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PARADISE OF BACHELORS

Mega Bog

Life, And Another

    The magical Mega Bog returns with another fantastical off-world transmission, the most sophisticated, exploratory, and accessible statement yet from surrealist songwriter and avant-pop prospector Erin Birgy. Featuring James Krivchenia (Big Thief), who co-produced, and Zach Burba (iji) among its cast of vibrant players, Life, and Another bristles with painterly technicolor surface textures while plumbing fathomless depths of feeling.

    Cohabiting with Life, and Another’s co-producer, engineer, and percussionist James Krivchenia (Big Thief) in a small cabin near the Rio Grande off of NM State Route 68, Birgy found herself often alone, suspended between their separate touring schedules. In these silent time passages, Birgy experienced a complete loss of self amid the expanse. Frequently thinking about death in the middle of nowhere opened a familiar black hole of troubling projections, and any desire to find freedom or remain positive continued to fold back into self-destructive thought and fear. New, northern landscapes, like the woods and rivers outside of Seattle, Washington, provided inspiration during odd sublets in the area. Dark as everything may actually be, Birgy always manages to stay with trouble and conjure the extraordinary resulting music.

    Recorded over several sessions in various studios Life bleeds with instrumental contributions from longtime and new collaborators, including Aaron Otheim, Zach Burba of iji, Will Segerstrom, Matt Bachmann, Andrew Dorset of Lake, James Krivchenia of Big Thief, Meg Duffy of Hand Habits, Jade Tcimpidis, Alex Liebman, and co-engineers Geoff Treager and Phil Hartunian. Listeners know by now they can trust Mega Bog to continuously lead them into deeper and wilder, spiritual pop territories. Skittering piano glissandos, haunting psychic background voices, and tequila-inspired improvisations creep and crawl over the dark-night-of-the-soul rock and roll dreamscape, before vanishing to make way for invocations of quiet clarity and living-breathing instrumental passages.

    TRACK LISTING

    1 Flower
    2 Station To Station
    3 Weight Of The Earth, On Paper
    4 Crumb Back
    5 Butterfly
    6 Life, And Another
    7 Maybe You Died
    8 Beagle In The Cloud
    9 Darmok
    10 Adorable
    11 Bull Of Heaven
    12 Obsidian Lizard
    13 Before A Black Tea
    14 Ameleon

    Jennifer Castle

    Monarch Season

      Jennifer Castle’s 6th album, the moon-suffused Monarch Season an album as delicate and diaphanous as its namesake butterfly stands, in a literal sense, as her first proper “solo” album, performed alone in her coastal kitchen, windows open to the insects and the wind and the reflection of the moon on Lake Erie, entirely without human accompaniment (though a chorus of crickets provides rich interstitial support throughout.) This record is a reminder to cherish openly that which reflects off and onto me. A reminder that stone orbs only become meaningful moons when they experience the gravity and light of others.” Jennifer Castle. In autumn 2009, for the first time, monarch butterflies, known for their extensive annual North American migrations, emerged from their cocoons in outer space, onboard the International Space Station, part of a NASA experiment on the effects of microgravity on Lepidoptera. Ten years later, in autumn 2019, Jennifer Castle sat at home in her quiet coastal kitchen in Ontario, windows open to the insects and the wind and the reflection of the moon on Lake Erie her host of muses and recorded nine moon-suffused songs. It was monarch season again on Earth, and Jennifer was inspired to “see the wings in everything.” Now, a year later, we have Monarch Season, an album as delicate and diaphanous as its namesake creature.


      Although created half a year pre-pandemic, Castle deliberately pursued a minimalist, homebound, and solitary process that represented, for her musical practice, a radical reduction of scale, coupled with a telescopic expansion of scope. The follow-up to her acclaimed 2018 record Angels of Death, Monarch Season is Castle’s private experiment on the effects of microgravity in this context, increased immediacy, intimacy, domesticity, simplicity, brevity, and directness on her music. Monarch Season transports the listener, from the first strains of the heavy-lidded guitar instrumental “Theory Rest,” to that lakeside kitchen at dusk, beneath a bright moon twinned in the water. It also intentionally resembles Castle’s riveting, discursive solo live performances more accurately than any other of her albums. The terrestrial vinyl and CD versions of the album include lengthier ambient segues of onsite environmental recordings between songs; you can hear the lapping of the lake. She recorded quickly, with only her longtime co-producer Jeff McMurrich to capture her guitar, piano, and for the first time on record harmonica.Jennifer dedicates her blowing to friend and mentor Kath Bloom, who played the Pink City harp.


      Her airy, lambent voice renders these taut poems as elegant inscriptions within circumscription, fully present and presciently articulate, months before the age of coronavirus quarantines, about the troubles and delights to be found in aloneness, in the patient observation of our immediate surroundings. Subtle nods toward classic songcraft, and traditional ideas about songcraft are abound on Monarch Season. “NYC” features a baseball anecdote and metaphor (“we all pick teams, I guess.”) “Justice” is her take on a big-tent folk-revival protest anthem. “Did you lock my heart up? And throw away the key?” Jennifer asks on “Moonbeam or Ray,” embracing the conventional romanticism of that lyrical trope. But her answer to herself is oddly put, sad and slightly schizoid: “I hope no!” “What becomes of the broken-hearted?” begins the last song, slyly conjuring Jimmy Ruffin.


