Currently at work on a new studio album due for release next year, John Grant has announced news of his rescheduled UK and Ireland tour dates, with the shows moving to March and May 2021. All tickets for his previously scheduled 2020 shows are valid as before. News regarding the rescheduled Edinburgh show will follow soon. Dates/info below:
Psychic Markers will release their self-titled, third full length album on 29 May via Bella Union. Today they share the a new track from the album, ‘Baby It’s Time.’
Speaking about the track, the band say: “This is the oldest of the tracks and was initially gonna go on Hardly Strangers but somehow it didn’t seem to fit and we’re album guys, structurally and conceptually it has to work in a holistic manner. We spruced it up a bit for this one. Alannah wrote the words and she explained how it represents the time for a change, ‘baby, it’s time to let go’, to me it had to be an album closer and a pretty beautiful one at that.”
A near death experience being sucked into an active sandstorm during a US road trip is enough to make you think about life. Being immersed in a swirling vortex of sand, dust, tumbleweed and detritus whilst trying to keep control of a speeding car might have only been a brief flash moment in Steven Dove’s life but it was enough for the Psychic Markers man to question life. “These things impact you,” he says. “I got thinking about human nature, our proneness to mistakes, imperfection and the implications of reactionary decision making.”
The results of such lyrical reflection, and broad spectrum of thought, can be heard throughout the latest Psychic Markers album, one that Dove describes as, “Imagine a David Cronenberg-style movie in which each morning you awake to find your brain merged inside someone else’s head – you see life from a totally different angle.”
Approaching things from a different angle was also the objective sonically. “We wanted to make an album that was 100% us,” says Leon Dufficy, who heads up the band with Dove. “With zero dilution from other influences.” This natural, intuition-led, direction is something immediately apparent on the album, one that weaves seamlessly between pulsing groove-locked electronica and psychedelic pop as frequently as it glides from sparkling melody to rich cinematic ambience.
“Cohesive yet diverse,” is what the band have said of their music and it fits their personalities too, with members coming from as far afield as Australia and Yorkshire. Dufficy and Dove wrote and produced the record together, the sultry yet subtle bass comes from Luke Jarvis, who also did the band’s artwork, whilst the glowing backing vocals of Alannah Ashworth feature alongside the shared percussion duties of Lewis Baker and Jim Wallis.
The opening track ‘Where Is the Prize?’ is a perfect opener that encapsulates Dove’s introspective yet existential lyricism, as well as the band’s expanded sonic terrain. It’s written from the perspective of an old person who sees friends die off until only they remain. “We strive for old age but what’s even there if you make it?” asks Dove. Musically, it opens with gently lapping waves of electronics that sets the tone for a more electronically-leaning record.
A total electronic overhaul this is not, however. Instead, their third album sits in a sweet spot between evolutionary and revolutionary step; retaining the core essence and personality of the band but also moving into new territory. It embellishes and emboldens the band’s pre-existing palate, one that still nods to 1970s Germany on the careering ‘Clouds’ (a song that, antithetical to the opener, looks at life from the perspective of a child) and one that still exhibits their seamless knack for immersive melody via the gorgeous Yo La Tengo-like closer ‘Baby It’s Time.’
Amidst the engulfing soundscapes of ‘Juno Dreams’ is a sample of an old Texan psychic that cannot foresee a future for its subject, whilst the serene-to-nightmare psychedelic noise trip that is ‘Sacred Geometry’ is a direct exploration of the moment Dove was caught in the sandstorm. “The track is that nanosecond you have to make an important decision – the second part of it being the knock-on effect of making the wrong one.”
Playing with structure and form, and the overlapping role between lyrics and music, is rooted in the album. “I was tired of writing within the constraints of a verse/chorus structure and wanted to be expressive in alternative ways,” says Dove. “It’s like walking the same route to get from a to b – eventually it becomes mundane and for this record I wanted to try walking a different way.”
Dufficy also found himself going down a rabbit hole of old gear for the album, exploring four tracks, micro cassettes and drum machines. “I wanted to see how it would impact our writing and recording process,” he says. “By taking away the endless options you have in the digital world.” The result is one that adds to the already deeply textural world of the band – an approach that has previously reared its head via doo-wop-esque harmony vocals, thoughtfully layered immersive guitars or enveloping atmospheres – as well as adding a further sense of diving into the unknown.
The dodgy motors of the four-track led to drums and keys being all over the place on the track ‘Enveloping Cycles’, creating its own woozy, distinct rhythm of gently fizzing beats. That is before the machine gave up completely. “The four-track died right at the end of making the album, so its quirks will only ever exist on this album,” Dufficy says. “I like that, it’s kind of romantic to me.”
