Bryce's big year, MusicNOW is BBC 6Music's 'compilation of the week' - May 04, 2016
Think about label co-founder Bryce Dessner's achievements over the past 365 days and it's easy to see he's had what you call 'a banner year': music festivals built around his extended artistic family in Cork, Ireland and Minneapolis, Minnesota - new compositions premiering at the New York City Ballet and LA Philharmonic - his first major Hollywood film score for The Revenant - and, last but not least, the 10th anniversary of MusicNOW, the intimate festival he curates each year in The National's hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Speaking of which, we had a happy & unexpected bit of news this week when BBC Radio 6Music DJ Lauren Laverne picked our MusicNOW album as her "compilation of the week." (We're pretty sure Bryce has stopped keeping track of his wins this year but chalk one up for us.) Every day Lauren Laverne will feature a different song from the release - so far Sufjan Stevens and Sounds of the South. Tune in to hear where she'll go next...
If you missed the compilation when it came out, it's not you, it was us... (As they say.)
The initial release of was intentionally low-key, timed to coincide with the festival's 10th anniversary rather than a well-plotted marketing campaign. (The final master tapes arrived only 10 days before the album went on sale!) Quick turnaround release date notwithstanding (take that Beyonce!), we really stand by this album. It pulls together an hour+ of live recordings from the festival's first decade, presenting a dream line-up of artists we've long-admired but (for the most part) been unable to work with directly: Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold, Andrew Bird, Tim Hecker, Grizzly Bear and a pair of songs featuring the velvet voice of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon is just the beginning...
Point being, we've been gratified to see the album get a second wind...and third wind...and fourth wind since its initial, digital-only release.
First came the CD in autumn 2015, which coincided with a special vinyl edition by our friends at the subscription music & food box service Turntable Kitchen. They excerpted 3 of their favorite songs for a limited edition 7". (For the detail-oriented amongst you, it featured Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, a collaboration between The Books and Clogs, and Sounds of the South, a supergroup featuring Justin Vernon & Sharon Van Etten on vocals.) It's a rather attractive circular thing:
Next, in January of this year Pete Ohs, an attendee of MusicNOW's 2010 edition, unearthed some footage he shot of compilation highlight "Love More" - a Sharon Van Etten song covered, here, by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and backed by Aaron & Bryce Dessner, Colin Stetson & a few members of yMusic. We premiered that on Pitchfork along with the announcement of this year's festival line-up.
And finally (?) the album has been discovered by one of our favorite BBC DJs Lauren Laverne. "Finally?" you ask (if only because we did).
Well, this probably is not the last you've heard of this compilation. It serves not only as a time capsule for '00s indie music, but as a triangulating point in the particular musical universe that's animated the Brassland label to date. Alternative classical? Well-composed folk? Arty indie rock? Feel free to come up with your own label - but we have a feeling this music will be spinning or streaming or mind-melding with your cerebral cortex or otherwise being heard in whatever crazy new format they come up with next.
The Gloaming release 2, top Irish charts, tour USA - March 21, 2016
"In a conundrum to cause maths teachers everywhere to break out in hives, 2 has proven bigger than 25, as The Gloaming knock Adele off the top of the Irish charts," wrote Hot Press Magazine last week. Yep that's right The Gloaming's sophomore album has topped the Irish album record sales charts, beating out more familiar pop contenders like Justin Bieber, The 1975 and, yes, even Adele. We were as gobsmacked as anybody when we saw this report. A lot of crazy things have happened to Brassland artists over the years: opening slots on R.E.M. tours, hang sessions with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, even Oscar nominations. But we're not sure any of our artists have ever had a number one record on a national album chart. Obvs this called for an Instagram post:
(Yes, the website which displays the Irish charts isn't formatted very nicely. Hope it doesn't dull the impact for you.)
Point being, you should be very grateful the band are touring the southeastern United States this March, in support of their sophomore album. (Once again, the record is self-titled but everyone is referring to it as 2 and we'll do so here because otherwise things get really confusing.) The band are capping off their latest North American run with an appearance at the artfully-curated Big Ears Festival. A coda for the tour happens in June, with an appearance at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center.
- Mar 24: Savannah Music Festival — Savannah, GA
- Mar 26: Duke University — Durham, NC
- Mar 29: Texas A&M — College Station, TX
- Mar 31: Big Ears Festival 2016 — Knoxville, TN
- Jun 04: The Kennedy Center — Washington, DC
Oh yeah, about that new album. The post-literate among you can just watch this here video, featuring the (very literate) members of the group Martin Hayes (violin, fiddle), Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman (piano), Iarla O'Lionaird (vocals), Dennis Cahill (guitar) and Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh (hardanger fiddle).
