Stone Jack Jones is a survivor. On two separate occasions the rare and mysterious blood condition that courses through his steely West Virginian veins almost killed him. Doctors couldn't fully explain or treat his malady, but Jack pulled through, even after receiving last rites on one occasion. While recovering from one of his near death experiences he pondered the necessity of death, the torturous pain that comes with the death of someone you love, and eventually arrived at the simultaneously comforting and alarming conclusion that he was both alive and dead at the same time.
In 2014 he released Ancestor, an album which The Quietus called "... breathtakingly insightful and poetic...". Jack's new album Love & Torture was produced and engineered by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney). Rather than recording everything over a few days or weeks in the studio, the two met up sporadically over the course of many months, giving the songs plenty of time to gestate and evolve in stride with Jack's life. Like a collection of swirling and inviting mantras Love & Torture is a sonic dialog that pulses with the all of the grace and bliss that has touched Jack's incredible life.
Having lived, worked, and created in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood for over a decade, native Texan Travis Johnson has felt the direct impact of the growth and dissolution that comes with rapid gentrification. His band Grooms practiced, and recorded at Brooklyn's Death By Audio for seven years before they were forced out of their spiritual and literal home in November 2014 when DBA shut its doors. With the band's income not providing enough money to support any of it's members, bass player and co-writer Emily Ambruso went on hiatus from the band, leaving Johnson as the only original member. Despite these unfortunate blows, Johnson soldiered on, soon recruiting Jay Heiselmann on bass, and actor/comedian Steve Levine on drums.
Unlike their previous album Infinity Caller (which Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis called "...an exercise in explosion and restraint hallmarked by sweeping guitars, stuttery drums, and cryptic, airy vocals...") Comb... brings the band's rhythm section to the fore, and Johnson's trademark guitar stylings often take a backseat to his psychedelic sample-collages and ambient electronics. Fortunately the new approach works, balancing pop structures with masterful experimental production that shifts in tone and color in harmony with Johnson's tales of acceptance, loneliness, and impotent violence.
Erik Hall worked patiently and solitarily for four years to craft Driver, his sophomore album as In Tall Buildings. The album comes twenty years after Hall originally fell in love with home recording at age 13 - the year he got his hands on his first multi-track recorder. As a multi-instrumentalist and producer Hall eventually went on to record and tour with several groups, including old friends His Name is Alive and, more recently, dream-pop duo Wild Belle, performing the rhythm section tracks and lending an engineering hand to their Columbia Records debut.
In stark contrast to the dense polyrhythms echoed by his former group NOMO's albums, Driver uses a relatively simple palette to create spacious pop songs, leaving plenty of room for Hall's often Peter Gabriel-esque vocals to shine. The music is powerful in it's restrained simplicity, and a compelling foil to the haunting gravity of his vocal performance. Never rushed, his melodies deliver elliptical lyrics that manage to feel intimate, while retaining a sense of mystery. Fortunately, the album's melancholic vibe is relatable, rather than moping or histrionic, and ultimately these songs are incredibly inviting and comforting.
For the past 14 years, Elephant Micah's Joseph O'Connell has quietly self-released his music, sometimes collaborating with the psych-folk imprint Time-Lag Records or other very small labels. Despite the project's almost secretive status, Elephant Micah has repeatedly caught the attention of NPR, and has been championed by an impressive cohort of like-minded artists including Jason Molina, Hiss Golden Messenger, Dark Dark Dark, and Hurray for the Riff Raff. His new album, Where in Our Woods is defined by its limited palette. The arrangements foreground nylon-string guitar and an antique portable pump organ. A stripped down-drum set, a baritone ukulele, a toy recorder, and harmony vocals (sung by Will Oldham, a friend of and key influence on O'Connell) round out the sound. This sparse ensemble leaves O'Connell's voice room to breathe, while elevating and magnifying the poetry of his songs. Throughout the album, O'Connell deftly transforms the stuff of everyday American life into a series of entrancing meditations on culture, nature, religion, and modernity.
Kaitlyn's solo debut Euclid (primarily written on a Buchla Music Easel synthesizer) was inspired by her love of mbira music, early electronic music pioneers like Laurie Spiegel, Oskar Sala, and Terry Riley, and euclidian geometry. Each of the first six songs on Euclid were initially structured using euclidian geometry, an idea which Smith explored while attending a class at the San Francisco Conservatory. As Smith explains, "We each chose a 3D shape and assigned our own guidelines to the different components that make up the shape. For example each point of the shape represents a different time signature, each line between the points represents a pitch, each shape within the closed lines represents a scale, etc. And then you play the shape." Despite their heady geometric origins, the songs have a playfulness and warmth that makes them inviting and memorable. In addition to the buoyant grooves of Smith's synthesizers, some of the songs feature wordless vocals, which energize the otherworldly songs, while grounding them with Smith's earthly presence.
