Penelope Isles share ‘Round’

Up-and-coming Brighton, UK four-piece Penelope Isles recently announced their remarkable debut album Until the Tide Creeps In, out on  Bella Union on July 12th. Following the album’s first track “Chlorine,” the brother/sister centric band shares another great song off the record entitled “Round.” “It’s a love song – a collection of moments and thoughts of what it’s like to be in love,” explains the band’s Jack Wolter who self-produced the album. “All the beautiful moments and all the difficult times too. Going round full circle. The verses are like the beautiful times that we will always remember where  the chorus is the truth of how it’s not always that easy.” Pre-order the album HERE.

Early praise for Penelope Isles…

“Sweltering guitars scorch the earth [on ‘Chlorine’]… While summery synths and keys frolic in spaces left between the drum line and spiraling vocals, the riff phrases communicate nearly as much warmth and meaning as the lyrics do.” – Stereogum

“There is a grandeur to their songs, big and swelling, ebbs and flows…The whole band is seriously talented, and…seriously rock, too.” – Brooklyn Vegan

“Choppy guitar and thumping percussion combine to create a markedly DIY aesthetic throughout the video’s three minutes and five seconds of scrapbooked collage visuals. Said DIY aesthetic, both sonically as well as visually, operates as a self-aware style, one that brings an element of dirty garage rock to the haze of dream-pop flushes.” – Paste

“…a dreamy but biting piece of guitar pop…soaring, pastoral, highly intelligent songwriting.” – Clash Music

Formed around the chemistry between siblings and dual songwriters Jack and Lily Wolter, Until the Tide Creeps Inis an album deepened by shared experience. Born in Devon and raised on the Isle of Man, the Wolters’ bonds were strengthened by separation when Jack moved away to study art at university at 19, when Lily was 13. As he puts it, wryly, “By the time I moved home Lily was not so much of an annoying younger sister anymore and had grown up and started playing in bands and writing songs. We soon became very close. I had written some songs, so we started a band called Your Gold Teeth. We toured a bit and then Lily left for Brighton to study songwriting. A couple of years later I moved down and we started Penelope Isles together.” For every sibling band forged in rivalry, many others mount an unassailable genetic argument for keeping the music in the family. The latter is assuredly the case with Penelope Isles, a quartet completed by Jack Sowton and Becky Redford.

Crisp and woozy, blissful and biting, Until the Tide Creeps In is an album deepened by shared experience: experiences of, in Jack’s words, “leaving home, moving away, dealing with transitions in life and growing up. We are six years apart, so we had a different experience of some of this, but we share a similar inspiration when writing music.”

Daughter Of Swords announces debut album

Daughter of Swords, aka Mountain Man’s Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, has announced her debut album Dawnbreaker, released 28th June via Bella Union in the UK/Europe and Nonesuch Records in the US, and available to pre-order here. A video for the title track directed by D.L. Anderson premiered today on NPR and can be viewed below…

Sauser-Monnig says of the title track: “‘Dawnbreaker’ is about waking to the day beautifully breaking around you, and waking also to the realisation that the life you’ve been leading is breaking with it. The version of ‘ Dawnbreaker’ that is on the album was one of the first takes recorded of the whole record. It wasn’t really intended to be the final version of the song, but as the rest of the record came together, we realized that the rawness of that first take embodied the emotional quality that the record wanted to end on.”

Last month, Daughter of Swords released “Gem” which was hailed by NPR as “a slice of poppy folk music so sweetly radiant, it’s essentially a summer sunbeam in song form.” 

In 2017, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig began recording a set of songs about a breakup that had yet to happen. Her partnership had drifted into a comfortable state of indecision, stalling when it came time to make big life moves or chase new horizons. She had the sense that she needed to slip the relationship in order to pursue everything else life might have in store -more music, more adventures, a general sense of the unknown. Those feelings drifted steadily into a set of songs that lamented the inevitable loss but, more important, outlined the promise of the future. Recording the ten tracks that became her stunning solo debut, Dawnbreaker, under the new name Daughter of Swords gave Sauser-Monnig permission to go.

