Blue Luminaire

For Nick Martin, writing a song is an act of catharsis. It’s a way of untangling the uncertainty of a new beginning, while honouring the shadow of the past. It’s a means of piecing together the patchwork of experience to understand the present, and it’s a route into the next phase: the rise of the moon, and the glow of dawn. As Blue Luminaire, Martin interrogates transitions, cycles and fresh starts with a tender and empathetic lens. On their debut album Terroir, the Oxford-born, Copenhagen-based composer utilises their classical music training to create a unique and otherworldly sonic experience where past selves collide, and the universality of heartbreak, familial patterns and grief permeate.

Growing up in Bedford, Martin was surrounded by classical music. Their father was a classical pianist, and Martin found themselves shunning the mainstream pop that filled the airwaves, and instead gravitated towards obscure 19th century Russian composers and Brian Eno LPs. This early obsession formed much of Martin’s musical language, and soon they started crafting their own original compositions and experimenting with their vocal range. With interrogation came revelation, and Martin began drifting from the confines of traditional classical music to create something entirely their own. Hovering between worlds, and embracing their love of alternative rock, funk, fusion and jazz, Blue Luminaire is the sound of the in-between.

Terroir marks a transition for Martin. Previously releasing a range of instrumental-only EPs, composing and directing a group of classical musicians, this debut full-length album sees the songwriter step into the spotlight as a performer. “I’ve moved away from the norm of classical music where there’s very rarely emphasis on first person,” they say. “I never feel like it’s direct, or like a singer is singing about themselves. It’s always performed like an actor. Here, I can be myself and address a listener as me.”

The album title stems from the word terre, meaning soil, and is used to describe the natural environment in which a specific wine is produced. Connecting to this idea that we carry the weight of our original, formative environments and relationships, Martin wanted to interrogate how they shape our sense of self, and impact our ability to connect with one another. While navigating a new path in the wake of a difficult break-up, and confronting their complicated relationship with their family, Terroir is the result of leaning into vulnerability in search of self-compassion and growth.

Martin wrote Terroir while working as a cleaner and assistant at a music venue in Copenhagen. Inspired by the performances they witnessed, and privy to the nights in which no one was scheduled to appear, Martin took to one of the hall’s pianos and started sketching out the melodies and lyrics that would soon become the album. “It was never the intention to make something,” Martin says. “All the material for this record came within a three month period; it was such a fruitful time.” Beginning in 2018, Martin then made a demo with a group of seven players in 2019. In 2020, right before the pandemic, Martin, along with 14 instrumentalists and sound engineer Pape Arce, recorded Terroir in just two days in the music venue where it all began.

The sonic universe of Terroir stretches across time to create an ever-moving, cyclical experience. Each song is intended to take place at a specific time of day, moving from the pale pinks and lavenders of dawn and into the deep rusty oranges and indigo blues of dusk. Opener ‘Our’ laments “tangled worlds dance in each other’s shadows,” pointing to the nonverbal, emotional mother-and-child relationship, while closer ‘Falling’ speaks of the “violet hour.” ‘Let Go’ introduces Martin’s ethereal and delicate vocal, as harpsichord and piano tentatively unfurl alongside gentle strings. “In choir, I sing bass: this deep, bellowing voice, whereas on this record, I’m singing in my head voice, which is much higher,” Martin says. “I naturally sing like that when I’m alone, so to do it on a record for the first time feels surreal. I’m still a little shy about it, but I want to do it a lot more.”

Later on ‘Held’, Martin welcomes Lo Ersare, a.k.a. ‘Lucky Lo,’ to produce a hauntingly arresting composition, where several repeating phrases morph into mantras. “Let go”, the pair urge, later reminding us that “…we are held, by ourselves.” “This is really a song about finding those resources from within to hold and carry oneself,” Martin says. “The reason I choose people to sing with me, is that it somehow bridges the gap between my own private experience and then a listener going through other people’s experiences as well.” On the climactic closer ‘Falling’, Martin also shunned the spotlight and welcomed singers Hanne Marie le Fevre and Jakob Skjoldborg, after originally performing it themself. “When you make something from a very personal place, and then you give it to someone else to voice, there’s a powerful, universal connection between the artist and the listener that allows it to steer away from being too self-absorbed,” they say.

Terroir’s expansively meditative, mantra-like exploration of the self opens a soothing portal that urges connection in a world that aims to distract and deter. While working on the album, Martin was focused on the beneficial effect of music for mental well-being, and found a certain solace through Terrior’s benevolent and exploratory nature. “Many of us are drawn to music, art and writing because of the need to get something out,” they explain. “That thing you might carry around and feel like is this huge, dark, horrible thing you don’t want anyone to see or hear. And yet when you do it, it feels good.” Terroir is proof that healing can flourish, even in our darkest moments.

