Hear And Now!
The Way Forth, a new folk opera from Rachel Grimes, encompasses lush layers of voices and orchestrations in an experiential, non-linear investigation highlighting perspectives of Kentucky women from 1775 to today. Inspired by a treasure-trove of family documents, photos, and letters spanning several generations, Grimes began in 2016 to research some of the more vexing questions that came to the surface about these people, places, and events. Fueled by intuition, travel to visit family, photographing, and filming present day rural Kentucky life, the research led to many more questions: What is missing? What is not being said here? What did she really think and feel? Primary historical accounts routinely glossed over people without titles or voting rights, and dehumanized most others by referring to them as objects of desire, savages, or slaves. Further examination formed a framework for trying to reconcile her state's history and how it relates to the westward expansion and settlement of the United States and ultimately how an era of domination, denial, and pain is reflected in the complex culture of today. The songs that make up The Way Forth weave back in time through a postcard, a personal account of a long life on a farm, traces of folk tunes, names, places, and rivers, all woven into an emotional fabric of yearning, nostalgia, grief, and the rich intimacies of everyday life. Initially solo voices are heard above vivid orchestrations, expanding with the choral voices of the community through fragments of traditional church music and popular tunes. The scope widens to include a modern male narrator's reflections on a place battered by greed, civil war, bigotry, and the exploitation of natural resources. Through music, voice, and film, The Way Forth honors the emotional legacy of the silenced, the holistic, the beauty in quotidian life, and explores the eternal grace and redemption of time, as symbolized by the great Dix and Kentucky Rivers.
Rebirth takes place when everything falls apart. DIIV—Zachary Cole Smith [lead vocals, guitar], Andrew Bailey [guitar], Colin Caulfield [bass], and Ben Newman [drums]—craft the soundtrack to personal resurrection under the heavy weight of metallic catharsis upheld by robust guitars and vocal tension that almost snaps, but never quite…
The same could be said of the journey these four musicians underwent to get to their third full-length album, Deceiver. Out of lies, fractured friendships, and broken promises, clarity would be found.
“I’ve known everyone in the band for ten years plus separately and together as DIIV for at least the past five years,” says Cole. “On Deceiver, I’m talking about working for the relationships in my life, repairing them, and accepting responsibility for the places I’ve failed them. I had to re-approach the band. It wasn’t restarting from a clean slate, but it was a new beginning. It took time—as it did with everybody else in my life—but we all grew together and learned how to communicate and collaborate.”
A whirlwind brought DIIV there.
On Spectre, their 4th album as Lightning Dust, Amber Webber and Josh Wells embrace as their sole-focus what was once a side-project, thus crafting their most refined and powerful album to date. After co-founding and touring with Black Mountain for over a decade, the duo departed from the band to further their own longterm creative partnership. Lightning Dust has evolved noticeably with each release, from the spare, dark folk of their self-titled debut, to the synth and drum machine-heavy 2013 album Fantasy. However, the through-line of their discography has been Wells' deft production tailored perfectly around Webber's modestly iconic voice which stirred Pitchfork write of their 2009 LP Infinite Light that Webber's was "one of the fiercest, most stirring vocal performances of any release this year." In this sense the tracks on Spectre echo the spirits of quintessential rock vocalists like Grace Slick and Beth Gibbons, throughout a collection of songs that range from expertly sculpted folk-rock ear candy, to sparse Judee Sill-esque ballads consisting of little more than piano and voice. Written during the devastating forest fires that filled her hometown of Vancouver with smoke and a sense of apocalyptic doom, album opener "Devoted To" captures Webber's resilience and determination to reestablish her creative independence as she sings "I will find my way back in even if I never sleep... Gotta find my way back in, it's all that I believe." Propulsive rocker "Run Away" is an observation of the human need for change. Amber explains, "It was written in response to friends leaving their soul crushing jobs. I wanted to write a song that flip-flopped between the glorious freedom they felt upon leaving, and moments of despair that came afterward." Shining an optimistic light on her departure from Black Mountain on the anthemic "When It Rains" Webber sings "Let's celebrate what we've done so far instead of what comes next always ripping at our hearts - it ruins." The assuring shuffle of "Pretty Picture", on which Stephen Malkmus shreds, is followed by the booming slacker anthem "Competitive Depression" which features vocals by Destroyer's Dan Bejar. Spectre's dramat- ic two-part closer "3am/100 Degrees" brings the album full-circle with a final statement about delusions that manifest in strife, exemplified by the song's final lines "replaying what's behind, made us all scared when nothing was there." 2018 was a whirlwind of new beginning for Webber - going back to school and even trying out a new career. In the end these detours gave her the chance to step back and explore what parts of music were important to protect. "It made me realize that art and music are still my light." She goes on to explain, "Spectre is my journey. It's for all the women warriors that have been battling throughout life looking for a place to express themselves that feels inclusive and inspiring. It's about finding yourself when no one is paying attention and inventing a new way of creating that feels honest and sincere. I truly feel that women, especially as we get older are underrepresented. That was truly the driving force to creating this album."
