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.

gem club – “speech of foxes”

gem club
photo courtesy of tonje thilesen

there’s no word yet on a follow-up album to gem club’s immensely poignant in roses, but there is this haunting, pastoral music video for “speech of foxes” in the meantime.  the ben phillippo-directed clip initially popped up during 2015’s year-end list season, causing some regrettable oversight on our end.  like its aural counterpart, the video for “speech of foxes” is profoundly introspective, with phillippo masterfully obscuring the line between metaphor and reality as the central character cleanses himself of his past.  it’s as therapeutic as it is heartbreaking.  spend some time with “speech of foxes” below.

best of 2014: honorable mentions

it’s nearly time to unveil our favorite full-length albums of 2014, but for now we’ll tease a handful of albums that didn’t quite make the cut in order to build some unnecessary suspense.  the following five albums aren’t ranked – instead, they’re presented in alphabetical order – and adequately represent the large musical palate made available this year.  as you may have noticed with previous posts, links to stream relevant content are provided in the titles.  dig in.

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american wolf my main sport coveramerican wolf – my main sport 

chicago’s american wolf certainly isn’t immune to the emo resurgence currently underway across the midwest, but the quintet has enveloped that aesthetic safely inside more atmospheric ambitions.  seven of the eight songs on my main sport are sprawling efforts – the shortest one clocking in at four minutes, the longest flirting with the eight-minute mark – wrapped up in intricately-layered guitar melodies that build patiently to each individual apex.  it’s the kind of dreamy pop music that bides its time in the background before fully unleashing its cacophonous potential.  some songs burn slowly, like the early standout “may” and “cave fantasy,” but american wolf is also adept at executing straight-ahead, unabashed alternative rock in the form of “evil eyed.”  sal plant’s counter-tenor is eerily reminiscent of brian aubert’s work in silversun pickups while joe sherman’s meticulous drumming makes my main sport a trip to experience rhythmically, two traits that bookend an impressive melodic and harmonic journey from one of chicago’s preeminent outfits.

virgo indigo coverfog lake – virgo indigo

 with the runaway success orchid tapes experienced during the final half of 2014, it’s understandable that some of the label’s earlier releases may have skirted the public eye.  ricky eat acid’s three love songs is an obvious exception (more on that tomorrow,) but a trio of releases were decidedly low-key.  at the forefront of that pack was aaron powell’s fog lake, a newfoundland-based solo project that exudes the bedroom pop trope so commonly associated with orchid tapes.  virgo indigo contains twelve songs, most of them short works directed by powell’s voice and guitar, although the appropriately-hokey “mad scientist” is based around a playful piano progression.  it’s commendable that powell can evoke such emotion and overall bleakness using a relatively static approach to composition, but this is largely aided by strong forays into ambient territory; virgo indigo is bookended by two such songs, and its centerpiece “transcanada” is the soundscape to a snowstorm, a poignant representation of sheer isolation.

gem club in roses covergem club – in roses

gem club has been composing heart-wrenching ballads for some time now, but the boston trio hit their stride on their second full-length, in roses.  christopher barnes and his piano are still the focal points of the project, but an increased sense of ambiance is injected to make the trio’s plaintive sounds less plain and more complex.  the interplay between barnes and cellist kristen drymala is more prevalent as well, compounding gem club’s somber mood in a different timbre on sprawling tracks like “first weeks” and “polly,” but the trio really benefits from the extra time spent on arrangements and studio overdubs.  the synth ostinato on “hypericum” provides a sense of momentum so often absent from gem club’s material, and it’s easy to hear how doubled and harmonized string lines flesh out the overall orchestration.  regardless of the instruments used, it’s hard to dispute the sheer beauty of in roses.  acoustic timbres collide with barnes’ laments on “speech of foxes,” but the song’s gradual descent into ambient noise is indicative of the fragility gem club has come to represent, in its antecedent state and in its aftermath.

