Liela Moss shares ‘Watching The Wolf’

Having last month announced news of her new solo album, Who The Power, released 7th August via Bella Union, and shared a video to first single ‘Atoms At Me’, Liela Moss today releases another new track, “Watching The Wolf”, one of the many standouts from the LP, accompanied by a lyric video. Of the track Moss says: “An imagined rebellion created by packs of wolves, who mete out justice when they lure a power-hungry narcissistic wannabe politician to his demise. A modern day folk tale whose villain is a fraud. Useless in the face of an emergency (“now comes the hour, when you’re not gonna know what to do”) and utterly inane, he has no idea he is despised by so many, including the animal kingdom.”

“If you’re going to deconstruct the modern psyche,” says Liela Moss, “you might as well dance to it.” On her second solo album, Who the Power, Moss fulfils that remit with all the power its title calls for. After 2018’s deeply personal My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth – a debut solo album at times serene, at others stormy, on every front sumptuous – Moss entered a period of profound creative and personal self-reflection. When she emerged, she forged an album of questioning intensity and synth-loaded drama, with the expressive force in her voice refuelled by the urgent desire to interrogate the role of selfhood in fraught times. And, crucially, backed by the urgent grooves needed for the job.

As Moss says of her feelings during the build-up to the album: “To make music for the sake can sometimes feel like a narcissistic thing to do, and very reflective of our times. So much of being a musician and live performer is about projecting energy outward, which can be a beautiful and powerful thing. I experienced a good round of that over previous years, and now wanted to explore my fears of tipping the scales the other way: why should I continue to re-enact the narcissistic habits of our generation, desperate for validation, desperate for space, for ‘a platform’?” 

With Moss’ new life as a parent at a time of ecological and political upheaval also very much in mind, she entered a period of “hardcore self-enquiry” that included a return to a 10-day stay at a silent Vipassana Meditation centre. Determined to avoid “content for content’s sake”, Moss’ intent was to cleanse her palate and anatomise her motivations to make music. “Fucking about with some demos to justify my existence,” she says, “was not an option.”

Duly, evidence of “fucking about” is notable only by its absence on album opener “Turn Your Back Around”, a yearning eco-lament set to banked synths over a propulsive beat. Or, as Moss puts it: “One filthy, upbeat, downhearted, close-your-eyes-and-dance-by-yourself pop song, offered as a parting gift to Mother Earth.” “Watching the Wolf” is another forthright song for today, its brooding, near-gothic swagger framing a righteous modern-day folk tale about wolves converging to unseat a toxic political pundit. A controlled rage shows in Moss’s voice, which grows more liberated still amid the simmering darkwave throb of “Atoms at Me”, where Moss issues a call to free the senses from the call to consume. 

That sense of freedom further shows in the album’s dynamic focus and passion. The near-ceremonial “Always Sliding” draws power from the idea of impermanence, from the call to “keep searching”. “The Individual” sets a Paradise Lost-ish narrative to a sulphurous bass-line and lunging synths, while the graceful synths and infectious melody of “White Feather” frame lyrics with teeth. “‘White Feather’ is a lament for the earth, sung with fingers crossed behind my back,” explains Moss. “Humanity is losing connection with something vital, and willingly letting itself slip into an abyss. This isn’t as simple as my reaction to the distressing reality of environmental damage; it is my thoughts on our lousy behaviour to one another.” 

Elsewhere, the moody elegance of “Battlefield” and bruised plea of “Nummah” rank among Moss’s finest vocal performances – tall praise. “Suako” offers pulsing synth-rock impetus to risk starting anew, while the blissful “Stolen Careful” ends the album on a palpable note of revitalisation, all risks rewarded as Moss emerges refreshed in her hunger to explore new, meaningful ways to engage with the world.

As with the widely acclaimed My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth, that engagement took place close to home. Working again with partner/producer Toby Butler, Moss wrote and recorded the album in their studio in Somerset, where they live with their child. The difference this time, she explains, was a desire “to create something more urgent”, which captured a sense of renewal while conveying a strong sense of despair at modern culture. “Perhaps that oscillating energy is best expressed musically via machines. We spent much of our time playing with vintage synths and drum machines, building a more visceral palette. I wanted the album to convey a depth of field, to be multi-layered yet feel simple, and to groove.”

