yohuna – patientness

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

“album of the fortnight” is a new 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: yohuna.

Up until this month, johanne swanson’s catalogue as yohuna spanned five years, but was rather sparse.  as a consumer this was, at times, frustrating: a gifted songwriter with sporadic output, often elusive or mum about forthcoming material.  from an artistic standpoint, however, this was refreshing, revelatory, admirable: a gifted songwriter working methodically, only offering up new songs with a distinct purpose attached, never out of necessity; never for personal gratification; never out of impulsive boredom.

patientness, out now via orchid tapes, is swanson’s first full-length effort, though an album’s worth of yohuna material doesn’t feel like a departure from the ethos that defined her earlier work.  three of the album’s nine tracks have existed in the public sphere, in some form or another, for quite some time; the remaining two-thirds of patientness is sequenced around this familiarity, transforming those songs into comforting touchstones in the midst of new, uncharted territory.

the arrival of “creep date” is this exercise fully-realized.  new offering “world series” is the song’s ancillary, the advent of buzzsaw guitars foreshadowing emotive distortion that rings out in its successor, but it’s the searing – and shattering – realism of each song’s lyrics that tie the two together.  mere seconds after uttering the clincher “you’re my biggest fan / but the seats are cheap,” swanson pivots to “not confused / still feel used,” a clear-eyed couplet that’s as devastating as it is resolute.  yohuna’s sonic aesthetic may be warm and pillowy at times, but it’s often only a thinly-veiled diversion away from sentiments that bely – and, more importantly, challenge perceptions of – its inviting exterior.

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earlier this week, the fader ran an absolutely riveting interview with swanson, a must-read for anyone already invested in this column.  among other topics, swanson discusses the binary tendencies of genre categorization, and how her music moves fluidly through the two most often assigned to her work: electronic and indie.  this acute awareness of categorical ambiguity reverberates throughout patientness, never meandering, always challenging what music purported to be feminine should evoke and sound like.

the title track on patientness hits last and asks the prevailing question head-on: “what is patientness?”  who knows?  it’s probably a personal mantra of sorts; the neologism is definitely indicative of swanson’s calculated approach to both making and releasing music, and it certainly feels relevant in the context of this album’s creation.  while yohuna has primarily been a solo outlet with occasional input in the past, patientness is decidedly more collaborative: adelyn strei (adelyn rose), felix walworth (told slant), emily sprague (florist), and warren hildebrand (foxes in fiction) all contribute, and swanson trekked up from brooklyn to montreal to record with owen pallett, who also co-produced the album.

“patientness” may evade concrete definition or attainability, but it will forever be difficult to disassociate yohuna from this concept.  as a body of work, patientness finds comfort in non-conformity; in imperfections; in the uncomfortable.  it’s a rare gift, a present to be opened with care and examined thoroughly, contemplatively.  patiently.

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foxes in fiction – “extinguisher”

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

nestled among an unforgettable run of pivotal albums released in 2014 by orchid tapes was boring ecstasy, the first compilation offered up by the independent record label.  given the context of its arrival, boring ecstasy felt like a deserved mid-season victory lap; tracks were supplements to each artist’s repertoire, not throwaways, the sum of their parts meticulously curated to highlight key facets of the label’s roster without merely tracing its lineage chronologically.  that early mainstays could be placed adjacent to relative newcomers and not disrupt cohesion was telling, a nod to label co-founder warren hildebrand’s clear-eyed, focused vision for the consistent aesthetic of orchid tapes.

on august 12th, the label will release its sophomore compilation, radiating light: orchid tapes & friends.  as the extended title suggests, radiating light enlists a handful of auxiliary artists for contributions, and the overall tone of the track list feels decisively more collaborative: fog lake and home alone work in tandem for the penultimate cut, while emily reo and yohuna team up for “teach you.”

of course, hildebrand’s notable work extends well beyond running a record label; since 2009, he has released music of his own as foxes in fiction, his collective output a meandering collage of contemplative ambient soundscapes and hushed indie pop.  hildebrand leans towards the latter on “extinguisher,” the second offering culled from radiating light.  the track, built on celestial chord progressions and hildebrand’s processed voice, eventually swells to cinematic heights, staging a cathartic release of incalculable proportions.  take a listen to “extinguisher” below.

listen to a new song from foxes in fiction

warren hildebrand spent the better part of the past three years working on the material that would become ontario gothic, so it stands to reason that he would have a few other sketches of foxes in fiction songs that didn’t quite fit the album.  enter “october (for j),” a sprawling six-minute amalgamation of samples that hildebrand completed and premiered tuesday night on newtown radio.  the song is aesthetically more in line with the “hospital district”/”static cult” single released back in 2011, and comes days after hildebrand hinted at returning to a more experimental approach to his music as foxes in fiction.  regardless of future trajectory, “october (for j)” is a wonderful addition to hildebrand’s emotive canon.  take a listen below.

foxes in fiction – ontario gothic

as the person responsible for the lion’s share of day-to-day operations at orchid tapes, one could reasonably assume that warren hildebrand has no time left to devote towards any other project.  the brooklyn boutique has skyrocketed in terms of exposure and influence over this past year, releasing incredibly important albums by ricky eat acid, alex g, and others, all while seamlessly transitioning into the vinyl distribution game.  hildebrand, along with his partner brian vu, handles every aspect of the orchid tapes business, from dubbing tapes to packaging orders to maintaining an extensive social media presence.  despite all of these duties, hildebrand still managed to write, record, and mix ontario gothic, his second full-length effort as foxes in fiction.  it’s an incredibly poignant record, and serves as the long-missing piece to orchid tapes’ puzzle.

hildebrand’s debut, swung from the branches, was an incredibly vast album predicated on the emotions and aftermath of losing his younger brother, and contained nineteen songs of various lengths showcasing his propensity for both drone and more traditional pop structures.  in contrast, ontario gothic feels honed, polished down to a concise seven tracks and a more uniform aesthetic, one that may not embody the everlasting essence of foxes in fiction so much as it helps to represent the specific blend of healing pop hildebrand is pursuing this time around.

simple melodies adorn “march 2011,” a warbly odyssey of an album opener that compounds on countermelodies before unraveling into the first of owen pallett’s many string arrangements throughout ontario gothic.  that warble proves to be a recurring theme throughout the album in some capacity, be it in the light tremolo of hildebrand’s guitar or in the slow pan of the vocals on “glow (v079),” conveying the fragility that often accompanies a state of loss.  the highlights of ontario gothic are nestled snugly in the middle of the album, with both “shadow’s song” and “ontario gothic” employing lilting choral lines that lift hildebrand’s music from a state of uncertainty into an almost heavenly, more fleetingly self-assured realm.

despite brief moments of clarity, it’s evident that hildebrand continues to struggle with demons throughout ontario gothic.  the album itself is dedicated to a friend that died an untimely death, and it’s clear that his own brother’s passing still has a profound impact on hildebrand’s musical trajectory.  but whereas swung from the branches was an effort primarily created in solitude, ontario gothic wholeheartedly embraces outside collaboration: pallett’s strings are sprinkled throughout all but one of the album’s tracks, and three of hildebrand’s friends and label mates lend their voices to closing number “altars.”  this symbolic show of support through music is indicative of everything orchid tapes stands for, and it’s accomplished to a level of beauty and tranquility that few other artists can achieve.  lose yourself in this little album.

7.8/10