sea oleena shallow coversea oleena – shallow

from the first arpeggiated piano melody on shallow, it’s clear that charlotte loseth has succeeded in capturing a mournful aesthetic similar to that of her predecessor on this list, but one that deviates down a slightly different path.  percussion plays a more prominent role in sea oleena’s music – and on this album more so than any of her other releases – yet the instrument’s true power is felt once it’s taken away; then the contrast of loseth’s ideas become that much more stark.  after a tight execution over the first half of opener “if i’m,” loseth trades in that thought for a rambling, ambient one that sprawls over the next twenty minutes of the album, lowering her voice gently into a pool of thick reverb as she jockeys between a guitar and a piano to provide harmonic support.  when loseth surfaces from the stupor on “everyone with eyes closed” a low-end thump does indeed dictate each downbeat, but she’s now snuck in a wealth of grating strings, one that must be contended with directly on the album’s penultimate epic, “vinton, la.”  shallow is the kind of album one can easily digest on the cusp of sleepiness, yet it’s also one that demands a thorough investigation as to why lethargy is inevitable upon listening.

st. vincent coverst. vincent – st. vincent

yeah, st. vincent’s fourth album may also be titled “st. vincent,” but to simply refer to it as her self-titled album may be shorting her some credit.  st. vincent is a complete immersion in the persona annie clark has so meticulously crafted over the past decade, as evidenced by her visual transformation, adoption of symbols, and the sheer outlandish nature of the songs inside the album.  but outlandish is good, as it allows clark – who has become entirely consumed by st. vincent at this point – to lash out with her guitar, yielding songs like “prince johnny” and “huey newton.”  st. vincent is also her most lyrically ambitious effort yet, as she portrays a dystopian world ruined by technology (“digital witness”) and tries her hand at humor (“birth in reverse”) all while holding up her characteristic tropes of religion and metaphor.  but peel back the accolades and the tremendous musical accomplishment clark has achieved and st. vincent is unabashedly fun, a whirlwind of a record so dizzying that it takes infinite listens to fully absorb and dissect.

listen to a new song from gem club

fresh on the heels of their excellent sophomore album, in roses, boston trio gem club have contributed a stunning track to the website stadiums & shrines, as a part of their “dreams” series.  “mother in comet (dreams of england’s countryside)” is a brief ambient sprawl, forgoing any vocals in order to showcase the ensemble’s heightened awareness for the power of simple textures.  you can stream and download the track below, courtesy of the site’s soundcloud page.

gem club – in roses

often times, when an indie rock band is given the sub-genre label of chamber pop, it’s a marker to distinguish smart vocal harmonies and sometimes songwriting that evokes the style of baroque-period classical music.  boston trio gem club is a bit different.  i’ve always thought of them as a chamber ensemble that plays pop music; comprised of cello, piano, and a pair of voices, gem club’s music is hauntingly intimate to a degree on par with many classical chamber groups.  the trio’s first two recordings, 2010’s acid and everything ep and their debut full-length album breakers, reflected that intimacy, with sparse arrangements recorded in isolated bedrooms.  gem club’s sophomore album, in roses, finds the ensemble expanding their sonic palate ever so slightly while retaining the emotions that so easily tug at heartstrings.

songs like “michael” are immediate and prevalent examples of this expansion; a truly aching track, the piano’s harmony and the mournful cello line are augmented by melancholy horns and brief instances of chimes.  synthesizers also run rampant across in roses, whether hiding underneath other textures on “hypericum” or completely setting the scene on the closing number, “polly.”  some of this admirable exploration can be attributed to having a proper recording studio and a well-respected musical director at their disposal, but gem club should be held in esteem for the deft nature of these orchestrations and the subtle nuances they provide.

in roses still captures gem club at the core of their essence; even with supplements, it’s clear that their overall aesthetic remains the same.  “soft season” and “speech of foxes” largely lean on the minimalism of the band’s early career, stripping back down to cello and piano along with sparse amounts of white noise to cushion the composition.  and while frontman christopher barnes seems pretty adamant that gem club’s music isn’t necessarily sad, it’s hard not to feel a bit somber and introspective when he harmonizes with ieva berberian; their voices line up perfectly with the accompaniment.

i’m not sure how the songs on in roses will translate to the stage; many would work very well stripped down to the original instrumentation of the trio, but i don’t know if gem club has any plans to bring additional musicians on tour.  what i do know is that in roses is a fine record, one that’s already proven useful throughout this frigid month and one that will help to set gem club apart from all of those other woeful sad bastards in the world.

