Posts Tagged ‘4AD Records’

Cocteau Twins The Spangle Maker

The Spangle Maker EP

The addition of Raymonde in 1983 solidified their final line up, which produced The Spangle Maker EP (containing their biggest hit in their native United Kingdom, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops”, For a band with a reputation for being esoteric, the Cocteau Twins have crafted some truly memorable, rousing choruses; for example, “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops”, with its joyous refrain of ‘dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, paddy, paddy, paddy, bicycle and tulips-eh’, or something.

Cocteau Twins Lullabies

Lullabies EP

“Feathers Oar Lands” from follow-up EP Lullabies stands up a lot better. Is that… a riff? A muscular bass-line? Are the Cocteau Twins rocking out? Yes – and I love it. It’s perhaps the only Cocteau Twins song you could start a mosh pit to, albeit a fey, wistful one. You also hear Elizabeth Fraser sounding kind of aloof, which makes for an interesting contrast with her later, more earnest, style.

Cocteau Twins atmosphere is unmistakably present. The bass and drums are the main drivers of this atmosphere. The guitar and vocals are almost like fluttery accents, swirling in and out through the background.

In 1983, the band released a second EP, “Peppermint Pig”, the eponymous title track of an 1983 EP, also sounds surprisingly aggressive. Given how dreamy their later output is, it’s easy to forget that The Cocteau Twins emerged in a post-punk context, but here it’s really apparent. It sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees, if that’s what you’re into.

Head Over Heels

“Head over Heels” (1983)

The band’s next full-length LP record, Head over Heels, relied solely on the latter two, following Heggie’s amicable departure after the tour that followed the release of Peppermint Pig This led to the characteristic Cocteau Twins sound: Fraser’s voice, by turns ethereal and operatic, combined with increasingly effects-heavy guitar playing by Guthrie (who has often said that he is far more interested in the way the guitar is recorded than in the actual notes being played, though he later admitted that his reliance on effects and layering was initially due to his own technical limitations). Opening track When Mother Was Moth sets the tone, with a slow drum machine drenched in improbable amounts of reverberation and Liz Frazer cooing strange nothings over the top. The effect is magical if you’re hearing it for the first time in 2009. In between this and the closing Musette and Drums is a sequence of often brilliant tunes. Some, like the single Sugar Hiccup are sedate and almost poppy, whilst the fabulously titled Glass Candle Grenades and Tinderbox of a Heart are of the more swirly and adventurous variety.

There is not one duff track on the whole LP, and it all culminates in the simply incredible Musette and Drums. A looping, dramatic guitar phrase underpins one of Liz Frazer’s strongest vocal performances on a killer melody. Robin Guthrie tops even this with a rare screaming guitar solo that sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard before or since – barely a recognisably melodic note in it, yet full of intense drama, angst and melancholy. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Elizabeth Frazer is one of the most influential vocalists in rock history, and the band that she fronted was at the forefront of one of the many psychedelic-rock genre offshoots – ‘dream-pop’. Frazer consciously appropriated the voice as an instrumental appendage. The Cocteau Twin’s melodies are sublime which Frazer delivers by way of an ethereal and other-wordly contralto. Frazer’s ‘voice instrument’ is wrapped in layer upon layer of Robin Guthrie’s shimmering oneiric guitar and keyboard lines.

“Head Over Heels’  blends celestial singalonds, middle-eastern psalms, majestic spirituals, vibrant melismas, tinkling guitars and neo-classical keyboards. Cocteau Twins‘ songs exhibited the levity and grace of madrigals but also the gloom and pomp of requiems. The dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins shares the contemplative quality and the passion for textures with ‘shoegazing’ bands like ‘Slowdive’ and ‘My Bloody Valentine’, but diverges from this genre in terms of both narrative development and emotional intensity.

Cocteau Twins Sunburst And Snowblind

Sunburst and Snowblind (1983)

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“Treasure (1984)

Taken from 1984’s Treasure LP, “Ivo” is so grand and operatic that it becomes slightly farcical, an effect not helped by the almost yodel-like backing vocals. Still: it’s great. Please forgive me but I have also included their partly terrible, partly charming cover of “Frosty the Snowman”. If nothing else, it’s a testament to the fact Cocteau Twins don’t take themselves too seriously.

I haven’t discussed the album Treasure much but it’s a lot of people’s favourite and when you listen to “Lorelei” you can understand why.; I once heard someone describe it as “what falling in love sounds like”, which is as good a description as any. There’s a deeply poignant emotional intensity to it – it would also be a great soundtrack for a heartbreak.

