Alpha Hall – Omens
Alpha Hall are from the same Hidden Shoal stable as Kramies and Summon The Birds. They’ve been described as a cross between The National and The Dirty Three. It’s not a bad description. There’s a certain understated Matt Berninger manner to the vocals, particularly on songs like ‘Salt‘ and ‘Trees’, while the manic violin playing is reminiscent of Warren Ellis in madcap mode, which, in fairness, is most of the time. But Alpha Hall deserve their own reference point not an amalgam of other people’s. Because Omens is a really impressive debut. The riffs can sometimes be big and the melodies are always mellifluous. And all the time there’s the background scraping of the violin to keep the sound slightly but nicely off-kilter. The result is that they sound like Alpha Hall and no-one else. And that’s the highest compliment of all. Check out Omens. It’s a good one.
Kramies – Of All The Places Been & Everything The End
Follow the light and feel alive again. Kramies’ new EP explores the idea that breaking with routine creates new opportunities. The unnamed man mourns the loss of his wife. To cope, he maintains the same schedule. Year after year. He’s tired. But one day he chooses to veer off the path, following a light into the forest. The result is an epiphany of sorts. He lets go of the past and finds himself home. A new home. As Kramies explained in a recent interview, it’s a story whose roots are very personal. But the beauty lies in the timelessness and universality of the narrative. And that’s not the only source of beauty. The music sounds fine too. It’s more layered, more dense, more intense than previous Kramies outings. The result is a strong sense of interiority that captures both the mind of the man and the tangle of the trees. For sure, there’s a sense that the title of the EP is in need of some punctuation. Everything. The End? But this is the most minor of quibbles. Instead, revel in the break at 5.14 in ‘Ireland’. The echo at 2.09 in ‘Of All The Places Been’. And the beautiful last minute of ‘Everything The End’. Follow the light, listen to this EP, and feel alive again.
Goshen Electric Co. – The Gray Tower
Goshen Electric Co. are Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks plus one incarnation of Jason Molina’s backing band during the Magnolia Electric Co. era. They’ve just recorded a three-track EP and ‘The Gray Tower’ is the first track. They’ve also embarked on a short European tour. They were at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin on Tuesday. Outside, it was a glorious evening. Beautiful. Clear. Inside, it was glorious too. Unofficial MC for the evening was guitarist Jason Groth. There were readings by Erin Osman from her biography of Molina. There was a guest appearance from the great Adrian Crowley. And the set list was more a wish list of Molina songs, beginning with ‘Farewell Transmission’, and ending with ‘Lioness’.
‘The Gray Tower’ is a Jason Molina song. There’s a demo version on the deluxe edition of Didn’t It Rain and a 7″ version that can now be found on the Journey On singles collection. Showalter and Co. have beefed the song up, giving it the Trials and Errors treatment. They’ve taken away some of the vulnerability of the original version, but they’ve also turned it into another one of the best songs that Neil Young never wrote. So, that’s absolutely fine.
In the video, Showalter is in full-on HEAL or Hard Love mode, tattoos everywhere, biceps bulging. On stage the other night, though, he was completely covered up, wearing a velvet smoking jacket and fedora. He was also very respectful, being careful to make sure that this was not a show about him, but Molina. Showalter himself is a big Molina fan. On HEAL, which was released not long after Molina died, he recorded a song called ‘JM’. The band played it on Tuesday and it was very moving. “Now it’s hard to hear you sing, the crow has lost his wings, But I still got your sweet tunes to play”.
Showalter isn’t the only artist to have covered Molina. Glen Hansard has too. In fact, Erin Osman mentioned him in dispatches on the night. In 2015 he released five Molina songs under the title It Was Triumph We Once Proposed. It includes a glorious version of ‘Farewell Transmission’ as well as a lovely cover of ‘Being in Love’. The last words should go to Jason Molina himself. “We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn, What’s left after that’s all gone I hope to never learn, But if you stick with me you can help me, I’m sure we’ll find new things to burn, Cause we are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn”.
