July 7th, 2014 , by John Beeler
“There’s a lot of freedom in playing solo,” says Chris Schlarb.
Fresh off the release of his new one-man, four-song, full-length LP, Making the Saint, Schlarb is taking to the road for a solo tour of the US this summer. Freed from the constraints of collaborative playing, his repertoire will encompass not only Saint‘s generous gamut from pop standard to long-form composition, but also covers ranging from Tears for Fears and XTC to ’60s soul duo James & Bobby Purify, in addition to material from both LPs recorded with his Psychic Temple project.
There will be a few surprises, too, says Schlarb: “Really, the only limitation is what I am able to come up with and execute.”
Schlarb’s tour will take him across the country and back, playing some 30 shows in just 40 days over July and August.
“Also,” adds Schlarb, somewhat mysteriously, “I built an 8 foot tall, mobile Psychic Temple to perform inside of.” This alone may be worth the price of admission.
A full list of Chris Schlarb’s tour dates is available at his official website, and Making the Saint can be purchased on CD, MP3, and limited edition white vinyl.
July 2nd, 2014 , by John Beeler
It’s been thirteen years since Asthmatic Kitty Records released Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit, but we’d never pressed it to vinyl — until this year. Now that it’s available in limited edition, colored vinyl, we thought we’d celebrate by asking director and animator Geoffrey Hoskinson to create a video. We let him choose the song and the concept for the video. What he created is mesmerizing and beautiful.
We asked Geoff a few questions over email about the video.
What appealed to you about the song “Year of the Tiger?”
“Year of the Tiger” is a really outstanding track on the record. I love how it is like a soft ballad juxtaposed with noisy glitchy interruptions and a big climax. It is these dynamics that really appeal to me.
Could you talk a bit about how you made this video? It’s so vibrant and alive. What tools did you use?
The video was created with Photoshop and After Effects. I designed all of the pieces in Photoshop and then animated them in After Effects.
There’s some really interesting visuals here; obviously the tiger is important, but you even have tiger sperm swimming through to a sun-egg. Your work tends to address some life/death issues. Could you speak to that?
What mainly drove the visuals for the video was the concept of birth. This was inspired by the notion of the birth cycles of the Chinese zodiac and the (then) impending birth of my son. The vocal parts in “Year of the Tiger” sounded to me like a wordless lullaby for a baby. So in the video, I saw the tigers as spiritual beings who were calling a new soul into existence with their song.
You can buy Enjoy Your Rabbit here, or at your local record store.
June 30th, 2014 , by John Beeler
Where does Helado Negro’s music come from? Awash in rich, ambient resonance, it seems to have emanated from someplace as remote as the future, or a distant memory.
But like all his music, Helado Negro’s new LP Double Youth was recorded in the place where he—Roberto Carlos Lange, a.k.a. Helado Negro—lives, in the home studio in his living room. And for all its sonic spaciousness, it’s also inescapably intimate.
Lange began work on Double Youth immediately after completing the last Helado Negro full-length, Invisible Life, during breaks from an enormous range of concurrent musical projects: along with Helado Negro material, he was creating experimental, conceptual works for performance by large ensembles.
And the funk/hip-hop tinged electronic grooves of Double Youth are experimental too, in a way: structurally, texturally, and rhythmically complex and unexpected. But the process of creating the album was about concision and directness, building songs out of of nothing but voice and electronics, and then paring away every inessential section from a piece of music to find the perfect pop song at its core.
The lyrics show him wrapping his head around subtle, often abstract concepts, and putting them in a language that’s easy to understand. Literally: Double Youth shows Helado Negro thinking bilingually, making the sound of his voice more present than ever, and singing lyrics—in Spanish and English—designed to transcend grammar and idiom to speak emotional truths directly to the listener.
Double Youth arrives on CD, LP, and digital on September 2. A VIP edition is available in limited quantities (just 100), hand-made and hand-numbered by Roberto Lange himself. A limited edition first-pressing in translucent blue is also available. Preorder those here.
To hear the first single, head over to FADER.
June 17th, 2014 , by John Beeler
Chalk it up to good fortune: Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit is finally coming out on vinyl.
Fourteen electronic instrumental tracks—one for each sign of the Chinese Zodiac, plus two—Enjoy Your Rabbit was first released on CD in 2001, and it was destined to enjoy a fruitful and prosperous future. The Osso String Quartet’s Run Rabbit Run album recreated Stevens’ pieces in arrangements for live, acoustic chamber ensemble, and choreographer Justin Peck’s acclaimed Year of the Rabbit ballet is set to an orchestral interpretation of the album.