Dawnbreaker began as the first phase of Sauser-Monnig’s return to music after stepping to the sidelines for the better part of a decade. Her college trio, Mountain Man, rose to quick acclaim for their peerless harmonies around 2010, but the friends slowly drifted apart, following their own interests to different coasts and concerns. While working on a flower farm as a farmhand, though, Sauser-Monnig realized that she missed the emotional articulation she found in writing songs and singing them and resolved to start again. She pieced together an album just as Mountain Man-now newly gathered in the fertile Piedmont of North Carolina-began to regroup for its second LP, 2018’s aptly named Magic Ship. Working with Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn, Sauser-Monnig shaped what began as quiet reflections into confident compositions, crackling with country swagger and a sparkling pop warmth. They were, after all, preemptive odes to the next phase of life.

Calling the ten tunes of Dawnbreaker breakup songs is to hamstring them with elegiac expectations, to paint them as sad-eyed surrenders to loss and grief. Sure, there is the gentle opener “Fellows,” a hushed number that explores the turmoil of being unable to reciprocate the feelings of a wild and shy, tall and fine man. And there’s the blossoming country shuffle of “Easy Is Hard,” where Sauser-Monnig stands in the yard and sees her lover leave, his taillights fading into the night sky; she can’t sleep, so she gets up to turn the lights and stereo on, to “feel my soul coming down.” 

Even there, amid the throes of a life convulsion, there is a wisp of hope and possibility, framed by the way “the dim light change[s] into dawn, rosy blue, pink fawn.” The very heart of Dawnbreaker is not the impending breakup that inspired many of its songs but the sense of liberation and breaking out that the breakup inspired. Buoyed by the insistent patter of a drum machine and rich acoustic guitars, Sauser-Monnig finds herself in search of new thrills during “Gem,” whether pondering the fleeting nature of existence at a waterfall’s edge or watching the shapes of mountains seemingly dance beneath her headlights. The muted, harmonica-lined boogie of “Sun” begins with a vulnerable confession, a revelation of loneliness; it is, however, a low-key anthem for the open road, about giving oneself over to the infinity of solitude and an endless strip of asphalt. Sauser-Monnig captures these scenes with a painter’s eye and delivers them with a novelist’s heart.

There’s no better testament than “Shining Woman,” where Sauser-Monnig portrays a ropy woman navigating her “steel steed” up and down the bends and passes of California’s fabled Highway 1. She openly marvels at that spirit and strength, wishing that for her own life. With Dawnbreaker, she has found it in some measure-the joy of something new, the excitement of risk. Though Sauser-Monnig nearly recorded these songs as barebones folk ballads, she reimagined them with Sanborn and a top-tier crew of North Carolina friends, like fellow Mountain Man singers Amelia Meath and Molly Sarlé, bandleader Phil Cook, and guitarist Ryan Gustafson. These vivid settings highlight the emotional contours of these songs, revealing the complexity that comes with knowing that, in order to live, you sometimes have to let something as strong as love go.

At the start of “Human,” the undeniable climax of Dawnbreaker, Sauser-Monnig wakes up early and finds her lover in bed. She slips out of the room, watches the sun rise alone, and has herself a long think amid nature’s frozen splendor. What does it mean to leave? What does it mean to stay? Is she wrong, and is he right? As the piano rises and her voice multiplies, coming in now from all sides, she admits something crucial to herself: “You can’t will a love to life/But you can do the loving thing: Make like a bird and fly.” It is a moment of reckoning with one’s own liberation, of realizing that sometimes a profound loss is the only way to gain something else. That is the lesson of Dawnbreaker, an intimate document of what it means to set oneself free.

Dawnbreaker will be released 28th June via Bella Union.