For the past eight years the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have nurtured and refined their creative partnership as the core members of the band Balmorhea. In 2007 they self-released their self-titled debut, an album which captures the duo's unique magic as it first blossomed. In 2014 Western Vinyl is reissuing the band's self-titled album, and making it available on vinyl for the first time.
In conjunction with the reissue, we're happy to present two new songs on a limited edition 7" record titled HEIR. With the songs created for the 7" (HEIR I and HEIR II), the band brings everything full circle, returning to the simple structures and melancholic tone that colored their first recordings. HEIR I starts things off slowly with a Wurlitzer's somber tremolo and some gently propulsive electric bass, soon joined by vibes and a soaring violin melody. HEIR II opens with a gorgeous ukulele melody, which is slowly engulfed in Kendall Clark's expressive drumming, eventually giving way to a frenetic wall of strings.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's formative years were spent communing with nature on Orcas Island in the northwest region of Washington state, a place she describes as "one of the most magical and peaceful places I have ever been." Though she wouldn't begin experimenting with modular synthesis until many years later, her creative work continues to be infused with and inspired by the vitality and serenity of Orcas.
Smith left the island to attend Berklee College of Music, where she studied composition and sound engineering, initially focusing on her voice as her primary instrument, before switching to classical guitar and piano. She employed many of the skills she refined in college in her indie-folk band Ever Isles, but a fateful encounter with a neighbor who lent her a Buchla 100 synthesizer, had a profound effect on her. Mesmerized by the new sounds the Buchla offered, she explains "I got so distracted and enamored with the process of making sounds with it that I abandoned the next Ever Isles album."
Tranquil, playful, and full of life, the ten pieces on Tides were carefully designed to enhance one's environment. The album opens with a 14-minute piece that unfolds like the soundtrack to daybreak, as muted rhythms, shimmering swells, and fluttering tremolos slowly give way to an insistent, almost aboriginal pulse. As the album progresses, each song travels along a vibrant wave, with resonant drones, and brief melodic gestures that mirror patterns of the natural world, while keeping pace with the beat of a serene human heart. After experiencing the gently kinetic and undulating energy of Tides, it's not surprising to find out these pieces were originally created as an audio accompaniment to yoga classes.
For the past eight years the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have nurtured and refined their creative partnership as the core members of the band Balmorhea. Though their first album on Western Vinyl Rivers Arms (2008) garnered some remarkable press, their self-titled debut, recorded in 2006 and released in 2007 best captures the duo's unique magic as it first blossomed. With no label, distributor, manager, publicist, or booking agent the duo quietly self-released their first recordings and started playing live shows. Now, seven years later Western Vinyl is honored to have the opportunity reissue the band's self-titled album, and make it available on vinyl for the first time ever.
In preparation for this special reissue, the audio was lovingly remastered, drawing out even more of the nuances... magnifying the sounds of Muller and Lowe's fingers on the instruments, and teasing out the textures that set these recordings apart from the rest of their catalog. Throughout the album the distant sounds of Texas grackles, the warm summer rain, the steady rhythm of crickets chirping, and creaking wooden stools, all seeping in to cradle the notes in a restrained din of primordial wonder.
Since the release of their debut album Idol Omen in 2009, Glass Ghost's founding members Eliot Krimsky and Michael Johnson have kept busy. In addition to playing dozens of shows, including a tour with White Rabbits, Johnson joined Dirty Projectors as their new drummer, Krimsky has been collaborating with Here We Go Magic on keys, and the duo welcomed two new members to the group, Tyler Wood on keyboards and percussion, and Aerial East on vocals. Like their debut, LYFE was produced by Tyler Wood, who also produced Joan As Policewoman's 2014 album The Classic. For the LYFE recording sessions, the group recruited many of their friends to contribute, including Joan Wasser of Joan As Policewoman, Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors, and Christopher Tignor of Slow Six and Wires Under Tension. Pushing their songs to new levels by working with Brooklyn's musical elite is nothing new for Glass Ghost. They worked with more than a dozen of their friends from Brooklyn's music community, including Sharon Van Etten (who in 2011 noted "Eliot Krimsky is one of my favorite writers."), Here We Go Magic's Luke Temple, and Matt Iwanusa of Caveman, for their debut which was described by the New Yorker as "elegant compositions of frosted indie pop," and by Time Out New York as "weird and mournful yet highly rhythmic."
After recording some initial demos in North Carolina, The Rosebuds headed to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to record with their old friend and former band member Justin Vernon. Their comfort and connection with Vernon allowed them to stretch their creative limbs, as Vernon gently teased out some of the band's most stellar musical performances to date. With longtime collaborators Matt McCaughan on drums and BJ Burton co-producing and mixing the album, the band was able to quickly zero in on the dynamics and textures they wanted, while still feeling free to experiment with new styles and production ideas. The resulting songs are punchier, more confident, and more hook-laden than anything the band has produced before, without diluting the emotional foundation that defines the band.
