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Shinji Masuko



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Nurse & Soldier



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Oakley Hall



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People of the North

Started by Kid Millions and Bobby Matador of Oneida, People of the North is another voice emanating from that inscrutable Brooklyn collective. The group has always included Kid and Bobby, and usually other members of Oneida as well. POTN has performed live from time to time since 2002; most recently, they were invited by Portishead to play at the I'll Be Your Mirror edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival held in Asbury Park, NJ in October 2011.

In 2010, People of the North released its first full-length album, titled Deep Tissue. This recording was hailed by cognoscenti of contemporary psychedelia as an essential component of the recent Oneida canon. Media outlets compared the sound of Deep Tissue to Suicide and Silver Apples [Pitchfork]; This Heat [Stereogum]; Eno, Loop, Simply Saucer, and Amon Duul [Julian Cope at Head Heritage]; and Eno again [AllMusic].

Steep Formations, a double LP consisting of two long-form pieces, was recorded at the Ocropolis in 2010 and 2011, with the participation of Shahin Motia and Barry London of Oneida. Here, the drumming of Kid Millions has ascended to a profound and utterly unique level: muscular African-derived fluidity and relentless motorik drive have been alchemized into an indescribable brew that surges and pounds among the distorted tides of "Border Waves"; and the stony, brutal glaze of the title track displays a far more severe commitment to minimalism and noise than prior work offered.

While much that has been written about People of the North before remains relevant, newly apt touchstones and contextual clues might include Kevin Drumm, Giusto Pio, Terry Riley, Tony Williams, Conrad Schnitzler, Throbbing Gristle, Pelt.

Themes present in the minds of the creators during the construction of this recording have included:
- the overlap and juxtaposition of natural with industrial processes;
- the interplay between man-made and natural entropies;
- the limits on human comprehension of chaos;
- the contradictions inherent in conscious acts of surrender
- more, but why not use this as a starting point?

Juicy praise for 2010's Deep Tissue, courtesy of Julian Cope at Head Heritage:
"Brooklyn duo People of the North describe an ecstatic and meditative sound somewhere between Amon Düül, Simply Saucer, Friendsound and Loop playing Eno's 'Third Uncle'. And boy, what with the epic drumming of Oneida's Kid Millions informing the core of this ensemble's sound, don't this just shit all over so many modern so-called Kraut-informed bands. Kiddies, you get somebody this righteously Taliban behind the traps and you just cain't go wrong...this is a highly driven yet divine cosmic ooze that envelops listeners in its inner hurricane and allows them merely to...Be, Motherfuckers!"

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Pterodactyl

On third album Spills Out, Brooklyn noise-punk mischief-makers Pterodactyl have mutated from their abrasive loft-show roots into a glorious, broken-pop juggernaut. The band's squealing, sweat-soaked art-bustle had rapidly put them alongside contemporaries like Oneida, These Are Powers and Parts & Labor; but Spills Out gently leads the trio towards the uplifting, wistful harmonies of '60s rockers like The Zombies, CSNY and the pre-acid Beatles. Pterodactyl's onomatopoetic barks have been replaced by a luxurious three-part croon; their adenoidal squawk has been expanded to include Spectorian levels of reassuring fuzz. Their most ambitious statement to date, Spills Out is triumphant, melancholic, unapologetically pop.

Alongside the band's own experiments with Wurlitzers, megaphones, and ukeleles, Spills Out features many guests. "It was important for us to look to our friends for collaboration on this record," says drummer/vocalist Matt Marlin, citing appearances by Dan Friel (Parts and Labor), Zach Lehrhoff (Ex Models), organist Mike Gallope (Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang), violist Amy Cimini (Architeuthis Walks On Land), and producer and electronic wunderkind Frank Musarra (Hearts of Darknesses). The record bulges with the scorched hum of the Kawasaki Dual Cool Keys, a discontinued toy keyboard from the early '00s that the band loves for its bizarre soundbank and unique ability to fold in half for duet play.

With help from producer Jonny "Two-Eyes" Schenke (Mittens on Strings), the band laid the basic tracks in Hodges' Bushwick loft space, The Wallet. From there, Pterodactyl moved the files to their Williamsburg practice space for a winter of exhaustive, self-conducted overdub sessions that helped to create the album's monolithic sound clouds: Kremer spent six hours recording the dueling guitar lines for "Searchers," Hodges stacked six overlapping vocals for the massive one-man chorale in "Thorn." For the cover art the band re-tapped the designer for their 2010 vinyl-only EP, Arnold's Park: a brilliant young artist called Otecki, from the small city of Wroclaw, Poland.

Lyrically, Spills Out is a bittersweet look at endings and conclusions. In the two years since the psych-inspired Worldwild, members of Pterodactyl went through various life changes, from romantic break-ups to the terrible loss of a close friend. Kremer took a hiatus from his job as a high school physics teacher after seven years, and "The Break" details the complex emotions of life-after-work. "The most striking thing about not working," says Kremer, "was that I didn't have the job to cover up the things I was feeling day to day. It's easy not to face yourself at all if you're pouring yourself into other things, even if it's a job you care about, or music, or someone you love." Once the treble-saturated brats of the Brooklyn underground, Pterodactyl is digging deeper than ever, towards a place where sunny songs have uneasy cores, where shimmering harmonies can explore recession-era anxiety, and heartening squelch juxtaposes sadness and loss. "We really wanted to embrace some darker moods," says Hodges. "Some of the songs that sound happy are expressing fucked-up things. I think all of us opened up a lot."

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Sightings



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Alex Delivery



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Aspera



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Bevel



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Company



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Robert Creeley



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Curious Digit, The



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Dead C, The



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Dirty Faces



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Julie Doiron



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Drunk



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Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston



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Fuck



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Simon Joyner



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Ladyhawk



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Lord Dog Bird, The



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Love Life



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Manishevitz



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Minus Story



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Monroe Mustang



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Nad Navillus



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Nagisa Ni te



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Odawas



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Okkervil River

"The goal was to push my brain to places it didn't want to go. The idea was to not have any idea – to keep myself confused about what I was doing," frontman Will Sheff says about Okkervil River's newest album. "I produced it myself so that I could extend the songwriting process all the way through to the very last second of recording, so the songs would never really stop changing." The resulting record, 'I am Very Far,' is a startling break from anything this band has done before. By turns terrifying and joyous, violent and serene, grotesque and romantic, it's a celebration of forces beyond our control.

When Okkervil River released their breakthrough 'Black Sheep Boy' in 2005, Uncut wrote that "Sheff's novelistic lyrics and the dexterous blend of country, folk and nervy indie-rock suggest a band approaching the peak of their powers." A New York Times piece on their 2007 follow-up 'The Stage Names' (and its companion album 'The Stand Ins') echoed, "Sheff writes like a novelist," and Pitchfork called him, "One of the best lyric-writers in indie rock." But on 'I am Very Far,' Sheff emerges not only as a songwriter of the highest caliber, but a producer and arranger of singular vision. Abandoning the tidy conceptual arcs of Okkervil River's previous albums, 'I am Very Far' is a monolithic, darkly ambiguous work, one that doesn't readily offer up its secrets.

Work on 'I am Very Far' started in early 2009, after a year spent on the music of others. Sheff contributed vocals to The New Pornographer's album 'Together,' wrote a song for Norah Jones' 'The Fall,' produced an upcoming album for Brooklyn-based Bird of Youth, and helmed the Roky Erickson record 'True Love Cast Out All Evil,' for which his album notes received a GRAMMY nomination. "I'd never worked with Roky before and never produced someone else's record before. It was a life-changing experience," Sheff recalls, "When it was over I felt both completely drained and completely inspired." Immediately upon wrapping up work and leaving Erickson's company, Sheff drove to his home state of New Hampshire for lengthy isolated writing sessions. "I wanted to go back home and re-start writing again, like I'd never written a song previously," he says, "and I wanted the music and lyrics to be both completely wedded together and a little bit beyond my control. I kept trying to write from the state of mind of someone who had just been born, that feeling of being very young and being aware of not existing before a certain moment, which is a feeling I remember having as a kid."

