Merge Records CD MRG465 – Time: About 54 minutes
Tracks: 1) Country Illusion, 2) The Geography Of Nowhere, 3) Cadillac Desert, 4) We Can’t Go Home Again, 5) A Portrait Of Sarah, 6) Hotel Catatonia, 7) The Last Residents Of Westfall, 8) The World Set Free
I posit that William Tyler is a thinker, and is perhaps more comfortable expressing himself with music than with words (although his spoken thoughts on the Merge teaser video have a distinct and interesting clarity). Tyler has worked in a number of bands prior to his solo albums including the Silver Jews, the ongoing experimental collective Hands Off Cuba and Lambchop (in addition to his record label, Sebastian Speaks). Tyler’s work brings a wide range of colors and moods to Lambchop’s sound, where he has been a principal guitarist for many years. Impossible Truth seems to me to be a more cohesive and mature work than his last solo album on the Tompkins Square label, Behold The Spirit. Nonetheless, I urge readers to seek out this very strong album.
The titles of the tracks on this album are like the names of short stories, and from the moment the cord is pulled on the first note of a track we are thrust right into the middle of the scene, without shyness or any lack of confidence. It almost feels like Tyler propels a well-worn yet vibrant flywheel at the start of each piece, and from that moment he is shaping and sculpting the sound and mood until the story is told.
Country Of Illusion starts mysteriously and sounding rather exotic (as if from a foreign land, sitar-like). There are sweeping passages envisioning a changing scene and then there are pauses (almost like a moment of contemplation) before moving through a sonic curtain and then the next passage of the tale. Some tracks show a greater tenderness (with solo acoustic guitar) than others like We Can’t Go Home Again or A Portrait Of Sarah (although musically the latter is quite adventurous, as are many relationships). The Geography Of Nowhere has a resonant otherness of being on the edge of consciousness and sensing the tangible without being able to actually reach it. There are others like Cadillac Desert and Hotel Catatonia that present vistas as broad and intense as a Montana sky (and I never knew what a big sky looked like until I saw one). The fretwork, picking and phrasing are tracing the landscapes and wrapping the listener in the gentle or gusty breezes of sound.
The Last Residents Of Westfall sounds like a scene from a dying or deserted town as the music pans to each of the buildings in the village, all with their own story to tell, some jaunty and others subdued. The closing track of the album, The World Set Free is the most reflective, but it enlivens joyfully as the track progresses—the acoustic bass being a steady and forthright heartbeat, and finally William Tyler releases to a growling close. I am trying to resist comparisons, but the opening section is similar to the instrumental sections of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
Tyler disguises his guitars as many different instruments, and his musicianship and intense fingerings give a sense that more than one set of hands is at work, yet there is never a sense of Tyler playing a guitar hero—my guess is that he sees himself as quite the opposite. Just like Lambchop, William Tyler blurs the distinction of musical genres; first this is an instrumental acoustic and electric guitar album, there are hints of twang, country and roots in it, but also some blues, folk and rock and roll. Merge Records has a wide ranging catalog of musicians and has been around for more than two decades. I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed their biography of the first twenty years of Merge, Our Noise. Even though William Tyler has been part of the Merge family for many years in his work with Lambchop, I’m thrilled that he has released this latest brilliant solo album with Merge. This is an album that I highly recommend.
Merge Records just posted this reinterpretation (homage?) to the film Two Lane Blacktop with A Portrait of Sarah as the soundtrack.
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Hibernate Recordings – HB43: Time: 41:27 – Edition of 250 – Cover photo by Chris Gowers
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More background information on the album: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/caught-in-the-wake-forever-against-a-simple-wooden-cross/
1) Scottish Grief; 2) The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes; 3) Waiting Rooms & Chemists; 4) After The Blackout; 5) Western Medicine Failed Me; 6) Last Of The Heroin; 7) Point Sands
Caught In The Wake Forever is the nom de plume of Fraser McGowan, who lives in Paisley, Scotland where he composes and records his works at home. McGowan has been recording music in various incarnations since 1998. I recently became acquainted with CITWF’s work through a Hibernate Recordings collaboration with Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), entitled The Slow Manipulation Of Dying Light (now sold out, but digital files are still available for download). And so, I started to dig further…
McGowan’s latest album, Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a surprisingly open and stark account of his recovery from a lifelong affliction with chronic anxiety, and ultimately a complete mental breakdown in 2011. As is often the case, the crash was not only debilitating to him, but also to family and friends (and I suspect the title of the album is a reaction to those who don’t often understand all the circumstances; a feeling of guilt that can also hinder recovery).
Despair and melancholy permeate this album. Recordings vary from a six month period when McGowan was heavily medicated to a time when more effective alternate methods of treatment were found. As a result those pieces are more hopeful as resolve and clarity develop. There is also an ancient and timeless quality to the album (similar to Cock and Swan’s album Stash and other works by Sparklehorse AKA Mark Linkous…oh, I miss ML). In this case, it is the concept that recovery takes time, time for a worthwhile cause—rebuilding a life worth saving, on one’s own terms.
I am also attracted to this album in a similar way that I admire self-examination in the works of East River Pipe (F. M. Cornog); although the songwriting and atmospheric approaches are quite different. In particular, the stark simplicity of penultimate song on the album, Last Of The Heroin. Not being fully aware of all the circumstances (and not wanting to speculate blindly), I have made some notes on some of the tracks, but I think that some interpretation is best left to the individual listener.
