Owen Ashworth used to release his lo-fi keyboard pop under the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but these days he calls it Advance Base.
Walking the line between electronic music & traditional singer/songwriter forms, Ashworth writes minimalist, heavy-hearted, & nostalgia-obsessed songs of longing & regret. His conversational, baritone vocals sing stories of hard-luck Midwesterners & their demons amid swirls of electric pianos, Omnichords, drum machines & samples.
Advance Base's second album, Nephew in the Wild, was named #1 Indie Pop album of 2015 by PopMatters.
A decade-plus on the road, near-constant musical output, and shifting creative priorities caused the revered Austin duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, to soberly assess the band’s future. What, in the form of Balmorhea, was there left to say? And did they have the energy to say it?
Stranger, the group’s maximalist, genre-leaping full-length from 2012, and the HEIR singles, from 2014, had already seemed to trace the group’s farthest bounds. And, over the years, they’d worked with a roving cast of accomplished string and rhythm players to craft a glassy-eyed, sage-brushed, instrumental Americana that, while celebrated in The New Yorker, Pitchfork and The Atlantic, among myriad other press, and attracting the film, ad, and television worlds — Balmorhea’s “Bowsprit” incites trembling in the credits of the Sundance show Rectify — risked pigeonholing them for good.
Still, though Muller and Lowe sensed that winds hinted at change, they also knew the form of it couldn’t be grasped in the abstract. So, in the spring of 2016, the two longtime friends decamped to Balmorhea’s East Austin studio to suss out what, if anything, was left to convey.
As they had in the beginning, in 2006, Muller and Lowe worked simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded 30-plus raw ideas into the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise Clear Language. They eschewed complexity for complexity’s sake, allowing a watery, sand-hued mood to settle over their use of analog synthesizers, piano, vibraphone, electric and bass guitar, violin, viola, field recordings, and, for the first time in the band’s history, trumpet, performed by Tedeschi Trucks' Ephraim Owens. A relaxed, clear-eyed wonder tumbles through these songs like herons lancing through Kerouac’s “hungermaking” fog.
Clear Language was released by Western Vinyl, Balmorhea’s longtime label, in September 2017. The album was co-produced and engineered by David Boyle in Austin’s Church House Studios, a renovated Jazz-era haunt — originally housing a Baptist congregation — that has also hosted musicians from Philip Glass’ Looking Glass Studio.
This spring, in cities across Europe, Balmorhea will bring Clear Language to life with a full band of multi-instrumentalists. Audiences can also expect to hear classic works from All is Wild, All is Silent, Stranger, Constellations — the spareness of which invites comparisons to Clear Language — and more from Balmorhea’s dense catalog, dating back to 2006.
Berdmajik is an electro-soul/pop band from Philadelphia, PA. The music is written by Donnie Felton (also known for his work with Grubby Little Hands) who performs as a solo act and occasionally with the support of Chad Brown on drums.
Berdmajik mesmerizes audiences with soulful incantations cloaked in boom-bap, head-nodding rhythms and rich, electro-pop textures. Berdmajik's sound was born on his middle school courtyard, where Felton would play bass clarinet while a friend played lunchbox drums for whoever would listen. Looping clarinet melodies are still featured prominently in live Berdmajik sets to this day. Our introduction to this new artist comes in the form of his dazzling debut single, Circles, a preview of a full length in the works via Golden Brown.
John Jagos, better known by his stage name, Brothertiger, began his initial forays into electronic music at an early age. His discovery of analog synthesis drew him into a world of endless possibilities, and led him to an abundance of influences from the past, particularly from the early 1980s. Today, Brothertiger progresses as an ever-evolving studio and live project, focusing on the integration of the natural world into synthesized music.
While studying music production at Ohio University, John began constructing a solo project that encapsulated his influence in early ‘80s synth music. Blending that with modern production techniques, he released the first few Brothertiger tracks in 2010, packaging them as the Vision Tunnels EP. In 2012, he released his first full-length record, Golden Years, on Mush Records. After moving to Brooklyn, he released his second LP, titled Future Splendors, in 2013. Two full years of touring and writing came after that, and in 2015, he self-released Out of Touch to critical acclaim.
After spending some time producing other artists in his studio in Brooklyn, he began work on an immense project: covering the entirety of Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair. Released in 2017, this cover album embodies the influence of early ‘80’s synth music on the writing process of Brothertiger. Now, after spending much of the past few years writing and recording, John is focused on releasing new material and debuting an engaging live performance that embodies his approach to organic electronic music.
BUHU is the shape-shifting musical brainchild of Jeremy Rogers and Tiffany Paciga.
More than just a moniker, BUHU is a retrospective of their lives and a reflection, or refraction, of their relationship. Nothing is held back, all is laid bare. To see BUHU perform is an experience so intimate that it feels almost illicit—like peeking through a window and witnessing a private moment you’re not meant to get to share. Rogers exudes true feeling on stage, bounding freely and dancing with the microphone, moving himself to the point that his legs buckle underneath the weight of all the emotion and fatigue. He wraps the mic cord around his neck like a noose, seemingly choking himself to get these words out. Meanwhile Paciga, like a goddess Rogers can never quite reach, holds court stoically, majestically, to the side, her throne an array of synths, drum machines, pedals, samplers, and loop stations, which she orchestrates like a conductor, weaving a musical tapestry that’s lush, sexy, and utterly captivating. The juxtaposition of the two performers together is impossible to look away from. It’s music you know somebody’s getting lucky to, whether you happen to be one of those lucky ones or not.