Sheff emerged from the writing process with 30 or so songs, which he narrowed down to 18. In contrast to Okkervil River's usual practice of holing up in one studio for months on end, he opted for a series of short, high-intensity sessions, each in a different location, each employing completely different methods than the one before it. For songs like "Rider" and "Wake and Be Fine," Sheff gathered together a massive version of Okkervil River – two drummers, two pianists, two bassists, and seven guitarists, all playing live in one room – and led them on a week of live-in-the-studio marathon session, performing a single song obsessively over and over for as many as 12 hours to capture just the right take. Songs like "Show Yourself" and "Hanging from a Hit" were worked out in improvisational sessions with the core band, minimally recorded to 8-track tape, and then re-structured and re-written in the editing process. For the strange science-fiction parable "White Shadow Waltz," Sheff self-recorded the entire song and then had Okkervil River re-record every instrumental track on top of that. After basic-tracking was done, Sheff overdubbed the songs with the band's largest instrumental palette to date – not only choral elements and orchestral colors like strings, tympani, tuba and bassoon, but also file cabinets thrown across the room, unreeled rolls of duct tape, and, on "Piratess," a solo created out of a fast-forwarding and rewinding boombox. Finishing the record from home, Sheff constantly edited and reworked the album, reinventing the song structures, re-recording vocals, re-writing until the very last minute, reshaping even the tiniest of details, ultimately creating an album that plays not only as a lush, seamless epic, but also as the most deeply personal effort of his career.

What can listeners expect? Richer and weirder than 'The Stage Names' and deeper and moodier than even 'Black Sheep Boy,' 'I am Very Far' is dense, fragmented, opaque. A reverie of uncertainty, it feels at once disorienting and oddly familiar, threatening and friendly. Okkervil River have thrown away all maps and compasses but they continue to chart their way, unblinking, toward destinations unknown.

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Parker Paul



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Parts & Labor



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Peter Wolf Crier

It is not so much a sound as a spirit. You don't need to name it to know it or to trust it. Peter Wolf Crier's second album Garden of Arms is a document that paints a vivid portrait of all the pain and beauty of growth. Written with the at-home repose demanded by performing a hundred shows in six months, these eleven tracks were nurtured from their hushed origins with a new-found footing of confidence and experimentation. Adapting the tenets of the grinding live show, the duo of Peter Pisano and Brian Moen transformed the fuzzy distortion, rolling and crashing drums, and laser-focused purposefulness into an intensely dynamic yet supremely polished album.

The lead off track, "Right Away", best exemplifies the band's new direction, a dense and jarring embrace of the immediacy of real personal connection. Later on in the album, restraint is more readily apparent, in tracks like "Settling it Off", where the sonics do not threaten to overwhelm but are instead peeled back to reveal a more subdued, secure sense of direction.

The notion that any one of these songs could be your favorite depending on where your head and heart reside, moment to moment, is the most appealing aspect of this album. Throughout Garden of Arms, swagger is juxtaposed against an icy delicacy, making the scope of the record complex but somehow an easily digestible statement of how Peter Wolf Crier are rolling: a wheel, rusted with unrestrained hope.

It is apparent from listening to the album that, for Pisano and Moen, 2010 was a both an absolutely exhilarating and a profoundly exhausting year. How they so evocatively and effectively channeled the fabric of their experiences into their body of work is not something they could do two years ago. This is a band that is just starting to figure out what they are capable of.

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Patrick Phelan



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Skygreen Leopards, The



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South



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Spokane

Spokane originates from Richmond, Virginia. Its principle vocalist and songwriter Rick Alverson founded the band in 1999, after the dissolution of his previous 10-member project Drunk, with the intention of exploring that small, quiet, sometimes disturbing (and most often ignored) space in life between events and behind the glare of the overtly mentionable, and as a vehicle to stand (however quietly) in objection to the west's cultural addiction to the fast, loud and ostentatious.

He released Leisure & Other Songs the following year, a deliberately vacant document of the American experience. Soon thereafter Courtney Bowles joined as drummer and vocalist, and, along with violinist Karl Runge, the band released its sophomore album The Proud Graduates, which firmly established them as "minimalist leaning, devastatingly subtle craftsmen of the quiet pop form, mixing delicate melodies with a strange, conflicted emotion." Its title track contained the memorable phrase "you combed your hair/ just like your father told you to/ but your room just isn't the same" representational of the longing present on much of the record, along with the barely veiled critiques of western escapism.

The band then quickly recorded and released a Spanish EP entitled Close Quarters. They toured the US and Europe and upon return in 2002 immediately set about producing their 3rd full length release Able Bodies. On returning home from the initial recording session in Bloomington, Indiana, the three suffered a serious interstate car crash and, though they fortunately escaped unharmed, the event proved a turning point in the bands career. Karl Runge moved to Chicago and Courtney and Rick welcomed friend and LaBradford alumni Robert Donne to the fold on bass. The three all shared a distaste for the American political establishment and animal byproducts. Their next record Measurement (coined so as to analogously reflect the accidental profession of "carpenter" that fell upon both Robert and Rick), featured the patient, imperialist-critical, "Protocol" and sent the band once again to Europe to tour where they were welcomed by receptive, quiet crowds. But the tour proved financially difficult and the group returned to Richmond for a rest.

After a four year hiatus, in the spring of 2006, the band undertook the building of a replica nineteenth-century federal home, designed by Rick to the specs of a gutted historic house down the road. The building was a difficult, conflicted process, haunted by the idea of perfection and questions of what separates us from what we disdain, during which their 5th full-length album Little Hours was written and recorded. Released in 2007, it serves as an aural parallel to that year and event.

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Stigma Rock Unit



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Sunset Rubdown

Sunset Rubdown was once the moniker under which Spencer Krug released low fidelity solo recordings. The project has long since evolved into a full band, and Dragonslayer is the third full-length recorded by the whole group. Besides Krug, it features the three musicians who originally signed on: Jordan Robson-Cramer on drums, guitar and keys, Michael Doerksen on guitar and bass, and Camilla Wynne Ingr on keys, percussion and vocals. And now, for the first time, newest member Mark Nicol can be heard on bass, drums, and percussion.

Sunset Rubdown's previous release on Jagjaguwar, Random Spirit Lover, was a studio-built album, in that much of it was written while recording (built up in separate layers, with almost all the vocals needing to be overdubbed). With the new album, the band wanted to try something completely different. It was a very conscious decision, and not a "natural progression." The result is an album that feels honest, natural, and straightforward. The musicianship is left in the open, unassisted by studio magic, and the songs are left to justify for themselves their own screwy pop-rock existence.

Dragonslayer was recorded in the fall of 2008. Sunset Rubdown hope that the true strength of this new album is a hidden complexity that emerges slowly from within the straight production and raw musicianship, and from what sounds at first to be an only slightly skewed approach to pop. They hope it's like that one friend of yours who looks unassuming and normal, but once you get to know him it's obvious he's basically crazy.

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Supreme Dicks



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Swan Lake

Swan Lake is the musical group featuring celebrated songwriter-mystics Daniel Bejar (of Destroyer and New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (of Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade) and Carey Mercer (of Frog Eyes and Blackout Beach).

Together they recorded Enemy Mine, their nine-song second album, in Victoria, British Columbia, in early 2008, a little more than a year after the release of their well-received debut collaboration, Beast Moans, also on Jagjaguwar.

While their debut album was a beautifully-weaved mash-up of their disparate song-writing styles, often with layer upon layer of various melodies and stylistics thrown into a collaborative cauldron to magical, and at times discordant effect, their second album Enemy Mine reflects a more stripped-down, more deliberate approach to collaboration. It's as if they really tried to just make nice songs together. To quote Krug, "There's architecture here." Not that the lyric is about collaboration--it fits nicely though.

