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.
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.
Gabe larson is an amiable guy. the kind of guy who greets visitors with a smile and a hearty hug at the doorway; the kind of guy whose bevy of anecdotes are instantaneously vivid and relatable; the kind of guy whose sheer warmth is analogous to the steaming cup of coffee proffered ahead of a candid, hour-long interview.
larson was born in los angeles but has lived in eau claire, wisconsin, for much of his life, absorbing a midwestern culture and work ethic that permeates the gorgeous collages of sound he creates as waldemar. the sprawling, bucolic textures of his visions ep – self-released last friday – are populated by affecting guitar melodies, improvisatorial horn arrangements, and walls of layered vocals, but an intensely personal, familial story about grappling with mental wellness is what especially resonates.
waldemar was cautiously – and privately – culled from the ashes of larson’s previous project, reverii, whose unexpected and abrupt finality heavily shook his confidence as a songwriter. as he slowly reconstructed his artistry, larson also began confronting a multi-generational battle with depression, drawing parallels between the life of his paternal grandfather and his own.
what results is a mixture of confessional and observational; the four songs on visions build slowly and with purpose, an analog to larson’s own self-actualization as an artist and a reflection of how his outwardly genial personality can mesh with a more serious internal struggle. side one standout “brotherly” is constructed on a warm pad of choral harmonies before spilling over into something more percussive, while closing number “signe” is also the project’s most ambitious cut, swirling every aspect of the waldemar aesthetic into a dense, ever-evolving soundscape.
visions was recorded throughout the early months of 2016 in eau claire with the help of larson’s younger brother, nick, and a host of local producers and instrumentalists. in october, gabe and i sat in his kitchen for over an hour, nursing cups of coffee and tea while discussing all things waldemar. the partial transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.
how soon after things with reverii wound down did you come to the realization that you wanted to do waldemar as a project? what was the impetus behind that concept?
reverii ended at this really brutal crux in my life; within that time period i hadn’t even been graduated from school for a year, didn’t really have much of a job – just bouncing around all of these different part-time jobs. i had a job as a painter for a guy in eau claire for awhile and i remember being in all of these houses staring longingly out the windows while i put tape on everything. it was this really difficult period of life where i was recently graduated and had no clue what i wanted to do; i knew i wanted to do music after i graduated, but then this band that was supposed to be the way i was going to do music ended and i was left with nothing.
that was the setting for everything, and i had to take time away from even touching music. eventually, i got to this point where i just had to write a song, and there were no expectations attached to it; i didn’t need to show it to anybody, no one had to know i was doing it. it was just for me.
the song that ended up coming out of that process was a song called “waldemar,” and it was a song about my grandpa, wally, who lived with my family for two or three years up until he died. he was a farmer who lived in minnesota, and he was this personification of depression for me. he was this very quiet guy who seemed, maybe not grumpy, but serious and sad – just kind of a hard person to be close to.
in stark contrast was my mother’s dad, my grandpa kermit, who was the most loving, friendliest guy ever; we spent tons of time with him, and he and i were very close. so, from a young age i could completely perceive this stark contrast between the two of them. i’d ask my dad why wally was the way he was, and he would respond, “oh, he has depression. he’s depressed.”
so i was this eight year-old kid getting my first example of this thing called “depression,” and i’d later learn that it’s this thing that runs in the family tree, like being prone to a heart attack or cancer – which my family is also prone to (laughs). i’ve got it on both sides; i’m probably going to die of a heart attack with diabetes and be clinically depressed. you have to laugh, or else you’ll cry.
i wrote this song about waldemar exploring ways you can be connected to people you were never close with, you know. i never wound up going to the doctor to figure out if i was clinically depressed – my dad was trying to get me to go – but for some reason i just wouldn’t. i think i just didn’t want to know. i wanted to have this hope that i’d come out of this funk and be okay, to not have to face any stark reality of having to carry this with me for the rest of my life.
the song was about my grandpa, but it was also about me and how i was wrestling this bout of depression. nobody knew that i wrote this song – i was writing it for me – but the song felt really good and honest because of that; it was a very pure writing experience. it’s very hard to write a song without thinking about your audience or how it will be critically received, but none of that was in my mind; it was just what felt right.
do you see a big difference between the music written for reverii and the music written for waldemar? what’s the biggest shift in your approach to songwriting?
both bands sound quite a bit different to me; even the way that i sang with reverii versus the way i sing with waldemar sounds like two different singers to me. which is weird, because i don’t feel like i was trying to do anything with my voice in either project.