Born and bred between Wisconsin and Texas, BUHU’s recordings might be described as electronic bedroom pop, in the sense that Rogers produces them largely himself. But that term is way too reductive; these are no tinker-toy beats crapped out with GarageBand on a MacBook. BUHU’s compositions are powerful, sonically cinematic, multidimensional, precise, ever unfolding. The songwriting atop that composition borrows from many of the greats both past and present, from Jackson Browne to Modest Mouse, The Books, Tortoise, even Peter Gabriel. The beats bump and the hooks catch. BUHU's music attacks from both sides.
A Busman’s Holiday performance begins with the thump of kick-pedal on suitcase and the tuning of acoustic guitar strings, two affable brothers quietly considering where to take their audience first. They may begin with an exultant and driving harmony or a ballad in a melancholy mode, but not before they have laughed and shared stories with their audience, patient and cheerful, assuring the crowd that they are in good hands. As Lewis and Addison begin to sing, their voices together evoke the Southern Indiana where their music was born. One can’t help but feel the presence of the songs’ characters in the room beside you, the music offering intimate details from vivid strangers.
The Rogers brothers’ appeal has never been limited to a niche audience. Tested on the road for years, playing music at honky-tonks and roadhouses, moth-eaten lounges crawling with night creatures, punk palaces, last-wave folk huts, they’ve honed their skills and free-flowing banter to the point where they’ve been able to endear themselves to all corners.
Early Day Miners
Over the course of the last 20 years Daniel Burton (the man behind Early Day Miners) has become one of the mid-west's best kept secrets. Mentored by Daniel Lanois at his Teatro Studio in Los Angeles, Burton has put his project-oriented stamp on a variety of important records. Anywhere from early Songs: Ohia recordings to the tribal rumblings of On Fillmore (Glenn Kotche of Wilco's band with the venerable Darin Gray) to the pink noise and melodies of Windsor for the Derby.
After 8 Early Day Miner’s albums and a handful of Ep's and singles released on labels from Secretly Canadian to Western Vinyl, and touring throughout the U.S. and Europe, Dan Burton has relocated the band to New Orleans where work on a new album has begun with a new lineup including Johnathon Ford (Unwed Sailor) on bass and Marty Sprowles (Dreamers of the Ghetto, Hunterchild) on drums.. The band is currently writing a new album and playing live shows.
Gold Connections' a band started by Will Marsh at the College Of William & Mary, where longtime friend Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest) produced and recorded Marsh's debut S/T EP last year on Fat Possum Records. After support tours with Car Seat Headrest, opener slots with bands such as The Districts, Futurebirds, Soccer Mommy and even a tour through Europe culminating with a showing at the esteemed Primavera Club festival, Marsh introduced us to the next phase of the band. With newly found access to professional recording studios, such as Mich Easter's Fidelitorium, Gold Connections followed up their scrappy debut EP with two new releases that adventured into hi-fi, 2018's Popular Fiction LP and 2019's Like A Shadow. With a new sound in hand and the promise of more growth to come, the future shines bright for Gold Connections.
Grubby Little Hands
Songwriters Brian Hall and Donnie Felton work through a simultaneous sense of anxiety and armchair-apathy with regard to the ever-looming-but-never-arriving imminent doom of civilization, as experienced through 21st century mass media and internet culture. Album opener Dial Tone fantasizes about a hypothetical party where no people are present but automated technology goes through the motions nonetheless. Balancing Act imagines a posthumous interaction between people from disparate socioeconomic backgrounds, equalized by their mortality. Don’t Shoot Straight portrays catastrophic destruction from the perspective of theater patrons. We Don’t Exist embraces, even idealizes, a post-human world. Despite all of the gloomy malaise, there is the persistent presence of hopeful optimism holding everything together. Whether it is due to the belief that their anxiety is unwarranted or to their acceptance of the inevitable, the presence of this glowing thread provides a buoyancy that pervades the entirety of the record. Garden Party puts its apocalypse on a cinematic widescreen and serves it up with refreshments.
Heather Woods Broderick
The title track of the long awaited third album by Heather Woods Broderick, Invitation, takes its name from a quote by Thomas Moore which she stumbled upon while sifting through the cathartic journal entries of her own mother:
“To keep the unfolding self alive, you have to open yourself to change every step of the way. Of course there are times when it is appropriate to step back, settle down, and maybe not move for a while. But to be a person means to be faced every minute with the decision to live OR die; To accept the invitations for yet more vitality or to decline them out of fear or lethargy.”
Invitation was conceived on the Oregon coast, an outlier among American landscapes, where vast stretches of empty beach are decorated with silver driftwood and towering pines. It is here among the dunes, tide pools and colossal rock formations that Heather spent her childhood summer day-trips. And it is here that she returned as an adult to construct her newest LP, an album of dreamy baroque-pop that swells and whispers with grand string arrangements, intimately descriptive lyrics, and impassioned songcraft built around earnest piano melodies, painting a lifelike picture of the locale in which it was written.
In the years between her early youth and the creation of Invitation, Heather has played in Efterklang, Horse Feathers, the live bands of Laura Gibson, Lisa Hannigan, and Damien Jurado, and has also been a longtime collaborator and bandmate to Sharon Van Etten. But while this list may seem enviable for an aspiring young musician, any experienced player will know that the life of a touring musician comes with its own sacrifices. Lasting relationships and financial certainty can be tenuous, as can mental stability itself. Feeling this firsthand, Heather traded her usual launchpad of Brooklyn for the sleepy town of Pacific City where she would quietly take a job cleaning houses for a cast of local eccentrics, sitting down at the piano in the off-hours to unpack the personal tragedies and triumphs of the intervening decades since her first trips there.