Big Red Machine
Where can you get a decent Bon Iver album these days? The answer is Big Red Machine. The most recent Justin Vernon album, 22, A Million, was the musical equivalent of a work by Jackson Pollock. Notes, electronic twiddles, autotuned vocals, and strange fonts were all thrown against the studio wall in the hope that the listener would see the pattern the artist was trying to make. Sometimes that’s genius. Sometimes it’s just plain messy. Maybe 22, A Million was trying to push back the very boundaries of music. If so, then for fans of Emma, Blood Bank, and S/T at least, it didn’t so much push them back as run them over in a monster truck. Which is why Big Red Machine is so welcome. BRM is a partnership between Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. They first teamed up in 2009 for the song of the same name on the Dark Was The Night charity record. Now, they’ve fleshed out their contributions to album length. The two complement each other very well. There’s a sense that Dessner can just about keep in check Vernon’s new-found instinct to digitally burble and he does so to good effect. And then there are some truly sublime moments. The highlight is ‘People Lullaby’, which is built on a simply melody that is more than worthy of The National. But on top Vernon sings beautifully, “Has me all borderline – re-erased”. In a way, a certain Bon Iver is no more. But there’s always Big Red Machine. And that’s fine for now.
Like lists. Like Kramies. Likes Kramies lists. Tough choice, but here are the five best Kramies songs of all time ever. At least until the new release in October. Most of these tracks are available as free downloads over at Bandcamp.
Sea Otter Cottage
Hear the creak of the beams. Feel the swell of the sea. Sense the dark enveloping you. The seas, they just won’t behave. Sea Otter Cottage is wonderfully evocative. Check out the excellent version with Grant Wilson too.
Kramies in pre-dream pop phase. Or the most recent one anyway. But there are more than a few hints of what is soon to come here. In the guitar. The phrasing. The general sense of someone faintly swooning.
I Wish I Missed You
Featuring ambient crows, this is a classic. If you’re hoping for a birthday song, a summer song, a welcome-home-I’ve-baked-cupcakes song, then look elsewhere. But if you’re feeling slightly down on your luck, then Kramies is the artist for you.
There’s a clue in the title. But this is a song that would feature never mind the moniker. In this live version, the audience is under Kramies’ spell. And so are we all.
The Wooden Heart
Sei mir gut. Sei mir gut. Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst. This is a mesmerising studio version of the song that originally appeared on the eponymous EP. Dream pop. Dream folklore. Meh. Just Kramies.
Kramies – The Hill Dweller
After all the years that made him tired, Kramies is home. The Hill Dweller is a teaser for a new EP that’s out in October. It’s a brief, but beautiful invocation of place. A physical place. The Irish castle where much of the music was created. A place of the imagination. Ancient forests. Sacred wells. Fairy forts. And a place of healing too. “The cold that used to weather my bones is gone”. The Hill Dweller is just the taste of the dream folklore that Kramies conjures up so well. For the rest, we have to wait until October. But just in case you can’t last, there’s an exclusive interview with the man himself here.
Adeline Hotel – Habits
One of Half-Life Music’s favourites, Adeline Hotel, have released a new single and teased a forthcoming album. Regular visitors will remember that Adeline Hotel is the nom de musique of Dan Knishkowy. One of the signature features of the band is Dan’s voice. Fragile but not weak. Emotional but not emoting. The new single, ‘Habits’, features the best of Dan’s vocals swathed in a looping melody as well as a wonderfully swirly mix of guitars that sees out the end of the song. It’s a slight departure from some of the very introspective tunes on previous EPs and marks a real turning point in the development of the sound. If this is the refurbished Adeline Hotel, then it’s a place I want to stay. But ‘Habits’ is just one of the tracks on the new album. Away Together will be released on October 26. Having had the pleasure of a sneak preview, it’s well worth wishing the time away for. To tide us over, though, there’s ‘Habits’. “You drew pictures on your breath”, Dan sings. A beautiful image for a lovely song. And it’s by Adeline Hotel, one of Half-Life Music’s favourites. Find it over at Bandcamp.