Five Things We Liked This Week – 13/08/2021

Further Listening:

5. The Joys Of Basement Revolver Are Much More Than Skin Deep

It was back in 2019 that I last featured Hamilton, Ontario based quartet Basement Revolver on these pages. That was around the release of their Wax And Digital EP, the follow up to their brilliant debut album, 2018’s Heavy Eyes. Two years on, the band are set to return later this year with their second album, Embody, a record vocalist Chrisy Hurn describes as a series of, “pieces of me”. This week saw the band share the first of these personal snapshots in the shape of new single, Skin.

The song was influenced by Chrisy’s wedding day, and the vulnerability that came with being the focus of everyone’s eyes. Like all of Embody the track was recorded at a cottage owned by guitarist Jonathan Malström, and Chrisy recalls how this song came to her, “I was sitting at the edge of the dock one morning and this song started to come out”. The track is ultimately one of celebration, a journey to, “love the parts of my body that have often been scrutinized in the mirror”. This manifests musically as a slow-burning number, as a bass-line emerges from a wall of static, before Chrisy’s shimmering, echo-drenched vocals seem to almost pluck the track from the fuzz. Recalling acts like Mew or Lanterns On The Lake, there’s a real sense of scale to the music Basement Revolver make, powerful and yet slow moving like a glacier rather than a landslide. Lyrically, it is a song that walks the line between doubt and acceptance, as if Chrisy is slowly learning to live in her own skin, “forgot I had to choose, to love myself today, I wanna feel at home, in my skin, in my skin”. While this track feels deeply personal, it also has a universality, a relatable quality that might just resonate with the world at large and in doing so propel Basement Revolver to the new audiences they so richly deserve.

Embody is out later this year. For more information on Basement Revolver visit https://basementrevolver.bandcamp.com/.

4. Macie Stewart Snakes Rattle And Rolls

A Chicago-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Macie Stewart’s musical journey began when she was just three years old, in her own words, “learning piano while she learned to talk”. Macie’s musical journey has been the definition of eclectic, taking in everything from avant-garde jazz to Irish folk music, whether as a string-arranger, composer or band member with the acclaimed duo OHMME. After spending so long working with others, it struck Macie that, “I didn’t know who I was or what I sounded like as an individual”. Thankfully somewhere along the way she found the answer to that question, and the result is her debut solo album, Mouth Full Of Glass, out at the end of next month via Orindal Records.

Ahead of that release, this week saw Macie share the second single from the record, Garter Snake, apparently inspired by, “staring at the wall for an unprecedented amount of time”. The title came from the harmless Garter Snake, a creature tarnished by the reputation of its more deadly counterparts in the snake family, “I was fascinated by their growth and shedding process and wanted that for myself”. Although a solo project, Macie couldn’t resist the urge to bring in collaborators to the process, in this case in the shape of a brilliant sinuous saxophone line, courtesy of Sen Morimoto, which seems to flow through the song locking the whole thing together. Musically, Garter Snake initially seems delightfully simple, yet that doesn’t do justice to the musicianship as fluttering finger-picked guitars, play out alongside waves of organ and string, as her questioning vocal struggles to make sense of the variety of avenues the world seems to open up in front of Macie, “I am addicted to indecision, I am addicted and I feel wicked”. This record might be the sound of someone finding out who they are and how they fit into the world, yet it doesn’t feel tentative in any way, Macie Stewart strides confidently into the unknown ready for all the joys that look set to come her way.

Mouth Full Of Glass is out September 24th via Orindal Records. For more information on Macie Stewart visit https://www.maciestewart.com/.

3. There’s No Place Like Home For Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine

Friends, collaborators and label mates, the careers of Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have entwined for a few years now. Convening at a mutual friends house in upstate New York, their latest project, A Beginners Mind, came out of a planned writing session, yet inspiration came from a slightly unusual source. At the end of each day, they would pick a movie to watch and unwind, but the relaxation soon became the inspiration, approaching each film with an open mind as they set about forming those films into songs. Ahead of the album’s release next month, this week the duo have shared a new single from it, Back To Oz.

