stadiums & shrines – dreams

– featured image courtesy of victoria masters – 

“album of the fortnight” is an occasional feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: a compilation curated by stadiums & shrines.

What is a music blog, anyways?  caught up in a seemingly endless stream of press releases and promotional blasts, sites might adopt a reverse-chronological feed, posting multiple items per day; others may adhere more towards a one-a-day policy (hello); still others may publish more intermittently.  regardless of frequency, this small community is passionate about the craft, making a strong case that discovery and curation by human beings can be much more intimate and impactful than the work done by algorithms.

since 2011, the new york-based stadiums & shrines has drifted away from the daily grind of release cycles in favor of an excellent radio show and multimedia collaborations with beloved musicians.  the result of the latter is dreams, a sprawling compilation powered by visual artist nathaniel whitcomb’s collages and contributions from more than twenty artists.  a project that’s equally auditory, visual, and tactile, the physical release of dreams comes with a gatefold book containing “handmade collages and written vignettes — creative exchanges between musicians and … stadium & shrines,” says the site’s dave sutton in an interview with goldflakepaint.

those collages, assembled from a 1950s book on tourism, each contain images from a specific landmass – usually a country, sometimes a province or a state.  after assembly, sets of collages were delivered to specific artists; the “dreams” were the sonic interpretations that were returned, with sutton and matthew sage then adding a written narrative to the audio-visual product.

s&s dreams

many of the resulting songs can certainly be classified as ambient, but perhaps exploratory is a more thematic adjective; indeed, a handful of contributors selected their collages based on places they were visiting or would travel to soon.  wisps of maria usbeck’s tropical buoyancy swirl around the digital bonus track “mexico,” while the pastoral strains of mutual benefit are very much present in his ruminative “bali.”  while quibbling about genre could certainly occur, it’s clear that dreams did not mandate the sacrifice of an artist’s identity for the sake of a predetermined, prescribed aesthetic.  calling cards at times juxtapose or complement their counterparts, providing the compilation with a lush, three-dimensional palette.

tracks that subsequently appeared on an artist’s own project – teen daze’s “alaska” opens his 2013 full-length glacier, while ricky eat acid’s “algeria” is housed within a longer composition on three love songs – feel re-contextualized and reinvigorated here, a testament to stadiums & shrines’ dedication to sequencing.  of course, dreams also boasts stunning pieces that are brand-new to its release, like yumi zouma’s french excursion and the spanish getaway taken by julie byrne and eric littman.  julia lucille’s “norway” in particular stands out, the inherent and effective sparseness of her arrangements lending itself well to a frosty, nordic REM cycle.

like any seminal compilation, the effects of dreams can be felt in myriad ways.  the physical version of the album is bookended by sea oleena and gem club, two artists whose signals have gone dim over the past few years; hearing “portugal” and “england’s countryside,” respectively, feels akin to the familiarity and comfort that washes over when running into a long-lost friend.  on a larger scale, dreams is an affirmation of the outsized power of human relationships and collaborations, proof that enduring and endearing projects can be cultivated at comparatively glacial speeds.  the change of pace is refreshing.

dreams is out today via the fine folks at cascine.  spend some time with the album in full, streaming below.

Advertisement

yours are the only ears – knock hard

– featured image courtesy of alyssa yohana –

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: yours are the only ears.