This sense of humble reunification unfurls in album’s gently blooming prologue, “A Stilling Wind.” Tape-battered piano washes from left ear to right ear beneath a fluttering guitar, from which Heather’s photographic lyrics emerge: “Further north, than where I spent the year, at the edge of the cape, feet swingin’ in the atmosphere, a stilling wind, thick with fear, picked up all the tiny pieces to redeposit them here.” As the bewilderment with her surroundings subsides, the countless little tragedies Heather has collected begin to emerge in the stillness. “I try, to not bridle at the darkness shivering through me,” she sings on the album’s second track, “to wake and keep the morning quiet before the world starts seeping in.” This sentiment, that peace and dread constantly vie for space in the mind, echoes throughout Invitation.
Case-in-point is “Where I Lay,” a powerful anthem whose immense drums and persistent piano are sincerely pained, delivering a strong centerpiece for the album. The drum-less sonata that follows, appropriately named “Slow Dazzle”, provides a moment of respite harkening back to the quieter tendencies of Heather’s earlier work. In moments like this, and its sibling interlude “A Daydream”, one can almost see the lights dim as stagehands rearrange set pieces in the darkness. But as the tempo lifts once again, Heather continues addressing the tension lurking just beneath the surface. “White Tail” poetically details Heather’s experiences with depression over a patter of brushed drumming. “Quicksand” handles the subject of just how volatile alcoholism can be, and how easily it can destroy relationships, while “My Sunny One” showcases one of the most subtly catchy vocal melodies on the album, with lyrics that recount a relationship that failed despite multiple attempts at resurrection.
All throughout Invitation, floral tendrils of sound design and dynamic strings decorate the edges of each track, propelling the album beyond mere singer-songwriter fare into something altogether more grand and immersive in scope. And somehow still, the album maintains a humble quality throughout. It’s not about the epic and beautiful physical features of the Pacific northwest seaside that first stirred Heather Woods Broderick as a child. It’s about how the stillness of such settings can unearth the disquiet often buried by the infinite distractions of a life without pause.
“ Aggressive flashes of sound bookended by moments of Zen. On-your-toes, progressive percussion and elegant harmonies.” Austin Fusion Magazine.
Hikes is a band of friends formed in 2010 by Nathan Wilkins and Will Kauber. The two found in each other a kinship based around their shared tension between a youth spent playing in hardcore and metal bands and a recent move to Austin,Tx where they were surrounded and inspired by the booming local scene of indie, folk-pop and electronic music. The duo began to forge their signature mix of heavy and soft styles by playing local shows and trading off between guitar and drums before finding in permanent drummer Chris Long their perfect collaborative partner. Soon after, Kauber left the band and went on to help found art collective and record label Raw Paw who would later release the band’s first two albums as Wilkins and Long continued towards the shared vision of new sonic territory. After adding guitarist Claire Puckett and bassist Colin Jenkins, Hikes released their first full length album “Friends” in 2013 on which they toured nationally and gained a small, but devoted following. Puckett would go on to leave the band to focus playing in the orchestral rock band Mother Falcon as Kauber rejoined the ranks to finalize the band’s lineup. Hikes would release their second, self-titled full length in 2014 and tour heavily, nationally and internationally, before recording their forthcoming album Lilt with legendary guitarist and producer Takaaki Mino (of the band Toe) in Tokyo.
House of Wolves
House Of Wolves is the music project of California native Rey Villalobos, the band name taken from the literal translation of his last name. Villalobos’ music is an intimate portrait of hauntingly sentimental and unreserved songs echoing from another era. Crossing the genres of folk, americana, alternative, retro and personified by delicate arrangements, the music is dark, discreet, and cinematic. A singer, songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, Villalobos classically trained on piano, falling in love with the Chopin nocturnes early on and whose phrasing permeates his songwriting. Villalobos reunited with producer John Morgan Askew for the the 3rd album recorded at Flora Recording & Playback in Portland Oregon and released on Discolexique in Europe in 2016. Stay tuned for a U.S. tour this fall 2017.
Imaginary Tricks takes an experimental approach to delivering a familiar thump. It’s a heartbeat, with multiple layers of complex sounds, mired in soul and hidden lyrical depth. Welcome to the world of Mike Visser, the world of Imaginary Tricks.
It wasn’t so much opening a map of music and dropping a finger on a destination as it was a methodical and sometimes arduous journey to where Visser is now. It started with the Sacramento, California band Frank Jordan—a tightly wound rock trio where Visser could learn to push his vocal range, the power of a good hook, what touring felt like in shit weather and what if felt like to open for some greats (Grandaddy, Dr. Dog, Jimmy Eat World). He just needed one more turn, one more journey into the abyss—traversing fear, self-realization, and what feeling truly alone was all about—before heading back into the world to share his discoveries.
So here we are now. Imaginary Tricks. Another journey for Visser, but this one feels different. Not that the past didn’t matter—it did. But the future holds so much more, and the new set of songs featured on Skommel lays it out for you to follow. A trip not so succinct that you can make your mind up quickly. Out there in the distance, just far enough that you have time to decide on what it all means.
The songs on Skommel are poignant and varied, from the surefire pop hit of“Night Owl,” which captures the universal feeling of staying up at night, worrying yourself to bits. And there’s the rugged and rhythmic “Lights Out,” addressing the distribution of wealth in the Western world. And in the disarming “No Ordinary Guy,” Visser details his father’s immigration from South Africa to the United States.