Cocteau Twins Aikea-Guinea

Aikea-Guinea (1985)

Tiny Dynamine / Echoes in a Shallow Bay (1985)

The Cocteau Twins‘ record company 4AD put this out, a pairing of two of their best mid-eighties EPs . However, in 2006 they released two double-CD sets which comprehensively collected single and EP material covering the band’s entire career from 1982 to 1996. Lullabies to Violaine volume 1 contains all of the music on this CD — in the same track order, even — plus 25 other songs recorded between 1982 and 1990.

As for the songs, well… if you’re at all interested in finding out what the Cocteau Twins were about, then you will want to hear these eight tracks one way or another. I think these two EPs mark the point where the band really began to come into their own unique musical sound — from this point on, for about five years, pretty much everything they touched turned to gold. They had clearly moved on from their early post-punk clumsiness and were really learning how to use sound in the studio. From the ambient soundscapes of ‘Pink Orange Red’ through to the tribal drum patterns and symphonic sweep of ‘Pale Clouded White’, it’s pure Cocteau Twins magic. ‘Melonella’, my favourite track, showcases Liz Fraser’s euphoric glossolalia technique like nothing else I’ve ever heard (here, she seems to be incanting in something vaguely related to Latin). Nobody else could have made this music.

“Victorialand” (1986)

Victorialand released the same year as The Moon and the Melodies, is a stripped-back affair in which Cocteau Twins‘ characteristically expansive soundscapes are often reduced to Fraser’s vocals and a single guitar line. From the former album, it’s remarkable how fresh “Why Do You Love Me” still sounds. With its wailing, siren-like feedback, it reminds me of Mica Levi’s soundtrack Under the Skin.  Victorialand, was Cocteau Twins’ fourth album, was released in spring 1986. The largely acoustic, non-percussive album was made with Elizabeth and Robin, while Simon was working on This Mortal Coil’s second album. Dif Juz label mate Richard Thomas guested on tabla and saxophone. The Guardian said “It’s not quite ambient, but it’s definitely not rock’n’roll even by the Cocteaus’ standards, building on the moments of guitar shimmer from the previous years’ EPs, while also stripping back at points to where it’s nothing but a Guthrie guitar line and Fraser’s voice.”

Raymonde temporarily left the band during the recording of their fourth album, Victorialand. For the 1986 album Victorialand Fraser said, “The lyrics are words I’ve found by going through dictionaries and books in languages I don’t understand. The words don’t have any meaning at all until they’re sung.” In fact, her unique method of songwriting derived in large part from a lack of confidence in her ability to write conventionally: “Looking back, [it] was a tool to help get things out. I didn’t have the confidence just to sit down and write something. I was always running away from that.”

Victorialand, was the Cocteau Twins’ fourth album, was released in the spring of 1986. It’s largely acoustic, non-percussive album. The Guardian said “It’s not quite ambient, but it’s definitely not rock’n’roll even by the Cocteaus’ standards, building on the moments of guitar shimmer from the previous years’ EPs.

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“Blue Bell Knoll” (1988)

In 1988, Cocteau Twins signed with Capitol Records in the United States, distributing their fifth album, Blue Bell Knoll, through a major label in the country. My all-time favourite Cocteau Twins song, “Carolyn’s Fingers”. In its final chorus, two different Fraser vocal lines are laid on top of each other to create one of most exquisitely yearning sounds I’ve ever heard.I defy you to watch the intense sincerity on Fraser’s face (she’s decked out in a prim Victorian gown which makes it even more endearing) and not be moved. There’s an intense vulnerability and earnestness to her performance; at times she seems to flinch from the camera, but there’s a suggestion of joy, too. “Carolyn’s Fingers” speaks to me of endurance, hope and rebirth – which is, of course, pure speculation.

The brilliance of Cocteau Twins is that they capture the lightness of dreams. Their pop sound is like they’ve dipped into your reveries and are playing them back to you. By the time Blue Bell Knoll, the Scottish band’s fifth album, came out in 1988, they had cemented this meld of glittery guitars and avian vocals, this talent for finding pure white in the black abyss of goth. This album, however, was their first significant U.S. release, introduced with their bewildering single “Carolyn’s Fingers.” On it, Elizabeth Fraser’s words are impossible to understand: Either they’re being spoken in another tongue, or you’ve temporarily developed aphasia and can’t compute them. Throughout the record, the trio strip back to their basic groundwork of bass-guitar melodies, a pattern they’d continue on Heaven or Las Vegas two years later. Blue Bell Knoll is not as dynamic a listen as that masterpiece, but its exploration of widescreen space is essential, and set down the canvas for glorious colors to come.

