Bryce Dessner, So Percussion, Aron Buke & Gase team-up - May 27, 2015
Of late, Brassland has had our most Dessner-heavy release schedule in quite some time. There is the wonderful (and still fresh) Aaron Dessner production-work on This Is The Kit’s new album Bashed Out — the Bryce-curated indie-all star compilation MusicNOW: 10 Years
— and, just last week, Bryce’s new solo album Music for Wood and Strings which, amazingly, was the Hot Shot Debut on this week's Billboard Classical chart!?!
(That chart debut is even more amazing if you consider the fact that most of the Billboard "classical" chart is stuff like Lindsey Stirling's dubstep violin jams and compilations with names like Classical Treasures: Classics For Relaxation.)
As with all of Bryce’s composerly ventures, “solo album” is a misnomer. The Music for Wood and Strings project was developed with input from a pair of long-time collaborators. It was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for a performance by label pals So Percussion and, most intriguingly for Brassland followers, Aron Sanchez of Buke and Gase built the unique instruments upon which the piece is peformed. These “Chordsticks” — designed collaboratively by Aron and Bryce — are a cross between a hammer dulcimer and an electric guitar. They look like this.
Critics are already raving about this music. Classical music authority WQXR named it Q2 Album of the Week calling it “startlingly enjoyable” — a “witty and substantial” homage to Steve Reich; this Chicago Reader write-up luxuriated in the album’s “hovering drones, lockstep polyrhythmic patterns, collisions of overtones, and repetitive, pulse-quickening minimalist cycles.” Pitchfork said the music “creates its own sound world” — one that is “thin and full, sharp and malleable, hazy and clear.” But more to the point, the 'fork referred to the album as “the sonic equivalent of WALL·E and EVE dancing in space."
Uh, why is that the point?
Well here’s the thing: like that reviewer's allusion to a Pixar animated film, the Bryce / So Percussion pairing has provided post-minimalist composition a bit of a pop culture moment. We are used to newspaper articles with headlines like “Rock Star Writes ‘Real’ Classical Music”. (i.e. Ahead of this week's premiere of Bryce’s new orchestral work “Quilting” at the LA Philharmonic, the Los Angles Times wrote about his “'double life' as both classical and rock musician.”)
What we didn’t quite expect is that So Percussion seem to be developing their own double life—as a serious new music group with the pull of a pop culture celebrity magnet?!? The group’s previous collaborators include indie-composer types like Dan Deacon and Matmos, so they’re used to bringing classical-music chops to unexpected places. It’s not-so-weird for them to show up in places like this “new music edition” of NPR Music’s beloved Drum Fill Friday segment. (That said, is this the first time Iannis Xenakis’s “Peaux” ever followed in the footsteps of, like, Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" or Black Sabbath's "War Pigs"?)
(PS-If you have no idea what we're talking about at the end of that last paragraph, pay a visit to Google. You need some educating.)
What seems a bit more outrageous, though, is when former teen “it” girls effuse about rigorous 30-minute plus, through composed music. And that's just happened a few weeks ago when Molly Ringwald Tweeted this reaction to excerpts of the piece being played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Even stranger? When current “quality television” it boys pose for #selfies next to a member of the world’s best percussion quartet.
Why yes that is Kit Harington aka Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow posed next to So’s Josh Quillen after Bryce’s mini-festival at London’s Barbican Centre. Ok, that was more a coincidence than anything else, but this music continues to pop up in unexpected places: Last week everyone’s favorite science podcast Radiolab featured So Percussion performing Bryce’s piece. (Download it here.) The everygeek’s favorite blog Boing Boing premiered this “making of” documentary about the album just a few weeks before that.
And have we mentioned So Percussion will be performing "Music for Wood and Strings" at Bonnaroo? Mark your calendars on Saturday June 13th festival goers. In the same vein, comes this Rolling Stone Italy review which, roughly translated, includes this quote: "Upon first listening you will be among those who question the extravagance of the thing, but after a second listening (smoking a joint is recommended), you'll be treated to a marvelous immersion into the unknown."
What is one to make of this? Is minimalism having a moment? Does this piece even count as classical music when the context shifts to a rock festival stage? Will "Music for Wood and Strings" take American composition to places it’s never been before? How long will this list of rhetorical questions get before it gets awkward and you'll want it to stop?
We won’t try to answer any of those questions, but we will point you to this excellent article from London’s The Guardian newspaper wherein Bryce provides a bit of insight into the thread of American creativity that’s informed his work: A poem from the Black Mountain School, Robert Frank’s sweet longing photography, Kerouac's "Big Sur." ("That article is a keeper," said some person to us in a recent email.)
Add to that proud lineage some college student tripping balls at Bonnaroo on his summer break between sophomore and junior year just at the moment when Music for Wood and Strings' “Section 8” kicks in. Mind exploders, all of them.