On June 24th, 2014—the Year of the Horse—the original recording will be made available as a double-LP set, with lucky bonuses for anyone who picks up the limited-edition pressing.
Disc 2 is clear, but disc 1 could be pressed on either white, red, blue or green translucent vinyl. Only the Zodiac knows which color is hidden inside each copy of the album.
And no one can foresee who will receive one of two very special boxes of fortune cookies, containing fortunes penned especially for this occasion by Sufjan himself. (Check with your local record store too!)
A perennial favorite for fans of Sufjan Stevens’ electronic side, Enjoy You Rabbit‘s time has come around again. Preorder now, and we predict some very beautiful music headed your way.
Bonus: Order Enjoy Your Rabbit on vinyl with Osso’s Run Rabbit Run on vinyl for just $30.
June 16th, 2014 , by John Beeler
Castanets singer-songwriter Ray Raposa hasn’t been gone long. It was just two years ago that Raposa’s new band, Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, came out with their shaggy, rocking debut LP. But as he returns to the helm of his solo project for the first Castanets recording since 2009, Decimation Blues, it sounds like a silence being broken.
And Decimation Blues, out this summer on Asthmatic Kitty Records, communicates as much through silence, through what goes musically or lyrically unsaid, as it does through words and music. The arrangements are sparse, and the performances, especially the rich patina of Raposa’s own singing voice, are laid nearly bare.
But it’s the sorrow in the grain of that voice that makes the warmth of his melodies that much more consoling—in the same way that the joy his songs find in moments of basic human connection so often seems to imply the end of a deep, unspoken loneliness.
Decimation Blues arrives to refresh parched ears on August 19th, as a CD, vinyl LP or digital download. A limited edition of the LP will be pressed on marbled blue vinyl. Preorder it here and receive an immediate download of the first single, “Out For The West.”
June 10th, 2014 , by John Beeler
It’s time to celebrate—with singing choirs, rattling tambourines, fuzz bass, wrong-speed magnetic tape playback, and other joyful noises—because the new Half-handed Cloud album is here, and you’ll want to sing along.
Half-handed Cloud is the solo project of John Ringhofer, who began working on Flying Scroll Flight Control in Belgium, while his wife was doing research at a Brussels museum. The album began as a series of totally DIY, one-man recordings put together with anything Ringhofer had to hand, setting ancient, sacred texts to upbeat pop melodies. Back in the States, Ringhofer then re-recorded the whole thing on old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape as layers upon layers of homespun goodness. The result: music of labyrinthine mysticism and complexity, but made out of raw, humble, unpretentious stuff and offered in full earnest.
Flying Scroll Flight Control is available on MP3, CD or LP. The LP comes on totally transparent vinyl with a card for a free digital download, and a deluxe edition of the vinyl release comes with a beautiful slipmat at which to gaze through the “pop-bottle-clear” record.
June 3rd, 2014 , by John Beeler
As the singer-songwriter and multi-intrumentalist behind My Brightest Diamond, Shara Worden has earned her reputation as a composer of popular songs with a chamber-music intimacy. The emotional intimacy of This Is My Hand, the new My Brightest Diamond LP, and None More than You, a companion EP coming out this summer, are unmistakable, but this latest iteration of the My Brightest Diamond project has opened the project up to vast new sonic possibilities.
My Brightest Diamond’s musical metamorphosis comes straight out of recent, radical transformations in Worden’s life as an artist. The songwriting on these records draw as much on top-40 pop as by Worden’s experiences in the cast of an experimental Matthew Barney film, in surprisingly direct and literal ways: the Walt Whitman poem that provides the words to None More than You’s “Whoever You Are” and the marching band–style arrangement of This Is My Hand’s “Pressure” were both inspired by elements in Barney’s The River of Fundament, but their dance-floor friendly tempo and singalong structure are borne out of Worden’s analytical thinking as a composer, mathematically breaking down her favorite radio hits.
But My Brightest Diamond still sounds like nothing else so much as My Brightest Diamond, refracting all of these influences through Worden’s inimitable, shamanic sense of artistry, and her equally inimitable singing voice.
Hear “Pressure” right now on NPR’s All Songs Considered here, or below.
None More than You, out July 15th, can be preordered from a strictly limited edition of 1000 records on lavender vinyl here, and preorders of the limited, translucent red vinyl edition of This Is My Hand come with “Pressure” as an instant download. Buy it here.
iTunes offers a preorder of the Prismatic Edition, including the LP, the EP, and an immediate download of “Pressure,” all for $11.99. Get that one here.
May 27th, 2014 , by John Beeler
If Chris Schlarb’s new solo album feels like a moment’s rest—a brief retreat, a meditation in solitude—that might be because this is exactly how the album was recorded.
