August 1st, 2013 , by John Beeler
Honest, personal, and deeply intimate, the music of Denison Witmer’s self-titled album for Asthmatic Kitty is nevertheless as much about the listener as it is about himself. The messages of the disc—to rest, to trust, to let go of a heavy burden—may come out of Witmer’s own experience, but they aim outwards, towards a universal experience.
Phil Jacoby’s video for “Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister” takes these themes and makes them literal, intercutting footage of Witmer’s confessional vocal performance with scenes following a man and woman as they each carry a small, secret, physical burden through their respective day-to-day lives. A rough-edged stone in the palm of the hand, the ripples lapping calmly at the water’s edge, the video’s almost tangibly concrete symbols are as spare and unaffected as the single itself—and like the song, the quiet melancholy of Jacoby’s accompanying clip ultimately offers up a message of hope.
July 24th, 2013 , by John Beeler
“I had to get creative.”
According to Shannon Stephens, her new single was born not out of artistic caprice, but of personal necessity. After upheavals in her personal life, she responded by immersing herself deeper in the stability and productivity of her musical work.
She started by recording “World in My Eyes,” a cover that remakes the icy Depeche Mode classic as a defiantly soulful and sultry rock number. The new single, now being released to Seattle-area press and radio, was recorded for what’s planned as a four-song EP, featuring one more cover and two new versions of songs from her 2000 debut.
“I didn’t feel ready to record an album” so soon after 2012′s Pull It Together, Stephens explains, but instead told herself, ”I’m going through some major life changes, and I need to keep busy—what’s something that we could do as a group that we could have fun with?”
She’s quick to credit her “dudes,” the five-piece band she’s toured with for the last half-decade, with many of the choices that are going into the creation of the EP. From the decision to cover Depeche Mode—although “World in My Eyes,” specifically, was Stephens’ pick—to the technical aspects of recording, Stephens and this small circle of collaborators were responsible for every ingredient of her new project, which is being recorded without any additional musicians and engineered by bassist Terry Mattson.
“I have the final say” in the recording process, “but we’re all kind of throwing our opinions in there,” says Stephens. “There were a lot of strong opinions,” she adds wryly, “when we were mixing ‘World in My Eyes.’”
Along with Dearborn and Daniel Blue of Motopony, Stephens and her band will be promoting the new single with a release show on August 2 at 7pm, at Seattle’s new Ballard Sanctuary.
July 18th, 2013 , by John Beeler
Live near Oshkosh? Love good music? This festival is for you.Read the Rest...
July 16th, 2013 , by John Beeler
Out now on Asthmatic Kitty Records, Chris Schlarb’s Psychic Temple II is an auteurist outing with an all-star cast.
Led by composer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Schlarb, the Psychic Temple project brings together an enormous range of artists from the musical underground: singer-songwriters Ray Raposa of Castanets, Nedelle Torrisi of Cryptacize, Aaron Roche and Sufjan Stevens; Mars Volta keyboardist Ikey Owens; Death guitarist Paul Masvidal; Xiu Xiu and Nels Cline bassist Devin Hoff; drummers Tabor Allen and Andrew Pompey; trumpeter Kris Tiner; and many more.
“Each one of them is a leader of their own project,” Schlarb says of his Psychic Temple lineup. It’s “an honor,” he says, “for me to be in charge for a little while.”
Psychic Temple II was recently chosen as a First Listen by NPR.org, who said that Schlarb’s ”restless creativity has no choice but to continuously seek new worlds” and praised his “unfailing determination to make things happen.” Schlarb himself describes the Psychic Temple project’s sophomore out as “the most ambitious large scale work for an ensemble that I’ve ever put together,” but the effect of the music is more important to him than its complexity.
“If somebody wants to jump into it on a songwriting level or a structural level, they can listen to it and say, ‘Wow, that’s really neat, these chords are really interesting,’ or, ‘These time signatures are jumping around,’” says Schlarb, “but I’d also like to reach them on a sentimental level. It doesn’t just exist to be difficult.”