Secret history of Sufjan's CARRIE & LOWELL - March 30, 2015
Oh hi. Recently we've heard some grumbling about these news updates on brassland.org. "It's so long I didn't read it," people complain. "Why do your news updates take such a roundabout way of getting to the freaking point?" one friend told us. (i.e. Note the picture that goes with this particular update, a barely relevant #selfie of Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and some dude with a hat from the most recent installment of the MusicNOW festival.) Finally others criticize: "You could say the same thing with far less verbiage." Basically "TL;DR" one might say, if one cared to use contemporary internet slanguage.
So, in the interest of quickness we're going to start exploring strategies to save you, the record buying (or streaming) audience, valuable time. For example here's an abstract of the below news update: community...solidarity...selfies of men identified with Brooklyn (even if they don't spend that much time here)...Sufjan Stevens...nice British writer person.
Ah, that was refreshingly efficient!
However if, like us, you're willing to go the long route, indulge us as we take a rare break from this site's self-promotional (label-promotional?) rigamarole, and encourage you to purchase someone else's record: in this case, Sufjan Stevens' new jam Carrie & Lowell. Just go here, enter your credit card details (or enter PayPalspace or what have you), done.
Wait, what's that? You're not ready to spend money on something just because we say you should? Well, hopefully you streamed the above song, and if that doesn't convince you, you can explore the full story of the record in varous multi-media formats, check out a video-ish thing we've embedded below, or even go deep and read up on the vinyl production process via Asthmatic Kitty's reddit thread or the pics they posted on imagur. (Being simple people here at Brassland, at this point they kind of lost us.)
Still not ready? Well, like us, maybe you're not as excited by net-enabled bits of trivia (erm, content...) as you would be for a juicy, old-school journalistic take on the album. Yep, we're suckers for narrative non-fiction, what you people of the internet might call a "longread." So, without further adieu, we want to point you toward a lovely article about the album in the April 2015 issue of one of our favorite music publication UNCUT wherein one-time label confidant and a most-excellent journalist Laura Snapes teases out the contribution of two members of the Brassland family in getting it done. (And wow, are you in for a doozie if you click on that last link.)
If you're still all like "TL; DR" here's an abstract: "composer" friends Nico & Thomas — summer holiday — CD of rough mixes — a little lost — complicated misdirection and architecture — 50 states as promotional gimmick.
And now for that excerpt of Laura's article:
[Sufjan's] friends, however, weren't about to let him ditch the...material. "Anybody who heard that album was like, 'you have to put this out yesterday'," says composer Nico Muhly. "I have like, 60 emails where I was literally like, 'put it out', both as subject and content." Manhattan-based composer Thomas Bartlett got in touch last summer to ask what was going on with the music. Stevens invited him to his studio to hear it.
"He said he felt a little bit lost with it, that he had been working on it for some years and didn't really have a sense of where the record was going, or if he had anything at all," says Bartlett, who insisted that Stevens make him a CD of rough mixes that he would take on his summer holiday. "There were some outliers: electronic things, or sometimes four versions of the same song, with different lyrics or a radically different approach musically."
There was one aspect to cull immediately. Michigan and Illinois were the first entries in a project whereby Stevens apparently intended to document the historical quirk and emotional resonance of all 50 states in song. He eventually abandoned the idea, calling it a promotional gimmick. But Carrie & Lowell almost became "Oregon" until Bartlett talked him out of it. With no criticism implied, he calls Stevens' state records "complicated misdirection and an architecture by which he could actually write about himself. I asked him to let go of the idea that this was an Oregon record and just allow it to be what it really feels like it is, which is a very, very personal record."
Bartlett returned from vacation with the tracklist, made Stevens change some titles and vocals, and remixed it. "It all came together within a month," says Stevens. "He doesn't fuck around. I wouldn't have wanted to have made such a direct and depressing album, but he called me out on my bullshit and said, just be honest to this experience and stop trying so hard. I don't think I would have made this record without him."
To shift our tone from waka waka to a sincerity more called for by the current subject matter, we were really excited to see such an august publication covering the community behind a record's creation with such respect and detail — just as excited, in ways, as we are about the way our community has been able to make meaningful contributions to the work of an artist we really admire.
Want to read more? (Is this post not TL enough for you?) We're not sure how or if you can get the full article online but this is probably a good place to start if you're not into hunting it down on newsstands in Fleshspace.
PS - Also note that Laura calls Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett a "composer" which probably makes Mr. Thomas itch. Being gluttons for a good feud, we're going to see if we can turn this into an Oasis vs. Blur-like throwdown.
