This is not the first time we have featured Mt. Judge (aka London-based Tom White) here at Wake the Deaf. We were big fans of his 2013 album Time Machines (which was released on The Adult Teeth Recording Company), and featured Not Always on our list of 2012’s best free music.
This new EP, entitled Lights, is a continuation of the sound we have come to associate with Mt Judge. White creates an otherworldly ambience, influenced by acts such as Emeralds and Stars of the Lid. The music is also complimented by several field recordings which White made himself on a trip to Iceland, taken at Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, and around Mt. Akrafjall, which I believe is just across the bay. Iceland has a reputation for being natural and ethereal and Lights does little to correct this, channelling the warm beauty of bands like Sigur Rós to create gorgeous, breathing soundscapes. Perfect for putting on your headphones and watching the world go by.
Lights is available on cassette tape or as a pay-what-you want download from the Mt. Judge bandcamp page.
Welcome to a new, regular feature here at Wake the Deaf. Once a month we’ll take a look at an album from the past that has had an effect on one of us. Usually it’ll be a firm favourite: an album that we’ve loved and repeatedly come back to. Sometimes it’ll be a record that reminds us of a certain time or place, or an album that we wouldn’t typically write about here.
We spend so much of our time listening to new music that we sometimes forget the sheer volume of music that already exists and that has remained largely ignored. We hope to jog your memory, maybe introduce you to something old and to share with you the music that shaped what we listen to today.
On the 16th of March 2013, Jason Molina passed away aged just 39. The outpouring of grief and sorrow upon his death was quite unbelievable, and in the eighteen months since, his loyal fanbase have penned some incredible tributes (such as this piece by Tom Johnson of Gold Flake Paint and this one by Max Blau for the Chicago Reader). I’m not going to write a tribute to the man himself, or even comment on his enduring legacy in contemporary music, mainly because that has already been done by people with a lot more authority on the subject than myself. But when I was asked to write a post about music that was not “new”, there was only really one choice.
So my plan is to write about some of my favourite of Molina’s songs in the hope of inspiring you to delve deeper into his back-catalogue yourself.
Orchid Tapes has developed a reputation as the record label for ambient-laced bedroom pop acts (see some of their artists we’ve covered in the past). The blurb on their website describes how they are “two friends with an shared interest in the creation and curation of music and artwork that breaks free of the established norm, disregards trends, reflects the dedication of it’s creator and provokes a strong emotional resonance within whoever experiences it.” Foxes in Fiction is Warren Hildebrand, one half of the Orchid Tapes founding team (alongside Brian Vu). It’s perhaps unsurprising then that his music ticks the same boxes as the OT mission statement above.
Borne out of tragic loss, both of Hildebrand’s younger brother and also a dear friend of his in the aftermath, Ontario Gothic is a very personal, intimate record. But it is not intimate in the traditional sense of explicit heart-on-sleeve lyrics and sparse instrumentation. These are essentially pop songs, in which the listener finds strange, dream-like versions of themselves amongst the layers of ambience. The songs are like a thick layer of smoky fog that drifts and swirls on the currents of Hildebrand’s grief and isolation. Owen Pallett’s strings help create a soothing, spectral sound that has a certain viscosity, conveying the feeling that if you gave it your complete trust and leaned back it would support your weight.
From start to finish the album takes a blend of nostalgia and grief and spins it into something not only beautiful but genuinely comforting. The result is akin to being totally alone in an old dark cathedral that smells of damp and dust and old incense but has the most vivid stained-glass windows and it’s very early in the morning and the sun is just that moment rising to send it’s gentle rays through them.
Orchid Tapes did release an LP, but that’s already sold out. If you really want it then pester them and perhaps they’ll do another pressing.
The track fuses electronics with live instrumentation to create a dreamy, otherworldly sound. This is accenuated by lead singer Tessa Bolsover’s haunting vocals. In an email Bolsover told us that ‘Beacon’ “moves between vulnerability and confrontation. It’s not the start of a fire but the realization of one.” As the title suggests, the song burns bright and slow, like a smoky ball of incandescence above the Californian desert that the band call home.
A few months back we featured a double A-side single from San Francisco-based folk/country artist M. Lockwood Porter. Now he has just released his second full-length album, 27, and we feel compelled to tell you about it (it’s really good).
The album opens with ‘I Know You’re Gonna Leave Me’, which starts as what appears to be a peppy little folk/country song. But some sudden electric guitars kick things up a notch and by the end the thing is a fully-fledged rock song, with crashing drums and Porter’s repeated cry of “I know you’re gonna leave me all alone!”
Next up is a country-folk ode to Chris Bell of Big Star, whose death in 1978 led him to become another member of the so-called “27 Club”, a group of famous musicians (including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix) who have died at the tender age of twenty seven. Porter himself has now reached that fabled age, and so decided to base his album on this troubling idea, using it as a springboard to explore topics such as mortality, legacy and coming-of-age in the modern world.
Another stand-out is ‘Mountains’ which stands tall and indomitable at the album’s centre, opening with a repetitive percussive thump and sober pianos and some gentle acoustic guitar. This is a proper folk-rock ballad, epic in scope and romantically reflective in outlook. The song addresses religion and faith and what happens when you get to a point where neither offers much solace. “When I was young my father said that faith could move a mountain / Now there’s mountains as far as I can see,” he sings at the start, before defiantly insisting at the close, “And as I stare across the vast expanse I can hear my father shouting / The mountains are all that I can see.”
