Austin Brown is one artist in Berlin that I admire a lot. He is someone who knows entirely what he is doing. Not just by the action, but by the intellectualization of it as well. When it comes to music, Austin can tell you everything from the difference between sine and square waves to the forces behind his favourite records. On the last EP of my band 케이프 you can hear Austin's self-built amplifiers coming to work.
This experience doesn't come from anywhere specific. At the age of five, Austin began playing violin and has been playing music ever since. The US-native used to play in more than 50 bands, most notably Why?, the Anticon hip hop rock outfit. In 1991, he began studying audio engineering and experimented with recording techniques for a long time. In the 2000s, he worked as a professional sound engineer in the states before moving to Berlin in 2008. Here, he made several records for local bands and worked in different venues; "My education was just trying out a bunch of bad ideas to see what might work."
The two new songs "Pendulum Swing" and "Collide" from his moniker High Heels are a demonstration of Austin's skills. We hear perfectly arranged dense rock music with a warm organic sound. Distorted lead vocals catch up with clouds of noise produced by guitar and powerful drums. The music has a great dry '90s vibe, reminding me a lot of Sonic Youth records from that time along with newer reverb drunken noise music like No Joy. With the two songs, Austin perfects the style of his older records out under the same name.
An important part of Austin's working process is to collaborate with other people. In the course of the last years, he has recorded with over 20 other musicians. These are people he worked with in studios or wanted to work with, but didn't have the chance to. For each musician Austin carefully picked the material knowing pretty well their individual playing styles. This way, he could compile the best parts together and add them to the songs the way he wanted without making compromises. "The results are fantastic. People do their best work, when they are doing whatever they want," he says.
Especially nowadays where everything primarily seems to be about style you don't come across many people who are real maîtres of their metier. Hanging with a perfectionist like Austin is always quite refreshing. It reminds you that dilettantism and irony, as interesting as they are, are not the only things that are cool.
Sea Change is Ellen A.W. Sundes’s musical project whose debut album, Breakage, is due out February 23rd. Based in Oslo, the musician recognizes her own shyness as an impetus for this project: “I've spent so much time being too shy to show people my music or even actually write finished songs because of my own self-censorship. This project is about letting go and just being comfortable in this space”. The record’s title, Breakage, refers to her own desire to break away from old to create a new environment for herself. "Squares" reflects the heart and sound of the debut record. Entering with breathy vocals and a stuttering beat, she sings of escaping the trappings which hold her back. It broods in its sparseness, as she vows that her “feet will run all they can”. "Squares", much like the album, drifts between a melancholic and a rising spirit. Sea Changes’ Breakage is the sound of an artist transcending the anxieties which restrain her creativity and discovering her own voice.
After a chance meeting in Oslo, French composer Romeo Poirier and Norwegian writer Lars Haga Raavand agreed to collaborate. The result - which chronicles the death of a whale and its ghostly descent to the Atlantic seabed - is intoxicating. Poirier's palette is vast: a swell of strings and electronics plunging fathoms deep amongst the clicks and whirrs of creatures unknown. Discordant, Copland-esque brass emerges, like some menacing flotsam. A mesmerising tow of piano chords recalls the disjointed harmonies of Jonny Greenwood or Murcof. Then, to cement the trance, Raavand lilts and enounces delicately, before he too is swallowed up. The sense of bereavement and grief is palpable. I find myself hanging on every word, despite not knowing what they mean. You can read more and purchase Raavand's book, Hvalfall, here. Also be sure to explore more of Poirier's music, which is produced under the nom de plume Swim Platførm.
Here's a weightless number from the previously unbeknownst to me Teresa Winter, bubbling up from a forthcoming tape on Reckno (and one of the first vocal-laden albums on the mighty label, if I'm not mistaken).