Steven Reker of People Get Ready wins award, debuts at Lincoln Center - February 08, 2015
Things may have seemed quiet on the People Get Ready front since the summer release of their sophomore album Physiques but rest assured respect, accolades and affection continue to accrue for the members of this uncategorizable indie/performance quartet.
That accrual has been most pronounced in the case of main man Steven Reker. First Lincoln Center selected him to debut a new piece of work at their prestigious American Songbook
series. (The date is February 27th for those who like keeping your calendars up-to-date.) And just this morning The New York Times announced that Steven has been awarded American Dance Institute (ADI)'s Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography. To quote Steven's Facebook page: "Flabbergasted and honored! I'm so thankful for this and the [ADI] for selecting me - especially as I approach my 9 year anniversary of being in New York." And to quote the Times which also quoted him: "The award recognizes a rising American choreographer with financial and administrative support for presenting a commissioned work. Mr. Reker said in a statement that the award, which includes a $10,000 commission, would allow him to create 'a piece I have wanted to make for years but could only imagine making since my resources are somewhat limited in NYC.''."
(The city's paper of record ran a related article about Manhattan real estate this weekend. Insert sad smilicon of your choice here.)
Anyway, this news is sooo-weet! (Or "so sweet" if you like regular English.) Awarded to just a single choreographer each year, the prize is a big honor (or "biggie" if you like weird English)! We all hope it helps Steven continue to develop his most-excellent hybrid style creativity. For a sampling of said creativity, peep the movement-heavy video for Physiques title track, which SPIN called "transfixing, exuberant" when they premiered it earlier this year.
Make no mistake, the other PGR members have hardly been resting on their laurels. They've been earning new laurels too. In October, The Village Voice named Jen Goma the best female vocalist in New York. In December, the whole group did an east coast jaunt opening for Blonde Redhead down the eastern seaboard. (Some dude named Dean posted this report on his Tumblr.)
And, oh yeah, their new record got nice notices all over the place. It premiered on The New York Times' PressPlay site. AllMusic named it an editor's choice. NPR Music's Bob Boilen called the first track from the album "Rainbows" his song of the week, excitedly hyping the "new record by a band I madly love." BrooklynVegan complimented them for "going from sparse to the stratosphere at the drop of a hat." On the radio waves, KCRW liked their "trancelike slow jams that are easy to get lost in" and WNYC's Soundcheck invited the band in for a live session.
Wanna go deeper than reading a bunch of kudos and pull quotes? Well, yeah, we can help with that too. For a bit more insight on what makes Steven tick, may we recommend this conversation he had with Atwood Magazine. Here's a favorite quote: "I think what is most important in the collective experience is the idea of pleasure and sharing this idea or concept of pleasure between audience and performers alike. Slow realization, taking time to digest one of our performances sometimes happens. If you’re not too familiar with contemporary performances then yea it will be hard to digest. Or it may be kind of wild or new to you. It’s nice when someone approaches one of us and says 'Hey I saw you in 2009! That show meant a lot for me.' Moments like that still happen."
If you click the link you can also read about how inspiring he found Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope tour in 1998. Totally worth it. Anyway, fingers crossed Steven and PGR keep creating moments for us for a long time to come.
This Is The Kit announce April release date for Bashed Out - February 03, 2015
Earlier today, after This Is The Kit wrapped up an UK opening tour for The Barr Brothers, Stereogum broke news of the release date for their long-anticipated new album Bashed Out, which was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner. Before we say more, take a listen to the first music released, the album's title track.
"Kate Stables has been recording music as This Is The Kit for years now, but this is probably one of the first times you’re reading about her," wrote Stereogum. "Bashed Out will be her third full-length album, and…it will also likely be her breakout."
For those who have been following the band since they joined the label in 2012, This Is The Kit is the band project of one Kate Stables. Growing up in a green leafy English town, multi-instrumentalist Kate learned from an early age that great art takes time. “The place I grew up is defined as a Roman Saxon medieval city, they started building the Winchester Cathedral a thousand years ago and have been working on it ever since” she explains.
Over the past several years, that work has begun to pay off with accolades from well-placed supporters and a strong base of fans. Having won over Elbow frontman Guy Garvey – who argued her last record should have been Mercury Prize nominated – as well as his fellow BBC 6Music & Radio 1 DJs (Lauren Laverne, Marc Riley, Cerys Matthews, Huw Stephens, Phil Taggart), This Is The Kit has also been hand-picked to support the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Iron & Wine, Jose Gonzales and Alexi Murdoch – a who's who of iconic folk-inflected songwriters.