“Heaven or Las Vegas” (1990)

After the 1990 release of their most critically acclaimed album, Heaven or Las Vegas, the band left 4AD Records for Fontana Records, where they released their final two albums. The group released Heaven or Las Vegas in late 1990. The most commercially successful of their many recordings, the album rose to the higher reaches of the UK Albums Chart immediately after its release.

Despite the success of the record and the subsequent concert tours, not everything was well with the band. They parted ways with 4AD following Heaven or Las Vegas partly because of conflicts with the label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and were close to breaking up over internal problems due in large part to Guthrie’s substance abuse. “Heaven or Las Vegas”, which was their biggest hit. It’s extremely accessible and probably the best place to start if you’re a complete novice to the band.

While on their international tour supporting Heaven or Las Vegas, the group signed a new recording contract with Mercury Records subsidiary Fontana for the UK and elsewhere, while retaining their US relationship with Capitol. In 1991, 4AD and Capitol released a box set that compiled the band’s EPs from 1982 to 1990, and also included a bonus disc of rare and previously unreleased material.

Heaven or Las Vegas. You’re either in the good place or a gaudy replica designed to trick you. Sweet relief or a desert mirage. It sounds like a trap, doesn’t it? That’s kind of what the record was for Cocteau Twins, too. Six albums in, the gothy cult heroes of 4AD Records gave in completely to the pop urges they had flirted with on 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll and 1984’sTreasure. Happily, the resulting masterpiece not only defined the Scottish trio for good, it established an ethereal blueprint for dream pop. While there are countless examples of indie bands struggling to marry their deep weirdness to pop structures, the Cocteaus’ version of a slightly more commercial sound did not compromise their individual idiosyncrasies. Rather, it distilled them into something painfully gorgeous and utterly mesmerizing.

Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, and Simon Raymonde were each going through heavy periods when they wrote and recorded Heaven or Las Vegas at their own September Sound Studios in London. Raymonde, the keyboard player and bassist, had just lost his father, composer Ivor Raymonde. Guthrie, the guitarist and drum programmer, was at the height of his cocaine addiction, and his partner, vocalist Fraser, was a new mother keeping things together. Fraser had been known for her impressionistic approach to melody, focusing more on the sounds of the words and effortlessly bending them into evocative gibberish with her piercing soprano. On Heaven or Las Vegas, though, you can actually tell that she is singing about her relationship and her daughter, still in an oblique and conflicted way but still with a newfound confidence she attributed to her pregnancy. At the time, dream pop was one of the few rock subgenres where overt femininity was not only tolerated, it was necessary. Fraser had already redefined how operatic vocals, glossolalia, and a vaguely new age aesthetic fit into the ’80s alternative world, but here she was being newly direct with declarations of motherly love—building hooks out of them, in fact, like on the effortlessly cool dance track “Pitch the Baby.” Arranging her peerless voice into more elaborate layers and flows, Fraser centered herself at the forefront of a band now pushing the limits of lushness.

The crucial counterpoint to Fraser’s voice can be found in Guthrie’s elaborate, effects-laden guitar loops, which sent reverb through the songs like an industrial fan whipping air around a warehouse. As a guitarist, Guthrie is to dream pop what Kevin Shields is to shoegaze. But by adopting a dazed, dreamy slide technique on songs like “Cherry-Coloured Funk,” one of the best scene-setting opening tracks ever, Guthrie cemented another aspect of his signature guitar jangle; it’s a tone you can hear traces of in everyone from Lush’s Miki Berenyi to the xx’s Romy Madley Croft to the Weeknd . With Guthrie providing the blissful wave of noise, Raymonde adding the crucial ominous undertone, and Fraser tending to the otherworldly drama, the band reached the heights of their mood-setting abilities while still keeping most of the songs around three minutes. Not that you’d necessarily notice the song lengths: Heaven or Las Vegas is less a collection of tracks than a 37-minute journey to a surreal realm. You don’t know where you are, exactly; you just notice the warm feeling that washes over you when you arrive. Heaven, after all, is subjective.

“Four-Calendar Café” (1993)

Fraser and Guthrie ended their 13-year relationship in 1993, and by this time had a young daughter, Lucy-Belle, born in 1989. The band’s seventh LP, Four-Calendar Café, their first since Fraser and Guthrie’s separation, was released in late 1993. The band explained that Four-Calendar Café was a response to the turmoil that had engulfed them in the intervening years, with Guthrie entering rehab and quitting alcohol and drugs, and Fraser undergoing psychotherapy.

“Bluebeard”, written as her relationship with Guthrie was disintegrating, is often held up as an example of Fraser at her most forthright and confessional. Even though it features lines like “Are you the right man for me? Are you safe? Are you my friend? Or are you toxic for me?’, it’s surprisingly light and breezy.

