“It always bothers me to see people writing ‘RIP‘ when a person dies. It just feels so insincere and like a cop-out. To me, ‘RIP‘ is the microwave dinner of posthumous honors.” — Lou Reed
There's this moment at the end of Lou Reed's Berlin concert film when his face changes from a sphinx-like scowl into a gracious glow. It's after Antony sings a cover version of the Velvets' "Candy Says." Transformed in the hands of his protege, Lou rewards Antony with a warm smile — all the more precious for its rarity.
I'm not big into mourning celebrity deaths. There was a day in 1990 when Jim Henson died (almost simultaneous with Sammy Davis!). That was memorable — it made it seem possible my culture heroes would one day go. Kurt Cobain's suicide was a big deal. But I can't remember a passing I've spent more time thinking about than Lou Reed's. Maybe because I think "live fast die young" is bullshit and say what you will about Lou he led a long, great life and died of natural causes. (However much his intense living caused those causes.)
I am writing this just after coming home from a tribute screening of Berlin in Queens. It wasn't that good, except when it seemed perfect, like that moment where he smiles. And that's what Reed's music & person seemed to be like — definitely to his fans and (from what I've heard) also to those who knew him: hard to explain & justify logically until he hit upon an emotion in a fashion so plainspoken and real it made you wonder why anyone else even tried turning thoughts into expression.
Well, here's one small reason some people kept trying: If you happened to live & make art in New York City, it seemed possible Lou might notice & cast his rare smile in your direction. Lou Reed continued to pay attention. Throughout the decade I've lived in his city, he was an impersonal but consistent presence in my bohemian New York. I'd hear through the grapevine that he visited the Ditmas Park restaurant out by where some of The Nationals lived. Once or twice I turned around in a Chelsea gallery to see him looking at the same art I was. He'd be wearing leather pants and pulling them off (sort of)— a man in his 60s wearing the same cooler-than-thou gaze on his face he practically invented in the '60s.
Or then there was that time Lou & Laurie showed up to a Buke and Gase gig at the Mercury Lounge and surprised them not only by liking it but inviting them out afterward to hang. A few months later, in February 2011, the two duos reconnected for a benefit show at the Stone just after Valentine's Day. (That's where the picture at the top of this post comes from. Note the rare Lou Reed smile.) A few months later Reed invited the Bukes to open a pair of shows for him in Paris and London. Amazing.
Lou Reed cared about art long after he could have stopped caring. Art is what drove him & fueled his work, what inspired him & made him so inspiring. And in this cultural moment where fame & page views often trump all other claims to attention, that is huge.
I firmly believe we'll look back at the Pure Fame one could achieve in 20th century pop culture as a world-historical anomaly. It's been an Age of Fame presaging our newfound Era of Niches. That makes the early 21st century twilight of the gods time for Iconic Pop Musicians. The artists I grew up loving, the artists I have grown to love most deeply, well, they are older now: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, et. al. It's unclear if new gods will ever rise up to replace them.
For now, though, we are in a unique position. We can each build our own pantheon, but all of us get to use figures anyone can recognize. If my little label Brassland is, in part, a monument to something other than itself, well, it's a pantheon dedicated to Lou Reed. Sure, in some abstract sense, Michael Jackson was more important, and Jackson's passing more epic & universal. But anyone who uses "importance" as an excuse to minimize Reed's work has betrayed how little they understand what he did. There's that famous Brian Eno quote which I'll paraphrase: “The Velvet Underground & Nico sold only 30,000 copies during its first five years but everyone who bought one started a band.” It's a statement which recognizes Lou Reed's true level of influence.
On his own, Reed recorded a lot of music that is easy to dislike — but, for those paying attention, he also recorded more memorable, meaningful songs than almost anyone ever will. "Perfect Day" > "Some Kind of Love" > "Satellite of Love" > "Walk on the Wild Side" > "Vicious" > "Waves of Fear" > "Dirty Blvd"! The hard to explain brilliance of The Blue Mask! And don't' forget the weirder ones: "Sad Song" > "Street Hassle" > "Like a Possum"! Holy fuck! One guy made all that. (Often times with one amazing bassist.)
Brassland is a tribute to Lou Reed if for no other reason than it's built around the idea that you can't judge art entirely by sales figures. Just as you'd be laughed at for comparing J.D. Salinger's or Woody Allen's "numbers" to those to 50 Shades of Grey or Despicable Me 2, you can't look at Reed's legacy in the same terms as those of contemporaneous best sellers. Yes, his work never sold as quickly as Bad Company in the 70s, or Duran Duran in the 80s, or Candlebox in the 90s. Point being, while Herman's Hermits had two big hits in 1965 — the same year VU took their name — there aren't many 21st century musicians who trace their lineage back to the creative vision of Mickie Most, whereas there've been thousands who would have had no context without the work of Lou Reed. And though VU's albums may have only sold a few thousand copies when first released, their music has continued to sell (or get passed around) just as strongly today as it did back in their day, 50 years ago. And, more importantly it is shared insistently, as a relevant example, as music so progressive & alive it sounds as fresh today as it must have back then.
