1. KRANK 168: Grouper: A I A (2012)

    In my write-up of Liz Harris’s collaboration with Jesy Fontina, Mirrorring (KRANK 162), I nodded to a few elder statesmen (stateswomen?) on the Kranky label, Jessica Bailiff and Windy & Carl, as touch points for the duo’s blend of folk and soundscape. Now we come to Harris on her own, in her best-known guise as Grouper. Fontina’s strong folk-isms are gone and Harris’s dream-like compositions are now the main attraction.

    Bailiff remains a good reference point for Harris’s work. Bailiff’s music has in the past felt ghostly, as if coming in from another plane—in my write-up of Feels Like Home (KRANK 097) I said her music is “the aural equivalent of looking at faded photographs of a dead girl.” The music of Grouper has a similar mood—it’s dim, hard to make out, vaguely supernatural. “Dream-like” is a perfect descriptor, in fact—one has a vague grasp of the music as it plays, and difficulty remembering it or describing it once it’s done. It’s not forgettable, it just defies articulation.

    But I’ll try: Harris’s voice and guitar are sunk beneath a lake of echo. It feels as if she recorded her music at some distance from an actual microphone—the music is distant. It’s purposely obscured. I think back to the way Low opened their stunning Songs for a Dead Pilot (KRANK 021) with a version of “Will the Night” that sounded as if it were recorded, rather rudimentarily, deep inside a cave. The words were impossible to understand but the beauty still came through. A I A is like a double-album’s worth of that song.

    The album is split into two discs: Dream Loss and Alien Observer.(Spotify treats them as separate albums; Dream Loss is embedded above, Alien Observer is here.) Altogether they are just thirteen songs, about eighty minutes. Apparently they were recorded over the course of four years and have been presented in chronological order, though not a lot separates the earliest from the latest, aesthetically. Which is good: A I A is a coherent work, not a compilation of disparate parts. The whole thing is a soupy fog—dense and empty at once.

     

  2. KRANK 167: Dreamscape: La-Di-Da Recordings (2012)

    Coming into the Kranky catalog circa 2012 amidst releases by Tim Hecker, Grouper, and Disappears, this reissue of a largely forgotten early-90s dream pop band is an unintentionally jarring entry in this project. Which is not to say the music feels alien—the opposite. The songs are straightforward and melodic, pulling influence from early Cure or Joy Division and marking their affinity for artists who populated the acclaimed Sarah Records catalog like Trembling Blue Stars. (In fact the band is a side project for members of a Sarah band, Secret Shine, arguably as little-known as the project at hand.)

    The nine songs on this reissue represent the entirety of Dreamscape’s output—a 7”, an EP, and a second EP, until now unreleased. It’s a modest discography but it’s solid, worthy of rescuing from total obscurity (insofar as being reissued on Kranky constitutes “not obscure”). Nevertheless La-Di-Da Recordings still resides squarely inside its genre. Dreamscape were good but they were not pushing the envelope. They’re not so much a missing link in the history of dream pop or shoegaze so much as a rewarding footnote.

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  3. I spent a big chunk of July mostly ignoring new releases and instead doing fairly deep dives into the catalogs of Erased Tapes, Type, and Touch—especially the latter, circa 2010–present. If you know those labels, then you have a sense of what this playlist will sound like. There are a couple of exceptions—Andrew Bird, obviously, and Chihei Hatakeyama, though the latter fits in with the rest pretty seamlessly.

    July Mix

    1. Hildur Gudnadottir: Til baka (from Saman, 2014)
    2. Ezekiel Honig: Drafting Hindsight (from Paragraphs, 2014)
    3. Ryan Teague: Neo (from Field Drawings, 2012)
    4. Peter Broderick: Patient Observation (from Falling From Trees, 2009)
    5. Fennesz: Liminal (from Seven Stars, 2011)
    6. Ólafur Arnalds: Haust (from Variations of Static, 2008)
    7. Andrew Bird: Don’t Be Scared (from Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…, 2014)
    8. Chihei Hatekayama: Midnight in Hsinking (from Midnight in Hsinking, 2014)

    Stray Thoughts:

    • Hildur Gudnadottir’s Saman (2014)might be my favorite album of the month. It’s a lonely record but it’s quite beautiful. Her work in general is probably my favorite discovery so far as I’ve dug into the Touch catalogue.
    • My favorite Type discovery so far is Ryan Teague.
    • Fans of Fennesz’s Bécs will recognize “Liminal”—he redid it at more than three times the length on the new album now called “Liminality.”
    • I am a diehard Andrew Bird fan, but the new album does not satisfy. Between this and Hands of Glory and Pulaski at Night, I think we’ve had enough stopgap records—let’s get to a bona fide followup to Break It Yourself please!

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  4. Every night I sing this song to Cooper as a lullaby. What will happen when he’s 32 and it finally dawns on him what this song is about?

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  5. I made this playlist about a year ago - my 50 favorite songs since 2008 (don’t ask why 2008). Just added 12 more songs to it, filling in newer favorites from the latter half of 2013 and the first half of 2014. Hit shuffle and treat it like a radio station.

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  6. With the news earlier this week that 2/3 of Labradford were forming a new band, Anjou, I thought I’d throw together this little primer on their original band, since it’s been fourteen years since their last release and people may simply not know their greatness. 

