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ASTHMATIC KITTY

Sufjan Stevens

The Ascension

    Sufjan returns with the long awaited follow up to Carrie & Lowell, featuring some of his most confident and varied work to date. We kick things off with the unassuming beginnings of 'Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse' before launching into a deeply electronic but airy Thom Yorkey vocal workout. It's this sort of rapid switch and thematic flexibility that both characterises the album and leads to the most surprising and satisfying moments of his career. 

    'Video Game' sees some haunting organy synth leading into a deeply rythmic and pop-led verse, showcasing Stevens' iconic voice, and dedication to variety in songcraft.  

    there are some more ambient moments at play, with 'Die Happy' and 'Gilgamesh' trading on the ambient electronic backdrop, but with long tailed reverbs and soaring echoes working their way around the stereo image. 

    Possibly the most satisfying moments on this collection comes as the flow of the album quietens down into the euphoric redux of the latter third of the album. 'Sugar' could easily have been the background to some of the earlier, skittering electronics of Múm or the Rós, while the title track encompasses everything we love about Stevens, but imbued with a mildly melancholic but wholly relaxed atmospherics. 

    It's a beautiful LP, and one that only goes to prove how essential Stevens continues to be on our musical landscape. 

    STAFF COMMENTS

    says: From the opening choral glitches to the sea of ambience which sees the album out, ‘The Ascension’ is a patchwork of electronic experimentation, distorted lamentations, and intimate confession.

    Sufjan Stevens has long been a musical chameleon: from the alt-folk expression of ‘Carrie & Lowell’, to the meticulously-researched bombast of ‘Illinois’ and digital catharsis of ‘The Age of Adz’, he’s proven time and time again that whatever the instrumentation or subject matter, he can write rich, personal, spiritual songs like no one else. ‘The Ascension’ draws on all these and more, to create an album as fragile as it is grand, as despairing as it is defiant, and as inspired (if not more so) than anything he’s done before.

    ‘The Ascension’ is a predominantly electronic affair: huge, distorted drums pulse throughout the album, underscoring hordes of ghostly voices and shifting synths. Celestial car alarm effects argue with auto-tuned vocal cries, while album highlight “Landslide” sees Sufjan bow to a guitar solo, of all things, teetering in-between The Durutti Column’s understated beauty and wild math-rock frenzy. Lyrically, Sufjan seems desperate for a response, making demands and pleading with us, the listener, to soothe his anxieties. Faith and certainty are out; desire and anxiety are in. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the penultimate and titular track, which sees Sufjan explore those thoughts he “couldn’t quite confess” to gut-wrenching effect.

    Like Dante’s Inferno reimagined as a tour of purgatory, ‘The Ascension’ is a deeply conflicted, gloriously lost, and tentatively comforting album. It’s Sufjan’s finest hour (and twenty minutes) yet.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    2xColoured LP Info: Limited edition clear vinyl.

    Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams

    Aporia

      Aporia is a New Age album from Sufjan Stevens and his step-father and record label co-owner, Lowell Brams. In the spirit of the New Age composers who sanded off the edges of their synths’ sawtooth waves, Aporia approximates a rich soundtrack from an imagined sci-fi epic brimming with moody, hooky, gauzy synthesizer soundscapes. The album may suggest the progeny of a John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, and Mike Oldfield marriage, but it stands apart from these touchstones and generates a meditative universe all its own. This is no mere curio in the Sufjan Stevens catalog - but a fully realized collaborative musical piece.

      FORMAT INFORMATION

      Coloured LP Info: Yellow vinyl.

      Sufjan Stevens & Timo Andres

      The Decalogue

        Oscar- and Grammy-nominated composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens releases his acclaimed score for Justin Peck’s ballet The Decalogue via his own label, AKR. Performed by the pianist Timo Andres, the recording is the first time the score, premiered during the New York City Ballet’s 2017 season, is available to the public. 

        The Decalogue is the third collaboration between NYCB Resident Choreographer Peck and Stevens, following 2012’s Year of the Rabbit and 2014’s Everywhere We Go. The piece was widely praised upon its premiere; The New York Times lauded the “beauty and charm” of Peck’s choreography as well as Stevens’ “romantically modernist études.”