A final word about poetry. For a long time, it was the ultimate compliment to a rock lyricist to say they were like a poet — viz. Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith. Similarly poets blush when compared to rock stars. The thing about Lou Reed is that he makes these sorts of comparisons fail because he was a poet and a rock star equally — audacious as anything, but able to drop a beautiful phrase that would stick in your mind forever. And, last but not least, his music nearly always had a great beat and you could dance to it.
— Alec Hanley Bemis
The National’s Bryce Dessner is a man of a million projects, constantly generating material for his various musical identities, the latest of which is a new record, entitled Aheym for the Anti- label. Here, we actually see him sidestepping the guitar in favor of a string quartet and when we say STRING QUARTET we mean for it to be in all caps. Bryce has "gone big" and composed these pieces for one of the most widely-acclaimed contemporary classical ensembles out there, Kronos Quartet.
Also a Brassland co-founder and member of Clogs, Bryce has been an indie rock star by day and contemporary classical composer by night for a long time now. Well, actually, maybe we should say that he's an indie rock star by night and contemporary classical composer by day — because The National hasn't done any matinee shows yet except for the occasional festival. But we digress...
Bryce's projects are so disparate and unexpected that no one realizes he is actually a Superman/Clark Kent-like figure and that the same man is behind it all, forcing Dessner to hide his identity in the contemporary classical circuit through a series of comically elaborate ruses. (Actually we’re kidding about that part, it’s just a TV show pitch we’re working on. Cue laugh track.)
We'll stop digressing now. Here's a sample from the Kronos record with animations by artist Matthew Ritchie.
The thing is, we were not kidding when we alluded to Bryce's super powers. On top of the Kronos Quartet release, Bryce has been an unusually active (super powered?) presence on the fancy venue circuit recently. He played guitar on composer David Lang's death speaks album alongside peers & Brassland buddies Nico Muhly, Shara Worden and Owen Pallett. Check out this sample:
Upcoming is a composed work for the quartet So Percussion called “Music for Wood and Strings,” which will be premiering at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall later this month. The piece was written for instruments designed and constructed in collaboration with Aron Sanchez of Brassland’s very own Buke and Gase.
Original composition for equally original instruments? If you don't think that sounds like something worth checking out, then you can just head aheym.
While you may be staring into the last dregs of 2013 and trying to distract yourself from impending seasonal depression, other people are looking forward to an amazing 2014. What kind of people you ask... Wait, before we get to that: Are you okay? We mean, really, what's wrong with you? Oh, wait a sec, our therapist recently reminded us not to judge. We apologize for being so snappy. And let us get around to a few announcements that might just lift your spirits. For starters: People Get Ready (those people!) have just announced a bunch of new tour dates including their first ever appearances in the southeast and on the west coast of the USA. And yes, this band could be your life, or change your life, or at least help you have a good weekend. (We’re looking at you, North Carolinians and west coasters! And you Michael! Shout out to you!)
Anyway, this is kind of a big deal because the touring includes three re-stagings of their acclaimed performance-slash-dance-slash-hard-to-categorize show Specific Ocean, that premiered last year at New York Live Arts. NPR’s omnipresent music critic Bob Boilen has strongly advised that you go, and what with PGR’s upcoming dates, the excuse of living thousands of miles away from New York won’t get you off the hook anymore.
TOUR DATES FOR WHAT REMAINS OF 2013
Oct 25 - Asheville, NC @ Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Festival
Nov 15 - Durham, NC @ Duke University's Reynolds Industries Theatre *
Nov 16 - Durham, NC @ Duke University's Reynolds Industries Theatre *
Dec 6 - Los Angeles, CA @ Guerin Pavillion, Skirball Center *
Dec 7 - San Francisco, CA @ Neck of the Woods
Dec 9 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Dec 11 - Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
Dec 12 - Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett
*special re-staging of Specific Ocean.
Hopefully you're already tangled up in scheduling those sweet, sweet tour dates into your calendar, so let us apologize (again!) for interrupting that process to bring you some more big news, this time the amazing, looking-forward-to-2014 part of our news update: On top of all this touring, People are Getting Ready are assembling their sophomore album.
Goooaaaaaaaalllllllls! But before we dig into the details let us all take a moment to appreciate the fact that these folks never seem to take a break.
That was an awesome break people. Now get ready for more detail.