Listen closely, and you’re inside the room with him, in the eye of a storm, whipped up by whatever inclination strikes: whistles and wah-wahs, Doppler-effect vocals and alien Wurlitzer keyboarding. For his captivating live shows, he is joined by Harlan Muir, who contributes an alchemy of sounds, combining keys and tape delay. The results are intoxicating.
Much of Skommel was drafted and recorded at Japam Studio in Brooklyn. Conjuring up a romantic picture of a dank and dark place where the songs were pounded out night after night until they took shape would be a cool notion. But Imaginary Tricks songs are written in Visser’s head—one can only imagine what goes on in there—and then sketched out here, in the real world, for us to hear. Can colors, thoughts, dreams and sideways conversations be translated into words and music? After listening to Skommel, it just might seem possible.
Skommel will be available on March 24, 2017 on Friendship Fever.
Early one morning in May of 2016, Jesse Marchant came to on a street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, entangled with himself and his bicycle, after a crash on his way to work. He had been attacked by an irate school bus driver who knocked him speeding off his bicycle into a parked car. After flying over the hood and colliding with the back of another, Marchant landed on his head and was knocked out, splayed in the middle of the road.
Things had gotten bad and it was time for a change.
He quit his part-time position working as a prep cook, a job he had taken to begin to climb his way out from under a mountain of debt, and left for the Adirondacks alone, in a last ditch effort to see if music might materialize and help him emerge from his state of affairs. Two months later the songs for Illusion of Love were written. Rising both from Marchant’s personal feelings of despair and the American social dread of 2016, there was much that came to surface quickly once he began to write, no less the fact that almost 2 years into a hiatus which had been mostly pained and self-destructive, Marchant found love, after nearly a decade of being alone.
The life of Jesse Marchant has always been somewhat angst-ridden. His father died when he was 14 and he became a loner through High School, before misguidedly attending business school, only to drop out in his last semester when a NY talent manager propositioned him to attend a summer acting school in Manhattan.
He went, and before long found himself living in LA, being sent to audition for pretty boy jock rolls in shows and movies he would never watch, let alone want to act in. He began to fight over disagreements with his agents and soon come to realize that he had been on the wrong path. All the while his lover was becoming a movie star, which served only to further highlight the shallower depth of his own convictions.
It was in that period that he first began to write songs. Soon thereafter his manager fell ill and died, his relationship with his girlfriend ended, and he found himself alone and lost in Los Angeles, with more than a few bridges burned.
The years that followed were isolationist. Marchant toured as a solo act, opening for countless bands growing his career, renting cottages in the Catskills in his downtime to write and record, sometimes subleasing an apartment in the city instead. He began to grow guarded and weary, drinking heavily and living in solitude with the emotional repercussions of his choices.
Illusion of Love marks the end of that era. It’s the sound of awakening and emergence – from crises both personal and political. Though the opening track, “All These Kids I Never Knew,” starts the record off with Marchant recalling a year of social atrocities alone at the piano “shot in the back / while running away”, leading the first-time listener to believe that he might be setting the table for a collection of lonely ruminations, the opposite holds true. It’s a farewell to isolation, ushering in an album of buoyant, triumphant anthems. “Heart of Mine,” one of the album’s lead singles, which Marchant and his band tear through with an urgency unhinged, channels the essence of Neil Young with the spirit of Jim James, relating from the soul of a troubled youth as it comes to learn defiance.
Ever the patient observer, Marchant watches on at those around him have suffered, decidedly more than he, with an openness to understand and ability to empathize that brings gravity to his lyrics. “Sister, I” is a profound, strong-willed ballad, featuring emotionally arresting string arrangements by the film composer Danny Bensi (who also arranged and performed all the strings on the album). Layers of lyrical context can be peeled away and sifted through as Marchant runs the thematic gamut from the social commentary of “I’ve Got Friends” (“nowadays you can make a show of your life / to convince yourself of its worth / what do you think of my private vacation?”) to the tender, plaintive “Burning Red” which was written for an old love but never completed (“We could drive into the night / I’d play the songs you like / And let you sleep when you get tired”). Perhaps the definitive lyric from the album comes in the final song (and its title track) when Marchant asks twice, in a flurry of swelling synths and strings, “who do you love?”. A fitting moment, for an artist who's grappled with so many difficult choices, to ironically find the ultimate answer in the form of a question.
For fans of the song and how to feel it. Kath Bloom (USA) is some kind of legend. She comes from a special place where country, blues and folk are made beautifully translucent and emotive. She has a special gift – her voice is delicate and tender, yet retains that raw emotion and hard worn truths that allows each sung word to be felt.
The more you hear of Kath Bloom, the more you notice it’s not just the arresting voice, but the power of the songwriting. “Beautiful” is the typical response—the kind of beauty that comes from truth, musical and the deeply lyrical. There are no good comparisons, but if you like the deep well of Emmylou Harris, the more poignant lyrics of Lou Reed, the joy of Maher Shalal Hash Baz or even Joni Mitchell, you're kinda in the right zone. In reality, she’s simply Kath Bloom: horse whisperer, vocalist, mum, songwriter and a beautiful person.
