Will Stratton debuts ‘When I’ve Been Born (I’ll Love You)’

With his new album The Changing Wilderness due for release 7th May via Bella Union, and having previously shared lead track ‘Tokens’, today Will Stratton reveals a visualizer for new single “When I’ve Been Born (I’ll Love You)”. Of the track Stratton says: “Unlike in some of my songs, I try to say exactly what I mean in this one, and not to leave it too open for interpretation or ambiguity through imagery. It’s a song about what it can feel like to care for someone when the world is atomized and full of confusion and fear. I try not to give in to the impulse to pretend like this is a radical act. On the contrary, I think it’s one of the most basic things about being human.”

Will Stratton’s rich catalogue is proof that the Hudson Valley folk musician thrives on exploration and reflection. Chart his trajectory over his previous six albums and you’ll find a songwriter not content to stay comfortable or do the same thing twice. From his 2007 debut What the Night Said, which he released aged 20, to 2014’s Gray Lodge Wisdom, a resilient and gorgeous LP which documented his bout with cancer, as well as 2017’s Rosewood Almanac, a de facto love-letter to song-writing, his guitar, and his favourite records, the subtle but sizable tweaks to his process, arranging, and writing have been revelations. “I’ve always tried to make the process of making music as much of a source of pleasure and exploration as possible,” says Stratton. So it’s no surprise that The Changing Wilderness, his resonant and clear-eyed seventh album, pushes him to expansive new heights again. 

The 10 tracks on the LP came about from an intense four-year period of soul-searching and change for Stratton, where he knew he needed to change the way he wrote songs. “I was just really sick of introspection,” he says. “I had to write music that felt like it was engaging with the outside world, rather than focusing on what was going on in my own life like on my earlier records.” With the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s Presidency, and rising right-wing extremism on his mind, Stratton set out to interrogate his country’s present crises. Like the best protest music, these songs aren’t didactic or preachy. Instead, they ask more questions than claim to have answers with Stratton’s lyrics taking a scalpel-like approach to the very worst of human nature. 

Take the single ‘Black Hole’ which navigates the human toll of fascism. Midway through the song, its pastoral arrangement briefly fades out, leaving Stratton’s voice central in the mix. He sings, “Hatred corrupts, and it purifies, too / It simplifies thoughts just like love can do / Oh, I miss when it was an optional vice / Something you’d choose when fear was the price.”

Elsewhere, songs like ‘Infertile Air’, bluntly and unflinchingly casts its focus on those who collaborate with the forces of state violence. Over a sparse, almost dirge-like instrumental, it opens with the incisive lines, “When you tore them from her breast / And you drove home in your car / Did you think you’d get to rest / Without denying who you are.” It’s not difficult to draw the connection to ICE and its violent family separation policy. “I was trying to imagine what it feels like to be somebody who is so sure of their own convictions when they’re a tool of the state,” explains Stratton. Another track, the bucolic and rollicking ‘Fate’s Ghost’, finds its depth in more opaque imagery but when Stratton sings, “Where are we going, I shout into the void / Do you feel powerless there, or is it beyond any word?” it’s totally resonant. 

Stratton engineered and mixed every song on The Changing Wilderness from his home studio in Beacon, NY, but he recruited a sizable ensemble of old friends and new collaborators to flesh out the arrangements, including vocalists Maia Friedman, Cassandra Jenkins, Katie Mullins, and Eamon Fogarty, as well as electric guitarist Ben Seretan, upright bassist Carmen Rothwell, saxophonist and clarinetist Justin Keller, and drummers Sean Mullins (Wilder Maker) and Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley). As a result the songs on the LP are immaculately constructed and produced, some evoking the lushest offerings from Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson while others take on the intimacy of artists like Ted Lucas and Joni Mitchell. Stratton’s keen ear for songs that have no expiration date both sonically and thematically is obvious throughout the track-list. Lead single ‘Tokens’ is ornate and unhurriedly unfolds with some of Stratton’s most evocative lyrics yet by personifying two of the most commonly sung themes in popular music. He sings, “Time, who knows what leads to the fall / Will you end in a crowd, or end all alone?” and “Love, the ways that we change over time / Don’t alter the rules or reset the game.” 
Though Stratton initially sought out to avoid personal song-writing on this LP, his arbitrary rules became untenable as he got deeper into the writing process. “Over the past four years as the world around us got progressively more screwed up, it became impossible for me to write something that wasn’t somewhat introspective,” he says. The Changing Wilderness operates in dichotomies: darkness vs. light and processing your own personal struggles through the vast and seemingly insurmountable problems the world is facing. On “When I’ve Been Born (I’ll Love You),” Stratton sings, “The present is prosaic, the future a disgrace” but it’s not out of bleak resignation. There’s hope at the core of the song and the album as a whole. He sings, “As the oceans rise, I’ll love you / When the air gets thin, I’ll love you / If the fascists win, I’ll love you.”