“Love’s Easy Tears”, along with its music video makes me want to go to the flat of someone who owns a massive television and take psychedelics for several days.

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“Milk & Kisses” (1996)

1995 saw the release of two new EPs: Twinlights and Otherness. Some of the tracks on Twinlights and Otherness were versions of songs from the band’s eighth album, Milk & Kisses (1996). The record saw the return of more heavily layered guitars, and Fraser began once again to obscure her lyrics, though not entirely. Two singles were taken from the album: “Tishbite (song)” “Violaine” both exist in two CD versions, with different A-side and B-side included on each. The band, augmented by an extra guitarist and a drummer, toured extensively to support the album, their last for Mercury/Fontana. A new song, “Touch Upon Touch”, which debuted during the live shows and was recorded later in 1996 was also one of the two songs written and arranged by Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde for Chinese pop singer Faye Wong for her Mandarin album Fuzao released in June 1996, the other being “Tranquil Eye” from Violaine released in October 1996.

In 1997, while recording what was to have been their ninth LP, the trio disbanded over irreconcilable differences in part related to the breakup of Guthrie and Fraser. While a number of songs were partially recorded and possibly completed, the band has stated that they will likely never be finished or released in any form.

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In 1999 Bella Union, the record label founded by Guthrie and Raymonde, released a double-CD Cocteau Twins compilation entitled BBC Sessions. The collection is a complete record of the band’s appearances on UK radio programs from 1982 to 1996, with rare and unreleased material included. In 2000, 4AD released Stars and Topsoil, a compilation of selected songs picked by the band members that had been released during their years with 4AD; all recordings had been digitally remastered by Guthrie. Finally, in 2003, 4AD followed Stars and Topsoil with the release of digitally remastered versions of the first six Cocteau Twins LPs.

Later in 2005, 4AD released a worldwide limited edition of 10,000 compilation box set titled, Lullabies to Violaine, a 4-disc set that details every single and EP released from 1982 to 1996. This was shortly followed up by two 2-disc sets of the same names, known simply as Volume 1 and Volume 2.

American singer-songwriter and The Byrds founding member Gene Clark’s 1974 solo album “No Other” is to be reissued by 4AD Records in November as a lavish box set which features no fewer than three SACDs, a blu-ray and an 80-page hardcover book!.

Originally released on Asylum Records, a year after the Byrds shortlived reunion, Clark’s psychedelic rock, folk, country and soul record cost a small fortune to make and despite being well received critically, it was a flop. It is said that Clark never really recovered from this blow. Since then, the album has gained greater prominence via a few reissues and has become recognised as a great album of its era. Recorded at the Village Recorder in West Hollywood and produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, “No Other” was originally released in 1974 on Asylum Records, Reaching for the stars, Gene delivered a visionary record of psychedelic rock, folk, country and soul which famously cost a small fortune to make (“It took a lot of time in the studio before we could actually get the songs to the point we wanted them,” Gene said in 1977).  Although warmly received by critics, No Other was a commercial failure and was subsequently deleted shortly after.

However, as The New York Times wrote around the record’s 40th anniversary in 2014, “hindsight has burnished No Other, as it has redeemed other albums that went on to be reconstructed as rock repertory, like Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers and Lou Reed’s Berlin,” with No Other now being increasingly recognised as one of the greatest of its time, if not all time.  Another sign of the album’s enduring charm came that year when feted Baltimore duo Beach House decided to “spread awareness”of Gene’s master work by enlisting friends – most of whom weren’t born when No Other was released – from bands such as Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen to tour the album note-for-note in both the UK and the US.

Five years on from then andNo Otheris finally getting the reappraisal it deserves.  The original tapes have been remastered at Abbey Road, a stunning 5.1 Surround mix of this album created for the first time (done by Neil Wilkes & B.J. Cole at Opus Productions), and both the in the studio and promotional photoshoots have been located.  Furthermore, all the studio takes have been forensically worked on and mixed by the duo of Gene Clark aficionado, author and Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin and John Wood, More than just bonus material, these tracks offer fans an insight in to how Gene approached recording No Other; no track has been edited or composited in any way, allowing for things to be heard exactly as they went down in the studio and before any overdubbing took place.

4AD have remastered the eight-track album at Abbey Road and are reissuing it on CD and vinyl, There will also be an ‘extremely limited’ deluxe box set which contains the album on silver-coloured vinyl, three SACDs, an exclusive seven-inch single, and a blu-ray disc – which includes HD versions of all tracks, a 5.1 surround mix of the album, the original 1974 vinyl master and an exclusive documentary by Paul Kendall (the director of the 2013 film, The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark) – and a hardbound 80 page book which features essays, extensive liner notes and previously unseen photos.

