Posts Tagged ‘Woods’

From Silver Jews to his most recent project, Purple Mountains, David Berman wrote songs that plumbed dark emotions with an unexpected, wry humor.

Nearly a year’s passed since the world lost David Berman, and it’s tempting to think about what he would’ve made of the time since he’s been gone. Coming up in the same college rock scene as Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastonvich, Berman would often find himself unfairly lumped together with his contemporaries in Pavement. In reality, though, he was a singular voice. Witty, melancholy, profound, low-brow, poetic—in his writing and music, he found a way to channel all these forces into little gems that gleamed for whoever took the time to look. His passing saw a flood of tributes that crossed generational lines, with everyone from Bill Callahan and Kurt Vile to First Aid Kit and Stef Chura showing the mark Berman and his music left on their lives.

For most of his career, Berman released music under Silver Jews, a project started in 1989 with his college friends Malkmus and Nastanovich. The lineup would change dramatically across the band’s six studio albums, but with Berman’s writing and wry delivery always resting at its core. His presence for fans was defined almost as much by his absence. Silver Jews never embarked on a single tour until 2005 with the release of Tanglewood Numbers. And shortly after that, in 2009, Berman announced that he was retiring from music, with Silver Jews’ final show inside a cave at the Cumberland Caverns. Almost a decade of silence followed until out of the blue Berman announced he had a record coming in 2019 under the new band name of “Purple Mountains.” Recorded with members of Woods, the self-titled album quickly found both praise and concern as a brutally sad, but clever, lovingly produced and fitting return for one of the sharpest lyricists in music. While this would tragically mark the end of Berman’s musical legacy, what he left behind was a trove of beautifully heavy music.
Here are his best songs.

‘Suffering Jukebox’

Berman stated That’s one of my favourites, but I don’t think we did a good job of putting it across. I want to figure out a good way of doing it with this live band, and make a real version of it. Before Nashville became what it has become in the last seven years – it’s become intolerable – from like ’98 to 2008, let’s say, it was paradise for me. I loved it. One of the great things was being able to, starting at 10 in the morning if you cared to do so, go sit in a bar and listen to an amazing live band play covers of the greatest country songs ever made, down on Lower Broad.

Now, of course, you can’t do that. There are a hundred bars like that, and they’re crammed with frat boys and sorority girls and bachelorette parties. They have hot tubs on wheels now that they drive around. But going down and sitting at those places when they were empty, at sunset or in the middle of the day, and watching those guys play, [I came] up with that metaphor for a person like that.

A brisk tempo and barrelhouse piano gird this brief, almost giddy story — from the final Silver Jews album, “Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea” — about a young man’s ardor for a voracious gal who incites him into crimes. It’s a noir miniature, and Berman somehow gracefully rhymes “lard” and “fired.”

The chorus is a goof (“You never know when your pet will go”), but the rest of this staggering-about rock song from “The Natural Bridge” is a plea for protection from nature and man: “Please guard my bed,” Berman sings several times, as the song dies out.

“We Are Real”

About halfway through American Water Berman gave one of his most lyrically pointed tracks with “We Are Real.” “Won’t soul music change now that our souls have turned strange?” he asks, searching for something that’ll affirm his reality instead of masking it. The music hits a perfectly simple balance of tension and release to mirror Berman’s muted indignation in some parts (“We’ve been raised on replicas / of fake and winding roads / and day after day, up on this beautiful stage / We’ve been playing tambourine for minimum wage”) and defiant hope in others (“When on and off collide / We’ll set our souls aside and walk away”).

“The Sabellion Rebellion”

This track from the split 7’’ between New Radiant Storm King and the cheekily titled Silver Jews & Nico is a hidden gem within the Jews’ early recordings. Hinting at some of the chaotic energy of Berman, Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich’s college-rock days, the song has a perfectly sloppy ’90s lo-fi sound, with fuzzy guitars, slippery drums and a rousingly simple refrain of “Welcome to the sabellion rebellion.” It’s more of a testament to the direction Pavement would take than that of the Jews, but, nevertheless, it stands as a great song in itself and a glimpse into the period when the band was still experimenting to find its own distinct voice

“Snow Is Falling In Manhattan”

There’s no debate as to which 2019 song is the best and truest NYC ballad. It hits different after David Berman’s death last summer, but it maintains the dark, mystical beauty that simmered up the first time I heard it on a sweltering day in July. Hearing Berman’s lyrical poetry is nothing new, but there’s something so special about this particular description of New York. It works almost like an antithesis to Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” Her NYC scene was a bright, light spring morning; his, a dark, cozy winter’s night. “Snow is falling in Manhattan / In a slow diagonal fashion / On the Sabbath, as it happens,” he sings. Then, later, the location becomes even more exact as the borough count rises to four: “Coming down in smithereens / On Staten Island, Bronx and Queens / It’s blanketing the city streets.” But he’s safe inside, with a “fire crackling.” And what a comforting vision that is, especially now.

“We Could Be Looking For The Same Thing”

The last Silver Jews track before Berman entered over 10 years of radio silence, “We Could Be Looking For The Same Thing” pulls all types of heartstrings with the delicate duet between David and Cassie Berman. Berman’s music plunges the depths of loneliness so often that it’s refreshing to hear him assert that no matter where someone is in their life, someone else is always out there looking for the same thing. Maybe that sort of pragmatism is anti-romantic, but it’s still comforting to know that people, for the most part, will always need other people.

“People”

“People” is one of the jammier cuts from American Water. Stephen Malkmus uses his playful wah-wah tendencies to full effect over Berman’s breezy portrait of life. It’s the band’s idiosyncratic take on the country mentality of employing stock portraits of tiny pleasures (rainbows in garden hoses, sunny and 75 degree days), and throwing out Wittgenstenian lines like “The meaning of the world lies outside the world.” It’s a gentle reminder that remaining interested in the world around us, whether that’s staring out into space or at an unpainted ceiling, makes up a vital part of what being a person is. It’s a musical changeup from “American Water,” complete with wah-wah guitar and an almost-disco backbeat, as well as an emotional digression: Carried away by the giddy music, Berman gazes out his city window and coos, “It’s sunny and 75/It feels so good to be alive.”