Widescreen ambitions fulfilled, the result is another bold leap forwards for one of alt-rock’s most magnetic, exploratory voices. Over 14 years, Moss’s work with the Duke Spirit (on pause) ranged from brawling riff-rock to more cinematic ventures. Other gigs have included synth-rock recordings with Butler under the name Roman Remains and various collaborative ventures – with UNKLE, Nick Cave, Giorgio Moroder and Lost Horizons, as well as serving as muse for fashion icons Alexander McQueen and Phillip Lim, among others.

If My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth offered a haunting snapshot of Moss’ restlessly intuitive instincts, Who the Power repurposes and refuels those instincts, standing as fertile testament to the potential in Moss’ self-possessed yet receptive way of working. As she puts it, “My offering is only mine. It lacks ubiquity. Crucially, it doesn’t seek to rob from others. In actual fact it only has to feed three mouths, under the shelter they need, and provide enough time to nourish their minds so that they can in turn be in the productive service of others. It doesn’t need to win to succeed. Just to be understood for what it is, is enough.” Now that’s a beautiful and powerful thing, indeed.

The Flaming Lips announce AMERICAN HEAD

The Flaming Lips are pleased to announce the release of their new studio album, American Head, set for release on 11th September via Bella Union in the UK/Europe and Warner Records in the US and available to preorder here. The album is comprised of thirteen new cinematic tracks, produced by longtime collaborator Dave Fridmann and The Lips. Among them, “God and the Policeman” features backing vocals from country superstar Kasey Musgraves. As previewed on the recently released ‘Flowers Of Neptune 6’American Head takes on a welcome temporal shift that occupies a similar space to that of The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and just may be their most beautiful and consistent work to date. The band have a shared a video to a heartfelt new track, “My Religion Is You”. 

American Head finds The Flaming Lips basking in more reflective lyrical places as Wayne Coyne explains in a longer form story about the album. Excerpt below: 

“Even though The Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma we never thought of ourselves as an AMERICAN band. I know growing up (when I was like 6 or 7 years old) in Oklahoma I was never influenced by, or was very aware of any musicians from Oklahoma. We mostly listened to the Beatles and my mother loved Tom Jones (this is in the 60’s)… it wasn’t till I was about 10 or 11 that my older brothers would know a few of the local musician dudes. 

So… for most of our musical life we’ve kind of thought of ourselves as coming from ‘Earth’… not really caring WHERE we were actually from. So for the first time in our musical life we began to think of ourselves as ‘AN AMERICAN BAND’… telling ourselves that it would be our identity for our next creative adventure. We had become a 7-piece ensemble and were beginning to feel more and more of a kinship with groups that have a lot of members in them. We started to think of classic American bands like The Grateful Dead and Parliament-Funkadelic and how maybe we could embrace this new vibe.

The music and songs that make up the American Head album are based in a feeling. A feeling that, I think, can only be expressed through music and songs. We were, while creating it, trying to NOT hear it as sounds… but to feel it. Mother’s sacrifice, Father’s intensity, Brother’s insanity, Sister’s rebellion…I can’t quite put it into words.

Something switches and others (your brothers and sisters and mother and father…your pets) start to become more important to you…in the beginning there is only you… and your desires are all that you can care about…but… something switches.. I think all of these songs are about this little switch.” 

A.A. Williams debuts ‘Love And Pain’

With her much-anticipated debut album Forever Blue due for release next Friday 3rd July, and already the subject of many excellent reviews, A.A. Williams has shared another new track, “Love And Pain”, from the LP. Of the track Williams says: “Love And Pain explores the juxtaposition of positive and negative emotions, specifically the titular feelings that often go hand in hand. The protagonist acknowledges that their ongoing sadness is often of their own creation – they try to accept love from another, but soon come to see that this affection masks more bitter intentions. I tried to mimic this harsh realisation musically, the cautious, inquisitive opening and verses starkly interrupted by the crushing weight of the latter half of the song – it’s repetitive chords, layered vocals and swirling synths evoking all-enveloping and uncontrollable sorrow.”

