Secret Cities: Walk Me Home
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.
Alexander Turnquist: Flying Fantasy
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.
Nat Baldwin: In The Hollows
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."
Christopher Tignor: Thunder Lay Down In The Heart
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."
Ava Luna: Electric Balloon
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.
Stone Jack Jones: Ancestor
Based in Nashville, but raised in a coal miner's company house on the banks of Buffalo Creek, WV, Stone Jack Jones is the descendant of four generations of coal miners. After being rejected from military service in Vietnam due to epilepsy, and discouraged from pursuing the coal mining business, Jack decided to start wandering. By the time he landed in Nashville, where he met Roger Moutenot, Patty Griffin, and Kurt Wagner, Jack had worked as a carny, an escape artist, a ballet dancer, a professional lute player, and even owned a strip club.
Ancestor was produced in collaboration with Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney, and many others), and features contributions by Patty Griffin, and Lambchop members Ryan Norris, Scott Martin, and Kurt Wagner. Intensely meditative, the album patiently explores the hardness of the coal mines, the mystery of suicide, the comfort of a dog's love and acceptance, the idea that forgetting all you know can be the first step towards hearing and reconnecting with your muse, and one man's gratitude for the love he's been given and the life he's had the chance to live.
Dawn Landes: Bluebird
Based in Nashville, but raised in a coal miner’s company house on the banks of Buffalo Creek, Based in Brooklyn, but raised in Louisville, singer-songwriter Dawn Landes has been writing songs for most of her life, and at 33 already has more than a decade of experience as a professional producer and engineer. After leaving NYU where she studied psychology and literature, Landes began honing her production and engineering skills, working at Stratosphere Sound (owned by James Iha, Adam Schlesinger, and Andy Chase), and at Philip Glass' personal recording studio, before launching Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn with partners Steve Salett and Gary Maurer.
Her new album Bluebird was produced in collaboration with good friend Thomas Bartlett (known for his work with The National, Sharon Van Etten, Rufus Wainwright, Antony and the Johnsons, and many others), and features contributions from Tony Scherr, Rob Moose, and Norah Jones.
Press coverage of Bluebird will understandably present this album as Dawn's answer to her ex's "divorce record". However, like any great songwriter, she's abstracting her personal narratives enough to leave them open to interpretation and a larger meaning. Bartlett's spartan production keeps the vibe intimate, making it easy to connect with these naked and honest songs which manage to rise above the context in which they were written.