Stephen Malkmus gets to sing a bit of the lead vocal on American Water’s “People,” and it’s easy to picture him slyly savouring the song’s wah-wah guitars as he does. But listeners primed for all things slanted-and-enchanted (a phrase Berman coined!) instead found a song that was pure Berman, with turns of phrase vivid enough to become band monikers (“suburban kids with biblical names”), sage advice (“Be careful not to crest too soon”), and another brilliant opening line that now doubles as a lovely epitaph: “Moments can be monuments to you/If your life is interesting and true.”

“How to Rent a Room”

Around 2009, Berman had a confession to make. On a Silver Jews forum, he made two posts, the first announcing that the band was calling it quits, and the second, titled “My Father, My Attack Dog,” revealing what Berman described as “Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction: My father.” He disclosed that Richard Berman—a notorious lobbyist responsible for dismantling unions, combatting minimum-wage increases and discrediting organizations dedicated to fighting everything from environmental protection to drunk driving—was his father. Berman said within the post that part of what drove him to form Silver Jews, before finally driving him to end it, was the hope of being a force that could amend some part of his father’s damage. He may have come to believe that art couldn’t do enough, but it doesn’t erase the seething vitriol that retrospectively pours from songs like “How To Rent a Room.” It’s one of the more haunting tunes in Berman’s discography, capturing the complexity of both his relationship to his father and his relationship to himself in light of it, ending with this chilling line: “Life should mean a lot less than this.”

Berman is famous for his album-opening couplets. “How to Rent a Room”—the first track from Silver Jews’ second full-length, The Natural Bridge—shows why. “No, I don’t really wanna die/I only wanna die in your eyes,” Berman murmurs gently amid lightly country backing, with a Pavement-free line up behind him that still sounds slack but no longer lo-fi. The track’s later lines resonate just as deeply: “An anchor lets you see the river move,” Berman sings with wisdom to spare.

When The Natural Bridge was released, it was suddenly, starkly apparent that The Silver Jews was Berman’s enterprise. Malkmus and Nastanovich were out, banished to cut Pacific Trim and Brighten the Corners; members of New Radiant Storm King and the Pernice Brothers were in. Though a gentle shagginess suffused the new sound, the playing was tighter. The sentiments were bleaker, more wistful, coy, and philosophical in range. Opener “How to Rent a Room” ranks among Berman’s finest plaints: a sleepy, shuffling earworm far more awake than it really wants to be. It also ushers in a profoundly existential, poetic colours that would characterize his music for the rest of his life. His voice is a distinctive instrument, and you can almost hear him starting to master it here, selling “I wanna wander, through the night/Like a figure in the distance even to my own eye” and “Chalk lines around my body, like the shoreline of a lake” just so. “Room” is heartbroken, funny, ice-cold, and transcendent, all at once. It’s easy to memorize and uncannily comforting to sing while alone, even if its gravity shifts and deepens somewhat between age 19 and age 42.

“Nights That Won’t Happen”

Most of the tracks on Purple Mountains are painful to listen to in light of Berman’s death, possibly none more so than “Nights That Won’t Happen.” The song reads so much like a foreshadowing, opening with the line, “The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind.” Berman led a hard, lonely life, and he poured that heartache into his music, but it was more than a well-crafted spectacle of suffering. This song stares right into the bare pain of existing in the world and rails against it, not necessarily in anger, but in an attempt to emphasize the pockets of empathy and acceptance that remind us, “When the dying’s finally done and the suffering subsides / All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind.” The presence of that void, of acknowledging all the nights that won’t happen, doesn’t end in grieving over them; it ends in holding out hope for all the nights that still could

“The Wild Kindness”

In spite of its title, “The Wild Kindness” opens with menacing reverb to deliver one of the more defiant songs in Silver Jews’ discography. The lyrics mix around the mythic and quotidian, with dogs that stand for kindnesses and silences, motel “voids,” and Manets described as “Oil paintings of X-rated picnics.” As the value of everything melds together into an ambiguous soup, the narrator seems to toe the line between self-abdication and self-annihilation, before reaching a final resolution to continue on, if for nothing else, to “hold the world to its word” in one of the closest things to a Silver Jews anthem.

“The Wild Kindness” is home to one of Stephen Malkmus’ best guitar solos as a Silver Jew. Arriving before the final verse, it sounds warm and jagged and sloppy—the kind of take a session musician would probably want to run through one more time before moving on. In other words, it’s the perfect accompaniment for Berman, whose vocals are similarly charming and imperfect. It’s a prime example of how adept Berman was at collaboration, be it with Malkmus or his final backing band, Woods. Here, he sings in a particularly poetic cadence, “It is autumn and my camouflage is dying.” Instead of finding perfection, he finds a home.

“There Is A Place”

Tanglewood Numbers marked a decisive turn in the sound of Silver Jews. The subdued, mid-tempo alt-country that defined most of their first four albums took a backseat to a larger sound, with a huge list of rotating personnel on the album that brought Malkmus and Nastanovich back into the mix alongside the talents of Will Oldham, William Tyler, Berman’s wife Cassie Berman and others. Nowhere is the sound bigger than on the album’s barn burning closer, “There Is A Place.” It’s difficult not to read the song in light of the change in Berman’s life between the recording of Bright Flight and Tanglewood Numbers. In 2003, he’d attempted suicide through an overdose, only narrowly surviving through the intervention of his wife. After a bout of solipsism following his near death, Berman found himself turning seriously to Judaism for the first time in his life. In one of his last interviews, he described his period of religiousness, saying, “One thing that just seemed absolutely clear to me was that everything was unravelling, and that we were losing the last generations of people who knew how to work the country and knew how to work the institutions.” That sense of prophetic confidence, wisdom and dread explode out of the music as Berman shifts from fearful recollection of a place beyond the blues to manic affirmations of “I saw God’s shadow on this world.” he tempo, noise, aggression and all-around sonic density boil to a fever pitch as it fittingly caps off the loudest of Berman’s musical statements.

