and the mysterious forces that bend, mold, and erode the core of our psyches. Similarly, Lava Diviner (Truestory), the debut full-length from Texas native, Spencer Stephenson, gives voice to those ancient transformative forces within ourselves, amplified to the point of distortion by the dry Texas heat.
Though texturally inspired by early new age records like Iasos? Inter-Dimensional Music, and sample-based collage ventures like Colleen?s Everyone Alive Wants Answers, Lava Diviner (Truestory) is reinforced with a robust percussive backbone. Still, Stephenson never resorts to shallow MPC trickery or contrived mixtape clumsiness. Instead, his proto-new age textures float elegantly atop a primal boom-bap pulse to paint a detailed, rhythmic mural that has the scope of a ?70s prog rock epic. ?On Lava Diviner, I wanted to conjure that same headspace that artists like Roger Dean, and even Zdzislaw Beksinski project in their iconic paintings,? says Stephenson. ?I tried to evoke those grand, colorful, surreal landscapes that are mind-bending yet oddly comforting - sci-fi and epic and holy, all at the same time.?
Diane Coffee: My Friend Fish
Joseph Campbell describes a shaman as "person, male or female, who?has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It's a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it." We'll never know the whole truth about what happened when (Foxyen drummer and former Disney child actor) Shaun Fleming moved from the West Coast suburbs to New York, but whatever it was fractured his psyche, opened it up, and gave birth to Diane Coffee.
In 2013, after joining the band Foxygen, Shaun Fleming left the green and golden fields of his hometown of Agoura Hills, CA to become the third roommate in a 700 square-foot, pre-war, closet-free Manhattan apartment. He was welcomed to The Big Apple by a nasty flu virus that drained the last bit of California sunshine out of the skinny, Macaulay Culken-looking 26-year-old's body. As he recovered, cabin fever supplanted the flu, and his relentless creative drive took over. Low on funds and bored out of his gourd, he spent the next two weeks alone in his bedroom writing and recording what would become the debut Diane Coffee LP My Friend Fish.
Aisha Burns: Life in the Midwater
Often when you're in your mid-20's heavy realities start to settle in. Relationships that seemed like they'd last forever lose their spark, your aspirations and self-perception shift, you marvel at friends your age getting married and having babies, and you feel powerless and small, realizing that people you've known and loved for a lifetime can suddenly die. It's a serious psychological shakeup, made even more difficult if your frontal cortex hasn't fully matured yet. It's a beast, a mountain, a wall, or as in Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey, a mysterious obelisk that pushes you to evolve?like it or not. For better or worse, parts of us die, new parts come to life, and if we're lucky we emerge smarter, stronger, and more resilient. It's no surprise that for ages we've felt a deep sense of connection with music, art, and films inspired by this metamorphosis. Aisha Burns' Life in the Midwater provides a snapshot of the rough stuff, but with a delicate sensitivity and wisdom beyond her years.
Burns' contributions as the violinist and occasional vocalist for the Austin band Balmorhea belie a nuanced songwriting prowess, and a dynamic and powerful voice. The album's title references a deep dark layer of the ocean that flows far below the surface, and just above what we call the deeps sea. Bioluminescent jellyfish often inhabit this layer of the ocean, emitting mysterious flashes of light despite the risk of exposing themselves to potential predators. Similarly Aisha's songs are dreamlike beacons in the inky abyss?
Grooms: Infinity Caller
After releasing two albums on the indie label Kanine Records, Grooms still hadn't gained enough traction to support themselves with their music and they were understandably ready to call it quits. However, in 2011, impressed with their albums and live shows, author Michael Azerrad invited Grooms to perform at his "Our Band Could Be Your Life" show alongside St. Vincent, Ted Leo, Wye Oak, Dan Deacon, and WV alumni Dirty Projectors. It was a huge opportunity for the band, and the catalyst for what would become their new album Infinity Caller. Azerrad's enthusiasm and encouragement gave the band?s primary songwriter Travis Johnson the confidence to soldier on, keep making music, and ultimately find peace of mind.