The band have been working on the album we've started referring to as PGR's 2nd album titled TBD during a series of residencies at New York's Clocktower Gallery, a university in Arizona, and at Denniston Hill, an arts center in upstate New York. Lucky for us, PGR have made a sweet teaser with some clips from the recording process. Watch the video below for a look into the studio. Spoiler: it’s pretty cool.
The album is being made with the help of Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, who makes a tops-optional appearance in the above video, and we all know his musical credentials are more than you can shake a (drum)stick at. (That’s enough puns for today, yikes.) Continuing on the subject of outside musicians, a few tracks also feature special guest appearances by Delicate Steve's guitarist Steve Marion, whose day in the studio overlapped with some heavy-duty construction in the building. No worries, fidelity fiends, it seems his guitar shredding is so mesmerizing that the mics couldn’t be bothered to pick up the roar of power tools.
What else can we expect from the new LP? Apparently PGR took a more “fluid” approach to the arrangements this time around, experimenting with space, microphone movement, and the dimensionality of their instruments. According to the band: “We spent a lot of time getting weird sounds we’d never heard before. Why track a single guitar when you can have a second guitar, tuned to a special tuning, propped up against the amp and resonating through another amp? Magic!”
Sounds magic to us. We're left wondering if the band's patented "funky Twin Peaks sound" from their self-titled debut will give way to a "skanking David Copperfield sound" on PGR's 2nd album titled TBD. Only time -- and whoever we hire to do publicity on the record -- will tell.
Buy your tickets, and stayed tuned for more news about the album. Until then, enjoy these photos from the band’s trip to Arizona.
We’d give you more context on the second pic but we don’t have any. (Probably better that way.)
You may have noticed Paris- and Bristol-based band This is the Kit palling around with the Brassland roster for a few years now. They first opened for The National during their storied run of Beacon Theater shows in December 2011. They were invited to The National's All Tomorrow's Parties fest in December 2012, split some UK dates with Buke and Gase just after that, and participated in Brassland events in Adelaide, Australia and Haldern, Germany in 2013. Their 2010 album Wriggle Out the Restless has been available sporadically on Bandcamp throughout this time and we at the label have logged a few frequent flier miles over to the United Kingdom to hang out and spend some time with them.
And now for an amazing news alert! The National have invited This is the Kit to open up for the entirety of their autumn tour of UK and Europe. Here are the dates:
31 - Helsinki, Finland @ Ice Hall
02 - Copenhagen, Denmark @ Forum
04 - Berlin, Germany @ Max Schmelling Halle
05 - Dusseldorf, Germany @ Mitsubishi Electric Halle
06 - Luxembourg @ Rockhal
07 - Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Heineken Music Hall SOLD OUT
09 - Belfast, UK @ Odyssey Arena
10 - Dublin, Ireland @ O2 Arena
11 - Manchester, UK @ O2 Apollo SOLD OUT
12 - Manchester, UK @ O2 Apollo SOLD OUT
13 - London, UK @ Alexandra Palace SOLD OUT
14 - London, UK @ Alexandra Palace SOLD OUT
16 - Brussels, Belgium @ Forest National
18 - Paris, France @ Zenith
20 - Madrid, Spain @ Palacio Vistalegre
21 - Lisbon, Portugal @ Pavilhao Atlantico
We're also pleased to announce the official reissue of Wriggle Out the Restless. We put it on digital services in May, and it is now available in physical form in the United Kingdom for the first time in many years. Here's some places where you can buy it:
- BRASSLAND (World)
- RISE (Bristol, UK)
- PICCADILLY (Manchester, UK)
- AMAZON (UK)
- BANDCAMP (World)
- ITUNES (UK)
- AMAZON (UK)
We'll be adding links to more indie-minded alternatives as they become available.
Here's a list of new stuff for the reissue. First, in close collaboration with the band, The National's Scott Devendorf carefully crafted some new-fangled imagery featuring TiTK's frontperson Kate Stables. The new cover art also adorns a new website which we built with the help of our sainted web helper Hal Hixson. Every Brassland version of Wriggle also includes bonus track "Treehouse" courtesy of TITK buddies at Need No Water who originally released the song on a 7" in 2011. Finally, there is a Deluxe Edition of the record available on iTunes -- for an extra buck you get five extra live tracks, including two new songs which will probably appear on the band's follow-up album in 2014. Here's "Bashed Out" for ya.
(To our United States friends: For now, you can only buy it direct from Bandcamp or the Brassland Store. We'll give Wriggle a more thorough USA reissue when we coax TiTK back to the States, or have some other new "content" to offer.)
You may have heard some internet rumors that Aaron Dessner from The National is working on the band's proper follow-up. Those rumors are correct. In fact we might have started some of them. Check out some combined TiTK + Dessner magic below, from their Other Voices broadcast earlier this year.