Much like being caught in the middle of a sandstorm, or a piece of equipment holding out until the final sputtering moments of musical completion, there’s something unique, engulfing and encompassing about the latest Psychic Markers album. A beautiful bottling of time and place that magically ends up somewhere completely new.
Psychic Markers’ self-titled, third LP is due for release 29 May via Bella Union.
Having recently announced the release of new album Life Drawing, available 10th July via Bella Union, and shared the tracks ‘Beast In The House’ and ‘Watering Can’, today Mr Ben & The Bens share a charming animated video for new single “On The Beach”. Of the video bandleader Ben Hall says: “The plot of the video was created around a line from the song, ‘On the beach, wade between, sighing skulls I knew’. This is loosely based on the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead in Greek Mythology. It’s said that when your soul passes through if you didn’t have a coin to pay the boatman you’d wander endlessly on the shores of those rivers. In the film the spirit of death wanders a landscape littered with remnants of a ‘human’ civilisation looking for somewhere to travel to next. Lockdown is a great opportunity to explore a new medium with plenty of time indoors, so I taught myself how to animate this film with a few tip offs from my pals and really enjoyed the process.”
After the celestial adventures of Mr Ben and the Bens’ previous issue, Ben Hall finds all the magic he needs on earth with his new album, Life Drawing. On 2019’s Who Knows Jenny Jones?, Hall plotted the story of a young, shy Pitsmoor woman who returned from an alien encounter newly armed with serious disco-dancing know-how. Life Drawing, meanwhile, looks closer to home for its inspiration – Sheffield and thereabouts – for twelve brightly plaintive, character-driven vignettes, set to warm, acoustic, indie-psyche-pop backdrops after its predecessor’s close encounters of the synth-driven kind.
A “cloudy thread of narrative” is present, Hall explains, but this time it’s left open for listeners to map routes through it. “The idea with the title is that the songs are character sketches, and their stories coalesce in a place that has a bit of all the towns in the North of England I’ve lived in. Bits of myself in the stories came out unintentionally, so I’d like it if the listener could find those semi-truths from the songs and place them into their own experiences.”
Vibrant invitation to start exploring arrives with album opener ‘On the Beach’, where Hall’s tender vocal and dreamy organ provide simpatico companions to a wistful tale of a visit to a beach charged with memories – one of many evocative locales on the album. ‘How Do You Do?’ brings to mind Belle and Sebastian at their dreamiest, while seeding enviro-metaphors – suns and moons, storms and tides, rain and snow, “Whatever the weather may do” – that figure strongly throughout the album’s every-day rhapsodies.
Plenty of melodic sticking power propels the urgent ‘Danny’, where beaches and seas provide backdrops for a character study about someone reaching out for connection. At the opposite extreme, the gorgeous ‘Astral Plane’ is a sweetly psychedelic lament, images of waves and shores lapping gently against the tale of a “barely functioning”character. ‘Faithful Hound’ is a country-sad ballad, ‘Minor Keys’ a retro doo-wop-ish reverie about a character blithely “at sea” and wasting the day away, all set to a waltzing-Wurlitzer melody.
For Hall, Life Drawing is a rich, rewarding step forward in a still-young career. With the exception of Zac Barfoot on drums, Hall is the sole player on the album’s lovingly layered recordings, his first in “a proper studio – analogue gear, proper piano”. David C Glover and Paul Gregory also contributed as, respectively, producer and mixer at Tesla Studios, while the band’s live line-up is fleshed out by Barfoot, Lauren Paige-Dowling (bass) and Tom Diffenthal (guitar/keyboards). Members of the close-knit Bingo Records community, the bandmates co-habit in Sheffield and moonlight in each other’s bands – “A nice family vibe,” notes Hall.
Since their 2017 emergence, Mr Ben and the Bens’ supporters have included Clash and Marc Riley; in addition, they’ve provided touring support to – among others – British Sea Power. Stretching back to his recording origins in a Lancashire barn circa 2012, Hall’s own musical history ranges from lo-fi acoustic folk to the skewed electronic experiments of Jenny Jones, with influences including Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, English folk music and Belle and Sebastian. “I like how their approach was actually punk but with an emotional sensibility,” says Hall of the latter. “That totally resonates with what I’m trying to do.”
