Following their electrifying performances at this year’s SXSW, and about to embark on a truly epic UK and European tour which runs from next week right through to September, Penelope Isles today share an infectious, blissed-out Joe Goddard remix of their much-loved track “Ice Gems”.
Penelope Isles’ upcoming lives dates include headline shows, festival appearances as well as a number of UK dates performing as special guests for the mighty Sea Power. Dates/info here: https://www.penelopeisles.com/live
Acclaim for recent album Which Way To Happy…
“Jack and Lily Wolter balance the bitter and the sweet with real delicacy on the follow-up to their 2019 debut… An endearing mixture of emotional wobble and creative confidence, Which Way To Happy is on exactly the right track.” MOJO – 4 stars ****
“Widescreen, expansive stuff… ‘Rocking At The Bottom’ mixes jangle and shoegaze with a dose of the Bunnymen at their most grandiose, while ‘Play It Cool’ is irresistible retro-pop. The stately psych stroll of ‘Sailing Still’ and woozy glide of ‘Pink Lemonade’ are both dreamy high points.” Shindig– 4 stars ****
“Festooned with macroscopic, reverb-smitten production and sumptuous orchestral arrangements… A genuinely healing listen; an album to get cosy with while its music lovingly soaks your wounds.” DIY– 4 stars ****
“Which Way to Happy expands and improves on the musical palette laid down by their debut with the record hitting its stride on the jittery single ‘Iced Gems’ followed by the absorbing and ambitious ballad ‘Sailing Still’. Songs come bathed in sparkling synths and warming strings, but melodies are unpredictable, bearing repeat listens.” Uncut – 7/10
“Their sound hasn’t changed but the recordings are richer, basslines heavier, and the songwriting is more confident.” Clash – 8/10
“This sibling duo’s forthcoming album Which Way to Happy builds further upon their explorations of sound, unbound to the constraints of style. The result is a cohesive grab bag of influences ranging from The Smiths to Tame Impala.” Paste
With his new album Alluvium due out 6th May via Bella Union, C Duncan today shares another enticing new track titled “Bell Toll” from this much-anticipated release. Commenting on the track Duncan says: “Bell Toll is about uncertainty and companionship, and finding comfort in uncertainty. It explores the idea of security and assurance juxtaposed with the exhilaration of not knowing what’s to come.” The track, which brings to mind a meeting between Michel Legrand and early Kate Bush, is accompanied by a hypnotic lyric video which Duncan created himself.
“We’re at the end,” sings C Duncan, playfully, as his new album opens. Don’t be fooled: endings are the spur for new beginnings on the fourth album from the classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter. After the haunting raptures of Architect (2015), the Twilight Zone-inspired reveries of The Midnight Sun (2016) and the richly melodic Health (2019), Alluvium is a sublime palate-refresher for Duncan (C for Christopher), brimming with revitalised fluency: a warming dispatch from the daylight zone, if you like.
With personal stories as fertile soil for its multi-stranded growths, Alluvium navigates its many tones and styles with lightness and grace. As Duncan explains: “With Alluvium I wanted to make a positive record with lots of different musical ideas and lyrics that could move from serious to playful to over-the-top romantic in a fluid way.”
That sense of fluidity buoys up the well-titled opener, ‘Air,’ the first song written and recorded for the album. With the sweep, levity and discreet intricacy of John Grant’s symphonic intimacies, the song sets the tone for an album that knows endings can sometimes sow seeds for rebirths. Inspired by a conversation Duncan had with his late grandmother about her life, the Carpenters-ish ‘We Have A Lifetime’ reflects on the need to let go of those things you can’t change and accept the things you can, a humble design for living adroitly set to a tranquil backdrop.
The nimble left-turn of ‘Bell Toll’ further showcases Duncan’s dynamism, bringing to mind a meeting between Michel Legrand and early Kate Bush. The tender interlude of ‘Lullaby’ follows, clearing the way for ‘Torso’, a love song with poetry in its heart. “It’s about how you could give away every part of yourself for somebody (metaphorical limbs and all!) and yet still be more complete,” says Duncan. “The world around you disappears and all that matters is this intense adoration.
In the clearest case of the lockdown’s influence on Alluvium, ‘Pretending’ sets an account of a move out of the city to a breezy, liberated pop melody. Elsewhere, Duncan thrives in fleet-footed contrasts, setting songs of change and partings to lush soft-pop (‘You Don’t Come Around’), zero-gravity synth-pop (‘I Tried’) and misty-eyed hypnagogic waltzes (‘Sad Dreams’). The title track is a harpsichord-led reverie, ‘Earth’ a kind of follow-up to ‘Air’ couched in, says Duncan, a mix of “the melodramatic and the mundane. It’s apocalyptic on the one hand, and on the other it’s an account of somebody switching off their TV, packing up their personal belongings and simply relocating before the sun fades from existence. It could be attributed to all sorts of personal upheaval but it’s essentially about setting fire to everything and running away.”