All the studio takes have been worked on and mixed by the duo of Gene Clark aficionado, author and Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin and John Wood, the producer famed for his work with the likes of Fairport Convention, Nick Drake & Sandy Denny. No track has been edited or composited in any way so what you hear is exactly what went down in the studio before any overdubbing took place.

All the SACDs are hybrid, meaning you can play the stereo audio on normal CD players. The first (multi-layer) SACD is presented in an exclusive Japanese vinyl replica sleeve and features the eight-track album and the 5.1 surround mix, while two further SACDs offer 18 session tracks and a couple of seven-inch edits. Amongst the sessions is a recording of ‘Train Leaves Here This Morning,’ an Eagles hit in 1972, written by Gene and Eagles founding member Bernie Leadon.

Coming on the eve of Gene’s 75th birthday, this reissue serves as both a celebration for fans and an introduction to soon-to-be fans.  There really is no other like No Other.

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A mere three months after the release of their critically-acclaimed “U.F.O.F”., Big Thief have announced a second LP this year. “Two Hands” will be released on October 11th via 4AD Records and its first scorching single “Not.”

Recorded 30 miles outside El Paso at Sonic Ranch Studio — surrounded by 3,000 acres of pecan nut orchards — the Brooklyn band called Two Hands “the earth twin” to its sister record U.F.O.F., known as “the celestial twin” (that LP was recorded in a cabin in the woods of Washington State). The new album was recorded live with almost no overdubs, giving it a really raw desert feel.

“Two Hands has the songs that I’m the most proud of; I can imagine myself singing them when I’m old,” vocalist Adrianne Lenker has said in a statement. “Musically and lyrically, you can’t break it down much further than this. It’s already bare-bones.” It’s our 4th record, Two Hands. . We started making this the week after making U.F.O.F. it’s hard to put into words how much this one means to us. we are so proud of it and we are so steamed up to share it with you all. once again, Dom Monks on the board and Andrew Sarlo in the producers seat.

‘Not’ by Big Thief, from their upcoming album ‘Two Hands’, out October 11 on 4AD Records.

Efterklang - Altid Sammen

Seven years after their last album release, Efterklang make a welcome return with a fifth studio recordAltid Sammen on 20th September.  Today, the Danish trio also announce European tour dates and share the single ‘Vi er uendelig’ with a video starring Helena Christensen.

In support of Altid Sammen, Efterklang will perform the album in its entirety the day after release during a sold-out headline show at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie on 21st September.  Efterklang will tour Europe throughout the year and into 2020. For a number of Efterklang’s newly announced headline shows, including the Barbican in London,

Altid Sammen album opener ‘Vi er uendelig’ (“We are infinite”) is released today digitally.  The accompanying visuals, directed by Andreas Koefoed (behind the band’s film The Ghost Of Piramida), and featuring a fellow Dane, the model and photographer Helena Christensen, are a homage to an iconic Johnny Hallyday TV performance in 1964.

Altid Sammen(meaning “always together”) is deep and sonorous, steeped in the sonic experimentation that has long been their trademark since Tripper, the Danes’ 2004 debut.  As bold and ambitious in scope as their last collection of songs, Piramida, Casper Clausen (vocals), Mads Brauer (synths, electronics) and Rasmus Stolberg (bass) have taken another creative U-turn, this time fusing baroque instrumentation with their signature expansive sound.

Efterklang’s last release, Piramidacentred around a ghost town in the Arctic, was a grand and all-encompassing project that spawned a movie, live album and a series of unforgettable shows (including a live debut at the Sydney Opera House).  Their final performance in Sønderborg – the southern Danish town where the band grew up – marked a closing of a chapter, for Piramida and for Efterklang.

“We needed a break from the album and touring routine, and we needed a break from Efterklang,” says Clausen. “After the Sønderborg show, things felt very exciting – and a bit scary too.  We could think freely, and move in new directions again, just focusing on the things that excited the 3 of us.”

The video is an homage to the video for Johnny Hallyday’s Le Penitentier from 1964

‘Vi er uendelig’ by Efterklang starring Helena Christensen and the band’s own Casper Clausen. Taken from the new album ‘Altid Sammen’. Out September 20th 2019 on 4AD/Rumraket,

Pixx 'Small Mercies' LP

Pixx (aka British musician Hannah Rodgers) is releasing her sophomore album, Small Mercies, on June 7th via 4AD Records. Although love lives at the heart of her second album, it has little to do with romance. ‘Small Mercies’ is absolutely not a heartbreak record, nor is it a celebration of new love, or sisterly call-to- arms or vengeful catharsis. Instead, it is a series of poetic examinations of love across the experiential spectrum, from the micro (self-love) to the macro (devotional faith-inspired love, love for this planet), set to a soundtrack that mixes electronic pop and grungy guitar rock with aplomb.

