Posted on 03 September 2012 by Bowlegs
“I woke up feeling bold as shit” sings Raymond Raposa on the opening track, Allegiance, re-introducing us to the world of an emotive American wanderer.
His most recent project, the first full-length under the name Raymond Byron & the White Freighter, encompasses several different genres, from Country and Americana to Roadhouse Blues and Rock.
Little Death Shaker’s nearly completely live recording transports you to a dive bar that could be somewhere in the Midwest or even in the Deep South, and something about it seems to be intrinsically American. Maybe it’s the playful lyrics or the refreshing sound of a raw recording. Or perhaps it could be the drunken and sinful indulgences that stain much of the set. Most measurably it’s Raposa’s lifestyle and experiences. At 15 he spent four years periodically drifting through North America on grey hound buses later followed by a brief stint as a telemarketer, both of which seem like rites of passage for today’s erratic youth. As Raposa graduates from the Castanets and on to this new project, it seems he too has come of age, and entered a new phase of adulthood.
Standout tracks include Some of My Friends, a cover of Dan Reeder’s You’ll Never Surf Again, and You’re Not Standing Like You Used To featuring Talia Gordon.
Overall, listening to the record is like a live music experience- transformative and transitive. There are moments where Raposa is at risk of alienating his audience with his jam sessions, as with the track Stateline (spanning an entire nine minutes and forty-three seconds), but overall it’s an album worthy of a dedicated listen.
Posted on 17 August 2012 by Bowlegs
Julianna Barwick has never delivered anything less than true serenity, Helado Negro (aka Roberto Carlos Lange ) has created ambience, experiments and sun-soaked getaways through his impressive back-catalogue. So now the two Asthmatic Kitty signed artists have become friends and made a record under the moniker OMBRE.
You can’t categorise a record that weaves in the laid back tones of Miles Davis circa Some Kind of Blue, dub-like rhythms on acoustic guitars, bathes under drone-like skies and explores electrical landscapes that shimmer via the open minds of their creators. You can however soak up the intricately drawn and beguiling atmosphere that is threaded through Believe You Me, an almost spiritual sensibility where emotion trumps structure every time.
I’m in awe of most of what is here, like Cara Falsa with its synth-built rhythm and Barwick’s ethereal tones atop a cinematic progression. Weight Those Words is Helado Negro bringing his South-American roots inwards – the laid back guitar takes the tempo horizontal whilst the tinkering vibraphone and easygoing vocal from Negro creates a sense of time slowing.
There are subtle diversions arrangement wise, yet nothing steps from the glacial ambience they’ve somehow learnt from each other. The Nod works with glitchy electronics and Barwick’s endlessly looping vocal, wound together with a sliding bassline and clear guitar. Dawning, meanwhile, initially rumbles like a beautiful storm – Barwick’s ability to create a choral wave with her voice is used to form an imminent awakening, enhanced and backed by the swelling chords – a cathedral for reflection before time runs out.
Much like the Mirrorring record released earlier this year (which paired Tiny Vipers and Grouper) OMBRE inhibits a world that could only be reached via the process of collaboration and a willingness to learn. In fact I’d go so far to say that this album transcends both the artists’ solo efforts, which is high praise indeed.
Posted on 05 July 2012 by Bowlegs
Preconceptions are hard to ignore so when I knew that I was reviewing an album from a Presbyterian pastor and his wife playing religious folk songs, I was doubtful. When listening to contemporary Christian music it’s hard not to think of it as derivative and therefore not competitive with its secular counterparts. This unreasonable scepticism seems to plight many modern-day artists who incorporate their faith into their music.
However this doesn’t seem to be the case with Vito and Monique Auito, the duo who are The Welcome Wagon. Their 2008 debut album Welcome to the Welcome Wagon was much admired for its quirky folk arrangements and choral harmonics. Interestingly it was produced and included vocal and instrumental contributions from Sufjan Stevens (who signed them to his Asthmatic Kitty label). Stevens is an artist who has also proven that faith can be integral in his music but only as part of many diverse themes.