“Williams moves with ease between singer-songwriter territory and post-metal heaviness… Forever Blue is a remarkable accomplishment, confirming that Williams has already built a world of her own.”

MOJO – 4 stars ****

“Revelatory… Minimalist singer-songwriter material blending with elements of classical, metal and post-rock to make a distinctive whole.” The Observer (One To Watch)

“Darkly beguiling… A.A. Williams’ songs maintain an eerie delicacy whether she chooses a setting that’s spare, ornate or pulverising… The shifts between moments of high drama and quiet tension point to her kinship with Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey.” Uncut

“Stirring and evocative… We’re only halfway through 2020 but the chances of a more heartrending and fully formed debut emerging this year are practically zero.” Metal Hammer – 9/10

“Beautifully meditative… music that hypnotises… An impressive debut.” PROG

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. 

It’s testament to Williams’ skills, and those of husband and bassist Thomas Williams, that Forever Blue’s commanding sound was largely captured at the couple’s two-bedroom flat in North London. Drums by Geoff Holroyde were added at engineer Adrian Hall’s studio in South London, with guest vocals from Johannes Persson (Cult Of Luna), who adds his deep-trawling growl to ‘Fearless’ (“he sounds like Tectonic plates moving” Williams feels), Fredrik Kihlberg (Cult Of Luna) on ‘Glimmer’ and Tom Fleming (One True Pairing, ex-Wild Beasts) on ‘Dirt’. 

Williams can scarcely believe she’s in such exalted company, or that her band has toured with Cult Of Luna, Russian Circles, Explosions In The Sky, Nordic Giants and Sisters Of Mercy, whilst performing with MONO at their 10th anniversary show. It’s not because she doesn’t trust her own worth but that Williams only became a singer-songwriter by chance. 

Having taken music lessons from the age of six and been immersed in classical music, Williams’ life was forever changed when she discovered Deftones in her mid-teens, “and after them, all things heavy,” she recalls. “It was music that made me feel included, that tapped into me.” 

Yet it was only years later, when she found a guitar in the street with a note attached, “please take me, just needs work,” that Williams started playing guitar, and only started writing songs as a way of learning how to play. “I wrote in different styles to find a sound I was comfortable with,” she says. “Likewise, with singing. I’d never before thought of singing with a microphone in front of other people. It’s been quite a journey.”

That journey was thrown off course by the Coronavirus lockdown, but Williams’ response has been the ‘Songs From Isolation’ video project; solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans including Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’, Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Every Day Is Exactly The Same’ and Nick Cave’s ‘Into Your Arms’.

As ‘Songs From Isolation’ keeps posting intimate messages from a place of solitude, Forever Blue will spread the news of A.A. Williams’ extraordinary talent far and wide – and once lockdown is over, she and her band will be taking the next steps on her journey by touring the record. She’s already come so far but this story is only just beginning.

Mr Ben & The Bens share ‘Danny’

With the release of new album Life Drawing just over a fortnight away on 10th July, and having previously shared the tracks ‘Beast In The House’‘Watering Can’ and ‘On The Beach’, Mr Ben & The Bens have today shared a new track “Danny” from the LP. Of the track bandleader Ben Hall says: “Danny is a song I wrote over a super-frenetic new-wave guitar line. The syllables ‘Danny’ came out of the ether during the writing process and I liked how the name sat in the song so decided to write a tune that would sit in the great lineage of name-led pop songs. The song deals with what I think is a totally underwritten topic of unrequited friendship. I decided to keep the age and identity of Danny totally ambiguous and rather lean on locations in the song to move the narrative forward. We added some bombastic Bruce Springsteen style baritone guitar in the studio which really makes the song pop!’” 