Her albums recorded with Loren Mazzacane Connors in the 70′s/80′s are rare things, full of songs that float and melt into the ether. Impossibly beautiful and hard to find on LP, but check the reissues from a few years ago . In the 90′s Kath’s music was famously featured in Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunrise. Since then she has been busy writing and recording to great acclaim. Two new albums in the last few years and she and her songs where also honoured on a tribute album featuring Bill Callahan, Scout Niblett and Mark Kozelek.
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight
It’s been over three years since Oscillate Wisely, the debut album from Mike Adams At His Honest Weight. A lot has happened to all of us since then, but it was a particularly action-packed time for ol’ Mike. His newborn son requiring emergency heart surgeries immediately after birth (doing fine now!), his former rock band of nearly 10 years calling it quits, and plenty of other heavy things have helped shape the follow-up, Best of Boiler Room Classics, into one of the most believably moving albums to come around in a long time.
But forget about all that stuff for a minute because we need to talk about how great these SONGS are! And these are real songs, daddy! Verses, choruses, hooks, bridges, you know, well-written timeless songs that at least some of us will be listening to 50 years from now. The same mixing/mastering team of Adam Jessup & Eric Day have returned and have really taken their time to make this album sound like exactly one million bucks. The thoughtful, hard work that went into this record has resulted in something truly special, like a Midwestern Tusk made by fun, lovable people who actually get along really well.
Best of Boiler Room Classics has the subtle, earnest warmth of an album like the Clientele’s Strange Geometry but with the arena-ready grandeur of ELO’s Out Of The Blue. While there is an unforgettable instant catchiness to these songs, there is a depth, both lyrically and musically, that makes repeated listens a delight.
While this is not a country album by any means, songs like “Count On It” and “Don’t Want It, Don’t Get It” find Mike’s comforting words gripping your heart like an old Roger Miller ballad. Speaking of “Count On It”, just wait until those actual strings kick in at2:27! It’ll do something to you!
What if the GBV albums on TVT had been produced by Cowboy Jack Clement? What if The Wonders songs in That Thing You Do were actually performed by The Pernice Brothers? What if Dee Dee Ramone wrote “Late For The Sky” instead of Jackson Browne? What if Todd Rundgren engineered a Cass McCombs record? Find out on April 29, 2014 at your local record store!
After a brief hibernation, the art-pop duo Milagres is returning with ZIGGURAT on October 23, 2018. Two critically acclaimed releases on Kill Rock Stars and Memphis Industries (2011’s Glowing Mouth and 2014’s Violent Light) put the band on a long stretch of US and European tours, including Primavera Sound, Bestival and Electric Picnic, as well as multiple hyped SXSW runs. Between tours, they performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, KEXP, and KCRW, and shared bills with St. Vincent, Wild Beasts, Nada Surf, Minus the Bear, Low, and others.
Curled up in a nest of fuzz pedal guts, Minihorse guitarist Ben Collins realized one night that his dreams have no meaning. All that circuit wiring, as it turns out, is a harness for trapping delusions.
The band explores that revelation over the unresolved pop progressions of debut EP Big Lack, shrugging off the big dumb universe with a wry tunefulness. Tracked at Collins’s home studio amid tinkerings with a prototype electrode headband, the record leaks out of headphones like slow direct current.
Minihorse's genetic inheritance is a recombination of bedroom transistor wizards like Bob Pollard, cruising guitar rock into the outer valences of space in a shit-can convertible, and the brandied humor of Evan Dando and Alex Chilton, approaching the void with a pack of cigarettes.
Cooing sarcasm over a wallop of scuzzy power pop, Collins pokes at misfit notions of belonging or purpose with a Jason Lytle sigh. “Hollywood painted it black/Wait. Paint it back,” he jokes before the dam breaks on “Drink You Dry.”
Collins and his fellow Ypsilanti yntroverts, bassist Christian Anderson and drummer John Fossum, are giddy with their musical contraptions. They scatter hooks like firecrackers on a blacktop throughout opener “Blueblack” and beat down doors with cool-headed kraut jam “Pinstripe Web.”
With breezy “Thriller”, Collins grips the tape reel, jerking the recording into warbled askew against a hummable fuzz bass counterpoint that coats the band’s keen insight:
"The thrill is not what's gone/It never was."
Moon Ruin is the new music project of Peoria, IL songwriter, Jared Bartman. Ephemeral yet timeless, it is the home where Bartman’s new record, Slow Down Ego, can find repose. Having released music under his namesake for ten years, the move to Moon Ruin is a throwing off of preconceived notions and the pressure of expectation. Slow Down Ego is a manifestation of internalized anxiety; that uneasy feeling that follows you like a melancholy ghost. It nags your decisions and creeps into idle thoughts. As a catalyst to reckon with forces, both internal and external, it influences our lives. Engineered over the course of two years with producers Mike Noyce (Bon Iver, The Tallest Man on Earth, Aero Flynn) and Liam O’Brien, Slow Down Ego sees release on vinyl LP via Dilated Time Records and all digital services on April 6, 2018. Moon Ruin will tour the US in 2018 in a full band format featuring Mike Noyce and Dave Power (The Staves, Aero Flynn), and Brian Wells.
When a note resounds, it’s not so different than brushstrokes of paint on canvas. Colors and tones both blanket empty space in their own ways. Hundreds of brushstrokes comprise a painting, and hundreds of notes comprise a song.
So, it makes sense that singer, guitarist, and visual artist Jason Bartell perceives his new musical outlet Mythless in terms of “Maximalism”—after the post-modern arts movement of the same name. In his case, a veritable symphony of layered guitars curls around ethereal vocals, vibrant keyboards, and percussive polyrhythms likes waves at high tide (Think Enigma, Meshuggah, and Mahavishnu Orchestra soundtracking a 21st century Akira reboot).