      Castle posits no answer to that riddle. Elsewhere, warm personal details emerge. The gorgeous spiraling melody of “Veins” laments that the world is not changing “as fast as it should” a sentiment more relevant than ever while also insinuating that losing love feels like being stranded on the surface of the moon. Her repeated use of the word “labour” in “I’ll Never Walk Alone” “I birthed from the mouth of a cave” is metaphorical and literal, on two levels. In addition to her songwriting, Castle works as a doula, but herein her creative labour bears the fruit of these new songs, or as she calls them, “my new plays.” Monarch Season offers these songs as lapidary mirrors of solace, radiant with reflected moonlight, to whoever is listening. Look up, look around, look inward, they say, for the light of others. And then look again

      TRACK LISTING

      A1. Theory Rest
      A2. NYC
      A3. Justice
      A4. I’ll Never Walk Alone
      A5. Monarch Season

      B1. Moonbeam Or Ray
      B2. Purple Highway
      B3. Veins
      B4. Broken Hearted 

      Mike Polizze

      Long Lost Solace Find

        RIYL Purling Hiss, Birds of Maya, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, Nap Eyes, the War on Drugs, Jonathan Richman, The Clean, The Kinks, Neil Young.

        “Beautifully melancholic… A craftsman whose easy mastery hides the years of work it took to get there. The hooks seem to never stop.” Pitchfork // “Idiosyncratic and remarkable … unwashed, long-haired pop strum.” NPR Music.

        The story of Long Lost Solace Find, the debut solo album by Mike Polizze, is a Philadelphia story. It’s also a story about the erstwhile Purling Hiss frontman and Birds of Maya shredder stepping out from behind the wall of guitar noise into the bright sunshine to inhabit the dazzling realm of glassychords. Performed entirely by Polizze (largely live and acoustic), with notable instrumental and vocal contributions from longtime friend Kurt Vile, and recorded (slowly, over the course of a year) by War on Drugs engineer Jeff Zeigler, this intimate Philly affair clarifies the bittersweet earworm melodicism of Polizze’s songwriting, revealing bona fide folk-pop chops. Long Lost Solace Find finally harvests the wild local honey from the buzzing hive of Hiss.

        Mike moved from nearby Media, Pennsylvania to Fishtown, Philadelphia in 2004, cofounding Birds of Maya with Jason Killinger (later of Spacin’) and Ben Leaphart (later also of Purling Hiss, Watery Love, et al.) and subsequently falling in with a nascent scene that included the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Espers, and the future Founding Fathers of Paradise of Bachelors. In the early years of the new millennium, Philadelphia, and particularly the affordable neighborhoods north of Northern Liberties that attracted artists and musicians, could be a brutal and sinister place, with acres of abandoned and blighted post-industrial blocks ripe for reclamation through thoughtless gentrification. (One of my final, fateful memories before I moved to North Carolina in 2006 was watching a threadbare, discombobulated pigeon stagger in sidewalk circles, impaled wingwise with a syringe. Tourists beware!) The primeval caveman roar of Birds of Maya through which Polizze carved savage solos, wielding his guitar like a garotte—reflected that uneasy, transitional urban milieu.

        Beginning with his first record as Purling Hiss in 2009, Polizze retained the pervasive (if somewhat softened) fuzz but gradually pivoted to a more pop-inflected idiom that, as he refined it Adam Granduciel of the War on Drugs produced 2013’s Water on Mars increasingly recalled the classic indie rock of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although, particularly in the early days, it sometimes constituted a de facto solo bedroom project, Purling Hiss eventually released six studio records (on the estimable Woodsist, Richie, and Drag City labels, among others) and toured for ten years as a proper band. Mike never entirely ventured out from behind the moniker, or the clamor. (On Long Lost Solace Find, he jokes about sometime nickname Dizzy Polizzy, singing, in the final lines of “Vertigo,” the last song on the record, “I am dizzy in your world.”) In 2015 Christopher Smith of Paradise of Bachelors urged Polizze to play his first proper solo show under his own name, opening for the Weather Station. The present album developed from that decisive moment, with Polizze, Zeigler, and Vile hunkering down in Uniform Recording to chip away at these twelve songs.

        And what songs! With very little electric guitar and few effects audible, Polizze’s expressiveness and dexterity as a fingerstyle player (not to mention a singer) emerges, especially on unadorned tunes like “Wishing Well” and the instrumental “D’Modal,” both of which bring to mind friend and fellow Delco native Steve Gunn. An amiably languid mood prevails, offhandedly achieving an atmosphere of quiet bliss and charming nonchalance that belies the morass of contradictions, bruising anxieties, nostalgia and nauseous stasis suggested by the elliptical lyrics (I told you it’s a Philadelphia story). The lyrical content sometimes dissolves into the simple, childlike pleasures of rhymes and phonemic play, dispensing with parsable grammar entirely, as in the chorus of “Do do do” and the “Bam-bam a rambling man, a midnight sham” bit in infectious lead single “Revelation,” an instantly winsome number which features Kurt on backing vocals and surprise trumpet. The way Polizze sings the banal title of “Bainmarie” literally, from the French, “Mary’s bath,” a kind of double-boiler kitchen device, a reference to the hardships of past jobs like “memory” gets at the remarkable way these lilting melodies unfold with gorgeous, unpretentiously Proustian grace and ease. The endless hooks here sound casual, almost shrugged-off, despite their carefully constructed recursive and ramifying nature. Long Lost Solace Find demonstrates Polizze as a fount of perfectly turned little melodies and riffs and guilelessly sung ditties glassychords. Long Lost Solace Find represents the apotheosis of Polizze’s evolving craft.