    I’ve also, of course, written about all of these albums, as well as most of Mark Nelson’s subsequent Pan*American project, which eventually became very Labradford-like in its own right (don’t sleep on Quiet CItyWhite Bird Release, or last year’s Cloud Room, Glass Room, the latter of which actually features the entire Anjou lineup). You can find all my write-ups in this archive, organized by artist.

    Labradford Primer

    1. Listening in Depth (from Prazision, 1993)
    2. Eero (from A Stable Reference, 1995)
    3. Banco (from A Stable Reference, 1995)
    4. Pico (from Labradford, 1996)
    5. Scenic Recovery (from Labradford, 1996)
    6. S (from Mi Media Naranja, 1997)
    7. P (from Mi Media Naranja, 1997)
    8. Dulcimers Played by Peter Neff. Strings Played (from E Luxo So, 1999)
    9. Twenty (from Fixed: : Context, 2000)

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  7.  

  8. t33j:

    "7.9 of out 10"

    (via barthel)

     

  9. KRANK 166: Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance (2012)

    It’s clear from his credits on Deerhunter’s albums that Lockett Pundt is a tuneful songwriter. It was harder to tell that on his Lotus Plaza debut, The Floodlight Collective (KRANK 129), which hobbled itself through washed out production and purposefully obscured vocals. Spooky Action at a Distance is not hugely different from Pundt’s other work, either solo or with Deerhunter—but the tunes, at least, come through much better this time around.

    Following a short intro, the album opens with two of its best moments, “Strangers” and “Out of Touch”; the latter has a memorable chorus topped only by the anthemic “Monoliths” a bit later in the record. The buzzy bounce of Deerhunter is there, but Pundt substitutes that band’s hypno-churn with whiffs of early R.E.M. and the Jesus and Mary Chain. There’s a little more jangle buried under all that echo.

    Still, it’s not that different from Pundt’s other band. And that similarity hurts because mostly it serves to underline what’s missing—no, not Bradford Cox, rather a strong rhythm section. There are a lot of moments on Spooky Action when Pundt lets his instruments take over for extended riffing, but they never thrill like “Nothing Ever Happens” on Microcastle (KRANK 127) or “Helicopter” from Halcyon Digest. Even at their best, Pundt’s songs start to feel less like stars of their own show and more like hopefuls auditioning for their spot on the main stage.

    (Source: Spotify)

     

  10. KRANK 165: Felix: Oh Holy Molar (2012)

    Lucinda Chua’s voice is sweet, her tone kind, and the music of Felix simple and intimate. But don’t be lulled by her charm: her wit is sharp, her emotions raw, and she will not suffer fools. Take “Hate Song,” which is directed at someone once close to Chua. “No love between us now,” she sings midway through. But here is what she sings before that:

    Why is there so much bad stuff inside of you? I blame them for raising you so badly, and the others for betraying you. But you won’t let anyone help you; all you do is drive me to the point where I resent you. This is what you do. Whenever you get drunk, you tell us all how you are the wittiest one and the cleverest one—it’s no fun.

    Did I tell you that I hate you? Did I tell you to your face? I didn’t? Well baby I am telling you now. This is what you get when you steal from your friends and you lie about the thieving. 

    There is a meter and sweet melody in Chua’s phrasing, but as I transcribe her lyrics, they beg not to be written in a poetic form. These are stories, monologues. Taken this way, Chua’s style of singing seems utterly natural—a soft conversational volume, a quick pace full of asides and tangents.

    The same was the case on Felix’s debut, You Are the One I Pick (KRANK 139), similarly beguiling and cutting, but at times somewhat wearying due to the unchanging nature of each short song. Oh Holy Molar is a maturation of Felix’s sound, and a much stronger effort. Chua and her partner Chris Summerlin are joined this time around by a third member, Neil Turpin, on drums. His confident playing is a great enhancement of Chua and Summerlin’s core of piano, guitar, and vocals—see “Oh Thee 73” for some inspired intertwining of drums and vocals. The music remains, overall, airy and casual, but Turpin imbues Oh Holy Molar with a more forceful sense of self-esteem. The music is now as kind and cutting as Chua’s words.

    Perhaps it’s Turpin’s presence (and welcome backing vocals from Sophie Lester) that also allows Felix to bring more variety to their sound. The dynamic shifts within and between songs hold the attention, and the two-part “Blessing” is a dramatic turn midway through—first piano and strings, followed by Chua and Lester singing in a long, choral-like arrangement. It signals a slight downshift in the pace of the record’s second half, giving the whole of the album an arc that You Are the One I Pick didn’t really have. The content of Chua’s songs of betrayal become more serious. Where “Hate Song” has a biting humor, “Pretty Girls” reveals some true hurt—”Pretty girls should be locked up from those pretty boys… and those pretty things they say that play like a broken record,” she sings in the first verse. The song details the toll of being routinely hit on—seeing through it sometimes, falling for it other times. ”Clever guys always should be careful, and carelessness is something truly awful,” she sings later. One gets the sense that Chua is not merely stamping her foot and shouting Men!—rather, there is a darker experience lurking behind these songs. 

    (Source: Spotify)