Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pitstop: Jordan Klassen

(photo by James Moes)

After I returned home from the tempestuous whirlwind that is SXSW and had time to survey the wreckage, I noticed something peculiar - in the pocket of one of my favorite button down shirts was a business card. That by itself isn't all that strange but the fact that I could not place where I had picked it up was. Though I make it a point to remember absolutely everyone I possibly can that I meet, I could not remember who or even when I had received this card. The card advertised one Jordan Klassen and his rather short SX sojourn; shows I had clearly missed.

A perfunctory amount of research revealed all I needed to know to hook me - chamber folk. Yes. Orchestral folk. Double yes. Whatever Klassen choose to call it, I was sold instantly. Klassen's self-assigned fairy folk classification is as fitting as it is subversive. The Vancouver singer/songwriter's most recent full length Repentance is light with surprisingly darkly colored flourishes, springy without coming across the slightest bit whimsical. From the twinkling "Sweet Chariot" that manages to be both spacious and grand, Klassen's instrumentation choices are as fascinating as his songwriting, as a part of his overall character as his narrative options and popsmithery. Klassen has this uncanny knack for capturing beautifully fleeting musical moments and fitting them for an all out glide, providing his own wind for his skyward traverses.

One of the clear indicators of Klassen's musicianship is just how much time he gives his arrangements to breathe, often firmly establishing that complementary part before the introduction of any other. His songs don't take on undeservedly extensive lengths because of it however and therein lies the most impressive of Klassen's feats; his instrumentals retaining their pop sensibility while feeling fully flushed out. And yet, Klassen is not the type to solely let his arrangements speak for him. Many of Repentance's most endearing moments are those that strip back the forest of orchestral lushness for the comfortably bare.

Overall Jordan Klassen simply displays a remarkable amount of versatility deployed with a svelte and effortless ease. Pay attention. Something tells me Klassen's only just getting started. Hear more tunes at Klassen's Bandcamp.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wye Oak - Shriek (2013)

"This morning I woke up on the floor, thinking I had never dreamed before"

It's no coincidence that Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak begin the latest chapter of their musical careers with a song like "Before", a dreamy musical tapestry on one hand, a series of concrete affirmations on the other. "Before" functions as the perfect introduction to Shriek, a gently rousing reverie instead of a bestial roar. Jenn Wasner's vocals perfectly capture the spectrum of emotions of starting over: the dizzying trepidation of uncertainty, the glimmering hopefulness of possibility. No one side wins out, balanced effortlessly in Wasner's lyrical ellipses and the push and pull of the duo's musical interplay.

The so-called guitarless Wye Oak record arrives with a surprising amount of propriety, its melodies aloft on a stable though intricate base; a work of a staggering amount of subtlety. It isn't until four songs in on the practically dancefloor ready synth-laden "Glory" that Shriek offers up any obvious signs of friction. Casting off the otherworldly pall that's shrouded the preceding tracks - Wasner and Stack are united in their syncopated, aggressive jump into pop. The duo glide into it but once there, make themselves fully comfortable and content to stay there for much of the album's duration. "Paradise" puts an end to Shriek's accessible forward momentum with a literal wall of sound - sending everything pitched forward sprawl and skidding to a halt before its establishing its own breakneck tempo. Tender ballad "I Know the Law" arrives at the most unexpected an moments and perhaps gains some of its power due to that -sandwiched between the blistering "Paradise" and synth-heavy album ender "The Logic of Color". On the album's most expansive track, Wasner's given full license to soar, arming herself with raw emotive power.

Shriek is a hymn not only to uncertainty but the empowerment gained from facing it head on. Underneath the heady toe-tapping synth lines, Wasner turns her lyricism inward and the resulting introspection is dazzling in its lucidity. Taking years of familiarity Wasner and Stack are able to validate a leap of faith by offering the model of thoughtful reinvention anchored by the duo's complementary nature. Shriek also triumphs through its exploration of different synth tones throughout the whole. Enabling its inclusion and predominant usage to avoid that of an overused parlor trick, and instead providing a varying set of timbric elements to revel in. The result is an album that's svelte and interesting, clean but full of a wealth of musical ideas impressively shuffled.

Shriek, Wye Oak's fourth full length, is out April 29th on Merge Records. Stream via NPR First Listen.

Listen: Emily Reo - "Peach" (Yalls Remix)

Like the majority of things, I have a rule for remixes: A remix worth even the most cursory of listens should a. remain more or less true to the source material b. quickly and efficiently establish its own uniqueness. It doesn't seem terribly difficult of a rule to follow but the wide majority tend to fail this basic two-part test. While in Austin for SXSW I heard such a remix that did however - during his DJ set at this year's Hype Hotel Berkeley based producer Yalls let his reworking of Emily Reo's Olive Juice standout "Peach" fly and I was utterly floored by its magnificence.

What makes Yalls reimagining of what is already a pretty enjoyable tune in its own right has everything to do with an embrace of dichotomies. Both Yalls' Dan Casey and Reo tend to make tunes that offer up a rather sparse take on electronic music but when paired together, Casey creates a downright kaleidoscopic blend of sounds with a dazzling array of layers. That Reo's voice can be cut/clipped/and patched together in a manner that certainly brings the word stuttering to mind but still maintain a definite sense of fluidity is impressive to say the least. That Casey can do that while recreating the sense of buoyancy of Reo's original more or less from scratch is far more so. Yalls avoids the all too common remix troupe of just toying around with and/or rehashing the source track's most memorable moments and creates a mix that finds the perfect balance between Reo's effervescent dream-pop confection and his own dynamic vision.