        TRACK LISTING

        A1. Bainmarie 4:32
        A2. Revelation 4:32
        A3. Cheewawa 2:26
        A4. Wishing Well 3:32
        A5. Eyes Reach Across 4:01
        A6. Do Do Do 4:21
        B1. Edge Of Time 3:20
        B2. Rock On A Feather 2:52
        B3. D'Modal 2:42
        B4. Sit Down 3:45
        B5. Marbles 2:22
        B6. Vertigo 4:29

        James Elkington

        Ever-Roving Eye

          Chicago songwriter and guitarist James Elkington who has collaborated with everyone from Richard Thompson to Jeff Tweedy to Tortoise recorded his sophomore album at Wilco’s Loft, expanding upon his celebrated 2017 debut Wintres Woma (PoB-034) as well as his recent production and arrangement work for the likes of Steve Gunn, Nap Eyes, and Joan Shelley. Casting glances back to British folk traditions as well as toward avant-garde horizons, these brilliant new songs, as accessible as they are arcane, buttress Elkington’s brisk guitar figures and baritone poesy with strings, woodwinds, and backing vocals by Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station.

          “An epiphany… a cryptic storyteller and dazzling acoustic guitarist.” Rolling Stone

          “Elkington stands apart among the wave of 21st century guitar soloists. Beautiful, complex, and assured.” Pitchfork

          “A convincing, warmly whirling weather system of his own.” The Guardian

          “James Elkington is a friend of mine, and I have long enjoyed and indeed found satisfaction from witnessing the juicy fruits of his successful labors. Though it sounds like a line culled from a murderous Child ballad, “Ever-Roving Eye” has everything to do instead with the slipperiness of satisfaction, and the equal parts virtue and vice that is being your own mule and driver. Meticulously planned and quickly tracked (the Elkingtonian way), it includes Wintres Woma alumni Nick Macri (James’ longtime bass colleague) and Macie Stewart (violin), plus new recruits Lia Kohl (cello), Spencer Tweedy (drums), The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman (vocals), and the prolific Paul Von Mertens (Brian Wilson) on woodwinds. Where the first record was more firmly situated in the sonic tradition of England’s more interesting 1970s folk revivalists, Eye engages in a broader wrassle, roping in echoes of British library musics, horror-film soundtracks, demure psychedelia, and more rocking elements of folk-rock. The result is a record even more elaborate, shrewd, thoughtful and confessional than its predecessor. Ever-Roving Eye is instead a sublime distillation of the humane wisdom of a dude who’ll never be; the dude who sings on the single, “Nowhere Time”: “There’s a master plan somebody understands / And I wish that one was me.” It might well cast a pox on the concept of satisfaction altogether. Though it still satisfies the hell out of me”. Nathan Salsburg, December 2019

          TRACK LISTING

          A1. Nowhere Time 4:25
          A2. Sleeping Me Awake 3:02
          A3. Leopards Lay Down 3:47
          A4. Moon Tempering 3:13
          A5. Rendlesham Way 4:14
          B1. Late Jim's Lament 2:54
          B2. Carousel 2:50
          B3. Go Easy On October 3:02
          B4. Ever-Roving Eye 4:41
          B5. Much Master 4:24

          Itasca

          Spring

            In the fall of 2017, a year after the release of her acclaimed 2016 album Open to Chance, Kayla Cohen, the songwriter and guitarist who records and performs as Itasca, left her home in Los Angeles to live and write for two seasons in a century-old adobe house in rural New Mexico (pictured on the album cover). More urgent escape than fanciful escapade, the move from one Southwestern desert to another resulted from a set of dire circumstances, both personal and societal, not least of which was the sense, shared by many, that a sinister cabal of impaired lunatics had irredeemably poisoned the already sour well of our American discourse. She decided to drop out and dive deeper—hiking into the mountains, through fragrant juniper and piñon forests, past groves of golden cottonwoods, to the source of what she calls in the song “Cornsilk” with a nod to poet Clayton Eshleman “the canyoned river.” Inspired by the landscape and history of the Four Corners region, the resulting album, the sublime Spring—its title summoning both season and scarce local water sources—dowses a devotional path to high desert headwaters.

            Cohen followed some heavy footprints across the Sandia and Sangre de Cristo ranges. In the long American tradition of lighting out for the territories, many artists, particularly visual artists including Terry Allen, Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, Walter de Maria, Bruce Nauman, and Susan Rothenberg have famously sought refuge and inspiration in the Land of Enchantment. Captivating landscapes and the astonishing biodiversity aside (outside), foot-thick adobe walls provide a security and shelter insulation and isolation that can be hard to find in LA. With her studies of New Mexico’s long history and seismic geological and cultural changes, Cohen sought something different, more ancient—a hearth, a retreat from the noisy and noisome city, yes, but also a deeper historical understanding of urbanity and community, landscape and loss. (Chaco Canyon’s massive architectural complexes ranked as the largest buildings in North America until the late 19th century.)