The Sufjan Stevens-ish hymnal of ‘The Wedding Song’ continues that sense of exquisite unburdening, before ‘Upon the Table’ closes the album on a note of romantic gratitude. “‘Upon the Table’ is a love song written for my partner,” says Duncan. “We have been through a lot in the last year or so, as have many others, and it is a reminder that whatever comes our way, there will always be love and support waiting there.”
Following the thematically loaded Health, Duncan set out to make a record guided by instinct rather than prescriptive themes. Subtexts emerged of their own volition: of “moving forward, leaving things behind and ending up somewhere totally new and different,” he says.
Behind the scenes, changes steered the record. A move to a home near the water in Helensburgh a couple of years ago proved instrumental. Here, Duncan worked on the album in his home studio, writing, recording and producing himself (he did the artwork, too). “It’s a very inspiring place to work,” he says, “and I wanted to return to recording from home as it gives me time and space to develop songs without any outside pressure. I feel very comfortable working alone.”
Supple and serene, buoyant and beatific, Alluvium moves at its own pace, evidence of an intuitive talent in unforced flow.
Destroyer’s latest album, LABYRINTHITIS, brims with mystic and intoxicating terrain, the threads of Dan Bejar’s notes woven through by a trove of allusions at once eerily familiar and intimately perplexing. The record circuitously draws ever inward, each turn offering giddy surprise, anxious esoterica, and thumping emotionality at equal odds. “Do you remember the mythic beast?” Bejar asks at the outset of “Tintoretto, It’s for You,” the album’s first single, casting torchlight over the labyrinth’s corridors. “Tintoretto, it’s for you/ The ceiling’s on fire and the contract is binding.” Delivered in a Marlene Dietrich smoulder, Bejar’s lyrical menace seeps like smoke through the brazen march’s woozy synths and dizzied guitar. “There’s some character here that feels new to me, a low drawl, an evening gown draped over a piano,” Bejar says of the song. Throughout, LABYRINTHITIS insists that everything’s not all right, but that even isolation and dissolution can be a source of joy—stepping into the sunlight at the other end of the maze in your ear, Bejar strolling alongside like a wild-maned, leisure-suited minotaur.
More than an arcane puzzle for the listener, LABYRINTHITIS warps and winds through unfamiliar territory for Bejar as well. Written largely in 2020 and recorded the following spring, the album most often finds Bejar and frequent collaborator John Collins seeking the mythic artifacts buried somewhere under the dance floor, from the glitzy spiral of “It Takes a Thief” to the Books-ian collage bliss of the title track. Initial song ideas ventured forth from disco, Art of Noise, and New Order, Bejar and Collins championing the over-the-top madcappery. “John is in his 50s, and I’m almost there, but we used to go to clubs,” Bejar laughs. “Our version may have been punk clubs, but our touchstones for the album were more true to disco.”
Bejar and Collins conducted their questing in the height of isolation, Collins on the remote Galiano Island and Bejar in nearby Vancouver, sending ideas back and forth when restrictions didn’t allow them to meet. “From the vocal manipulation to the layered electronics, making this record pushed us to a new place, and reaching that place felt stressful,” Bejar recalls. “But I trust that that stress is a good feeling.” That cuddly anxiety excels in tracks like “Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread,” Joshua Wells’ percussion and Collins’ drum programming pushing Bejar’s voice forward. “The whole world’s a stage/ That I don’t know/ I am going through,” he sighs, before reaching the frustrated religious imagery of the title.
Lyrically, LABYRINTHITIS embraces a widescreen maximalism, blocks of text dotted with subversions and hedges. Building from the koans of Have We Met, Bejar continues to carve his words precisely, toying with expectations and staid symbols, while Collins’ production reconstructs the pieces into a unified whole. “Even though everyone recorded in their own isolated corners, this is the most band record that we’ve done in the last few years,” Bejar says. “Everything’s manipulated, but the band is really present, and our plans wound up betrayed by what the tracks wanted. I’ve written 300, 400 songs in my adult life—I don’t know how to do anything else—but this album feels like a breakthrough into new territory.”
That unprepared synchronicity and mutual discovery shines brightest on “June,” a six-and-a-half-minute track that features a blend of funk bass, fluttering synth, and charred poetry recitation. While Bejar initially envisioned LABYRINTHITIS as a straight dance record (“just like Donna Summer’s greatest hits”), the end of “June” explodes that simplicity into a million shining pieces, finding joy in mutual discovery instead of isolated certainty. Bejar and Collins’ initial jam expands until the edges of the universe run through their fingertips, the band members peeling off in cathartic helixes. While the album’s songs may have been patched together like a mosaic of enigmatic ideas, the band rolls the entire Destroyer universe together—abstruse celestial waves unified despite the players’ physical time apart.