Bouncing forever down a hall of mirrors, Teresa's featherlight vocals and braided synth flutes echo Vashti Bunyan and Geoffrey Oryema. The chorus lands a hook where no hook should stay – hanging like a glow-worm amidst a multiverse of voices. Meltier still, the gorgeous coda takes devotional singing, distant brass and a cascade of Ravel-esque piano – over all too quickly.
Teresa Winter's album Oh Tina No Tina is out soon on Reckno. A little bird tells us some advance tapes will be available at the Peckham Independent Label Fair in London this Saturday - get down there!
The thing I love about someone like Scott Walker is how apparent his jarring experimentation is made by the fact that it's set against such a traditionally appealing voice. Walker is probably capable of making the most vile screed sound like a Gregorian lullabye, but he slaps it on top of some of the most uncomfortable music imaginable. Chicago's Rob Jacobs - who this post is actually about - works a similar angle from its opposite end. Jacobs' instrumentation has a lot in common with that of someone like Vashti Bunyan: it's soothing, intellectual folk music based around chord changes that skew slightly more towards awe-inspiring than obvious.
Jacobs' voice, on the other hand, is rather weird.
The result is a wonderful asymmetry between the celestial forest folk unwinding across the instruments and Jacobs' alien - though clearly practiced - ululations. Jacobs’ music has the feeling of a wonderfully ornate, brass-wrought antique which still serves some function in a contemporary setting (imagine, for example, if Leonardo DaVinci had invented a seven foot tall machine that performed all the same tasks as a MacBook Pro). Nowhere is the appeal of Jacobs' lilting, contemporary folk more apparent than on the beautiful “Golden Flower”, which you can listen to below.
Cascine's most singular release of 2014 for me was the first EP by the worldly Yumi Zouma. I ended up seeing them three times live last year and each time, they proved to be an act who were just as good or even better onstage as on record. And now in March, Cascine will put out the sequel of sorts, EP II, and going by the freshly arrived "Catastrophe," it sounds like this second EP will be just as magnetic. That same warmth that emanated from all the songs on their first EP is immediately present as soon as "Catastrophe" starts with lilting guitars that are the epitomy of gentle (sounding almost ukelele-like) and a fluctuating synth that sounds like the beginning of The Who's "Baby O'Riley." Following in the tradition of off-kilter Yumi Zouma videos (see those for "The Brae" and "A Long Walk Home For Parted Lovers"), the video for "Catastrophe" (done with BANGS) features an array of people in various settings seemingly passing out or falling asleep and it all seems to be masterminded by a girl typing intently on a computer. March 10th can't come soon enough!
On "Demon's Hand" Hannes Ferm updates the Cambridgeshire via faierie's dust charm of Syd Barrett for the Pitchfork set. Ferm - who records music as HOLY - betrays more than a bit of Real Estate's city-weariness, albeit skewing slightly closer to haunted forests than suburban swimming pools.
Ferm, who resides in Umea, Sweden, sings with the kind of British folk music innocence that masks satanic horrors in films like The Wicker Man and The Omen. The inmovability of the drums is offset nicely by the sparse, effects-free guitar and subtle whirl of a keyboard drone, which almost resembles a tin whistle. The highlight of the track is the squealing backing vocal.
It's great to hear guitar music that doesn't evaporate in the midst of aggressive reverb – where everything is laid bare. It's a brave way of presenting music, as it requires the artist to have full confidence in all of the parts they've laid down.
HOLY's debut album Stabs is out March 11 via PNKSLM Recordings and Ny Vag Records.
Lotic, who dwells in Berlin and is a recent subject of Bjørk's admiration, has put out "Heterocetera", the first track from his Tri Angle Records EP of the same name. It starts off with what sounds like violins being played at the speed of light, careening, peeling, and veering. Some glugging, rebounding, and clomping drums come into play to give "Heterocetera" a skip in its step, yet the unstoppable intital backdrop still lingers and prevails. At the end, all the components sag and wind down to a close as if they can't exert anymore.