“Advice To The Graduate”

The Silver Jews’ origin goes back to the University of Virginia, where founding members and then-students Berman, Malkmus and Nastanovich (along with Yo La Tengo’s James McNew, because why not) played together in the noisy college-rock project Ectoslavia. It’s fitting, then, that one of their first great songs is about the disconnect a graduate feels between what people say to expect for life and how the real world really feels (bearing in mind that Berman, Malkmus and Nastanovich would’ve been splitting a Hoboken apartment while daylighting as security guards and bus drivers around the song’s time of writing). It’s also just a jam with great chemistry between Berman and Malkmus, with loose guitar work that recalls the stronger parts of Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement. With shambling electric guitar, slippery drums and a guest vocal from Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, Berman’s friend and champion, this track from the first Silver Jews LP, “Starlite Walker,” summons optimism for a graduation speech delivered to whomever needs to hear it: “So get in some licks and hold your head up/And soon you’ll be drinking from that crystal cup.”.

Silver Jews’ first full-length album, Starlite Walker, arrived in 1994. Pavement gate-crashed MTV the same year. Since its members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich also appeared on the Jews record, many fans discovered Berman through them. “Advice to the Graduate,” a loping Americana rock track in the vein of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, underlined the connection between artists, right down to Malkmus’s vocal assist on the plaintive refrain. But Berman’s gruff delivery and the plainspoken poetry of his lyrics introduced listeners to what was clearly a distinct talent. “On the last day of your life, don’t forget to die,” Berman sings. They’re the sort of words that become a part of you.

“I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You”

The texture of this song is almost as heartbreakingly gorgeous as Berman’s lyrics on it. Lap-and-steel guitar, subtle theremin wobbles and lush backing vocals hit just the right note to draw out the offhand loneliness when Berman says “I’ve been working at the airport bar, it’s like Christmas in a submarine.” The song, as do many of Berman’s, picks up from the already down-and-out as Berman tries making it up to some flame he’s left behind only to find himself drawn back. With few words, it glides between the strangeness of falling out of love and the sentimental warmth of falling right back in. Whether that juxtaposition fills you with hope or dread is up to you.

Getting into a subculture is easier than getting out of one, Berman knew. He describes a drunk pair of lovers who are regretting their lost lives as they stagger through a rock club. The narrator knows the allure of getting even more lost than ever, and that late-night feeling when “You wanna smoke the gel off a fentanyl patch.” At the end of the song, only love is keeping the couple upright.

I hadn’t listened to any of the Silver Jews albums after I made ’em – until this recent drive up to Chicago [from Nashville], when I listened to them all in a row. I had listened to certain songs [before that], and [1998’s] ‘Night Society’ was one of those instrumentals that I’ve listened to since then. I was like, “Wow, we were really rockin’!”

Then I tested it against ‘Punks in the Beerlight’ because that sounded so much bigger, it was like the [car] stereo was shaking. The end sounds like a heavy truck braking really hard – it was like heavy freight to me. I would say that when I came out of the car, those two songs pleased me the most. Maybe I should have tried to rock harder earlier.

Tanglewood Numbers, Silver Jews’ fifth album, was Berman’s comeback record after he embraced sobriety and religion, and it kicks off with all the energy of a second wind. His band, which now included Malkmus, Nastanovich, Cassie, Bobby Bare Jr., Paz Lenchantin, and William Tyler, also sounded rejuvenated, now more adept at adding drama and momentum to his observations. So while he and Cassie sing to each other about how drunk and sick and bad things might get, the message of “Punks in the Beerlight” sounds more like a celebration. “Aintcha heard the news?” Berman sings. “Adam and Eve were Jews.” Here was a tale as old as time, sung like there was no tomorrow.

“San Francisco B.C.”

Many of David Berman’s best-loved songs are tragedies, but “San Francisco B.C.” is pure comedy. With enough plot twists and dialogue to warrant the Coen Brothers treatment, it’s a narrative unlike anything on its surrounding record—the comparatively zoomed-out Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea—and a standout in Silver Jews’ catalogue. The characters are cloaked in several layers of irony—even their haircuts are “sarcastic”—and their fates are strange and intertwined. When our protagonist is told that he doesn’t make enough money, his response is, “What about the stuff that we—quote—’believe?’” The air quotes speak as loudly as the words, while the band rides an uncharacteristically rollicking surf-rock riff toward its twisted, karmic conclusion .

“The Poor, The Fair, and The Good”

When Cassie Marnett—later Cassie Berman—joined the Silver Jews and illuminated Berman’s life, the band’s duets took on a new poignance. This Tanglewood Numbers gem, a lighthouse of hope in a stormy sea, finds them at their collaborative best: “The river winds ’round these little green hills/And stays in the woods for days/We were built to consider the unmanifested/And make of love an immaculate place.” In the wake of Purple Mountains and Berman’s suicide, this can be a tough song to return to.

“Black and Brown Blues”

Berman’s music has an uncanny knack for being able to say so much without really saying much. “Black and Brown Blues” literally follows the singer as he chooses between putting on a pair of black or brown shoes, and in that moment of reflection, conjures images of kings trapped in golden rooms, jaded skylines of car keys and corduroy suits made of a hundred rain gutters. These are some of Berman’s most evocative lyrics, all pouring out over the simple decision to make any decision at all.

People get used to reactions to their songs, but I don’t have the sense of my songs being [successful that way]. But I know people love that song – they go crazy for it.

Black and Brown Blues’ and ‘Pretty Eyes’ were the first songs I wrote after [1994’s] Starlite Walker. And for Starlite Walker, I had just enough material to call it an album. I had to add in an instrumental passage here [‘The Moon is the Number 18’] and a spoken word passage there [‘The Country Diary of a Subway Conductor’]. ‘Trains Across the Sea’ was the first real song I ever wrote. That one and ‘New Orleans’. [Then] I just had to fill up space. ‘Advice To The Graduate’ is good too, but the rest aren’t really songs.

And so with Natural Bridge, I was really proud that I thought of those two really quickly, in a couple weeks. I was like, “Wow, this seems better. I like them all the way through.” I really lucked out, ’cause those could be bad lines, about the shoes and the corduroy suit. They’re on the edge. [Laughs] I do feel like it works, but I feel lucky that it works.