            Her investigations bore bright fruit in the form of an interpretive travelogue: Spring, suffused with mystery and a keenly evoked sense of place, contains Cohen’s most quietly dazzling, coherent, and self-assured set of songs to date. Having withdrawn from and returned to the city, she sounds more like herself than ever before. In the context of the album’s bolder arrangements, her gorgeous, lambent voice and helical fingerstyle guitar plumb new depths of expressivity, confidence, and wonder. Inflected with flourishes recalling the ’70s orchestrated concept albums from which it draws influence, Spring resembles an archeological excavation of
            Cohen’s own encanyoned style. She recorded unhurriedly, in piecemeal fashion, with various collaborators: first to two-inch tape at Minbal studio in Chicago, with Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas) engineering; then to quarter-inch tape at home, with a Tascam 388; and finally overdubbing at Tropico in Los Angeles, with Greg Hartunian. Daniel Swire (drums), Kayla’s bandmate in Gun Outfit, and Marc Riordan (piano) of Sun Araw provided the exquisitely delicate rhythm section; Dave McPeters once again contributed lightning-field flashes of pedal steel; and James Elkington arranged the subtly cinematic strings (played by Jean Cook.) Chris Cohen mixed, imparting some of his signature classic pop dynamics, which press beyond the sonic realm of the solitary singer-songwriter.

            If Open to Chance felt moonlit, spectral and spooky, Spring sounds positively auroral, luminous, a brisk early morning walk through lucid daylit dreams, a series of vivid visions in thrall to the dusty New Mexican terrain. By opening themselves to multivalent interpretations, these generous, sun-dappled songs hide nothing. An intentional narrative of discovery connects the sequence, from the beckoning highway apparition in “Lily,” through the immersion in the “Blue Spring” dug deep into the recesses of a cliffside cave, to the resigned farewell of “A’s Lament” (which ends, poignantly, with a blessing to a departed friend: “I just want you to be free”). Elsewhere the links to Cohen’s research are oblique, more atmospheric and impressionistic than explicit. She carefully claims no authority or answers, but instead offers a traveler’s tranquil observation and wide-eyed reflection, weaving together her questions about the relationships between the land and the Ancestral Puebloan culture that shaped it with her questions about her own cultural and ecological bearings. Lead single “Bess’s Dance” provides a metaphorical key to the record’s concept, with a glimpse of the Basketmaker culture’s woven artifacts, functional art objects that so fascinated Cohen that she found herself dreaming their patterns:

            TRACK LISTING

            A1. Lily
            A2. Only A Traveler
            A3. Bess’s Dance
            A4. Comfort's Faces
            A5. Voice Of The Beloved
            B1. Blue Spring
            B2. Cornsilk
            B3. Plains
            B4. Golden Fields
            B5. A’s Lament 

            Red River Dialect

            Abundance Welcoming Ghosts

              Whilst touring during 2018 in support of Broken Stay Open Sky, their 4th album, Red River Dialect uncovered a new depth of communication in their playing, and the follow-up bears the fruit. Abundance Welcoming Ghosts finds the British folk-rock band relaxing into a natural, playful confidence. It was recorded at Mwnci Studios (Southwest Wales), during 4 days in 2018, just a month before the band’s songwriter David Morris left the UK for a 9 month meditation retreat at a remote Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia. By the time the band reached the studios, the imminent hiatus lent a poignant and celebratory atmosphere to the sessions. The compositions had not been fully formed prior to recording, but any pressure was transmuted into invigoration, resulting in the jubilant energy that adorns even the most turbulent songs. This expansiveness bears testament to the skill of long-term collaborator and guide Jimmy Robertson (Michael Chapman), who engineered and mixed the songs. Guest musicians Joan Shelley, who sings the hidden spaces on “Snowdon” and “Piano,” and Tara Jane O’Neil (Rodan, the Sonora Pine), who plays sweet aching slide guitar on “My Friend,” complement the core sextet. Ed Sanders’ violin alternates between soaring with crisp highland sadness on “BV Kistvaen” and burying jaws into the flesh of songs like “Salvation.”