Ebullient, engaging, and endearing, the resulting trance swings like a pendulum between guttural and gorgeous on his debut EP Patience Hell.
“I wanted to be all-in maximalist,” he affirms. “There’s no ceiling for how many harmonies I want to hear, and I’m fascinated by the very concept of layering. It’s often about taking a single simple melody or note and making it as complex as possible. I’ve always been affected by an overwhelming snowball of sound. You could say that’s what this is.”
Bartell made his bones in Brooklyn stalwarts Fang Island. After two albums acclaimed by the likes of Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, Noisey, and more, an MTV sync, and countless shows, the group quietly disbanded during 2015. However, the guitarist didn’t stop creating. Instead, he planted the seeds for Mythless.
“Fang was a band of friends, and sometimes friends just grow in different directions,” he explains. “Once things slowed down and eventually stopped, it became more imperative for me to have an outlet, so I started to focus on Mythless. The experience pushed me to a new place where I would be responsible for everything myself. I enjoyed that freedom.”
Between hosting gallery showings and creating visual art of all kinds, Bartell tracked what would become Patience Hell at Machines With Magnets recording studio in Providence, RI. Fellow Fang alums Marc St. Sauveur and Nicolas Andrew Sadler joined him on the drums and bass, and along the way, he incorporated an expansive aural palette, including “a maximal hard and fast element” with harpsichord and lush keyboards to offset the wall of guitars.
Among the four songs on the EP, first single and opener “PO” hinges on harpsichord energy that recoils into a calming croon and hummable lead line.
“Sonically, that one really exemplifies the whole project,” he goes on. “Droning sheets of sound slowly build, and a story unfolds. There’s a hook about a probation officer, hence the title. These bits of the past materialize again. I was really thinking about accountability.”
From the staccato rush of “Thread Tugging” to the waltzing beat on “Copper Mirror,” Bartell spins a loose, fictional yarn of “drifting vignettes of memory and death… You can take whatever you want from it… it’s not all dark and brooding, and it’s not wholly positive. It’s somewhere in between. That’s what makes it fun.” By embracing those maximalist tendencies, he creates something wholly intimate, yet boldly rapturous in the end.
Pick A Piper
In recent years songwriters have experimented more widely than ever with beats and bass, but only a few have succeeded in producing results worthy of mention. The underlying problem is that club music, when it comes to the punch, to put it crudely, needs to function on the dance floor. This can make life pretty difficult for the classic songwriter, and the resulting music can often sound a little over-thought and self-conscious. On the other hand, a functional fixation on dance floor compatibility can take over, and what is designed to work in the club can often, in album format, fall a little flat.
Thus, one continues to put together brilliant, functional tracks and the other remains firmly in the domain of the song writing. Those artists who manage successfully to straddle both worlds can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Canadian musician and producer Brad Weber, with his project Pick A Piper, joins the ranks of this charmed few. Pick A Piper was conceived in 2008 along with band mates Angus Fraser and Dan Roberts, and following two EPs, the band is set to release their debut self-titled debut album.
The album is made up of eight very different songs, all with one thing in common: each is built upon the foundation of its own ingenious rhythm structure, with musical layers meticulously applied, up until the vocals, which are added right at the very end, if at all. Song writing done back-to-front, which is also fitting in this case because: Brad Weber? Isn’t that...? Yes indeed! Brad is also the drummer for Caribou.
To give the whole the perfect finish and to avoid falling into the "functionality trap" (it exists!), Brad enlisted many of his friends as guest singers on these recordings. Amongst others, he asked Andy Lloyd of Born Ruffians, as well as members of the Ruby Suns and John Schmersal of Enon, Brainiac and Caribou. Brad sent them demos, allowing space for a very important and often underestimated element of the musical process, without which it would be about as exciting as a bank statement: chance. He couldn’t be sure exactly what the respective collaborators would contribute to the corresponding ideas, but that was the concept, and thus the resulting album sounds even less like a classic producer album, and more like a soundtrack to a movie - different topics but a common thread. A record that could not please us more, full of complexly layered yet catchy songs that display a very keen sense of rhythm, song writing and musical finesse. Attention to detail, but with the bigger picture in mind.
Poster Children was formed in Champaign, Illinois in 1987 by Rick Valentin (guitar, vocals) and Rose Marshack (bass, vocals). Jim Valentin joined on guitar in 1991 and Matt Friscia (drummer #7) joined in 2001. They have released eleven studio albums, on various independent and major labels, and one feature-length film, “Zero Stars.” Known for their strong DIY ethic, the band members toured incessantly in the 1990s, driving their own van around the US and Europe, creating their own artwork and T-shirt designs, and operating their own record label. Poster Children were also pioneers in several forms of electronic technology relating to performance art, including enhanced CDs, webcasts, and blogs. The band will be releasing their 12th album, Grand Bargain!, in May 2018.
Are you sitting down? Yes? Good.
Now get up, go outside and take a walk. And take Winning Star Champion with you.
See, the music on Ruler’s debut album—hook-heavy, assertive, inspiring—is made for motion. It’s a soundtrack for moving forward, for getting better, in terms of both healing and self-improvement. Built on main man Matt Batey’s lifelong fears, anxieties, addictions and failures, not to mention his preternatural gift for creating instantly classic indie rock, these eleven songs follow that old adage by Robert Frost: The best way out is through. And in this case the best way through is with the volume cranked up all the way.
