John Grant shares “Rhetorical Figure”

With his new album Boy From Michigan due for release 25th June via Bella Union, John Granthas today shared a new track, “Rhetorical Figure”, from the LP. Built in the lineage of Grant’s nascent electropop darlings, Devo, the song suggests a formative world in which brains are regarded as horny as bodies. According to Grant, “This is a song about my love of language and rhetorical figures and what a turn-on it is when someone wields language in a very capable manner.”

Grant has previously shared videos for ‘Boy From Michigan’ and ‘The Only Baby’ from the Cate Le Bon-produced LP and recently announced a UK tour, the dates of which can be found below.

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, 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.

Lanterns On The Lake announce “Gracious Tide, Take Me Home” anniversary edition

Lanterns On The Lake have announced news of a deluxe 10th Anniversary vinyl reissue of their acclaimed debut album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, out 11th June via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The band’s much-loved debut has been meticulously remastered at Abbey Road studios and will be released on double vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with gold foil print. Additionally, the album comes with five previously unreleased tracks recorded during the original sessions.

Fusing the most fragile and graceful end of the folk music spectrum to the most luminous properties of cinemascope rock, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home used a smorgasbord of instruments to paint a variety of beautiful vistas, from the ambient ‘Ships In The Rain’ to the galloping ‘A Kingdom’, from the six-minute layers of ‘The Places We Call Home’ to the skeletal 73-second finale ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’. There’s always been a compelling drama to Lanterns On The Lake; the way the opening track ‘Lungs Quicken’ shifts from dreamy restraint to a full-blown crescendo indicated the true power at their fingertips.

Lanterns On The Lake formed in 2008 combining a group of friends who had all played in various bands on the local music scene. Hazel Wilde (vocals, guitar), Paul Gregory (guitars, backing vocals, electronics) and Ol Ketteringham (drums, piano) still comprise the core of the band whilst previous members Adam Sykes (vocals, guitar), Brendan Sykes (bass) and Sarah Kemp (violin) departed prior to the second album.

Hazel commented at the time that: “A lot of lyrics were inspired by my moving back to the coast (North Shields), where I grew up, after I’d been living near the city centre. They’re also memories of growing up here, the feeling of homesickness, and stories of people around us and of the sea. The title Gracious Tide, Take Me Home seemed to sum up all the themes.”

There might be a vein of sadness through this music – ‘Ships In The Rain’ was inspired by a local fisherman who went missing at sea, and ‘A Kingdom’ was inspired by the book letters sent home by WW2 soldiers – but there is just as much hope in ‘Keep on Trying’  and ‘You’re Almost There’, where fear and insecurities are banished by self-belief; “the feeling that you’re going places,” as Hazel says. Mirroring the sentiment of the album title, ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ and ‘Places We Call Home’ draw on the comfort and security of home, friendship and memory.

Having been forced to postpone their touring plans for last year’s Mercury nominated Spook The Herd album, Lanterns On The Lake should finally have the chance to perform the songs live for their fans this Autumn when they take to the road for the below UK live dates…

Lost Horizons & Penelope Isles share “Halcyon” visuals

Lost Horizons today share a video for their track “Halcyon”, taken from their recently released album In Quiet Moments, which features frequent collaborators and close pals Penelope Isles. Speaking of the track, Simon Raymonde states…

“Loved Penelope Isles from the first time I heard them and loved them even more from the first time I saw them! I released their debut album on Bella Union and my wife Abbey and I also manage them. Jack and Lily  were the first people I asked to be on the album. Penelope Isles supported Lost Horizons on our first UK headline tour and set the bar incredibly high every night. 

The music for Halcyon started with Richie and I improvising in our studio in Brighton but when I brought that track back home, I ditched the music and just started again from scratch. I had just bought an old Tokai guitar in a local guitar shop that reminded me of the guitar Alan Curtis had used in Richie’s old band DIF JUZ and the second I plugged it in for the first time, and played along with Richie’s lonely drum track, the notes just fell out of me. Within an hour or two the track was done and I sent it over to Jack. I adore what he’s done and love that Lily also sings on the song in that glorious section at the end. It was always going to start the album and now I am thrilled it is being released as a single.”