Even after susannah cutler began sharing her music publicly in 2014, its dissemination was incredibly measured: a track here, an extended play there, each release a quick glimpse inside a setting so intimate it’s nearly indescribable.  with knock hard, her first full-length release as yours are the only earscutler has finally allowed full immersion into the innermost depths of her private world.

the album’s nine tracks contain a standard palette so sparing that each foreign element introduced carries weight of seismic proportions; the aqueous synth pads on “to be alone” whisk the track away on a solitary voyage to sea, while the melancholic slide motif at the tail end of “seeds” seems to add a second wistful character to the conversation.  the sparseness is a necessity – best not to bury one’s soul being bared in the mix – and comes in handy for a project so centered around the second person, light finger-picking progressing softly in the background as cutler confides in hushed tones.

yatoe knock hard.jpg

despite its enduring sonic warmth and inherently bucolic tendencies, knock hard grapples with the darker questions of existence and belonging, from opening number “saturn” through to its finale, “low.”  there’s a quiet existential crisis housed in the early standout “fire in my eyes,” cutler’s voice embodying the album’s fragility as it cracks over the repeated inquiry “am i a good person?,” while the gritty “enter me” ruminates on the effects of abrupt abandonment, observing that “comfort makes a funny face / when it goes away.”

clocking in at just under thirty minutes, knock hard is a tidy bundle of understated folk songs, acoustic guitars supplemented by well-placed synth countermelodies and barebones percussion.  songs frequently eschew identifiable refrains, cutler instead favoring streams of consciousness that may be tied together by a common vocal melody or a simple but potent mantra.  it’s this choice that gives knock hard its gravity, a versatile strategy that allows cutler to either chart a linear course towards reckoning or to disappear into the contours of a specific emotion or situation.

an album at least four years in the making, the debut from yours are the only ears is essential listening, the strength of its whispered intimacy becoming more apparent each time the needle contacts the wax.  knock hard is out now via team love records.  listen in full below.

quiet friend – quiet friend

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa – 

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span. this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: quiet friend.

Dissecting a moniker can often prove frivolous, but occasionally the exercise warrants undertaking.  take quiet friend: an adjective and a noun paired together, perhaps an offhand expression used to identify someone in conversation.  perhaps this person has a closely-guarded exterior, but beneath the surface lies a compelling narrative, and the implied friendship makes said narrative that much more intimate and forthcoming.

this carefully-constructed hypothetical of a quiet friend is purposefully analogous to quiet friend the band, and by extension, their self-titled debut album.  though the ensemble features a cast of nearly a dozen core members and contributors, quiet friend succeeds in feeling like a singular, fully-realized character; the nine tracks that populate their full-length are defined by lyrics both vulnerable and tender that are often wrapped up in disarming moments of wittiness and winking absurdities.  combined with an affinity for early ambient music and saturated, majestic 1980s pop that emanates from project leaders steven rogers and nick zanca, quiet friend checks all the boxes for an audiophile in search of nocturnal mood music.

quiet friend

opening track “bath” feels like taking one in the literal sense – resonant, brassy textures slowly submerge the listener into the central tenets of the album’s soundscapes.  vestiges of this introduction can certainly be felt in “safe” and “breathplay,” a pair of pop pillars that prop up the album’s front half, but its direct descendants are tracks like “basements” and the sprawling centerpiece “name all the animals,” cinematic, orchestral turns at which quiet friend equally excels.  subsequent instrumentals “thorn from paw” and “seance” feel less like interludes and more like grounding forces, reaffirming quiet friend’s sonic identity throughout.

the lushness that pervades quiet friend cannot be underscored enough.  chalk it up to zanca and fellow producer alex thompson, who tinkered with arrangements for over two years and enlisted a host of contributors for auxiliary parts, vocal harmonies, and counter-melodic textures, intricate cogs integral to a machine committed to exploring the vast depths of its sonic palette.

this fastidiousness pays off in spades, particularly throughout the album’s back half.  quiet friend are confident enough to let standout cut “playgrounds” marinate in a metronomic dance beat and an alarm-like synth lead for over a minute, laying down a persistent framework into which subsequent textures meld seamlessly.  ditto for the finale, “avalanche,” whose murky ambiance percolates for nearly half the track’s duration before secondary elements commandeer the vessel and push blown-out synth lines to their limits.  taken as a whole, quiet friend’s debut is a remarkable, cohesive construction that abandons any semblance of pretense in favor of an honest overarching artistic statement.

quiet friend is out now via elestial sound; listen to the album in full below. 

hovvdy – cranberry

– featured image courtesy of bronwyn walls – 

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span. this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: hovvdy.

