Happy Release Day Marissa Nadler

The Path of the Clouds, Marissa Nadler’s ninth solo album, is the most stylistically adventurous, lyrically transfixing, and melodically sophisticated collection of songs in her already rich discography. Gripped by wanderlust while suddenly housebound at the start of the pandemic in 2020, Nadler escaped into writing, and came back with a stunning set of songs about metamorphosis, love, mysticism, and murder. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy and moving freely between past and present, these 11 deeply personal, self-produced songs find Nadler exploring new landscapes, both sonic and emotional.

One of Nadler’s distractions during the 2020 quarantine was binging reruns of Unsolved Mysteries. As she watched, she began to notice parallels between many of its stories and her own life. What began as a writing exercise became the bedrock of her songwriting process, as she came to inhabit the narratives that had so fascinated her. In “Bessie, Did You Make It?,” Nadler inverts the canon of the murder ballad, crafting a narrative of female empowerment and survival. “The Path of the Clouds” tells the story of the infamous hijacker D.B. Cooper, but the song isn’t just about jumping out of an airplane, faking your death, and making a grand exit. It’s a meditation on perseverance and transformation, a salute to mastering one’s fate. “Well, Sometimes You Just Can’t Stay” details the ingenious plans of the only successful escapees from Alcatraz, as well as the lingering enigma that surrounds their history. The lyrical twist on the chorus turns a tale about a prison break into a humorous, shoegazing country song.

While she’s always been a brilliant guitarist, Nadler challenged herself to expand her palette for The Path of the Clouds, experimenting with synthetic textures that make the album feel untethered from time and space. A majestic grandeur sweeps through songs such as “Elegy,” shooting the listener into the stratosphere as synths swirl and entwine with Nadler’s celestial mezzo-soprano. Nadler also learned to play piano during the pandemic’s isolation, and she composed many of the songs on the album on keys rather than guitar, which further contributed to their exploratory feel. These songs are unmistakably Marissa Nadler’s, but they sound free to go places she’s never gone before.

Nadler tracked the skeletons of the songs at home and then sent them to some choice collaborators, including experimental harpist Mary Lattimore and Simon Raymonde, the Cocteau Twins bassist and her Lost Horizons collaborator. Multi-instrumentalist Milky Burgess, having recently worked on the soundtrack to the film Mandy, adds intricate melodic power throughout the album. Jesse Chandler, Nadler’s piano teacher (as well as a member of Mercury Rev and Midlake), plays winding woodwinds and plaintive piano to luminous effect. Fellow singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle contributes a slinky guitar solo on “Turned Into Air,” while Black Mountain’s Amber Webber steps in as a vocal foil to Nadler, a ghostly apparition in the distance of “Elegy.”

Seth Manchester, known for his work with Lingua Ignota, Battles, and Lightning Bolt, mixed the album at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Manchester added dimension to the songs’ atmospheric beauty with screeching feedback and distorted guitars. Stripped of the ethereal reverb that often swaddles her resonant vocals, Nadler’s delivery now stings and pierces with newfound immediacy and confidence.

As a songwriter, Nadler is as direct and urgent as she has ever been. There’s no coded language amid the bleak lows and exalted highs of songs like “Elegy,” “Lemon Queen,” “Storm,” and “Tried Not to Look Back.” Memories are painted with highly detailed imagery, and Nadler, also a visual artist, uses that eye not only to tell a story but to transport the listener there.

The Path of the Clouds showcases the power of an artist at the peak of her powers nearly 20 years into an acclaimed career as a songwriter and singer. Coming a long way from the spare dream folk of her earlier work, she has remained inspired and continues to evolve, open to new ideas and directions. The proof is right here, in Nadler’s most ambitious and complex album yet.