Instead, Schlarb says, “I really challenged myself with this record, to write stuff that was a little more intricate and complex and detailed, but still allowed to live and breathe.” The result merges the sophistication of jazz or chamber music with an unpretentious indie-rock atmosphere.
Psychic Temple II is available in CD, LP, and digital download packages starting July 16.
July 8th, 2013 , by John Beeler
“Schlarb can write a jazz tune with the best of them, but on an album that ostensibly crosses boundaries separating jazz, chamber and indie music, his restless creativity has no choice but to continuously seek new worlds,” writes Lars Gotrich, for NPR’s First Listen, about the new album from Chris Schlarb.
Hear Psychic Temple II early and in its entirety on NPR here. If you like what you hear, please comment on the post on NPR and share it with friends.
The album is out next week, and you can order it in CD, LP, MP3, and a limited edition collector’s box, here.
July 2nd, 2013 , by John Beeler
The new, self-titled, self-released solo album of Nedelle Torrisi is scheduled for a September release, and it’s a fresh start in more ways than one. After a career of acclaimed collaborations—recording as half of Cryptacize or a member of The Curtains, or touring with Sufjan Stevens—and solo work as simply “Nedelle,” Nedelle Torrisi is Torrisi’s first record under her own full name. Its pared-down R&B style looks back to the radio hits of her childhood, like young Sade or classic Prince, that managed to combine the innocence of youth with a knowing worldliness. It also represents the fruition of her musical partnership with friend, housemate, and now, producer Kenny Gilmore (Ariel Pink). With the help of collaborators as stellar as Ramona Gonzalez (Nite Jewel), Julia Holter and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Gilmore also plays most of the instruments that drive the album’s bright, cool soundscapes. There’s also a bonus acoustic EP of Torrisi’s takes with piano accompaniment, to put the focus more squarely on Torrisi’s literate songwriting and a voice the New York Times called “guileless…an earnest instrument of pleasure and petition.” Before it became self-titled, Torrisi began recording this project under the name “Paradise,” and it’s easy to hear why. Nedelle Torrisi’s melancholy pop encapsulates at once the bittersweet nostalgia for an Eden lost and the longing for a heaven just out of reach. Listen on Stereogum here.
June 19th, 2013 , by John Beeler
Chris Schlarb wanted his new video, “Seventh House,” to be more than a commercial for the record.
“The idea of making a video for promotional purposes only doesn’t hold any interest for me,” Schlarb says. Instead, he enlisted director Sahale Jensen to create a short film that would expand on the themes of the song and of the intricately constructed full-length album, Psychic Temple II.j
In keeping with his role firmly at the helm of the Psychic Temple project, Schlarb was closely involved with the conception of the video, starting with the choice of Jensen for the director’s chair. “I came across a video that Sahale did for Aaron Roche and was intrigued by her work. We kept in touch over the years,” says Schlarb, “and she was the first person I thought of for this project.”
What followed was an involved discussion of the song and its lyrical imagery, over a series of lengthy telephone conversations. “We met and collaborated virtually,” says Jensen, “but never have actually met in person!”
The video takes the mystical and astrological imagery of the song and makes them unsettlingly literal. “Pisces in the Seventh House,” chants the song’s eerie vocal, and the Seventh House becomes a seemingly ordinary suburban home. The duality represented by the Pisces, explains Jensen, becomes the main character and a sinister doppelgänger, both played by first-time film actress Annea Umayam.
“We shot north of Seattle in a small town called Sedro-Wolley,” Jensen says, “at my grandparents’ house. I knew the look of their homey and comfortable house could help sell the disturbing juxtaposition when something more sinister decides to show up. We shot over a two day period with a very small four man crew.”
The result is a video that combines a very simple look with disorientingly cryptic content. Schlarb points to the gaps and omissions in the films of Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock, but also to the negative space built into his own music. “Don’t give everything,” he says. “Leave some mystery.”
Ultimately, says Schlarb, “I am very proud of the work and love that went into this video. It was an honor for me to work on it with Sahale and her crew.”
