Following his original Psychic Temple creation, composer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Schlarb has united another outrageous selection of talent for Psychic Temple II, an eclectic mix of pop, jazz, and prog.
My Brightest Diamond: “Reaching Through to the Other Side”
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/my_brightest_diamond_-_all_things_will_unwind_-_reaching_through_to_the_other_side.mp3|titles=My Brightest Diamond: “Reaching Through to the Other Side”]
Detroit-based singer/songwriter Shara Worden has long made a career as an indie-pop mercenary. Over the past decade or so, she has lent her talents to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoisemakers, collaborated with The Decemberists, covered Radiohead for an OK Computer tribute album, appeared on numerous compilations (including her excellent cut on Dark Was the Night), and contributed to the chamber ensemble yMusic (which also includes Bon Iver, Antony & the Johnsons, the New York Philharmonic, and Rufus Wainwright).
Clearly, Worden has no problem keeping busy. But even in the midst of her many endeavors, Worden has found time for her indie-pop pet project, My Brightest Diamond, without ever skimping on musical quality or integrity.
Such is the case on All Things Will Unwind, My Brightest Diamond’s third effort on Asthmatic Kitty, as Worden’s talents are as focused and as strong as ever. Indeed, the most engaging aspect of My Brightest Diamond is undoubtedly Worden’s voice. With such grace and skill in tow, it’s no wonder that so many acts enlist Worden as a hired hand. Her voice is so pure, so strong yet delicate, so confident and dynamic, that there is no denying the presence of an immense talent. Swaying between sweet, soft-edged crooning (“She Does Not Brave the War”) to full-on, forceful belt-outs (the latter half of “Be Brave”), Worden knows exactly what she’s doing. The songs swell and sway, kept adrift — and often take flight — thanks to Worden’s cosmic vocal work.
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Sole__the_Skyrider_Band_Hello_Cruel_World.mp3|titles=Sole & The Skyrider Band: “Hello, Cruel World”]
Citing differences in vision for his label and a desire to release music independently, Tim Holland split in 2010 with the Anticon collective that he helped to found. Now, with his faithful Skyrider Band at his side, Holland has released his first official release as Sole since the departure, and it’s another bold chapter in a bold career.
Skyrider, which has been the force behind Sole’s sonic development over the past few years, now sets a surprisingly mainstream and orchestral backdrop for Holland’s rhymes, which have slowed and become more decipherable — but no less potent in criticism. As he explains below, Holland wanted Hello, Cruel World to sound more like a “big rap album,” and it accomplishes the feat with club beats, vocoder-inspired choruses, and a posse of collaborators (Sage Francis, Xiu Xiu, Lil B, and many more). But the musical backdrop also is more cerebral and beautiful, thanks in part to the talents of band member and film-score composer William Ryan Fritch (a.k.a. Vieo Abiungo).
Holland also is keeping busy with DIY videos and his Nuclear Winter mixtape series, which employs the Situationist détournement technique of “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” In this case, it’s taking hits by Lil Wayne, Rihanna, and the like and dropping politically current themes on them. Here Holland explains this mixtape concept while discussing the state of the world and the Sun Tzu-inspired direction of his new album.
Now three albums into recording with Skyrider, how do you feel that your sound has evolved since joining forces?
It’s pretty crazy, really. When we started out, all I wanted was to be a hip-hop version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and somehow along the way, we listened to way too much Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne in the car. The rest is history, I guess! For a while, The Skyrider Band was living in LA and working a lot with Telephone Jim Jesus, and Skyrider really came into its own on the production tip.
A member of Skyrider (William Ryan Fritch) has experience scoring films. How much did he influence the orchestral accents of Hello, Cruel World?
Ryan has always been way too talented for his own good. On our past work, we weren’t experienced enough with how to make the band aesthetic work for a hip-hop album, and I feel like through all of Ryan’s work with real composers, doing film scores, working with Asthmatic Kitty, and branching out on his own, he has a really solid grasp of what to add to Skyrider’s beats to take them over the top. The big surprise on this album is his vocal contribution; he’s able to layer my off-key singing with his beautiful crooning and really make stuff sound great.