Happy Release Day Hannah Cohen

Today New York singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen is pleased to put out into the world her captivating new album Welcome Home, featuring the previously released singles ‘This Is Your Life’, ‘Wasting My Time’ and ‘All I Wanted’.

Hannah Cohen has arrived home. From the title of her new album to the depth and beauty of the music, the Woodstock, NY-based singer-songwriter’s third album, Welcome Home, displays a new level of confidence and comfort with the many creative tools at her disposal. Cohen’s remarkably evocative voice is surrounded by dreamy, swooning incantations, from the rippling ‘This Is Your Life’ and the slow-burning, forthright statement of ‘All I Want,’ to the soul swagger of ‘Get in Line’ and dramatic vocal leaps of ‘Wasting My Time.’

With Welcome Home“I don’t feel I have to cover up anything, or not be able to share,”Cohen says. “There’s less to interpret, I’m more visible. And as to reflecting on the past when things didn’t go well, I’ve left that behind. It was all worth it, to make my way to this point.”

Produced by Cohen’s partner Sam Owens, the producer/writer who performs as Sam Evian, the artist began developing the material that became Welcome Home in 2017. Taking her time with the songs, she wrapped herself in the fulfilling quiet of a new home, and a new creative partnership that supported finding a clarity in her writing and vocals. Many of the songs were written on an old, nylon-string guitar painted with Hawaiian scenes of beaches and palm trees (which can be heard on ‘This Is Your Life’), that, no matter the final arrangement, gives the songs a lighter touch, a warming glow that suffuses the whole album. Listeners may find echoes of folk and R&B, radiating with vocal-powered pop production, electronic accents, and bursts of pulsing guitar/bass/drums energy. Irresistible echoes of soul enchanters such as Carrie Cleveland (an early touchstone for Cohen and Evian), Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and their friend and sometime collaborator Nick Hakim blend with the reflective shadings of singer/writer forebears such as Carole King and Harry Nilsson.

Welcome Home is almost brutally honest in its self-examination, as Cohen couches home truths in velvet-lush settings. As she explains, “A lot of the album is about checking in with reality and taking the wheel, being honest with myself and my intentions. Being transparent as much as possible. They’re about exploring why I’m here. And the songs question love – if it’s real or something else, finding love that’s healthy, mature and supportive.”

All of Cohen’s new material was crafted in Brooklyn except ‘Big House,’ which was written in an isolated stone farmhouse in upstate New York where they sometimes recorded, preserving the intimacy at the core of Welcome Home. The album was mostly tracked with a live rhythm section: bassist Brian Betancourt (from Evian’s live band) and drummer Vishal Nayak (Nick Hakim). Says Cohen, “We wanted to capture the essence of the song, quickly, and not toil over details for two years.”

That straightforward immediacy marked an important change in Cohen’s relationship with her music and the recording process. After growing up around professional musicians, she moved to New York from the Bay Area at 17, an intrepid adventurer who was drawn to New York’s singer-songwriter world. “New York became my world and my community, and formed me as a person, though I have never felt settled here until the last two years.” Her first two albums, Child Bride and Pleasure Boy, document the sound of a young artist finding her feet on a stage populated by established performers, a very public evolution toward the lived-in experience and command of Welcome Home. The desire to live on her own terms has recently led her to the less-crowded vistas of Woodstock, NY, a no-less iconic musical destination.

‘Old Bruiser’ documents that feeling of escape, specifically a west coast road trip (“Made it back to the city by daylight and we turned to each other as if to ask why /did we make something special just to go and leave it all behind?”). ‘Build Me Up’ also reflects Cohen’s desire to move: “Living in the city has such extreme effects on your body, your nervous system, the constant grind, living on top of people and never really having any true personal space. I am naturally a very sensitive person, I feel a lot of energy and people are really intense in NYC. I have been inspired by that energy but after fifteen years it became exhausting trying to keep up with the grind and hustle. I wanted a change of scenery and a new pace. It was hard to let go after putting so much time and work into building my life and community, and in a way I went from one extreme to another. But I felt I needed to make a big move to break free from all the noise. Welcome Home chronicles my last year in New York City before moving on. Onward and upwards.”