        Brooklyn-based composer-pianist Timo Andres is a Nonesuch Records artist, who has written major works for the Boston Symphony, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican, the Takács Quartet, the Concertgebouw, and elsewhere. He performs regularly with Gabriel Kahane, and has frequently appeared with Philip Glass, Becca Stevens, Nadia Sirota, the Kronos Quartet, John Adams, Ted Hearne, and others. As a pianist, Timo has performed at Lincoln Center, for the New York Philharmonic, the LA Phil, at Wigmore Hall, for San Francisco Performances, and at (le) Poisson Rouge. Upcoming highlights include a curated program for the Cincinnati Symphony (featuring Dance Heginbotham and a performance of Andres’s cello concerto, Upstate Obscura), and a solo piano recital for Carnegie Hall. Previous work with Sufjan Stevens includes the orchestration of “Principia” for Justin Peck and the New York City Ballet.

        A singer-songwriter currently living in New York, Sufjan Stevens’ preoccupation with epic concepts has motivated two state records (Michigan and Illinois), a collection of sacred and biblical songs (Seven Swans), an electronic album for the animals of the Chinese zodiac (Enjoy Your Rabbit), an expansive EP in homage to the Apocalypse (All Delighted People), a full length partly inspired by the outsider artist Royal Robertson (The Age of Adz) and two Christmas box sets (Songs for Christmas, vol. 1-5 and Silver & Gold, vol. 6-10). BAM has commissioned two works from Stevens, a programmatic tone poem for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (The BQE) and an instrumental accompaniment to slow-motion rodeo footage (Round-Up). Stevens’ Planetarium, a collaborative album with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister imbued with themes of the cosmos, was released in 2017 to widespread critical praise.

        2015’s highly acclaimed Carrie & Lowell explored his relationship with his mother in the wake of her death; a companion collection of outtakes, remixes and demos, The Greatest Gift Mixtape, was released in 2017. The songs “Love Yourself” and “With My Whole Heart” were released in 2018 in celebration of Pride Month, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, NY and the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, MI. Stevens also contributed three much-lauded songs to Luca Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed film Call Me By Your Name, including the Oscar-nominated “Mystery of Love.”

        Sufjan Stevens

        The Avalanche - Coloured Vinyl Reissue

          Released in 2006 as a follow-up to Sufjan Stevens’ 2005 Illinois, Asthmatic Kitty Records is finally releasing Avalanche on vinyl. Initially conceived as part of a double album version of Illinois, Avalanche instead became a “companion” (a polite word for “b-sides”) to Illinois. Since its release, fans have had mixed reactions. “3 versions of Chicago?!?! Enough already,” wrote ‘biografiend” on Sputnik. But “cravenmonket,” who gave the album 4.5 stars on rateyourmusic, suggests that we all “stop thinking of The Avalanche as more Illinois. It actually owes more to Michigan.” Cravenmonket may be right. Take “The Mistress Witch” or “Saul Bellow,” both of which could have lived on the 2003 Michigan as much as on Illinois. One can hear Sufjan’s 2004 Enjoy Your Rabbit in “The Undivided Self.” And the band jam on “Springfield” looks forward to 2010’s All Delighted People. Then there’s “Pittsfield,” which, at least lyrically, foreshadows the more personal themes of 2015’s Carrie & Lowell.

          All that to say, a vinyl release of Avalanche is long overdue. Complete with all 21 songs from the original release, including the three versions of “Chicago” (you’re welcome, biografiend).


          FORMAT INFORMATION

          2xColoured LP Info: Limited edition coloured vinyl. Avalanche white hatchback orange double LP.

          Carrie & Lowell, the new album from Sufjan Stevens, is released on Stevens’ own Asthmatic Kitty Records. 

          The album - named for Stevens’ mother and stepfather - is a return to Stevens’ folk roots. Thematically the 11 songs address life and death, love and loss, and the artist’s struggle to make sense of the beauty and ugliness of love.

          Carrie & Lowell was recorded by Stevens alongside Casey Foubert, Laura Veirs, Nedelle Torrisi, Sean Carey, Ben Lester and Thomas Bartlett and mixed by Stevens, Bartlett and Pat Dillet.