Wren Hinds

Hailing from the South-east coast of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, Wren Hinds grew up with a musician for a father and a landscape painter for a mother. As a kid, watching his dad recording and overdubbing inspired Wren to keep a tape recorder with him, recording whatever and wherever he could. Later, he would compare the layering of instruments and textures to the mediums and paints of his mother’s chosen artform. For Wren, songwriting became “painting with sound”, using light, shade and a sense of space to communicate powerful impressions and feelings.

Wren brought this schooling to gorgeous fruition across his first three albums, initially available on Bandcamp and now released on vinyl through Bella Union Private Pressings. Made with an eco-friendly manufacturing company, each record will be available as a special edition limited to 200 copies, available through mail order and the Bella Union store. Either way, the trilogy plots the growth curve of a major talent, released in readiness for the now Bella Union-signed artist’s incoming fourth album. The first of the three retroactive releases will be “A Child’s Chant For The New Millennium”.

Wren Hinds brought fresh thematic cogency to his third album, recorded in early 2020. The linking matter is his unerring ability to apply himself to each new situation, in this case a longing for connection – to humanity, nature – in a world tilted towards digital disconnection. While the lockdowns intensified the album’s dystopian fears, the beauty and artistry in Wren’s songcraft counterpoint the shadows eloquently. The title-track laments “digital modification” over gamelan-ish flutters across six delicate minutes. All spectral voices and pining, ‘Sign of Life’ yearns for “some act of human kindness” to a wind-caressed cowboy lollop. ‘The Pearl’ longs for blissful quietude, while ‘Wrenbird’ evokes Sam Beam at his dreamiest. ‘River’s Song’ adds soft, sure layers of accordion and guitar, before ‘The Path’ marshals misty harmonies and finger-picked guitar for a gentle declaration of resistance. “Bang your freedom drum,” sings Wren, mapping out a singular path with understated assurance.

“A Child’s Chant For The New Millennium” is available HERE.

Nell & The Flaming Lips

This inspiring and heartwarming story begin when Smith, originally from Leeds (UK), moved to Canada and first met Wayne Coyne at the age of 12 at The Flaming Lips’ headline show at the Sled Island Festival, Calgary, in 2018 with her family. Nell had already attended several Lips shows and was a regular at the front of the stage, dressed in a parrot costume and screaming out the band’s songs. Coyne soon began to notice the kid in the parrot suit and sang a David Bowie cover directly to her at the show in Calgary, with Nell singing every word back.

A musical bond formed with Coyne staying in contact with Nell and her father Jude as she learned to play guitar, while their creative relationship began to flourish when she started to write her own songs.

When a planned trip to record with the band in Oklahoma had to be cancelled due to covid Coyne suggested Nell record some Nick Cave songs and email them to Oklahoma to be backed by the band. Coyne chose Nick Cave because Nell didn’t know him and wouldn’t have preconceived notions as to how to sing the songs.

Speaking about the collaboration, Coyne comments: “It’s always great to meet excited, young creative people. With Nell we could see she is on a journey and thought it would be fun to join her for a while and see if we could get things going. It was a great way to connect with her and help harness her cool attitude to making music.”

When asked about the experience, Nell comments: “I still can’t really believe it. It was a really steep learning curve but Wayne was so encouraging when I was struggling with a few of the songs that I kept going. I hadn’t heard of Nick Cave but Wayne suggested that we should start with an album of his cover versions, and then look at recording some of my own songs later. It was cool to listen and learn about Nick Cave and pick the songs we wanted to record.”

Nells goes on to say: “I’m so excited to see this turn into a real record release. I’m super happy to be working with Bella Union and really looking forward to everyone hearing the album.”

In a pleasing addition to the tale the great man himself has given his seal of approval to the collaboration. Alerted to the cover by a fan Nick Cave took to his website The Red Hand Files to write: “This version of ‘Girl in Amber’ is just lovely, I was going to say Nell Smith inhabits the song, but that’s wrong, rather she vacates the song, in a way that I could never do,” said Cave. “I always found it difficult to step away from this particular song and sing it with its necessary remove, just got so twisted up in the words, I guess. Nell shows a remarkable understanding of the song, a sense of dispassion that is both beautiful and chilling. I just love it. I’m a fan.”

Ural Thomas & The Pain

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 82 years 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. 

Destroyer

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.

C Duncan

“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.