How can an album five years in the making sound so urgent? First and foremost, it’s the music. At 30 years old, Batey is already a seasoned veteran of Seattle’s high-achieving music scene. The Montana native relocated 12 years ago, intent on tapping into the city’s longstanding creative legacy, and immediately joined a band seeking a singer-songwriter-frontman. Buoyed by genuine instrumental chops but hobbled by a streak of bad luck, the band toughed it out gig after gig, EP after EP. In four years Batey wrote more than 120 songs, songs he says nobody heard. This was his rock ‘n’ roll boot camp. Combined with his talent and ambition, it propelled him out of the collective setting and into solo territory, where a meticulous craftsman like him truly belongs. Finally, on his own, he picked a name that felt triumphant, playful—a fist-in-the-air kind of name. Matt Batey would be Ruler, his first great musical project.
Batey is a prolific songwriter but coming up with the resources for recording was slow going. He started alone in his apartment in 2012 and over the years—and when he could afford it—paid for time at engineer Martin Fevyear’s celebrated Jupiter Studios. All along, the cost of living in Seattle rose stupendously, prohibitively, keeping him and many others that comprise Seattle’s artistic community pinned close to the poverty line and nearly forcing him out of the city and away from the creative populous that nurtured and sustained him for the past decade. Like so many people his age, the precariousness of Batey’s situation has been an interminable struggle and source of tension. He deals with it because the music is worth it.
Parts he couldn’t play himself he fielded out to friends and colleagues he’d accumulated throughout his evolution in Seattle. With a healthy working environment in mind, Batey chose folks who were good human beings as well as fantastic musicians, and they comprise the album’s all-star cast: Michael Lerner of indie-rock heroes Telekenisis played drums on three tracks; Eric Howk, formerly of Seattle fashion-punks the Lashes and currently guitarist for Top 40 phenoms Portugal. The Man, appeared on several; Eric Anderson of Seattle’s Cataldo plays on the record, while Matt has been a member of Eric’s band since 2009. Batey gave direction, they took it and ran. The rest—guitars, bass, vocals, production—are entirely him.
And that’s the second secret to Winning Star Champion’s power: Batey’s integrity, his bravery. He put all his messy personal struggles into these songs and in doing so made some degree of peace with his humanity. That process is what you hear here. Album-opener “Petrified” addresses his pathological fear of the future, underscoring his need for commiseration with layers of yearning vocals and zooming guitars. In the title song, Batey battles—and bests—that obsessive part of himself that wants to wreck everything around him. On the churning, sunny “Obvious,” Batey conflates his ongoing recovery from addiction with his relentless creative drive.
Not long ago, Batey spent months confronting his agoraphobia by forcing himself out of his apartment and onto the vertiginous span of Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The point was to face his fear in order to overcome it, a grueling process he describes unabashedly in “Unhindered Pace,” singing, “I walk an unhindered pace, through the dark and dingy places/All just to see a hopeless sight, and keep a smile on my face.” Toward the end of the album, “Cars and Houses” is a statement of acceptance: Batey chose a life of creative expression over the pursuit of wealth, and he’s still coming to terms with his decision.
No platitudes or love songs here—only raw interior monologue and deep character analysis. For most us, this stuff is hard to confront and even harder to articulate. Batey’s lyrics are pointedly specific—so much so that they’re immediately relatable. And they’re set to soaring tunes that are beautifully, earnestly upbeat. Amid his brilliance and artistry, Batey exposes himself as one of us. That’s his purpose and his gift, spelled out in Winning Star Champion’s bold, beautiful songs: Life hurts, but it's great, and that’s it.
Small Houses is an Austin, TX-based alternative country project featuring the songs and poems of Flint, MI-native Jeremy Quentin. Artfully crafted with finger-style guitar and softly sung melodies, the bars of his new album Still Talk; Second City describe the people, the love, and the homes of Quentin’s life.
Still Talk; Second City is the result of a one yearlong effort, borne of the exhaustion from too much time spent moving. Prompted to flee to Atlanta with the intent of an indefinite stay, Quentin’s eight months of living and recording was funded by various odd jobs and sleeping in the car – anything to keep the project alive. All-night restaurants and friends’ homes were among the venues where he recalled the memories of the hometown suburbs that suffuse the album, while shades of influence from poets like James Wright, Jim Harrison, and Seamus Heaney hover like weighty ghosts in the background.
Featuring guest appearances by artists including Mike Brenner (Magnolia Electric Co., Songs:Ohia), Samantha Crain, Erin Rae (The Meanwhiles), and John Davey, Still Talk; Second City celebrates the survival of winning out of “the worst and the longest time” and the drive to create a home outside of the one we already had (“I want something better, mean weather, revelier” – “South, Southern”). Other songs struggle with the want and need to leave, but reveal the need missing, or withheld (“I hear you’re lucky on me, honest, and torn to beat up my 99′′ – “Staggers and Rise”). “Still Talk” eavesdrops on imagined conversations, wished for but never had: “I want to make my real life static, real life when it’s worth, braided veins and a headlight coming, and a real list of words saying, ‘your mom and I still talk’”.
Damon Moon, the album’s producer and engineer, was inspired by the recording style of creators like Richard Swift (Foxygen, Tennis, Damien Jurado) and Roy Halee (Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds), and took a hand in helping to write and serve as a sounding board across one of his most involved efforts to date.