Ola Podrida: Ghosts Go Blind
David Wingo is a busy man. In the years since the release of his last record as Ola Podrida, he's written and recorded soundtracks for several movies including Take Shelter (winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011), MUD (starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon), and Prince Avalanche (starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch and co-composed with Explosions In The Sky), both of which are seeing wide release this coming spring/summer. When he had time in between films, Wingo assembled a live band featuring Colin Swietek on guitars, Matt Clark on bass, and David Hobizal on drums and began to bring his new songs in to the band. A first for Ola Podrida, the new album Ghosts Go Blind was recorded to tape in a proper studio, mostly live, with the full band. The resulting songs are energetic and accessible, while Wingo's abstract narratives are more personal and intimate than ever.
Luxury Liners: They're Flowers
After releasing Freeclouds in 2011 under his own name, Carter Tanton toured the US with The War on Drugs and then joined Lower Dens. While on tour with Lower Dens, Carter had plenty of time to experiment with new ways of crafting songs using samples and other electronics. The resulting album, They're Flowers, is his first release under the Luxury Liners moniker.
Úlfur: White Mountain
Having played in various bands including Swords of Chaos and in Jónsi?s touring band, White Mountain is Úlfur Hansson's debut under his own name. With influences ranging from cult cinema, esoteric literature and contemporary music, Úlfur presents a unique twist on the supernatural.
In his own words: "Every track is a collage of field-recordings made while travelling. I met so many interesting people on the road (for instance, Alexandra of Mountain Man who did amazing vocals for "So Very Strange") and I always carry my tape recorder with me like a camera.
The title is a homage to Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue, as well as Alejandro Jodorowski's film Holy Mountain, but also something else?.Each individual sound has a very special memory attached to it, so the album creates these nostalgic nonexistent spaces, hidden places - an amalgamation of instances, situations that couldn't possibly exist. I imagine this White Mountain, an invisible imaginary place - a sacred place on the horizon. Maybe like a connection to the the universe above. An analogy of the journey of Man."
Wires Under Tension: Replicant
With a battery of custom built software instruments, samples, and 7 live lopers, Christopher Tignor and master percussionist Theo Metz saturate our senses with new colors reflecting the urgent vitality of their South Bronx neighborhood. At times the two seem to lock talons like eagles in a death spiral, as Metz's brutal percussive athleticism keeps pace with Tignor's machines in an aural game of chicken.
The inspiration and experiences that led Tignor to write Replicant are directly tied to his employment history and educational background. His undergraduate degree in Literature, Masters in Computer Science, and PhD in Music Composition are all reflected in Replicant's thematic and technical underpinnings. Prior to his current job as a software engineer for Google, he held a number of interesting jobs including working as LaMonte Young's personal assistant, an EMT, a sound engineer at CBGB, a bike messenger, and has had the opportunity to handle live sound for artists including Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Patti Smith. Listening to Replicant, it's interesting to contemplate how each of these experiences have made their mark on the man and the Replicant.
On Stranger Balmorhea continues the cosmic dialog they began with their eponymous debut in 2007. Though the spirit of Texas' early inhabitants and the weight of the night sky inspired previous albums All is Wild, All is Silent (2009) and Constellations (2010), Stranger shifts the focus from the celestial to the terrestrial, or more accurately, it begins to explore the celestial resonance in all things terrestrial.
Balmorhea's music has always been guided by the experience of living in Texas, but with Stranger the band moves beyond contemplative reverence for the land and the history of their home state. The most forward-leaning of their catalog, Stranger presents worlds of tenderness, aggression, estrangement, and freedom using an expanded sonic palette including guitar loops, vibes, synthesizers, ukulele, and steel pan drums. In addition to these new sounds, electric guitars and percussion take the stage once occupied by piano and acoustic guitars.
Opening with the electric guitar loops, synths, and steel drums of "Days", the band invites us to move forward with them as they explore without pretense or expectation. "Pilgrim" provides the perfect ending, blurring alpha and omega...a concluding gesture taking us back to our beginnings.