LABYRINTHITIS closes on “The Last Song,” Bejar singing and strumming all alone, a gentle yet no more settled exodus out of the fractured dance party. “I try and sneak in sweet moments where I can,” Bejar laughs. After spending the record in the depths of the labyrinth, Destroyer step into the open air, overwhelmed by the burst of light surrounding them. “An explosion is worth a hundred million words/ But that is maybe too many words to say,” Bejar repeats, the roiling electronics replaced with a single ringing guitar echoing into the night. As LABYRINTHITIS closes, the reorienting vertigo lingers, its implacable aura and bewitching lyrics wriggling ever deeper into the mind.
Following their barnstorming performances at this year’s SXSW festival, Ural Thomas And The Pain today share new single “Do You Remember The Times We Had?” from their upcoming album Dancing Dimensions out 3rd June via Bella Union. Of the track Ural says: “To me this song is about that feeling everyone has sometimes, wishing we were kids again. As we go through life, childhood memories can start to fade away, Do You Remember The Times We Had? reminds us to never ‘grow old’ but also to live with joy in the moment.”
Walking through the residential heart of Portland’s Mississippi district you’ll find a charming wooden house under the overcast Oregon sky. This local landmark is the home of soul legend Ural Thomas, built by hand with found materials decades ago. The basement is overflowing with musical equipment. When you walk down into the room you may see Portland’s Soul Brother Number One at the table chuckling, telling stories and jokes, and espousing his personal humanist philosophy obtained from 83years of unfathomable experiences. He’s often joined by either his generations of biological posterity or the adopted family that is his band, The Pain. You may also find this infinitely magnetic personality ripping through a cover song at full volume or working out a new original with his loved ones.
Though Ural Thomas is widely recognized as one of the most exciting singers remaining from the original soul era, and an active musical institution for over 60years, his band, all decades younger, are treated as equals. The Pain are no backing band, but rather a well-oiled tightly-knit musical aggregation that’s spent the last eight years with Thomas developing a unique sound of its own.
Born in Meraux, Louisiana, in 1939, and moving with his family to Portland, Oregon during World War II, Ural Thomas grew up to become Rose City’s Soul Brother Number One. Already an established singer in his teens, he became the leader of the wild twistin’ rhythm and blues vocal group The Monterays – who achieved regional fame and recorded the canonical single “Push-Em Up” for the local Sure Star Records. His success brought him to Los Angeles where he caught the ear of industry bigwig Jerry Goldstein of The Strangeloves, best remembered for managing Sly and The Family Stone and producing dozens of iconic records by the likes of War, The McCoys, and The Angels. Goldstein saw star quality in the young singer and brought him into the studio with arranger Gene Page (known for thousands of recordings with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Elton John to a veritable who’s who of Motown stars) to record two landmark 1967 singles “Pain Is The Name of Your Game” and “Can You Dig It” for the MCA pop subsidiary UNI. Around this point Ural also recorded a 1968 live LP for MCA’s soul imprint Revue and the 1967 James Brown-informed proto-funk dancefloor dynamite that is “Deep Soul” for Seattle’s Camelot label. All are widely admired and continue to be heard at DJ sets and dance parties worldwide.
Ural Thomas next left Los Angeles to record in Cincinnati at King Records with James Brown’s production manager Bud Hobgood. After the two had a falling out, Portland’s soul man took a bus to New York City where he was featured more than forty nights at the Apollo. Eventually disillusioned with the industry and missing the communal aspect of making music, by the end of the 1960s he returned to Portland where he established a Sunday night jam session that continued for decades. In 2014 Portland DJ and drummer Scott McGee sat in. They became friends and within months Magee had assembled a full show band that they christened Ural Thomas and The Pain. The new group wasted no time performing and recording, touring the world and releasing two LPs between 2015 and 2018.
So few of soul music’s original practitioners of are still among us. Even fewer are still active. And of those, even fewer can still deliver the goods on the same level that made your hair stand on end the first time you dropped the needle on their record. Rumor had it that the complete package of undiminished passion, sweat, wailing, dancing, and banter, the elusive soul man we always seek out, could be found tearing it up in the Pacific Northwest. When Ural Thomas finally made it out east to play at Jonathan Toubin’s soul revue billed alongside Irma Thomas, Archie Bell, Joe Bataan, and other legends, it was his first New York City gig since his Apollo reign four decades prior. Having previously shared the stage with James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Etta James, and nearly any star from the hyper-competitive world of classic soul performance, Ural Thomas was not intimidated. He rose to the occasion, bringing down the house both nights and drenching an entire new generation of New Yorkers in his soul sweat!