          The wind blows hard. We need songs for shelter and Raymond Raposa can build a shelter from almost anything: the sun-bleached bones of a drum track and a couple of spare organ chords; a carpet of creeping synth arpeggios, a scaffolding of multi-tracked harmonies, a few scraps of alto sax to prop up the whole structure. ‘Decimation Blues’, Raymond Raposa’s sixth release as Castanets, marks a decade of scavenger architecture.

          ‘Decimation Blues’ sees Raposa stepping out in front of the hermetic persona he’s crafted over ten years. There have always been shards of pop songs glinting in the dark corners of Castanets records. Here we get whole gleaming edifices.

          ‘Decimation Blues’ is the music of a man who’s learned to live and build among the wreckage - twelve seemingly offhand, secretly meticulous tracks that we can hunker down in. “Still always good to be alone in someone else’s home,” Raposa sings. Come in out of the rain, put your shoes by the fire. The walls might shake and the wind might howl but you’ll be safe here a while.

          Mozart’s Sister - the solo project of Montreal’s Caila Thompson-Hannant she started back in early 2011 - delights in making glittering, celebratory pop with an underlying strain of brittle, claustrophobic energy. By marrying the accessible with the decidedly off-kilter, she displays a similar vigor and charisma to female contemporaries Grimes and tUnE-yArDs, both of whom too learned their trade among the same fertile hometown scene as her.

          Since attracting a ton of buzz for her entrancing live shows and for first EP ‘Hello’, Mozart’s Sister has been head-down in her bedroom writing her debut album. For anyone who’s been following her work - and for new listeners - ‘Being’ is Mozart’s Sister expressing macrocosmic ideas about life with panache and abundant hooks.

          Inspired by ‘Discovery’-era Daft Punk, ‘Post’-era Bjork, and Betty Davis, Caila produced, recorded and wrote the album using a cheap soundcard and Ableton software, approaching it with a do-it-all-by-myself ideology.

          Being is fundamentally a pop record. If you’re looking to catalogue her music more than that, you’re going to have a hard time; Caila describes Being as an intentionally fractured album. “It was far reaching. Things didn’t always connect, but that was part of the whole idea,” she says. Which is representative of the best music, and maybe the best of life: looking for order in chaos, not always finding it, and living with whatever happens next.

          Half-handed Cloud’s ‘Flying Scroll Flight Control’ presents Dada interior-architectural songs, in the mode of Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merzbau’, the sound of Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboard combines, interrupted by Futurist noise intoner music of collision. They’re integrated with the radiant flicker of Stan Brakhage’s domestic / personal 1960s art films, the mechanized music of Conlon Nancarrow, Mister Rogers’ avant-garde children’s operas and the methods of Grunge era hometaping alchemists Eric’s Trip, with scriptures giving voice to the unknown.

          The album features a 5-person female choir, manipulated recording tape, fuzz bass, clarinet, some piano, a child’s Magnus air organ, rhythmic zipper, trombone, a cushioned Stylophone stick and intermittent backpacker guitar.

          Mixed by Sufjan Stevens.

          Mastered by John Dieterich (from Deerhoof).

          “Sometimes, the songs have an appeal reminiscent of a hypercaffeinated Shins, with the addition of a refined sense of quirkiness that evokes a Mark Mothersbaugh score for a Wes Anderson movie.” - Pitchfork

          “The usual intricate assortment of horns, pianos and marimbas return to fill out the sonic tableau but the synthesized textures push Ringhofer toward a delightfully idiosyncratic white-boy soul aesthetic.” - Paste Magazine

          FORMAT INFORMATION

          LP includes MP3 Download Code.

          ‘Psychic Temple II’ is a labour of love envisioned by Chris Schlarb to bring his most far-ranging inspirations to life - as he puts it, “a dream ensemble that could never actually exist”.

          The ensemble’s sophomore release was painstakingly constructed over more than a year with the cooperation of some of the most progressive musical minds from a staggering variety of genres.

          ‘Psychic Temple II’ reaches beyond the long-form experiments of its predecessor for a more tightly focused yet conceptually unrestrained approach.