“Virtuoso songs… Exquisitely wrought tales of mystery and imagination.” MOJO

“Evocative and atmospheric… This lush self-produced record uses the murder ballad form to tell real and imagined tales of lust, death and revenge.” WIRE

“A lyrical treasure trove… The biggest surprise is the richness of the sound. Nadler’s usually sparse, gothic folk style is emboldened by well-chosen collaborators from Simon Raymonde to Emma Ruth Rundle.” Uncut

“The best album of her career… An artist at the peak of her powers.” Louder Than War

“Highly atmospheric and conceptually intelligent, The Path of the Clouds is a worthy addition to Nadler’s impressively consistent catalogue.” Loud & Quiet

Penelope Isles share “Terrified”

With the release of their new album Which Way To Happy less than two weeks away on 5th November, and the physical release date following on 21st January, Penelope Isles today share new single and album highlight “Terrified”. The track is a reflection on anxiety set to a dreamy sunburst of psychedelic jangle-pop. As frontman Jack Wolter explains: “It’s about those days when you’re dying inside but have to pop out to the shop, bumping into someone, having to put on a magic show, pretending to appear that everything is OK. It’s a song that has such a happy-fun-summery exterior but lyrically is totally the opposite. It’s one of self-doubt, displacement and finding something really terrifying to handle. Sometimes we hide a lot behind ourselves. ‘Terrified’ was an outlet for me to be able to tackle scary thoughts and worries in more of an abstract way. Things can seem impossible to talk about and articulate sometimes. I feel that making this album has enabled me and my sister Lily to open up a lot more and be honest with our songs as it just makes them so much more real.”

Due to unforeseen circumstances Penelope Isles have been forced to move some of their Autumn tour dates to early 2022. The band have also announced a raft of new shows for the tour which covers pretty much the entirety of the UK as well as taking a detour into Ireland.  Tickets / info HERE.

Midlake Announce “For the Sake of Bethel Woods”

Midlake today announce news of their long-awaited new album, For the Sake of Bethel Woods, released 18th March via Bella Union and available to pre-order here. The album will be released in various formats including standard black vinyl, 180g white vinyl and white vinyl with an accompanying signed print. To mark the occasion the band have shared a visualiser for lead track “Meanwhile…” and announced news of an extensive European tour running throughout March and April 2022.

Loss and hope, isolation and communion, the cessation and renewal of purpose. Timeless and salient, these themes echo throughout the fifth album from Midlake, their first since Antiphon in 2013. Produced to layered, loving perfection by John Congleton, For the Sake of Bethel Woods is an album of immersive warmth and mystery from a band of ardent seekers, one of our generation’s finest: a band once feared lost themselves by fans, perhaps, but here revivified with freshness of intent.

From the cover to the title and beyond, a longing to reconnect with that which seems lost sits at the record’s core. The cover star is keyboardist/flautist Jesse Chandler’s father, who, tragically, passed away in 2018. As singer Eric Pulido explains, “He was a lovely human, and it was really heavy and sad, and he came to Jesse in a dream. I reference it in a song. He said, ‘Hey, Jesse, you need to get the band back together.’ I didn’t take that lightly. We had already had these feelings with everyone in the band of, oh, this could be a cool thing to do. But the dream was a kind of beautiful depiction of a purpose to reconvene and make music together as friends.”

Featuring Chandler’s father during John Sebastian’s set, the cover image was taken from the 1970 documentary Woodstock. In 1969, Jesse’s then-16-year-old dad had joined a friend and hitchhiked from Ridgewood, New Jersey, to the legendary festival. Raised in Woodstock after his father moved there in 1981, Jesse later paid pilgrimage to Bethel Woods with his father; there, the elder Chandler recorded an audio account of his festival experience in the museum’s public database. “So for me, the picture of that kid, my dad, forever frozen in time,” says Chandler, “encapsulates what it means to be in the throes of impressionable and fleeting youth, and all that the magic of music, peace, love and communion bring to it, whether one knows it at the time or not.”

A desire to commune with the past and connect with present, lived experience asserts itself from the opening of the album. A song that resonates with Midlake’s return and, perhaps, our lockdown era, ‘Commune’ can also be read in terms of a deeper urge to re-engage with sometimes neglected ideals and beliefs. ‘Bethel Woods’ sustains and develops that reconnection, evoking the steadfast and contemplative urgency of The Trials of Van Occupanther to back a lyric steeped in yearning for a paradisal time and place of hope and optimism. Soaring guitars and atmospheric noise effects extend a sonic scope further developed by ‘Glistening,’ where arpeggios dance like light glancing off a lake. In just three songs, Midlake reintroduce themselves and reach out into fresh territory with a richly intuitive dynamism, honouring their past as a seedbed of possibility.