Now for those of you who prefer words. You'll be happy to hear the new record is not a break with the past, bur rather a continuation of The Gloaming's unique musical fusion: the ambiance & drama of the best chamber music, a virtuosic command of Irish traditional folk forms, the emotional power of the sean-nos traditional singing technique, and serious improvisatory chops. In our favorite review of the band's music, a critic referred to The Gloaming's sound as “a new kind of Irish classical music” — and we think that just about nails it.
While the band's chart position proves the band are both a critical & popular phenomenon in Ireland, The Gloaming’s commercial & cultural impact in the United States should not be understated — their first two albums have made top 10 debuts on the American world music charts, and their records have seen considerable sales spikes after appearances on multiple NPR Album of the Year lists in 2014, and after singer Iarla O'Lionaird had a prominent vocal cameo in the film Brooklyn, a Best Picture nominee at the recent 2016 Academy Awards telecast. (Terry Gross namechecking Iarla on her Fresh Air program didn't hurt.)
For those of you who'd like to go-deep on their new album let us refer you to 2's album page which provides scholarly levels of detail via Iarla's song-by-song notes on the tunes. But if you're merely looking for some sweet linguistic nothings in browser tab form, look no further. We'll end this newsblast with some early praise for the album:
“[R]evisit the music of the stunningly good all-star band... cozy and magical" — Anastasia Tsioulcas in NPR Music's list of "our favorite global music right now"
"The Gloaming have become an international phenomenon, thanks to their virtuoso blend of Irish traditional influences and experimentation" - The Guardian's guide to Unmissable Culture of 2016 (United Kingdom)
"Avec ses complaintes épurées, son folk exposé dans le plus simple appareil et sa grande limpidité poétique, le second album de The Gloaming confirme tout le bien que l’on pensait de cette formation irlandaise. Moins glacé, plus incarné que le précédent album" — Les Inrocks (France)
""The Gloaming is to Irish music what the Punch Brothers are to Americana: a troupe of top-rate musicians drawing from and modernizing traditional music" — CBC Music (Canada)
***** "they’ve surpassed themselves" — Songlines (United Kingdom)
**** "An exquisite album from a virtuoso band." — The Guardian (United Kingdom)
9/10 — Hot Press
OP-ED: Oscars's music controversy & the dumbing of America - February 29, 2016
After last night's Oscar broadcast, one of the label's co-founders Alec Hanley Bemis wrote a thing about the f**ked-upness of the Oscars' relationship to music in 2016 — and posted it to Brassland's F'book page. Alec has some strong opinions on the matter, having met Elliott Smith in 2000, soon after Smith's own Oscar appearance changed the singer-songwriter's life—for better & worse. And it feels relevant to post here seeing as two of our artists & two mentors/friends of the label were caught up in the competitive scrum of the Academy Awards this year. (To reel 'em off, label co-founder Bryce Dessner co-composed the soundtrack to The Revenant; The Gloaming's singer Iarla Ó Lionáird had a prominent cameo in best picture nominee Brooklyn; our friend & mentor David Lang composed a best song nominee for Youth; and Anhoni—a sometime collaborator of Bryce—composed another best song nominee for the film Racing Extinction. #humblebrag? Yes! And yes, our mind boggles a bit at all the Oscars adjacency.)
If Alec's thoughts are tl; dr, we urge you to at least give these two other pieces of 'content' by Anhoni & Lang on the same topic a moment of your time.
• FROM ANHONI via PITCHFORK
• FROM DAVID LANG via VARIETY (Click here for footnote on source)
• FROM ALEC HANLEY BEMIS via FACEBOOK
Diversity is certainly a thorny topic these days. But a related & equally important issue to point out is the celebrity-focused, dumbing down of American culture — since American culture is so influential both here and abroad. I'd like to point out that the controversies around the music category at this year's Oscars are essential examples of the danger of pandering to a public whom the media powers-that-be insist are less sophisticated than we actually are.