‘Small Mercies’ follows the 23 year-old’s debut album, ‘The Age Of Anxiety’ (2017) – an unsettling synth-pop record fuelled by Pixx’s own debilitating experience of angst – and 2015’s forlorn and folk- edged ‘Fall In’ EP.  it sees Pixx assuming different personas to examine the damage done by religion, gender-based power hierarchies and stereotypes, the tipping point of Earth’s destruction and love.

This week she shared the album’s third single, “Andean Condor,” via a video for the track. The album-opener tackles gender politics. “Mature males tend to be at the top of the pecking order/It’s stale/Detest it cos you want to,” Rodgers sings in the song. “Dance for me boy/Give me a twirl/I want to get to know you/But I probably won’t blow you.”

Alice Clingan directed the video, which features Rodgers’ in Elizabethan garb dancing with two topless men.

Rodgers had this to say about the song in a press release: “This song is written about the link between wo/mankind and nature. It is important to recognize how many times women have to face the absurdity of male hierarchy in our modern world. Having had endless conversations with (certain) men who justify the inequality of the sexes by comparing themselves to animals, I thought what better way to help them than to remind those men that they are supposed to be human, with emotional capability and growth.”

Small Mercies is the follow-up to 2017’s The Age of Anxiety. It was co-produced by Simon Byrt and Dan Carey. Previously she shared two songs from Small Mercies: “Bitch” and “Disgrace.”

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I’m happy to share “Frontier,” a new single made in collaboration with my ensemble, Darío Alva animated a beautiful sequence to admire while listening to “Frontier”.

Holly’s third full-length album “PROTO” isn’t about A.I., but much of it was created in collaboration with her own A.I. ‘baby’, Spawn.

For the album, she assembled a contemporary ensemble of vocalists, developers, guest contributors (Jenna Sutela, Jlin, Lily Anna Haynes, Martine Syms), and an inhuman intelligence housed in a DIY souped-up gaming PC to create a record that encompasses live vocal processing and timeless folk singing, and places an emphasis on alien song craft and new forms of communion.

PROTO makes reference to what Holly refers to as the protocol era, where rapidly surfacing ideological battles over the future of A.I. protocols, centralised and decentralised internet protocols, and personal and political protocols compel us to ask ourselves who are we, what are we, what do we stand for, and what are we heading towards?

You can hear traces of Spawn throughout the album, developed in partnership with long time collaborator Mathew Dryhurst and ensemble developer Jules LaPlace, and even eavesdrop on the live training ceremonies conducted in Berlin, in which hundreds of people were gathered to teach Spawn how to identify and reinterpret unfamiliar sounds in group call-and-response singing sessions; a contemporary update on the religious gathering Holly was raised amongst in her upbringing in East Tennessee.

“There’s a pervasive narrative of technology as dehumanizing,” says Holly. “We stand in contrast to that.  It’s not like we want to run away; we’re very much running towards it, but on our terms.  Choosing to work with an ensemble of humans is part of our protocol.  I don’t want to live in a world in which humans are automated off stage.  I want an A.I. to be raised to appreciate and interact with that beauty.” Just as Platform forewarned of the manipulative personal and political impacts of prying social media platforms long before popular acceptance, PROTO is a euphoric and principled statement setting the shape of things to come.

Brand new music from Holly Herndon. New album ‘PROTO’ out on May 10th. 4AD Records.
Holly Herndon - PROTO

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In the years since Big Thief released Masterpiece, they have become enormously popular, touring at a near-constant clip. Sophomore album Capacity was critically lauded for its ability to tell small stories that spoke to a universal truth, and lead songwriter Adrianne Lenker is now widely regarded as one of the most technically skilled and lyrically incisive musicians to emerge over the past five years. Her affect is often described as “mystical,” and her songs have the predictive quality of an oracle,  she can tell the story of an entire life in under five minutes.

Cycles fascinate Lenker. Her most recent solo album, 2018’s abysskiss, opens with “Terminal Paradise,” a song about energy transference or reincarnation. “See my death become a trail/ And the trail leads to a flower/ I will blossom in your sail/ Every dreamed and waking hour,” she sings. A reworked version of the song appears on Big Thief’s new album, U.F.O.F., as does abysskiss track “From.” This is Big Thief’s first album for 4AD Records and it’s being billed as their most collaborative to date, but the re-imagining of two of Lenker’s solo tracks emphasizes how inextricably tied to her vision this band really is.