i think the difference comes down to the songwriting process. i’ve relied on other people, up to this point, far less with waldemar than I did with reverii. i would come up with ideas but was pretty timid about them in a lot of ways; it would have to pass through a filter. with waldemar, i’m listening mostly just to myself with how the songs take shape.
but that’s been changing a lot lately, especially over the last six months when we started recording this record. my brother nick is a super gifted songwriter. he played bass in reverii, but wasn’t really part of the core group of songwriters. he was super young when he was in that band – i think a senior year in high school. he’s gotten more involved in the songwriting process at the ground level when i’m just starting to work on a song. he’ll be in the room with me and act as a sounding board, or just affirm an idea. sometimes it’s nice to have a person around whose musical opinion you trust. he and i have been treading into co-writing territory lately with waldemar stuff.
lyrically and conceptually, waldemar is mostly informed by personal and familial experiences, but aesthetically, there’s reference to a choral background; what else do you lean on? these songs are very ornately arranged and dense. what are you using as a jumping off or reference point?
when i’m really into writing mode i try to clear my palate and not listen to any music. there’s been times where i’ll listen to a song that inspires me to write, and the finished product clearly reflects that inspiration. so i try to clear my brain as much as possible to just be listening to myself, if that makes sense.
the way that i think about music is very much informed by my experience with classical and choral music. you’ll never catch me in the kitchen doing dishes to mozart, but my mom had me in piano lessons as a kid. piano always has so many parts working together to create one thing – even more so than a lot of other instruments. you have ten fingers that can play different notes at different times and be moving in melody and harmony – even more so than what you can do with a guitar.
i’ve been in a choir since i was six all the way through college. the past two years have been the first of my conscious life that i haven’t been in choir, and that’s shaped the way i think about music; i think in terms of layers, and the ways that different textures, timbres, pitches, melodies and harmonies can work together to create one sound.
i’ve performed way more with a choir than i ever have with a band, and have spent more hours in rehearsal with a choir than i ever have with a band, still, just because most of my life has been spent in a choir. i think that’s a pretty inescapable part of the way i think about music. it’s hard for me to say that it’s an influence, per se, but it’s the way i grew up thinking about music.
i think a lot of bands try not to list their influences because they want to be thought of as this total unique thing; i try to not shy away from that totally, just in the interest of recognizing that all of art is some sort of weird remix, in a way. you as an individual have this own unique collection of influences mixed with your own creativity, which then becomes your own contribution to the world.
i was pretty late to the game on the national. trouble will find me is now one of my favorite records, but i really only started getting into the national within the last year. i don’t think i’ve had enough time with that band to name it as an influence for me, but some things i hear in waldemar are these layers and depth that seem inspired by the national.
i also hear elements of my morning jacket’s the waterfall. something that i love about jim james’ vocal style is that there are times where he just doesn’t seem to care what he sounds like. he doesn’t mind the sound of clipped-out vocals, and there are times when the vocals just aren’t in tune. with my choral background, there are times where i just can’t stand that, but there’s something about the way jim james does it that i absolutely love. there are some vocals in “signe” that are totally inspired by what jim james does on the waterfall.
who else was involved with the recording process?
both of our producers – evan middlesworth and brian joseph – were huge in the recording process in terms of refinement. my good friend andrew thoreen, who’s in this great minneapolis band har-di-har – as well as in j.e. sunde and just generally all over the place right now – recorded all the trombone arrangements that are on the record.
evan performed some minor parts – well, i shouldn’t say minor – he wrote some bass lines on the record that are just creamy. he’s great at being like “hey, this isn’t working; you should try this” and doing it in a way that doesn’t make you feel stupid. and his suggestions are spot-on. prior to recording with evan, he had hired me on as an engineer out at pine hollow, so we had gotten the chance to work on records and develop some artistic chemistry together. it’s so important to have a great level of trust with the person you’re working with.
brian has his own studio called the hive, and it’s gorgeous. brian and evan are both two different types of musicians and producers; evan is very instinctual with decisions, which is super helpful, while brian really saturates himself in the sound and really thinks through the nitty-gritty. that’s how i think, so going through the mixes was a really long process. we went through mix revisions for awhile.
did you record some tracks with evan and some with brian, or were they taking independent looks at the same tracks?
evan engineered everything – well, almost everything. ten percent of the tracking actually happened here at home, mostly vocals and some random guitar bits as well. all of the tracking was done before it ever went to brian; evan did some standard reference mixes, and it was sounding great before it ever hit brian, who then took over and the songs came to life even more.
