Happy Release Day Dog In The Snow

Dog In The Snow’s album debut for Bella Union is Vanishing Lands, as imposing, haunting and luminous collection of songs in the darker spaces between dream-pop, art-rock and electronica, lifted by euphoric melodies, ravishing vocals and absorbing lyrics. The album was initially created at Brown’s home in Brighton before co-producer Rob Flynn helped her add shifting, impressionistic swathes of colour, from the ominous chords that open ‘Light’ to the vocal eddies that close ‘Dark’. Brown wrote 8 of the 10 songs in a 3-week spell after a period of “strange dreams”. She recalls: “Dreams in black and white. I found myself in a dreamland and discovered it was being destroyed. I chose Vanishing Lands as an album title because it sounded suitably desolate, and lent the songs a feeling of cohesion.”

The themes of the two oldest tracks suit the ‘ruined world’ scenario. ‘Icaria’ is named after a utopian society established in the 1840s by a French socialist which only survived for 50 years. ‘Gold’ refers to America’s gold rush bonanza of the same era, when people searched for a better life, but instead created and faced catastrophe.

Born to a Thai mother and Scottish father, Brown was raised in Singapore from the age of five to eighteen, when she returned to the UK, making her home in Brighton. Learning guitar and subsequently Garageband software to construct broader sounds and styles of songwriting, she absorbed influences such as Sufjan Stevens, Scott Walker, David Lynch, Clint Mansell and Brian Eno: brooding, immersive, filmic universes through which Brown could escape her shy nature. But she has since stepped out, both as a commanding solo performer and one of the singers and musicians in the touring version of Lost Horizons, the collective co-founded by Simon Raymonde, Bella Union’s label boss.

Brown also cites key literary and visual influences. Film director Ingmar Bergman’s B&W masterpiece The Seventh Seal and David Lynch’s B&W lithographs impacted on Vanishing Lands’ desolate aesthetic and album artwork. Less overt this time are Singapore and Brown’s “fragmented sense of identity, being mixed race,” that underpinned her debut album ‘Consume Me’. The name Dog In The Snow comes from Franz Kafka’s iconic and prescient novel The Trial: “It seemed to represent finding liberation in an oppressed situation,” she explains. “I was trying to think of something with limitless creative space that doesn’t feel hindered in any way.”

The plight of the individual battered by the political system is echoed by the hooded black figures that appear in the album imagery, including the video that Brown has made for the fragile album highlight ‘Roses’. Her inspiration was a photo of refugees at sea, their faces hidden, desperate to escape their ruined homeland. But would their destination, if reached, provide comfort or more ruin? “It doesn’t help when people aren’t welcoming,” Brown says. “That was my mother’s experience when she arrived from Thailand.”

The album’s core theme also covers environmental ruination. ‘Fall Empire’ opens and closes with a warning: “If we did dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster”, which Brown heard on the groundbreaking 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi. Given the path that humanity is currently taking, no wonder Brown’s dreams seem to prophesise the end of times.

Still, she feels Vanishing Lands’ finale ‘Dark’ is “the most optimistic song on the album. Like I’m waking up from this dreamland and finding freedom rather than it being a negative feeling. Because things do change. We have to hope things will get better.” 

Happy Release Day to Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith

A sonic cross-continental experience, Mummer Love is the second album in the Perfect Vision triptych collaboration between Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith. The album, which features guest contributions fromPhilip Glass and Mulatu Astatke, is out now on Bella Union.

For this body of work, Soundwalk Collective journeyed to Africa to explore the intricacies of Arthur Rimbaud’s most obscure period. After leaving France and what he deemed the ‘western stagnation’, Rimbaud found himself in Harar, Ethiopia – an epicenter of Sufism in Africa. Sufi practise focuses on the renunciation of worldly things, the purification of the soul and the mystical contemplation of God’s nature. Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, and its music is about reaching a communal ecstatic state, and once you find yourself there, you are granted access to the unknown. The Soundwalk Collectivespent time with the Sufi group of Sheikh Ibrahim to record their music and chants in the shrine. “You obtain connections to other levels of yourself and consciousness,” Stephan Crasneanscki mentions of the musical process. “This connection, like poetry, is a universal language. A language of the soul, for the soul.”

