Ezra Furman announces ‘Twelve Nudes’

Just a year and a half since the release of his critically acclaimed LP Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman returns with Twelve Nudes, yet another incendiary and inspiring classic from the singer/songwriter/guitarist/bandleader. The album will be released worldwide on 30th August via Bella Union and is available to pre-order here. To celebrate the release Furman has shared an animated video for the album’s lead track “Calm Down”, directed by Beth Jeans Houghton. Additionally, Furman has announced news of an extensive international touring schedule the dates of which are here.

“This is our punk record,” says Ezra Furman. “We made it in Oakland, quickly. We drank and smoked. Then we made the loud parts louder. I hurt my voice screaming. This was back in 2018, when things were bad in the world. The songs are naked with nothing to hide.”

Immediate proof is offered by ‘Calm Down’ (aka ‘I Should Not Be Alone’), the album’s insanely catchy opening track and lead single, bound up in a compact two minutes and 22 seconds.

“Desperate times make for desperate songs” says Furman. “I wrote this in the summer of 2018, a terrible time. It’s the sound of me struggling to admit that I’m not okay with the current state of human civilization, in which bad men crush us into submission. Once you admit how bad it feels to live in a broken society, you can start to resist it, and imagine a better one.” 

Furman’s preceding album, 2018’s Transangelic Exodus, was “an angry and fearful and pent-up reaction to events too,” he recalls. “But it was a carefully written and recorded version; we took a lot of time with edits and overdubs. I knew I wanted I make this album quickly and not spend time thinking how to play the songs. Twelve Nudes is a ‘body’ more than a ‘mind’ record – more animal than intellectual, And by affirming negativity, it gives you energy, to reject stuff. There’s more space for positivity.”

Far from being defeated by a world in turmoil, Furman’s productivity has only increased the worse things have got – and he’s taken up different disciplines to boot. Between Transangelic Exodus and Twelve Nudes, the 33⅓ imprint published his deeply personal, thoughtful and incisive book on Lou Reed’s legendary 1972 album “Transformer”, before Furman scored the soundtrack to Netflix’s acclaimed comedy Sex Education (it aired in January), which showcased the tender side of his songwriting.

But all his pent-up energy had to be channelled somewhere: hence Twelve Nudes, which Furman and band recorded in October and November 2018 before the album was mixed by the venerated producer John Congleton (Sharon van Etten, St Vincent, John Grant). Furman says the album has two spiritual heroes – the late great punk rock rocker Jay Reatard, and Canadian poet, philosopher and essayist Anne Carson. “She’s one of my top three living writers,” he says. “Anne had these visions, or meditations, to deal with the intense pain in her life, which she calls ‘nudes’, and similarly these songs are meditations on pain and recognising what’s there if you go digging around in your anger and fear and anxiety. So, my album is called Twelve Nudes.”

“The record is political,” says Furman, “but it offers an emotional reaction rather than being specific or partisan.” Furman’s Jewish identity shapes ‘Rated R Crusaders,’ triggered by the Israel/Palestine conflict and its complex web of refugee trauma. ‘Trauma’, meanwhile, seethes with the spiritual malaise brought on by watching wealthy bullies accused of sexual assault rise to power. America, Furman well knows, is balanced on a knife-edge between white male supremacy and the dream of universal opportunity; hence the references to Mexico, slaveowners and US ‘founding father’ Ben Franklin in ‘In America’. As Furman sings, reiterating the spirit of punk rock, and positivity, “Put it all in a two-minute pop song / A really-mean-it-a-lot song for America.

“One of my goals in making music is to make the world seem bigger, and life seem larger,” he concludes. “I want to be a force that tries to revive the human spirit rather than crush it, to open possibilities rather than close them down. Sometimes a passionate negativity is the best way to do that.”

Twelve Nudes will be released 30th August via Bella Union and is available to preorder here.

The Soft Cavalry share ‘Dive’ video

Having recently announced their self-titled debut album, The Soft Cavalry (husband/wife duo of Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive) today share the visuals for current single ‘Dive’.  Speaking of the track Steve Clarke describes his perpetual fear of being out of depth in the sea, “as long as my feet can touch the bottom and I can see what’s beneath me I’m OK, although the slightest feel of seaweed or a slippery rock sends my anxiety levels through the roof. I try to remind myself… to date… I’ve never been attacked by a shark. The song ‘Dive’ is about conquering fear and an acceptance that for every answer there’ll always be another question.

So… The Soft Cavalry. What is it? A happy accident? A lovers’ story? A crisis of faith? In reality, it’s all of these. 

For Steve Clarke, The Soft Cavalry’s self-titled debut album is equally a labour of love, and the first record he’s masterminded from start to finish, with invaluable contributions from his wife, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, on co-vocals and spiritual/practical guidance, and Steve’s brother Michael, who produced the record.