i basically handed over the reference mixes to brian and gave him zero direction. i wanted him to really approach it with an artist’s mind and not be thinking about what i wanted it to sound like. i wanted him to present me with different ideas for how everything can sound, and then i’d listen and pick and choose. i had my idea of how everything should sound, and i wanted his work to either confirm the ideas i originally had or to present me with something i never would have thought of. we went back and forth with that model for about two and a half months.
the four songs on this release are kind of long. it feels like a more significant body of work than just your customary introductory ep.
yeah, visions tops out at just about thirty minutes. track-wise, it looks like an ep; lengthwise, it’s toeing the line between ep and lp.
the ep itself is split into two halves, in a lot of ways. “totem” and “brotherly” are pretty old songs; they were kind of from the reverii days. “visions” and “signe” were written within six to eight months of recording.
the last two are much more in the vein of where waldemar is headed, whereas “totem” and “brotherly” are kind of these artifacts, the skeleton of reverii. the sound of reverii with a waldemar spin. i’m not trying to distance myself from them, but they don’t feel like waldemar songs as much, in a way. i don’t think they’d work in the context of a waldemar full-length.
when did you switch from calling the initial song “waldemar” to ascribing that name to the project itself? was there a specific moment, or was it more of a gradual absorption?
that’s a great question. i’m not trying to be some sort of mysterious artist, but honestly, i’m still trying to figure out the answer to that question myself. the short of it is that somehow, at some point, it just felt like that’s what it had to be called; this is what it needs to be. there’s something under the surface within me now that feels drawn towards this name, that feels that this is what the project needs to be called.
it feels strange that this band isn’t called kermit, after the grandfather i’m super close with. he was dying of cancer during the first tour we did with waldemar, and we had to cancel one of our last shows to go be with him. he ended up dying a week later. it was strange being on that tour – named after a guy we weren’t close with – meanwhile, the other grandfather – who we were close with – was dying.
in some ways, i wonder if i’m trying to reclaim this legacy of my grandpa wally that feels not anywhere close to the legacy kermit left. am i trying to redefine what his name means to me? i don’t know.
when i hear the name wally – or waldemar – i see the face of depression, in a weird way. i currently battle depression all the time, so sometimes i wonder if the reason i named my band after him was some way of facing one of my greatest vices. in some way, the name “waldemar” describes me; it’s like looking at your vice square in the face.
i think we carry with us a lot of hurt, shame, and problems, and the only way to heal from those is to bring them to light and call them what they are. for me, it’s depression, but there’s a myriad of things that other people wrestle with. a lot of times i think we just silently carry those around, and i’m of the opinion that true healing can only take place when things are brought to light,talked about, and wrested with intentionally. maybe naming the band waldemar is some sort of therapeutic way of naming this struggle overall, of looking at it straight in the face and doing battle with.
if you’ve frequented the dimestore over the past couple of years, you know that we’ve traced the trajectory of detroit duo gosh pith since their inception. josh smith and josh freed, two childhood friends who reconnected in 2014, have two acclaimed eps under their belts and are now turning their attention towards their debut full-length.
the pair teased a primer last month in the form of “in my car,” a sparse, chilly cut that functions as an apt distillation of their ethos, perhaps the clearest definition of their cosmic trap yet. gosh pith’s latest single, “true blue,” is maximalist in comparison; the crunchy guitar chords found throughout previous efforts make a prominent return, and the lyrics are far more transparent, their intentions downright overt.
there’s still scant information about a title and release date for the new gosh pith album, but we’ll latch onto this track’s effortless hook in the interim. take a listen to “true blue” below.
vancouver sleep clinic has a storied history on dimestore saints, and across the internet; the creative outlet of brisbane singer, songwriter, and producer tim bettinson was our favorite new artist of 2013, in large part due to the hauntingly gorgeous immediacy of early tracks like “vapour” and “collapse.” after capitalizing on this feat with his debut ep, winter, in the early months of 2014, bettinson went into a long period of hibernation, powering down for coming-of-age experiences that lie outside the realm of music.
after more than two years away, vancouver sleep clinic resumed activity late last month with an animated music video for “lung,” the first single off of the group’s forthcoming debut full-length. while bettinson & company construct an ambient dreamscape on “lung,” awash in titanic chords and cascading piano melodies, its successor, “killing me to love you,” explores the sleep clinic’s pop-oriented side, bolstered by prominent percussion and a massive vocal hook that releases every ounce of tension in the song.
vancouver sleep clinic’s debut album is coming soon, but its contents have yet to be detailed. for now, revel in “killing me to love you,” below.
harley alexander’s retreat from halifax to a remote cabin in quebec has yielded harland, an eight-song collection of woozy, wandering bedroom pop that’s due out next friday via sports day records. framing the album’s aesthetic is “staring at photographs,” its breezy, clave-like chord progression bolstered by saturday-afternoon guitar noodling and alexander’s surprisingly commanding voice, flipping between his natural register and a reedy falsetto with incredible ease and immediacy.