As with the other albums in the triptych, the Collective searched for hidden, earthy sounds that hold memories and embed existence. For Mummer Love, they also found themselves recording under the tree where Rimbaud photographed the shrine of Sheik Abadir Umar ar-Rida al Harari, the founder of the holy city Harar. “As the rain fell, I wondered if I was hearing the drops hitting the leaves the same way Rimbaud did 140 years ago,” Crasneanscki says. These sounds and Sufi chants coexist with Patti Smith’s interpretation of Rimbaud’s poems, as she recites and sings among them in a call and response, sharing the same musical and spiritual space.

Smith’s only poem is the title track “Mummer Love”, written to Rimbaud; her words are rooted in multiple aspects of the self: from the passion of a lover to the care of a mother, and everything in between. Further contributions to this album come from Mulatu Astatke, widely considered the father of Ethio-jazz, and Phillip Glass, who’s long felt a connection to Sufi music – here coming together and evoking a call and response between piano and vocals of the Sufi masters. It is simultaneously the first time Glass collaborates with Smith, and so Harar becomes an extraordinary meeting place for all to celebrate the beauty of Rimbaud’s work.

Referring to the overall work, Smith likens the project to a fourth mind equation. “Because we are working with other people’s work, and not just reading it but channelling these people, they become a fourth mind. We are Rimbaud, you, I, and the work,” Smith says in conversation with Crasneanscki. The unification of all minds together magnifies its power and potential. “It makes me think of Rimbaud’s energy, his strong will,” Smith says. “If we, the living, send out radio and energy waves, the energy of those last poems is still reverberating. It can’t be silenced, because we understand that this work and the artists are not dead, they find life when we are recording them.”

Entitled The Perfect Vision, this musical triptych, which has been co-produced with Leonardo Heiblum and supported by the Analogue Foundation, aims to go beyond 20/20 vision and explore a dimension that exists on a non-physical plane. What one can physically see is only the beginning – this project transcends what we think we see, by multiplying experiences, languages and energies. “We went through places like Mexico, Ethiopia and India to search for a perfect vision, in spaces where you can still feel a sacred presence – where the Gods are still among you,” says Crasneanscki. “In this idea of perfect vision, there is the idea of oneness, and with that comes a sense of supreme love.”

Mummer Love is released today, to mark the anniversary of the death of Arthur Rimbaud, on 10th November (1891). 

Penelope Isles announce 2020 tour dates

Brighton based brother/sister led quartet Penelope Isles released their incredible debut album Until the Tide Creeps In this Summer via Bella Union, and have recently returned from their first-ever North American tour. Today, we are pleased to announce further dates for 2020, which include a number of UK live performances in celebration of Independent Venue Week. See HERE for full dates + get your tickets to an upcoming show near you.

Penelope Isles have launched Penny Isles TV, a new way for fans to keep up to date with the band while they are on the road. Watch episode 4 below, which sees them gallivanting in France & Slovakia!

Lanterns On The Lake announce ‘Spook The Herd’

Lanterns On The Lake have announced news of their new studio album, Spook The Herd, released 21st February via Bella Union and available to preorder here. Additionally, the band have announced an extensive UK tour including a headline show at London’s EartH, the dates of which are below, and shared a striking b/w video for lead track “Every Atom”. Of the track Lantern’s vocalist Hazel Wilde says: “This is a song about grief and how your subconscious takes a long time to accept when someone is dead and gone forever, even when the rational side of you understands it. I put that idea into a story where the narrator is my subconscious searching for someone in this dream-like fictional world. I go to the extremes to search for even just a trace of them… through all of space and time, splitting every atom, ‘until Andromeda and the Milky Way collide’. I won’t give up. I can’t let go.” 