“I Remember Me”

There are whiffs of narrative in Berman’s music, but most of it rests in an abstract, internal space. Then there’s “I Remember Me.” Through five-and-a-half minutes, it charts in painstaking, country-esque detail a ballad of two people falling in love. But right when the man gets on his knee to propose, he’s hit by a runaway truck. Waking from a coma years later, he finds his love’s married a banker in Oklahoma and, stuck on the land he’s bought with his settlement, feeling the metal of the truck that tore him from his dreams, remembers the people they once were. It’s a brutal distillation of how it feels like to live in the past and a standout among the almost categorically bleak tracks on Bright Flight.

“Trains Across The Sea”

Berman said that “Trains Across The Sea” was the first real song he wrote. If that’s true, it was a hell of a start. Musically, the song’s about as simple as they come: two chords, guitars, drums and just a sprinkle of keyboard. Berman’s lyrics and delivery is the glue that brings it all together. Wiser beyond his 27 years, he strikes a balance between world-weary, concerned, comforting, resilient and resigned, spewing one instantly quotable line after another. “Half hours on earth, what are they worth? I don’t know / In 27 years, I’ve drunk fifty thousand beers, and they just wash against me, like a sea into a pier.” These sort of lines, poetic without any pretense, cryptic enough not to mean anything in particular but moving enough to mean something to anyone, are the Silver Jews at their most potent and Berman at his most irreplaceable .Melancholy piano gives way to a country-ish shuffle, including lap-steel guitar, on this “Starlite Walker” track. Its final line is a memorable image of alcohol’s familiar comfort and slow erosion: “In 27 years/I drunk 50,000 beers/and they just wash against me/like the sea into a pier.”

The way David Berman told it, “Trains Across the Sea” is the first song he ever wrote. Musically, it’s not so hard to believe; two major chords wobbling back and forth, the kind of thing a band can learn in the time it takes to hear it. The words, however, already sound like the work of a veteran writer, full of quiet poetry and unanswerable questions. “In 27 years, I’ve drunk 50,000 beers,” he sings in its final lines. “And they just wash against me/Like the sea into a pier.” Then he hums a bit as the song fades, deceptively casual but hellbent on leaving a mark.

Berman mothballed Silver Jews in 2009, then came back this summer under a new moniker and with a new dedication — the songs are fuller and closer to rock ’n’ roll, the vocals less tossed away, and the lyrics flood out of him. “I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion/Day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in,” he sings, but he sounds hearteningly, hilariously committed to holding out.

“Random Rules”

“In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection,” Berman says, adding to his vast repertoire of unforgettable opening lines. What proceeds from there is not so much a sketch as a world in miniature, touching on love, time, loss and the general chaos of being a living, changing thing in a world changing at the same time. Buffeted with melancholy horns, Berman’s wry delivery becomes both terrifying and comforting, a reminder of the randomness that prevails in our lives as well as a guide toward accepting it. The best-known Silver Jews song opens their beloved third album, “American Water,” with a deadpan wink: “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection.” A maudlin horn keeps Berman company as he struggles to accept the way lives are buffeted by chaos and loss.

I never checked to make sure that everything in that song world was coherent. They have sites where people try to figure out what a song means, [but] I never played the whole thing out to see the characters and what they were doing. So I just took a shot at the line about the tan line on the ring finger.

I didn’t really realise until yesterday that that’s the guy’s sign that there’s some hope, because he’s seeing this ex in this place and it appears that things aren’t going well: “You look like someone I used to know.” He still clearly desires her, and he says that before he goes he has to ask about the tan line on the ring finger. Does that mean she took her ring off right before they spoke? Which would belie all the attitude before that. Other people probably saw that before, but I never saw it. I just thought it sounded cool.

Another of Berman’s instant-classic album openers: “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection/Slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction.” These lines from “Random Rules” set the stage for Silver Jews’ third album, 1998’s American Water, and also the way his entire career would be perceived: Here was a man too brilliant for his own health, held captive by unseen forces. The return of Stephen Malkmus helped solidify what became Silver Jews’ touchstone album. Berman’s careful lyrics, sung in a stoic deadpan, offer as much as you’re willing to accept from them. It’s not a song about guidelines that are random, but about how randomness prevails.

This fan-favourite number from fan-favourite LP American Water plays like an impressionistic dream, so amiable that it’s easy to miss the lyrical devastation left in its wake. Malkmus is back on board for this casual bummer, with Mike Fellows, Tim Barnes, and Chris Stroffolino rounding out “the American Water Band.”

David Berman once sang, “all my favourite singers couldn’t sing.” It wasn’t Berman’s forte either, and rather than try to sweeten his crooked croak, he took a deadpan approach to his music, which was consumed with classic literary themes: death, family, booze, escaping fate and finality. Berman occupied a cultural midpoint between Townes Van Zandt and Raymond Carver, and his imagistic, lively, endlessly quotable lyrics always had a cleverness buoying the emotional struggles and glimpses of life at the margins.  leaves behind a rich legacy: thirty years of music, a celebrated poetry collection and a bizarre book of cartoons, a treasure trove of interviews both puny and expansive, dozens of random acts of generosity, and legions of adoring, teary fans. That he took his life by hanging at the age of 52 is an awful fact, but in time, his affecting, essential songwriting—blithe, literate, ponderous, hilarious, despairing—will eclipse the tragedy of his passing.

I kinda feel you’re either all in on Woods or you just don’t get it. I obviously fall in the first camp, and have loved everything they’re put out for many years at this point. This release sounds like it will be more great psych tinged garage folk which honestly there’s just not enough of. Take a listen to the first single down below, neat video as well.

“Dreaming doesn’t come easy these shadowed days, which is why Strange To Explain by Woods is such a welcome turning of new colors.

It presents an extended moment of sweet reflection for the 15-year-old band, bouncing back to earth as something hopeful and weird and resolute. Like everything else they’ve recorded, it sounds exactly like themselves, but with subtly different shades and breaths and rhythmic feels and everything else that changes, the natural march of time and the intentional decisions of the musicians moving in what feels like an uncommonly organic alignment.