“staring at photographs,” like much of harland, recalls a home recording taped off of a transistor radio: warm and unassuming, its edges carefully smoothed and rounded. alexander’s awareness of such a nostalgic manipulation extends into his lyrics, as he comes to grips with the fact that an idyllic snapshot from the past often belies the true nature of a present-day relationship. it’s an uncomfortable reality housed in a comforting vessel, a gentle hand that guides towards realization. take a listen to “staring at photographs” below.
the praise and accolades yumi zouma have received so far from this site – and a good portion of the music sphere across the internet – are far too numerous to try and sift through. the new zealand quartet caught the attention of lorde based on the strength of their four-track debut ep alone; their subsequent slot as her tour’s opening act in late 2014 opened a pandora’s box of speculation that such early exposure necessitated a foray into more stadium-ready pop, but correlation does not always equal causation.
yumi zouma’s subsequent sophomore ep was populated with richer, more confident songs, to be sure, but you can easily chalk that up to the gradual progression of getting comfortable as a long-distance songwriting collective. tracks like “alena” and “song for zoe & gwen” registered a newfound depth and pulse, but the subtle change in aesthetic felt more indicative of ceiling-clearing confidence than of a purposeful shift in trajectory.
after surpassing all expectations and cementing themselves as critical darlings, yumi zouma hunkered down to try something new: writing music together in the same geographic location. the result is yoncalla, a gorgeous ten-song debut album that plays through incredibly smart, cool, and confident, reflecting a level of experience well beyond the band’s tenure.
it’s hard to listen to yumi zouma and not at least subconsciously conjure up images of sun-kissed, carefree summer days. each song on yoncalla would easily have a home on any self-curated beach day mixtape, from the bleary-eyed guitar strums on the conversational “haji awali” to the percolating synth arpeggios on “barricade (matter of fact)” to the triumphant, driving-off-into-the-sunset lilt of “short truth.” through this lens, these are songs that almost mandate an ocean breeze and cool sand between one’s toes for a comprehensive sensory experience, but stopping short at this superficial – albeit gorgeous – aesthetic would be a disservice to the album.
the true beauty of yoncalla is the pervasive presence of camaraderie woven through its sunny exterior. yumi zouma’s early success was defined by four incredibly talented songwriters creating intimate sketches piecemeal from around the globe, and that intimacy grew tenfold once the quartet all settled down in the same room.
it’s immediately evident on the effortless vocal repartee that pervades “text from sweden” and “haji awali,” but yumi zouma’s kinship runs even deeper elsewhere on yoncalla. eloquent melodies are constructed for christie simpson to trace on “remember you at all” and “better by your side,” and provide support and solidarity as she navigates through the insecurities of a turbulent relationship. this structure seems to reflect a newfound degree of trust between members that may well have been fostered by a shared writing space; a noticeable strength of intertwining melodies and reliance on robust counterpoint seems more indicative of in-the-moment creation than of construction via file-sharing.
yoncalla is impeccably cohesive. each track bleeds seamlessly into the next, although the album isn’t linear so much as it is semidiurnal, its ebbs and flows placed at perfect intervals. the final tide goes out with “drachma,” a lovely subdued coda that briefly hearkens back to the group’s early days before its palm-muted main motif disappears beyond the horizon.
yumi zouma’s brand of nostalgia has often felt akin to reconnecting with a long-lost friend; with yoncalla, they provide the perfect soundtrack for the two of you to crack open a cold drink and reminisce for awhile.
owen is sonically a far cry from mike kinsella’s work in seminal chicago outfits like american football and joan of arc, yet its sparseness and vulnerability still nestles in close to the rest of his output’s affecting tendencies. for his latest solo effort, the king of whys, due out july 29th via polyvinyl records, kinsella decamped to justin vernon’s april base studio to record with sean carey and a host of eau claire’s finest session musicians. the more collaborative nature of these sessions shows on lead single “lost,” with kinsella’s soft acoustic guitar strums bolstered by pedal steel swells and tasteful orchestral pads. it’s a gentle offering, swaying peacefully in the summer’s breeze. take a listen to “lost” below.
