Friday, March 6, 2015

All Around Sound Is Turning Five - Day 5: Son Lux


When I started All Around Sound in 2010 there was a very concentrated effort to leave the classical music world to which I had previously belonged behind and engage with music in almost an entirely different sphere. They were of course outliers - as my discovery of indie classical artists like ETHEL (who I had actually had the pleasure of meeting while attending college) and Brooklyn Rider who took the antiquated form of the string quartet (probably my favorite ensemble for which classical music is/was written) and update it in a way that was wholly unexpected. Son Lux came right at the time of that discovery and what he was doing was so marvelously unlike that so undefinable in terms of form or genre that it turned my whole idea of popular music on its side. Son Lux's Ryan Lott is a classically trained composer and yet, the music he fashions as Son Lux can hardly be called that at all. His method almost perfectly at the crossroads of the methodical precision a classical composition and the intuitive flow of pop music while being created through arguably the least cohesive means. It was a revelation to discover Son Lux both as a wildly innovative force and as a creative entity composed of more than just Lott and each subsequent release since NPR introduced me to We Are Rising has proved to be a completely mindblowing experience.
So when it came time to sit down and figure out who to ask for assistance for this year's blog birthday mixes - the milestone fifth year of the blog rapidly approaching, Son Lux came to mind. Not only as an artist whose brain I would of course love to pick (and what better way than to see how they arrange music) but of an artist who completely changed the notion of what a composer/artist could be in the modern age. Despite the sea of electronic acts coming and going Son Lux stands out to me and countless, nameless others I'm sure as a distinctive voice. It's music that while electronic in presentation doesn't invoke an intimacy or familiarity with the genre to engage with it that manages to be capture your attention purely by being interesting. There's an insane amount of depth to Son Lux's production and yet, it never feels like the music of Son Lux is purely about the production. It's the subtle alchemy of everything - its production, collaborators, Ryan Lott's lyricism with strives for vague universality but still manages to resonate with the listener. 

Son Lux is the kind of artist whose music can change the whole way you see music in general, he did for me so it only seemed natural to involve him in a celebration of the evolution of the blog. Luckily despite being holed up in the studio creating the follow up to Lanterns, time could be found for Son Lux to contribute a mix and it means a hell of a lot that they did. Listen to this electronic-heavy mix, it's a keeper.

 

Thanks to not just Ryan Lott but Son Lux as an entire whole: Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia as well as Sean Hallarman of Big Hassle Media for facilitating the exchange to ensure that it all went down as smoothly as it could. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass (2015)


"Why Don't You Believe In Me?" might be the title of one of the standout tracks on Nashville singer/songwriter Natalie Prass' eponymous record out on Spacebomb Records earlier this year but for a short spell it was a fitting question towards the authenticity of her most recent efforts. Introduced to her predominantly through a cosign from Hundred Waters who asked her to open the Los Angeles stop of their tour currently in progress, I was intrigued enough by the incredibly Motown reminiscent arrangements on "Bird of Prey" to dig deeper. Bundled with a Janet Jackson cover I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Prass and Jackson's vocals in that they used their feather-light voices to their advantage - everything builds around them and nothing obscures them. It seems like such a no-brainer but often times that's hardly the case.

As I checked out the internet to find out who was this woman exactly - I read something that made my blood run cold: Natalie Prass press release. In its attempts to make her seem like a fun, anything goes musician of eclectic and rebellious tastes, it instead painted a picture of possible insincerity describing her Ryman Auditorium debut as she played a reggae set in front of an Isaac Hayes poster.

And yet it was her close association with Matthew E. White, a man who revels in genre-blending antics and tips his hat in the direction of the old school - often enlisting whole horn ensembles and string orchestras to fill out his arrangements that convinced me to go to distance and actually listen to the full album once it officially released. This might all see like conjecture but the perceived notion of inauthenticity is Prass' only deterrent.

Ultimately, if you listen to Prass' self -titled record, you'll find a record filled from front to back with an earnestness that's disarming and utterly beguiling. All notion that Prass isn't sincere in her soul-pop turn melts away as she crafts a startlingly accessible brand of heartbreak pop; her songs feel lived in as well they should. Prass' songs are fueled by moments of doubt, insecurity, and heart that feel too real to ignore. They seek out the drama of actual relationships, played realistically instead of using them for grander moments. The fact that they're often dressed up with orchestral flourishes does little to distract from their grounding in real emotion. Prass' songwriting manages to evoke tragic melancholy and fierce resolve often beats away from each other. "I never said I didn't want you knocking at door/All this run and chase, it's almost like I planned it" Prass builds up to on "Bird of Prey" in a moment that's staggeringly cunning. It's a moment of fiery firmness in the midst of repeated coos "of You don't leave me no choice but to run away" where Prass puts her foot down with a flash of steely resolve as she finally opts for the fight option of her primal response. That resolve follows naturally into "Your Fool" Prass' version of "That's It, I Quit, I'm Moving On". It's an impressive parallel to the inaction of album opener "My Baby Don't Understand Me".