Austin duo hovvdy’s 2016 album taster is warm, understated, and timeless; its eleven tracks are doused in a collective nostalgic haze, a collage of comfort that executes its function time and again.  double double whammy reissued taster in april of last year and rumblings of a follow-up soon began percolating.  the end result, cranberry, finds charlie martin and will taylor tightening up hovvdy’s core blueprints while confidently venturing out into new sonic territory.

cranberry is compact and potent: twelve songs that clock in around thirty-five minutes.  it’s clear from the hushed vocals that tentatively trace the outlines of opening number “brave” that hovvdy is intent on basking in its signature blend of warmth, the edges obscured by crackling overdrive and arrangements that slowly unravel back to their foundation.  this theory is further supported by singles like “in the sun,” “petal,” and “late,” a trifecta of hovvdy’s core tenets which easily could have nestled in on the album’s predecessor.

87C7D1F9-BD1E-4816-A367-D056B24D6CB5

listen closely, however, and these pillars of cranberry feel less anodyne than they may first appear.  the production has shifted cautiously out of a lo-fi realm while still taking time to maintain that appearance, and the arrangements are often fleshed out by foreign timbres.  in this sense, martin and taylor seem to be easing themselves – and their audience – into the aforementioned sonic departure; case in point: the pastoral synth lead that meanders through “in the sun” presages the largely-electronic composition of “thru,” and returns as a familiar touchstone throughout the rest of cranberry.

this practice of using familiarity to anchor tangential ventures eventually yields “truck,” a gorgeous turn at alt-country filtered through hovvdy’s slow-core lens.  in hindsight, the use of banjo sprinkled throughout previous tracks all but foreshadows the song’s arrival, but the beauty of its pedal-steel treatment is difficult to adequately describe; it’s best to just be heard and felt.  zooming out, “truck” is indicative of what martin and taylor are able to accomplish across hovvdy: growth and maturation as collaborative songwriters who are confident enough to tweak the foundation of their aesthetic as needed.

the enduring gift of hovvdy is the duo’s use of space.  it’s easy to spot and appreciate on sparse tracks, like the penultimate cut “colorful” and the woozy instrumental interlude “tub,” but even full-bodied tracks like “petal” contain unbelievable levels of headroom that is hard not to marvel at.  that wide-open, panoramic end result is partially due to compositional choices – such as the openness of guitar chords and the relaxed feel that permeates the percussion – to be sure, but it’s also implied by the ubiquity of the album’s lyrics, intimate snapshots that leave room for interpretation based on personal experiences.

like its predecessor, cranberry is sure to age gracefully as a strong asset in hovvdy’s catalogue.  the album is out now via double double whammy; stream it in full, below.

nadine – oh my

– featured image courtesy of ebru yildiz –

album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: nadine.

Collaborative projects maintained from a distance are rather commonplace in today’s musical climate, but few retain the intimacy and ingenuity of nadine.  the three-piece is the creative byproduct of nadia hulett, part of the collective phantom posse, and julian fader and carlos hernandez, both of ava luna.  though spread out across the country in different cities at different times, the trio linked up outside of austin to cut oh my, an effortless, adventurous pop exercise in the form of a debut album.

woven throughout eleven tracks are equal parts playful exploration and introspective rumination, with fader and hernandez’ arrangements fleshing out hulett’s central thesis, or pulling back to a spartan existence when the moment strikes.  few albums can turn on a dime from the swirling, ethereal drone of “that neon sign” to the polyrhythmic, polychromatic “pews,” but such is the cool collective confidence of nadine.  this about-face is perhaps most evident in miniature on penultimate cut “can’t be helped,” with hulett drawing more and more components into the texture as she gradually expounds on the main hook.