From the cliffs of Big Sur to the North Carolina backwoods - Molly Sarlé brings open-hearted, unflinching songwriting perfect for late-night karaoke comedowns, plaintive morning walks, and conjuring the spirit world. West Coast incantations with a warm, Appalachian glow. Her debut album, Karaoke Angel, is a collection of songs by a woman who was born understanding that her ability to feel - deeply and without shame - is her greatest strength. It is the result of a free and open-hearted devotion to the search for passion, and the complete, unwavering depiction of truth. Molly’s songs observe their own kind of internal logic, always a few steps behind or ahead of where you expect them to be - occasionally funny, always uncannily real. The work on 'Karaoke Angel' began in a trailer on the Pacific coast and continued with stints in Los Angeles and Durham, NC. Recorded in a church-turned-recording studio in Woodstock, NY, a minimal but carefully assembled palette of guitar, bass, and percussion form the foundation; an orchestra of unrecognizable atmospherics bounce off the high ceilings—but Molly’s delicate, expressive voice is always at the center.
Much of this album was recorded in Iceland. Breath warm from singing rises into frozen air. Atomized. A million bright blue crystals - the fractal branching of the lungs - drift back to earth. Radiant, refracting. Clear notes melt like perfect soft snow. Straight lines curve and curve again. Much of this album was recorded in Iceland, but Joan Shelley wrote these songs in Kentucky. That's the dirt clinging to their roots. The wind blowing through Osage orange and pine trees is the joy and ache and urgency of these songs. It's the silence and the music. It's the space between time and words and the stillness in Joan's voice. The world spins more slowly. Moss overtakes a fallen tree. Kentucky is where we plant seeds of regret and stay to watch them flower. Maybe Mark Twain said that Kentucky (always five years behind the times) was the perfect place to ride out the apocalypse. Maybe it's twenty years. Maybe it's apocryphal. That doesn't mean it isn't true. "And oh, Kentucky Stays in my mind it's sweet to be five years behind That's where I'll be When the seas rise Holding my dear friends and drinking wine..." Maybe the world outside has already vaporized. Maybe we're already living on borrowed time. Nathan Salsburg's guitar pours out clean as water through his fingers, turning over every smooth stone. Bonnie "Prince" Billy's harmonies stretch time tight enough to break without breaking. Joan's voice calls us back. Birds are singing outside. Insistent. Don't miss what's right in front of you. Joan Shelley's new record: Like The River Loves The Sea. Produced by Sir James Elkington and Joan Shelley
Yoni Wolf has spent the last two decades traveling the remote sonic terrain where underground hip hop, avant-pop, and psych-rock meet. On AOKOHIO, Yoni Wolf condenses the essential elements of WHY? into a stunningly potent musical vision. Co-produced by Wolf and his brother Josiah, the record presents a rich palette of musical voices that emerge and disappear into a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of sound. And while AOKOHIO features many notable guest contributors, from Lala Lala's Lillie West, to Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, the listener's attention remains squarely directed on Yoni's voice and vision. AOKOHIO finds Yoni rethinking fundamental aspects of his approach to creating and delivering his music. The album is presented as six movements comprised of two to four songs each, with some segments appearing as brief fragments that dissolve within seconds. The concept of sharing AOKOHIO in segments over time has been preserved with the release of an accompanying visual album-with the first three segments directed by Sundance award-winner Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, who is also the mastermind of the overarching video project. AOKOHIO feels like a consequential addition to the WHY? catalog, possibly even an artistic turning point. But it's creator remains circumspect when asked to comment on the album's significance within his discography, instead preferring to characterize the work as the latest iteration of his deep commitment to his artistic practice. "I have no idea if this record is good or not," Yoni says. "But I never really know. I know that I've never written a song that's indispensable to the American songbook. But in terms of what it is, it's a piece of art. I put blood, sweat, and tears into this album, and struggled through the creative process as I always do. As far as where this sits with the rest of my albums? I can't answer that. I just know that my career is a lifelong career, and I'm working it. Every time it feels right, it makes me feel good."