It’s strange – not to mention fundamentally disconcerting – to live through turbulent times. Yet as many feel like the world is slipping out of control, artists are enlivened as they seek to make sense of the shifting sands. Hazel Wilde of Lanterns on the Lake is now a songwriter necessarily emboldened. On Spook the Herd, the band’s fourth record, her voice and preoccupations rise to the fore like never before. In tandem, the band break new ground on a set of songs that are direct and crucial.

Wilde does nothing less than dive headlong into the existential crises of our times. Beginning with the record’s title – a pointed comment at the dangerously manipulative tactics of ideologues – its nine songs turn the microscope to issues including our hopelessly polarized politics, social media, addiction, grief and the climate crisis. 

The world is brought into focus, but Wilde’s style is not declarative. She also proves herself a songwriter possessed of a rare talent for finding the personal contours to contemporary issues, fully inhabiting them to make them real. Recorded as live where possible, the band’s natural touchstones of gauzy dream-pop and monumental post rock still float in the air, but listening to Lanterns on the Lake now feels like actually sitting in the corner of the room as they play. As guitarist and producer Paul Gregory says of approaching their fourth album, “There was a sense of release in terms of what kind of music we felt we could make. The idea of what kind of band you’re supposed to be really disappeared. It was great; you felt you could do whatever you like.”

Musically, this is a leaner Lanterns on the Lake – at times unusually stark. Their sound has been beautifully winnowed into something more pared back, urgent and direct – in keeping with Wilde’s messages – on an album loaded with songs marked by an arresting intimacy. “Swimming Lessons”, first teased as an in-progress idea on Instagram, is writhing and supple as Gregory’s arpeggiated guitar dovetails with Ol Ketteringham’s pulsating drumming and Wilde’s keening vocal. “Every Atom” rides on insistent beats which lay a bed for a warped and playfully robotic guitar line, while “Secrets and Medicine” weaves and lopes achingly, weaving its atmosphere from Spartan means: piano, celestial guitars and diminished brass.  

While Wilde pored over the bulk of the songs in isolation before the band developed and finessed them, Spook the Herd marks the first time the band has left their native Newcastle to record in a studio. Moving to Distant City studios in Yorkshire, where Joss Worthington engineered the album, shook up comfortable mindsets. Wilde admits: “We are a pretty insular band in how we work, and trusting other people enough to allow them to get involved is not always easy for us.” Yet once recording began, any trepidation was swept away. The band barrelled through sessions, finishing the record in just three weeks.

This uncovers the threads of a long-term musical understanding that Wilde, Gregory and Ketteringham share, and it’s invigorating to hear them regathered. Lanterns on the Lake, completed by bassist Bob Allan and viola player Angela Chan, have always known how to cannily manipulate texture and space. But rarely before have they captured such sheer presence. Stripping layers away, unearthing their essence, proves to be a new alchemy as their sound is writ large at its boldest.

Yet Wilde’s romantic streak is still the record’s beating heart. It can be a characteristically dark one, as in the obsessed narrator of “When it All Comes True”, or its counterpoint in the last-night-on-earth abandon of “Before They Excavate”. Mining emotion in our fractured times unearths an inescapable truth: despite our seemingly myriad differences, all we have is each other. It’s a hopeful beam of light shone into the darkness, and balances the cynicism and dread elsewhere. As stately drums thud and guitar feedback wails and roils and rises around her on closing track “A Fitting End”, Wilde sings – almost presciently – “What a die-for moment this turned out to be.” Spook the Herd contains many such moments to discover and savour. 