It is the band's contention that this is the first known use of a "court painting" as a record cover used in popular music. As a result of this enthusiasm, the band had planned on calling the album Before the Law, a beloved Kafka parable and a reference to this court painting. However, the band is tired of being tagged as "literary", so they dubbed the record Enemy Mine, a beloved movie from Bejar's youth, and a good metaphor for collaboration.

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Union Of A Man And A Woman, The



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Various Artists



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Sarah White



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Wilderness



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Women

On their debut self-titled album, Women embraced sonic brashness that deeper examination revealed to be tinted with sly pop melody. With "Public Strain" the band honed a sound truthful to that reverb drenched noise while allowing the pop sensibilities to surface into clearer focus.

In fall of 2009, Patrick Flegel (vocals/guitar), Matt Flegel (bass/vocals), Chris Reimer (guitar/vocals), and Michael Wallace (drums) went into the studio with an abundance of ideas, working around conflicting schedules and graveyard shifts. With Chad VanGaalen again on production duties, the band laboriously crafted a timeless sounding recording over the dead of winter in Alberta, Canada. The result exploits their usage of harsh, grating dissonance in smaller and controlled doses, using noise as the foundation for richly structured, layered songwriting.

From the opening strains of "Can't You See" it's clear that the album is far more than just a continuation of their debut. Resting upon Matt Flegel's plodding bass line, Patrick Flegel's deadpan vocal delivery, and Chris Reimer on bowed guitars and cello, this moody, nocturnal ballad opens the album on a dark note – one that is quickly countered by "Heat Distraction", a jigsaw of bright guitar phrases and winding time signatures.

This exact balance of delicate and dense is a pervasive thread throughout the album, reflecting the contradiction of the band's environment buried in urban sprawl framed by prairie landscape. Whether twisting through the urgent krautrock of "Locust Valley", an exercise of harmony through simplicity, or climaxing with the bittersweet melody of "Eyesore", the album somehow builds luminous contrast out of a palette of grays.

In places claustrophobic, conjuring walking dreams of sexual anguish and general decay, elsewhere soaring with vintage guitar tones and vocal melodies or collapsing into swirling, mesmerizing swells, "Public Strain" cycles through insomnia, paranoia, resignation and euphoria, to capture a band with an undeniable voice coming into full awareness of their craft.

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Richard Youngs



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Rick Alverson

RICK ALVERSON (1971) is a filmmaker and musician from Richmond, Virginia. He has made four feature films in conjunction with the independent label Jagjaguwar. His first, The Builder (2010), is an existential character study of an Irish immigrant at odds with the promise of America. New Jerusalem (2011), his second feature, starring Colm O'leary (The Builder) and Will Oldham (Matewan, Old Joy), again considered the immigrant experience but this time through the lens of religious ideology. New Jerusalem premiered at the 40th International Film Festival Rotterdam and SXSW in 2011. His third feature, The Comedy, premiering in competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, is a tale of the perils of entitlement set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The feature was produced by Mike S. Ryan (Meek's Cutoff), Brent Kunkle and Glass Eye Pix and stars Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie) in his first major dramatic role. In 2011, he was awarded a Visual Arts Fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He also has directed videos for Bonny Prince Billy (New Wonder) and Gregor Samsa (Jeroen Van Aken). Upcoming films include a reconstruction era drama entitled Clement, to be produced in 2012, and Rabbit, both of which continue his collaboration with Colm O'Leary. In addition to his directorial work he has released 9 records on Jagjaguwar, most recently with his band Spokane in 2007.

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Besnard Lakes, The



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Black Mountain

It's only a cliche because it's true, but the greatest records are timeless. Black Mountain's self-titled debut album is just such a record, its roots leading twisting paths back into the past, while always sounding like 'now', like a future still to come. The work of a small collective of musicians operating from Vancouver, Canada, far from any industry buzz but firmly in the eye of their own storm of creativity, Black Mountain's debut album was, of course, a beginning, but it also marked an ending for Jerk With A Bomb, the group that preceded Black Mountain.

"Some of us came from the punk scene, but sonically we weren't a punk band." says bandleader Stephen McBean, of the group who, over their three-album lifespan, gathered together three future soldiers in the Black Mountain Army: Joshua Wells, Amber Webber and McBean. "We didn't fit in - round pegs or square holes. We took the new name, and everything fell into place."

Begun as the fourth Jerk With A Bomb album, Black Mountain's debut grew from skeletal sessions cut by McBean and Wells. "We laid down the bed tracks, the guitars and drums," remembers McBean. "Matt [Camirand, bass] joined, and we changed the band name after a dream of how life could be different in the B section between Black Flag and Black Sabbath. Josh's roommate Jeremy [Schmidt, keys] was lurking about. We asked him if he wanted to add some synth bleeps or whatever. He came back with all these orchestrated keyboard parts, and we said, 'Oh, you should probably join the band now.'"

McBean had been sending Jerk With A Bomb recordings to Chris Swanson of Jagjaguwar since their second album. "They were one of the few labels that got back to us, though they said they weren't looking for new bands," says McBean. But a slow avalanche of further McBean recordings changed their mind; the label even signed Black Mountain's sister group, Pink Mountaintops, whose debut album preceded Black Mountain's by six months. "The advance for recording and mastering Black Mountain was a thousand bucks," says McBean. "And Jagjaguwar said if we sold 3,000 records, that would be good. We were, like, 'Right on!' Because Jerk With A Bomb had sold about twelve records."

They cut the album at the Hive in Vancouver, recording in "a big cement room with a tall ceiling, nice boomy acoustics, lots of natural reverb," remembers McBean, "on an 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorder." During the sessions, these elemental first Black Mountain tracks found their true shape: the wry, giddy shuffle of "Modern Music," with its Roxy Music sax and Velvets-y chug; the epic, sky-staring riffage of "Don't Run Our Hearts Around;" the hypnotic, gracefully heavy groove of "Druganaut;" the joyful rush of "No Satisfaction;" the dark, powerful blues of "Set Us Free;" the mysterious murk of "No Hits." Here was a new classic rock, its reference points arcane and clear, its sound fresh, unfamiliar and irresistible.

The record easily sold more than the 3,000 Jagjaguwar were initially hoping for, aided by early press plaudits and the word-of-mouth buzz the album stirred. "It happened real quick," remembers McBean. "We got a good review in Pitchfork - I was like, 'What's Pitchfork??' - but it was cool, they were really supportive, as was the UK press. I don't know what the album initially shipped, but they had to scurry and repress it early on."

The album's initial success saw the band take to the road, leaving their Vancouver enclave for stages across Canada, America and Europe. "It felt like there was a real explosion of excitement at shows," remembers McBean. "The first couple of tours, we kinda were pretty shambolic. We wouldn't write setlists, we'd just feel the energy in the room and call things out, jamming on songs like 'No Hits' and 'Druganaut.' It was a good time for live rock'n'roll: DJ booths were being transformed back to drum risers, people were digging 20 minute jams and there were bands like Comets On Fire and Oneida out there who we felt kinship with. I was into Faust and Amon Duul but had no idea of the scene of modern bands doing that stuff. And then we met those bands, and it was cool. And then we went on tour with Coldplay...and the adventures continued."

Their jaunt across the world as guests of perhaps the biggest band in the world right then is a tale for another time, perhaps: the start of Black Mountain's next chapter, and all that followed. For now, savour the compact, spacey brilliance of that cosmic, heavy and subtle debut album, expanded now with a raft of delicious bonus tracks scavenged from the Black Mountain Army archives.