          Schlarb also includes three cover songs by composers who share his boundary-demolishing mindset: Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out’, Frank Zappa’s ‘Sofa No. 2’ and Brian Wilson’s ‘Til I Die’, a gorgeous, lesser-known Beach Boys song that features vocals by Sufjan Stevens, Ray Raposa (Castanets) and Nedelle Torrisi.

          Fol Chen make the soundtrack to a future that never was. To listen is to leave the comfort of nostalgia and land with both feet in a more bold 21st century.

          ‘The False Alarms’ continues the band’s electropop odyssey, now with a honed character and a more distinct palette of sounds.

          Fol Chen have also traded their cloak of anonymity for defiant confidence, featuring Sinosa Loa as their new front voice.

          Helado Negro

          Invisible Life

          Press play on ‘Invisible Life’ and you lose your season. Roberto Lange - Helado Negro - is talking to you in Spanish. He’s talking to you, perhaps with more volume, in the language he’s been teaching us all over the past three years through the lessons of the seductive full length ‘Canta Lechuza’, the sub-narrative exploration EP ‘Island Universe Story One’, and the all-in collaboration, ‘OMBRE’, with Juliana Barwick.

          Jon Philpot, The Bear In Heaven frontman, is one of a few key contributions on the album, including more old friends like Eduardo Alonso (Feathers) and Matt Crum (Lange’s longtime bandmate in ROM), as well as kindred and vast spirit Devendra Banhart. Banhart’s guitar on ‘Arboles’ multiplies the whispered dream of Helado Negro into Technicolor parallel existences.

          A supercombo team-up between Simon Lord (ex Simian) and Rafter Roberts, the Roberts & Lord duo present their Asthmatic Kitty debut, ‘Eponymous’.

          Roberts’ rough and grimy (yet complexly arranged) analog backing tracks paired with Lord's clean, digitally-recorded vocals gives these songs a tricky kind of depth that is immediately engaging. This effortless juxtaposition reigns throughout the album.

          Influenced by nonsense verse poets like Ivor Cutler and Edward Lear, Lord gives us a simple, light-hearted return to innocence, the sweaty exuberance of a dance party with all your friends around you.

          Helado Negro is Roberto Carlos Lange, sometime collaborator of Scott Herren in Savath & Savalas and occasional conspirator with Jaytram of Yeasayer.

          Whilst his last full length, ‘Awe Owe’, was a Funkadelican mega-opus, this is a more personal beast, a solo affair built lovingly from live instruments, percussion, and field recordings, all processed through electronics, computers, and synthesizers. It is an album with very defined songs, its song-structure has been laboured over; choruses count bigtime, confident breakdowns and digi-pop bridges are all part and parcel of the greater good.

          His voice recalls ‘China Girl’-era David Bowie; a relaxed and tropical Peter Gabriel (or even Peter Murphy).

          Continuing Asthmatic Kitty's penchant for an extremely diverse roster - rather than follow down the more, shall we say, abstract or experimental paths that some other recent artists have, Stephens delivers a true song-writers record. This is a lazy afternoon of a release, with beautiful vocals and melodies delivered over calm and tender acoustic, slightly country tinged, slightly jazzy backdrops. Its appeal is broad and its influences are myriad.

          Fol Chen

          Part 1: John Shade Your Fortune's Made

          Fol Chen sound like Prince with Amon Duul II and a children's religious revival, not to mention Hot Chip, Pink Floyd, Gwen Stefani, Pere Ubu, Danielson Famile, Scritti Politti, Boards of Canada, The Blow and Pulp. Fol Chen features Samuel Bing, guitarist for The Liars, and appearances from Karin Tatoyan, Rafter, members of Castanets and Liars. Two of their songs have been featured in the major motion picture 'Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom'. Fol Chen will also soon be heard via their remixes of High Places, Frightened Rabbit and No Kids. Cryptic and Joyful and Asking you to Dance.

          Various Artists

          Achoo! An Asthmatic Kitty Sampler Volume 2

            Asthmatic Kitty Records presents "Achoo!" their second sampler of music released on the label – 27 tracks for the price of a CD single! Featuring songs from every artist on the label and spanning the entire breadth of the catalogue, this gives a concise and exciting introduction to one of the most interesting independent labels in operation today.