              Coral Kindred-Boothby’s bass swings the anchor in deep blue fathoms, but frequently dances up to the clouds; she sings heart-swelling, radiant harmonies on “My Friend.” Lead guitarist Simon Drinkwater weaves spry and subtle lines just under the surface of the ocean, breaking for gasps of air and bicycle kicks, slicing the air on “Snowdon” and “Blue Sparks.” Kiran Bhatt rides the drums out to all the cardinal points, tapping high bright stars on “Piano” and pulsing with the circular tide on “Two White Carp.” Robin Stratton has one hand rummaging in the swamp around “Red River” and the other under a waterfall on “Slow Rush”; his piano and organ playing flow like water into both rhythm and lead roles.The thread of mourning that has long held sway in Morris’ songwriting, particularly on 2015’s Tender Gold and Gentle Blue, is not fully unravelled. There are familiar questions about allegiances to caution and pensiveness, but the songs edge ever closer to abandoning restraints, including the desire to achieve coherence in meaning as some form of salvation. Regarding the title, he points to a quote attributed to the eleventh century Tibetan spiritual master Machig Labdrön, 

              TRACK LISTING

              A1. Blue Sparks 4:04
              A2. Two White Carp 4:26
              A3. Snowdon 5:33
              A4. Slow Rush 4:24
              A5. Salvation 4:42

              B1. Red River 5:32
              B2. Piano 6:27
              B3. My Friend 5:44
              B4. BV Kistvaen 4:21

              Michael Chapman

              True North

                The masterful follow-up to his universally celebrated 2017 album 50, Michael Chapman’s True North finds the elder statesman of British song writing and guitar plumbing an even deeper deep and honing an ever keener edge to his iconic writing. This authoritative set of predominantly new, and utterly devastating, songs hews to a more intimate sonic signature—more atmospheric, textural, and minimalist than 50, stately and melancholy in equal measure. Recorded in rural West Wales, True North unflinchingly surveys home and horizon, traveling from the Bahamas to Texas to the Leeds of Chapman’s childhood, haunted by the mirages of memory and intimations of mortality. Joining him on this introspective journey is a cast of old friends and new disciples: once again Steve Gunn produces and plays guitar, and fellow UK song writing hero Bridget St John sings, collaborating with cellist Sarah Smout and legendary pedal steel player BJ Cole, who has accompanied everyone from John Cale to Scott Walker, Elton John to Terry Allen, Felt to Björk.

                The album begins with the gnawing regret of “It’s Too Late,” and every song Chapman sings thereafter directly references the passing of time—its blind ruthlessness, its sweet hazy delights in noirish language almost mystical in its terseness and precision. (The two transportive, gorgeous instrumentals, one per side, both have appropriately evocative—though decidedly not Northern—pastoral place names for titles: Eleuthera is an island in the Bahamas where Chapman habitually holidays every winter, and Caddo Lake straddles the border between Texas and Louisiana.) This is Chapman at his darkest and most nocturnal, yes, but also his most elegant and subtle, squinting into the black hours with an unseen smile. By the time True North is out in the world, Chapman will be seventy-eight years old and will have released nearly as many records, a staggering achievement. True North represents the most nakedly personal album of his career, his most authoritative, unguarded, and emotionally devastating statement. His universally celebrated full-band 2017 album 50 flirted with much-deserved triumphalism, offering a retrospective of his illustrious career, revisited in the company of the fellow UK song writing hero Bridget St John and a rowdy gang of younger acolytes including Steve Gunn, James Elkington, and Nathan Bowles. The production hearkens back to Chapman’s classic Millstone Grit (1973), as well as recalling Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind (1997); True North shares something of that album’s spectral gloaming, midnight heartache, and sly, self-knowing winks. Compared to 50, these recordings feel narrower in range, less overtly narrative and dynamic and more impressionistic and restrained, but they are correspondingly more piercing and arrow-like in their rending impact, more concerned with an archer’s deadeye aim than pyrotechnics. Whereas 50 featured two new songs among radical reinterpretations of material from Chapman’s deep catalogue, True North includes twice as many new numbers among its quiver of eleven arrows—“It’s Too Late,” “Eleuthera,” the fiery “Bluesman,” and slow-rolling album centre piece “Truck Song”—confirming the exultant return of Chapman the songwriter. The other songs were selected from various obscure corners of Chapman’s vast catalogue (“Youth Is Wasted on the Young” was previously recorded with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke for a compilation, for example.) In these renderings they receive their definitive treatments, utterly transformed.

                STAFF COMMENTS

                Barry says: Chapman once again providing a tender but devastatingly evocative suite of brittle acoustic numbers, slowly strummed or skilfully picked cascades of guitar, all topped with Chapman's husky but perfectly fitting vocal accompaniment. Encompassing aspects of outsider folk and campfire revelry with the characteristic shadowy acoustic undercurrent inherent in all of his work. Quintessentially Chapman.

                TRACK LISTING

                A1. “It's Too Late” 4:25
                A2. “After All This Time” 4:06
                A3. “Vanity & Pride” 3:34
                A4. “Eleuthera” 2:50
                A5. “Bluesman” 3:35
                A6. “Full Bottle, Empty Heart” 3:20
                B1. “Truck Song” 6:08
                B2. “Caddo Lake” 5:55
                B3. “Hell To Pay” 4:13
                B4. “Youth Is Wasted On The Young” 4:02
                B5. “Bon Ton Roolay” 2:43

                Nathan Bowles

                Plainly Mistaken

                  RIYL: Steve Gunn, Jake Xerxes Fussell, the Black Twig Pickers, Pelt, Jack Rose, Michael Chapman, Bill Callahan, Daniel Bachman, Marisa Anderson, William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mary Lattimore, CAVE, Henry Flynt, Clive Palmer, Terry Riley, Julie Tippetts.

