Luke Roberts: Iron Gates at Throop & Newport

Luke Roberts
Iron Gates at Throop & Newport

March 20, 2012
Thrill Jockey

“Roberts’ vocals are tender and bruised, and their smallness can be legitimately heartbreaking… These songs are fiercely internal, which also makes them remarkably hard to shake…”Pitchfork

“Roberts harks back to a time where songs where simply stories about life, accounts of the musician and of all he had gone through to get to where he was today. The musical history is not lost on Roberts and often he does a great service to those roots.”The 405

In the year since Luke Roberts recorded his debut Big Bells and Dime Songs a lot has changed. Luke now owns a guitar (a Collings 000 2H model) that his sophomore album was written on, he has moved from Brooklyn to Montana to Nashville, his childhood home, and the songs were written over a long period of time in his Brooklyn apartment (as opposed to largely on the bus down to the studio on the debut). The combination of changes made a significant and noticeable impact on the songwriting and arrangements found on The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport.

The album was recorded in Nashville by Marky Nevers, revised and tweaked at a few studios in Brooklyn, and finally mixed at RonnieJone$ound by Kyle Spence (of Harvey Milk). The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport is a big leap forward in Luke’s songwriting. The songs were recorded and reworked or rearranged and in some cases re-recorded. While Luke’s plain spoken lyrics are still present, they are now embedded in far more complex and dynamic arrangements. Where the debut was a raw country blues style recording with minimal editing and accompaniment, Iron Gates features many additional players from drums to harmonica, and notably the fiddle and mandolin of country player Billy Contraraz, and the backing vocals of Emily Sunblad.

Karen Dalton: 1966

Karen Dalton
1966

January 24, 2012
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC

“Essential to anyone searching for modern folk’s head waters.”Q Magazine

“The old-timey accompaniment and Dalton’s bluesy vocals perfectly suit Hardin’s exquisitely sad songs.”Uncut

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Karen Dalton was a remote, elusive creature. A hybrid of tough and tender with an unearthly voice that seemed to embody a time long past. As is often the case with such fragile beings, she instinctively understood that the only way to survive the harshness of the world around her, was to keep herself hidden. So it comes as no great surprise that she rarely sang in public or ventured into the unnatural setting of a recording studio. Only twice, for 1969’s It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best and then again for 1971’s In My Own Time, was she coaxed from her habitat into the studio. Other times she made music in casual settings, sitting around a kitchen table or wood burning stove with her friends, singing and playing until daybreak.

In 1966, Carl Baron brought his reel to reel over to her remote cabin in Summerville, Colorado and recorded one of those exquisite musical evenings. Karen and Richard Tucker were rehearsing for a gig when Carl hit the “Record” button. The result is a 45-year-old tape, carefully exhumed, documenting Karen at her most raw and unfiltered. On it are Fred Neil and Tim Hardin songs we’ve never heard Karen give voice to before, as well as traditional songs she uncannily makes her own, including a devastating version of ‘Katie Cruel’, that is so powerful, it is as if the ghost of Katie Cruel seeped into her blood. This recording is a window to her Summerville cabin opened, allowing us to eavesdrop on Karen Dalton at her most pure and unaffected.

Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974

Various
Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974

February 28, 2012
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC

“Listen, Whitey! is quite simply ace.”Mojo

“There is a bounty of rare material, none of which should ever be inaccessible again.”All Music Guide

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The Definitive Black Power Aural Document

Over a five year period in Oakland, CA – archivist Pat Thomas befriended key leaders of the seminal Black Power Movement, dug through Huey Newton’s archives at Stanford University, spent countless hours and thousands of dollars on eBay, and talked to rank and file Black Panther Party members, uncovering dozens of obscure albums, singles, and stray tapes. Along the way, he began to piece together a time period (1967-1974) when revolutionaries were seen as pop culture icons: Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael – and musicians were seen as revolutionaries; Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and others. As a result, Thomas wrote a 70,000-word hardcover book entitled Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965 – 1975 – to be published by Fantagraphics in early 2012 – which also includes some 200 full color images of obscure recordings that encompass rock, soul, jazz, comedy, poetry, and even religious sermons blended with Black Nationalism.

Memoryhouse: The Slideshow Effect

Memoryhouse
The Slideshow Effect

February 28, 2012
Sub Pop

“While Memoryhouse might be demographically marketed to the youngsters, there’s something in the retro-alternative beauty of The Slideshow Effect that aging Gen-Xers raised on the golden age of college radio might appreciate a little more.”Blurt Magazine

“There’s a nagging sense of melancholy throughout that gives these tracks a compelling and slightly haunting quality.”The Fly (UK)

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Memoryhouse formed some five years ago in the depths of Southern Ontario, Canada, in a mid-size town called Guelph as a collaborative project meant to serve as an artistic outlet for composer Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion. Evan, a dedicated student of classical music and a pop-music encyclopedist, intended Memoryhouse to be a multimedia art project, pairing his instrumental compositions with Denise’s photographs and short films. Testing ways to blur the boundaries between genres, to weave a synthesis of music and photography, they experimented with themes, lyrics and multiple layers of instrumentation. Nouvion’s soft, ethereal voice anchored the frozen textures of Abeele’s compositions with frank sentimentality—a unique approach towards humanizing the electro-pop compositions they were creating. The results, at once timeless and new, were impressive and in September 2011 we at Sub Pop released a fully re-recorded, remixed and re-mastered version of the band’s 2010 self-released, digital-only EP, The Years.

Shearwater: Animal Joy

Shearwater
Animal Joy

February 14, 2012
Sub Pop

“Animal Joy surfs similar channels to their last release, The Golden Archipelago, evoking stratospheric textures anchored down by melodically well-honed tunes.”Mojo

“Dense, powerful, wild, yet immaculately rendered, Animal Joy blends the expansive, cinematic scope of contemporaries like Other Lives and the National with the arty drama of “San Jacinto”-era Peter Gabriel.”All Music Guide

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It’s been suggested—by fans, detractors, even by the band’s founder—that Shearwater and whatever we call underground/indie/whatever-rock in this part of the century are not an obvious fit. And that’s true. So much of what we hear these days (the lousy stuff, anyway) is willfully insular; Jonathan Meiburg’s songs, by contrast, have constantly tackled bigger questions and been propelled by massive musical ambitions.

We’re in an era in which minimalism and lower-than-low-tech have come in vogue. By contrast, Shearwater’s recordings—the epic “Island Arc” trilogy of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago in particular—have been expansive  (some might say bombastic) in a fashion like none of their contemporaries.  Meiburg—presumably unfamiliar with the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t  fix it”—has opted to ditch an approach that paid huge artistic dividends over his last three Matador albums for a record that seems shockingly direct, immediate and intensely personal. He’s no stranger to lush, crafted recordings, but this one sounds like no prior Shearwater incarnation. And please, don’t mistake that for a suggestion this is anyone’s notion of a traditional, singer-songwriter album.  “Immaculate” and “Breaking the Yearlings” are inventive and confident in a manner that would humble most new artists, let alone Shearwater’s few veteran peers. “Insolence” is (take your pick) an unsparing bit of self-reflection or an evisceration of someone else; either way, the song covers a staggering amount of sonic territory in the space of six minutes plus. No disrespect whatsoever is intended to Meiburg’s sometimes-Austin neighbors Spoon when I call “Believing Makes It Easy” a song that would rank amongst that band’s finest had they come up with it instead.

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