8.3/10

listen to a new song from gem club

gem club’s intimate breed of chamber pop should be receiving more well-deserved recognition soon.  the boston trio are set to release their sophomore album in roses on january 28th via sub pop imprint hardly art records; we’ve already been treated to “polly,” a gorgeous seven-minute synth sprawl, and now gem club has shared “braid,” another exquisite track that favors light percussion and subtle harmonies.  take a listen below.

most anticipated albums of 2014

2013 has provided a wealth of new music and incredibly important albums for a multitude of genres, but as i reflect on the year’s best offerings i can’t help but to peak ahead and see what 2014 potentially has in store.  here’s my short list of bands i’m excited to hear a new album from.

adelyn rose – i guess it’s been less than two years since mezzanine, but it feels like i’ve been waiting on a new adelyn rose record forever.  the eau claire outfit has been holed up at justin vernon’s april base for the latter half of this year, perfecting a new batch of tracks.  i’ve heard a couple at various live shows, but i’m excited to finally hear another finished project from addie and company.

cloud nothings – remember when cloud nothings was on both editions of my “most anticipated” lists this year?  oops.  the good news is that the now-power trio posted a short video of them working on new songs in the studio, hinting that dylan baldi will probably dominate my headphones again in 2014.  bring it, dude.

foxes in fiction – warren hildebrand enlisted owen pallett to write the string parts for his new album, so i have to hope that the end result will be good.  the new york by way of toronto ambient act has had my attention for sometime, and i’m excited to hear a long-overdue full length album from him.  the thing could drop tomorrow or in six months; i like a project that keeps me on my toes.

gem club – the boston chamber pop trio’s sophomore album in roses is due out january 28th on hardly art records.  if you’ve heard the gorgeous lead single “polly,” you’ll know why i’m looking forward to this record.  if you haven’t, head over to their soundcloud and fix that problem.

 

memoryhouse – memoryhouse played some new songs on npr’s world cafe last month and prefaced them with the announcement that their sophomore album will be out sometime in the spring.  i’m always game to see what those two have to offer.

pillar point – i can’t tell you what got me hooked on pillar point, but i can tell you that scott reitherman’s moody synth-pop gave me an entirely new appreciation for the genre.  after a strong showing on his debut 7″ single “diamond mine” b/w “dreamin’,” reitherman stepped out of anonymity and announced the release of his self-titled debut full length album, out february 25th via polyvinyl.  if that wasn’t enough, he offered up another single, “eyeballs,” which might just be his best work yet.

 

tenement – get to know tenement.  i’ve been following them since they used to play dingy basements and coffee houses around central and eastern wisconsin when i was in high school, but now they’ve signed to don giovanni records and are prepping their first release for that label sometime next year.

tennis – the small sound ep may have served as a filler in between tennis’ second and third album, but it also hopefully forecasted the continuation of sharp songwriting and irresistible pop hooks i’ve come to expect from the band.

vancouver sleep clinic – my favorite new artist of 2013 hasn’t even released a full body of work yet.  in fact, seventeen year-old tim bettinson has only announced an ep for vancouver sleep clinic, due out early next year, but that’s enough for me.  both “collapse” and “vapour” highlighted his skill as a songwriter and his ability to evoke entire landscapes through three or four minutes of song.

 

wye oak – a recent feature over at spin revealed that wye oak is working on their fourth album, and that it will be totally different than their previous output.  guitars have been swapped for bass guitars, and the keyboard pads will be replaced with more melodic lines.  no word on a title or release date, but look for it sometime next year via merge records.

listen to a new song from gem club

i seriously can’t stop listening to this song, or this band in general.  boston chamber pop trio gem club are back with a new album, in roses, early next year, and they’ve let a beautiful, expansive single go ahead of time.  “polly” is seven minutes of intimacy you’ll want to spin over and over again, from the ostinato keyboard line that perpetuates throughout to the gorgeous cello lines that gradually sneak in.  take a listen to “polly” below, courtesy of gem club’s soundcloud page, and grab a free download if you like what you hear.