                  “Sounds like Philip Glass playing to barnyard animals ... balances the cerebral with the soulful.” Uncut

                  “Nathan Bowles is like my spirit animal. It’s the real shit … beautiful then, beautiful now. Timeless.” Kurt Vile

                  On his playfully sub versive fourth solo album, Nathan Bowles (Steve Gunn, Pelt, Black Twig Pickers) extends his acclaimed banjo and percussion practice into the full-band realm for the first time, showcasing both delicate solo meditations and smoldering, swinging ensemble explorations featuring Casey Toll (Jake Xerxes Fussell, Mt. Moriah) on double bass and Rex McMurry (CAVE) on drums. As he considers the cycles of deceit and self-deception that shape both our personal and political lives, a mixed mood of melancholy and merriment permeates Bowles’s own compositions as well as the interpretive material, which draws from traditional Appalachian repertoires and the diverse songbooks of Julie Tippetts, Cousin Emmy, and Silver Apples.

                  Plainly Mistaken, the playfully subversive fourth solo album by Durham, North Carolina multi-instrumentalist Nathan Bowles, begins with a lullaby written by a child for an adult. The seven year-old Jessica Constable composed “Now If You Remember”—the titular lyric continues, precociously, “we were talking about God and you”—for English singer Julie Tippetts’s 1976 album Sunset Glow. Bowles’s ethereal rendering represents a rather radical departure from his previous recordings; his placidly plaintive singing has been stripped of its otherwise genial, ursine gruffness, and the brief song floats by on the sedative ebb tide of banjo and pianos both acoustic and electric.

                  Following that role reversal—a child assuming the role of parental bedtime bard—is the ten and a half minute-long album centrepiece “The Road Reversed,” a reversal (and vast expansion) of previous directions both sonic and congregational. Here, and throughout Plainly Mistaken, Bowles extends his acclaimed solo banjo and percussion practice into the full-band realm for the first time, showcasing both delicate solo meditations and smoldering, swinging ensemble explorations. “The Road Reversed” introduces the growling, bowed double bass of Casey Toll (Jake Xerxes Fussell, Mt. Moriah) and the rigorously precise minimalist drumming of Rex McMurry (CAVE), both of whom feature on five of the nine tracks herein and are integral to the record’s ambitious palette and limber but exacting rhythmic structures. “The Road Reversed” likewise introduces, and lays authoritative claim to, the full compositional extent and capacity of this unorthodox banjo-bass-drums trio, the spacious sonority of which might best be described as arboreal in texture and heft. No instrument impinges on the frequency of another—instead, they feel like towering ligneous parallels, great swaying longleaf pines that, arc and bend perilously together in heavy winds, groaning in head-nodding 5/4 time but remaining upright and rooted.

                  Plainly Mistaken, its title apt, adjusts assumptions we might have made about the scope and scale of Nathan’s music, which sounds both more exquisitely controlled and more dangerously unleashed than ever before. We hear here his ever restless roving between the poles of Appalachian and Piedmont string band traditions and ecstatic drone. In the former category are his percolating full-band rerecording of Ernie Carpenter’s “Elk River Blues” (which previously appeared in a very different solo iteration on A Bottle, A Buckeye [2012]); “Fresh & Fairly So,” the indelibly careening melody of which could be an old-time standard; and “Stump Sprout,” the ghost of a misremembered reel. The latter category includes the solo recordings “Umbra,” “Girih Tiles” (played on the “mellowtone,” a custom banjo/bazouki hybrid instrument built by Rex McMurry’s father Maurice), and the improvised “In Kind” suite. However, never before has Bowles offered such a surprising, but succinct, crystallization of his diverse work with other groups—Steve Gunn, Pelt, the Black Twig Pickers, and most recently, Jake Xerxes Fussell’s band, in which he serves double duty on drums and banjo—made possible here by the fleshed-out full-band configuration and arrangements. Colleague and mutual musical admirer Bill Callahan writes of these scale shifts in Nathan’s music as, alternately, “the grand blankness of seeing everything at once” or “a pinhole vision that soothes and subjects in its narrowness”—the two conditions as, perhaps, two sides of the same equation of Panopticon-to-pinhole compositional logic. That also sounds like a description of spiritual jazz, or the trance context of gnawa song, both of which inform Bowles’s work here.

                  But this is not solipsistic music. Plainly Mistaken also gestures outward to the world, as Bowles considers the cycles of deceit and self-deception that shape both our personal and political lives. “I’ve come to the conclusion,” he writes, “that we’re generally ahistorical and snowblind, unable to adequately digest the past in order to live sufficiently in the present.” The album jacket includes a quotation from Javier Marías’s 2014 novel Thus Bad Begins: “We go from deceit to deceit and know that, in that respect, we are not deceived, and yet we always take the latest deceit for the truth.” It might be funny if it wasn’t so devastating.

                  And so a mixed mood of melancholy and merriment permeates Bowles’s own compositions as well as the interpretive material. His rambunctious and exuberant version of Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolk’s 1946 proto-bluegrass classic “Ruby,” the other vocal track here—elided with “In Kind I”—draws primarily from the 1968 version by Silver Apples instead of the canonical versions by the Osborne Brothers or Buck Owens, thereby embodying a tribute to a palimpsest of bluegrass-meets-avant-garde iterations that perfectly suits Nathan’s own practice. In its trio-fueled headlong canter, “Ruby” feels unhinged and manic, a sinister interrogative mantra that encapsulates the slippery cycle of deception and stuttering accusation that plagues our contemporary cultural moment.

