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2015-03-31
Ryley Walker: Primrose Green
CD  $12.99     LP  $16.99    

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.

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2015-03-03
Au.Ra: Jane's Lament
LP  $17.99    

Sydney's Au.Ra, a duo composed of Tim Jenkins and Tom Crandles, are set to release their new full length Jane's Lament, a work which carefully envelops the listener in dreamy hues of sound. Made over the course of two years, the LP was birthed from improvised jams the pair play over droning guitars and looped drum beats. Tracks like "Sun," and "Pyramid" emerge slowly out of interplays between simple melodies and layered, reverbed instrumentation.

Au.Ra's "emotive soundscapes" perfectly encase their nontraditional pop songwriting, like on highlight "Morning," where shimmering guitar riffs transport you to a serene, meditative realm. Their repetitive lyrics belie this easy transcendence, sometimes even verging on incantation. These songs evoke a languid drive along a bending highway in autumn, the scenery and light shifting ever so slowly out the windows. As the sun sets earlier, this is an album to savor with the dying light.

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2015-03-03
Moon Duo: Shadow of the Sun

Shadow of the Sun is the result of a few months of Moon Duo wrangling with a new and unsettling way of being. Working both in a dark basement in Portland, and above ground in sunny San Francisco, these new sounds and songs veered dramatically from groove to groove, revealing sonic textures the duo had not previously explored. The song "Night Beat", with it's woozy dance rhythm, is an attempt at finding joy and acceptance on this new, shifting ground, while "Wilding" plays off the familiar Moon Duo sound, taking refuge in a repetitive, grounding riff-scape. Elsewhere the band gives itself entirely up to the trip, cruising along on the fuzzed rhythms of "Slow Down Low" and "Free the Skull", crashing into the clenched-teeth herky-jerk of Zero, and floating down, down, down, on the narcotic mist of "In a Cloud".

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2015-02-17
A Place To Bury Strangers: Transfixiation
CD  $12.99     LP  $16.99    

"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."

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2015-02-17
Phosphorescent: Live at the Music Hall

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.

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2015-02-17
S. Carey: Supermoon

Recorded primarily during the perigee-syzygy (also known as the super moon) of August 2014, the Supermoon EP from S. Carey is a study in scale, space, and proximity. These songs are a new and closer look into existing works from both S. Carey's renowned full-lengths, 2010's All We Grow and 2014's Range of Light. With Supermoon, Carey has broken these songs down to their essential, acoustic parts with his forever humming vocals laid over top, lilting yet percussive piano, and a subtle swath of harmonic strings. You can hear Carey's breath between words and the pat of his fingers on the keys; you can hear the living room in which his family's baby grand piano sits. These songs are beautiful, intimate and so potently personal. This collection is a stark presentation of S. Carey laid bare, an open invitation for the listener to climb into his world.

One particularly poignant piece is the re-imagined Range of Light closer, "Neverending Fountain," perhaps an apt metaphor for the life of the songs themselves. Says Carey, "The longer you spend with a song, the more you can see it in its pure form." Supermoon also features a heartrending cover of "Bullet Proof.. I Wish I Was" from Radiohead's classic album The Bends, and a new song, the EP's namesake, "Supermoon," which takes its inspiration, like much of Carey's work, from the natural world around him.

Another source of inspiration quoted by Carey is the excitement of working out arrangements for pre-existing songs on the spot, for various sessions on tour. He brought that spirit to the recording of Supermoon, which took place over the course of a single weekend. Already known as an artist of impeccable craft, S. Carey worked with long-time friends and collaborators (Mike Noyce played viola, Zach Hanson engineered, mixed, and mastered) to add a chapter to the still unfolding story of Sean Carey as an artist. We can hear the songwriting, singing and performance for what it truly is; understated, true and pure beauty.