The psychedelic space-rock and sticky guitars of ‘Exile’ shift the album to another plane, promising rich returns live, before ‘Feast of Carrion’ splices apocalyptic imagery with lustrous harmonies: darkness and light, held in rarefied balance. A deeply personal turn follows on ‘Noble,’ a song of tender innocence named after drummer McKenzie Smith’s infant son, born with a rare brain disorder called Semi-Lobar Holoprosencephaly. Pulido, who has been friends with McKenzie since they were 16 years old, kept McKenzie in mind for the lyrics. “I wrote the song from his perspective in a way, his expression to me of how he had been feeling towards his son. And then among the lament of his condition, it’s also embracing this child who has only joy. Noble doesn’t know that he has a condition, he just loves life. And smiles, and is so innocent, and perfect in so many ways.”

Elsewhere, the prog-enhanced funk-rock of ‘Gone’ seeks to find hope in relationships that seem fragile. The ELO-esque ‘Meanwhile…’ draws inspiration from what happened when Midlake paused after Antiphon, developing universal resonance as a song about the beautiful growths that can emerge from the cracks and gaps between things. ‘Finally, ‘Of Desire’ meditates on letting go of what you can’t control and attending to what you can during uncertain times.

Midlake began re-attending to their patch in 2019, with the bulk of the album’s work undertaken when the world shut down in 2020. The lockdown turned out to be helpful, in terms of offering an escape from grim reality and focusing the band’s energies – essential for an outfit whose members (Pulido, Chandler, Smith, Eric Nichelson and Joey McClellan) had all pursued alternative ventures following Antiphon. Also on-hand was new collaborator John Congleton, who produced, engineered and mixed the album, marking Midlake’s first record with an outside producer. “I can’t say enough just how much his influence brought our music to another sonic place than we would have,” says Pulido. “I don’t want to record without a producer again. Part of that is the health of the band, because as you get older you get more opinionated and you kind of need that person who says, ‘No, it’s going to be this way!’ It’s hard to do that with your friends.”

The result is a powerful, warming expression of resolve and renewal for Midlake, opening up new futures for the band and honouring their storied history. An album of thematic and sonic reach with a warm, wise sense of intimacy at its heart, an album to break bread and commune with, honour the past and travel onwards with. In ‘Bethel Woods’, Pulido sings of gathering seeds. On For the Sake of Bethel Woods, those seeds are lovingly nurtured, taking rich and spectacular bloom.

Pearly Gate Music Return

More than ten years since the release of his acclaimed self-titled debut album, Zachary Tillman aka Pearly Gate Music returns with Mainly Gestalt Pornography, out 3rd December via Bella Union and available to preorder here. To mark the occasion Pearly Gate Music have shared lead track “The Moon”.

Zachary Tillman has been seeking something all his life. What he’s looking for, and what he has found, is Mainly Gestalt Pornography

After releasing his critically acclaimed first solo record under the moniker Pearly Gate Music in 2010, Tillman assembled some Seattle friends to take it out on the road. The de facto band experimented with a new plugged-in sound, a total departure from his typical set of bedroom indie folk numbers. While the record and live shows left critics and fellow songwriters hungry for more, Tillman returned with a small fan base, smaller earnings and a considerable hangover. Around that time, he moved to Portland, OR, and set to work writing and demoing a follow-up album.

Without thinking about it too much, Tillman sent those demos to a personal hero, the late indie producer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift. To no one’s surprise (save perhaps Tillman’s), Swift dug them very much and extended an invitation to his studio in Eugene to record the new album. 

However, on the eve of his first scheduled session with Swift, Tillman suffered what he describes as a total mental breakdown. Years of substance-fueled emotional self-sabotage had caught up with him, and Tillman found himself incapable of making the short trip south to track the record. “I had no self-esteem, no ability to see myself succeeding in even a moderate pressure situation,” Tillman explains.

His anxiety and constant second-guessing were exacerbated by the fact that his brother, Josh Tillman, was at that time seeing a serious uptick in his own professional notoriety as Father John Misty. Suppressed (though perfectly relatable) sibling rivalry compounded Tillman’s self-loathing and lost confidence, deepening his artistic and existential state of emergency.