Me You They We, the 4th album from Portland, Oregon’s Ages and Ages is a collection of 10 songs that the band has been writing, recording and releasing over the past year to react the world around them. KEXP describes it as “indie-pop combining bright song hooks with lyrics trying to find hope in these uneasy times.” NPR Music’s Robin Hilton said “This is a record about defiantly finding joy in a world that is trying to snuff it out. Ages and Ages is always about joy.” He went on to say, “this is the best album they’ve ever done, and that’s saying an awful lot.” Me You They We was released digitally on April 5, 2019.
Following 2015's beautifully written introspective album 'Golden Age,' singer-songwriter Chris Staples is back with his upcoming full length release, 'Holy Moly.' While maintaining the authentic reflection Staples is known for in his songwriting, he has embraced a cautiously optimistic outlook for his future. Staples finds gentle melodies with his trademark stripped-back guitar, and also introduces new sounds by integrating keyboards for sonically lush arrangements. Staples' previous releases were met with praise from NPR's All Songs Considered, American Songwriter, Paste, The AV Club, and more.
Mega Bog is the fluid musical moniker of songwriter Erin Elizabeth Birgy, who has spent the last ten years channeling, capturing, and releasing her unique bouquet of fragrant, sci-pop experiments with a handful of bicoastal collaborators. She is joined on her fifth and finest album (and first for PoB) by members of Big Thief, Hand Habits, and iji, who help her spin a manic web of emotions into beautiful, abstract future poems and thrilling genre perversions.
Charly Bliss are back with their sophomore album Young Enough. Produced by Joe Chiccarelli (U2, Beck, Alanis, The Strokes, The Killers, My Morning Jacket, Cage The Elephant), the album finds the band exploring both the darker and poppier side of their sound while expanding on what made their debut album Guppy a critically acclaimed success by outlets such as NPR, Stereogum, Pitchfork, FADER, The Ringer and more. The band toured extensively in 2017 and 2018 as they headlined several tours, appeared at festivals like Shakey Knees, Boston Calling and Sasquatch and supported the likes of Wolf Parade, Tokyo Police Club, Pup, Sleater-Kinney and Veruca Salt. They just opened all of the Death Cab for Cutie shows this past fall across the entire US which coincided with the release of their standalone single Heaven which got a ton of press, including Pitchforks coveted Best New Track moniker.
Over his first three albums, Homeshake’s Peter Sagar followed his own idiosyncratic vision, a journey that’s taken him from sturdy guitar-based indie-pop to a bleary-eyed take on lo-fi R&B. Now, with Helium, Sagar is putting down roots in aesthetic territory all his own.
It comes through not only in the gauziness of the production, but also in the vulnerability of the songs themselves. Everyone Sagar encounters here — including himself — seems to be a step removed from present reality, whether by technology (“Anything At All”), solitude (“Just Like My”), or sweet fantasy (“Like Mariah”). The record is stitched together by a series of instrumental interludes, synthesizer explorations whose haziness adds to the suspicion that this is all an uncanny dream.
Where his previous three records were recorded directly to one-inch tape in a local studio, Helium was recorded and mixed by Sagar alone in his apartment in Montreal in early 2018. Freed of the rigid editing process he’d endured before, he was able to lose himself in pursuit of tone and texture. A budding interest in ambient and experimental music pushed him to tinker with the micro-sounds that surround the songs here. It’s a far cry from the chorus-laden guitars of his earlier work. “Ever since I started introducing synthesizers into my music, I’ve gotten more interested in texture,” he says. “I’d hit a creative dead end [with guitars], so synths took over.” The warm chords of a Roland Juno 60 form the album’s base, and gave him a clean palette with which to work. “No tape hiss, no humming power outlets and shitty mixing boards,” as he puts it. “Everything just came out nice and pure.”