Emily Reo's Olive Juice remix album is out now and available to download via Bandcamp.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Listen: Tiny Ruins - "Carriages"

                                         (photo by Georgie Craw)

With the release of her sophomore record rapidly approaching, New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins wants to make sure you know exactly what you're in for. The latest single "Carriages" is the third offering from Brightly Painted One and certainly the heaviest. "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens" was a work of effusive brevity, "The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel" an expansive yarn, and "Carriages" takes a page from the latter; a sumptuous sprawl adorned with luminescent harmonies.

"Carriages" is a casual plod, showing the full breadth of Fullbrook's narrative prowess organically growing while also taking great care to provide an elastic accompaniment that still manages to drive the tune forward. It's an emotive piece of talented songcraft delicately fashioned and the effort clearly shows.

Tiny Ruins' sophomore full length album Brightly Painted One is out May 2nd on Spunk Records in Austrailia, May 5th in the UK/EU on Bella Union, and May 13th on Flying Nun Records in the US.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Listen: Lucius - "Genevieve"

Back when Brooklyn pop outfit Lucius revealed the official details behind the much anticipated debut album Wildewoman, I lamented the lack of standout track "Genevieve" from their self-titled EP. The band assured me that the blow would soon be mitigated and while including it as bonus track from the European release of their album isn't quite what I expected, it certainly helps that they've allowed us natives to at least hear the brand new version of the track.

As Lucius proved on their full length's first run, there's really not too much the quintet can do to improve upon their already immaculate sound - the ladies vocals are a bold and brassy as ever, intertwining seamlessly, the band a present force around them and given their own moments to shine. "Genevieve" was a cacophonous triumph on the Lucius EP and it remains so here - spruced up with a new mix, which adds another layer of variety with its production effects. The band aren't really in need of fancy recording tricks given their tight knit precision and the ladies' bodacious vocal chops but variety is the spice of life after all, and probably a nice way of putting a new spin on a track the band have been playing live for years so granted they kept the effects to minimum, there's really not much to complain about. "Genevieve" is boisterous and jubilant, fun and flirty, and well, just damn good.

Listen to the brand new mix of "Genevieve":


Monday, March 31, 2014

Listen: Tiny Ruins - "The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel"

A little more than a month ago, New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins announced the details of her forthcoming record Brightly Painted One and offered up the effusive "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens". It was perfect introduction to the subtly arresting folk that.

While "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens" fluttered with coquettish effervescence, "The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel" takes a different route - not quite melancholic but far more introspective. After about a minute of unhurried rumination, the track picks up with the introduction of drums. It's a steady build filled with drive-by harmonies at unexpected intervals that helps to make the track particularly dynamic illustration of the track's theme of uncertainty. Nearly double the size of our first taste of Brightly Painted One, Fullbrook expands her narrative world building on "The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel" while not slacking one bit on the emotional resonance.

Listen to Brightly Painted One's second single "The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel":

Tiny Ruins' sophomore full length is out May 13th on Flying Nun Records.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Watch: Sylvan Esso - "Coffee"

                                                   (photo by DL Anderson)

One of the highlights of my SXSW experience was without a doubt getting the chance to see North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso perform. After making the terrible decision to sleep on their tunes when some of my favorite artists were advising all their fans to do otherwise, I dug in based on a pretty noncommittal suggestion from a friend. "Have you heard of Sylvan Esso? I really like their song 'Coffee'" she practically almost shrugged out and yet that was apparently just the sort of thing I need to light a fire under me - I checked out "Coffee" and was enamored, I checked out "Play It Right" and fell absolutely in love.

One of the most charming things about Sylvan Esso's performance is just how into the music they're creating they get. It's the sort of thing absolute necessary to make an electronic-based performance worthwhile and yet, the twosome went above and beyond in that category. Amelia Randall Meath utterly dominates all free space with her killer and unpredictable dance moves; enough to evoke a chorus of "ooh"s and "aah"s while she dipped and rolled to Nick Sanborn's infectious beats. So it's rather unsurprising, considering not only the lyrics but also how ingrained in the duo's live show it is that the focus of their video for "Coffee" would be on dance.

It starts unassumingly enough - the camera sweeps and follows Sanborn into a dance hall where a night of line dancing is taking place. After a bit of warm up everyone's having a good time and Meath and Sanborn blend right in. And just as quickly the scene changes to a house party in full swing - there's couples kissing, attendees passed out, and no one seems to really want to be there. Meath dances but her heart's not really in it while Sanborn's in the kitchen, downing a beer and barely participating in the conversation that's occurring. Perhaps the most unexpected source of enjoyment is the last segment - an sort of modern sock hop, the fun of the contra dance returns in earnest and then Sylvan Esso deploys its secret weapon - Amelia's badass moves. Despite being the camera's focus, the multitude of people paying her no mind makes the video's message abundantly clear - when you're doing what you want for the hell of it, there's no stopping your good time. A couple of good friends can help but ultimately the moment of pure elation comes final dancefloor chaos. There's an order in Meath and her friends' choreographed sequence but all those people milling about just out of focus are having the time of their lives and really, Amelia probably is too - cracking a smile during the most rigorous part of her dancing right before the cut.

If you can catch them on tour, I strongly, strongly recommend it. Dates here, and you can preorder the self-titled debut record out May 13th on Partisan Records.