DOOMSQUAD share Let It Go

Today Toronto’s electro-psych, dance-rock sibling trio DOOMSQUAD have shared entrancing new single “Let It Go”, the third track to be shared from their forthcoming LP Let Yourself Be Seen, out May 10th via Bella Union. The band also share exciting news of an extensive North American tour they will embark on supporting Operators (feat. members of Wolf Parade) which kicks off the end of May.

Of new track “Let It Go” the band elaborate: “The song is kind of an inner debate between two opposing voices of a conflicted self-conscience over how to cope through these chaotic times. One side balances a process of disengagement, of “letting go” of anger, resentment and fear by detaching oneself from the news cycle, and social media and journeying towards inner peace in a more spiritual way. The other side argues for staying socially and politically engaged, staying tuned in and turned on and leaning into the fiery activist energy and fighting this noble fight. Can both sides co-exist? Can you find a balance? What’s healthier? What’s fair? These are the questions this song tries to grapple with.”

Let Yourself Be Seen is the most assertive, ambitious, groove-sodden declaration of intent yet from Trevor, Jaclyn and Allie Blumas: the sound of dance floor believers and thinkers firing on all personal and political fronts, at a time when we need it most.

Even if DOOMSQUAD never lacked the courage of their convictions, Let Yourself Be Seen ups the stakes. On 2016’s Total Time, the trio issued invitations to free your mind, body and spirit over dirty bass-lines and hypnotic disco jams. And yet, their reliance on unspoken sibling intuition left them fearing that much of its “message and meaning” had gone unheard. Thus, the trio took a more forthright approach for their third album, aiming to “crystallise what DOOMSQUAD is and what it means to us. What we always knew but put at the forefront of this record is that DOOMSQUAD is a project of protest, catharsis and emotional and spiritual reconnection through music and, especially, through dance-music culture. It’s about activating the body on the most fundamental level, into states of change, release and reunion.”

Richly steeped in the influences of acid house, West African disco, spiritual jazz, NYC no-wave and new-age ambient music, Let Yourself Be Seen hums with a sense of vigorous, invigorating purpose. After the overture of ‘Spandrel’, ‘General Hum’ sends out a buoyant new-wave rallying cry for maximised engagement just when the world seems intent on stifling it. “Is there a place for spirit anymore?” it asks. Kicking in with a percussive bustle that all but defies you to try and stand still, ‘Aimless’ answers in the affirmative.

Elsewhere on the album, DOOMSQUAD’s own dynamic thematic engagement alights on subjects ranging from formative influences to modern societal struggles and eco-crises. ‘Let It Go’ grapples with the challenges of social change at 140BPM, climaxing with a scalding guitar solo to match the heat of its questioning thrust. The mellifluous ‘Emma’ reflects on early-20th-century anarchist and activist Emma Goldman; ‘Dorian’s Closet’, meanwhile, honours New York drag queen Dorian Corey. “Let Yourself Be Seen was fuelled by the inspiration of outsider artists and thinkers before us,” say the band. “Through these songs, we get to glorify some of our heroes.”

DOOMSQUAD’S intent to carry their heroes’ “messages of empowerment, release and spiritual self-determination” to new audiences peaks on the title-track, where the album’s disparate parts build to a disco inferno with a call to “Let yourself be seen!” “The Last Two Palm Trees in LA” offers an empathetic take on a similar theme, based on the acceptance of ageing, before “Weather Patterns” steers a reflection on unity in the face of global crisis to a buffeting crescendo with a thrilling urgency.