Lanterns On The Lake have announced an extensive UK tour for April next year. Full dates/ticket info listed here. Spook The Herd album artwork below…

The Low Anthem to reissue ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’

It’s been a decade since Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem released their breakout second LP Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The album trawled a sombre and indelible beauty from America’s troubled waters, and struck a deep chord with listeners. The band’s 2008 self-released version of the disc spread like wildfire via word-of-mouth audience response, eventually attracting the attention of Bella Union and Nonesuch Records. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was licensed, remastered, reissued and traveled the globe, sweeping the DIY minded Low Anthem along with it. From the ragtag house show hopping, MySpace friending, bar gigging circuits to the venerated stages of Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Newport Folk Festival, and the BBC.

“At first we were pushing the album out into the world, but then at some point we passed a threshold where the album took over, and started pulling us along on its ride,” the group’s co-founder Ben Knox Miller said. “Suddenly we were trying to keep up with it.”

A brief survey of late-2000s American popular culture offers no immediate clue as to why an earnest, and largely acoustic folk-rock album would so dramatically rise up from America’s underground – and perhaps no-one was more surprised by this than the band itself. “We definitely worked hard, and we had a lot of luck, but the response was overwhelming,” Miller observed.

To mark the album’s ten year anniversary, The Low Anthem are issuing a limited-edition vinyl pressing of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin via DINKED. Limited to 300 copies, each record will be encased in a unique screen printed jacket, pressed on to 180g White Vinyl.

To celebrate the reissue, The Low Anthem will be heading out on tour across the US and Europe in 2019, which will include a London show at the Union Chapel. UK/EU dates here.

Ten years on, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin still provides a captivating and emotionally resonant listening experience. Around the time of its initial release, Miller described the album as a treatise on “environmental decay,” “social de-evolution,” and “the death of morality.” One hardly needs to be reminded that these issues have significantly worsened in recent times.

“That record was about the sea levels rising, and the way blind power has programed our lives at the deepest levels,” Miller stated. “I was specifically thinking about Christianity and how it spreads algorithmically in the ‘survival of the fittest’ atmosphere of ideas, and how as Europe colonized the Americas, Christianity moved out like a virus into every crevice. It’s about the weaponization of morality.

” While there are flashes of rock and roll clamor spread throughout Oh My God, Charlie Darwin the record reaches its greatest power during the moments of quiet reflection and longing. There’s a haunting and plaintive hymn-like quality to much of the material here. “It’s bleak,” Miller suggested “but the songs have that homing quality of gospel music where there’s the sense that you’re out lost somewhere. You’re here on Earth but your home is somewhere else and that’s where you’re going. There’s that conflict in the record where it has no faith, but has that call home, or a call to somewhere else. It has a separatist, everything’s broken attitude.”

The album’s unique lyrical concerns and rustic musical soundtrack engaged audiences beyond the standard market of pop music consumption. “The Darwin record attracted a lot of strange characters. Sometimes people who were not really typical music fans,” Miller recalled. “More off the grid folks and doomsday preppers than your typical Bowery Presents show. Some of those early fans never forgave us when we started using The Facebook for marketing.”

The audience embrace of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin brought both possibilities and limitations. “That album gave a lot of people their first impression of us, and it became the thing that a lot of people wanted more of,” Miller offered. The Low Anthem distanced themselves from stories crediting the record for instigating a “folk revival” and Miller labored to push the band’s sound forward.

When listening back to the record now, Miller hears the rough edges of the group’s youthful urgency and inexperience. But he understands that those elements lend to the album’s appeal. “We were 21 and 22 at the time those songs were written,” Miller stated. “I hear us reaching for things that we don’t understand. Maybe something happens accidentally that way. When you hear a sound that a band is not really in control of yet sometimes that’s the magic. Like a horse that’s not broken. It’s there for a moment, then it cleaves and splits. It’s a picture you finish.”

As The Low Anthem continue to explore new sounds, the reissue of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin celebrates a step along that path. “In some ways the reissue is a bookend,” Miller reflected. “Our sound has changed. The people have changed. The people who haven’t changed have changed. For better and worse our success has been yolked to this group of songs. Ten years on we’re taking a moment to be grateful for that, and to revisit these songs — to see what’s still there. It also closes a chapter. Maybe something in this completes an idea. Maybe this clears the slate for the future.”