Strange To Explain trades in a different kind of dependability, maintaining a steady connection to the voice on the other side of the record needle. After quickly recording and releasing 2017’s Love Is Love in response to the tumultuous events of their (and our) 2016, Jeremy Earl and company took their time with what came next. Parenthood arrived, as did a short songwriting pause. The band went bicoastal when Jarvis Taveniere headed west. And when they returned to their posts, there on the other side of this particular mirror, they made this, an album that not only catches and holds and shares the light in yet another new way, but recognizes that there’s still light to be caught, which is also no small thing.

A bend beyond the last bend beyond, Woods keep on changing, thoughtfully and beautifully. The colors were always there, like trees blossoming just slightly differently each season, a synesthetic message coded in slow-motion. Recorded in Stinson Beach, the kind of place that seems like an AI simulation of an idyllic northern California coastal escape, the familiar jangling guitars recede to the background. John Andrews’s warm keyboards and twining Mellotron rise around Earl’s songs and dance across the chord changes like warm sunlight off the Pacific. The music feels a karmic landmass away from the creepiness of the uncanny valley.

Just dig into “Can’t Get Out” or “Fell So Hard” and it’s easy to spot the affable hooks and fuzzed-out bass and third-eye winks and fun harmonies that Woods have produced reliably since way back ‘round 2004 (which, in the buzz-buzz world of psych-pop really is a grand achievement, too). But listen carefully, also, to the sound of our (and their) world in transition, the ambient humming of spring peepers behind “Where Do You Go When You Dream.” Especially sink into the intention-setting opening trio of songs, emerging from (and shimmering inside) an atmosphere that could only be made by musicians who’ve been working together for nearly 20 years, as Earl and Taveniere have. It’s hardly a secret language, but you try verbalizing it, let alone communicating in it.

“Where Do You Go When You Dream?” Woods singer Jermey Earl asks on the lead single of the Brooklyn folk band’s 11th LP. It’s a question we all seem to be asking ourselves a lot more these days, as our dreams have had to suffice as our only true journeys out of the house in the desperate times we’re living in. To record Strange To Explain, Woods headed to Marin County’s bucolic Panoramic House Studio. Depending on where in the time-track one stands, it’s their 11th full length (not counting collaborations, split LPs, EPs, and singles), and the 99th release on Earl’s Woodsist label. By any standards, Strange To Explain is the work of a mature band, capable of both heavy atmospheric declarations like “Just To Fall Asleep” and extended-form pieces like the album-closing “Weekend Wind,” unfolding in layers of trumpet and vibraphone and ambient guitars and stereoscopic percussion. There are backwards messages and forward ones, lyrical and otherwise. There are melodies that (at least to me) come back nonlinearly but happily throughout the day when I’m not listening to the music itself, finding some hidden perch and maybe soon transforming into the folk songs of the mind. Woods shared another song from it, “Can’t Get Out.” A press release says it’s “a track about fighting to move past the low points of depression.” The propulsive song is backed by synths and might be the yummiest taste we’ve gotten of Strange to Explain thus far.

For contemporary heads, it can be nearly a full-time job to filter out all the bad energy being blasted through nearly all media channels from every conceivable direction. But not all media channels. These benevolent, Mellotron-dabbed dream-sounds constitute some of the more welcome transmissions on these shores in a Venusian minute, just what my kosmik transom was designed to accept. They’re sure to brighten any desert solarium, LED-lit pod, portable Bucky-dome, eco-fit Airstream, or whatever other cozy dwelling your time-mind is currently occupying.

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Well I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you about this one, but its not every day that Woods give word of a new record on the way. The band’s been working on this one for a comfortable stretch, coming in as their eleventh album after 2017’s Love Is Love, with only a collaboration with Dungen sneaking in between. Their last was a response to political shift following the upsets of 2016, but now the feelings have had a bit more time to simmer. The first single “Where Do You Go When You Dream?” continues to act as balm, but this is also a decidedly mature and elegiac Woods. The song floats on a breeze of keys, drifting away from some of the sunny strums that have marked their past works. Its a melancholy track, steeped in memory, family, and friendship. Ochre-hued harmonies, full-fleshed production, and Jeremy Earl’s wistful vocals herald an album that moves the band into a new phase of their career with grace and ease. The record is out May 22nd on Woodsist.

First single from the new Woods album out May 22, 2020 on Woodsist Records.

Dungen and Woods, photo by <a href="http://www.alexmarksphotography.com/">Alex Marks</a>

The third in the Marfa Myths series of releases will be seven all-new songs written and recorded by Stockholm’s psychedelic masters Dungen in collaboration with adventurous Brooklyn indie-folk pioneers Woods.

Dungen and Woods teamed up for a new collaborative album titled: Myths 003 (due out March 16th via Mexican Summer) the tracks were born from the bands’ recording residency at the 2017 Marfa Myths festival in Texas. Along with the LP announcement, the groups have shared a new song called “Turn Around.” This year’s Marfa Myths takes place April 12th-15th. The 2018 artists in residence will be Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound) and Cate Le Bon.

On the face of it, it should be a match made in musical heaven and judging by the languid, exploratory, and dynamic, first track “Turn Around”, we’re in for a treat with the full album. Listen below to the track . The album is out on March 16th.

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“Singing Saw”, was the solo album from Los Angeles singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great “growers” of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely. Morby’s follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly. Where Singing Saw was inspired in part by Morby’s sleepy neighborhood in the hills northeast of L.A., City Music is about the metropolis: city life, city noise, city people, a city’s pace, and so on.

Morby has said Singing Saw was Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, while City Music is Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and the comparison is clear in Morby’s speak-sing deadpan and bulging crescendos from brooding guitar-folk to driving rock. (The barreling “1234” makes a beeline for the Ramones.) City Music doesn’t hustle and bustle. But it won’t let you miss it, either so cool.

Kevin Morby’s title track off his excellent record, “City Music” nearly hits the 7-minute mark and challenges what fans may have come to expect from him. The song builds like a slowly accelerating subway train, as does this deeply impressionistic video.