Where the record could very well end with "Reprise" a mostly spoken outro of sorts not only to the album but also "Your Fool", Prass instead ends with "It Is You" a track that wouldn't feel at all out of place in a Disney movie. It's a sly wink to the Disney princess quality of her voice and the comparisons its garnered but where much of her self-titled aimed for subtle and subversive, this seems the most overt with its grand sweeping orchestral flourishes and its fantastical similes. For those who made it through the record thus far with stoic indifferent to its goings on, this is her last moment to charm and Prass goes big; goes epically grand actually and whether you get the conceit or not, it's bound to inspire some sort of reaction. Where the songs before it sought to invoke pathos through their rooting in real emotion, this last effort seeks to humanize through pure charm. It's a fitting end to record that spends so much time mucking about in fractured relationships; a sort of tension relief that goes grand to deliver its rather simple message: It'll all be alright.

Prass approaches her self-titled album with a refreshing sense of plotting. From the realization of "My Baby Don't Understand Me" to the retaliation of "Your Fool", to the pseudo-confrontation with the other woman in "Christy". The album not only has a stylistic sense of cohesion but also narratively so. It commits to its concept with an unwavering sense of purpose that makes you invested in just what Prass has to say and how she'll say it. Every song has a utterly delicious moment of peak songwriting and Prass plays them straight, her pristine vocals seeking out the emotional truth not just the dramatic flash. The production augments the songs instead of galvanizing them. It's to Prass credit that even through its lush, occasionally grand production that the record remains stunningly intimate and unassumingly sincere. Prass is a songwriting powerhouse with a knack for imbuing each song with indomitable heart  that elevates her above mere retro pop theatrics and that and that alone could and should be enough to silence any naysayers. All they need to do is listen.







Natalie Prass is out now on Spacebomb Records. You can order it now.

All Around Sound Is Turning Five - Day 4: Rami Haykal (Glasslands/Popgun)


While there a number of good venues to catch music in New York City, there was never a particular venue I favored going to; never a venue I care about; never a venue I would go to for the sake of the venue itself like Glasslands. I wasn't the first to discover the hidden wonders of the Williamsburg haunt as like almost all things I stumbled upon it due to its association with bands I loved and music I liked. Sadly Glasslands is dead and gone but it's made a lasting impression as for three years it was my most consistently attended venue of choice and the sense of community there was enough to silence the crotchetiness the crowd at a live show can and often does inspire in me.

And despite Glasslands being one of my regular haunts, it's almost absurd the amount of time it took me to meet Rami Haykal, its co-owner and co-founder of the booking company responsible for much of the shows that drew me there in the first place. When Hundred Waters' headlining show there sold out before I could grab tickets, I took to the internet to see if there was some sort of way to offset my poor life planning - Rami came through with a completely unwarranted act of kindness and for the first time since my first show there and only a rather short time before my last, we met.

Though Glasslands is gone but not forgotten, its spirit lives on through Popgun's amazing tastes. There might not be a one stop shop for all the bands I want to see, in a space where everything was just so but they still manage to put together shows worth going to and write emails worth reading with a sense of humor and joy for what they do that many music people would do well to take notice of.

So even though the only place I felt a familial connection with is gone, it seemed a pretty forgone conclusion that during the time when I celebration the impact others have had on this wee blog that Rami and his work with Glasslands and Popgun would factor into it in someway. I reach out and he was happy to provide a mix of some of his favorite jams 2015 has doled out so far.



Thanks not only to Rami for the mix but to Jake Rosenthal, and to both the Glasslands and Popgun staffs for creating a sense of community in a city where it's incredibly easy not to feel anything at all.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All Around Sound Is Turning Five - Day 3: Stadiums & Shrines


One of the interesting things that rounding up a new batch of blogs, bands, and music friends to contribute mixes every year for All Around Sound's birthday is that it provides an opportunity to reflect - not only on the state of the blog itself but on just how lucky I am to meet a bunch of lovely people who are kind enough to volunteer their free time and great music tastes towards something as minor as celebrating a blog's continued existence.