The Low Anthem’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin reissue will be released 29th November 2019 via Bella Union.

the innocence mission announce ‘See You Tomorrow…’

Love. Connection. Community. Understanding. Most of us experience these aspects through the prism of family and friends. But not everybody can turn those feelings into song, especially not with the beauty and sensitivity of Pennsylvania trio the innocence mission, fronted by Karen Peris and husband Don. Following their Bella Union album debut Sun On The Square, which won the band some of their best-ever reviews, they have made another exquisite and touching album, See You Tomorrow, due for release 17th January. A record steeped in awe and wonder, intense longing, sadness and joy; a rich sequence of songs that attempt to describe the essence of what makes us human. The band have shared a moving video for lead track “On Your Side”, created by Karen Peris, which beautifully weaves together her distinctive hand-drawn animation with striking black & white photography.

Sufjan Stevens, who has covered the innocence mission’s classic ‘Lakes Of Canada’, once called their music “moving and profound. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris’ lyrics is the economy of words, concrete nouns which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures.”

The band recorded See You Tomorrow in the Peris’ basement (and the dining room where the piano sits). Karen wrote and sang ten of the album’s eleven songs, and plays guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, electric bass, melodica, mellotron, and an old prototype strings sampler keyboard. Don contributes guitars, drums, vocal harmonies, and one lead vocal on his song ‘Mary Margaret In Mid-Air’. Fellow founder member Mike Bitts adds upright bass to four songs including ‘On Your Side’, the album’s first single.

Thematically, See You Tomorrow evolves from ‘Sun On The Square’, touching on the major changes that happen in the life of a family. Karen says, “Great love of course contains great anxiety, for the safety and health of the loved ones, for one’s own ability to be a good enough helper and companion, for the future. And the intense desire to hold the present moment of togetherness, at the very least to store it up in vivid detail, so that it can be not lost at all.” This desire can be felt in the song ‘Movie’, whose piano accompaniment echoes both the flickering of film and the unstoppable rush of time, and in ‘St. Francis and the Future’, which relates the tiny, perfect detail of a Jan Van Eyke painting to the human longing to hold off change, to keep it in the unflawed distance. Karen relates, “We were thrilled to come upon the painting ‘St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata’ long ago on a family day trip, and a kind attendant at the art museum gave our children a little magnifying glass to view it, and in the distance was a tiny city, birds in the sky, just barely visible. I’ve found in recent years that I was writing poems about that moment, but that the background of the painting had taken on a relation to the inevitable changes that I, as a mom, was mentally trying to hold off.”

Each successive innocence mission record marks the passing of time, and how we handle, and learn from, our experiences. “As time goes on I suppose we keep looking more toward connectedness, and feeling more gratitude though also more challenge about life, and wanting to find a language to define it somehow and wondering how others experience it,” says Karen. “The thought that these are universal concerns makes me feel more drawn to write songs, to join in a conversation, even though the conversation itself is sometimes about being at a loss for words.”

Two examples are ‘John As Well’ – “to crave knowing other people deeply, and being more truly known by someone” – and ‘At Lake Maureen’: wondering aloud about what the other person feels, for example the specific colours that they encounter in the natural world at a given moment, and how that combines with their emotions at the same moment.” The song contains one of Don’s favourite lyrics: “Make my soul come clean, a sail above Lake Maureen, sing into storms, sing into storms. This day is going.”

“There is a longing there to be transformed and a hopeful expectation that it is possible,” he explains. “I find joy, or a similar type of joy, in all of the songs,” he concludes. “A humble recognition of challenges and hardships, the acknowledgment and comfort in knowing that they are both personal and universal, and the expression of light and hope” – which is one way of summing up the perfect marriage of melody and words that is See You Tomorrow