Kevin Morby “City Music,” from his album, ‘City Music’, out 6/16 on Dead Oceans Records

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Love Is Love was written and recorded in the two months immediately following the election, but it’s not a record borne entirely of angry, knee-jerk reaction to what America is becoming. Instead, it’s a meditation on love, and on what life means now. Taking cues from last year’s City Sun Eater In The River Of Light, it feels very much like a record made from living, shoulder to shoulder, in a major city: weaving psychedelic swirls of guitar between languid horns reminiscent of the best Ethiopian jazz—Love is Love is a distinctly New York record. It is a document of protest in uncertain times and an open-hearted rejection of cynicism in favor of emotional honesty. It is bright, and then, unexpectedly, a little dark sometimes too.

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“Wisdom comes with age, so it’s no surprise that Woods have grown more sage in the twelve years since they formed, expanding from sylvan drum circles into increasingly elaborate, transcendent psychedelia.” – Pitchfork.

 

There will be parts of life where we will watch as events unfold and we will feel helpless. We will not be sure of the future. On good days, we’ll have each other. On the bad ones, we’ll turn to the art that helps us feel something. Love is Love is a document of the new world we live in, proof that light can come from despair and hope is still possible. We just need a little help remembering it exists.” –

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“I wasn’t planning on making a record,” says Juliana Hatfield, of her new “Pussycat” album. In fact, she thought her songwriting career was on hiatus, and that she had nothing left to say in song form; that she had finally said it all after two decades as a recording artist. But then the presidential election happened. “All of these songs just started pouring out of me. And I felt an urgency to record them, to get them down, and get them out there.” She booked some time at Q Division studios in Somerville, Massachusetts near her home in Cambridge and went in with a drummer (Pete Caldes), an engineer (Pat DiCenso) and fourteen brand-new songs.

Hatfield produced and played every instrument other than drums—bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals. From start to finish—recording through mixing—the whole thing took a total of just twelve and a half days to complete.“It was a blur. It was cathartic,” says Hatfield. “I almost don’t even understand what happened in there, or how it came together so smoothly, so quickly. I was there, directing it all, managing it, getting it all done, but I was being swept along by some force that was driving me. The songs had a will, they forced themselves on me, or out of me, and I did what they told me to do. Even my hands—it felt like they were not my hands. I played bass differently– looser, more confident, better.” Pussycat comes on the heels of last year’s Hatfield collaboration with Paul Westerberg, the I Don’t Cares’ Wild Stab album, and before that, 2015’s Juliana Hatfield Three (My Sister, Spin The Bottle) reunion/reformation album, Whatever, My Love. “I’ve always been prolific and productive and I have a good solid work ethic but this one happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think or plan,” says Hatfield. “I just went with it, rode the wave. And now it is out of my hands. It feels a little scary.” Pussycat is being released into a very tense, divided and inflamed America. The songs are reflective of that atmosphere—angry (When You’re A Star), defiant (Touch You Again), disgusted (Rhinoceros), but also funny (Short-Fingered Man), reflective (Wonder Why), righteous (Heartless) and even hopeful (Impossible Song, with its chorus of ‘What if we tried to get along/and sing an impossible song’).

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Eighteen months on from debut album, The Fire Inside comes Time Is A Riddle, the second album Luke Sital-Singh was determined to make solely on his terms. No interference, no scheduling issues, nor elaborate musicianship, nothing big or brittle. Just care, and effort, and time well spent – values he shares with the Slow Movement to which he subscribes, and with the crafts people up and down the country with whom the musician has some special projects planned. It’s a lovely record of self-written songs, a crafted distillation of the ideas and tastes that have been percolating through Sital-Singh since he was a teenager in suburban southwest London.

Having written a brace of songs – simple songs that moved him – Sital-Singh followed his long-held artist’s dream: he escaped to a remote studio, Attica Audio, in Donegal, with nothing on his mind other than making the record of his life. The studio’s owner, producer Tommy McLaughlin (a member of Villagers’ touring band, who Sital-Singh has opened for) pulled together a small group of musicians. Well-used to playing together, the band slotted together effortlessly for a series of recordings over ten days. Time Is A Riddle is a record where you can smell the graft, see the joins and hear the sweat on the frets – and the occasional live-recording misstep. It’s that real. Luke Sital-Singh wouldn’t have it any other way.

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On PWR BTTM’s new album Pageant, glammed and glittered duo Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce tackle their diary-like explorations of life, identity and existential crises head-on. Pageant is a vital exploration of self that’s hot with friction, angst and hope, both hilarious and heart wrenching.

Pageant is ferociously emotional, with passionate narratives set to cutting rock and roll anthems. The album builds upon PWR BTTM’s sensational debut Ugly Cherries with a further refined song craft and sonic flourishes including horns, flutes, keyboard and even an impromptu choir. The result is thirteen original songs that burst with laughter, tears and triumph. Pageant was produced by Christopher Daly and Cameron West, and was recorded primarily in the top floor of a furniture factory in Geneva, New York. Ben Hopkins takes his guitar playing and vocal fierceness to new heights, and with newfound openness. The duo swap instruments on the record and live, constantly alternating between Hopkins’ finger-picking solos and Liv Bruce’s tremendous drumming.

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Hazel English is a 25-year-old Oakland-based artist who makes beautifully blurry indie-pop music powered by transcendent melodies and caked in layers of Californian sunshine and redolent reverb. She finds herself something of a scene queen amidst the burgeoning jangling happenings of the Bay Area, which count the likes of her producer Jackson Philips aka Day Wave amongst it ranks, as well as kindred spirits like Craft Spells and Hot Flash Heat Wave, to name but a few. Despite the fun being had locally, Hazel describes her music as, “Transportive. It makes you feel like you’re in a different place”. A very literal example is the title track, which charters the bittersweet abandon of her runaway journey from her native Australia to her new adopted home in an near-cinematic narrative. She’s drawn comparisons to everyone from Alvvays and Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to touring partners Ride, while her soaring, hypnotic, vocal arrangements have been likened to everyone from Grimes to Diiv.

2LP – Double LP on Pastel Pink and Pastel Blue Vinyl.

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Manic Street Preachers’ eighth studio album Send Away The Tigers celebrates its tenth anniversary in May and to mark the occasion a 10 Year Collectors’ Edition of the album packed with unheard music, unseen footage and artwork from the band’s own archive is released.