Tillman had essentially given up on being a frontman. He chose to assume an effect of bohemian artistic “authenticity” (over, say, therapy or a healthy diet and sleep routine) and condemned himself to a lonesome near-decade, haphazardly seeking a grand purpose for his life — a search that took him from esoteric spiritual practices to hard labour, from bedrooms to bar rooms. A deep and chronic depression ensured diminishing returns, and the idea of ever releasing another Pearly Gate Music record remained a seemingly impossible dream. 

“Being a musician has always been such a part of my identity, I had to keep my foot in the door somehow,” Tillman recalls. “I just needed someone to put an instrument in my hands and point me in the right direction.” So he shelved his demos and found solace hiding among the backlines of his friends’ projects, including playing in nearly every midsized club in America with his old friends in Pure Bathing Culture. He preferred the constant touring since home was an unheated trailer in a bandmate’s backyard.

All the while, Tillman continued his restless search for a forgotten competence and self-love that had permitted him to start writing and recording his own music in the first place. The music of Mainly Gestalt Pornography was hiding in there somewhere, but Tillman was helpless to find it. That is, until he found what he’d been looking for all along: the secret, the love of this life, his wife Sondra.

“She’s the culmination of all the loves I’ve ever had,” he muses, “and we’ve expanded that love even further with the birth of (our firstborn child) Ocean. Love is the answer.”

Tillman experienced a remarkable, near-instant transformation after meeting Sondra, and the pair soon decamped to Los Angeles. It was when Sondra was 36 weeks pregnant with Ocean that Tillman realized he was finally, acutely capable of finishing the record he had started so long ago. With her blessing, he rushed off to Portland to record with his close friend and longtime collaborator, Daniel Hindman (Pure Bathing Culture). 

Together they feverishly co-produced and engineered the record, with Hindman helming final mixing duties and Tillman personally orchestrating and performing almost all of the instrumentation. With only seven days to track — a comical mad dash after a near 10-year hiatus — Tillman and Hindman limited the elements to a strict seven voices: vocals, guitars, bass guitar, drum set, Mellotron, Roland synthesizer and hand percussion. This limitation allowed the pair to make quick decisions and weave a compelling musical signature throughout the album’s 10 songs. 

In Tillman’s own words, “Across the span of 10 years, these (mostly) love songs were written after certain lovers, certain dread, certain visions, certain ecstasies. I WAS A WAND’RER got written for a shamanic girlfriend. THE SECRET, FINALLY for a stray kitten. LIKE FLOWERS was written for my wife and OCEAN’S SONG for my daughter. Then they all got transformed. Shapeshifted. Now they’re all about the same thing: Mainly Gestalt Pornography. I hope that they really do transcend their origins to speak of Love in its highest, most encompassing form. God is Love.”

Mainly Gestalt Pornography, in a sense, is already a triumph for our singing poet, the realization of an episodic spiritual journey told in tracks. That this record exists stands as testament to Tillman’s struggles, a sonic history of the relational righting of the ship, and daresay, a beacon for the lost in their own troubled waters. It may not be The Secret, but it certainly is Zachary Tillman’s.

Happy Release Day A.A. Williams

We’re pleased to share with the world today, the new EP from A.A. Williams, titled arco. arco is a strings and vocal reimagining of her debut EP and it is out no on digital, with the physical release to follow in 2 weeks.

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 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 a collaboration with Japanese post-rockers MONO, the London-based singer-songwriter signed to Bella Union and released her stunning debut album, Forever Blue, in July 2020.

That Southbank show would prove to be the last time she would take to the stage for a long while as the world struggled to cope with unforeseen and extreme challenges. Never a musician to sit still, the classically trained multi-instrumentalist focused her creativity on arranging – firstly, by stripping songs back to the most delicate bones on her Songs from Isolation covers record, and now with a complete reimagining of her own material as the four songs from her debut EP become arco.

Not many musicians have the ability – or indeed bravery – to rework a collection of their own full band ‘rock’ songs into a string-and-voice arrangement. A.A. Williams, however, is not like many musicians and the minimalism of Arvo Pärt and Gorecki has long since sat beside Vaughan Williams’ folk-inspired classical work as important influences on her music. Indeed, the intention with the EP was for Williams to challenge herself by not retaining guitars and drums, meaning arco had to be truly reimagined with a full string ensemble. As Williams describes it: “The main focus of the arrangements is trying to maintain the authenticity of the original songs that, whilst embodying some of the more familiar elements of the full-band settings, draws focus on the voice.” 