"Once you're done recording and touring a record, it's hard to listen to it again for a long time," says McBean. "but it's fun when you hear your songs in strange contexts and don't recognize them at first, like the other night I was watching some new Kevin Bacon show with a surreal orgy scene and Black Mountain playing in the background. Listening back to the first album again for the remaster, there were lots of things I dug about it, and it brought back a bunch of memories. When we made it, there were no expectations. We were hoping maybe twenty people would dig it. So everything that happened with it was really, really cool."

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Bon Iver

First it was For Emma, Forever Ago. The soul in a refraction of icicles. A moment hanging like breath on air. And yet life – even still life – is not still. The story is not a story if it does not unravel. Your eyes you may cast backward, but the heart is locked in the chest and must beat forever forward. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the frozen beast pressing upward from a loosening earth, one ear cocked to the echo of the ghost choir still singing, the other craving the martial call of drums tumbling, of thrum and wheeze. The desolation smoke has dissipated, cut with strips of brass. Celebration will not be denied, the cabinet cannot contain the rattle, there is meat on the bones.

It's there right away, in the thicker-stringed guitar and military snare of "Perth," and "Minnesota, WI." Anyone who had a single listen to For Emma will peg Justin Vernon's vocals immediately, but there is a sturdiness – an insistence – to Bon Iver, Bon Iver that allows him to escape the cabin in the woods without burning it to the ground. "Holocene" opens with simple finger-picking. The vocal is regret spun hollow and strung on a wire. Then the snare-beat breaks and drives us forward and up and up until we fly silent through the black-star night, our wreckage in view whole atmospheres below. The vocals in "Hinnom, TX" ease to the muffled depths, while the instrumentation remains sparse and cosmic. "Calgary" is a worship song to everything For Emma mourned, and at the point in the final track "Beth/Rest" when Vernon sings, "I ain't livin' in the dark no more" it is clear he isn't dancing in the sunshine, but rather shading toward a new light.

"Bon Iver is often equated with just me," says Vernon, "but you are who surrounds you, and for Bon Iver, Bon Iver I wanted to invite those voices as musical catalysts." Thus on the track "Beth/Rest" and throughout the album, we hear the pedal steel of Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Bill Frisell), the uniquely layered low end of Colin Stetson's (Tom Waits, Arcade Fire) saxophones, the riffing of Mike Lewis' (Happy Apple, Andrew Bird) altos and tenors, and the lush horns of C.J. Camerieri (Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens). Bon Iver regulars Sean Carey, Mike Noyce and Matt McCaughan contributed vocals, drums and production, Rob Moose (Antony and the Johnsons, The National) helped with arranging and added strings, and fellow members of Volcano Choir, Jim Schoenecker and Tom Wincek provided processing.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver was recorded and mixed at April Base Studios, a remodeled veterinarian's clinic located in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin. The main recording space is constructed over a defunct indoor pool attached to the clinic. "It's an unique space and destination; it's our home out here," says Vernon, who purchased the structure with his brother in late 2008 with the sole intention of converting it into his ideal recording studio. "It's been a wonderful freedom, working in a place we built. It's also only three miles from the house I grew up in, and just ten minutes from the bar where my parents met." The creation of Bon Iver, Bon Iver was a three-year process, and Vernon says the completion of the studio paralleled the completion of the album. "I was writing and recording in the windows of time snatched between tours in support of For Emma," he says. "When I finally came home to hunker down for a solid stretch there was a feeling of solid ground and an opportunity for liberation waiting in the space for me."

In the absence of solid ground, the whirlwind becomes a whirlpool, and Bon Iver, Bon Iver is Justin Vernon returning to former haunts with a new spirit. The reprises are there – solitude, quietude, hope and desperation compressed – but always a rhythm arises, a pulse vivified by gratitude and grace notes, some as bright as a bicycle bell. The winter, the legend, has faded to just that, and this is the new momentary present. The icicles have dropped, rising up again as grass.

- Michael Perry

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Read the lyrics to Bon Iver, Bon Iver HERE.

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S. Carey

S. Carey's work is a hugely beatific, restorative panorama of beauty - perfect given how landscape and the wonder of nature inspire much of Carey's imagery.  His new album Range of Light takes its title from the name that 19th century naturalist John Muir gave to the Sierra Nevada, and follows suit with a dazzling array of musical light and shade, drawn from Carey's love of jazz, modern classical and Americana.  Like a weathered mountain range changing shadow form and color, or the ebb and flow of a river's current, S. Carey's music is simultaneously restful and rhythmic, complex and simple, and always evolving.

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The Cave Singers



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DIANA



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Dinosaur Jr.

Here's what you do: Get them to sit down and say, "Listen. Just listen." Then you crank the Dino. I've been getting people to listen to Dinosaur (Jr.) for 25 years now. It used to be my job.

In 1982, when we were in High School, I was the kid who couldn't play an instrument, so I booked the gigs. J told me where he thought it might be cool to play, and then I made the phone calls. Back then, the band was Deep Wound: J on drums, Lou on guitar, Scotty on bass, Charlie on vocals. Hardcore punk: fun, loud, fast as fuck. But I wasn't making people listen to the band then. For hardcore shows at The Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield or Gallery East in Boston, kids just got together and put on a show. Everyone pretty much knew what to expect.

By 1984, Deep Wound had fizzled. The interim band, Mogo, was over after only one gig on the Amherst Common. It featured Charlie screaming "Fuck the cops!" before the plug was pulled, a total high-point in my personal catalog of rock-n-roll moments. Then came Dinosaur: Murph on drums, Lou moving to bass, and J bringing all his inner Moon and Bonham (Keith and John) to the guitar. And with Dinosaur came the tunes.

The first cassette I had to take around to get gigs for Dinosaur was a raw but vital sketch of two tunes, "Forget the Swan" and "Cats in a Bowl," recorded in J's basement on a crappy old tape recorder. J and I were students at UMass but we spent a lot of time at Hampshire College, where the kids seemed hipper and more inclined to dig what Dinosaur was laying down. But this was not always the case. The guy I went to talk to for a slot on Hampshire's Spring Concert line-up, half-way through listening to "Forget the Swan," started talking about how great his own lame 60's retro-poseur band was. In the middle of "Forget the Swan"! I was incredulous. We did not get the gig, but the real disappointment was that this seemingly tuned-in guy didn't get it. Listen to the lead riff on "Forget the Swan" again. If you really listen, it will haunt you. This guy did not listen.

And once you get it, you can't do without it. For me, Dinosaur's tunes are indispensable; they are songs that have been rattling around my head for as long as the band has been playing them. "Repulsion," from the first record, still knocks me out. The second record, "You're Living All Over Me," is an exception in that I can't listen to any one tune on that record without needing to listen to the whole damned thing. J once said that he writes songs that he himself would want to listen to, and he's got great taste. I never took the Cure seriously until I heard what these guys did with "Just Like Heaven," a monster of a cover that hits the level of what Hendrix did for Dylan with "All Along the Watchtower."

When Brian at Bleemusic floated the original Dinosaur line-up reunion idea a few years ago, I was dubious. J, Lou, and Murph never had a "stable" marriage to begin with. But, of course, the tensions within their layered relationships as a band helped to make them so insanely powerful. Kids seeing the band on the YLAOM tour would come backstage after the show, dazed and transformed. It wasn't just the wall of J's Marshall-driven guitar or Lou and Murph locked in as tight as any bass/drum duo ever has been. It was vitality of the tunes themselves, delivered with emotion distilled to rock-bottom rock-n-roll essentials.

After examining it from all angles, the guys decided the reunion thing was worth a try. The thawing out period was especially interesting. At one point I dug up photos from when we were kids, and now, as grownups sitting around at an Indian restaurant with spouses and houses and lives that are more-or-less "established," it felt comfortable and right. And then came the tunes again.

"Beyond" was the rejoinder to the worry that Dino was merely flogging the back catalog as a reunion gimmick, and now here's "Farm." I've had this record for a week now, playing it constantly; it's pure Dino, great Dino. These tunes are now in my head for good, along with all their other tunes. This is what these guys do best, and they are really good at what they do. So do someone a favor: sit them down and say, "Listen." Then crank the Dino.