Though Lenker, guitarist Buck Meek, and bassist Max Oleartchik all attended the prestigious Berklee School Of Music, both Masterpiece and Capacity favored deceptively simple song structures over noodly, dense arrangements. U.F.O.F. maintains that sense of ease, but it is more impressionistic and more exploratory than the band’s previous work. Opening song “Contact” is slow and somber from the outset, but it descends into chaotic improvisation soon after. This album is, to put it plainly, loose and jammy at certain moments, which is the result of so much time spent on the road. Lenker is prolific, and writing on tour is as much a necessity as it is a method of self-preservation. “I’m not nervous to open up into that place,” she said of writing in front of her band mates during in-between moments on tour. “If I couldn’t write in front of them, I’m not sure how much I would write at all, because I’m always with them.”

It’s a crisis of capitalism that in order to flourish as a musician one must endure a relentless touring schedule, but through Lenker’s gaze, there’s something unquestionably romantic about her vagabondish lifestyle. On “Century,” she captures memories in short, bright flashes while James Krivchenia’s drums pitter patter like a gentle storm: “Dogs eyes/ In the headlights on the driveway/ Cool autumn rain/ Bugs died/ On your windshield on the freeway/ Wonder if you’ll be the same.” Still, transience means saying goodbye over and over again, and there is a sadness underlying many of the songs on U.F.O.F. The title track’s melody shifts with the changing wind as Lenker bids farewell to a “UFO friend,” her words dripping out in rapid succession, like a leaky faucet. Lenker’s best songs can often read as wordy on paper, a little bit overstuffed. When she sings, though, they tumble forth as if conjured from someplace outside of the atmosphere. It’s hypnotic.

That Big Thief were inspired by New Age music while writing this album is no great surprise. The natural world, and the forces that guide it, have always been of interest to this band, and though many of their songs address anonymous women (Jodi, Betsy, Caroline, Violet, and Jenni in the case of this album) they invoke Mother Earth with unrelenting regularity. Single “Cattails” contemplates nature’s steadfast hold, the elements that remain long after someone beloved passes away. In grief, it is only human to seek out places that remind you of the person you lost, and Big Thief lean into that instinct here: “With your wrinkled hands/ And your silver hair/ Leaving here soon and you know where/ To where the cattail sways/ With the lonesome loon/ You’ll be riding that train in late June.”

Death is the only constant, and as much as Big Thief languish in the beauty of the surrounding world, fatalism grounds this album in an unsettling certainty. “Orange” is a love song arranged simply on acoustic guitar that contemplates the inevitable death of a partner. As Lenker’s sights grow darker — hound dogs howl at the stars, pigeons fall like snowflakes — she works herself up to a climactic realization: “Fragile is that I mourn her death/ As our limbs are twisting in her bedroom.” On the hazy “Open Desert,” you hear Meek’s fingers slide across the fretboard as Lenker contemplates another ending, picturing the “white light of the waiting room/ Leaking through the crack in the door.”

These are the preoccupations that keep people up at night, but Big Thief don’t wallow in angst on U.F.O.F. Moments of bliss eclipse the sorrowful. The fact that this album was recorded live off the floor gives some tracks an in-the-moment, improvised quality. “Strange” is a jaunty funhouse of a song that unwinds like a twisted nursery rhyme, as Lenker sings about seeing a luna moth cry “lime green tears/ Through the fruit bat’s eye.” As Big Thief tunnel further into this psychedelia, the accompanying arrangement starts to lose its footing; Oleartchik’s bass bubbles up from below, Lenker’s voice reverberates outward, and a synthetic sighing mist descends. Something similar happens toward the end of the arid, hallucinatory “Jenni,” when Meek suddenly breaks free to play the same sustained chord over and over again, to be eventually overtaken by Krivchenia’s thundering drums.

Big Thief get weird on U.F.O.F., to great effect. On the earlier Masterpiece and Capacity, they were making folksy rock songs U.F.O.F. isn’t an outlier, not exactly, but it isn’t as conventional, and it’s exciting to consider the directions Big Thief might go in from here. Lenker has been putting out music since she was a teenager, and while it’s long been established that she’s a formidable songwriter, U.F.O.F. documents a band coming into their own, messing around with new ideas and having fun doing it. Listening to it feels like sharing in that experience.

U.F.O.F. is out 3rd May via 4AD Records.

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Aldous Harding release her third album, “Designer”, on 4AD Records. Designer finds the New Zealander hitting her creative stride. After the sleeper success of the internationally lauded Party, Harding came off a 100-date tour last summer and went straight into the studio with a collection of songs written on the road. Reuniting with John Parish, producer of Party, Harding spent 15 days recording and 10 days mixing at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth and Bristol’s J&J Studio and Playpen.