3CD – 2CD / DVD folio book featuring the original album remastered by James Dean Bradfield, a second disc of b-sides and rarities and a DVD including the band’s full 2007 Glastonbury performance plus previously unseen rehearsal footage, an album track-by-track and promo videos. This comes packaged with a beautiful folio book of artwork and handwritten lyric sheets from Nicky Wire’s personal archive alongside photos and liner notes.

2LP – Double gatefold heavyweight vinyl, featuring a remastered edition of the album alongside demos recorded at Faster Studios and at the band’s homes. The vinyl release includes download codes for the album and demos.

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2017, marks the 40th anniversary of Paul Weller’s first album, In The City, which he released with The Jam in May 1977. For most artists such a landmark would be greeted with extensive retrospective celebrations: lavish reissues and all that jazz. But Paul Weller is not like most artists, instead releasing a new studio album, because releasing new albums is what Paul Weller does. Always moving forwards, almost clinically averse to nostalgia or checking his progress in the rear-view mirror. And so, continuing his never-ending creative peak, Paul Weller releases his eagerly awaited 13th studio album A Kind Revolution on Parlophone Records.

Weller started work on A Kind Revolution immediately after finishing 2015’s Saturns Pattern, first tickling out the funky strut of New York and the beautiful slow-mo gospel of The Cranes Are Back – a song that ties in the changing face of London with the power of nature. The album’s title is taken from a line in the aforementioned song. Musicians on the album feature most of the touring band faithful with Andy Crofts and Ben Gordelier being the top mainstays. Steve Cradock and Steve Pilgrim also feature on several tracks. Opening track Woo Sé Mama sees legendary soul singers PP Arnold and Madeleine Bell supply their distinctive vocal skills while the exceedingly funky One Tear features the unmistakable voice of the one and only Boy George. Paul even managed to lure Robert Wyatt out of retirement to sing and play trumpet on She Moves With The Fayre. Finally, and once again, The Strypes’ guitarist Josh McClorey has been drafted in to add his magic to 3 tracks.

A Kind Revolution features ten absolute classic modern Paul Weller songs. By “modern Paul Weller songs” we mean, instantly recognisable but in no way predictable. He doesn’t make a “kind of” album, he fits together all his influences – rock, R&B, soul, jazz, funk, folk…whatever – and builds a song from them, delivering something that drifts through genres un-selfconsciously and at ease. Two great examples of this are two of the most reflective, contemplative songs, Long Long Road and Hopper, which in lesser hands might have been delivered as ballads, but Weller adds so much texture and colour to each that they defy categorisation. With great age comes great wisdom. Written and recorded at de facto HQ, Black Barn Studios in Surrey, A Kind Revolution was produced and arranged by Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert and Paul himself.

CD – 10-track album in Gatefold card wallet with lyric booklet.

3CD – 8-panel fold-out card wallet containing the original 10-track album A Kind Revolution, plus a bonus CD featuring instrumental versions of A Kind Revolution and a third CD with remixes / alternate versions of A Kind Revolution tracks and another brand new track, Alpha. Also includes a booklet containing album lyrics.

LP – On heavyweight black vinyl, housed in a Gatefold sleeve with lyric booklet, art print and a download card with access to MP3s of the 10-track album.

10″ – Deluxe rigid board box set with lift-off lid containing A Kind Revolution pressed up on 5 x pieces of 10” black vinyl with individual artwork. Includes 10” art print, lyric booklet and download card to access MP3s of all 29 tracks from Deluxe formats of the album.

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Limited to 500 Copies on Seafoam Green Vinyl with Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg’s artwork beautifully repurposed in a shiny gold mirror board sleeve. Ask Me Tomorrow has been unavailable on vinyl since its release on 4AD in October, 1995 and original copies now change hands for three-figure sums. The reissue is timely as it follows the recent announcement of Slowdive’s fourth album, and this could well have been that record, but after being dropped by Creation following the release of Pygmalion, the band – reduced to a three-piece of Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and Ian McCutcheon – rechristened themselves Mojave 3 and experimented with stripped-down, acoustic songs more in thrall to Leonard Cohen than LFO. As a result, Ask Me Tomorrow is essentially Slowdive Unplugged; a special record, with a unique, hushed grandeur all of its own. For fans of Nick Drake, Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons.

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Girlpool made their mark with a spare, simple sound – two guitars and two voices, with absolutely nothing else accompanying them. It was an original, intimate sound, and it made the two sound like they were united against the rest of the world. But on their new album, Powerplant, they’re trying something else. They’re playing with a full band. Over 10 days in August 2016, Girlpool holed up at Los Angeles’ comp-ny studios to record and mix Powerplant with Drew Fischer. For the first time, Harmony and Cleo were joined by a third performer, drummer Miles Wintner, a friend who easily meshed with the tightknit duo. The 12 tracks that compose Powerplant grow and burn with greater fire than the duo have possessed heretofore. Both bandmates were heavily inspired by Elliott Smith, the Cranberries, the Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, Arthur Russell, and Graham Nash; the influence of each appear in the record’s deliberate and intricate guitar work (Fast Dust, She Goes By) as well as its embrace of dissonant noise (Corner Store, Soup). Perhaps what really makes Powerplant a home run is that Girlpool understand exactly how to use their incisive lyrics, soft textures, hushed harmonies, and soaring hooks for maximum emotional impact. In these moments, when Harmony and Cleo’s voices join together to deliver transcendent transmissions straight from their hearts, Girlpool become a league of their own.

LP+ – Translucent red vinyl with Download – 300 copies.

LP – Black Vinyl with Download.

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Nomad stands as Martha Tilston’s most compelling work to date, an album full of experimentation and impulse. Across the album, musical arrangements realm from the pinhead intimacy of acoustic guitar and voice to the expansive electric guitar, slide guitar, rolling beats, deep bass, banjo and string arrangements. There are subtle undertones of old country music flittering throughout, suggestions of rock and pop and a good dose of stripped back acoustic cinema for the listener to submerge in. Recorded in Cornwall, Martha and her frequent collaborators Matt Tweed, Nick Marshall and Tim Cotterell, amongst other new faces, would pick up instruments in the late hours and the outcome of these sessions arising from spontaneity, experimentation and maturing songwriting was to become Nomad. Martha Tilston has grown up immersed in music from a young age. Her singer-songwriter father Steve Tilston and the late Maggie Boyle (step-mother) were obvious influences, with their musician friends Bert Jansch, John Rebourn and John Martyn often gathering and singing in the family kitchen.