nadine oh my

three incredibly strong singles anchor oh my; “ultra pink” is a buoyant, breezy quip on nonconformity; “not my kinda movie” is a social commentary that turns on the cutting plea “tell me there’s more to you than what you like”; the aforementioned “pews” is groove-laden, folding various textures inside one another.  good thing, then, that the supporting cast of songs is not only equal in strength but also able to contextualize those singles and maximize their impact.  the fleeting finiteness of opening number “nook” seems to feed into “ultra pink,” while the spoken-word-centric “contigo” serves as a companion piece to “pews” so searing and topical that its vestiges reverberate throughout the album’s final third.

the album’s title is an appropriate exclamation upon completion of consumption.  oh my is sonically and lyrically rich, a covert operation that slowly sinks into the consciousness to leave a strong, lasting impression with many new stones to be unturned with each subsequent listen.  come for the effortless push and pull of the instrumental interlude “new step,” stick around for the sparse, introspective “little self in the garden” and everything in between, before, and after.

nadine’s debut is out today via father/daughter in the united states and memphis industries everywhere else.  stream oh my in its entirety below.

scallops hotel – sovereign nose of (y)our arrogant face

– featured image courtesy of kristina pederson –

album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  first up this year: scallops hotel.

The annals of rory ferreira can be found scattered throughout both this website and the greater ether.  since 2011, ferreira has charted a course under the moniker milo that seems nearly unparalleled in quality of creative output and do-it-yourself success; for almost as long, ferreira has also released more intimate, improvised, and largely self-produced efforts as scallops hotel.

sovereign nose of (y)our arrogant face, released in the hours preceding the new year, rests in the latter camp.  the mixtape’s eleven tracks are brief but potent snippets of consciousness, laid down in brooklyn over the course of an early autumn weekend.  like previous scallops hotel ventures, the instrumentals across sovereign nose are supplied by ferreira himself, save for co-production by host steel tipped dove on “sedan,” and dwell largely on the symbiotic relationship between sustained, contemplative piano chords and the wisps of silence following their release.

that aural theme is speckled with flittering motifs and concrete boom-bap pulses, a versatile canvas that allows ferreira to easily run a gamut of emotions in verse.  ferocity wanes to reflexiveness on opening number “a terror way beyond falling” before waxing back to full strength, while playful turns of phrase dot the brief spell that is “leisure.”  the mixtape’s lone guest spot displays perhaps the most blatant juxtaposition of vocal and instrumental timbres, as youngman delivers an abrasive, searing whirlwind of a verse over tinkling keys on “private temple hours.”

sovereign nose scallops hotel

lest its brevity suggest that consumption should be quick, sovereign nose comes packed with ferreira’s wealth of pop culture nods and his affinity for vocabulary; a studious listener would do well to sit down with any required reference materials and parse out as much of the mixtape as possible.  amidst the aforementioned and his pledged allegiance to ruby yacht lie straightforward truths like “i find myself in the same place / aimlessly wandering systemic violence with amazing grace,” the opening couplet on “the method (jawgems pausing in the hotel lobby)” and the mixtape’s title as mantra, coming to a head as the beautifully-mumbled cadence in “rank, title, pressures.”

sovereign nose of (y)our arrogant face is billed as the second in a trilogy of mixtapes, following last summer’s over the carnage rose a voice prophetic.  while the latter is peppered with vocals manipulated by effects processors, the former is comparatively clean, and, consequently, a bit less sonically disorienting.  listened to in succession, sovereign nose plays an even more explicit foil to over the carnage, making the aural structure of the trilogy’s impending final installment that much more intriguing.

at this point, every release involving rory ferreira is appointment listening.  sovereign nose of (y)our arrogant face, out now via ferreira’s ruby yacht label, is admirable work and sets the bar high early in 2018.  stream the mixtape in full below.

alexei shishkin – 3

– featured image courtesy of graham w. bell – 

album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  closing out the year: alexei shishkin.