The New Zealand songwriter Aldous Harding with her third studio album “Designer”. At first glance it’s another album of her signature soft-spoken folk sound, but this time around there’s more meat on the bones. It’s her first record with drums on almost every song, and a broader instrumental palate lends the album a newfound sense of gravity. The emotional lows are lower and the highs are even higher than before.

From the bold strokes of opening track “Fixture Picture”, there is an overriding sense of an artist confident in their work, with contributions from Huw Evans (H. Hawkline), Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo), drummer Gwion Llewelyn and violinist Clare Mactaggart broadening and complimenting Harding’s rich and timeless songwriting.

The amazing new album from Aldous Harding is out today on 4AD Records/Flying Nun Records, on limited gold vinyl pressing.

The Pixies“Doolittle” is to be thirty years old this month, it was the second studio album by American alternative rock band Pixies, released in April 1989 on 4AD Records. The album’s offbeat and dark subject material, featuring references to surrealism, Biblical violence, torture and death, contrasts with the clean production sound achieved by the newly hired producer Gil Norton. Doolittle was the Pixies‘ first international release.

Pixies released two singles from “Doolittle”, “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, both of which were chart successes.  “Debaser” the opener from that classic album, “Debaser” is a lot of people’s favourite Pixies song. When they play it live, it’s a guaranteed catalyst for chaos on the floor. Played live or on record, it’s a song that illustrates the alchemy that the Pixies are capable of at their peak. If you strip it down to its base elements, there’s really nothing to it ,  Black Francis’ nonsense lyrics – nominally inspired by the Buñuel/Dali surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, but essentially meaningless, though well-suited to being barked out by the frontman, Along with Joey Santiago’s four-chord riff and simple finger-picked accents and Kim Deal’s characteristic bassline for beginners.

Of course when it all comes together, driven by one of David Lovering’s best performances on drums and executed with passion and panache and more enthusiasm than a band that’s starting to fall apart should be able to muster, it’s a majestic, superlative, enduring, adrenalized, alt-rock classic. augmented by Kim’s backing vocals. Joey doesn’t have to shred when he’s making such an uplifting, joyous noise and that bassline – well, that’s trademark Pixies.

This album “Doolittle” still sounds sensational three decades on – from Debaser through to Gouge Away. The Pixies, at their best, aren’t so much a band as a group of alchemists.

Despite being issued on hi-res SACD in the past this is the Doolittle‘s debut in 5.1. Kevin Vanbergen has created the new surround mix from the original analogue multi-tracks.

This new edition will also feature an HD transfer of the original stereo mix by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. The album was reissued back in 2014 for its 25th anniversary. The album has been cited as inspirational by many alternative artists, while numerous music publications have ranked it as one of the most influential albums ever. A 2003 poll of NME writers ranked Doolittle as the second-greatest album of all time.

This blu-ray audio of Doolittle was released on 9th December and is on Amazon in the USA and is available to pre-order from the 4AD Records store.

Pixies
  • Black Francis – vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar
  • Kim Deal – bass guitar, vocals, acoustic slide guitar on “Silver”
  • Joey Santiago – lead guitar, backing vocals
  • David Lovering – drums, lead vocals on “La La Love You”, bass guitar on “Silver”

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Big Thief Share Second <i>U.F.O.F.</i> Single "Cattails," Expand Fall Tour

The next new single from Big Thief’s forthcoming effort “U.F.O.F.” (Due May 3rd on 4AD Records) has landed: the rustic “Cattails,” which follows on from the album’s gorgeous title track, released alongside its announcement in late February. “Cattails” opens on Adrianne Lenker’s jangling, finger-picked guitar and James Krivchenia’s steadfast drums before it’s later built out with a slow-rising synth hum and gleaming piano stabs. “Going back home to the great lakes / where the cattail sways / with the lonesome loon / riding that train in late June / with the windows wide by my side,” sings Lenker, her thoughts in transit somewhere between civilization and nature—she later insists, “you don’t need to know why / you don’t need to know why / when you cry,” deferring to the mysteries that run deep within the human heart.

Lenker recalls how the band’s new single came together in a statement:

“Cattails” came about while we were at the studio in Washington in the pine forest. Writing it was just one of those electric multicolored waves of connectivity just sweeping through my body. I stayed up late finishing the song and the next morning was stomping around playing it over and over again. We thought why not just record it, so James sat at the drums and we practiced, and by the time we’d finished practicing, Dom Monks—our engineer—had already sneakily set up mics and recorded it. It was beautiful that he’d captured it right away because when James and I were playing, it felt like a little portal in the fabric had opened and we were just flying. Listening back to it makes me cry sometimes.

‘Cattails’ by Big Thief, from the new album ‘U.F.O.F.’, released May 3rd on 4AD.