The result is an album for fraught political times, charged by the impetus to bring “music back to the body”. Close-to-home influences on that score include Tanya Tagaq and Peaches, both of whom DOOMSQUAD have toured with; further afield, Peter Gabriel, Diamanda Galás, Genesis P-Orridge and Underworld numbered among inspirations. Meanwhile, as the trio’s creative process took them from a lakeside cabin to a studio in Toronto, they benefited from the input of kindred spirits such as Ejji Smith, whose virtuoso guitar-shredding propels ‘Let It Go’. Israeli jazz composer Itamar Erez adds watery synths to ‘Emma’, while a key studio collaborator was producer/artist Sandro Perri, whose credits include Barzin.

As for the future, DOOMSQUAD will soon take Let Yourself Be Seen to the live stage, an environment in which their convictions blaze with exhilarating life. “The dancefloor is our temple – the idea of the dancefloor as a utopian/protest space is the exact belief we carry with us. As much as we love making records, we love performing. The music we make is meant to be heard on a large sound-system. As performers, we are fuelled by the need to be in a live atmosphere.” And thrive in the live atmosphere they will, on tour in Europe and supporting Operators in North America starting in May. All live dates are listed below.

And if that need inspires others to voice their shared beliefs, such is DOOMSQUAD’s hope. “People change, ideas grow,” the band say. “And entropy is all around us. The fear that lies in the hearts of the elite patriarchy will soon die off, and the rest of us will be working together to repair what’s broken. And that is worth every bit of positive energy.” An album that honours its forebears by reaching towards a future worth fighting for, worth dancing for, Let Yourself Be Seen has positive energy in bright, sparking, forward-thinking abundance.

Happy Release Day Ari Roar

Ari Roar’s gorgeous debut album ‘Calm Down’ was a beautiful blast of DIY guitar pop by a songwriter rooted in – but never confined by – an innate sense of classicism. But while his debut was built during spells in both Seattle and New York, sophomore LP ‘Best Behavior’ is marked by a return home, to the landscapes of Texas and the familiar streets of Dallas.

“I felt like I was in a totally different headspace and environment,” says songwriter Caleb Campbell. “Texas is definitely not like anywhere else that I’ve lived before. It’s always going to be home to me so it’s got that nostalgic feeling to it.”

Working from a converted shed in his parent’s garden, Caleb Campbell began constructing the second Ari Roar album on his trusty Tascam 388 tape recorder. Working quickly, feverishly, he used two six month spells to get his ideas down on tape – spartan but endlessly beautiful pieces of melody, exquisite in their bittersweet execution.

“Everybody likes time to themselves, something that’s meditative or a place where you can really just shut everything out,” he explains. “It’s an ongoing process that will never quite be complete. I’ve been doing it so long now it feels part of my personality.”

Sonically beautiful, ‘Best Behavior’ is unafraid to deal with remarkably personal topics – love, loss, self doubt, the panacea music can offer. “I guess it’s where I was at the time. My relationships. Things I was feeling or reflecting on,” he recalls. “A lot of the songs are brief so it’s only a few lines here and there. If you got down to it, it’s more personal, like a journal or a diary.”

Curious vignettes that layer simple sounds to conjure complex emotions, Ari Roar is dedicated to the craft of the classic pop song, a skewed take on 60s bubblegum reconstituted by an awareness of the modern US underground, like a lost Guided By Voices compilation left to take root in the Texan soil.

“My parents used to play me The Beatles, The Monkees… it’s how I started to begin a relationship with music,” he recalls. “Then I thought, I should start writing my own songs… and I felt the most at home doing that kind of stuff. It’s one of my strengths, I guess.”

Released by Bella Union in 2018, debut album ‘Calm Down’ won fulsome praise on both sides of the Atlantic, including key support from 6Music and lavish reviews from tastemaker sites such as Paste Magazine, Best Fit, and Clash. 

‘Best Behavior’ fits into this universe, but charts out its own distinct space. Opening song ‘My Luck Is Up’ was a “breakthrough moment”, with Caleb taking greater risks in the writing process. ‘Learn The Trick’ is a simple, affecting acoustic moment, while title song ‘Best Behavior’ was so daring, and so complete, that it felt “like somebody else wrote it”.

