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.
Ovlov – Tru
If you like your Dinosaurs Jr. and your Sebahs doed, then for sure you’ll want your Ovs loved. For the new album by Steve Hartlett and friends is a reminder of a time when white-guy, distortion-heavy guitar bands were the thing of the future. 20-30 years on, the future may now be well and truly a thing of the past, but Ovlov have carved out a special little place in time on their new record. For most of the album, Hartlett could be reading out the names and addresses in the Albuquerque phone book, so impenetrable are the lyrics. But that’s not the point. What matters is the sense, the mood, the groove. The melodies that lie just underneath the unrelenting fuzz of the guitars. The songs that emerge from the seeming quatermass of the sound. Like all the great albums from that previous era, this one is best heard at a distance and perhaps slightly stoned. It’s no jazz record after all. Though they’re sometimes best heard slightly stoned too. The point is that from first to last, Tru creates its own sense of time. A time that didn’t end 20-30 years ago. Time that’s worth taking to listen to Ovlov’s new album today.
In the scheme of things, some days are better than others. And this is a good day. Chan Marshall has announced a new album. It’s called Wanderer and it’s out in October. It’s been about 5 years since her last album. That’s a long time in any civilisation’s calendar. And there’s still some waiting to do, which is more than frustrating. But if the trailer is anything to go by, it’ll be well worth the wait. Personally, I can’t wait to hear that unique, amazing voice once again. Counting down the days.
The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth House
There’s a comfort in the familiar, but the excitement is in the new. For sure, another Calexico album is always welcome. The variation is on the theme. Good as it might be, though, it can never match the tingle that comes with the first listen to a new artist. It’s the anticipation. The not knowing what’s coming next that’s so exciting. But it’s also something potentially momentary. There’s always the ‘difficult’ second album. And sometimes there’s the ‘difficult’ second track on the first album. In between those two extremes, though, lies the real sweet spot. The familiar that offers something new. It’s the radical reinventions of Dylan. The many bands of Neil Young. The shapeshifting sounds of Ryan Adams. With their new album, The Rock*A*Teens are pretty close to this sweet spot. Formed back in the mid-1990s, it’s comforting that they’re back. But this is their first new release since 2001. Plenty of time in which to reinvent themselves. The Rock*A*Teens were always an eclectic outfit. But gone is the thought of any psychedelic rockabilly. In its place, there’s a stream of wonderfully rolling even rollicking riffs. Like Cracker at their best, or The Drive By Truckers anytime. “Take a deep breath and blow the cobwebs away”, say The Rock*A*Teens. It’s the philosophy of a band that’s found the sweet spot between the familiar and the new. And it’s a wonderful place to be.