The story of the making of Making the Saint, out today on Asthmatic Kitty Records, is ultimately simple: Chris Schlarb needed a break. As the composer and bandleader of the Psychic Temple project, Schlarb has lately been demonstrating his auteur-like ability to put into place all the details of an intricate musical tableau. Last year’s Psychic Temple II LP set idiosyncratic pop tunes and more abstract musical explorations in highly complex arrangements, and accordingly the ensembles Schlarb brought out to support it were some of the biggest he’d ever wrangled.
After all of that, he felt the need to do something a little more intimate. He gathered up his instruments and headed by himself to a 19th-century cabin in the dusty San Bernardino Mountains, where he proceeded to lay down the tracks that would become Making the Saint.
A four-track, full-length album, Making the Saint is in its own way as ambitious as Schlarb’s recent Psychic Temple work. But this time, the grandeur is less in the layers of musical detail than in the expansive explorations of deep, interior spaces. The album’s two short, bona fide “songs,” the mystical ballad “The Great Receiver” and the jazz standard “My Foolish Heart,” are generous in their own, quiet way—”My Foolish Heart” looks for the sophistication in simplicity, and the negative space of “The Great Receiver” hum with cosmic ambience.
But these tracks alternate with yet more probing meditations, seemingly free-floating improvisations anchored deep down by musical stasis: the overtone-rich, iridescent drone of the opening title track, or the slowly looping, ruminating harmonies of “The Fear of Death Is the Birth of God.” Making the Saint finds freedom in simplicity and, in the emotional and spiritual resonances it evokes, turns out to be not quite so simple after all.
Making the Saint is now available to own as a digital download, on CD, or on an LP record, pressed to white vinyl.
Buy it here.
LA-based Imma Almourzaeva illustrates “The Great Receiver” from Chris Schlarb’s LP Making the Saint. Watch below.
May 26th, 2014 , by John Beeler
Since attracting a ton of buzz for her entrancing live shows and for first EP Hello (released on Merok Records), Mozart’s Sister (aka Caila Thompson-Hannant) has been head-down in her bedroom writing her debut album.
Inspired by Discovery-era Daft Punk, Post-era Bjork, and Betty Davis, Caila produced, recorded and wrote Being using a cheap sound card and Ableton software, approaching it with a do-it-all-by-my-self ideology. “I was into production more than I ever had been,” she remembers, “Listening to sounds I liked and wondering how they achieved it. There was a lot of observing and trying things out.”
“Being is a fracture,” says Caila. “A note between thought and expression. When I wrote this record I was riding a wave of light and dark; I still am. It’s not a twisted path but one that aspires to harmony. In all the little bits that make up the bulk of the ‘songs’ of this album is a jump. Every step in the process of this record felt like, and continues to feel like a jump. From the bass line to the album ‘description.’ So here I am jumping into your mercy, a leap I will never forget. I feel the future can only bring better or worse and definitely not the same. So this record is a thing that will never happen again. I hope you enjoy it.”
Asthmatic Kitty Records will release the record on August 5. Like Caila, we also hope you enjoy it. You can preorder Being CD, vinyl, or digital here.
Hear the first single, “Enjoy,” on FADER.
May 23rd, 2014 , by John Beeler
The new Half-Handed Cloud full-length, Flying Scroll Flight Control, is dropping next month, and the fanfare heralding its arrival is already underway.
In especially good news for fans of cryptic symbolism as well as complex, outsider-esque sacred pop, the official celebration begins on June 1 at 1, when Half-Handed Cloud’s afternoon release show begins at Ohmega Salvage. Not just a venue, Ohmega is also a working antique salvage yard in Berkeley, CA where beautiful old things that have been rediscovered amongst the detritus of the modern world can reclaimed and restored. Those Lavender Whales of Columbia, SC will be opening for a three-person Half-Handed Cloud lineup on the Ohmega stage.
But first, PopMatters is offering a quick preview of the album this week, praising the “sun-kissed melodies” and “quirky instrumentation” of the new track “Festus, I Am Not Out of My Mind” and making it available to stream in full at PopMatters.com.
And Half-Handed Cloud mastermind John Ringhofer has posted his own, high-concept teaser for Flying Scroll Flight Control. A short video conceived and sound-designed by Ringhofer himself, and relying heavily on an important contribution from one Dr. Ralph Kuri, this preview, like the album, is made up of equal parts ingenuity, metaphysics, magic, absurdity, and wit, and features just a few seconds of music from the new album’s “Titus Three.”
Out June 10 on Asthmatic Kitty Records, Flying Scroll Flight Control is already available for preorder on CD, mp3, clear vinyl, and a special LP release with custom slipmat.