John Grant returns with Boy from Michigan

John Grant has announced news of his fifth solo album, Boy From Michigan, released 25th June via Bella Union in the UK/Europe and Partisan in the US. Produced by Cate Le Bon, the album is available to pre-order here. To celebrate the occasion Grant has shared an astonishing acid-soaked video to the album’s title track directed by Casey and Ewan.

Of the track Grant says: “I discovered the chord progression in the chorus of ‘Boy from Michigan’ on my OB6 back when I was working on ‘Love is Magic,’ and while I knew it would eventually become a song, I didn’t know what to do with it yet. Sometimes you just know you need to take your time with certain ideas. The song sprang from a moment I experienced when I was about 11 and we were about to move to Colorado from Michigan; my best buddy took me aside and warned me about ‘the world out there’ – so the song is about the transition from childhood to adulthood, the simplicity and innocence of childhood and the oftentimes rude awakening that occurs when one crosses over into adulthood. It’s also about romanticizing the past, which can be dangerous. I don’t believe one can or should live in the past, but if you ignore it, well, you know. I also have to say there are moments when I actually relive the scent of early Spring as the snow is beginning to melt revealing the wet Earth beneath. It’s incredible.”

Somewhere in the last decade, John Grant established himself as one of the great musical chroniclers of the American Dream, angled mostly from its flipside. What if everything you were promised, if you worked hard, loved hard, played and prayed hard, it all turned to ash? Grant lays it all out for careful cross-examination in his most autobiographical work to date. In a decade of making records by himself, he has playfully experimented with mood, texture and sound. At one end of his musical rainbow, he is the battle-scarred piano-man, at the other, a robust electronic auteur. Boy from Michigan seamlessly marries both.

Boy from Michigan sets out its stall early in order to fan his lyrical deck wider. Grant knows America well enough to document it in microscopic, painterly detail. The brittle intensity of the early life experiences of a middle-aged man twist stealthily into a broad metaphor for the state of the nation. “I guess I’m just thinking about where I came from,” he notes, “and what I went into.”

With longtime friend Cate Le Bon in the production chair, Grant has maximized the emotional impact of the melodies, stripping the noise of vaudeville and mood-enhancing a fruitful, spare, strangely orchestrated new world for him to live in. A clarinet forms the bedrock of a song. There is a saxophone solo. The record swings between ambient and progressive, calm and livid.

“Cate and I are both very strong-willed people”, says Grant.  “Making a record is hard on a good day. The mounting stress of the US election and the pandemic really started to get to us by late July and August last year. It was at times a very stressful process under the circumstances, but one which was also full of many incredible and joyful moments.” 

With the frenetic backdrop to its incubation playing out in the distance, the narrative journey of Boy from Michigan opens with Grant returning to his artistic prettiest. It begins with three songs drawn from his pre-Denver life: the title song, The Rusty Bull and County Fair. “It’s my Michigan Trilogy,” he says. Each draws the listener in to a specific sense of place, before untangling its significance with a rich cast-list of local characters, often symbolizing the uncultivated faith of childhood. 

Tracks four and five, Mike and Julie and The Cruise Room, are perhaps the most affecting of the record, plunging deep into Grant’s late teenage years in Denver. In the former, Grant is confronted by a friend who wants to be with him, a man he brick-walls by purposefully positioning a mutual female friend in between as he cannot yet face his own sexuality. In the latter, he revisits the untouched, faded grandeur of the Art Deco bar at Denver’s Oxford Hotel for one last night as a young man before trying his luck in Germany, to see if Europe is a better fit.

Cementing the mid-point of the record are a pair of skittish, scholarly dance tunes, Best in Me and Rhetorical Figure. The latter is built in the lineage of his nascent electropop darlings, Devo, suggesting a formative world in which brains are regarded as horny as bodies. Dropping the pace, Just So You Know is the most familiar, John Grant-ian of his songs on the record. It is meant as a song to comfort his nearest and dearest after he’s gone. 

Childhood as a horror narrative returns on Dandy Star, observing the tiny Grant watching the Mia Farrow horror movie See No Evil on the old family TV set in which a blind girl arrives back at her Aunt and Uncle’s home after a date and, after sleeping through the night, awakens in the morning only to discover gradually that everyone has been murdered. 