            Green Water - The Curtains
            Henney Buggy Band - Sufjan Stevens
            High Life - Shapes And Sizes
            Adventurers - Rafter
            Eyes Peeled - Half-Handed Cloud
            We Were Sparkling - My Brightest Diamond
            Sold To The Nice Rich Man - Welcome Wagon
            So Gentle Your Arms - Shannon Stephens
            Poison & Snakes - Liz Janes
            Strong Animal - Castanets
            Twilight And Ghost Stories (excerpt) - Chris Schlarb
            Year Of The Boar - Osso
            Encouragement - Rafter
            Say You Will - Cryptacize
            Future Past Perfect - Future Rapper
            Sampler Song - Rafter
            Sailing The Veil-Boat - Half-Handed Cloud
            Climbing Texas - Belltower
            Christmas In July - Sufjan Stevens
            Dancing With Someone (Privilege Of Everything) - Castanets
            A Feast - Royal City
            Goldenhead - Shapes And Sizes
            Yes/No - Bunky
            Quail - Half-Handed Cloud
            Careless Love - Liz Janes & Create
            Golden Star (Alias Remix) - My Brightest Diamond
            As You Do - Castanets

            Rafter

            Sex Death Cassette

              Inspired by influences as diverse as Guided By Voices, R Stevie Moore, Fela Kuti, Lightning Bolt, Fushitsusha, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and Cody Chestnutt, "Sex Death Cassette" is an album full of hope, determination and chaos. It'll leave you with sweat dripping down your face onto your swelled lip; fresh, liquid salt, the quintessential flavour of late night post-disco parties and booty slinging good times. After dancing to this album, you're heavy with it, like too much cough syrup on a stomach full of hi-quality sushi. Rafter executes the helter-skelter boogie-down production so gracefully that it is no mystery why those in-the-know recruit him, including the likes of Fiery Furnaces, The Rapture, Arab on Radar, The Album Leaf, Rocket from the Crypt, Danielson, Black Heart Procession, The Peppermints, Hot Snakes, his own band Bunky, and fellow Asthmatic Kitty artists (Castanets, Liz Janes, and Sufjan Stevens).

              Castanets

              In The Vines

                An album based on a Hindu fable about being trapped in an escapable fate, with death and the limitations of our physical lives closing in from all corners. "In The Vines" was written in the aftermath of a mugging, which was the climax of a year of depression and nomadic, nocturnal dislocation. But "In The Vines" is not all peril and darkness; the songs are sung with such intimacy and earnestness that it sways somewhere between the serpent, elephant, bees and rats, the honey representing a strange sense of hope and delight in the brief moments of beauty that sustain our lives. The record features guest appearances from Sufjan Stevens, Jana Hunter, Viking Moses and many others.

                Shapes And Sizes

                Split Lips Winning Hips A Shiner

                  Shapes And Sizes return with their refined brand of experimental pop to create a cohesive, demanding and rewarding listen. Recorded with JC/DC Studios (Destroyer, New Pornographers) and mixed with Asthmatic Kitty's own Rafter Roberts (Fiery Furnaces, The Rapture) to forge a pristine decomposition. Don't turn it down – the overdrive provides the framework for equally aggressive lyrics that combine sensuality, violence and social critique. For fans of Fiery Furnaces, Deerhoof and Animal Collective.

                  Sufjan Stevens

                  The Avalanche

                    Sufjan's last album, "Illinois" was originally conceived as a double album, culminating in a musical collage of nearly 50 songs. But as the project began to develop into an unwieldy epic, common sense weighed in – as did the opinions of others – and the project was cut in half. But as 2005 came to a close, Sufjan returned to the old, forsaken songs on his 8-track like a grandfather remembering his youth. Sufjan gleaned 21 useable tracks from the abandoned material, including three alternate versions of "Chicago". Some songs were in finished form, others were merely outlines, gesture drawings, or musical scribbles mumbled on a hand-held tape recorder. Most of the material required substantial editing, new arrangements or vocals. Much of the work was done at the end of 2005 or in January the following year. Sufjan invited many of the original Illinoisemakers to fill in the edges: drums, trumpet, a choir of singers. The centrepiece, of course, was the title track – "The Avalanche" – a song intended for the leading role on the "Illinois" album but eventually cut and placed as a bonus track on the vinyl release.


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