Before Hall tours Life Drawing, a combined launch party and exhibition will take place in Sheffield, in a true DIY spirit. Describing himself as a “self-sustaining artist”, Hall makes his own oil paintings and ceramics, one of which features on the album sleeve. “The cover is a carved slipware plate that I make. It’s a super-old technique, so they look like old museum artefacts that have been unearthed. I like the idea that the archaeology side to the art is a nice metaphor for digging out stories to make into songs.” On Life Drawing, every picture tells a lovingly excavated story, rendered with hand-crafted charm and beauty.
With the new album Warnings out today, I Break Horses has shared another live session recorded in quarantine by Marina herself, this time for the track ‘Death Engine’. You can buy your copy of Warnings here as well as stream the album on Spotify here.
If I Break Horses’ third album holds you in its grip like a great film, it’s no coincidence. Faced with making the follow-up to 2014’s plush Chiaroscuro, Horses’s Maria Lindén decided to take the time to make something different, with an emphasis on instrumental, cinematic music. As she watched a collection of favourite films on her computer (sound muted) and made her own soundtrack sketches, these sonic workouts gradually evolved into something more: “It wasn’t until I felt an urge to add vocals and lyrics,” says Lindén, “that I realized I was making a new I Break Horses album.”
That album is Warnings, an intimate and sublimely expansive return that, as its recording suggests, sets its own pace with the intuitive power of a much-loved movie. And, as the title suggests, the sumptuous sound worlds – dreamy mellotrons, haunting loops, analogue synths – and layered lyrics crackle with immersive dramatic tensions on many levels. “It’s not a political album,” says Lindén, “though it relates to the alarmist times we live in. Each song is a subtle warning of something not being quite right.”
As Lindén notes, the process of making Warnings involved different kinds of dramas. “It has been some time in the making. About six years, involving several studios, collaborations that didn’t work out, a crashed hard drive with about two years of work, writing new material again instead of trying to repair it. New studio recordings, erasing everything, then recording most of the album myself at home…”
Yet the pay-off for her long-haul immersion is clear from statement-of-intent album opener ‘Turn’, a waltzing kiss-off to an ex swathed in swirling synths over nine emotive minutes. On ‘Silence’, Lindén suggests deeper sorrows in the interplay of serene surface synths, hypnotic loops and elemental images: when she sings “I feel a shiver,” you feel it, too.
Elsewhere, on three instrumental interludes, Lindén’s intent to experiment with sound and structure is clear. Meanwhile, there are art-pop songs here more lush than any she has made. ‘I’ll Be the Death of You’ occupies a middle ground between Screamedelica and early OMD, while ‘Neon Lights’ brings to mind Kraftwerk on Tron’s light grid. ‘I Live At Night’ slow-burns like a song made for night-time LA drives; ‘Baby You Have Travelled for Miles without Love in Your Eyes’ is an electronic lullaby spiked with troubling needle imagery. ‘Death Engine’’s dark-wave dream-pop provides an epic centrepiece, of sorts, before the vocoder hymnal of closer ‘Depression Tourist’ arrives like an epiphany, the clouds parting after a long, absorbing journey.
For Lindén, Warnings is a remarkable re-routing of a journey begun when I Break Horses’s debut album, Hearts (2011), drew praise from Pitchfork, The Guardian, NME, The Independent and others for its luxurious grandeur and pulsing sense of art-pop life. With the electro-tangents of 2014’s Chiaroscuro, Lindén forged a new, more ambitious voice with total confidence. Along the way, I Break Horses toured with M83 and Sigur Rós; latterly, U2 played Hearts’ ecstatic ‘Winter Beats’ through the PA before their stage entrance on 2018’s ‘Experience + Innocence’ tour. Good choice.
A new friend on Warnings is US producer/mixing engineer Chris Coady, whose graceful way with dense sound (credits include Beach House, TV on the Radio) was not the sole reason Lindén invited him to mix the album. “Before reaching out to Chris I read an interview where he said, ‘I like to slow things down. Almost every time I love the sound of something slowed down by half, but sometimes 500% you can get interesting shapes and textures.’ And I just knew he’d be the right person for this album.”
If making Warnings was a slow process, so be it: that steady gestation was a price worth paying for its lavish accretions of detail and meaning, where secrets aplenty await listeners eager to immerse themselves. “Nowadays, the attention span equals nothing when it comes to how most people consume music,” Lindén says. “And it feels like songs are getting shorter, more ‘efficient’. I felt an urge to go against that and create an album journey from start to finish that takes time and patience to listen to. Like, slow the fuck down!” Happily, Warnings provides all the incentives required.