The band’s music is a particularly British brand of intense cinematic drama. Melodic and timeless, the album lands in the atmospheric dimensions between Pink Floyd, Talk Talk and R.E.M. A record radiating midlife crisis but equally enormous elation; a helix of fear and hope, aching for resolution. A record Steve emphasises that he “needed” to make.

The album is also a way of rewriting a man’s narrative, and proof that relative late bloomers (Steve was in his late 30s when he made the album) can make the record of their dreams.

In 2014, Steve was stuck. Divorced since 2011, the intervening three years had been, “a haze,” he admits. Since the late nineties he’d played bass and sung backing vocals in bands (both studio and live) and sessions, while also working as a tour-manager. His new assignees were reformed Home Counties faves Slowdive.

“I was hungover in the back of my van trying to work out how I was going to fit all the band’s gear into this confined space whilst I still had all of mine from the show that I’d played in London the night before,” he recalls. “The second of two sold-out shows at Hammersmith Apollo with David Brent!”

That was the day Steve was introduced to Rachel… A year later, they were living together in Devon, before marrying in 2018. Rachel not only, “turned my world upside-down,” but unwittingly provided, “the catalyst,” for The Soft Cavalry. “I’d always had ideas but never felt that anything I had to say was worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone my own,” he says. “I wish that I could have done this fifteen years ago but, in reality, I simply couldn’t have. But I’m not one to overly wallow. I’d rather plough the various levels of confusion into songs.”

The Soft Cavalry is equally an exercise in creative and personal therapy. The first songs Steve wrote for the album were less about confusion than Rachel-inspired paeans to fate, love, new beginnings: ‘Passerby’ (“Waters break and we are born restlessly into the arms of this unknown”), with Rachel’s gorgeous lead vocal underlining the arrangement’s Slowdive-adjacent ethereality, and ‘Spiders’ (“strand of woven thread / Could be the start of something beautiful?”), a starker, shivery ballad with a feeling of suspended animation. But as Steve opened up, the past began to seep in; years of frustration, anxiety and confusion.

If the album has a theme, reckons Steve, “it’s recovery versus new doubt. I’m there, in the middle. The word that kept coming back to me was ‘resilience’. With the right mentality and people around you, especially family, we get through, and find a level of hope.”

The Soft Cavalry became something of a conversation, even couple’s therapy. Steve, says Rachel, “is always writing, his head always full of lyrics.” Rachel, says Steve, “reins me in when I get obsessed. She’s a good editor. She says my songs can still work without sections of words, that leaving spaces is OK.”

As Steve assembled songs, his invited friends – keyboardist Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev, Midlake), guitarist Tom Livermore, drummer Stuart Wilkinson and multi-instrumentalist/album producer Michael – helped mould the record’s breathtaking sonics. Says Steve, “I’d grown up with guitar bands and I didn’t want it to be overly guitar-y. We evolved things by trying out ideas. We’d build things up, and then strip them back, and build them again.”

As the album progressed, Rachel formed Minor Victories in 2016 while Slowdive had a gap in the schedule, alongside similarly holidaying members of Mogwai and Editors, for a self-titled album that she and Steve contributed vocal melodies and lyrics to:it got the cogs turning on a writing and lyrical level, and gave me a certain amount of self-belief,” he says.

After he and Rachel finished their album, Steve found a name for it, out of thin air: The Soft Cavalry. “I can’t explain its literal meaning,” he says. “It just made sense.” Might Rachel be the cavalry? “Maybe! It would be subconscious, but that makes sense too, strangely.”

So, this happy accident, lovers’ story, crisis of faith, labour of love and therapy session is set to continue – Steve’s already got the next installment written, titled The Lost Decade. Lost versus found. Recovery versus self-doubt. The Soft Cavalry has arrived.

The Soft Cavalry will be released 5th July via Bella Union.

Happy Release Day Doomsquad

Today at Bella Union we are celebrating the release of Doomsquad’s second full length album. Dance your hearts out to the new album ‘Let Yourself Be Seen’ all weekend long and catch them live on tour this month.

Even this far into the 21st century, the recent social media furore surrounding US congresswoman and free-style dancer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez illustrated that the spectacle of someone dancing without compunction can still ruffle the right (and alt-right) feathers. In which case, all hail the third album from Toronto’s ardent, art-dance sibling trio DOOMSQUAD. Due for release on Bella Union on May 10th, Let Yourself Be Seen is the most assertive, ambitious, groove-sodden declaration of intent yet from Trevor, Jaclyn and Allie Blumas: the sound of dance floor believers and thinkers firing on all personal and political fronts, at a time when we need it most.