Martha’s own musical journey has taken her from the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury to touring the far reaches of the globe. Originally one-half of folk duo Mouse (alongside Nick Marshall), Martha often shared the stage with the likes of Kate Tempest and Damien Rice before earning a nomination from the BBC for best newcomer and featuring on the Zero 7 album, Yeah Ghost.

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Concord release Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live…and more celebrating the musical legacy of one of rock’s most influential bands – Big Star– and their legendary Third album. Experience this classic of late ’70s power pop through the prism of a collective of immensely talented fans, including members of Wilco, R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, and, of course, Big Star. Following the untimely death of Alex Chilton two days ahead of Big Star’s SXSW performance in 2010, famous friends and fans came from far and wide to play the gig in his honour. Much of that spontaneous ensemble, along with other musical titans, assembled at Glendale, CA’s Alex Theatre in April 2016 to record and film an epic performance.

2CD – Stand Alone Double CD.

3CD – Double CD and DVD Version.

3CD+ – Double CD and Blu-Ray Version

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When bands play at Third Man Records in Nashville, the shows are usually recorded to be released on vinyl as part of their Live at Third Man series. If you are fortunate enough to be in attendance, then at the show you can preorder a special Black & Blue split vinyl attendee version of the night’s performance.

Right now on Third Man Record’s site you can order the Black & Blue version of the recent performance by the great Brooklyn band Woods. The order page lists it as in stock, but the performance was just earlier this month and the usual turnaround on the Black & Blues is months and months. So, be forewarned that this may actually be more of a preorder.

As far as I know this is the first time that Third Man Records has sold the Black & Blues online outside of the refresh-athon sale they held a few years back.

Certain bands in this supersaturated, hyper-fragmented, temperamental internet era that rise above ephemeral popularity not because they perpetually reinvent themselves or stay ahead of trends or make headlines with crazy antics or write a mega hit or have a super dreamy frontperson… there are certain bands that rise above because of one characteristic that trumps all others: consistency. Woods is one of those bands, and their wheelhouse is a decidedly mellow blend of folk, psych, soul, and funk that’s wise beyond its years in timbre and lyric. It’s a comforting kind of music Woods makes. It doesn’t take you anywhere you don’t want to go, even if they world they depict is less and less hospitable with every passing day. It’s a soundscape reflective of the world it was created in, and its lack of call-it-action and angst makes it endlessly listenable for those of us with regrettably overactive minds. With over ten years and nine studio records under their belt, this Brooklyn band also runs their own label and 2-day festival at Big Sur, and has carved out a loyal legion of appreciators who extol their steadfast artistry and work ethic. We got to see the Nashville Chapter of this legion, as well as a whole slew of new members, at their live taping in our Nashville Blue room, Monday May 2nd. All captured on their Live at Third Man Records LP.

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Today, the Brooklyn-based, genre-defying band Woods released the physical copy of their latest album, and the lyric video for the album’s penultimate track, “Hit That Drum.” The video, filmed from a highway with a skyline view of New York City, slowly pans in black and white across the city’s urban topography.

The song hums with an acute melancholy—the song and album are written about Woods’ process of adjusting to the Trump years. in a press release shared by the band:

There will be parts of life where we will watch as events unfold and we will feel helpless. We will not be sure of the future. On good days, we’ll have each other. On the bad ones, we’ll turn to the art that helps us feel something. Love is Love is a document of the new world we live in, proof that light can come from despair and hope is still possible. We just need a little help remembering it exists.

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Love Is Love was written and recorded in the two months immediately following the election, but it’s not a record borne entirely of angry, knee-jerk reaction to what America is becoming. Instead, it’s a meditation on love, and on what life means now. Taking cues from last year’s City Sun Eater In The River Of Light, it feels very much like a record made from living, shoulder to shoulder, in a major city: weaving psychedelic swirls of guitar between languid horns reminiscent of the best Ethiopian jazz – Love is Love is a distinctly New York record. It is a document of protest in uncertain times and an open-hearted rejection of cynicism in favor of emotional honesty. It is bright, and then, unexpectedly, a little dark sometimes too. We argued about what we thought would happen. We preached understanding. We advocated for anger. Some people said that we’d at least get some incredible art, other people said that was a small view of a world we were quickly realizing we’d misunderstood. Everyone was right. Everyone was wrong.

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Art made in precarious times matters as much as we let it matter. There will be parts of life where we will watch as events unfold and we will feel helpless. We will not be sure of the future. On good days, we’ll have each other. On the bad ones, we’ll turn to the art that helps us feel something. Love is Love is a document of the new world we live in, proof that light can come from despair and hope is still possible. We just need a little help remembering it exists.

LP – Black Vinyl with Download.

LP+ – Limited Clear Vinyl with download. Limited to 400 copies – Rough Trade Exclusive.

Love is Love was written and recorded in the two months immediately following the election, but it’s not a record borne entirely of angry, knee-jerk reaction to what America is becoming. Instead, it’s a meditation on love, and on what life means now. Taking cues from last year’s City Sun Eater in the River of Light, it feels very much like a record made from living, shoulder to shoulder, in a major city: weaving psychedelic swirls of guitar between languid horns reminiscent of the best Ethiopian jazz—Love is Love is a distinctly New York record. It is a document of protest in uncertain times and an open-hearted rejection of cynicism in favor of emotional honesty. It is bright, and then, unexpectedly, a little dark sometimes too.

There will be parts of life where we will watch as events unfold and we will feel helpless. We will not be sure of the future. On good days, we’ll have each other. On the bad ones, we’ll turn to the art that helps us feel something. Love is Love is a document of the new world we live in, proof that light can come from despair and hope is still possible. We just need a little help remembering it exists.”

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