While I've met most of the people I know in music seemingly by accident, I was actually introduced to Dave from Stadiums & Shrines by past mix contributor and undeniable friend of the blog Zach from We Listen For You during my first official CMJ (technically the second but semantics!) at the Beats Per Minute x The Needle Drop x We Listen For You showcase at Public Assembly. It was a brief introduction which most likely consisted of me being utterly uninformed about who he even was and just generally being my regular embarrassing self but ended up being a major moment when later I ran into him again at the bar next door, we chatted, I ate, and he extended an invitation to a showcase he was hosting with Portals later that night. I needed some convincing but Dave ultimately did just that and I showed up that night with Rafael from Heart & Soul and had my mind absolutely blown not only by the utterly abstract nature of their showcase - sitting was encouraged as bands played in dim lighting and visuals were projected on three of the room's four walls but also by the outsider brand of music. There was not a buzz band in sight and I relished experiencing the totally refreshing newness of it all.  I was plugged into realm of music completely outside of my knowledge and I wanted to explore more of it.

Since then Stadiums & Shrines has been a regular go to for music of that ilk where absolutely every sense in stimulated and the artists themselves are challenged to create new works. Stadiums & Shrines was a blog that essentially occasionally created its own content and it was marvelously intoxicating. They've also got some incredibly next level visuals that accompany their Year-End Lists so I was sold. Stadiums & Shrines is such a rad batch of creatives I knew when I started people contribute mixes that I absolutely needed them to be apart of it, it was just a matter of timing and thankfully, just in time to usher All Around Sound into its 5th year, Stadiums & Shrines provides a welcome addition to the birthday festivities.

Dave's contribution:

"There's a fire in you, Dante... a great desire to engage with music, to seek and discuss. It's been burning All Around Sound for five years now, but one can imagine it was there, in you, All along. This is a sequence of music in honor of your blog's birthday. And more so, these are songs of simmer, combustion, and eruption, dedicated to the eternal blaze that is Infernal Dante.

May it burn, on.
S&S"




Mountains - Simmer
Brian Eno - St. Elmo's Fire
Tim Hecker - City In Flames (In 3 Parts), Pt. 1 / Pt. 2 / Pt. 3
Kiasmos - Burnt
Broadcast - Drums On Fire
Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Fire (Glenn Rivera ReStructure Mutant Disco Edit)
Lone - Airglow fires
Joe Henderson featuring Alice Coltrane - Fire
Microkingdom featuring Sam Herring - I'm On Fire
Jon Hopkins - Form By Firelight (with Raphaelle Standell)
Tiny Vipers - Forest on Fire

Boards of Canada - Farewell Fire

Much thanks to Dave and the rest of the Stadiums & Shrines crew for being a constant inspiration and essentially subtly expanding the range of All Around Sound content for the better.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All Around Sound Is Turning Five - Day 2: SoftSpot



My excitement when Brooklyn based art rockers SoftSpot do, well, pretty much anything has risen to a rather surprising level since I was first introduced to them from past mix contributor Caleb Moore of Lands & Peoples. If there's a band that has provided some of the most consistent releases that you can return to over and over again, SoftSpot are such a band. It seems like if they're not touring behind an album, they're hard at work on another one and yet, there music never comes off as that of the run-of-the-mill career band. Each of SoftSpot's sojourns to the studio have resulted in records that manage to challenge themselves as musicians without coming across as an impenetrable art project. SoftSpot manage to find a pitch perfect balance between the complex layering of not only their song's textures but its subjects while also ensuring an engaging listening experience. They're a band that respect the full length album form and go the extra mile to tie it all together in surprising and inventive ways.

So of course I was incredibly interested to see how the foursome would take to the task of contributing a mix to my blog birthday celebration and lucky for me they were game and they're contribution is as diverse as their four members while simultaneously achieving a sense of logical singularity. It's a peak at the collaborative nature of the foursome as each voice was heard, considered, discussed, and occasionally debated until the outcome resembled something the band was proud to put their name on.