Even if DOOMSQUAD never lacked the courage of their convictions, Let Yourself Be Seen ups the stakes. On 2016’s Total Time, the trio issued invitations to free your mind, body and spirit over dirty bass-lines and hypnotic disco jams. And yet, their reliance on unspoken sibling intuition left them fearing that much of its “message and meaning” had gone unheard. Thus, the trio took a more forthright approach for their third album, aiming to “crystallise what DOOMSQUAD is and what it means to us. What we always knew but put at the forefront of this record is that DOOMSQUAD is a project of protest, catharsis and emotional and spiritual reconnection through music and, especially, through dance-music culture. It’s about activating the body on the most fundamental level, into states of change, release and reunion.”

Richly steeped in the influences of acid house, West African disco, spiritual jazz, NYC no-wave and new-age ambient music, Let Yourself Be Seen hums with a sense of vigorous, invigorating purpose. After the overture of ‘Spandrel’, ‘The General Hum’ sends out a buoyant new-wave rallying cry for maximised engagement just when the world seems intent on stifling it. “Is there a place for spirit anymore?” it asks. Kicking in with a percussive bustle that all but defies you to try and stand still, ‘Aimless’ answers in the affirmative.

Elsewhere on the album, DOOMSQUAD’s own dynamic thematic engagement alights on subjects ranging from formative influences to modern societal struggles and eco-crises. ‘Let It Go’ grapples with the challenges of social change at 140BPM, climaxing with a scalding guitar solo to match the heat of its questioning thrust. The mellifluous ‘Emma’ reflects on early-20th-century anarchist and activist Emma Goldman; ‘Dorian’s Closet’, meanwhile, honours New York drag queen Dorian Corey. “Let Yourself Be Seen was fuelled by the inspiration of outsider artists and thinkers before us,” say the band. “Through these songs, we get to glorify some of our heroes.”

DOOMSQUAD’S intent to carry their heroes’ “messages of empowerment, release and spiritual self-determination” to new audiences peaks on the title-track, where the album’s disparate parts build to a disco inferno with a call to “Let yourself be seen!” “The Last Two Palm Trees in LA” offers an empathetic take on a similar theme, based on the acceptance of ageing, before “Weather Patterns” steers a reflection on unity in the face of global crisis to a buffeting crescendo with a thrilling urgency.

The result is an album for fraught political times, charged by the impetus to bring “music back to the body”. Close-to-home influences on that score include Tanya Tagaq and Peaches, both of whom DOOMSQUAD have toured with; further afield, Peter Gabriel, Diamanda Galás, Genesis P-Orridge and Underworld numbered among inspirations. Meanwhile, as the trio’s creative process took them from a lakeside cabin to a studio in Toronto, they benefited from the input of kindred spirits such as Ejji Smith, whose virtuoso guitar-shredding propels ‘Let It Go’. Israeli jazz composer Itamar Erez adds watery synths to ‘Emma’, while a key studio collaborator was producer/artist Sandro Perri, whose credits include Barzin.

As for the future, DOOMSQUAD will soon take Let Yourself Be Seen to the live stage, an environment in which their convictions blaze with exhilarating life. “The dancefloor is our temple – the idea of the dancefloor as a utopian/protest space is the exact belief we carry with us. As much as we love making records, we love performing. The music we make is meant to be heard on a large sound-system. As performers, we are fuelled by the need to be in a live atmosphere.” And thrive in the live atmosphere they will, dates slated both in the US for SXSW and also a run of dates in Europe in May.

And if that need inspires others to voice their shared beliefs, such is DOOMSQUAD’s hope. “People change, ideas grow,” the band say. “And entropy is all around us. The fear that lies in the hearts of the elite patriarchy will soon die off, and the rest of us will be working together to repair what’s broken. And that is worth every bit of positive energy.” An album that honours its forebears by reaching towards a future worth fighting for, worth dancing for, Let Yourself Be Seen has positive energy in bright, sparking, forward-thinking abundance.

The Unlimited Dream Company to be released 17th May

“This time we would merge with the trees and the flowers, with the dust and the stones, with the whole of the mineral world, happily dissolving ourselves in the sea of light that formed the universe, itself reborn from the souls of the living who have happily returned themselves to its heart.” JG Ballard

Bella Union are pleased to announce the release of The Unlimited Dream Company, an original soundtrack, composed by Steven Dove, for the JG Ballard novel of the same name. Taking inspiration from film compostition, Dove (of Psychic Markers) has interpreted the book as so, using characters and chapters to define the musical arrangements. According to Dove, “a film adaptation did not need to exist when the book was already so visually rich.” Listen to the very dreamy ‘Blake III’ ahead of the album’s release on May 17th below…

Musically the soundtrack takes influence from contemporary film and television composers like Geoff Barrow (Annihilation, Black Mirror), Michael Nyman (A Zed And Two Noughts) and the late Johann Johannsson (Mandy). Written and recorded in Dove’s London studio, The Unlimited Dream Company features fuzzy, blissed out arpeggiators and analog synthesizers alongside melancholic piano melodies and soundscapes. Dove adds that, “by restricting myself to a select choice of instruments and recording techniques, I could build a cohesive and hopefully beautiful world – sonically speaking – for the book to live in. Conceptually it would only work this way.”