Jon Fetler
Hadley, MA 2009


Jon Fetler lives in Hadley with his four children and his wife, a girl he put on the guest list in Bedford, England, during the Bug tour of 1988. That same year, he was unanimously voted Worst Roadie of the Year by his fellow roadies in Rapeman and Band of Susans.

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Foxygen

Foxygen and Star Power is the Los Angeles songwriting duo of 24-year-olds Sam France and Jonathan Rado. In May 2011, France and Rado nervously handed off a CD-R of this homemade mini-opus Take the Kids Off Broadway (Jagjaguwar, 2012) to producer and visionary Richard Swift after his performance in a Lower East Side club. The duo, who had just mixed and burned the disc that very night, had been devotees of Swift's outsider-pop oeuvre since high school, when they first began recording their own pubescent forays into oddball rock n' roll (At least a dozen records were finished before they graduated high school). 

Foxygen left the venue that night unsure whether Swift would truly listen or sling the disc into a dumpster on his way out. You're reading this right now because Swift did listen. In fact, he fucking flipped for Foxygen's bugged out, esoteric majesty and called upon them immediately to say as much.
Eight months later, Foxygen was holed up for a week-long recording session at Swift's neo-legendary National Freedom studio, creating what  became their breakthrough, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar, 2013), a precocious and cocksure joyride across California psychedelia.

2013 saw the mercurial success of 21st Century, and with it, heightened demands for tour planning, added press days, demands on resources, the sacrifice of personal relationships, and the indefinite delay of recording plans. The quick-fire success made for an altogether turbulent 2013 for the band. Foxygen's always captivating live performances shifted from eruptive to sometimes frightening -- and then, just put on ice altogether. But at the close of 2013, France and Rado found secret sanctuary in their new studio, Dream Star, and holing up in some of LA's most famous hotels for more recording. Writing music together is what their friendship has always thrived upon. At Dream Star in the northernmost passage of LA's valley, they reformed as a punk band called Star Power. And the result, the svelte, 82-minute ...And Star Power, is a morphing, splice-and-paste journey through soft rock indulgences, psych-ward folk, cartoon fantasia, D&D doomrock, and paranoid bathroom rompers. Foxygen, now expanded into a 9-piece touring machine as Star Power, calls the album "a cinematic, auditory adventure for the speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees, and misfits...the radio station you can only hear if you believe." 

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GAYNGS

When Ryan Olson decided to make a record with Solid Gold members Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt, it was clear to them what the result would be: a collection of drugged-up keyboards and slick bedroom production almost exclusively inspired by 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." To be fair, they weren't entirely off. What they didn't know was that it would spiral into a project of epic proportions, enlisting the talents of over 25 musicians from various scenes around the country, relocating the base of operations from Olson's Minneapolis bedroom/studio to the Wisconsin-based studio April Base, and the genesis of a musical family, GAYNGS.

From the moment anyone heard Olson, Coulter, and Hurlburt's rough version of their first composition "The Gaudy Side of Town," they wanted in on it. To most of the players involved, this genre of music was quite foreign yet entirely familiar. Olson knew this, and began calling upon an eclectic cast of contributors whom he thought would share his vision, and relish in the idea of exploring uncharted musical territory within them. The first people to join the cause were North Carolina's Megafaun (Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, Phil Cook), and with them came Ivan Howard (The Rosebuds), and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce. By mid-2009 the studio sessions were becoming more and more frequent, bouncing back and forth between April Base and Olson's bedroom. In Minneapolis, Olson brought in Rhymesayers rapper P.O.S and his fellow Doomtree artist Dessa, psych-rockers Jake Luck and Nick Ryan (Leisure Birds), song-birds Channy Moon-Casselle and Katy Morley, jazz-saxophonist Michael Lewis (Happy Apple, Andrew Bird), retro-pop duo Maggie Morrison and Grant Cutler (Lookbook), and slide-guitarist Shön Troth (Solid Gold).

Vocally, GAYNGS is a triumph. Zack Coulter (Solid Gold) shines from the jump, floating over the record with his airy, haunting melodies. Fans of Bon Iver will recognize Vernon's familiar falsetto, but will flip when they hear his Bone Thug's-style R&B. Ivan Howard sounds right at home with his sensual and breathy leads, while P.O.S. abandons his genre entirely for a soul inspired tenor. With over a dozen people contributing vocals, its incredible how cohesive the album sounds.

After a year of tracking and mixing, GAYNGS is officially ready to release the album, entitled "Relayted." The initial goal was achieved perfectly, yet "Relayted" sounds refreshing and modern. With each song written at 69 BPM's, and tripped-out transitions from song to song, it is truly an audio experience from start to finish.

Watch for GAYNGS to erupt this coming spring.

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Lia Ices

"Ices" is a celebration of flight, levity, and the conviction that you can leave earth. You take wing in an airplane, you go to real places when you dream, you have out-of-body experiences, you get high, you lose yourself in someone else.

When we started work on these songs, I was beginning a gradual move to California, constantly traveling back and forth from New York. I was experimenting. I was falling in love. Our studio in the Hudson Valley was full of electronics and computers and the sounds of future ships sailing through
the vastness of space, and I sometimes forgot where I was. The first songs we wrote were called "flying 1", then "flying 2", and so on, which eventually evolved into songs on the album. Flight became a metaphor for the ignition of the imagination. The process created a lightness in me, a freedom and positive
energy that I'd never before felt or explored.

This recording session became a two year music and spiritual retreat with my psychic twin brother, Eliot. A private journey during which we abandoned old habits and familiar sounds. We got really geeky and experimented in our studio. We obsessed over sympathetic magic, "Ancient Aliens", and the NBA. We allowed everything we loved to find its way in: Persian percussion, hip-hop beats, lo-fi, hi-fi, Pakistani pop, Link Wray, Jason Pierce, gospel, dub. We developed new systems; we worked with synthesis, software, and samples; we
became producers. The Hudson Valley was home base, but I wanted to keep flying. I wrote songs in California, recorded vocals in Atlanta, and worked with Clams Casino in Brooklyn.
For the first time, Lia Ices felt like an inclusive project with its own identity, not just a name.

"Ices" as a whole is devoted to these certainties. While we have evolved, we are still animals. We respond to planets, patterns, and cycles. We require the sounds of our origins. We live in the future but stay bound to the primitive and primordial. We will always want tribe, we will always want rhythm, we will
always need music to guide us into our deepest sense of what it means to be human. So we hear sounds from all over the planet in this album. We devour so much music, and with this album we allowed ourselves to claim bits from all of it.

-LIA ICES

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Lightning Dust



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Briana Marela

Born and raised in Seattle, Briana Marela has traveled some but has always called the state of Washington home. There is a sense of place in her music -- a sense of nature, of the northwest and of the unique space that exists between cities and wilderness. More than that, however, Briana draws inspiration from the people around her. Not just the emotions they evoke, but also the tactile feelings those emotions bring us: the warmth of affection; the weightlessness of joy; the grounded, anchored feeling of love. That gift for illuminating the abstract is counterbalanced by a remarkable clarity in Briana's lyrics, and that straightforwardness manifests itself in powerful ways. Briana's lyrics are forceful, and throughout her second album, All Around Us, traditional song structure gives way to plainspoken declarations that pull back the record's shroud.

Briana began writing music in early high school. "I started dreaming up melodies before I even picked up an instrument," she explains. "I wrote songs on acoustic guitar in high school and I guess I didn't fully realize the other options that existed for creating music. I never imagined I'd be making music using computers someday." It wasn't until Briana left home to attend college in Olympia that she turned her efforts toward music technology, audio production and composition. Learning about the manipulation of melody, vocals and sound through more experimental music is what ultimately drove her and influenced her pop compositions.

