Tag Archives: Merge

Richard Buckner: Surrounded

RichardBuckner_SurroundedHaunting electronica-backed folk

Though he’d released two indie albums in the mid-90s, Richard Buckner arrived in most listeners’ ears with his 1997 major label debut, Devotion + Doubt. His voice and delivery were unlike just about anyone who’d come before. His early music found cover under the Americana umbrella, but even then the steel, fiddle and vocal edgings that signaled country were balanced by strong elements of folk, pop, rock and jazz. His weary vocals played as hushed confessions, and his impressionistic lyrics were filled with fragments, shards really, of his recently ended marriage. For all but the few who’d latched on to him earlier, it was a breathtaking introduction.

His two albums with MCA led to another indie stint and a 2004 landing at Merge. A string of misfortunes (including a failed soundtrack opportunity, an inadvertent brush with the law and technical difficulties) led to a five-year gap between 2006’s Meadow and 2011’s Our Blood. But now, with comparative ease, he’s produced an album backed with ambient electronic textures, tape loops and layered vocals. Buckner’s trilled notes can suggest Randy Travis or George Jones, but the atmospheric backgrounds, such as on “When You Tell Me How It Is,” frame his voice similarly to Roxy Music-era Bryan Ferry.

Buckner’s lyrics continue in the redacted vein of his earlier work, sketching unmet expectations, tenacity, anxiety and other shadowy emotions. The music follows suit, with a throbbing background for “Mood” and a melancholy optimism in “Go.” The ambient backing tracks provide a surprisingly good fit for what is essentially folk music. But this folk music has a haunted soul, and the electronics are grounded by finger-picked acoustic guitars. The things you’ve loved about Richard Buckner’s earlier records are still here, but he’s stretched out to new timbres that underline his songs with moody electronic textures.[©2013 Hyperbolium]

Richard Buckner’s Home Page

Richard Buckner Wants to Play Your Living Room

From RichardBuckner.com:

So, beginning in late January 2014, I’ll be traveling throughout Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona with my acoustic guitar, hollering & strumming into thin air to audiences weary of the intimate setting of the rock bar-ambienced dins of out-of-time cocktail-shaker-maracas, bachelorette parties and bar-side conversations about “who’s-that-guy-onstage-again?” and “Ten-bucks-to-get-in-and-it’s-just-a-bunch-of-dudes-shushing-me-when-I-try-and-tell-you-about-my-new-hilarious-fantasy-football-team-name!”. In between the shows, I’ll also be working on my latest collection of run-on sentences (containing parenthesis so I can cram in more unnecessarily-tangented details) featuring nouns disguised as adjectives. I like using determiners as well, but my therapist thinks that it adds to my issues (with over-explaining).

For more information on hosting a Richard Buckner show, visit Undertow.

The Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas

MountainGoats_AllHailWestTexasThe epitome of lo-fi singer-songwriter greatness

Lo-fi can be effective as a chosen aesthetic, waving an aural banner that lays an artist’s money on songs and performances, rather than on production. But that aesthetic is even more powerful when it’s forced upon an artist by circumstance, such as a lack of budget, an inescapable urge to get music on tape and material whose intimacy might be smothered in a recording studio. Such was the case for this 2002 set by singer-songwriter John Darnielle. Recorded through the condenser mic of his trusty Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox, the album is almost purposeful in its throwback to the raw energy of his earlier work. The songs find their personality in personal details (“I am healthy, I am whole, but I have poor impulse control”) rather than their themes of troubled childhoods, misadventures and varying romantic temperatures. The lo-fi acoustics, including background noise from the boombox’s transport, magnify the feel of an artist’s notebook, and with songs that were often recorded within minutes or hours of being written, the performances have the urgency of a diary. Merge’s 2013 reissue was re-mastered from the original 1/4-inch transfers of the boombox tapes, and adds seven contemporaneous pieces from additional cassette sources. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Mountain Goats’ Home Page

King Khan and the Shrines: Idle No More

KingKhanAndTheShrines_IdleNoMoreCrafty blend of psych, garage-rock, pop and soul

Idle since 2007’s What Is?!, King Khan’s garage-soul band is back with an album that adds a bit of genre-blending finesse to their early raw power. The title doesn’t actually refer to the band’s hiatus, but instead to an indigenous sovereignty movement that struck a resonant chord with Khan. More largely, the reference signals the latent social criticism embedded beneath the album’s rock ‘n’ soul surface. The commentary is in the lyrics, but you’ll have to hear it through a tasty mix of Love-inspired psych, Flamin’ Groovies-styled rock, Memphis-flavored horns and West Coast sunshine-pop. Khan fits these together with a naturalness that belies their disparate origins, and his vocals are equally at home on soul ballads as they are on psych-tinged garage stompers. This isn’t as raw as the band’s earlier releases, nor is it as heavy on the funk or punk, but the seamless mix of psych, pop and garage is a fair trade for those willing to hear the band do something new. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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Jonny: Jonny

Teenage Fanclub meets Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Euros Childs have more melodicism in the tip of their respective pinkies than most musicians create in their entire careers. Paired together for their first full-length collaboration, the results are a brilliantly crafted cocktail of their respective bands, ‘60s British invasion and garage pop, canyon country, ‘70s power pop, pub and light rock, and ‘80s post-punk psychedelia. Like XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear, there’s an element of spot-the-influence here, but the references are more fully digested and fleeting: a vocal harmony that suggests Curt Boettcher, CS&N or America, a melody hook that recalls the Kasnetz-Katz bubblegum factory, a stomping rhythm you’d have heard from Brisnley Schwarz, or an organ riff that lodges the Monkees in your ear.