Immersing himself in music, Ari Roar is careful to leaves spaces for the listener to follow, unfinished elements that invite you to chart your own path in the record. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, so I guess it’s more a reflection of me personally – because I’m not perfect at all!” he laughs. “I start to get a little bit depressed if I don’t have any means of being creative. It definitely makes me feel more normal.” 

Ari Roar’s perfectly imperfect guitar pop creations contain all the dirt of everyday life; for every joyous, soaring chorus, there’ll be a middle eight that can pull your heartstrings into wonderful origami shapes. “I find songs that are just the same emotion all the way through don’t have any kind of context. It’s just like life. It’s not all one emotion. It’s constantly changing.”

With its colour, melody, and unfiltered emotion ‘Best Behavior’ is the finest vista yet on the journey of a committed, feverish songwriter, a lone, bold voice from the plains Texas.

Baloji debuts ‘Spotlight’ Remix

“Baloji raps with brazen ease about the indignities of life as an African in Belgium…he taps powerful music from both worlds to create a landscape of his own.” – NPR

“The rapper and singer Baloji makes chameleonic African music.” – The New York Times

“Baloji showcases roughly 500 times more energy and charisma than your average Jimmy Fallon-style late night appearance.” – The FADER

“Super fly Renaissance man who melds Congolese Rumba, hip-hop, and pop.” – Noisey

“Baloji’s directorial zeal is just as compelling as his limber flow.” – Dazed

“Baloji’s music blends traditional African music, hip-hop, French folk, soul, funk, jazz and electronic to create his distinct, compelling sound.” – Afropunk

“African diaspora music never felt so far ahead and yet so close. Modern, self-sufficient with a middle finger attitude!” – M.I.A.

“scathing, poetic critiques” – Stereogum

Congolese-born, Belgium-based artist Baloji today released a new afro-electro single, “Spotlight & Miroir” (ft. Marshall Dixon & Poison Mobutu) from his upcoming album Kaniama: The Yellow Version, out May 3 via Bella Union. CLASH premiered the remixed track about our digital obsession and phone screen spotlights, which mirrors themes in Baloji’s previous short film “Zombies” that premiered via NOWNESS.

The original “Spotlight” comes from Baloji’s previous album 137 Avenue Kaniama, which was released last year on Bella Union (Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Father John Misty). The label is re-releasing the album as the artist originally intended it, as a one-track mixtape on May 3. In a world of fleeting singles, Kaniama: The Yellow Version brings back the full album listening experience.

Baloji is an artist in motion, a musician, poet, film director and man of many images and ideas. Baloji means “man of science” in Swahili, but shifted during the colonial period to “man of the occult sciences and sorcery.” With influences from Outkast and LCD Soundsystem to African rumba king Tabu Ley Rochereau and salsa music legends Fania Records, he mixes hip hop culture with Congolese guitars and a melodic approach with some French chanson structure. His perpetual motion is showcased in music videos like “Soleil De Volt,” where he fronts a satirical variety show band with flamboyant flare, also apparent in his sharp curation of Komono eyewear collections.

As a teenager, Baloji started his first rap collective, Starflam, and released his first solo album in 2008, Hotel Impala, conceived as a reply to a letter he received from his mother after a 25-year absence. 137 Kaniama Avenue is an extension of a story set in motion on that album. Baloji explains, “It’s the anchoring point of a trajectory marked by my intrinsic attachment to the country as much as by my remoteness from it. A geographic and symbolic distance, which gives me perspective, and inspiration.”

Award-winning novelist and poet Alain Mabanckou (Prix Renaudot, Man Booker International finalist) described the album as “a patchwork universe, rich in words, parables, a universe of stories, poetry in motion, which points a finger at the failings of our societies, now ravaged by collateral damage from globalisation. Baloji, with his legendary flamboyance, offers an artist-witness’s response to his era. Now it’s up to us to inhabit this space where freedom takes the form of art!”
Baloji will soon embark on an international tour, as well – dates here.