Jack Wolter of Penelope Isles, who also made the dreamy visuals that accompany the track had the below to say…

“The video for Halcyon is made up of footage I collected during my early twenties, whilst studying and living in Cornwall. I felt the need to film a lot in this period of my life. When I started writing the lyrics and getting into what this song was going to be about, I found myself reflecting back to the importance of this time, the people I shared it with and the days we lived. Beautiful relationships providing unworn conversations although all tangled up in warped spaces and darker moments. The song and video are a reflection into the past and how certain times stay with you forever.”

In other exciting news, Lost Horizons will perform a live show, with special guests, at the Scala in the Autumn of 2021. Tickets for the show, which will feature an array of the album’s collaborators, are on sale now. See HERE for more details.

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 ****

Happy Release Day Lost Horizons

The wait is over… Today Lost Horizons release their anticipated and acclaimed new album In Quiet Moments via Bella Union. To celebrate the release the band have shared a video for the closing track on the album, “This Is The Weather”, which features Karen Peris from the innocence mission on guest vocals. Of the track Karen Peris says: “It is a joy for me to be part of another Lost Horizons album. There was a beautiful spaciousness in the track of piano that I received from Simon, that allowed for hearing and seeing a melody and a scene, with a melancholy that connected immediately with the feeling of missing someone very dear to me.”

In further celebration of the album release Tim Burgess will be hosting one of his legendary Twitter Listening Parties for In Quiet Moments on 4th March while on the 5th March Lost Horizonswill participate in a Reddit AMA at /r/indieheads at 6pm GMT.

“Second album from super-duo contains multitudes… With the knowing retro-etherealism of Every Beat That Passed (featuring Swedish vocalist Kavi Kwai) or Cordelia’s new age tides controlled by John Grant, In Quiet Moments opens out its own space to wander, a many-moods piece for complicated times.” MOJO – 4 stars ****

“Lost Horizons return with a 16-song set that expands their palette considerably, including jazzier ventures with Ren Harvieu and soul singer Ural Thomas. Lest anyone forget about Raymonde’s past life as a Cocteau Twin, reverb-soaked collaborations with Kavi Kwai and KookiLou ensure there’s plenty of the old shimmer and spangle to savour, too.” Uncut – 7/10

“Lost Horizons triumph on second album In Quiet Moments… There’s some textbook ethereal elegance but also much restless energy and joy.” PROG

“Absolutely breathtaking… A masterpiece of concept, design and execution.” NARC – 5 Stars *****

“With experienced mood masters Raymonde and Thomas at the tiller In Quiet Moments is holistic audio balm to soothe, hug and give hope in these ‘unprecedented times’ and beyond.” Music OMH – 4 Stars ****

“An epic 16 track record of quite stunning beauty… A masterful sonic journey of discovery.” Contact Music – 5 Stars *****

Lost Horizons have announced news of a London live performance at the Scala in Autumn 2021… Date/info HERE.

Will Stratton returns with ‘The Changing Wilderness’

Bella Union are thrilled to announce the return of Will Stratton whose new album The Changing Wilderness will be released 7th May and is available to pre-order here. Stratton has shared the first track titled “Tokens” along with an animated lyric video.

Of the track Stratton says: “Tokens is a song addressed to the fraternal twins, the most frequent subjects of songs since songs were created: time and love. The afternoon that I was writing it, the weird weather we were having that summer was on my mind. I was thinking about how my perception of time is so tied to my perception of the changing seasons, and consequently, how my perception of time hasn’t been quite as sharp as it once was. I was also thinking about the ending of one of my favourite movies, the 2014 Paul Thomas Anderson film Inherent Vice. The way time shimmers and shifts in that movie is fascinating to me, verging on hypnotic, and I was trying to evoke a little of that feeling in this song.”

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.”