The opening “Wich is Wich” would have made a terrific theme song to an H.R. Pufnstuf spin-off, and the nearly eleven-minute “Cave Dance” could be, for those who remember that Pufnstuf lived in a cave, both a stoneage dance sensation and a low-key escape from the powers of Witchiepoo. Unsurprisingly, the pair create buoyant, winsome music, but with just enough melancholy and angst to keep the sweetness from dissolving your teeth. Even the album’s first single, “Candyfloss,” crosses its lyrical dream woman in a duet vocal whose Motors-like harmony is laden with discontent. There are a few lesser tunes, but they quickly disappear as you indulge in the yearning of “Circling the Sun” and “I Want to Be Around,” tap your toe to the country-inspired “I’ll Make Her My Best Friend,” and glory in the duo’s irresistible melodies. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Apex Manor: The Year of Magical Drinking

A power-pop singer/songwriter recovers from a not-so-magical year

There’s something exciting happening in Los Angeles; singer/songwriters like Bleu and Adam Marsland are breaking out once again, but instead of rolling down from the communal experience of the canyon, they’re holing up in homes and hobby studios. Such was the inspiration for former Broken West guitarist/vocalist Ross Flournoy, whose relocation to Pasadena after a band breakup severed his daily musical connection, and left him casting about for direction. Amid writer’s block and a daily beer habit, his lifesaver was an NPR song competition that afforded only a weekend to write, record and submit a song. The external pressure turned out to be just what he needed, documenting his denial, admission, inventory, acceptance and recovery as a songwriter in “Under the Gun.” With one under his belt, dozens more tumbled forth, some written alone, some with Adam Vine.

Apex Minor on record – Flournoy and former bandmate Brian Whelan, along with help from Andy Creighton, Derek Brown, Rob Douglass and Dan Iead – is reminiscent of Broken West, similarly propulsive and tuneful, but warmer and looser. The album begins at Flournoy’s nadir, looking up from the bottom of a half-drunk mason jar in “Southern Decline.” Producer Dan Long layers on buzzing rhythm guitars, demonstrating just how deeply Flournoy was buried in depression. His salvation as a songwriter leads to emotional re-emergence, self-awareness and on “I Know These Waters Well,” the twelfth-step desire to pass along new found wisdom. The album alternates rave-ups and soulful ballads, with Flournoy’s voice particularly expressive on the latter. Despite the detour, Apex Manor marks a terrific new phase, predicted by the Broken West, but ignited by a fresh start. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Under the Gun
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The Clientele: Minotaur

Terrific spin on paisley, psych and sunshine pop

These leftovers from the sessions that produced 2009’s Bonfires on the Heath include several memorable mélanges. The title track brings to mind the baroque sounds of the Left Banke, the paisley patterns of the Rain Parade and the sunshine pop of Curt Boettecher. The second track, “Jerry” is even more beguiling, feinting towards progrock with its opening, but quickly giving way to vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Robbs and Three O’Clock, with drifiting piano and a melodic bass displaced by Television-like staccato guitar and an escalating rhythm whose tension is again broken by vocal pop. The EP’s lone cover, “As the World Rises and Falls” is an obscure album track from the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s third release. The hypnotic production and crawling psychedelia are perfect complements to Alasdair MacLean’s hushed vocal – particularly his drawn-out reading of “rises” as “rye-zizzzz.” The tone turns jauntier for “Paul Verlaine,” bouncing along like a Paul Weller reverie, and the folk-rock “Strange Town” suggests Cat Stevens and Donovan (albeit with someone tuning a vintage oscillator for a mid-song solo). There’s a moody piano solo and a lengthy spoken word piece before the EP closes on a lovely pop-soul note. All in all, a brief bite, but a tasty one. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Jerry
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The Singing Saw at Christmastime at Your House!

If you’re looking for a unique holiday experience, consider having Julian Koster visit your home, along with his dog Rudolph and his Singing Saw friend Badger, for an evening of holiday carols.