June 11th, 2013 , by John Beeler
The Weight of the Globe, the debut EP from Midwestern soul sisters Lily & Madeleine, is out now and available in 10″ vinyl, CD, or digital. The CD includes acoustic versions of the girls’ first five tracks, and the 10″ includes a download card to both the original and the acoustic set. David J Woodruff designed the lovely cover art.
Lily & Madeleine recently appeared on “Chances With Wolves,” a fantastic radio show on East Village Radio. You can hear that here. Vogue.com premiered their new video of “Back to the River,” directed by young and up-and-coming Nashville director Allister Ann. You can watch the new video here. Finally, NPR’s All Songs Considered premiered “These Great Things” here.
You can purchase the album here.
June 10th, 2013 , by John Beeler
Whether it’s music to fuel a midnight ride back from the beach, to feed the speakers in the window on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or to offer escape from a sweltering commute, this summer needs a soundtrack, and Asthmatic Kitty Records has answered the call by curating a free mixtape of freshly-minted tunes from its catalogue. An 18-track snapshot of the label’s wildly eclectic roster, this season’s edition of Asthmatic Kitty’s Digital Sampler offers everything from icy, tripped-out beats to rootsy singalongs, from acclaimed veterans to brand-new discoveries. Artists Raymond Byron & the White Freighter, Dots Will Echo, Fol Chen, Helado Negro, Lily & Madeleine, Ombre, Chris Schlarb, Shannon Stephens, the Welcome Wagon, and Denison Witmer each serve up a track or two with their compliments, and renaissance man DM Stith has designed the kaleidoscopic cover art.
June 7th, 2013 , by John Beeler
Lily and Madeleine are hitting the road for the first time.
“We’re kind of making it a family vacation,” explains Lily Jurkewiecz, the younger of the two sisters that make up the acoustic duo. Lily and Madeleine, who followed up their viral video success by recording an EP of original material, played—and sold out—their first-ever live shows earlier this year. Now their EP, The Weight of the Globe, has been picked up for a June 11 release by Asthmatic Kitty, and the duo is set to make a handful of appearances in the Midwest and Northeast.
The sisters kick off the summer with a show in their hometown of Indianapolis this Saturday, June 8, in the Deluxe Room at the Old National Centre, followed by their first-ever East Coast show at Joe’s Pub in NYC on June 11, and a June 12 performance at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
They’re also excited about their upcoming performance at the Clawhammer festival in Oshkosh, WI, from July 20-21. “I’m looking forward to connecting with other musicians,” says Madeleine. “That’s going to be neat.”
Are they anxious or intimidated at the thought of playing their first shows outside of Indiana? No, Madeleine laughs. “People have asked us that, and I think like, ‘Am I supposed to be intimidated?’ I feel really good about it. It’s going to be like a whirlwind, I think, but we’re just along for the ride.”
After the full-band sound of Weight of the World, these live dates mark a return to the stripped-down sound of the duo’s home recordings—accompanying their own voices on keyboard and guitar—but the two look forward to heading back into the studio with the new material that they and songwriting partner Kenny Childers (Gentleman Caller) have written for their first full-length album.
The sisters hint that we can expect the new material to be slightly more optimistic that their melancholy first recording, thanks in part to the possibilities opened up by their sudden musical success. “The EP was mostly about the feelings of like anxiety and restless that come with being a teenager—teen angst—but the new stuff is more about the excitement of this new adventure” as musicians, says Madeleine; it’s “more positive. We’re excited about it.”
These summer dates mark a rare chance to see the two perform live. Lily is heading into her senior year of high school this fall, and Madeleine is off to start her first year of college. They’re taking their parents and younger brother along to the East Coast dates, which they’re looking forward to not just as a performing opportunity but as a change of scene.
“We don’t know what to expect from New York,” says Madeleine. “I’ve just been there once, and Lily’s never been.”
“It’ll be fun,” says Lily. “It’ll be a family adventure.”