So it’s only right that we put ill-fitting theories to one side and give Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices (stick with us) a fair hearing. The good news is that it doesn’t sound too different to a Sufjan Stevens record, even though he hasn’t had any part in its making this time round. Tracks are carefully composed as an array of instrumentation including banjo, clarinet, harmonica and toy glockenspiel accompany the gentle vocals of Vito and wife Monique – The Strife is O’er being the best example. Sometimes though there is just vocal as the couple, and at times a backing choir, praise their maker with hymn/poem lyric as on I Know That My Redeemer Lives.
And that is what sticks in the mind. Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices is the sound of two faithful people singing songs about love and the search for salvation. It won’t appeal to those who like an edge to their music but The Welcome Wheel’s integrity does have the ability to convince even the most sceptical.
Posted on 17 May 2012 by Bowlegs
Shannon Stephens may not be breaking any boundaries on her third album, as she enthusiastically explores the dusty tracks of American folk and country. Yet her songs and voice are strong enough to stand clear from many of the unimaginative albums these genres have accommodated over the last fifteen-odd years.
Her guitars are often plugged in, with muddied tones; the rhythms work impressively with a host of percussive companions; and the songs sound like they’ve been lived in, experienced and left to fend for themselves. The cyclical banjo and fat snares on Care for You for instance has the blues like the Be Good Tanyas going all out.
The warmer, even soulful tones, on moments like Out of Sight find new depths, as the brooding brass and electric piano lay down a sweet cruise for Stephens to deliver her gorgeous vocal upon. The Seattle artist is accompanied by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy on the piano-opening Face like Ours. It’s a ballad, but about society rather than each other, Billy entering with the line, “And we’re gonna be OK, at least we have white skin, and when you have white skin nobody can send you away.” Of course it’s always good to have a modern legend to croon alongside.
I’m not convinced that the acoustic, country-rock power-play on Buddy up to the Bully works too well, and there are a few moments that freewheel into the generic side. But the late night drive home on slow-burning closer Responsible Too Long is proof enough that Stephens is a step ahead of many in her field.
Posted on 14 October 2011 by Bowlegs
This is Shara Worden’s third LP as My Brightest Diamond. It’s a presentation of high camp, and a restrained boldness of vision that is far removed from the mainstream. There are a couple of areas that might turn people off. Firstly that it toys with pastiche. There’s a potpourri of Edwardian popular music, Piaf, carny and show-tunes in here. But it remains unique enough to convince.
Secondly, you could find Worden’s voice too cold, too mannered, too aware of its own power and beauty to draw you in with vulnerability. In fact, Worden’s voice may be the least expressive aspect of the whole record. However, don’t think of this as a weakness. Susan Sontag talked about camp as proposing “a comic vision of the world … comedy is an experience of under-involvement, of detachment.” The way that Worden narrows the field of expressivity in her voice somehow puts the whole project into quotation marks – a well-known technique of Brecht and Weill in the 30s.
It’s this tension that will make this album flex sinuously around your heart – cold vocal delivery over a multi-textured fantasia of sound. yMusic, who provide the stunning orchestrations that underpin nearly all of these songs, invoke magical soundscapes, woodwind heavy fluttering of wings, rich and sonorous strings, exotic gamelans. Somewhere between Harry Partch and the music of Joanna Newsom, they paint a picture in sound that comes around once in a blue moon.
There are plenty of highlights. The hugely enjoyable allegory There’s a Rat is a most charming critique of our present global collapse. High Low Middle carries forward the spirit of Kurt Weill shot through with an end-of-the-universe panache. The arrangements leave nothing unexplored, and revel in their complexity. Be Brave, the epic single, digs the torch in deep until the flames reach skyward. I Have Never Loved Someone makes us feel as warm and drippy as can be.
You can’t take this album at face value, and that’s why we like it. It forces you to listen to it at one remove, to take a position on it. Clever, arch pop music never sounded so good.
Posted on 11 March 2011 by Bowlegs
The church hymns Julianna Barwick grew up singing have had a profound effect on the artist, and in turn they may well have a profound effect on you.