"Something changed in me when I started learning about sound and sound manipulation, about computers' space in making music, and then I couldn't ever go back to playing guitar." In these mediums Briana found deeper inspiration for composing, arranging, and for approaching music in a whole new way. Appropriately, the album track "Everything is New" was the first song Briana ever wrote using vocal looping techniques and it sparked what would become a bottomless exploration into manipulated sound.

All Around Us, named after a children's picture book, traces Briana's transition between places, beginning just before she embarked on her first-ever tour in 2012. While on that tour with her sister Briana performed at an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island and it was there that she crossed paths with the artist Scott Alario. He ended up sharing Briana's music with his best friend Alex Somers, the Sigur Rós & Jónsi-affiliated musician and producer, who would go on to produce All Around Us. Later that year--on the day, incidentally, that the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world--Briana got an email from Alex that would eventually bring them to work together in Iceland. "As soon as we met, we didn't feel like strangers. It was instant friendship," Briana says. "I have strong production visions for my music, but it was so important and fun to work with Alex, to collaborate and to challenge the way I record and do things myself." Working with Somers, Icelandic group Amiina, and others, Briana's formidable talents revealed themselves even more vividly than before.

The magic of this collaboration is evident on the album track "Surrender", which is musically delicate at first, with flickering blips and chords that float into earshot like fireflies. As drums and vocals build the drama escalates and steepens until we are struck with one bold, mantra-like affirmation: "I'll give you all I've got." "Take Care of Me" is the album's brightest and most immediate song, a buoyant celebration of friendship with a skittering beat and a warm, sweet melody. And title track "All Around Us" is a stark but inspiring beauty, built on the memory of a family member of Briana's who passed away, and the sadness of not being able to say "goodbye" or "I love you" one last time. It is here that Briana declares, clearly and succinctly: "If you love me, say it now. And mean it. For you may never get another chance."

When Briana talks about herself, she speaks directly about her own shyness, acknowledging it in the context of how it informs her songwriting. "My songs are my way to express feelings boldly that I could never speak aloud," she says. "They are my plea to be heard."

It is the balance of the abstract and the intimate that makes Briana Marela and All Around Us so special. There's a place for us all in these songs. We can nestle and tuck ourselves in between their loops and slopes and blankets of sound. We can think about ourselves and one another. Briana Marela's All Around Us tempts these questions: What's so confounding about the truths right in front of us? Why do we hear something simply-stated and assume it's a trick, or the ghost of something else? As an album, All Around Us feels mysterious at first, but reveals itself to be a record of remarkable honesty and of direct, deeply felt emotions. All Around Us is about relationships with people, about friendship, about improving oneself and finding the bravery to feel, give and show love.

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Moonface

Since January 2010, Spencer Krug has used Moonface as a venue for home-recorded instrumental and conceptual experimentation, expanding the ideas he developed collaboratively with Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. Releases under this moniker have come quickly, each distinct from the other. The Dreamland EP and Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped were conceptual excursions merging instrumental and thematic fixations. After moving from Montreal to Helsinki, Krug teamed up with the Finnish band Siinai to create a lush rock record--2012's Heartbreaking Bravery--driven by the dark despair of a breakup. Staying in Helsinki, Krug set off on yet another creative departure, driven by a rediscovery of love and a reconsideration of the Moonface persona he'd created for himself. The quietly stunning Julia with Blue Jeans On is the fourth Moonface release, bringing a degree of intimacy and self-reflection unlike anything Krug has produced to date.

There are only two sonic elements on Julia: Spencer Krug's voice and his piano. Richly recorded, they interact seamlessly with one another. On the opening track "Barbarian," the piano unfolds with the hypnotic energy of Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, Krug's right hand doubling his vocal melody. On the closing track "Your Chariot Awaits," Krug's voice recedes after a minute as the piano swells for an extended showcase with modern classical undertones. After nearly a decade, across a number of guises, we are well-acquainted with Krug's inimitable town-crier vocals; on Julia, we are introduced to a facet of his musical skill that feels conservatory-trained. This is Krug as singer-songwriter, moving beyond star poses to a vision that is at once more elegant and comfortable.

Or, in Krug's own language, on "Barbarian II": "I have chewed through my beautiful narrative." Much of Julia is taken with this chewing. "Love the House You're In" opens by masquerading as self-pity, with a statement that reads like a press release from someone who's given up. "I regretfully withdraw my offer to try and improve myself," Krug gently sings, establishing a self-reflexive foundation upon which he builds the album's most universal, humanistic sentiment, and which he delivers via its most soaring melody.

Purposeful self-evaluation is one tactic for reinvention, but as Krug illustrates on Julia's title track, everyday occurrences can prove transformative as well. The sight of a woman, clad in denim, briefly visible at the bottom of a staircase, he learns, is capable of "obliterating everything I've ever written down." "Julia" is an ode in the classical sense, pivoting around the beauty inherent in the most simple, taken-for-granted sights. Krug acknowledges this, opening the song by admitting that "it's a madman's game, making the commonplace unreal." What he leaves out in this admission, however, is the key to the countless charms of Julia with Blue Jeans On: by expertly playing this ridiculous game, he can erase the madness that spawned it.

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Angel Olsen

Very often, the move from containment to connection is a difficult one. After all, there's a lot at stake – one's sense of self, most importantly – but sometimes, it comes naturally and easily. For Missouri-born, singer-songwriter and guitarist Angel Olsen, the recording of her second album was a relaxed and enjoyable process, despite the fact that she was working on her own, highly personal material in creative collaboration for the first time, with musicians she'd been playing with for barely six months. That the three are now a band proper says much about not only their talent, but also the singer's desire to push her extraordinarily compelling songs into new territory and watch them develop.


Olsen, of course, has an impeccable cooperative pedigree. As a member of Emmett Kelly's The Cairo Gang, she's toured with Bonnie "Prince" Billy (on whose Wolfroy Goes To Town album she appeared) and has twice duetted with Marissa Nadler, to devastatingly minimal effect, but her first two recordings were very much Olsen in solo mode. The kitchen-recorded, reverb-shrouded Strange Cacti EP from 2010 was almost spectral in its simplicity, while Half Way Home, her debut album of 2012 was a work of poetic profundity delivered on acoustic guitar, with mere hints of double bass and drums and by a remarkable voice. Now, Burn Your Fire For No Witness.



It sees Olsen again exploring themes of place and belonging, loss and loneliness, but this time with drummer Josh Jaeger and bass player Stewart Bronaugh – the former a dramaturg/playwright and former colleague from her days working in a café in Chicago's Lincoln Park, the latter Jaeger's band mate in garage-pop outfit 'Lionlimb'– and using a much broader sound palette. The reverb Olsen abandoned after Strange Cacti is back, albeit in much subtler form and alongside three solo tracks – including "White Fire", an exquisitely haunting, finger-picked epic that's equal parts meditation and parable – sit a surprisingly fizzy and upbeat, two-minute opener, ("Unfucktheworld"), a burr-studded, grunge-pop number with a satisfyingly abrupt finish ("Forgiven/Forgotten") and songs that variously tip their hat in the general direction of Velvet Underground, The Everly Brothers, Giant Sand, Mazzy Star, Peter Green and Astrud Gilberto. The whole sounds warm, vital and alluringly present.



"I was trying to take a little bit of what I learned from both of those early records," says Olsen of her initial aim with Burn Your Fire For No Witness, "and I thought maybe some space around guitar and a little bit of space on drums would sound cool. We ended up recording a lot of stuff live and then adding vocals later, so that was a difference this time around. I think that gives a live perspective to the songs – not that any live performance will be like the record, but it has more of a feeling when everyone is playing it together. You can tell."