Alexei shishkin is remarkably effective at parlaying seemingly-mundane observations into couplets that suggest pause should be given.  he opens his aptly-titled third album, 3, musing that he’s “always floating, on an ocean / ever golden,” the final syllable locking into the accompanying chord progression’s ascension to boost the mood.  and, indeed, is an undeniably catchy album, a collection of breezy pop songs that all seem to be competing to have the most memorable hook.  shishkin is equally gifted at weaving these guitar motifs through the greater arrangements, sometimes doubling them with vocals, sometimes letting them pull their own weight.

of course, not every moment on is as sunny as the beginning of “pushing my luck.”  shishkin explores impermanence and imagination on “fourteen hour,” ramifications of communication breakdown on the infectious “muddled,” and a fleeting sense delivered through an abstract lens on “celeb dog,” each facet delivered in his patented unassuming monotone.  an even-keeled exterior may prevail, but there remains ample space for shishkin to sort out the more nuanced components of his narratives.

alexeishishkin3

the majority of was written in 2015, before shishkin’s cross-country move from portland to new york.  drums came a year later, tracked remotely by jon fust in boise; final vocals were touched up this year in new york.  jess pierson’s voice lightly traces shishkin’s throughout the album, often joining forces with a keyboard or guitar to further support a hook, giving 3 an understated but effective aural anchor that breathes familiarity and comfort.

thirteen tracks gives shishkin ample space to stretch out and venture into newer sonic territory.  various horns pop up across 3, warm electric piano turns populate successive tracks “umm” and “talkback machine,” and a prominent envelope filter renders standout cut “pittsburgh” gently psychedelic.  and then there’s “slowerr,” a three-minute ostinato predicated on shishkin’s hypnotic looping of the phrase “i didn’t mean it” buried deep within muddied guitar chords and pillowy piano flourishes.  having already solidified his pop bonafides, these supplements allow shishkin to burrow deeper into a more nuanced iteration of his songwriting persona.

3 is a wonderful and important addition to alexei shishkin’s already-promising catalogue.  it’s out today via the reliable forged artifacts; click through the link below to stream and purchase.

 

tomberlin – at weddings

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

staying on top of every new release is hard.  staying on top of every new release is even harder when your blog uses language that suggests multiple people are cogs in the machine, but really you’re just flailing helplessly by yourself, trying not to drown in a heavily-saturated inbox.  “fashionably late” is a remedy, an intermittent feature designed to showcase particularly special albums or eps that evaded us (there i go again) during their structured press cycle.  next up is the debut effort from tomberlin.

The postscript at the bottom of tomberlin’s bandcamp page reads “my fifth of a century,” a simple reminder of the youth that accompanies the incredible weight and poignancy of at weddings, her debut album.  with little more ammunition than a guitar and her voice, tomberlin excavates artifacts of listlessness and loneliness across the album’s seven tracks, self-doubt and hesitation wrapped up in lyrics capable of utter devastation at a moment’s notice.

throughout at weddings, tomberlin consistently accomplishes something rather notable: crafting memorable sentiments without relying on conventional refrains for reinforcement.  instead, it’s the vocal melody that often remains consistent throughout a given track, lilting contours pausing or altogether evaporating for maximum effect.  even on album centerpiece “you are here,” the lone instance of a discernible chorus, tomberlin achieves the desired impact through a combination of melodic familiarity and intimate points of view that truly underscore the song’s resounding abandonment.