These nine songs are the tumescent prologue to his grand climax. The pure smut of Your Portfolio imagines the US economy rewritten as a throbbing libidinous cock. “It’s where we are now in The States,” he says. “We worship money and any pretence that there’s any worship of anything else going on – like a loving God, for example – is just pathetic. Character doesn’t matter. Intimacy doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Wealth is sexualised. It’s a poem in honor of money. The song sounds funny, but I think it’s probably one of the darkest and most serious on the record.” 

In ‘The Only Baby’ he finally removes his razor blade from a pocket to cleanly slit the throat of Trump’s America, authoring a scathing epitaph to an era of acute national exposition. He positions the former president as the bastard child of the nation’s virgin mother: “Don’t look so glum/There’s no reason to be sad/Because that’s the only baby that bitch could ever have.” As a final coda, on Billy, he gets to the causation of all this, a prevalent culture of hyper-machismo, one which fashioned us all for failure.

In his own accidental, skewed manner, John Grant may just have nailed, if not the, then at least an American Dream. Bruised and scarred he may be, but the boy from Michigan is no weak-hearted fool.

John Grant UK and Ireland tour:

Saturday 4th September – Halifax – The Piece Hall

Monday 6th September – London – Alexandra Palace

Tuesday 7th September – London – Alexandra Palace **(SOLD-OUT!)**

Thursday 9th September – Glasgow – Barrowland Ballroom

Friday 10th September – Gateshead – Sage Gateshead

Saturday 11th September – Liverpool – Grand Central Hall

Tuesday 14th September – Sheffield – Octagon Centre

Wednesday 15th September – Nottingham – Rock City

Friday 17th September – Bexhill – De La Warr Pavilion

Thursday 30th September – Cambridge – Junction

Friday 1st October – Coventry – Warwick Arts Centre

Saturday 2nd October – Bath – The Forum

Sunday 3rd October – Manchester – RNCM Theatre **(SOLD-OUT!)**

Tuesday 5th October – Cardiff – New Theatre

Thursday 7th October – Belfast – St Anne’s Cathedral

Saturday 9th October – Dublin – National Concert Hall **(SOLD-OUT!)**

Tuesday 12th October – Cork – Live at St Luke’s

Wednesday 13th October – Cork – Live at St Luke’s **(SOLD-OUT!)**

Friday 15th October – Letterkenny – An Grianan Theatre

Saturday 16th October – Kilkenny – St Canice’s Cathedral

Happy Release Day to A.A. Williams

In 2020, A.A. Williams released her much acclaimed debut album Forever Blue, and less than a year later we are graced once again with an equally effecting project titled Songs From Isolation. The Songs From Isolation project began at the beginning of the UK’s nationwide lockdown in March. A.A. Williams took songs suggested by fans and created a series of videos presenting the tracks with stripped-down instrumentation, recorded and filmed from her home in North London. The album represents a continuation of the project into a full collection of recordings and features cover versions of The Cure, Pixies, Deftones, Nick Cave, Gordon Lightfoot, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and more. Williams has previously shared cover versions of Deftones’ ‘Be Quiet And Drive’‘Lovesong’ by The Cure, ‘Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans’ by The Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind’ from the album.

Critical acclaim for Forever Blue, A.A. Williams’ July-released debut album:

“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

“blending moments of introspection with soaring post-rock crescendos and classical elements, this is a compelling debut throughout.” Q – 4 stars ****

“An impressively confident sound-world… cinematic and majestic.” Financial Times

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

“A masterful work of melancholy and bruised beauty… One of the most wonderful new British artists of recent years.” Planet Rock – 5 stars *****

“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

“Enduring the emotional abyss with breathtaking grace and grit on her debut album; A.A. Williams’ Forever Blue is a record that reveals more of its sublime poetry each time it’s listened to.” The Line Of Best Fit – 9/10

“A stunning eight track debut… Her vocals are stirring and emotive, while conveying raw emotion that perfectly encapsulates the anxieties and addictions of love and loss… Just sublime.” Clash – 8/10

A concise yet profound debut album that displays incredible craft both lyrically and dynamically.” Secret Meeting – 8.5/10

“A debut of richness, depth and genuinely shattering emotional engagement – pure melancholic majesty to lose yourself in.” Beats Per Minute – 8.2/10

Liela Moss shares “The Individual” remix

With her new remix album Who The Power (Reformed) out 26th March, via Bella Union, and having previously shared UNKLE’s remix of ‘Atoms At Me’ and Emika’s remix of ‘White Feather’, today Liela Moss shares Johnny Hostile’s brooding and cinematic remix of “The Individual” from the LP. Of the remix Moss says: “The Johnny story is just great. I contacted him because I am a fan of his work with Jehnny Beth but also his various other production work. And he was so swift to reply, so friendly and inspiring to communicate with. And it turns out we’d met years ago and had this sense of communality straight away, stories to swap and stuff we were laughing about on emails immediately. He then spun the track into this sinister gold; I just love the deconstruction that took place and the subtle menace that permeates the track. It is so fitting for the times. I feel so lucky to hear my track through this Johnny Hostile filter. Amazing.”

