Tag Archives: alarm

the making of misty

2 May

Joshua Tillman was a songwriter before he became the drummer for Fleet Foxes. Now he’s traded Seattle for Laurel Canyon and his birth name for Father John Misty.

“In January, Tillman left Fleet Foxes and, somewhere along the highway between Seattle and Laurel Canyon, became Father John Misty. Los Angeles and all its gritty, sexed-up, Big Tent attractions became the raw material that Tillman used to assemble songs that are less ruminative and more narrative, and as sharply poignant as Boogie Nights.”

Take a second to listen to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” 

Fear Fun is the “debut” by Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman, aka the Fleet Foxes drummer. Whether you like Foxes or not, don’t go into this thinking about that. That’s Seattle. This is LA.

leaving eden for the frontier

28 Feb

Today the Carolina Chocolate Drops release "Leaving Eden," a spirited entrant in 21st-century Americana.

I went to Ipsento last night to knock out a review of Leaving Eden, by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Grammy-winning African American string band, and ran into my friend Dan. We talked about his recent travels to Puerto Rico, our friends’ soon-to-open pie shop, and recording some music of our own. Inspired as always by moments of incidental contact, I settled in at the big table—joined later by a petite girl reading what appeared to be chic lit—and sipped a cortado while I attempted to boil a fascinating story down to two-hundred-and-some words.

By the time I finished, I mostly liked the way it began. “To listen to the Carolina Chocolate Drops is to hear the history of the United States of America, distilled to its brightest and blackest realities.” But that’s quite the thesis for a piece whose remaining word count is a third the size of an average Huffington Post blog entry. With any luck, I’ll soon flesh out more of what I’d like to talk about in regards to the Chocolate Drops’ story—like how the name comes from the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a black country blues band that played at the 1933 World’s Fair.

The new album from Australian trio Dirty Three might've been completely alien to most listeners if not for its emotive instrumentation.

As incredible as their story is, the Chocolate Drops’ new release isn’t what I’ve been listening to for the past week. One of Alarm‘s other picks for This Week’s Best, Dirty Three’s Toward the Low Sun, has been streaming on NPR since last Sunday, and it’s been blowing my mind a little. I’m obviously a sucker for frenetic drums, but the haphazard structures of this post-rock-meets-free-jazz are equally delightful, even as they teeter.

It’s fun to trace the looping line of distorted guitar through the nearly five minutes of opening track “Furnace Skies,” but I was maybe most impressed by the way such intense playing styles could be layered to create an almost pastoral soundscape. “Rising Below,” “Ashen Snow,” “You Greet Her Ghost,” even “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone”—each uses Warren Ellis’s violin to evoke a rugged Americana frontier (or Australia’s equivalent) and give the listener just enough of a recognizable feel to help what might otherwise be cold and alien sound familiar and warm.

Read more about Dirty Three and the full review of Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Leaving Eden over at Alarm Press.

five new listens

21 Feb

This week's best: Releases by Buildings, Busdriver, Pharoah Overlord, Galactic, and Sleigh Bells

Five albums make Alarm’s cut this week. I review Galactic’s Carnivales Electricos [previously]: Michael Danaher listens to Reign of Terror. Meaghann Korbel digests Busdriver’s Beaus$Eros (pronounced “bows and arrows,” if you’re struggling to make sense of that). And editor Scott Morrow takes on Lunar Jetman and Melt Cry Sleep. Read the reviews here.

chromatic on the millions

29 Jan

I was a contributor for Chromatic, a 400-page book on the intersection color and music, published by Alarm Press. Recently Buzz Poole gave it a generous review over at The Millions.

I’m really happy to report that The Millions posted a generous review of Chromatic, that book by Alarm Press I’ve been harping about for several months. The book’s almost 400 pages explore the intersection of music and sound—synesthesia, stage design, album art, symbolism—and Buzz Poole writes, “Chromatic is a first in the way it documents a segment of today’s music scene by favoring exciting and important visual examples that contribute to a sensory overload that better represents the music than words or notes ever could on their own.”

A spread from Chromatic, which includes 400 pages of stuff pretty much like this (with some normal words and pictures too).

It’s weird seeing my own name about halfway down—though it’s now an extinct pen name. Poole singled out the part of book devoted to Jónsi’s set design, though in my opinion there were far better sections (chapter seven and the second part of chapter two come to mind). But I’m grateful for the mention. Here’s what Poole writes:

Take for example Timothy S. Aames’s account of how the charred remains of the Deyrolle taxidermy shop in Paris connect to the set design for a tour by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi. From a book of photographs to full-blown multimedia spectacle, Aames reveals how Jónsi and Fifty Nine Productions brought to fruition something neither party had imagined until collaborating on the presentation of a narrative arc built of music and color.

A rendering of Fifty Nine's plan for Jonsi's set design, which drew from images of a burnt-out taxidermy shop in Paris.

It’s been a long time since I interviewed Fifty Nine’s Mark Grimmer and Jónsi about all this, but this review and the recently posted online version made me revisit it. And I must say, I still really love the intro. I’ll leave you with that.

A year after On February 1, 2008, one of Paris’ most cherished stores burnt to the ground. When the sun rose, it shed verdant light onto the gray, smoldering shell of an oddity-filled taxidermy shop called Deyrolle. Inside were hundreds of animals, among them a zebra whose stripes dissolved into a black, charred mass and a lion whose disfigured snout gave it a dark, Victorian-era mask. The tragic beauty of the scene caught the attention of a photographer named Martin d’Orgeval, who got permission to shoot the now half-burnt curiosities that had awed generations of Parisians since the mid-1800s.