Having last week announced her debut album Forever Blue, released 3rd July via Bella Union, and shared a video for the track ‘All I Asked For (Was To End It All)’, today A.A. Williams shares a stunning cover version of the Deftones track “Be Quiet And Drive” as part of her ‘Songs From Isolation’ video project; solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans recorded from her home. Of the Deftones recording Williams says: “Right from the start there have been many requests to cover a Deftones song so I chose Be Quiet And Drive, a favourite track of mine from Around The Fur, one of the albums that first opened the door to heavier music for me as a teen.”
Making her stage debut in April 2019 and selling out her first headline show at London’s prestigious Southbank Centre less than a year later, A.A. Williams has hit the ground running. Similarly, the acclaim for her performances and her music has been unanimous from the start. After one self-titled EP and the 10” vinyl collaboration Exit in Darkness with Japanese post-rockers MONO, the London-based singer-songwriter has signed to Bella Union and made a stunning debut album, Forever Blue.
A rapturous blend of post-rock and post-classical, Forever Blue smoulders with uncoiling melodies and haunted atmospheres, shifting from serenity to explosive drama, often within the same song. Williams is a fantastic musician as well as songwriter, playing the guitar, cello and piano, and her voice has the controlled delivery of a seasoned chanteuse whilst still channelling the rawest of emotions.
Forever Blue is named after a song that didn’t make the album’s final cut, “but it still encapsulated these songs,” Williams explains. “It sounded timeless and in the right place.” The album’s threads encapsulate the anxieties and addiction of love and loss with haunting detail, though Williams admits the theme was shaped more by her subconscious than any grand plan.
“The lyrics come at the end, they fall into place, rhythmically, and link together,” she explains. “And then it’s my job to decipher what I’ve written! I want the words to get my point across but still let the listener map on their own experiences. I find it really therapeutic.”
Therapy is intrinsic to Williams’ approach: to not just express and unpick her feelings of longing and loss but to work through them. “Verbalising something, you feel a weight has been lifted,” she says. The transition can be mirrored in the dynamic shift from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’, as on ‘Glimmer’ and arguably at its most euphoric on ‘Melt’. “There’s something very satisfying and elating about songs that have that drop in them, to stomp on the guitar pedal on and let it all out.”
Mountain Man—the trio of Amelia Meath, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Molly Sarlé—has released Mountain Man Sings Kacey Musgraves, the latest in its series of cover singles, featuring its version of “Slow Burn” from Musgraves’ 2018 album, Golden Hour. The digital single, available now via Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and other digital service providers, follows last year’s digital releases of Mountain Man’s performing Wilco’s “You and I” as well as the Irving Berlin holiday classic “White Christmas.”
“We are all huge fans of Kacey Musgraves,” says the band. “‘Slow Burn’” embodies the magic of the unfolding of life, the power of being present and patient and knowing that sometimes things just take time. Like following a thread—it requires attention and curiosity.”
Mountain Man’s 2018 album Magic Ship received critical praise and was followed by the Mountain Man Sings John Denver EP in early 2019. Following their beloved 2010 debut, Made the Harbor, the three musicians went in different directions for several years before they all ended up in North Carolina, spending time together as old friends, and finally reuniting as a band, and recording Magic Ship at Meath’s home studio in Durham. The group toured the US afterward, including a stop in Washington, DC, and a visit to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series; watch that performance here.
In addition to Meath’s Grammy-nominated work with Sylvan Esso, Sauser-Monnig and Sarlé have embarked on critically acclaimed solo projects of their own. Sauser-Monnig released Dawnbreaker, her debut album under the moniker Daughter of Swords, via Bella Union last year. Pitchfork says the album “reveals her effortless skill as a songwriter as she delivers an homage to the betwixt and between of a relationship in its twilight.” Sarlé released Karaoke Angel last fall via Partisan Records, a record which Exclaim! likens to “contemplating the unimaginable depths of the sea or beholding the vastness of an unclouded sky, [easing]you into a sense of oneness that you’re oblivious to until it’s over.”
Praise for Mountain Man…
“Molly Sarlé, Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig have perfected a bare, unadulterated sound composed of little more than three-part vocal harmonies.” NPR
“Magic Ship cuts a path between beauty and meaning … Mountain Man’s radiant harmonies are as pretty as they come …. Quiet may seem like an outlier in this noisy present, but Mountain Man understand its power.” Pitchfork
“The a cappella tracks remain their USP, but when they stretch out into the acoustic balladry of the Joanna Newsom–ish Fish, they shine even brighter.”Q
“Songs of bucolic beauty make up this sublime record… An enchanting portrait of life’s simple pleasures.” Long Live Vinyl