Conducting the ensemble of string musicians in the studio, A.A. Williams has evolved her own compositions with new instrumentation and arrangements, encapsulating the singular vision of a unique artist.

Modern Nature Present “Island Of Noise”

Modern Nature today announce news of a new album, Island Of Noise, released 19th November via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The album will be released only as a deluxe double vinyl box set with a second companion LP titled Island Of Silence: a beautiful instrumental reimagining of the record. The album will be released – using only sustainable material – on 180g vinyl complete with a lavish booklet featuring the work of ten other artists, including Booker-nominated poet Robin Robertson, mycologist Merlin Sheldrake, illustrator Sophy Hollington, musician Eugene Chadbourne and writer Richard King, that reinterpret, deconstruct or take inspiration from the ten tracks on the record.

Modern Nature have also shared a trailer for an accompanying film of the album. Around the release there will be four exclusive screenings of this around the country in partnership with Caught by the River, followed by Q&A’s with frontman Jack Cooper (full details below). Of the film, Cooper says: 

“We listen to music in lots of different circumstances, but it’s increasingly rare to sit down and listen to an album without distractions, so that was really the initial aim with this film; to make something that could focus one’s attention on the music. When Conan Roberts and I started filming it at the start of the year, it quickly took on a life of its own as it built on one of the album’s main themes; finding order within chaos. Then as the year panned out, a narrative emerged with a country re-emerging from the pandemic.”

Since the demise of his previous band Ultimate Painting, Jack Cooper – under his Modern Nature guise – has never stopped looking ahead, exploring and reaching for something further. Since 2019, he’s released an EP, one full length LP, last year’s mini-album Annual, one 7” and three live cassettes, as well as the minimalist system music of this year’s Tributaries LP on Astral Spirits – in the process mapping out astonishing new terrain. 

Island Of Noise presents an obvious new peak in his discography, combining Cooper’s celebrated songwriting and compositional skills with a free flowing expansiveness coloured by British free music luminaries such as saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards and violinist Alison Cotton, as well as long-term collaborators Jeff Tobias and Jim Wallis.

“Island Of Noise” Film screenings:

Monday 15th November – The Social, London tickets

Film screening followed by a conversation between Jack Cooper and Emma Warren

Friday 19th November – The Royal Oak, Lewes tickets

Film screening followed by a conversation between Jack Cooper and Ricard Norris

Saturday 20th November – The Friendly Bar, Bristol tickets

Film screening followed by a conversation between Jack Cooper and Richard King

Saturday 28th November – The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge tickets

Film screening followed by a conversation between Jack Cooper and Elizabeth Alker + a screening of Tommy Perlman’s film made to accompany Andrew Wasylyk’s album ‘Balgay Hill: Morning In Magnolia’ 

“Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises”

On re-reading The Tempest in 2019, Cooper was moved to write this quote on the wall of his workshop and doing so sparked the initial ideas and activity that culminated in this record. The short quote, part of a longer passage spoken by Caliban, “summed up what I was thinking about at the time, from the nature of music, noise and silence, to the chaos and confusion that seemed impossible to navigate.” says Cooper.

The rich imagery and themes of The Tempest have long been a springboard for artists, from Derek Jarman’s unnerving adaptation and Sibelius’ Stormen to Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five, but it was the setting of an island and the insular framework it represented that appealed as a way of elaborating on the musical and lyrical themes Modern Nature has been exploring since their first record in 2019.

“I imagined the island’s landscape and how it would change and shift through the record. My guitar, Jim Wallis’ drums and John Edwards’ bass would represent a slowly evolving landscape that would provide the bedrock for the other instruments to colour. The forests, the valleys and the life would be represented by an orchestra of improvisers and classical musicians, working around certain modes and composed melodies.”

Standing in the edgelands, where the concrete meets the forest; the island’s story is told through the eyes of an outsider, arriving and trying to make sense of the mystery and chaos. What do they make of the island’s systems, its customs, the inhabitants and their beliefs. How would an outsider interpret the inequality and divide? Where would they find solace, compassion and friendship?