Phew, so much newness we have exhausted ourselves describing it! Expect us to be releasing some B-sides, remixes and digital exclusives as we firm up 2013-14 plans for the group.
Now for some of our sentimental nonsense -- and an idea of just how deep the relationship with some of our bands goes.
The history between Brassland and the Stables clan goes back well before 2010. Bryce Dessner -- composer, label co-founder, guitar player in The National -- has known Kate's sister Jane Stables well before any of our adventures in indie rock began. When The National did their first tours of the UK in the early '00s, it was Jane who provided floors and couches in London for various band members to sleep on. At the time Kate was shuttling between home bases in Bristol, England and Paris so we didn't get to know her that well...
Even then, however, we had started to hear about the musical prowess of Kate's partner in music and life Jesse Vernon. (Check out their homegrown micro-label Disco-Ordination for some space rock, post-rock and TiTK's back catalog.) Kate had just begun venturing out as a solo artist. But as the '00's shifted to the '10s it became clear that the music she was making had something about it that was immediately gripping (in a laid back kind of way). It sounded pure and (dare we say it) essential -- so much so that a lot of their fine musician friends from both the Paris and Bristol music scenes began gravitating toward the project as members of her band.
Depending on the context, the group shifts in size and sound. Kate does folk(esque) solo sets. (Is it possible to do a folk set on an electric guitar?) As a trio, they have an in-the-pocket feel that allows their Sly & Robbie dreams to shine. In their psychedelic 5-piece formation, Jesse shreds on guitar (in a tasteful psychedelic folk fashion). In any arrangement Kate's voice rings through clear as a bell, and she sorta makes you wish you'd actually learned to play that banjo you bought in college.
The first time we heard Wriggle we immediately recognized there was something special going on and that we'd love to help out. Apparently lots of other people thought that too. TITK songs like "Treehouse," "Earthquake," "Moon," and "Spinney" earned increasingly frequent airplay on the BBC. Their intimate yet playful live shows earned them love from The Guardian. It's a beautiful thing to watch and well known label friends like Iron and Wine, Alexi Murdoch and Sharon Van Etten have been so struck by their unmistakable magic they've invited TiTK out on support tours so they can watch it over and over again.
When the label that originally released Wriggle went out of business in spite of all this buzz, we knew we had to step in and keep it in-print.
And now we're excited to give you the chance to watch the story of the record and of this band to grow and prosper.
Buke and Gase had an eventful summer. (That's short for "event full," get it. Ha ha ha -- someone stop us before we kill again...with jokes.) Anyhoo, having spent most of June tearing it up across the 'States alongside Tomahawk (complete with a stop in the nation’s capital opening for Animal Collective), the band is now headed “across the pond” to spread the love in Europe and the United Kingdom this August. Maybe you wanted to check out one of their shows in April, but were distracted by something less interesting like a wedding or birthday party or a gig by a more popular band who you now realize are not as good as Buke and Gase.
The band has a bunch of festival dates lined up -- including a set at the Haldern Pop Festival -- in addition to a handful of appearances alongside critically-acclaimed violinist, composer, and Brassland friend Owen Pallett. Two special notes: (1) The London gig, originally scheduled for the 350-capacity Bush Hall, immediately sold out and has been upgraded to the twice-as-big Village Underground, and now that show is rapidly selling out. (2) If you happen to live in Edinburgh, you get to catch Buke and Gase’s one-off show with recently re-formed and completely insanely great post-punk rock band Swans. Go ahead, go see it, and send us taunting emails about how we missed it. See if we care. (We care.)
If, for some reason, you’re still feeling noncommittal, note that this may be Buke and Gase’s final touring in support of their most recent album, General Dome. The band tell us this is your last chance to catch them live before they hibernate for to make new stuff, record stuff, and generally stay put at home for awhile. More of an ultimatum now, isn’t it? We don’t want to sound like a bad infomercial, but this is your LAST CHANCE TO GET INVOLVED! (At least for now.) So mark your calendar, get yourself a ticket, and catch them while you can.
2 Katowice (PL), Off Festival
5 Prague (CZ), Meet Factory *
6 Vienna (AT), Szene *
8 Offenbach (DE), Hafen 2
9 Nuernberg (DE), Bruckenfestival
10 Haldern (DE), Haldern Pop Festival SOLD OUT
11 London (UK), Village Underground *
12 Manchester (UK), Band On The Wall *
13 Edinburgh (UK), Liquid Room #
14 Glasgow (UK), Broadcast
15 Liverpool (UK), The Kazimier Garden
16 Brecon (UK), Green Man Festival
* w/ Owen Pallett
# w/ Swans