David Byrne has one of the most recognizable voices in music, ranking somewhere between Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe. No doubt this is why everyone wants the former Talking Heads front-man to guest on their records. Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire, Jherek Bischoff — they’ve all taken advantage of the static friction of that back-of-the-mouth tenor.
But Love This Giant, Byrne’s collaboration with St. Vincent, a woman who’s known more for her multi-instrumentalist abilities than her voice, is the first full-length he’s co-written with anyone other than Brian Eno.
Morrow: With a list of accomplishments that includes a solo career, band collaborations, and the co-founding of Three Gut Records, Jim Guthrie is more than a notable name in Toronto’s music scene. He has recorded as part of Islands, Royal City, and Human Highway and has worked with Arcade Fire, but his newest project transcends the realm of reality to explore a magical/digital world.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a successful cross-platform game / music project for the iPad and iPhone. Guthrie delivered a great score for it, and now the music is available to purchase on its own.
From the open, The Ballad of the Space Babies is sort of a Legend of Zelda-meets-Goblin blend of space jams. But pieces such as “The Cloud” and “Under a Tree” — with ambient, chamber, and neoclassical influences — establish different moods entirely, and there are more percussive elements than one might imagine, as tracks such as “Bones McCoy” build around clattering drum fills. “Ode to a Room” even has a synth line that acts like a reverberated, quasi-Italian-western guitar melody.
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Cello/percussion twosome Becky Foon and Bruce Cawdron, of Montreal’s Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, began recording minimalist chamber music under the moniker Esmerine about a decade ago. Two instrumental albums and numerous (sometimes collaborative) performances later, the duo has doubled to include percussionist Andrew Barr and harpist Sarah Page and completed its third full-length album. Both developments can be attributed to the late Lhasa de Sela, a Montreal vocalist and common thread between all four band members.
Lhasa passed away due to breast cancer at the age of 37 on January 1, 2010, and in her remembrance, Esmerine created La Lechuza, a beautiful, moving album. With several guest artists (including Colin Steton, Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire, and Patrick Watson) and the addition of steel drums, violin, harp, and saxophone, La Lechuza is a testimony to Esmerine’s musical progression.
ALARM caught up with Foon, Esmerine’s cellist, to discuss the band’s expansion, its new record, and its inspiration.
What was the initial motivation to create your own musical project as Esmerine?
We (Becky and Bruce) met recording the first Set Fire To Flames record, Sings Reign Rebuilder, in 2001 and became really interested in exploring the world of cello and melodic percussion. Bruce and I started to improvise together quite a bit, which then naturally evolved into writing songs. About a year later, we decided to record our first record at the Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal.
During the six-year time span between Aurora in 2005 and La Lechuza, was Esmerine on a hiatus, or were you just waiting for an appropriate time to start another album?
Bruce and I had been playing the occasional Esmerine show in Montreal since our last round of touring in 2005-06, inviting various guests to join us for some of them, but we hadn’t been thinking much about future recording. Lhasa asked us to open up for her in Montreal in 2009, which we did as a duo, and that’s where we met Sarah and Andrew, who were in her band at that point. We really hit it off, and soon after we invited Sarah and Andrew to join in an Esmerine show (where Lhasa also sang on a song), and everything evolved very naturally from there.
With an army-green facade out front and wood-paneled walls and retro furniture inside, Zulu Records is an established musical stronghold in the Canadian metropolis of Vancouver, British Columbia. More than a place to buy music (though it covers that angle pretty thoroughly), Zulu has become a family-friendly, cultural centerpiece of the community with a number of notable in-store performances, art openings, and a continued independent, DIY approach to business.
What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?
Zulu Records grew out of the ashes of an old store called Quintessence that specialized in prog and rock. It was 1981, music was changing, and there was a community of young punkers who were starved for all of the amazing imports coming out overseas. Zulu Records’ owner, Grant McDonagh, was one such fan with big ideas who saw his part-time job at Quintessence fizzle out and an opening present itself. Grant had ties to all of the great Vancouver punk bands and, in the early days, worked closely with this community, including later starting his own record label to press bands that he felt deserved to be heard. Today, Zulu Records concentrates completely on being one of Canada’s finest indie music shops, and it still prides itself on the model of building and maintaining community ties.
What is the musical community like in Vancouver?