Although it is a song Angelo already had in mind before the sessions began, as you might guess from the title, Back To Oz was inspired by watching the film Return To Oz, the lyrics reflecting how “a loss of innocence is the impetus for a journey to find inner truth“. Musically, it’s something of a deliberate shift from Angelo’s tendency towards intimate home recordings, as Sufjan recalls, “we decided to go for something flashier…it’s a sad song—being mostly about disillusionment—but it has a great party vibe too“. While it might sound like a party, it’s still very much in the Sufjan/Angelo style, like a more joyous re-interpretation of the intimate hush both do so brilliantly well. This feels like an intriguing collaboration, a connection that’s deeper than just two songwriters working together, it feels like a partnership, two interlinked souls with a shared musical DNA, who are ready to wow the world.

A Beginners Mind is out September 24th via Asthmatic Kitty. For more information on Sufjan Stevens visit https://sufjan.com/ for more information on Angelo De Augustine visit https://angelodeaugustine.com/.

2. I Just Keep Coming Back To Zelma Stone

One of my favourite new discoveries of recent years, Zelma Stone is the musical project of Bay Area native Chloe Zelma Studebaker. Last year saw Chloe release the deservingly lauded EP, Dreamland, a record described as, “a backward glance at fresh grief”. With that record in mind, the third Zelma Stone EP, The Best, was Chloe’s attempt to find out what comes next, as she explains, “I spent a lot of this year learning to trust myself and embrace new chapters”. With the EP out next week, this week saw Chloe share the record’s penultimate track, Come Back.

It’s not just thematically, but musically too that Zelma Stone are striding forward, while some of her previous backwards-glancing required a certain reverential hush, here she struts into a bombastic future. You can almost feel the bravado grow across Come Back, the guitars shifting from a gentle country twang to a ferocious distorted howl, reminiscent of the untamed playing style perfected by the likes of Buck Meek or Neil Young. As the music seems to grow, so too does the optimism of its creator, Chloe might speak of it as a song of fear and doubts, there’s also a sense of new growth in the flickering flame of a new relationship. There’s a push-and-pull throughout the track, on the one hand, there’s an openness here, “I threw my whole guard down, whispered baby, will you take me for all that I am?” Yet that sense of optimism is, occasionally permeated, snapshots of past grief trying to take hold, “you’ve got some years on me, my body’s younger. Speaking of bodies, have you ever seen one dead?” So yes, this is a song of moving forward, yearning to feel free, yet it’s honest enough to know it is not quite there yet. It isn’t diving in head-first, it’s dipping your toes in the water, and knowing that sometimes the first furtive steps are an achievement well worthy of celebration. On the evidence presented so far, Zelma Stone’s new EP is going to be The Best in more than just its title.

The Best is out August 20th. For more information on Zelma Stone visit https://zelmastone.bandcamp.com/.

1. You’ll Be Dyan To Hear New Le Ren

Hailing from Montreal, Le Ren had something of a break-out 2020, with both her signing to Secretly Canadian and the release of her acclaimed EP, Morning And Melancholia. The record saw her draw favourable comparisons to everyone from Laura Marling to Neil Young and crashed into my list of the year’s best EPs. Le Ren’s next step was always going to be an intriguing one, and this week she has laid her intentions bare with news of a debut album, Leftovers, due out in October. The news was also accompanied by the release of a brilliant new single, Dyan.

Produced, like all of Leftovers, by Chris Cohen, Dyan is a track dedicated to Le Ren’s mother, as she explains, “I’m constantly reminded of her love – in seeing the sky turn a certain shade of blue, in silver-grey hair, in the music I make and listen to because of her”. As well as being deeply personal, the track also tries to make sense of the universal feelings of being apart from your loved ones, “especially during the pandemic when distance feels bigger than it did before“. Leftovers was recorded in a rented house in Portland, and listening to Dyan you can almost feel that sense of creaking history, Le Ren’s vocal, as rich and smooth as caramel throughout, accompanied by just a flutter of drums, guitar and the warm piano chords. It feels as if you’ve just walked into a crackling home movie and found a handful of musicians sat around, almost absent-mindedly playing a stunning tribute to love and its ability to transcend distance and time. This introduction to Leftovers captures that sense of effortless talent that comes with being an incredibly talented songwriter, expect a lot more people to be singing Le Ren’s praises before this year is out.

Leftovers is out October 15th via Secretly Canadian. For more information on Le Ren visit https://lerenmusic.bandcamp.com/.

Header photo is Le Ren.

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