Each of the 11 songs on Sand + Silence resonates with the unusual creative synergy that won't loosen its grip on Ivan and Kelly's cores. Their honesty and passion filtered through their refined songwriting skills make this album feel alive, pulsing with flesh and blood. In a pop culture dominated by canonized megastars, and ephemeral one-hit-wonders, the creative fire that refuses to stop burning within The Rosebuds makes the band and this album something truly special.
In the wake of their 2011 album Strange Hearts, the three members of Secret Cities branched off in different directions. Charlie Gokey delved into Roy Orbison's ballads about losers in love while becoming a civil liberties attorney in Washington, D.C. Alex Abnos locked in to New Orleans soul masters like King Floyd & Dr. John as he became a journalist in New York City. And Marie Parker became a teacher in the band's spiritual home of Fargo, North Dakota.
Having met at band camp and on an internet message board, the trio had made music together for nine years without ever living together in the same city. After recording two albums and a handful of singles via email, they decided it was finally time to enter a real studio where they could play and record together in real time. They chose San Francisco's Tiny Telephone studio, where Jay Pellicci manned the controls for a week-and-a-half of the most spontaneous, democratic, and visceral recording of their lives. They emerged with Walk Me Home, an album that finally reflects their live chemistry and their diverging lives and musical tastes.
As an accomplished 12-string guitarist/composer, Alexander Turnquist was naturally alarmed when the ulnar nerve in his left hand seized up in 2013, but after a surgical procedure he gratefully started the process of learning to play guitar again. His recovery was cut short when not long after the surgery he was hospitalized with meningitis. Though his recovery is ongoing, and he continues to struggle with a weakened immune system and memory loss, he was inspired to soldier on, rather than being deterred by his physical struggles.
Turnquist's latest full-length Flying Fantasy confirms the idea that out of great hardship can come great art. As he wrote the material for the new album it became clear that his sensitivity had sharpened, his empathy magnified, and his sense of purpose blossomed. The unfortunate circumstances he endured ostensibly forced his metamorphosis from a remarkable guitar player to a truly great composer. Much like the butterflies that adorn the album cover, he seems to have changed form and taken flight.
Despite his busy schedule recording and touring as the bass player for Dirty Projectors, Nat Baldwin found time to write and record his most soulful and ambitious collection of songs to date. After recording the initial tracks at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, RI, Nat recruited Otto Hauser (Vetiver, Lia Ices, Espers) for drums and percussion, and Rob Moose (The National, Antony and the Johnsons, Bon Iver) to write string arrangements.
Much of the album was written while Nat was training for a marathon at his home in Maine. Blending autobiographical details with fiction, the songs cover a wide range of topics including boxing, drowning, bodybuilding, target practice, will power, Steve Prefontaine, competition, separation, isolation, devastation, manipulation, conflagration, intoxication, and suicide.
Immersive, athletic, and often profound, In the Hollows represents his clearest and most consistent album-length statement, melodically, structurally, and lyrically. Nat explains that "I hope it is as unsettling as it is beautiful. I want it to make people feel things they can't describe."
In the 90's Christopher Tignor immersed himself in minimalism, working as an assistant for LaMonte Young while learning sound engineering on the job at a New York contemporary music festival produced by Philip Glass. He went on to refine his skills mixing live sound for bands at two of New York's seminal clubs, CBGB's and Brownies. More recently, Tignor has contributed his skills as violinist and string arranger both in the studio and on tour to This Will Destroy You, John Congleton's Nighty Nite, and Lymbyc Systym.
His sophomore solo album, Thunder Lay Down in the Heart features renowned Boston-based ensemble A Far Cry performing the 20-minute title piece. The album's additional tracks feature Tignor's electronic reimaginings of the title piece, creating spellbinding textures derived directly from the ensemble's gut-wrenching virtuoso performance. The album explores the natural link between numerous musical disciplines including contemporary classical, ranging from John Adams to Aaron Copland to John Luther Adams, melodic rock, ambient drone music, and electronic experimental artists such as William Basinski. Rachel Grimes (of Rachel's) collaborated with Tignor to produce the record's final piece, "First, Impressions."
After years of writing and performing, Ava Luna has refined their doo-wop soul meets punk-as-fuck aesthetic into something bold and glaringly defiant in today's indie music landscape. Following the release of their critically lauded first proper full-length Ice Level, the band spent an intense 2-week period writing and recording in upstate New York. Unlike previous efforts that were meticulously mapped out, the songs that would become Electric Balloon were "... a family effort." according to frontman Carlos Hernandez. For the new album, former Columbia composition student Hernandez relinquished the reins a bit, opting for a more organic approach to writing the material for what would become Electric Balloon.
In the wake of Ice Level, Ava Luna's sharp edges have melted away just enough, making it easier to connect with their no-wave grooves and soaring harmonies. Distilling everything from James Chance and ESG to contemporaries like Dirty Projectors and Of Montreal, Ava Luna have landed on an aggressively unique sound that still manages to be accessible.