The real triumph of the album is the way in which Porter inhabits a range of genres and seems entirely comfortable in each. He has shown himself adept at playing the rock & roll star, country singer and folk troubadour, all in the space of a single album. Best of all, it works. Not a single track feels out of place or shoehorned in for effect. Fans of Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Wilco and even Springsteen will doubtless also be fans of this.
Oquoa - S/T
We have followed Max Holmquist’s career with some admiration, first as South of Lincoln and then Great American Desert (which we wrote about here). Holmquist is now in a band called Oquoa and they have made their album available for free. Their sound is somewhere between Water Liars and Hip Hatchet, a restrained folky rock which has darkness and grief lurking just beneath the surface. Check out ‘Cigarettes’ below.
You can download the album for free here.
A Singer of Songs - From Hello to Goodbye
Barcelona-based folkster A Singer of Songs is back with From Hello to Goodbye, another album chock full of lovely lo-fi tunes recorded in his home studio. Some tracks are delicate (‘Sand in my Shoes’), some are a little more rambunctious (such as opener ‘Another Way of Saying Hello’), and all seem to have the curious sensation of being between times, as small moments of the past are opening up in the present. Maybe it’s the use of violins, trumpets and pianos or the slightly European street music vibe on tracks like ‘I’ll Follow You’. Maybe it’s just the cartographic artwork.
Steve Palmer - Unblinking Sun
Steve Palmer is a ”Fahey nut and guitar obsessive” who has taken lessons from American Primitivism legend Peter Lang. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Palmer makes guitar driven instrumental music that combines the finger-picking of traditional US folk with more modern sounds of drone and krautrock. The result is a collection of long, complex acoustic songs peppered with ambient and psychedelic flourishes that lend a whole jazzy improvisation feel to things.
Unblinking Sun is being released by Dying for Bad Music.
Ezkiel - A New Mask
Ezkiel is Louis Monroe from New Orleans. A New Mask is his debut release and presents four dark and cinematic folk songs which explore the themes of change and rebirth. The EP was developed almost by accident, as part of a music production class that Monroe was taking at university. Monroe himself was required to production on a singer-songwriter record, but the recording artist pulled out last minute. This forced Monroe himself to record something and A New Mask was the end result. The tracks were recorded at home and have that intimate bedroom pop vibe which I really like. Grab it now via the Ezkiel Bandcamp page.
Charlie Rayne - Wider Waters
Last but not least is Wider Waters, a brilliant album by Beirut-based Charlie Rayne. Rayne makes glorious Dylan-style folk songs which twist and turn with a remarkable lyrical flow. The focus is very much on Rayne’s passionate deliver and the stories held within, the bare bones guitars providing the perfect counterbalance. If Sweden were to stake a claim on Bob Dylan reincarnate with Kristian Mattson, then I think we have to say that Beirut now have themselves a real rival. Get it via Bandcamp.
The Four Immeasurable Minds is the seventh full-length from Dallas-based songwriter/composer David Karsten Daniels. The title refers to a collection of Buddhist virtues and each track is named after one of these so-called “sublime attitudes - Love, Equanimity, Joy and Compassion. The album has a decidedly meditative quality, utilising droning guitars, looped church organs, wooden flutes and vague, wordless vocals to offer respite form what Daniels refers to as “an increasingly busy and anxious modern world.”
Each song on the album bleeds into its neighbours and, interestingly, the end of the last song runs into the start of the first one, meaning the whole thing forms a continuous loop. The cyclical nature of the album adds to its ruminant nature. Daniels says that the listener could begin to experience time as a cyclical phenomenon, or even percept a deceleration, or even comlplete halting of time. This reflects Daniels’s interest in indigenous ideas of circular time and gives the album a mystical quality, elevating it beyond a simple slice of relaxing ambience. Each track has its own idiosyncrasies, but my current favourite track is the first one. ‘Love’ sounds like the serene and dream-like descent to the bottom of some deep ocean, complete with the cryptic calls of colossal ceteacea hidden somewhere in the blue.
Daniels has released The Four Immeasurable Minds on his own Smll Thngs label. Order it via his Bandcamp page. If physical releases are more your thing, you can also get the album on cassette from the super cool French label Carpi Records. Order it here.
The last time we wrote about Milwaukee’s Field Report, concerning their 2012 self-titled debut, I was highly complementary of Chris Porterfield’s writing (I’m loathed to use the term songwriting because that doesn’t do it justice). His literary lyrics offer a genuine narrative, glimpses of characters with long histories and complex emotions. Using only a small handful of words and smart turns of phrase he can paint not only a vivid scene but also describe interactions and dynamics, placing him on a level of writing that few contemporary songwriters can match. After releasing the aforementioned debut, the band toured and toured, got some pretty impressive critical acclaim and lost two members. Eventually, in December 2013, they locked themselves away amidst an Ontario snowstorm and recorded their sophomore album, Marigolden.
Despite the changes in personnel, it seems my original praise applies more than ever. Each track provides an interesting, nuanced narrative of American life. When a band is described as ‘literary’ the first thought is some group of lit students who quote Camus or Kafka or Kerouac, but Field Report aren’t that. They are literary in the sense that their music and writing seems to be on a par with books and poems, their work possessing the relevant weight to become important and meaningful beyond the noisy escapism that typifies much music. Written down this sounds pretentious or grand but the reality is just the opposite. Like the most successful fiction, Porterfield’s writing is humble, real, able to be all shades of sad and beautiful. He leaves it to the listener to decide what they take from it, be it comfort or disturbance.