Tomberlin At Weddings

meandering, finger-picked acoustic guitars are the album’s primary accompaniment, the instrument’s timbre consonant, therapeutic.  on “untitled 1,” it works in tandem with the whispers of a brassy synth to create a hypnotic aura; on closing number “february,” plaintive arpeggios ebb and flow peacefully, mirroring the lyrical delivery while belying its mournful content.  the moments that do deviate from this norm, like the chiming, descending wurlitzer foundation of “tornado,” are a necessary jolt to the status quo, a vague timbral equivalent that extracts additional facets of tomberlin’s aesthetic.

owen pallett’s presence throughout at weddings is more so felt than heard.  the multi-instrumentalist handled the album’s engineering and production while also providing secondary instrumentation, like the murky, distant synthesizer pads that flesh out a handful of tracks.  he factors in most prominently on “self-help,” a later cut saturated with disorienting, abrasive interludes that splice up an arresting lead vocal delivered by both tomberlin and pallett.  but most importantly, pallett doesn’t imprint any of his distinctive fingerprints onto at weddings, sagely allowing the album to be singularly tomberlin, through and through.

at weddings is an intimate affair presented in modest fashion; although ultimately the byproduct of two people working closely in concert, the salient components of the album emanate directly from sarah tomberlin’s core.  this is a project that gently asks to be consumed slowly, with care.  appease it.

interview – quiet friend

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa –

A smattering of what’s to come from quiet friend in early 2018 arrived last month in the form of “safe,” a swirling piece of high-fidelity pop majesty.  project leaders nick zanca and steven rogers have imbued their forthcoming self-titled debut with a devotional equal parts pop and ambient, an end result that leans heavily on texture, atmosphere, and the implications that accompany both.

as the days grow shorter and the temperatures colder, ambient music can provide a unique respite, one that feels forever wed to winter months.  zanca, a longtime purveyor of – and architect within – the genre, recently compiled an hour-long mix for the dimestore, focusing on works from ambient forbears of the 1970s and 1980s.  it’s a sparse, affecting compilation best consumed through headphones, preferably in solitude.

accompanying the mix is a short but incredibly insightful conversation with zanca, throughout which he explores his relationship with specific pieces, how reactions to the current political climate are embodied within the genre, and an overall archeological pursuit of ambient music.  the transcript follows the mix, below, and has been slightly edited for clarity.  click play and immerse yourself.

influences like prefab sprout and the blue nile are proudly worn, but how do other offerings on this mix fit within the construction of quiet friend?  have any of these artists – or perhaps their corresponding tracks – directly influenced this project?

as long as steven and i have been working together, atmosphere has been at the epicenter of what we do.  with this record, it’s gotten to the point where atmosphere and texture dictate virtually every other aspect of the music, down to contributors, arrangements, choice of instrumentation (oberheim synths, delay systems, zithers, harmoniums, the string section) – a majority of the lyrics acknowledge space, even.  regardless of who joins us moving forward, or whether our music gets lighter or darker from here, we’re always going to have a paw in the “ambient” pool.  i suppose this mix acted as an exercise in showcasing that angle of our project.

other than the obvious u.k. sophisti-pop influence, i personally became very invested during this album’s production in the discovery of 1970s and 1980s ambient/minimalist music from japan and italy – both of which are represented somewhat here in this mix.  both of those countries in particular are sonic goldmines as far as that kind of music is concerned.  i’m not sure which record it was that opened the can of worms – i could name the work of hiroshi yoshimura, luciano cilio or midori takada as starting points – but once i began the journey, my boyfriend has a real hard time getting me off soulseek or discogs.  since then, i’ve been fully committed to the almost archaeological pursuit of discovering older, underheard music in the hopes that at least one of these records can find a new audience.  it’s also my hope that quiet friend could act as a similar vehicle for musical discovery.

the original release dates of these tracks range from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s; what about this period of time, specifically within the realm of ambient music’s evolution, speaks to you in particular?

it’s difficult to pin down what exactly draws me to that era in particular – i guess part of it has to do with the fact that digital music technology was still so nascent at the time and that creative possibilities in the studio seemed so boundless then.  there’s also the diy aspect too – in most cases, these artists were privately pressing their albums and operating completely outside conventional channels of marketing and distribution.  home recording had just become normalized and people could explore similar sonic terrain to brian eno, steve reich, and labels like ecm with very limited resources.  there’s something very punk to me about that kind of ethic.