The Brooklyn based musician has built on the promising ‘Florine’ EP, and her self-released debut, creating an almost spiritual piece of layered beauty. Having a voice like an angel clearly is a good starting point, but Barwick’s talents don’t stop there. She ably loops and layers her vocal to construct a textual ambience, dosing it in reverb and allowing the sounds to explore and grow.
The nine tracks here have no pace, they just exist, and as such demand the same state from the listener – fear not, you will be rewarded. ‘Cloak’ has a purity, an empty church filled only with a congregation of Juliannas and sympathetic piano – quite simply it is beautiful. It literally floats into ‘White Flag’ where the multiple layers of the Louisiana raised singer reach out from beneath the communal semblance. This is hypnotic music to say the least, but it isn’t allowed to wander off into obscurity, these aren’t just sounds with no end point.
With the songs hovering around the five minute mark, Barwick has ensured we reach straight into the heart of what these moments are about. ‘Prizewinning’ is like a Panda Bear track in the slowest of motion, a marching beat adjoining the repeating vocal, synth lines streaming through the open windows.
And as the reflecting and affecting finale ‘Flown’ closes the record with a celestial glow, it is hard to think of what to listen to next, as it will surely bring you back to reality far too soon. WB
Posted on 06 October 2010 by Bowlegs
The two and a bit minutes opening Stevens’ first album of originals since 2005 is a reminder on how much we have missed the man. Sure – it is a simple ditty, but his voice, melodic signature and effortless melancholy soon erase the long wait he has put us through. Yet don’t get too comfortable, the welcome back party is far from the cosy soirée you may have been expecting. The electronic overdrive that is ‘Too Much’ claps, cracks and smacks you in the face with its pulsing machines and squelching effects; it was not quite what we had in mind, but with a memorable hook-line and flurry of ideas, Bowlegs is not complaining.
Sufjan has always had idea overload, his ambitious nature ably crossing from mind to tape. Yet as the title track thrusts a flurry of brass, choral harmonies, crashing synths and hectic rhythms into your eardrums it can become a little hard to grapple. This is the most electronic the musician has been, a polar opposite to the guitar ridden and long gone ‘Seven Swans’ and far distance from ‘Illinois’. It is also, at times, some of the most inspirational material we have heard from the artist. The glorious ‘Now that I am Older’ is an angelic swept piece of floating emotion –percussion-less with swelled strings and layered voices, it is an other-wordly piece. The analogue electro of ‘Get Real Get Right’ on the other hand drops a host of classical instrumentation with slightly awkward results; it sums up a very crowded and relentless record.
Bowlegs was mostly baffled in a good way but continually yearned for more sweet melody and a filtering down on the crazed synthetics. At a fair old length, yet only eleven numbers, each track is an ambush on the eardrums. The quieter moments may sound all the more sweet because of such mayhem; album closer ‘Impossible Soul’ is a robotic piece of heartfelt song-writing as good as anything we have heard from Stevens, yet it twists and turns for some 25 minutes in exhausting fashion. This is artisitic excess conveyed through drum machines, synths and of course the mind of Sufjan Stevens. WB
Posted on 28 August 2010 by Bowlegs
This is a usable, and fairly idiosyncratic, if unessential album, made by ‘proper musicians’ and best adopted by those aspiring to that particular state of grace. Don’t take Bowlegs’ word for it though – check out the track ‘The Hit Parade’ where our chanteuse bitches in an uncharacteristically direct manner about real popstars. The group knows its enemy and its audience. It’s a frustratingly civilised listen, for underneath the tripwire of conventional production values there lurks real inner mystique, a sense of jeopardy and the kind of ominous, barely suppressed demons that could make this record fulfil the kind of potential shown on its excellent brooding, smoky and neurotic opening track ‘Tell Your Mum’. Given the expectations this track creates, it’s easy to become let down by what follows – a kind of coffee table psychedelia, where occasionally the ghosts of the Red Krayola and the Godz uncork their spirit bottles, squirting half whispers into your peripheral consciousness. Tropicalia it isn’t though.Lyrically the album is weak: disposable phrases and self regarding awkward sentiments hinting at a separate development from the music, thus making the occasional primal interruptions mentioned above even more essential wherever they appear. Nevertheless it’s worthwhile mining for them – you just get the feeling the band were musically crossing their legs and arms and no one was having as much fun as they could be.If you like the idea of a micro-dotted transatlantic Psapp, where all hallucinations come in shades of vanilla, then this album is worth a whole listen. But if not, at least give ‘Tell Your Mum’ a try. Potential unused is the conclusion to be drawn. AH