D’Orgeval published his photos in a book called Touché par le Feu (Touched by Fire), which was purchased as a Christmas present the following year for one Leo Warner, the director of a group called Fifty Nine Productions, which was rapidly altering the landscape of theatre and opera with its video and set-design work. Now the company was working on a new type of project — a music tour.

Read the rest here.

sounds like this

15 Dec

What does a man being turned inside-out by a lawn mower sound like exactly? According to Philip Montoro, a music critic for the Chicago Reader, it’s not as bad as you’d think. Mainly a lot like fuzzed-out guitars, distorted howls, and furious drumming. The music has elements of industrial metal in it, but there’s no sign of a Dixon chewing up a guy’s body. No bone clippings to rake up and bag. And that makes sense; other than that CD someone brought to school for the junior high haunted house, most recordings tend to stay away from the sounds of grisly death scenes. So why did Montoro write, for the Reader on October 27, 2011, that Anaal Nathrakh’s music “sounds like a man being turned inside-out by a lawn mower”? Continue reading

blindfolded in west texas

14 Dec

I didn’t know what to make of David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time when I wrote about it for ALARM, and I don’t know what to make of it now. It’s an album that shies away from the sunlight, happier on a nighttime walk under bridges and overpasses. It’s an album of vice. And misery.

The sky today is lidded with clouds that glow like ugly fluorescents. Perfect for Lynch’s “ark,” which seems to literally flood my headphones, the sound of rain on pavement sampled into its timeless melancholy.

And yet by the time I get to “The Night Bell With Lightning,” the crops are dead from drought. There’s something about this song that makes me feel like I’m walking blindfolded through West Texas. Heat lightning just hazy green flashes through the black fabric. Drum hits faltering like my steps over the loose rock and prickly scrub that makes hatch marks on my legs.

The feeling is so strong, it’s almost overwhelming. And then there’s this abrupt end, just a chord that alights in the song’s brooding sky. I come out of that dark drone, and it’s like having the blindfold torn off. And I realize I’m still alive.

a requiem for redford stephens

6 Dec

Undun tells the complex story of a fictional drug dealer from Philly named Redford Stephens

It’s rare when an album asks deserving questions yet doesn’t let the message overshadow the music. But that’s what The Roots has done with its tenth studio album, Undun, which does for Philadelphia what The Wire did for Baltimore—portraying the dark and ruinous underworld of a drug trade that preys disproportionately on certain races and classes, especially their young.

The record traces the last hours in the life of Redford Stephens, a fictional Philly man whom Roots drummer ?uestlove says was inspired in part by The Wire’s Avon Barksdale. A low-level drug dealer, Stephens is a protagonist but not quite a hero. Over funk-fueled bass lines, ?uestlove’s signature beats, and a tasteful sprinkling of soul, the story is unraveled—backwards from the time of death—by MC Black Thought and a handful of guests, including Aaron Livingston, one half of Icebird.

It’s hardly a holiday record, though it does include a cameo by indie darling Sufjan Stevens, whose “Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou)” also helped inspire the Roots’ character and comprises the final four tracks of the album, interpreted in various styles. The third of these segments, “Will to Power,” is the most compelling, showing ?uestlove battling avant-garde pianist DD Jackson in a frenzied duel that owes more to free jazz than R&B.

It’s not untruthful to say the music on Undun stands alone—it doesn’t need its narrative any more than Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life needed its—but the words add a weight that transforms it from a solid hip-hop release into a powerful record. Musically, it ventures into some surprising territory, and lyrically, it communicates an urgent message.

:: :: ::

Originally published by ALARM Press  

ten years of animated apes

29 Nov

The Gorillaz turned ten this fall, and released a collection of singles today

I assume that Intelligentsia playing the first Gorillaz album this morning has something to do with today’s release of The Singles Collection: 2001-2011, which I had the pleasure of writing about for ALARM. Excerpt below. Full text here.

What’s cool about hearing the compressed discography is the pop of each album’s highly stylized flavor, together a panorama of ideas, influences, and production values. What’s not as cool is that there’s nothing from The Fall, last year’s minimal but masterful album recorded on an iPad in hotel rooms during 30 days of a US tour.

wrinkle / texture

18 Nov

Brandt, Brauer, and Frick, by Harry Weber

Brandt Brauer Frick is a sleekly dressed Berlin-based trio that makes acoustic-electro music. It’s a genre that brings to mind the Books, but the group’s sound is closer to Hauschka’s, perhaps because of the artists’ shared German roots.
Mr. Machine, the EP from the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble (the three gentlemen plus another seven) makes people dust off words like “detritus” and “neoclassical.” A reminder:

It’s definitely headphone music; you’ll want to catch every new wrinkle and texture.

Watch the band play “Pretend” here. Don’t forget the headphones.

doomtree on design

17 Nov

The Twin Cities are climbing my list of places to go, and Doomtree is a major factor. I’ve slowly become fascinated with this hip-hop collective and its Midwestern roots; Sims hooked me with the horns from “Burn It Down” and Dessa keeps popping up with her fierce prose.

In a recent Q&A, Sims discussed the group’s roots and upcoming releases, but what I really liked was when he stopped playing representative and talked about life outside the music.

I like to build things. I make things with wood, like tables and book cases and things like that. I bought a bit of a hoopdie house that needs a lot of care, so I spend time working on that. There is certainly an art in construction. I’m a big fan of design and architecture, and it’s exciting for me to get to implement my personal style.

You should grab Wildlife while it’s free. “Here I Stand” is killer, a dark anthem grown from gospel roots.