This Is The Kit began in loose form in the mid-00s as Kate focused a childhood of creative experimentation on music, first moving to Bristol to continue her musical education, before upping sticks and leaving for Paris. It was there where her debut album Krulle Bol took shape, recorded and produced by PJ Harvey's long-standing musical collaborator John Parish. Her second album, 2010's Wriggle Out The Restless was made in France alongside members of Francois and the Atlas Mountains before final touches from TITK's extended musical family were added in Bristol, Belgium and several points in between.
The continuing expansion of TITK's musical family is where the story of Bashed Out starts — beginning with a pair of intersections with the story of now legendary New York band The National. Kate's eldest sister Jane Stables was an early fan and friend to the band – providing couches and floors for them on their first UK tour in 2002. That friendship is why in 2011, The National ended up at a small Hackney cafe watching This Is The Kit. Struck by what he'd heard, Aaron offered to reissue Wriggle Out The Restless (which had fallen victim to two labels going out of business) and support slots at New York City's Beacon Theatre and London's Alexandra Palace.
A demo exchange followed across the Atlantic and in early 2014, Kate flew to Brooklyn to flesh out her ideas into full recordings. Her past experience allowed her to quickly plug into an entirely new musical community and Bashed Out was swiftly completed. It features performances from Aaron, his brother Bryce Dessner, Benjamin Lanz (Beirut), Thomas Bartlett (Doveman, The Gloaming) and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen) alongside her regular cast of collaborators.
The resulting record is honest, human and humane — and Kate's creative intentions are uncommonly pure. She explains: "The main reason for doing what I do is the exchange with other people—musical exchange yes, and other exchanges too. A hello and a handshake and the constant opportunity to learn from the knowledge and experience of others. As far as I can work out, the only thing worth doing in life is meeting, helping and swapping stories and experiences and resources with other people. Doing, making, learning."
To some, Bashed Out might mean broken. For This is the Kit, though, it is a statement of intent, how art happens, through happenstance meetings and accidental collisions and pushing through.
Brassland takes Éire, The Gloaming snare year-end honors - December 09, 2014
Brassland has landed in Ireland! No awkward puns or repetitive use of verbs intended! For a thorough round up of what's going on, take a listen to this hourlong podcast prepared by Dublin's National Concert Hall. It also serves as a great capsule history of the label.
Alternatively, if you try to observe the "pod-" in podcasting, you may download part one and part two from Soundcloud (or, if you're a real traditionalist, via iTunes). They were produced by the most-excellent Ben Eshmade in honor of NCH's just-as-excellent Perspectives series which launched this year with our Brassland weekend as its flagship presentation.
Downloaded those podcasts yet? Well, steel yourselves for 60 megabyte's of MP3 chatter from Bryce Dessner (The National, Clogs), both Buke and Gase(s), Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Thomas Bartlett (Doveman, The Gloaming), and Alec Hanley Bemis. For another perspective on what we're bringing to Perspectives read this feature from The Irish Times culture section ran about our main draw, a free-flowing songwriter's circle featuring Mr. Bartlett alongside Glen Hansard, Anna Calvi, Lisa O'Neill and Paul Noonan.
Word on the street is that most of these shows are going to sell out. *blush* A little drunk leprechaun whispered this to us in a clipped accent after showing us the way to a pile of gold at the end of a double rainbow. Yes, at this point, we're practically trying to turn people away, starting with offensive news bulletins.
However, as a peacemaking gesture, we've added an invite-only conversation on Saturday between Irish Times critic Tony Clayton-Lea and label co-founder Alec Hanley Bemis, who claims to be "at least 33% Irish" (we're quoting). As well, This Is The Kit and Buke and Gase are touring the countryside in the run-up to the Brassland @ NCH weekend.
THIS IS THE KIT
- Tues 9: Wexford - The Sky And The Ground
- Weds 10: Cork - Coughlans
- Fri 12: Kilkenny - Cleere's Bar & Theatre
- Sat 13: Dublin - National Concert Hall
BUKE AND GASE
- Thurs 11: Belfast - Aether & Echo
- Fri 12: Dingle - St. James Church (Other Voices)
- Sat 13: Dublin - National Concert Hall
Note that the dates include a Buke and Gase visit to Dingle for this year's Other Voices taping. We're overjoyed to announce they'll be included in next year's broadcast, a follow-up of sorts to This Is The Kit's memorable appearance on the 2013 edition.
If that wasn't enough of an Irish overload, The Gloaming continue to build on their previously announced album-of-the-year mentions by Mojo, The Irish Times, Nialler9 and Mashable with their inclusion on NPR Music's list of the year's 50 best records. Says NPR personality Bob Boilen: "There has never been an album quite like this, spare and textured, representing past and future as well as transcending all you may think you know about Irish music."
While we still have blood left for blushing & screenspace left to type upon, may we point you toward the announcement of Perspectives 2015. If we haven't just caused an international incident with our smarmy American humor, we think this is the beginning of a lovely friendship...