“One-man band Ben Hall stands in a proud line of beguilingly eccentric British popcraft that runs from Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers to Euros Childs and Gruff Rhyss… With a voice that can shift from Harvest-era Neil Young (Closing Time) to Ray Davies (Watering Can) there’s a quietly gorgeous quality to everything he touches.” Uncut – 8/10

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.

Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith announce Peradam

The sounds of Himalayan winds, sacred mantras and water rippling in the holy river Ganges, invite us to Peradam, the transcendent new album by Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith. The album, which features guests including Anoushka Shankar, Tenzin Choegal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, will be released 4th September via Bella Union and is available to preorder here.

Peradam takes as its entry point René Daumal’s early 1940s novel Mount Analogue: a Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, in which the French writer, critic and poet mapped a metaphysical journey to “the ultimate symbolic mountain” in search of meaning. In it, Daumal introduced the idea of the “peradam”, a rare, crystalline stone – harbouring profound truths – that is only visible to seekers on a true spiritual path. The band have shared a hypnotic video to the title track, directed by Stephan Crasneanscki and with editing and visual collage by Jenn Ruff. 

Peradam arrives as “the final stone”, says Soundwalk Collective’s Stephan Crasneanscki, in The Perfect Vision, a triptych of albums that evoke and explore the sainted spaces of thought and creativity opened by the three French writers and poets. After albums devoted to Antonin Artaud (The Peyote Dance) and Arthur Rimbaud (Mummer Love), Peradam expands on “the living space”, says Smith, that Daumal left for future seekers to enter and create out of. 

Daumal’s spiritual quests ranged wide and deep. Part-influenced by Rimbaud, he also identified with the Pataphysicians, followers of the avant-garde absurdist Alfred Jarry. Daumal experimented with hallucinogens to the detriment of his health, though he would later transfer his passions to the purity of work as he nurtured a fascination with Hindu philosophies and taught himself Sanskrit; Peradam features some of his translations. While Daumal embraced the idea of self-abnegation as the key to internal awakening, he was also drawn to the syntheses of Eastern/Western thought in Greek-Armenian philosopher GI Gurdjieff’s teachings. Daumal’s greatest works include the novels A Night of Serious Drinking and Mount Analogue, which – though unfinished at the time of his death from TB at 36 in 1944 – inspired psychedelic magus Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain as well as the creative journeys undertaken by Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith.

Following recordings in the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico and Harar, Ethiopia for their albums devoted to Artaud and Rimbaud, Soundwalk Collective (Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli) travelled to Nanda Devi in the Himalayas, Rishikesh, Varanasi and Kingdom of Lo (Upper Mustang) to channel Daumal’s metaphysical quest in physical sound. “And through our physical travels,” says Crasneanscki, “we discovered the most humble objects of meaning that carry the spirit of what he searched for and found. It can be as simple as a stone, which can inhabit a power almost like a talisman.”

Sounwalk Collective’s musical and field-recording based compositions help to flesh out the enfolding soundscapes of Peradam, alongside contributions from simpatico collaborators. Tenzin Choegyal brought his voice, Tibetan drums, singing bowls, dranyen and damru to the title-track, “Spiritual Death” and closer “The Rat”, a poem by Smith that journeys across a fecund metaphorical landscape of life, death and cyclical nature. “Knowledge of the Self” features the sitar of Anoushka Shankar, who brings with her a family connection to the album’s subject: Daumal toured America as an impassioned spokesman for Uday Shankar, the Indian dancer whose siblings included the great musician Ravi Shankar, Anoushka’s late father. 

The actor and singer-songwriter Charlotte Gainsbourg contributes to “The Four Cardinal Times”, while “Nanda Devi” features Dhan Singh Rana, a Sherpa in his 70s who gently encouraged Crasneanscki up the mountain. “And meter after meter, hour after hour, slowly but surely I got there,” says Crasneanscki. The experience proved enlightening, he adds: “The mountain teaches us the slowness and calmness that Daumal wrote of. When you finally arrive and look up at the magistral Nanda Devi summit, Daumal’s words resonate: ‘The Mountain is the connection between Earth and Sky. Its highest summit touches the sphere of eternity, and its base branches out in manifold foothills into the world of mortals. It is the path by which humanity can raise itself to the divine and the divine reveal itself to humanity.’”