i was texting an old friend from college earlier this week who observed how huge of a year this was for ambient music – both new and old – and how much of that was a response to political unrest.  i don’t think that’s wrong.  as it is, so much of the history of this genre has borrowed cues from disparate heritages – indian raga, indonesian gamelan, african percussion, gregorian chant, american primitive guitar.  listening to the way artists fuse these influences today in the face of an administration that has so clearly threatened multiculturalism seems to me not only like the strongest way to heal right now, but also functions as a wholly valid form of antifascist protest.

are there a couple of songs on this mix that you hold especially close, and, if so, would you be willing to elaborate as to why?

i could go on at length about any of these records, but i’m going to focus on three near-and-dears that deserve far more credit.

a track from venetian musician gigi masin’s album wind opens up the mix.  this is a deep, minimal and icy album that was somewhat of a crate digger’s holy grail for many years – it was only ever sold at shows and many of the original copies were destroyed in a flood.  it was finally reissued a few years ago and since then he’s been enjoying a bit of a comeback, both as a solo artist and with a new band called gaussian curve.  the sound palette here – a lone korg poly-800 synth, a piano, a tenor sax, and a trumpet – is chillingly sparse but still manages to sound gigantic.  i’ve spent a few winters watching the snow fall to this record.

i also included a cut from neighborhoods, the lone album of portland-based musician ernest hood.  this record largely revolves around communal field recordings taken around the oregon suburbs where he grew up, which were then placed amongst washes of zither and synth.  it’s a hauntingly gorgeous example of the power of the private press and proof that one can evoke nostalgia without venturing into overly sentimental territory.

nuno canavarro’s plux quba is a record from portugal that is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more impossible to write about – i discovered it through jim o’rourke who reissued it about a decade after its initial release in 1988.  canavarro managed to build an entire world here with just a primitive 8-bit sampler and a outdated fostex 8-track tape machine.  that this music predates oneohtrix point never, fennesz, or ricky eat acid by almost two decades is kind of baffling to me – it speaks its own language and exists outside of time.  i dream of making records that have that kind of effect on people.

quiet friend is a collaborative, pop-leaning project, but you’ve been making ambient music on your own for quite awhile now.  how does your immersion in more abstract sound design influence your headspace in a pop setting?

that’s a very good question and one that i’m not sure i’ve totally figured out the answer to yet.  i think about it all the time though.  i will say that i’ve become able to stop myself from overthinking about certain pop conventions when we’ve allowed the atmosphere of the music to take the wheel.  the beds of texture these songs sit in almost become a vehicle for storytelling or a context for the melodies.  with a song like “safe,” the drone section at the end is meant to add a ruminative quality that is only just beginning to be hinted at by the lyrics.  we’re trying to create music that doesn’t reveal itself right away, that rewards repeat listens – never the same river twice.

quiet friend’s self-titled debut album is out march 9th via elestial sound.  revisit the project’s first single, “safe,” here.

bill waters – humid

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: bill waters.

Bill waters is a blank canvas; he could be an unassuming next-door neighbor, the vaguely-recognizable guy from the bus, an office curmudgeon.  in this context, waters is the moniker of songwriter and producer william smith, a twenty-something who hails from the hudson valley.  humid is his first serious solo venture and bill waters is the vessel through which it is delivered, a beleaguered persona that allows songs to wax romantic freely, without any elements of self-consciousness trickling in.

the six songs that span humid are varied, but all harken back to the 1960s & 1970s soft pop waters acknowledges as a touchstone; the brisk “new car” segues seamlessly into the woozy, laid-back haze of “easy,” while penultimate cut “polyphone” is a sparse, tender entry swaddled in the warmth of an electric piano.  equally impressive throughout humid is waters’ dedication to exploring the peaks and valleys of his vocal register.  perhaps no one song better captures this than “milo and me,” a raucous ode to companionship that finds waters’ rich, sonorous baritone flirting with the cusp of falsetto.