Enjoy SoftSpot's mix:




Monday, March 2, 2015

All Around Sound Is Turning Five - Day 1: Golden Suits

Whoa what. When I started All Around Sound in the beginning of 2010 (March 10th if we're being particular) at the urging of one of my very best college friends Ryan, I never could have possibly imagined that it would be a thing I would devote huge batches of my time nevermind years to. And yet, here we are. All Around Sound is about to enter it's fifth year in operation. It's a milestone to be sure but every post is a milestone moment - written with near-fathomless love and a just toned down enough sense of urgency that it seemed apt to celebrate this grander moment in very much the same way it has been in the years before - through the customary mix swap of sorts. 

photo by Sammy Goldfien

While I arrived at Department of Eagles just in time for them to play their last show and head into an indefinite hiatus, there's a lot to be said for their effects on my music tastes. In Ear Park was one of the first "experimental" records I heard where I didn't feel an overwhelming bit of pretension, its arrangements were next level, and the lyricism on a wholly different caliber than I had encountered that I immediately immersed myself into Department of Eagles rather shallow catalog. If you've been unfortunate enough to hazard a conversation with me, I've most likely either made a passing Department of Eagles reference or erupted into a full on rant about how/why Department of Eagles are better than Grizzly Bear. 

I'd be lying if any time Daniel Rossen announced an album, tour, or any sort of news at all or when Fred Nicolaus emerged out of years of hiding in plain sight with a newly monikered project that I didn't immediately imagine the Department of Eagles reunion of my dreams. That's yet to happen but the resulting output from the two have been just as good. Fred Nicolaus' new album under his new Golden Suits moniker serves to illuminate just how nimble a performer, agile a lyricist, and earnest a singer the man is for those tragically unfamiliar. It's Nicolaus' stepping out and he does so with such subtlety and grace that it was unsurprising that it wound up being one of my favorite records. Fred is such a deft hand at capturing the subtle nuances in the variances of mood that it seemed like a no-brainer to ask him to put together a mix for All Around Sound's birthday and he doesn't disappoint. 

In Fred Nicolaus' own words:
"When you love an artist, there comes a time when you reach saturation point with their "classic" period and start to wade into the dark waters of their "lesser" albums.  For Randy Newman, who I deeply love, the darkness roughly coincides with a decade - the 80s.  Though 80s pop references are very much a hallmark of the current zeitgeist, Newman's stuff still somehow evades coolness - I have a suspicion that no young Bushwick bands are looking to "Trouble In Paradise" for synth tones.  Still, I got tired of listening to "So Hard Living Without You" for the thousandth times a couple years ago, and started to dig in.  Some of it is fun bad, like "Pants," which finds Newman yelling in a Dad-in-the-shower voice about taking off his pants on top of some yuppie blues rock.  Some of it is just bad bad (pretty much all of "Born Again") and some of it is frighteningly lame - on "Masterman & Baby J," Newman actually raps a couple verses (for real).  Still, there are a few gems, my faves are collected below.  It's mostly ballads, but I always liked R.N. more as a balladeer than a satirist anyway - when the cranky, smart, sarcastic guy writes a tearjerker, you trust it more.



Thanks so much to Fred Nicolaus for his beautiful unexpected mix of Randy Newman ballads and for low key helping to lay the groundwork for the only Department of Eagles reunion I may be able to achieve (here on this blog). Stay tuned the rest of this week for mixes from some of my favorite bands, blogs, and music friends old and new.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Listen: The Tallest Man on Earth - "Sagres"

photo by Cameron Wittig
One of the most frequent answers Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth gives when asked what he's been doing between album cycles is working on his singing. It's an answer that always struck me as a little odd considering Matsson doesn't exactly lack in vocal ability and I found his occasional grittiness a charming infusion of character.  And yet on "Sagres", the first single from The Tallest Man on Earth's heavily anticipated follow up to 2012's There's No Leaving Now it's never been more evident that that's exactly what he's been up to.

Matsson's characteristic rasps is transformed instead into a sweet, supple croon and his higher register is enough of a marvel that he spends a considerable amount of time up there. There's a comfort and ease in the slide and glide of his vocals that enables him to do considerably more with it. But that's not the only new quality in "Sagres". Matsson doesn't exactly shelve his trademark guitar but guitar and vocals are no longer the sole focus and Matsson opens the song up with a lush expansiveness. From castanets to violin and mandolin, The Tallest Man on Earth explores a diverse array of instrumentation in what's arguably one of his lengthiest songs. "Sagres" is perhaps the poppiest Matsson has gone but even then it's not that far from his guitar-driven folk rambles.

He may not have spent the whole three years between albums off the grid but there's no denying "Sagres" reveals a refreshed and re-energized Matsson with a bevy of new tricks up his sleeves. There might be no need to fix what isn't broken but Matsson's gone about improving anyway and "Sagres" bodes well for the rest of the upcoming album.



The Tallest Man on Earth's fourth full length album Dark Bird Is Home is out May 12th on Dead Oceans. Pre-order is available on digital, CD, LP, or limited edition deluxe bundle here.