The sounds captured and composed by Soundwalk Collective helped Smith in her tough, tender and tactile voicework: readings that dive so much deeper than mere readings. “It’s just attempting to create a breathing body of work that keeps growing as you do it; it’s alive,” she says. “You can’t just do it because you say you’re going to. People can go out to Central Park and record the wind, but we have wind from the top of sacred mountains, we have the sound of stones from the most dangerous parts of the Copper Canyon in Mexico.”

The result is a perfect conclusion to The Perfect Vision, a triptych that reaches beyond the physical, across time and space, to channel the spiritual and philosophical energies and work of earlier seekers. “We are not trying to make a living, we are not trying to have physical gold in our hands – it’s a different type of gold, it’s metaphysical gold,” says Smith. “It’s like a peradam in Daumal’s world. The only time we’re able to hold onto it is during the process. We don’t even get to hold it through our life; only the process.” Out of that process emerges new spaces: living landscapes in which willing explorers may find treasures. The project is complete but the spiritual quest it honours remains open, a process ready for continuation. “In the end,” Smith says, “it goes out into the world and becomes whatever it becomes – perhaps one person in the year 2070 uses it as a springboard for another work.”

Peradam is produced in collaboration with Leonardo Heiblum and with the kind support of the Analogue Foundation.

Happy Release Day Drab City

Happy release day to Drab City, who release their intoxicating debut album ‘Good Songs For Bad People’ today on Bella Union. Let them draw you in to the woozy, heady world they’ve created.

A heady air of dislocation envelops Drab City’s debut album, where songs of innocence and experience merge with dub, hip-hop, dream-pop and jazzy soundtrack vibes to intoxicating effect. Drab City are fixated on social alienation, violent revenge, and (perhaps) romantic love as salvation; topics not new in music, but listening to Drab City in 2020, one is struck by how uncommon they’ve become. Lyrically, these songs often project punkish angst and resentment. “Working For the Men” is a degraded service worker’s revenge ballad, imagining male tormenters brought to a violent end. “Hand On My Pocket” tells of a destitute, wandering youth. One night she meets a stranger on a desert road, and is told of a nearby city where a soft, rich citizenry make easy targets. Class war is palpable. Other songs are more opaque, but seem to speak of being the black sheep of the family, or being weighed down by the dullness of hometown life. Yet the casual listener might not notice the violence as the music itself is far from abrasive. Dreamy and ethereal, a foundation of flute, vibraphone, and jazzy guitar chord melody can switch to drum machines or funk-inflected girl-group pop at a moment’s notice. It’s a flurry of 20th century references, combining and recombining at such a schizophrenic pace, the overall effect is something that could only be conjured in our frenzied present. At once catchy and unfamiliar, the melodic, welcoming soundscapes are a Trojan horse for the band’s antisocial outlook.

One night fated to be slept

on the streets of Drab City

turns out lasts entire generations

We both drop dead

hungry each night

under foreign stars

Hair matted and mashed into the sidewalk glue

grime, spit, snot, olive pits, ashes, spoiled cream

We sleep huddled in the thinnest linens and dream

startlingly beautiful stuff

like ships with eight sails

and fifty canons mooring at the quay

or even just Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

When the landlord pays a visit he arrives

cheerful and singing in a flute like voice

an underdeveloped, simple and predictable tune

He wears boots like Robin Leach

And at the back of the skull

Wakes us with a kick

Then we’re off and away digging

other people’s ditches all day

We’re staring out the big window

in this Turkish bakery

on the dirty boulevard

after sunset

blank, silent

and sucking the last of the grounds

Probably everyone around here wants us to die

Our feelings are unfashionable

Creative little groups of artists and influencers pass

carrying uniquely scented wallets

Everybody’s got nice stuff but me

I want a stereo I want a TV

Well I guess that’s everything

Avoid the authorities, live free, then die when it’s cool

Sincerely,

Drab City