Scottish Grief opens with field recordings from a holiday before his breakdown. As the tragic nature of the events is revealed, the piece transforms into a dirge. Conflict grows represented by increasing dissonance and ultimately a shredding electric guitar. Despite dealing with conflicting feelings and thoughts, there is a determination to keep moving and not give up, even at this early stage. The track builds in layers slowly, perhaps symbolic of the pace of treatment, and closes with an excerpt from (what appears to be) a demo where it is evident that hopelessness still weighs heavily.
The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes opens with a simple rhythm and acoustic guitar, where re-building a life begins. The struggles are evident: “It’s hard to keep a light on…” Eventually, piano and keyboards layer with McGowan’s almost-whispered vocals and a chorus of a Gizmo-like (bowed) electric guitar. Waiting Rooms & Chemists is atmospheric with acoustic guitar, and the feeling of endless waiting and being alone. After The Blackout starts with melodic rhythmic blips and then blends acoustic guitar and vocals. The track is reminiscent of Recorded With You In Mind (from the 2011 EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home**). Western Medicine Failed Me is instrumental, with acoustic guitar and a veil of electric guitar reminiscent of Frippertronics in Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure (that which simmers below the surface).
Point Sands closes the album, and it appears to look back on the beginning of the journey to getting well, and as I understand it, the title of this track is taken from the location heard in the field recordings in Scottish Grief; a pleasant memory perhaps held onto and another piece of the journey back. Some might feel that this album goes too far into the abyss of despair and is too personal, but it is also the case that music such as this occupies a space that seldom gets explored, or even understood, as it is often hushed with whispers.
**Recorded With You In Mind from the EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home:
This is a solicited review.
Merge Records – mrg342 – CD – Released 2011 – http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/eastrp
Track Listing: 1) Backroom Deals; 2) Cold Ground; 3) Payback Time; 4) Summer Boy; 5) I Don’t Care About Your Blue Wings; 6) Tommy Made a Movie; 7) The Flames Are Coming Back; 8) When You Were Doing Cocaine; 9) Conman; 10) Three Ships
I don’t recall the publication, but I certainly remember the moment and it marked a turning point for me—I was ready for something different, musically. Much of the music I had been listening to, at the time, was from larger commercial record labels with corporate directors and production teams, where artists rarely could steer their music in a direction of their own making. As much as I admire well-produced, engineered and recorded works of all sorts, the review I was reading in the late 1990s intrigued me enough to find a copy of East River Pipe’s “The Gasoline Age”.
East River Pipe is F.M. Cornog (aka, Fred) and his early adult years were apparently rather dark and mired with substance abuse and a brief encounter with homelessness. Eventually, with the assistance of a woman named Barbara Powers, F.M. recovered and she helped him acquire recording equipment to write songs. Years later, F.M. would marry Ms. Powers.
F.M. does not play live, or tour and he records alone, initially in his bedroom and now in a compact home-studio. He has a small and devoted fan base. His equipment is mostly low-tech (at first a 4 track portable) and though he has updated to digital recording his set-up remains simple. He writes his own material, plays the instruments, sings, produces, records and determines the direction of his own artistic expression. As far as I have read, his label Merge Records lets him do what he wants with his work and material is released on no particular schedule except when F.M. says the work is ready. I admit that for some, his music will be an acquired taste, but he writes on subjects that often cut right to the bone with reality. Artists such as Lambchop, David Byrne, The Mountain Goats and Okkervil River have covered his songs.
F.M. tells stories; some are stark, tragic and perhaps echo aspects of his own past. He also captures a mood and its color with a remarkable depth that belies the simplicity of a given song. Many of his songs are short, some seem like hooks or choruses without verses like “Wholesale Lies” from “The Gasoline Age”. In many ways, Fred writes with a clarity and sharpness as Ernest Hemingway wrote. What one hears in the words, melodies and instrumentation is all that’s needed to express the thought, nothing else.
After “The Gasoline Age”, I purchased his earlier works “Mel”, “Poor Fricky” and the compilation of his early cassette tape releases “Shining Hours in a Can”. Then to his subsequent releases “Garbageheads on Endless Stun” and the rather dark “What Are You On?” Cornog songs can be sardonic and even political and often (I think) there’s irony in the upbeat tone of the music as a sharp contrast to the dark subjects of the lyrics like with the opening track of “Where Does All The Money Go?” on “Garbageheads…”
Married and now with a young daughter and a day-job at Home Depot, Cornog’s releases are less frequent (5 years since his last), but his songs are still keen yet with slightly more atmospheric arrangements. The songs on “We Live In Rented Rooms” observe human conditions, provide social commentary, defend the defenseless and for some dream about what is likely unattainable. Some might think the subjects are a downer, but in many of the songs there are glimmers of hope in a verse, a chorus or a catchy melody. They are the kind of songs that can make one stop and think about one’s own situation.
I suppose that one might have to be in a certain frame of mind for listening to this album. “Backroom Deals” opens the album is a piece about the annoying realities of making it through a workday for many. Despite the melancholy of the languid almost defeated rhythm of the piece it’s punctuated deftly with guitar and electric piano to make it to quitting-time. “Summer Boy” is possibly the reality of a local who watches the comings and goings of tourists and at the end of the season, being the one who is forgotten. “The Flames Are Coming Back” is of one who is trying to turn a life around and the struggle to keep things together for a family. “When You Were Doing Cocaine” gets right to it with the shock of a corrupted life affecting others and the piece is sewn together with an almost lullaby of a melody and the dreamy irony of a chorus that beckons for a better place.
In the music business today, many artists demand to be seen and heard, but F.M. Cornog as East River Pipe, true to himself, quietly sings of those who exist below the din of a world flashing by.
This review appeared in the January 2012 Issue of Affordable Audio: http://www.affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html
My latest music review is here at Affordable Audio (scroll to the bottom of the page): http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html