through and through, humid is a remarkable songwriting achievement, a showcase of the depth possible with a modest amount of tools.  we recently caught up with the man behind bill waters to chat about the album process; check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

you record under the moniker bill waters, whose given name is an abbreviation of your own.  is the moniker simply a stage name, or more of a persona you slip into while writing?  maybe something else entirely?

bill waters is definitely a persona for me to slip into while writing.  i think he’s some jaded 1970s recording artist that chain smokes and takes a lot of amphetamines – definitely a character that i lean into while writing and recording.  it feels like something to almost hide behind, or like a barrier to put up while being maybe a little too sappy or romantic with the lyrical content.

i believe humid is your first venture as a solo artist.  what projects have you worked on in the past, and what was the catalyst to strike out on your own?

i played in a band called dumb talk for a long time with a few of my good friends.  that was great; we put out some vinyl and gigged around.  that helped me get into the nerdier, engineer side of music as well.

i think with humid, i wanted to prove to myself that i could write, record, and produce something completely on my own.  i was working a lot, and when you’re doing that it’s hard to coordinate schedules with other people and friends who also have lives.  it’s also a good chance to release all of the little control freak tendencies that every songwriter has.  there are definitely pros and cons to doing a record on your own, as opposed to with a band or engineer.

Bill Waters Humid

to that end, how did you approach the writing and recording process for the songs on this ep?

the writing process came in waves over the past year.  a lot of it was me getting high and sitting in the bathroom with a nylon string guitar for an hour or two.  the lyrical content seemed to flow pretty easily; i was starting a relationship with someone, and got to use all of the romantic influence that comes along with that.  i think it’s hard to be falling in love and not write about that.

recording was a pretty special, interesting process.  i was living with my friend in upstate new york and we had a little studio set up in our apartment.  towards the end of july 2017, i had a week off of work, so i decided that was when i would record and mix everything.  looking back, it was kind of a dark week.  i would wake up, eat some eggs, binge on adderall and coconut water until i felt like i tracked enough, then pop a xanax and start drinking to bring my body to a screeching halt when the sun came up.

and for all the nerds out there: i used an sm7b for all the vocals, played the guitars through a fender twin reverb and a blown-out fender solid state amp, and i recorded most of the drum takes into a tascam 4-track.

i kept the air conditioner off because it was obviously loud as hell, and i think my body reached its peak temperature that week.  i definitely had a moment where i realized the album had to be called humid as an ode to the remarkable amount of sweat my body released while tracking drums.

one of my favorite tracks on humid is “milo and me,” in part due to the noodling guitar lines and in part due to its subject matter.  is there a particular backstory to that song?

oh yeah, there’s a juicy, sad story behind “milo and me.”  milo was my sister’s dog that was staying with me for a bit in the spring.  we had a great time an i got pretty attached.  about a month later, he got hit by a car and passed away.  i think that was the most depressed i’ve felt about a beloved animal passing away.

on a lighter note, i was listening to a lot of 10cc and sheer mag over the past year, and that’s definitely where the guitar riffs came from.

you seem comfortable in, and with exploring, myriad vocal registers.  are there specific artist you’ve taken cues from while working on this project?

with recording humid, i had a lot more time to experiment with vocal performances and production.  i think that gave me the space to find new registers, but there’s definitely some production trickery in there.  i was messing around with varispeed (changing the tempo and pitch of the song) and was just discovering the magic of double vocal tracks and auto double-tracking.

as far as other artists go, todd rundgren was a big influence and kind of always has been.  also, connan mockasin was a big vocal influence as far as experimentation goes.

humid is out now via forged artifacts.  take a listen to the entire album below.