Other remixes include Berlin’s Future Beat Alliance taking on album opener ‘Turn Your Back Around’ with hypnotic beats, producer Verlos giving ‘Always Sliding’ a minimalist electronic wooze, and Bella Union label mates Penelope Isles throwing lo-fi drums and fuzz at ‘Nummah.’ The Horrors’ Tom Furse takes ‘Battlefield’ into spinning electronic undercurrents, Dhani Harrison throws fuzz and glitch at ‘Suako’, and Moss’s producer Toby Butler rebuilds ‘Watching The Wolf’ with dark menace under his IYEARA moniker. Bella Union’s own Simon Raymonde gives album closer ‘Stolen Careful’ a complete country soul-overhaul, conversely taking the electronic out, and putting the band back in with his Lost Horizons project.

Of the album Liela Moss adds: “The process of connecting with other artists who are my friends, or people whose work I admire, during a time of physical and creative restriction was massively energising, and a privilege that I think could only have happened because of the insane reality that was occurring, that musicians were at home with nowhere to tour.”

Critical acclaim for Who The Power:

Who The Power’s choruses ascend the stratosphere, the percussion booms and melodies have a stadium-friendly reach.” MOJO

“There’s an urgency to these 10 songs, with Moss embracing the 80s goth sounds recently favoured by Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, with propulsive electronic beats underpinning her biting lyrics. It feels like a very contemporary album, succinctly unpicking our shared worries over the state of the world.” Uncut – 7/10

“Her second album’s a cracker. It’s got tunes like gangbusters, it’s got heavy-duty synths, it’s got drama, it’s got thumping great drumbeats… In short, it lives up to it’s title.” Metro

“Turn Your Back Around is a fantastic opener, racing along over firework drums, while album closer Suako is driven by propulsive beats and jittery synths. The new digital backdrop suits a voice that could never be drowned out.” Evening Standard

“The lead singer of The Duke Spirit returns with her second solo album… and what a collection of synth-driven mini-dramas it is.” The Sun – 4 stars ****

“A strong sense of urgency and emotional directness drives the second solo outing from the Duke Spirit frontwoman… A striking blend of self-confidence and impassioned, uncompromising insights.” Daily Mirror 

“The 10 songs here are powerful, moving and lyrically insightful… An accomplished album.” HiFi Choice – 4 stars ****

Laura Veirs announces UK tour

Following excellent reviews for her latest album My Echo, out now on Bella Union, Laura Veirs has announced news of an extensive UK tour running throughout October… Dates/info below…

Critical acclaim for My Echo:

“The author of some of the most insightful songs in the modern country-folk canon. ‘Another Space and Time’, which uses stings and a bossa nova beat in its pondering of other realities, and ‘End Times’, with its lilting, Sunday-school piano, are just two opportunities to swoon.” Uncut – 9/10

“It’s gorgeous… The 10 songs drift between intimacy and rich instrumentation. Among the many highlights are the lovely I Sing To The Tall Man and Freedom Feeling, where Veirs’ intimate voice and guitar morph into something so lush and bright it feels like somebody switched the sky on.” MOJO – 4 stars ****

“Poignant, cathartic, consistently brilliant… Veirs is one of the greatest American songwriters.” The New Stateman

“Laura Veirs sings with serene grace and clarity. Her voice is pure and clear. It soothes and beguiles.” Financial Times – 4 stars ****

“As breakup albums go, it is surprisingly positive… ‘Turquoise Walls’ is a shiny marvel while ‘Freedom Feeling’ encapsulates hope for a better future.” Sunday Times

“Vividly imagined, richly exploratory songcraft… Bright, beautiful and brimming with resilient wisdom.” Record Collector – 4 stars ****

“There’s vulnerability and candour in the lyrics, and whether tackling infidelity (Turquoise Walls) or celebrating the healing power of nature (Memaloose Island), the rich instrumentation and transporting voice deliver an unexpected but unmistakeable feeling of release.” The Mirror – 4 stars ****