A lonely, isolated closet.  Cables and wires.  The pulse of a drum machine.  “I’ve wanted to make heavy, loud music for a long time…” says John King.  The artist, like many artists, adapting to a new way of doing things; forced by the shutdown to improvise alone.  His frame hung over an electric guitar, his long hair casting shadows on the strings.  DIIV on one shoulder.  Chastity on the other.  Kurt Vile is in there somewhere as well.  “I didn’t have a concept…” he continues.  “…just sort of a gut feeling”.  It’s been a long, strange musical journey for King, taking him from Canton, Ohio to Mexico to the backwater town of Killbuck to a solitary bedroom closet where his newest project was born.  “I just murmured weird sounds into the microphone for hours on loop”.  He made an EP of music, one layer at a time, rocking out against the impeding chaos of a pandemic.  “Dealing with the brink of desperation,” is how King puts it.  The murmurs, the improvisation, the songs slowly took shape, while never sacrificing their looseness.  They move about, like sounds bottled in a lava lamp, fluid, wild and beautiful, straight from the bedroom closet.  His own private Shame Chamber.     

You can stream and purchase the EP here.

On a lonely patch of ground somewhere on the Kent campus lies the barely marked remains of Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed.  Smithson’s piece on entropy has seen its share of natural and unnatural processes since its inception in 1970, just weeks before the infamous shootings—fires, graffiti, time itself.  It is at this quiet mound of grass, under a grove of trees, that artist Matt Kurtz would return, over and over again, to reflect, to draw inspiration, to meditate on his own entropic life.  Just a few weeks ago, Kurtz released his first album of songs, simply titled 107, seemingly after the four short transitionary breaks of sound that segment the album.  The songs themselves—apocalyptic and beautiful—drift like tumbleweeds across plains of steel guitar, electric guitar solos, banjo strums and the artist’s own fragile voice, pleading to God, grappling with love, grappling with doubt, seeking to make sense of a planet rapidly eroding.  And in those one minute and seven second breaks, we hear the wisdom of children, the chirping of birds, a choir singing, a heart beating.  In those one minute and seven second breaks, we hear something close to an answer.    

Listen, download, purchase here.

 

hallowell

When the first Bifrost Arts record came out (Come O’ Spirit), one of its contributors, Joseph Pensak, released a B-side to the record called “Come Unto Me You Weary”.  As with the other Bifrost tunes, the simple hymn stood in vivid contrast to much of the “worship” music of its day.  It had a quiet melody, an unpredictable arrangement, and vocal performances that ache.

Some 10 years later, Pensak has enlisted a number of Vermont (and beyond) musicians, to help him expand on those initial Bifrost outpourings on his new record, Hallowell.  He draws inspiration both far and wide, from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, to ancient hymns, to REM and the Breeders.  These eccentricities fit well with the output of Great Comfort Records, founded by Lenny Smith and family (Danielson).  The Smiths have been recording and releasing gospel music that doesn’t fit the rigid framework of conventional worship music, looking instead to songs that emphasize melody and poetry over structure.  Hallowell fits nicely in this unique catalogue, as Pensak and his friends grapple with faith, with the unknown, with the weight of glory across 10 beautiful tunes.

Hallowell will be released on March 22.  You can purchase the album here and here.

horizon

A week or two ago, I attended a pre-release listening party for one of my favorite artists. Under the dim lights of Canton’s Deli Ohio restaurant, after hours, I scribbled a few thoughts down as Damien Jurado’s new record spun.  I added a few more later, the sound still lingering…

 

Gray skies over Canton. A whirling April snow. Red lights turn to green.

A voice is carried along on the reverb; a winding stream. It sinks into the wood grain.

Thomas Wolfe. Bruce Springsteen.

Otis Redding. Percy Faith.

Lost in America; stuck in the 70s.

Bob Dylan. Bill Fay.

The red of the exit sign. The hum of the cooler.

Leonard Cohen tells a crude joke.

Lazarus and resurrection. Jonah bouncing around Nineveh.

Old Testament fire. New Testament glory.

A life detached.  A glass darkly.

Charlie Brown on the streets of Laredo.

 

The horizon just laughed.

 

“The Horizon Just Laughed” will be released on May 4th.

como

They are Angelia Taylor, Della Daniels and Ester Mae Smith, two sisters and a childhood friend from Como, Mississippi.  It was in that small Southern town that these Como Mamas learned the old songs, their voices harmonizing and shouting through the warm air drifting through Mount Moriah Baptist Church. From Como to Brooklyn, they were discovered by Daptone Records, and after a powerful a cappella debut, they’re now backed by Daptone’s Glorifiers band for their second full length, Move Upstairs.  “Oh yeah!”, their voices call and respond. They are voices heavy like the blues, but triumphant and holy.  “Get ready! Get ready!” The Mamas are counting their blessings, one rocking, grooving gospel song at a time. They’re singing along to a bluesy organ, a righteous drum beat, a fiery electric guitar.  They’re shouting. They’re celebrating. They’re giving it their all. 99 and a half just won’t do.

Move Upstairs will be released on May 19 by Daptone Records. You can purchase the record here.