The current plan has him caroling on these dates in these areas:

12/5 – Atlanta / Rome, GA
12/6 – Nashville, TN (early) / Louisville, KY
12/7 – Indianapolis, IN (early) / Champaign, IL
12/8 – Chicago, IL
12/9 – Kalamazoo, MI (early) / Detroit, MI (and area)
12/10 – Toledo, OH (early) / Cleveland, OH
12/11 – Buffalo, NY (early) / Geneseo, NY
12/12 – Ithaca, NY (early) / Monterrey, MA / Easthampton & Northampton, MA (late-night)
12/13 – Boston, MA (and area)
12/14 – Providence, RI (and area)
12/15 – Riverside, CT / Purchase, NY / Marlboro, NY
12/16 – New York City, NY
12/17 – New York City, NY (and area)
12/18 – Manalapan, NJ (early) / Philadelphia, PA
12/19 – Baltimore, MD (early) / Washington, DC
12/20 – Eagle Rock, VA (early) / Lynchburg, VA
12/21 – Chapel Hill, NC / Raleigh, NC
12/22 – Athens, GA

Invitations are still being accepted for Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis, Champaign, Cleveland, Providence, Baltimore, D.C., and Chapel Hill/Durham. For more information, send an e-mail to musictapescaroling@gmail.com. Please note in your e-mail if you’re willing to entertain outside guests, and whether you can offer the carolers a place to sleep. This could be the most unusual house concert you ever have a chance to host!

If you’re rather attend than host, you can find the address of one of the homes in your area that will be hosting the carolers: e-mail musictapescaroling@gmail.com for the address and time of a performance near you.

Free song download!

Julian Koster is gifting fans with his version of a holiday classic.

MP3 | White Christmas

Click here for a review of Julian Koster’s album, The Singing Saw at Christmastime.

Julian Koster: The Singing Saw at Christmastime

JulianKoster_TheSingingSawsAtChristmastimeHave yourself an ethereal Christmas

The singing saw (or as it’s commonly known, the musical saw) is thought to date back to the late 1800s, though it really came into its own in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Early saw players used standard issue hand saws, but over the years specialized compounds, thinner steel and varying lengths were used to produce a saw that excelled at producing music in lieu of cutting wood. The saw is played with its handle between the player’s legs and the blade bent into an ‘S’. The sawyer bows the flat middle part of the ‘S’ to produce an ethereal vibration whose harmonics and sustain can make a single saw sound like several. For those who’ve never heard a singing saw, close relations in sound are the Theramin, an electronic instrument that’s been featured in many films (Spellbound, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Ed Wood), and the electro-theremin, most famously used on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”

Like these electronic instruments, the musical saw produces an other-worldly sound whose pitch is wavery and laden with overtones. Julian Koster, whose saw graced the works of Neutral Milk Hotel, has sharpened his axe, uh, saw, on a dozen Christmas and wintertime classics. Koster performs these as instrumentals, allowing the saws to sing on their own. The result is an unearthly tonal chorus that’s simultaneously beautiful and unnerving. Jolly holiday favorites “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Jingle Bells” can’t quite dash along, given the slow speed with which one can change notes on a saw. The more somber tunes are stretched and thickened with tonal ambience. This isn’t the rocking good cheer of A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector, and it won’t inspire the dance moves of a Jackson 5 Christmas, but it will add unusual and thoughtful moments to your Christmas mix. It’s also the perfect album to play when the eggnog is all gone. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Jingle Bells

The Clean: Mister Pop

Clean_MisterPopKiwi legends resurface for a laid-back reunion LP

Thirty-one years after their formation, this Dunedin, New Zealand trio is still breathing life into original compositions. Their formation spurred the creation of the legendary Flying Nun label, they drifted apart, broke up and reformed a few times to release singles and EPs throughout the 1980s, and finally waxed their first full length, Vehicle, in 1990. The group’s career continued to be marked by dissolutions, side projects and occasional reunions for albums and tours (and live albums of tours), culminating in the 2-CD overview, Anthology, in 2003. This latest reunion album brings together the classic lineup of Kilgour, Kilgour and Scott back to the studio.

The DIY punk-rock and organ-driven pop of the band’s lo-fi 4-track works have been refined over the years, with properly recorded studio sessions that include chiming guitars and keyboard drones. Many of these new productions have a psychedelic (or at least lightly drugged) feel, including the Eastern inflected guitar of “Asleep in the Tunnel” and the thick, Pink Floyd styled instrumental raga “Moonjumper.” The bulk of “Are You Really on Drugs” and “In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul” are fashioned by repeating their titles as lyrics, the former hypnotizing in the manner of a long stare at ceiling tiles, the latter suggesting time for philosophical rumination. Their music is sinewy and muscular, modern but with the spark of their punk roots.

The Velvet Underground’s influence is heard in the monotone dispassion of “Back in the Day,” and a variety of instrumentals and instrumental backings include breathy female choruses, dark organ chords, folk-electronica and droning modernism that sounds like a garage rock version of Stereolab. The Clean has evolved organically from its late-70s roots but also taken in the second-hand influences of its members’ outside projects. You could draw a straight line back to the melodies of their earlier works, but they’re packaged here in slower tempo and trippier tones that are more thought-provoking than mere punk provocation. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul
MP3 | Tensile
The Clean’s Home Page
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