The trio first rehearsed together in January of 2013 and recorded in a deconsecrated chapel called Echo Mountain – in Asheville, North Carolina over 10 days in July, although things went so smoothly they were almost done by the seventh day. John Congleton, who's produced acts as diverse as Bill Callahan and St Vincent was at the desk and after mastering in Dallas, the record was finished by the end of July. "We were so... on," enthuses Olsen of the session, "and it was just really cool. I'd just got back from a tour before we went in, so it was a strange thing to shift to recording, but we had really good, funny days there and John Congleton was like the doctor of our sound. At first, we just felt really safe with him, so we'd confide in him about what we'd want and he'd tell us what the symptoms were, but then he opened up and became this hilarious character. He's really easy to work with."



So too, are her new band mates. "We started playing together and he just got it," Olsen says of Jaeger. "In the middle of practicing, in that first week I was just laughing, because he was so intuitive. Most people who want to collaborate with you just say, 'let's jam' and don't really listen to the music, but the only way to know if someone is seriously interested is if they've done their own research and know the material. Josh definitely took that initiative. He introduced me to Stewart, who just so happens to be a really great singer, writer and a really great guitarist; I'm so excited to be working with him as well- It is very much a band and I feel like I'm merging into this entity that they're also creating."



Collaborative keenness and new shared identity aside, Olsen remains the dynamic nucleus; her voice – equal parts Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison and Hope Sandoval – speaks (literally) loudest and her songs are profoundly personal. So much so that at times, it seems even listening is as intrusive as reading the pages of a private journal. But anguished though Olsen's honesty can be, it's not the stuff of dramatic torment. She speaks about letting her experiences "run through" her when she writes, which is what lends the Leonard Cohen-styled "White Fire" its dream-like poeticism. It opens with the observation that "everything is tragic, it all just falls apart" and later has Olsen recounting, "I heard my mother thinking me right back into my birth". But the weightiness is countered by the line that immediately follows – "I laughed so loud inside myself, it all began to hurt." It would be easy to assume the song is about parenthood and belonging (Olsen was adopted when she was a pre-schooler), but her focus is broader and far less literal than that.



"I have two mothers," says Olsen, "but I didn't even understand where that was coming from and then I thought about it. This is, in part at least, me imagining what my mother might have thought- the moment she found out that I was born to be her daughter. I haven't asked either of my mothers what that experience was like and although the song comes across as heavy and dark, this particular part is not meant to be. This line isn't the complete subject of the song.. it's more curious than final-It's more about when you imagine your parents and wonder where you were conceived, and then inevitably wonder about doing that same thing yourself some time. It's me doing that and just laughing about it." Olsen agrees, though, that it's "very much an existential confrontation song." Hard to deny, given the following instruction: "If you've still got some light in you, then go before it's gone/Burn your fire for no witness, it's the only way it's done/Fierce and light and young/Hit the ground and run."



But there's the spirit to overcome and positivity in spades in those lines – and plenty across the rest of the record, too. "If you've got a sense of humor, you're not so bad," Olsen remarks sagely in the sweetly spangled "Lights Out", while "Hi-Five" adopts country music's sardonic view of Sadness, sat in some saloon bar in search of fellow Sadness. "Are you lonely too?" she sings in the swooping chorus. "High five – so am I." "I'm definitely being sarcastic there," Olsen laughs. And the album closes with the magnificent, slow-building and 100% optimistic "Windows", her clear, pure voice soaring as if in a vaulted cathedral and asking simply, "what's so wrong with the light?" "It's like reaching a wall with something," she explains, "and the step before you're just about to give up is... 'c'mon, man! Stop being so negative and open a window!' Life is hard, but every day, we have to make even a little bit of sunlight matter."



With Burn Your Fire For No Witness, though, Angel Olsen is doing more than just letting in a little bit of sunlight. She's blazing bright.

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Oneida



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Pink Mountaintops



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Sinoia Caves



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Small Black

The cover of Brooklyn-based Small Black's second LP, Limits of Desire, features a photo of a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, completely naked, divided by its triangular arc. They're close, but they can't get any closer. It's a moving depiction of connectivity and interaction in the 21st century and it serves as a sort of source code for the record.

Limits of Desire is Small Black's most accomplished album yet. It's a crystalline realization of a sound they've been building toward since their self-titled EP in 2009. Now a full-time four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion), the band have moved way beyond the hazy home recorded sound of their previous releases toward a full-fledged, but still self-produced, clear approach. Where 2010's New Chain was a lesson in maximalist pop, Limits of Desire finds the band trimming their sound to the essentials, yet hitting new and unexpected heights with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the existing Small Black palette.

Tonally the songs sweep and glide over lush keys, bolstered by lyrics that illustrate the semi-abstract moments of lost opportunities and misread signs, hinted at by the cover image. The title track whirls softly, and channels luminaries Tears for Fears and The Blue Nile, anchored by Pieczanski's punchy bass as Kolenik sings: "Other lives droned/ far from the grass where I lay/ each eye stared out the opposite way." As much as the record is about looking for deeper connections, it's also about avoiding real life, if only for a moment--getting out of your own head just long enough to calm down and find perspective.

"Free At Dawn" and "No Stranger" do what fans have come to love Small Black for, only better. They're smart pop bangers tinged with a specific brand of melancholy that slowly build to night-affirming climaxes. While "Breathless" ups the tempo, over synth stabs, with lyrics that tackle apathy and uncertainty with catchy grace: "I'm standing in tomorrow's way/ future's fine/least it seems okay." It paints a concise portrait of a generation struggling with unlimited freedom and malaise.

The band builds on a rich history of synth pop by making a thoroughly modern album, on both the front and back end. One that seeks out cohesion, connection and calm in a world that won't sit still. Limits of Desire doesn't attempt to provide any solutions, but coming to terms with not finding the answers feels infinitely more fruitful.

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

While legions of artists show fidelity to psychedelia's roots, Unknown Mortal Orchestra has always shared the rare quality that makes the genre's legends vital, a constant need for exploration. Last year, frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson descended into his home studio in a Portland basement to chart out where's he traveled since his last set of unhinged psych-soul ballads. He discovered that the best way for him to move forward would be to look back. Where Nielson addressed the pain of being alone on II, Multi-Love takes on the complications of being together.

Nielson wrote the surrealistic II during an isolated period on the road, a walkabout throughout disillusionment and darkness when he pushed away. The more upbeat Multi-Love charts a different type of catharsis and reflects on relationships.

"The writing on this album was more abstract, riddles that slightly disrupt the flow," he says. "A good lyric was something that didn't quite sit right. I don't want to be sad or nostalgic about these relationships. I want to be more celebratory. It's a feeling and desire that just came from time, being further away from it all. It was never going to be simple. I'm a bit wild, and was never going to just be normal."

The threads of our past never unravel, they hover like invisible webs, occasionally glistening due to a sly angle of the sun. On Multi-Love, Nielson walks right into this intoxicating and inviting cloud, enveloped by the haze of memory and the fog of the past: longing, loss, wanting to be tied up but not tied down. The title track plots out the geometry of desire when three people align. Lyrics such as "actor, but never for stage and screen" reference past affairs that can never be understood. The languid "The World is Crowded" speaks to an addictive obsession. "Can't Keep Checking My Phone," with an opening serenade of intertwined trumpet and guitar, struts and sings, neon synths and bouncing bass telling of an airy, humid feeling pressing against your temples. Nielson isn't animated by pain but the mysteries that unravel from the spark of attraction.

Beyond exploring universal feelings of attachment, Nielson also reconstructed his music-making process, expanding his horizons and abilities. The guitar virtuoso engrossed himself in synthesizers and production techniques, rediscovering a sense of craft and creation. Synapses fired as new musical connections were mapped out. In a basement space with cords snaking across the floor, connecting banks of keyboards and reams of new ideas, he literally rewired instruments and learned the joy of creating something out of nothing. His vocals reach new heights, especially on the soaring title track. The new psychedelic canvas moves past citing references to creating his own narrative.