Steady Holiday is an appropriate name for an artist whose music feels like the soundtrack to your fondest memory. Or your deepest heartbreak. Or the dream sequence from a David Lynch film. There's a nostalgia present in Dre Babinski's songwriting that leaves you longing for the familiarity of a bygone era - just not one you can necessarily pin down. After years growing up playing in bands around Los Angeles, Dre recently began writing and recording for herself - on her own, in secret, developing a body of work about hidden desire itself. Establishing a sound defined by her featherlight voice floating above sweeping strings, her 2016 debut Under the Influence led to opening for artists like Mitski, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Whereas the first record took us on a trip through the deeply personal, Dre's sophomore album Nobody's Watching zooms way out. What began as a concept record about two archetypal crooks developed into an exploration of universal themes like greed, fear and self-interest; the ugly and troubling edges of human nature. It's a good time for that. Dre worked with producer Gus Seyffert (Roger Waters, Beck) to create a sound that echoes the narrative told on Nobody's Watching. From the sunny and observant to the dark and critical, the tone ranges from levity to paranoia through layers of analog synths and chilling strings played by Dre herself. There are moments of cinematic intensity reminiscent of a James Bond score, yet the subtle tape hiss and creaking chairs remind us that this is an album made by people. It is warm, and it breathes, the same way the human touch can both soothe and suffocate. Nobody's Watching is the natural next step for Dre and Steady Holiday, a project that builds worlds we wish to escape to or from. It's an examination of the inner narratives we all share but keep in the shadows, where the characters may not always be likable, but they do what they can to survive - like we all do.
Maps and Atlases Lightlessness Is Nothing New, their first since 2012s critically acclaimed Beware & Be Grateful, serves to foreshadow an emotionally and musically dynamic collection of songs that contemplates the jolt of loss and the strain of longing to music that, against our better judgment, makes us want to dance.
The music on Ruler's debut album - hook-heavy, assertive, inspiring - is made for motion. It's a soundtrack for moving forward, for getting better, in terms of both healing and self-improvement. Built on main man Matt Batey's lifelong fears, anxieties, addictions, and failures, not to mention his preternatural gift for creating instantly classic indie rock, these eleven songs follow that old adage by Robert Frost: The best way out is through. And in this case the best way through is with the volume cranked up all the way.
No platitudes or love songs here - only raw interior monologue and deep character analysis. For most us, this stuff is hard to confront and even harder to articulate. Batey's lyrics are pointedly specific - so much so that they're immediately relatable. And they're set to soaring tunes that are beautifully and earnestly upbeat. Amid his brilliance and artistry, Batey exposes himself as one of us. That's his purpose and his gift, spelled out in Winning Star Champion's bold, beautiful songs: Life hurts, but it's great, and that's it.
Max Clarke has a knack for conjuring up warmth in his music, like endless summer or ageless youth. The 27-year-old's debut LP, Hollow Ground, crackles with the heat of a love-struck nostalgia, woven together with a palpable Everly Brothers' influence and retro sound. It reaches back into decades of plainspoken, unfussy, and squarely American storytelling and pulls it forth into 2018. Some of Hollow Ground bloomed from that same period of driven creativity that yielded EP Alien Sunset; both "Like Going Down Sideways" and "Don’t Want To Say Good-Bye" find new life on the LP. The rest is new. There's "Till Tomorrow Goes Away," a sheepish love song, thrumming with twangy guitar and a two-step rhythm. "Cash For Gold" channels buoyancy; a doo-wop effect on the sleepy backing vocals build out the dreaminess of Clarke's own affecting croon. Hollow Ground strikes the balance between cerebral and simplicity in his storytelling. His lyrics explore the raw realm of youth, its weightlessness and possibilities, but channeled through a lens of restraint. Someone who's old enough to know better but still gets drawn back in to the romanticism of teenage feelings - and knows how to take the listener along, too.