Having spent 2018 releasing an album and touring with his band Psychic Markers, this is the first solo outing from Steven Dove and is a project that he wishes to expand on. “Breathing new life into something you love, be it a book or a painting is extremely rewarding and my dream has always been to compose music for film. To me this was the next logical step. 

The Unlimited Dream Company will be released 17th May via Bella Union.

Baloji releases debut film Kaniama Show

Congolese-born, Belgium-based artist Baloji today shared the powerful short film Kaniama Show, premiered with OkayAfrica. The fictional satire about collusion of state and media powers in the form of a Soul Train-esque show has already received numerous awards at festivals – it coincides with the release of his album Kaniama: The Yellow Version, out today on Bella Union. Baloji discussed the album and more on NPR’s Weekend Edition this past Saturday here.

This follows Baloji’s previous singles “L’hiver Indien” (ft. Gael Faye), “Spotlight & Miroir” (ft. Marshall Dixon & Poison Mobutu) and short film “Zombies” that premiered via NOWNESS. The original tracks come from Baloji’s previous album 137 Avenue Kaniama, released last year on Bella Union (Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Father John Misty). The label is re-releasing the album as the artist originally intended it, as a one-track mixtape. In a world of fleeting singles, Kaniama: The Yellow Version brings back the full album listening experience.

Baloji is an artist in motion, a musician, poet, film director and man of many images and ideas. Baloji means “man of science” in Swahili, but shifted during the colonial period to “man of the occult sciences and sorcery.” With influences from Outkast and LCD Soundsystem to African rumba king Tabu Ley Rochereau and salsa music legends Fania Records, he mixes hip hop culture with Congolese guitars and a melodic approach with some French chanson structure. His perpetual motion is showcased in music videos like “Soleil De Volt,” where he fronts a satirical variety show band with flamboyant flare, also apparent in his sharp curation of Komono eyewear collections.

As a teenager, Baloji started his first rap collective, Starflam, and released his first solo album in 2008, Hotel Impala, conceived as a reply to a letter he received from his mother after a 25-year absence. 137 Kaniama Avenue is an extension of a story set in motion on that album. Baloji explains, “It’s the anchoring point of a trajectory marked by my intrinsic attachment to the country as much as by my remoteness from it. A geographic and symbolic distance, which gives me perspective, and inspiration.”

Award-winning novelist and poet Alain Mabanckou (Prix Renaudot, Man Booker International finalist) described the album as “a patchwork universe, rich in words, parables, a universe of stories, poetry in motion, which points a finger at the failings of our societies, now ravaged by collateral damage from globalisation. Baloji, with his legendary flamboyance, offers an artist-witness’s response to his era. Now it’s up to us to inhabit this space where freedom takes the form of art!”

Baloji will soon embark on an international tour, as well – dates here.

Happy Release Day Hilang Child

Having released his debut album in the summer of 2018, Hilang Child, the pseudonym of London-based singer-songwriter and soundscape-ist Ed Riman, has today released a follow up EP titled Stripped.Rebuilt. The EP features stripped back and reworked versions of songs previously released on Riman’s debut Years as well as an updated version of his first single ‘Chaturanga’.

‘Chaturanga Rebuilt’ is a new version of the first song I ever wrote. In the years after writing it I initially pushed it aside as I grew into my craft a little more; I had never really been satisfied with the original and felt it didn’t represent what my music had gone on to become. But last year I finally made the decision to revisit it, re-learn it and in the summer of 2018 my band and I played it live for the first time in years. Suddenly I finally ‘got’ it and decided I had to re-record it the way it should have sounded in the first place, now that I have the voice, ability and ear to be able to do it the justice it didn’t get back in 2012/13.

As for the ‘stripped’ songs on the EP; at the end of 2018, during Iceland Airwaves I reworked my single ‘Crow’ for just piano and voice for a live broadcast, straight-to-vinyl show at Studio Hljódriti hosted by Ásgeir. The general realisation from doing so was that getting away from all the ambience, electronics, drums and atmospheres was just as exciting for me, allowing my songwriting to breathe a little more. So we recorded these live intimate, stripped down versions of 3 songs from my debut album, hopefully putting fresh life into them and showing them in a new light.”

See Hilang Child on tour this Spring:

Friday 10th May – BRIGHTON – St. Nicholas Church
Saturday 11th May – BRIGHTON – Hotel Pelirocco
Thursday 20th June – LONDON – St. Pancras Old Church
Saturday 6th July – NEWCASTLE – Bobik’s
Monday 8th July – LEEDS – Hyde Park Book Club