"It felt good to be rebelling against the typical view of what an artist is today, a curator," he says. "Our society wants to curate and consume. I wanted to be the guy behind the scenes, to demonstrate multiple skills and make it transparent. Not creating this overblown idea of a rock star or anything like that. It's more about being someone who makes things happen in concrete ways. Building old synthesizers and bringing them back to life, creating sounds that aren't quite like anyone else's. I think that's much more subversive."

It's psychedelia that doesn't ignore the last 40 years of music, pushing boundaries and making a quiet argument against the idea that every frontier has been explored. Multi-Love offers a flowing, cohesive view of Nielson's expanded vision. Jagged, sculpted beats and cosmic synthesizers (especially on the weightless outro of "Stage or Screen") add dimension to a genre supposedly known for its expansive creativity. During the making of his last album, Nielson jokingly recorded a song called "Two Generations of Excess" with an eight-minute guitar solo, which was never included. The sheer sonic variety on Multi-Love suggests he's still feeling creative and restless.

"I didn't want to subscribe to the idea that synths are futuristic and guitars are old-fashioned," he says. "It's not about being a purist."

In many ways, the album is Nielson's reckoning with and reinterpretation of the promise of the '60s. Have the ideals from that period of searching optimism, and the corresponding progress towards more fulfilling relationships and a more just society, truly been been met, or as Nielson believes, are we all still searching? Viewed through the prism of today's progress (or lack thereof), Multi-Love speaks to a more complicated and tricky view of love, enlightenment and racial harmony. "Puzzles" literally begins with what sounds like windows shattering and someone sweeping up the pieces of broken glass, an indictment of recent racial tension in Ferguson and elsewhere that show a country off course.


"I was listening a lot to Stand by Sly and the Family Stone, obsessing over the lyrics of this multi-racial band and all these different people coming together to make music" says Nielson. "I thought we were getting better. We've had these better ideas of ourselves for decades, but how much have things really changed?"

This was also a family affair. His brother, a drummer and former bandmate in Flying Nun punk band The Mint Chicks, as well as his father, a trumpet player who had set a hedonistic example during his childhood, make guest appearances. The song "Necessary Evil" (Transform into the animal you need to / Fly from a destiny infested with chemicals) references Nielson's shared affinity for a hard-partying lifestyle with his father.

Revisiting old relationships and loves, reconnecting with family, reinventing your artistic process: what might seem like a series of painful processes liberated Nielson. It's tricky raw material to fashion into something more buoyant and illuminating. He just hopes the searching and reevaluating help others take stock of their own connections and achieve catharsis.

"I'm glad I had this opportunity, and if I made someone's life easier with the album, that's the closest reason that exists for making art that I've been able to find," he says.

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Sharon Van Etten

For all the attention that was paid to her 2012 break-through Tramp, Sharon Van Etten is an artist with a hunger to turn another corner and to delve deeper, writing from a place of honesty and vulnerability to create a bond with the listener that few contemporary musicians can match. Compelled by a restless spirit, Van Etten is continuously challenging herself. Now, the result is Are We There, a self-produced album of exceptional intimacy, sublime generosity, and immense breadth.


Most musicians are quite happy to leave the production end of things to someone else. It's enough to live your music without taking on the role of producer as well. Yet Van Etten knew it was time to make a record entirely on her terms. The saying goes "fortune favors the bold" and yet this boldness had to be tempered. For this, Van Etten found a kindred spirit in veteran music producer Stewart Lerman. Originally working together on Boardwalk Empire, they gently moved into new roles, rallying around the idea of making a record together in Lerman's studio in New Jersey. Lerman's studio expertise gave Van Etten the freedom to make Are We There the way she imagined. Van Etten also enlisted the individual talents of her band, consisting of Heather Woods Broderick, Doug Keith and Zeke Hutchins, and brought in friends Dave Hartley and Adam Granduciel from The War on Drugs, Jonathan Meiberg (Shearwater), Jana Hunter (Lower Dens), Peter Broderick, Mackenzie Scott (Torres), Stuart Bogie, Jacob C. Morris and Mickey Freeze.

It is clear from the opening chords in the first song, Afraid of Nothing, that we are witnessing a new awareness, a sign of Van Etten in full stride, writing, producing and performing from a place that seems almost mythical, were it not so touchable and real. Always direct, and never shying away even from the most personally painful narratives, Van Etten's songwriting continues to evolve. Many of the songs deal with seemingly impossible decisions, anticipation, and then resolution. She sings of the nature of desire, memory, of being lost, emptiness, of promises and loyalty, fear and change, of healing and the true self, violence and sanctuary, waiting, of silence. The artist who speaks in such a voice is urging us to do something, to take hold and to go deeper. Living in this way, the questions of life remain alive, as close and steady as breathing. Many of the ballads of old are as dark as pitch, and people for whom the issues of life and death were as vivid as flame wrote them. You could turn off the electricity, remove all the instruments and Sharon's voice and words would remain. They connect her to the mystic stratum which flows just beneath the everyday, which is rarely acknowledged as the forces of distraction sweep our attention away.

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Viet Cong



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Volcano Choir

"Shed skin/ Like a master"

It's been four years since the first Volcano Choir album Unmap provided a glimpse into the collaborative mind set between a singer and the band that inspired him. Ideas were minted, written at a distance and realized in the studio; edges sanded back and flaps tucked in, the craftsmanship of the endeavor bearing evidence of the craft itself, and the technology used to assemble it. Unmap strove to find strands of life between the ones and zeroes - a carefully constructed narrative that lead the listener through its darkest passages like a tour guide leading their charges through a cave, with nothing but a slack length of rope and the senses of sound and touch. Just as importantly, it brought these people together, setting an expectation for themselves.

Unmap was a luscious experiment. It was written through the mail, pieced together over years of passing notes and audio from one end of Wisconsin to the other. It was written before Volcano Choir was a 'proper' band. A playground of sorts for friends to explore different musical ideas. There were no plans. No preconceptions. It all just happened, and suddenly there was an abundance of music, and a band was formed through the purest form.

Over a year after its well-received release in September 2009, a decision was made to adapt Unmap to live performance and to tour Japan. After which, it was clear that Volcano Choir existed as a fully formed entity, or as Justin Vernon succinctly puts it, "those six shows told us everything about what we could be." There would be another record, but as with Unmap, there was no timeline. There were writing sessions that continued for years, sometimes within a couple of months of one another, sometimes within half of a year between November 2010 and March 2013. The drafty ideas were being sealed up, slowly. The way Volcano Choir likes it. Suddenly there was Repave.

Repave brings Volcano Choir into sharp focus. The glitch-laden, cautious presentation of the band's previous work serves as points of both reference and departure across these eight songs, the product of growing conviction and trust, of a fully-operational band, gifted in shading and nuance, and rumbling with power. It's the sound of the creative process as it evolves and ultimately explodes, the seamless structuring of electronic and acoustic/amplified instruments, multi-threaded with the timbre and technology of the human voice as it enters and exits the equation. Moreover, Repave is the sound of confident musicians extending their reach to anthemic peaks and pulling back to reveal moments of the utmost vulnerability, sure enough of themselves to let those moments stand on their own.

The songs that make up Repave were started with Volcano Choir in mind and the first few songs formed were 'Alaskans', 'Acetate' and album highlight 'Almanac'. Repave focuses on the love and bond between the members of Volcano Choir, how their friendships were fortified over the years-long process of writing and recording these songs. There is openness to this work that won't be taken for granted – real, moving tales of change; sadness, loss and truth grace the wordplay of these tracks, an account of life between the fringes of poetry and reality. With each verse you can sense that somebody somewhere could be listening to this music and getting stronger, feeling better. A soupçon of heart and soul.

Repave cements the idea of Volcano Choir that started with Unmap. It takes that musical playground and houses it in the context of a specific sound. Of a unified band. Repaved and filling that "hole in your heart."

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Wolf People



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