Hello, Cruel World has a much more radio-friendly sound and even features Melodyne software (similar to vocoder software) in many choruses. Was there any deliberate decision to target a broader audience to get your messages across?
Yes, there was. In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he says you can’t keep attacking using the same method; in order to succeed, you have to surprise your opponents. I had listened to gangster rap so much that its influence and aesthetic had taken over what I did, and coincidentally, that is what the hip-hop people are listening to right now. It wasn’t so much an opportunistic move as it was a natural evolution. So we thought it would be an interesting gamble to try to make an album that would be an SSRB take on Jay-Z or TI — a big rap album. What I like about those albums is that they all collaborate with their homies and put each other on. After years of mainly writing music alone, it was really fun to try to collaborate with some of my favorite artists. Usually, when people use these styles, they try to be ironic, but we take rap music very seriously.
Saint-Brieuc is located on the northwestern tip of France, near the English Channel. Its most notable musical export is perhaps Julie Budet of electro-pop group Yelle. Saint-Brieuc is also home to a record store called Le Disquaire. It says something about the size of the town, and the closeness of the musical community, that these two entities call each other friends. We spoke with Gilles Ollivier of Le Disquaire and discovered that, despite the fact that it’s a small city, big acts regularly roll through town and play on the venue’s own stage.
What are the origins of Le Disquaire / What is your background in music?
When we opened in 2006, there was no independent record store in Saint-Brieuc anymore. We’ve grown up with such places (and we had been working for several years in that type of shop) where music may be something more than just a product. We wanted to share our passion and experience.
What does the store do particularly well — any specialty genres or formats?
We sell all kinds of music and all formats (including lots of vinyl), which means having the artists that you don’t find anywhere else. That’s what make us different and that’s why we work with many labels and artists (mainly French for the moment).
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Since her self-released album Sanguine in 2006, Julianna Barwick has been experimenting with the human voice to create loop-based compositions that turn the concept of a cappella into something completely new and uncharted. Contributor Jeff Terich discusses these atypical methods with Barwick, in addition to how her music is informed by collaboration and personal memories, as she readies the release of her new album, The Magic Place.
The Magic Place has some additional instrumentation, compared to your previous release, Florine. What led you to decide to add some of these extra elements?
I was excited about incorporating some more instrumentation into this record, and when I had the opportunity to use a friend’s space, filled with lots of fun instruments to use, it made it easier to experiment. I especially could not resist the grand piano, which shows up tons on the new record.
Do you find it more challenging to write songs from limited sources? Or is there more liberation in writing vocal-only compositions?
For me, the music that is all vocal is very easy and intuitive for me — it’s when I’m adding instrumentation that it becomes challenging, trying to make the sounds from the instruments fit with the vocals. Making the vocal loops is all done on the spot, so there’s no real pressure that I feel when doing that at all.
When you write songs, how does the process typically begin? Do you ever start with a different instrument and then translate to voice?
Ninety-five percent of the time I’m starting with a vocal loop I’ve made, and building on top. But there are exceptions; for instance, “Unt1,” on Sanguine, started with a guitar line. On the new record there are a couple that started with an instrument; for instance, “Vow” starts with piano and “Bob in Your Gait” starts with guitar. There’s also some stripped-down / non-loop vocalizing on this record, which is new.
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Though Roberto Lange’s year has been busier than usual, the multitasking musician (also known as Helado Negro) has found the time to pack in another release before the year is over. Well, kind of. The back catalog of Epstein, Lange’s longtime electronic project, has received a complete cut-and-paste overhaul by beat conductor Prefuse 73 and drummer Jaytram (of Yeasayer), making for a record aptly titled Prefuse 73 / Jaytram / Epstein.
It is a fitting year-end release for the NYC-based artist and producer, who, in 2010 alone, released a new Epstein full-length, a new Helado Negro EP, worked on a number of remixes, and saw Asthmatic Kitty reissue four Epstein records that were never released outside of Japan until now. The re-releases spawned not so much a remix album but an absolute dismantling and revision of his obscure recordings. The albums, recorded with Miami-based Beta Bodega label, serve as a wealthy groove print for Prefuse and Jaytram, who respectively split the duties.
Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on AlarmPress.com. Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases, leaving no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.