And the band played on… Despite the usual COVID-19 obstacles, Ural Thomas and The Pain finally completed their much-anticipated third album, Dancing Dimensions. While exploring everything from sweet Chicago soul to airy West Coast psychedelia to Sly funk, their latest collection retains the distinctive sound the band organically developed organically over years of relentless work. Classic yet unmistakably contemporary at the same time, “Dancing Dimensions” is the most accurate representation of The Pain’s unique flavor, power, and musical breadth committed to vinyl thus far.
Today, Midlake make a triumphant return with their new album For The Sake Of Bethel Woods.
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.
“Layered, sophisticated and melodic.” MOJO – 4 stars ****
“Texan folk-rockers return in leaner, more dynamic form… For The Sake Of Bethel Woods secures Midlake’s future, running on a newly energised course.” Uncut – 7/10
“Their fifth album is perhaps their most purely enjoyable. The album mulls over time, illness and innocence, while the sprits of Neil Young and Stephen Stills set the temperature.” Classic Rock – 8/10
“The playing is exhilarating – “Feast Of Carrion” sounds like Nursery Cryme-era Genesis meeting Crosby, Still & Nash, and the hi-life guitar figure on “Glistening” is fabulous.
For those waiting for Van Occupanther II, For The Sake OfBethel Woods comes pretty close.” PROG
“A compelling song cycle woven around the location of Woodstock. A thoughtful, sonically dense return.” Shindig – 4 stars ****
Last week, Father John Misty released “Goodbye Mr. Blue”, the bittersweet and tender new single from Chloë and the Next 20th Century, and delivered a gorgeous performance of the song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Today, you can watch the official video directed by Noel Paul (“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”), which is an elliptical portrait of a family reunion, and was shot in and around Sofia, Bulgaria in September 2021.
New York Times says of “Goodbye Mr. Blue”, “Josh Tillman’s sharp lyricism often aims for the head…but here he goes straight for the heart. ‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’…is a simulacrum of the ’70s singer-songwriter sound; Harry Nilsson is an obvious touch point, but there are also shades of Jim Croce and even John Denver in the song’s fingerpicked guitars and chatty warmth. “That Turkish Angora is ’bout the only thing left of me and you,’ Tillman croons, filtering a story of a relationship’s slow, inevitable end through the death of the titular pet cat. It’s sweet, a little funny, and then ultimately devastating, as Tillman repeats an increasingly elegiac refrain, “Don’t the last time come too soon?”
Chloë and the Next 20th Century and its singles are seeing early praise from the likes of MOJO, who in its 4-star review, said “Tillman’s writerly skills would have shone in any era… He offers a moving reminder of the beauty of life’s impermanence…As Chloë and the Next 20th Century sees Father John Misty escaping into his own parallel Hollywood reality, it’s highly entertaining to slip in alongside him.” Uncut says of the album, “Another multi-faceted triumph… Chloë and the Next 20th Century contains songs that go right to the gut with their instant melodic charm, and are deeply striking thanks to their sumptuous arrangements, exceptional playing and emotional pull (8/10).”
PASTE calls “Q4” “gorgeous and absurd; in other words, it’s quintessential Father John Misty.” Rolling Stone offers this of “Funny Girl”, “A lovely, languid gem that shows Tillman quietly reintroducing himself — with a little help from an orchestral arrangement that echoes old Hollywood…in classic Misty fashion, leaves us quizzically charmed (“Song You Need To Know”).” The FADER says ‘Funny Girl’ is a “lush and romantic ballad…and shows that there’s much more to Josh Tillman… (‘20 Best Rock Songs Right Now’).”
Father John Misty recently performed a sold-out show at Disney Hall in Los Angeles with the LA Philharmonic which Variety described as: “Of all the pop-rock/symphonic collaborations that the LA Phil and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra have specialized in over the last few years — and there have been some wonderful ones — this felt like the most natural and probably the best.”
The next symphony performance for 2022 — April 7th in London at the Barbican with Britten Sinfonia conducted by Jules Buckley — is sold out.
Father John Misty will celebrate the release week of Chloë and The Next 20th Century with a number of intimate UK out-store performances which include Crash Records in Leeds (April 4th), Rough Trade East (April 9th), and Rough Trade Bristol (April 11th). On release day Father John Misty will be celebrating the album’s release with two performances presented by Banquet Records in Kingston.
Chloë and the Next 20th Century was written and recorded August through December 2020 and features arrangements by Drew Erickson. The album sees Tillman and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson resume their long-time collaboration, as well as Dave Cerminara’s return as engineer and mixer. Basic tracks were recorded at Wilson’s Five Star Studios with strings, brass, and woodwinds recorded at United Recordings in a session featuring Dan Higgins and Wayne Bergeron, among others.