                  TRACK LISTING

                  A1. “Now If You Remember” 2:50
                  A2. “The Road Reversed” 10:36
                  A3. “Umbra” 4:28
                  A4. “Elk River Blues” 3:10
                  B1. “Ruby/In Kind I” 6:21
                  B2. “Girih Tiles” 4:40
                  B3. “Fresh & Fairly So” 3:47
                  B4. “In Kind II” 3:40
                  B5. “Stump Sprout” 2:24

                  Mind Over Mirrors

                  Bellowing Sun

                    A twelve-faceted sonic inquiry into celestial cycles, the rhythms of the natural world, and the illuminating nature of darkness, the accompanying album Bellowing Sun is the majestic culmination of Fennelly’s immersive explorations of the natural world’s sensory dimensions and the dialogues between musical traditions—acoustic and electronic, vernacular and avant-garde. The solitary compositional genesis of the piece, and a significant portion of its early recording (before tracking and mixing sessions with John McEntire of Tortoise), occurred at Bean’s home atop a dune of fine quartz “singing sands” on the shore of Lake Michigan.

                    Sonically, Bellowing Sun is both kaleidoscopic and telescopic in nature, offering a radiant palette of rhythmic, textural, and tonal complexity, as well as rapid shifts in scale, from the intimately corporeal to the dizzyingly cosmic. All four J’s—Jaime, Janet, Jim, and Jon—appeared together on Undying Color, but have since solidified into a formidable, cohesive unit, a true band capable of increasingly expansive arrangements. Though divided into twelve movements, or aspects—zodiacal sectors, perhaps—the piece functions as a heroic, integral whole. The album’s sequence reveals a dynamic push and pull between contemplative stasis and headlong momentum, imparting a palpably physical mass to the cataracts of sound. Bean sings on half of the tracks, including early stunner “Matchstick Grip” and the spectacular closer “Pause to Wonder.” Whether articulating words or intoning phonemes, her powerful, lucent voice elevates the proceedings to a devotional plane whenever it emerges from the saturated field of sound.

                    TRACK LISTING

                    A1. “Feeding On The Flats” 4:24
                    A2. “Matchstick Grip” 9:27
                    A3. “A Palinopsic Wind” 3:40

                    B1. “Zeitgebers” 7:38
                    B2. “Lanterns On The Beach” 3:06
                    B3. “Vermillion Pink” 9:21

                    C1. “Halfway To The Zenith” 4:51
                    C2. “Oculate Beings” 6:35
                    C3. “Talking Knots” 5:32

                    D1. “Twenty-One Falls” 6:56
                    D2. “Acrophasing” 6:10
                    D3. “Pause To Wonder” 5:39

                    Gun Outfit

                    Out Of Range

                      Deluxe 140g LP printed inner sleeve, and download. RIYL Steve Gunn, Terry Allen, Promised Land Sound, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth & Lee Hazlewood. “Peyote for the ears... Expansive, arid, and dusty.” Uncut // “Dreamers wielding slide guitars. A tradition-warping band, with a punk aesthetic deep at the center and double-guitar desert-rock psychedelia at the surface.” The New York Times // Like a stone eroded by years in the arroyo, Gun Outfit’s enveloping “Western expanse” aesthetic of guitar levitations and honky-tonk hexes has become gradually smoother over time. Their fifth LP ranks as their most brutally beautiful statement yet. Drawing from mythologies both classical and postmodern, Out of Range builds a world in which Brueghel the Elder, St. Augustine, and the ancient goddess Cybele ride with John Ford, Samuel Beckett, and Wallace Stevens on a Orphic-Gnostic suicide drive towards the hallucinatory vanishing points of the Southwestern desert, debating the denouement of the decaying American dream.

                      It’s a lesser known beheading-ending of the Orpheus story that L.A. band Gun Outfit recount in “Ontological Intercourse,” the opening track of their fifth full-length record Out of Range, their most brutally beautiful statement yet: “Seeds/the kind that sparrows eat/becoming the willow tree/that Orpheus took beneath/To play ballads for the dead/Till they buried his singing head/Because he worshipped the sun instead/Of the god of epiphany.” Next time the chorus comes round, singer and guitarist Dylan Sharp—who shares twin vocal and guitar duties with the incomparable Carrie Keith—sings a mutant doo-wop bass line. Ballads for the dead, indeed. Meanwhile, other songs inhabit concerns more terrestrial and immediate, though no less profound: the open road (“The 101”); human love (“Three Words,”); death and the failures of faith (“Primacy of Love”); and the damages, deceits, and delights of drugs (“Strange Insistence.”)