David Alexander, better known as Summer Heart, blends catchy lo- and dream-pop motifs that capture the soundtrack of an endless summer. Tastemaker blogs and mood-driven playlist curators have loved his tracks for years, with Hype Machine promoting him on ‘Nordic Spotlight’s Top 20 of
2016’ and ‘Hype Machine Favorites Vol.1’ on Spotify. With the 2017 release of his new album, 101, his Spotify pro le is pushing 40 million plays, and his Soundcloud is close behind at 10 million.
The new album tells the story of David’s love/hate relationship with music, best expressed in the song, “Love Affairs,” that acts as both a devotion to making music and as a love letter to someone special. These universal life experiences are musically infused with nostalgia for days of summers passed. Lyrically, Summer Heart songs touch on the transience of summer and the fleeting relationships therein. Hints of Washed Out, Blood Orange and Toro y Moi have inspired David to re ne chillwave sounds and polish them into his own summerwave aesthetic.
On his shift from lo- to electronic dream-pop,
David says, “I’ve always been into electronic music. Many of my very early Summer Heart releases
were 100% electronic. So, the sound of my album 101 is mostly due to my current influences, which are leaning more towards the electronic. The lo- sounds are disappearing because I am improving my production skills, which make me more con dent as a songwriter.”
David assembled his song ideas for 101 on the
road and recorded them back home in Sweden. He recalls, “I was in New York at the time, just hanging out, visiting art galleries and exhibitions, watching people, drinking mojitos and listening to music in my headphones.” Summer Heart is a musical diary of snapshots and memories from David Alexander’s life experiences.
Originally from Los Angeles, California, multi-instrumentalist brothers Joey and Ryan Selan grew up playing saxophone and trumpet in their middle school jazz band. Continuing to play throughout high school, the brothers had a desire to start composing their own pieces. They eventually each picked up different instruments while still in school - Ryan with guitar and Joey with piano - and soon began writing their first music together.
Fast forward to 2015 where the brothers officially formed The Lagoons in Austin, Texas. Over the course of their first year recording and performing together in front of audiences around Austin, the duo began to formulate their sound and build out their live show. One year later, their unique blend of synth-pop, jazz, soul and electronica was first heard on their Summer 2016 single California and was followed up by their Spring 2017 Gems EP.
California has since been featured twice as the #1 Most Popular Track on Hype Machine and was used in a Golf Digest/BMW ad series starring supermodel Kate Upton and baseball star Justin Verlander. The Lagoons are currently finishing up their second studio EP scheduled for an early 2018 release. Some primary musical influences of The Lagoons include Daft Punk, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Radiohead, Dave Matthews Band, alt-J and Zero 7.
The Octopus Project
Austin's favorite experimental pop band, The Octopus Project, is set to return with their 6th studio album, Memory Mirror, in March 2017. The album was recorded by the band, mixed by Danny Reisch (Shearwater, White Denim) & Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, Flaming Lips), and mastered by Greg Calbi (David Bowie, Talking Heads).
The Octopus Project has been releasing joyous party music since 2002, following a musical path that veers through blown-out rock’n’roll, vivid electronic colors, surreal pop and expansive psych landscapes. As performers they’ve earned a reputation for elaborate multimedia experiments and extremely loud, extremely fun live shows - a practice they’ve pursued over a decade of worldwide touring that has included festival stages such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and All Tomorrow’s Parties, and tours as handpicked support for artists as diverse asAesop Rock, DEVO, and Explosions in the Sky.
Also active as composers for video games and film, they were awarded the Special Jury Award for Musical Score at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival for their work on the film KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER. They are currently working on another film score to be released in 2017 -- DAMSEL (directed by Zellner Bros. // starring Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska).
Think No Think
Austin based rock n roll
The words “We will destroy the Earth and all we’ve made” taken in their most literal form appear to be strikingly brutal. Approach it via its position in the opening track on Thunder Dreamer’s new LP, however, and the tone feels altogether more enigmatic and alluring. With its crushingly somber delivery, the words immediately create a palpable and dark romantic mood that sets the tone for the album to come. Indicative of a record that never once settles, even when it opens up into far more embracing moments of splendor, "Why Bother" immediately plunges the listener in to the heart of Thunder Dreamer’s work: ‘Capture,' the band’s most fully realized and affecting work to-date.
Released in May via 6131 Records (Julien Baker, Touché Amoré), 'Capture' takes the stifling small-town isolation that has peppered the bands work thus far — through their 2013 eponymous EP and 2015’s debut LP — and imbues it with the things that have always led to the most endearing of rock and roll records: hardships and heartaches, lethargy and crushing indifference in the face of it all. Absorbing such things from the Midwestern heartland they call home, that tough, resilient authenticity runs through the band’s new record like hot blood through cold, hard-working limbs.
Sprawling out across eight monumental tracks, 'Capture' finds frontman Steven Hamilton in torch-bearing form. Once his solo project but now expanded to a four-piece, Thunder Dreamer specialize in writing songs that feel remarkably human. The emotional connections to the people and places that fade in and out of the record are not just a pertinent inclusion, but a vital one. Even when the band are crafting a gleaming slice of Americana — think Whiskeytown at their most opulent, or Songs: Ohia's rollicking pomp — the whole thing is underpinned by an overwhelming poignancy.
Some five years on from their initial outing, Thunder Dreamer offer an about-turn on ‘Capture,' shaping the rawness of their previous work in to something altogether more complete and substantial; a gritty take on the great American songbook, with its arms and heart left open to all.
Thunder Dreamer is: Steven Hamilton (vocals, guitar), Corey Greenfield (drums), Alex Wallwork (bass), and Zach Zint (piano).