Posted on 28 August 2010 by Bowlegs
Fol Chen’s futurist pop proves that you don’t have to sound post-punk to be completely on the cutting edge. Their music bears scant relation to practically any other band we know of, barring Canada’s fine Oen Sujet. But where the latter confound with their multiple time signatures, Fol Chen are more determined to keep things simple and direct. Their new album ‘Part II: The New December’ is a rare and beautiful avant-pop masterpiece; simultaneously a splash of hyper-real exuberance and a leap in the dark. What’s even better is that Fol Chen don’t have a manifesto as such. It is beguiling music: gentle yes, but easy no. They share a harmonic flavour with Dirty Projectors, but Fol Chen songs are more constructed from slabs of colour, rather than intricate interlacing: like a Howard Hodgkin canvas. Despite this clarity of vision, the tone of the record is charmingly oblique – it captures your heart by its sidelong glance at you across a crowded room. Vocals are hushed and confessional, layered in huge swathes of breathiness – sometimes boy, sometimes girl. The samples that form the backbone of the sound are always surprising and beautifully juxtaposed. Ersatz flutes and timpani are embraced; there is no quest for realism here, it’s a cultural sonic junkyard, where the sounds are kinda familiar, although it’s not exactly like anything you have known. Synthetic hybrids, replicants maybe? It isn’t all super-harmonious either, despite the shiny, polished feel. On ‘The Holes’ the tuning becomes bent out of shape by the end, but sweetly so; actually it makes your heart ache it’s so lovely. This album just doesn’t seem forced at all, and that is a big achievement. Fol Chen reveals an inner-elegance that is totally far out. An album of the year? JT
Posted on 26 January 2010 by Bowlegs
Jookabox’s third album (after previous releases as Grampall Jookabox) is a queasy psychedelic mapping of songwriter David ‘Moose’ Adamson’s Indianapolis home, specifically the city’s troubled East Side. As the title and the skull-filled artwork indicate, Adamson sees the city as a land of the undead, penning odes to the phantoms and zombies he sees inhabiting the streets.
With its thickly layered, multi-voiced narratives, codes and reprises, ‘Dead Zone Boys’ gives off signs of a concept album, but the foggy, dubbed-out production obscures any linear story or clear messages. Instead, Jookabox’s Indianapolis comes to life in a shadowy series of hallucinatory fragments, akin to the domestic mysticism of Mark E Smith’s Manchester or Jah Wobble’s London.
Musically, Adamson and his cohorts, primarily drummer Patrick ‘Ostry’ ‘Sweets’ Okerson, whose pounding military beats first draw us in, fashion a mush of funk, soul, bluegrass and pop influences into a peculiarly dark, glassy mosaic. Jookabox continually conjure up cinematic sounds to compliment the lyrical imagery. ‘Gonna Need the Guns/Doom Hope’ sees Adamson in James Brown mode, marshalling his band through a spaghetti western, while ‘You Cried Me’ is a disarmingly rapid hillbilly interlude of the sort that punctuates the zippy action of the Coen brothers’ zanier features.
Although packed with succinct, memorable tunes, ‘Dead Zone Boys’ main sticking point is the heavily pitch-bent vocals throughout the album. This isn’t the auto-tuning favoured in contemporary pop production, but the tape-manipulated craziness of Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes at his most wilfully awkward. Although sometimes in keeping with the disembodied phantom voices haunting the mix, when it jars, as on ‘Glyphin’ Out’, the technique brings forth flashbacks to the heyday of helium rave. Least successful is closing track ‘F.I.T.F. #1’ where Adamson pitches himself downwards to a slurry moan, like the drunken tomfoolery of Ween at their worst.
A fascinating, but flawed, trip to the interzone. SH