Essentially what I'd like to suggest is that dumbness & celebrity-culture is contagious. And that proudly pandering to an imagined popularity contest is, at this moment, a real & present cultural crisis. The forces which led the Oscars to cut Anhoni & David Lang's performances in favor of The Weeknd, Lady Gaga & David Grohl are the same forces currently fueling America's political shitshow in our presidential elections; and the same forces that lead to bigotry, small mindedness, racism and oppression of those whose sexual identity or expression of gender diverges from the so-called 'norm'. This year the pandering just happened to hit closer to home — both Anhoni & David are part of Brassland's extended family tree.
What's happened to our culture in the last decade that's created our current celebrity crisis? I remember well the 'unlikely' Oscar performances by Elliot Smith in 1998 and the equally 'unlikely' win by Three 6 Mafia in 2006. Why, in 2016, couldn't the Oscars offer 3 to 5 minutes of screen time for Anhoni, a singer of such incredible gifts, or Lang, a composer who has mentored & inspired an entire generation of fellow composers?
I don't really have more to offer on this topic beyond 'dumb is bad & celebrity is worse.' Mostly I want to suggest you take a moment to consider both Anhoni & David Lang's experiences at this year's awards. I understand the 'culture of complaint' carries with it complications just as the 'culture of celebrity' does. But both Anhoni & David are unusually articulate advocates for their positions & practitioners of their art. They each deserve a moment of your time."
End of the day, I've loved the music of Grohl & Gaga & Abęl Tesfaye as much as I've loved the more obscure portions of our shared musical universe. But a diversity of voices & sounds is what our culture needs to be all about, always & forever, both in & out of the television spotlight.
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#Note that the video of Lang's red carpet interview was created & posted to Facebook by Variety. We're using our own YouTube video embed here because we can't get Facebook's video embed code to work. We consider the use of this video 'fair use' but invite Variety or Facebook to help us use the original source video at their request, if they care!
Bowie Bonds playlist, Doveman covers "Lazarus" - January 22, 2016
Almost two weeks after David Bowie's passing, the Brassland community is still grieving. Let us be the first to acknowledge that, duh, Bowie occupied a far more widescreen canvas than we could ever hope to. Everyone from his peerless peers like Brian Eno to the artists we grew up with like Trent Reznor to contemporaries who thrill & infuriate us like Kanye West have marked his passing in the social media medium. Unlike another recent legend's passing, we and our roster didn't have a particularly personal relationship with Bowie or his music -- Bowie having been off-the-musical scene for most of our label's existence, he seemed less like a presence we might encounter and more like part of the air we breathed in the left-of-center pop sphere. Point being, adding too many words to the pile-up of encomiums would be besides the point.
Instead, we thought we'd kick this post off with some music, in the form of a Spotify playlist:
The playlist is called Bowie Bonds, in honor of the financial instrument Bowie launched in 1997, a "commercial debt security issued by a holder of fame-based intellectual property rights." (Wikipedia can tell you more. It's bats**t crazy. I mean, seriously, #the90s.) The cover we chose for the mix is a widely reproduced group photo from backstage at Bowie's 50th birthday party at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1997. The concert featured a who's who of that era's alt-rock talentpool including members of Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Nirvana & The Cure. (We had to crop out the Pixies' Frank Black because he wouldn't fit into the square. We cropped out Dave Grohl because we think he should focus on awesome side projects rather than his increasingly bro-rocking Foo Fighters band.)
We chose this picture to highlight the role of what we sometimes refer to as the Community Function in Bowie's creativity and his career. Who else but Bowie would have gathered such a forward-thinking group of artists to what could have been a retrospective celebration? Similarly we've tried to make our playlist more than a simple greatest hits package -- though any playlist of Bowie's music that includes more than a half-dozen songs would be hard-pressed to not include a hit. We wanted to focus our Bowie tribute on not only our personal-favorite songs in his catalog, but on Bowie's mentorship & production of key records by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop; his channeling & championing of under-the-radar icons like Scott Walker; and the inspiration he gave to everyone from critically-acclaimed idols like Nirvana and Arcade Fire to fast burning, pop-culture phenoms like Seu Jorge and Vanilla Ice.
Basically amidst all the talk of Bowie the Singular Icon, we thought it worthwhile to point out there is a less-remarked upon Bowie to be found: Bowie the Collaborator and Musical Friend.
Speaking of which, this playlist represents the re-emergence of the Doveman project from one of Brassland's chief co-conspirators, Thomas Bartlett. Doveman's cover of "Lazarus" from Bowie's completely stunning final album Blackstar is the first new track to get a formal release since 2009's The Conformist. (We've, of course, continued to work with Thomas's project The Gloaming, and he's become an increasingly noted producer working with artists like Sufjan Stevens, Glen Hansard, and Julia Stone.)