                      The latter quotes the Old Testament (Numbers 21:17: “Spring up/O well”) soon after reciting, ironically, the deadly seductions of narcotics: “Speed makes you a genius/Cocaine will make you rich/LSD shows you divinity/And everything’s alright on opiates.” “I tried to quit/before I quit again,” it begins with resolve, but after all, “lies can make you famous.” Throughout the album, the strange becomes familiar, and the familiar strange, a desert mirage of music and language; or, as Carrie sings in the Waylon-esque “Background Deal:” “The things she says/you never heard ’em before.” And therein lies the magic trick: Out of Range somehow manages to contain Gun Outfit’s most conceptually sophisticated and lyrically ambitious material, while remaining their most musically subtle, understated, and accessible album to date, completing their gradual metamorphosis from punk aesthetics to a truly cosmic country—wherein “country” is a geography, a structure of feeling, not a genre.

                      STAFF COMMENTS

                      Barry says: Wry vocal musings, deep country slide guitars and the melodic sensibilities of singalong stadium rock. This is a refined, and highly worthy addition to the current trend of dusty country indie, compromising on nothing, and delivering the lot.

                      TRACK LISTING

                      A1. “Ontological Intercourse” 5:02
                      A2. “Landscape Painter” 3:09
                      A3. “Cybele” 2:40
                      A4. “Strange Insistence” 4:13
                      A5. “The 101” 2:56

                      B1. “Slow Realization” 2:47
                      B2. “Sally Rose” 3:06
                      B3. “Three Words” 3:58
                      B4. “Primacy Of Love” 4:56
                      B5. “Background Deal” 3:42
                      B6. “Second Decade” 5:12

                      Wintres Woma-- Old English for "the sound of winter"-- is James Elkington's debut solo record, but you've likely heard his masterful guitar playing and arranging, even if you didn't realize it. Elkington (an Englishman living in Chicago) is an inveterate collaborator who brings his lyrical compositional and improvisational sensibilities to any group. He has toured, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg and Brokeback, to name just a few of his many enthusiastic admirers.

                      His assured album, recorded at Wilco's Loft, is baroquely detailed and beautifully constructed, featuring both his baritone vocals and some of Chicago's finest, including Tomeka Reid. Elkington was brought up in England during the ’70s and ’80s—a time when traditional and acoustic music was largely shunned in favor of the new wave (to which his largely-destroyed copy of The Fall’s Perverted By Language will attest)—but found after his first forays into songwriting that some semblance of the folk music vernacular had crept in and wouldn’t leave.

                      Elkington’s music, however, is anything if retroactive, and anything if folk music: “It’s not folk music,” he asserts. “I may use the mechanics of folk music to put across my own ideas at times, but it really doesn’t fall into any specific community or songwriterly tradition. The album’s lyrics do seem to have a preoccupation with unseen powers at work and other dimensions, both of which seem to show up in traditional English music, but it’s based on my own experience and understanding, not anyone else’s.” Wintres Woma was recorded at Wilco’s studio, The Loft, in a five-day sprawl with engineer Mark Greenberg. 

                      TRACK LISTING

                      1 Make It Up
                      2 Hollow In Your House
                      3 Wading The Vapors
                      4 Grief Is Not Coming
                      5 When I Am Slow
                      6 The Parting Glass
                      7 The Hermit Census
                      8 Greatness Yet To Come
                      9 Sister Of Mine
                      10 My Trade In Sun Tears
                      11 Any Afternoon

                      Mike Cooper & Derek Hall

                      Out Of The Shades

                        THIS IS A RECORD STORE DAY 2016 EXCLUSIVE, LIMITED TO ONE PER PERSON.

                        First-ever reissue of Cooper’s rare first recordings and PoB’s first Record Store Day release. RIYL Mike Cooper, Michael Chapman, Jackson C. Frank, Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Wizz Jones, or Clive Palmer. Available on virgin vinyl as a limited-edition 45 rpm 7”, with heavy-duty color jacket, restored original artwork, and notes. In 2014 Paradise of Bachelors reissued iconoclastic English-born, Rome-based folk and experimental music legend Mike Cooper’s classic triptych of early 1970s avant-folk-rock records—Trout Steel (1970) and Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper (1971-72)—to widespread critical acclaim, including Best New Reissue recognition from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. But Cooper sowed the seeds of his deconstructivist music five years earlier in his rare earliest recordings, until now scarcely known and never reissued—fitting fodder for PoB’s very first Record Store Day release. Named for The Shades, the Reading, UK folk club where he regularly performed, and which employed and housed guitar prodigy Derek Hall—who later played on Cooper’s 1969 debut LP Oh Really!?—the little-heard Out of the Shades EP was released in an extremely limited edition by local label Kennet Recordings in 1965 as KRS 766. The songs were recorded live to a single microphone in the kitchen/bathroom/former outhouse of Mike’s rambling Georgian apartment, on a portable Ferrograph reel-to-reel that the engineer otherwise used for “recording birds and trains.” By 1965 Mike had already progressed beyond and exhausted his interest in electric Chicago blues with his first band The Blues Committee. He was now a peer of British folk scene stalwarts like Davey Graham, Wizz Jones, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn, hosting folk nights up to five nights a week at venerable Reading and London clubs like Les Cousins, The Latin Quarter, The Elephant, and The Shades, Hall’s home base. Cooper recalls his former partner’s artistry and skill with fondness and wonder:

                        TRACK LISTING

                        A1. "Paul’s Song" 3.20 A2. "Darlin’" 2.33 B1. "Livin’ With The Blues" 2.57 B2. "Skillet" 2.51


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