Vancouver’s music community is tight-knit. Vancouver has always had a bit of an annexed feel to it; we are in the corner of Canada, and the city is geographically bounded and can’t really sprawl endlessly like other major Canadian and American cities. As a result, the spots where bands play, practice, and congregate haven’t really changed over the last 25 years. There is still a very punk/DIY feel to how bands go about doing things, as really we are pretty far away from the spotlight of the business in Toronto. In fact, we have more of a West Coast / Pacific Northwest vibe going on, and certainly, Seattle feels like kindred musical spirits.
Led by guitarist and lead singer Jeremiah Lockwood, Brooklyn-based band The Sway Machinery includes Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, brass players Stuart Bogie and Jordan Mclean (Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra), and baritone-sax player Colin Stetson (Tom Waits, Arcade Fire). Though something of a name-dropper’s perfect dream, The Sway Machinery actually resembles very little of its individual parts.
Instead, under the vision of Lockwood, the collective explores Jewish cantorial music within the broader sphere of world music, injecting the ancient tradition with Afro-rhythms and blues-tinged soul. The distinct sound stems from two figures in Lockwood’s life: his grandfather, renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg, who instilled in his lifeblood the ancient heritage of synagogue music; and Piedmont blues virtuoso Carolina Slim, who mentored Lockwood early in his career, as he played the streets and subways of New York City. It’s a far-out mix that is sacredly funky, executed brilliantly by a collective with a dense amalgamation of contemporary sensibilities.
Powerful, otherworldly, and beautiful, wind player Colin Stetson‘s upcoming record, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, commands attention from start to finish. Largely recorded live without overdubs, Stetson exploits techniques that yield dense layers of multiphonic sound that seem impossible to have come from a single instrument. Here sounding deep and sonorous as a foghorn, there alternating between percussive popping and plaintive moans, while elsewhere emitting swirling, cyclical lines that could nearly pass for strings, Stetson pushes his horns through every timbral possibility.
With such formidable instrumental prowess, one might expect a display of flashy improvisations, yet Stetson uses his command of his instruments in service of intricate compositions, rich in atmosphere and mood, and unmoored from any genre. Moreover, the pieces function together to create a coherent whole, emotionally resonant and deeply affecting. A record that will sound arresting and fresh to even the most adventurous listeners, New History Warfare Vol. 2 (out on Feb. 22) is an early bright light among this new year’s releases and likely to resurface on many year-end lists.
Adept at bass sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, french horn, and cornet, Stetson studied music at the University of Michigan. From there, stints on both coasts resulted in work with a wide range of music luminaries, including Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. More recently, Stetson has startled unsuspecting rock audiences as an opener for stadium indie acts such as Arcade Fire and The National. Here he explains how this integration of influences creates his own musical worlds.
When I’ve played your music for people, the unanimous reaction has been “that’s a sax?”, which is all the more impressive given that much of it was recorded without overdubbing. Can you explain how you’re able to create such a rich and diverse range of sounds, both in terms of technique and production?
Technically, regarding the instrument, I’m just employing a lot of extended techniques that improvisers have been using for decades. The basis for most of my pieces is in circular breathing; by breathing in through the nose and continuing to breath out of the mouth, you can create these longer, uninterrupted pieces of music. After that, it’s a lot of “voicing,” or using mouth and throat placement to form chords instead of single notes, specific arpeggiated lines to move those chords into individual and distinct melodies/harmonies, and also quite a bit of actual singing through the instrument.
Having been working this out for many years, when it came time to start recording this music, I knew that a straight-up stereo recording would only take a snapshot of what was happening, and would ultimately flatten the experience. There’s no way to capture the essence of live performance in this manner, not if the idea is to recreate the same image through recording. So what I try to do is to capture every distinct and separate element I can, individually with separate and different microphones, so that this information can then be reorganized in the mixing process, and, rather than an attempt at recreating the live experience, we create an alternate version of that experience, something that is specific to the process of recording. In simpler terms, I wanted to make a record like a Haruki Murakami novel or a Terrence Malick film.
Kingbee Records in Manchester, England has been around since 1987 and is now one of the last remaining independent record shops in northwest England.
The shop attracts a diverse clientele, and its ability to draw business from collectors and dealers around the world has fueled its success. Though its strengths are numerous, Kingbee is unparalleled in its selection of Northern soul vinyl. We spoke with Les Hare, Kingbee’s owner, and got the lowdown on this music mecca.
What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?
Always was a big record collector, then [I] started doing record fairs with my spares, and it kinda carried on from there. I have also deejayed off and on since 1971.
How has Kingbee survived the digital boom?
By having a loyal customer base both locally and across the country. We also get record dealers from Japan regularly visiting to replenish their shop stock. Sales from our website help, but mostly it’s the large amount of stock that we turn over in the shop.