whitney is the end result of an effortless songwriting partnership between max kakacek and julien ehrlich; the chicago-based duo works primarily within a medium of soothing, psychedelic-tinged folk rock so lush it necessitates four additional members when performing live. while earlier singles “no woman” and “golden days” read a touch somber and reflective, the band’s latest effort, “no matter where we go,” is comparatively breezy, as ehrlich’s falsetto and kakacek’s deft lead lines intertwine atop a light yet propulsive foundation.
all three songs will appear on whitney’s debut album, light upon the lake, out june 3rd via secretly canadian. watch the accompanying music video for “no matter where we go,” directed by alan del rio ortiz, by navigating away to this link, or stream the audio directly below.
yumi zouma will release their highly-anticipated debut full-length, yoncalla, on may 27th via cascine. there aren’t many adjectives left in our arsenal that haven’t already been bestowed upon the inimitable new zealand quartet, so we’ll just leave you with “short truth,” a sprawling, synth-saturated dreamscape that further pleads the group’s case for having an album-of-the-year contender on their hands. take a listen below.
*this column has long lay dormant, and is truthfully being resurrected primarily to celebrate the fifth anniversary of one of the most important albums to this site and its existence. maybe subsequent additions will be made, and maybe not; that’s the beauty of complete autonomy.
Peter silberman’s music under the moniker of the antlers first appeared in 2006. his sparse confessionals, punctuated by a hushed falsetto developed and honed partially out of necessity, populated early efforts like the eerie in the attic of the universe; by 2009, silberman had added multi-instrumentalist darby cicci and drummer michael lerner and had offered up hospice, an undeniable pillar of twenty-first century indie rock and one of the most devastating concept albums ever recorded.
throughout the record, silberman alters between tender reassurances whispered at a metaphorical terminal patient’s bedside and heart-wrenching frustrations vented at full volume out in the hallway, a dichotomy compounded by percussion crescendos and thick walls of keyboard textures. hospice is an emotionally exhausting album, and following up a body of work with that critical of a magnitude is a tall order.
turn the calendar ahead two years and enter burst apart. the antlers’ second full-length as a full band is sonically the furthest thing possible from a sequel to hospice; the trio goes spelunking in the cavernous depths of spooky, spacious tracks like “parentheses” and “rolled together,” while silberman’s guitar work is decidedly more minimal, more inclined to add texture with cyclical motifs and arpeggios rather than to function as the driving force behind most songs.
perhaps due to their initial involvement in the album’s creation, cicci and lerner feel less supplemental on burst apart. the former’s trumpet chops are consistently underrated but integral to the trio’s timbral construct, not to mention his celestial synth pads, while the latter’s drum kit is a forceful presence on all tracks, save penultimate ballad “corsicana.” consequentially, the album retains a fully collaborative air, with the intense lyrical depth and cohesion of hospice funneled into an incredibly tight ensemble interplay that could be (and often was) extended effortlessly in a live setting.
on record, burst apart tends to steer clear of the post-rock grandeur that makes its predecessor feel so gargantuan. inner demons are often exorcised with the assistance of a murky, hypnotic pulse and their significance is sussed out under the guise of haunting chamber pop; no track on burst apart exceeds the six-minute mark, and most conform to radio-play length.
this more streamlined approach also found silberman largely abandoning his penchant for detailed narrative. such instances were doled out judiciously and to great effect (see his tear-jerking return to metaphor on closing number “putting the dog to sleep”), but cryptic minimalism often reigns supreme, from the aforementioned “parentheses” to the stoned, slow-burning “rolled together” to “hounds,” the most arresting, flat-out beautiful five minutes of burst apart.
five years on, burst apart endures. each of its ten tracks is commendable in its own right; if nothing else, they’re stellar examples of the trio’s ability to write pristine, focused pop songs within the relative confines of their sonic climate. new listens constantly yield new discoveries, from the presence of some truly interesting, murky bass lines to the impressive mandolin work that silberman routinely slides into unassuming tracks.
burst apart is a clear touchstone for the antlers’ subsequent output; the watery organ in “putting the dog to sleep” foreshadows the aqueous and astounding 2012 ep, undersea, while the overall orchestration hints at the majesty that would fully bloom on 2014’s familiars. much like hospice, this is an album best-suited for nocturnal consumption, but unlike its predecessor, burst apart doesn’t necessarily demand isolation.
peter silberman’s lyrics are arguably paramount to the antlers’ canon; on burst apart, his bandmates match that poignancy with some truly mesmerizing compositions. dig in.