The cover was prompted by Brassland label founder Alec Hanley Bemis. On the day that Bowie died, Alec suggested to Thomas that the lyrics of "Lazarus" could have been an outtake from With My Left Hand I Raise the Dead. Thomas stayed up until 4am the night recording it. Glen Hansard provided harmony & some moral support.
Which is to say: don't blame Thomas for releasing a tastelessly opportunistic cover. You can blame his label for that! Though we think of it more like our friends at Stereogum who wrote: "Like most of us, a whole lot of musicians are having a whole lot of feelings about David Bowie's passing right about now, but unlike most of us, they can channel those feelings into art."
Tribute and thanks to David Bowie for the way his music and presentation and art portrayed the fantasia of an accepting world — and helped bring the world a bit closer to being that way.
This Is The Kit get Album of the Year, José González tour & new EP - December 04, 2015
We try not to let our site get too dominated by a single artist, but what a run This Is The Kit have had in 2015, hogging attention in a way quite counter to their considerate nature. We're pleased to confirm the details of their new Rusty and Got Dusty EP, a new support slot opening for José González across continental Europe in December and, last but not least, the selection of their Bashed Out LP as one of BBC Radio 6 Music's Albums of the Year.
We'll lead with that last bit since there's not much to say about it beyond "Woo-hoo!" In announcing the award the responsible DJ said, simply "I just love the honesty and I love how she sings like a songbird." 6 Music will be playing a song from Bashed Out on every single show broadcast on Wednesday December 9th to celebrate their selection. You can read more details and the full list of favorites over at the BBC.
Next, TITK's new EP which band leader Kate Stables sums up by saying it's “a wee step in a more foot-tapping direction." We've posted fuller details elsewhere. But you also preview two songs right now on Spotify or your favorite streaming service. The French language preview song "Les Plus Beaux" will get a video in the new year; "Magic Spell (Paris session)" already has one which you can play below:
The EP is intended as as a portrait of an artist exploring their creativity, a theme also evident in the painstakingly animated video directed, produced and hand-drawn by long-time band acquaintance Sam Wisternoff aka SJ Esau. Alongside the EP release, Sam will be selling some of the 3,000+ frames he created on This Is The Kit's Bandcamp site, including an even-more limited edition autographed by Kate herself. Here's a sample of what you can pick up.
We're also encouraging listeners' own creativity by creating the #drawthekit hashtag. We hope fans inspired by This Is The Kit's music might consider making their own drawings, illustrating both the band members and their songs. Tag your drawings #drawthekit on social media to take part. Both band and label will re-post our favorites across our various media platforms next year.
Last but not least, there is a final burst of European tour dates in 2015 opening for much admired Swedish crooner José González. At first, we thought of these dates as a coda to TITK's just completed headline tour of the UK in November. But new UK dates for January have already been announced.
08 – Circus: Stockholm, Sweden %
09 – Store Vega: Copenhagen, Denmark %
10 – Trivoli Ronda: Utrecht, Netherlands %
11 – Motion: Bristol, UK %
12 – Academy: Dublin, Ireland %
14 – The Institute: Birmingham, UK %
15 – Roma: Antwerp, Belgium %
16 – Grosse Freiheit: Hamburg, Germany %
17 – KB: Malmo, Sweden %
18 – Chateau Neuf: Oslo, Norway %
19 – Pustervik: Gothenburg, Sweden % SOLD OUT
20 – Pustervik: Gothenburg, Sweden %
02 – National Theatre: London, UK
14 – Trades Club: Hebden Bridge, UK
15 – Crescent: York, UK
16 – Drygate Brewing Company: Glasgow, UK
26 – TBA: Chester, UK
27 – Portland Arms: Cambridge, UK
28 – Boileroom: Guildford, UK
% w/ José González
By all accounts it’s been a banner year for This Is The Kit and Kate. She's been one of 6Music’s most played artists in 2015; received plaudits from the likes of The Guardian, Uncut, Pitchfork, Stereogum and Noisey; and played a string of the UK’s best festivals. One almost forgets that time the BBC made a short documentary on the group for the iPlayer series ‘Guy Garvey’s Music Box’.
Until this here website you're currently reading totally hooks you up with a reminder. You're welcome.