NEWS: Astronautalis, Justin Vernon, S. Carey, and Ryan Olson start a band

Un-named new band

Astronautalis (genre-bending rapper Andy Bothwell), Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver fame), S. Carey (Sean Carey, known for his work with Bon Iver and his solo output), and Ryan Olson (aka Arson Only, founder of Gayngs, and member of Marijuana Deathsquads) have formed a new band – and tracking for their album is complete already!

I’ve gone all Storify on it below, collecting all of the information I can find so far from each of their Twitter accounts and Facebook, but what can we expect from this new project?

To be honest, I think it’ll be a bit of a surprise to everyone. Carey’s drumming is nothing short of stunning, as I observed when he performed with Bon Iver at the Opera House, and I don’t think there’s much he couldn’t do. Olson’s noisey, experimental work with Marijuana Deathsquads could throw something unexpected into the mix, and Astronautalis’ sophisticated flow is sure to show up. As for Vernon, it’s been confirmed his vocal talents will be making an appearance, but apart from that, who can tell.

All we can know for sure, is that it’s going to be a very interesting collaborative effort from 4 very talented musicians. All they need now is a name!

Check out my Storify piece below for more info, and follow the four of them (Astronautalis seems to be the most frequent updater) on Twitter to keep up with the project.

[View the story “NEWS: Astronautalis, Justin Vernon, S. Carey, and Ryan Olson start a band” on Storify]

LIVE: Bon Iver, live at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney (11-03-12)

Bon Iver

As Bon Iver took to the stage, they were welcomed with rapturous applause – and deservedly so. For Emma, Forever Ago won across an initial horde of devoted fans, and their latest album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, was received incredibly well – so much so that it won the band a Grammy. Bon Iver have gone from strength to strength, and the excitement in the air was palpable.

The band took no time in launching into the appropriate opener of “Perth”. The first notes rang sharply throughout the hall, and to be honest – it felt a bit strange. After being so accustomed to the softer nuances of these tracks on record, to hear them explode forth and completely fill the Opera House was something else entirely.

But – apart from the rare moment where it seemed slightly too loud – it worked. Really well.

The nine musicians on stage changed instruments on a regular basis, but none of them ever faltered or missed a step. Saxophones, violins, horns and even a trombone were all present, all contributing to the musical landscape that formed over the night. I was sceptical about needing two drum kits at first, but even they proved their worth, providing a powerful intensity when needed (not to mention those jaw-dropping off-beats!). Having so many people on stage could have gone badly for Bon Iver, but the expansive majesty that came with it paid off.

However one of the most impressive instruments was one of the most natural. Justin Vernon’s voice is a thing to behold. What really stands out is the emotive force behind it, that can shift everything in a single moment. Lines like “Oh and we done it, because it’s right,” from the achingly beautiful “Wash.” took on an entirely new life, being forced out of Vernon’s mouth in the most uncontrollably cathartic way possible. His falsetto was pristine and rang out, and to say we were in awe would’ve been an understatement.

Bon Iver

Midway through the set, a seat was brought out for Vernon, and a crew member adjusted his mic. “These guys put my underwear on in the morning too,” he joked, before beginning what was arguably one of the most anticipated songs of the night – “Skinny Love”.

I was concerned that the frail, tender nature of the song might be crushed under the weight of nine musicians. But hearing the band bellow “my, my, my” in unison with Vernon was one of the most warming and memorable moments of the night. It almost felt as if they took on our role as the audience – for if this were a festival set, there’s no doubt that each and every one of us would have been singing along. But “Skinny Love” wasn’t the only song to have noticeable differences.

A mighty saxophone solo from Colin Stetson segued into the beginning of “Blood Bank”, which took on a much more direct and assertive approach. The slow-burning, delicate love song from the EP of the same name was transformed into a stronger and much more driven piece.

Credit must be given to the band for managing to adapt so many songs, some ever so slightly, to a new environment. However that’s not to say that they’ve lost their initial charm. Those of you that fell in love with the alluring subtleties of For Emma, Forever Ago will still find that connection live, just in slightly different places. Dynamically the band know exactly when to draw back, and when to burst forth, and it’s this that allows everything to fall into place.

After performing works from across their three main releases (“Wash.” and a solo version of “re: Stacks” being definite highlights), Vernon asked the crowd to join him during the final song of the night – and while it seemed odd to have to request participation in a moment like this, it felt necessary at a venue like the Opera House. The audience seemed to have far too much reverence – for fellow concert-goers, for the venue, and for Bon Iver – to spontaneously sing at the top of their lungs (although it didn’t stop some from holding up their phones for long periods). Maybe that’s why their efforts sounded so reluctant. Nevertheless, “The Wolves (Act I and II)” sounded magnificent, with the crowd repeating “What might’ve been lost” over a monumental finish.

Everyone was quick to stand as all nine musicians lined the stage, and applause filled the hall. Collectively, the crowd’s response seemed not only thankful for the amazing set we’d just witnessed, but also demanding of more. My generation has grown up to expect encores – not to be pleasantly surprised by them – and there was no way Bon Iver were getting away without one.

After some time, the band returned and the applause instantly subsided as people sat down again in anticipation. They then launched into “Creature Fear”, which built up to an immense wall of dissonant sound. Much like “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, the huge release of energy felt like an apt place to end the set – but we were in for one last song. Thanking the crowd once more, the band began to close the night with the slow dusty brass of “For Emma” –  again, earning a standing ovation.

It’s more important than ever that I now refer to Bon Iver collectively as a band. No longer is it just Vernon at the helm of this ship. The addition of other musicians added another element to their second album, it certainly adds a welcome element to their live show – and I’d like to think that it’s a form of the band that will stick around, because it sounded nothing short of astounding.

To witness such intrinsically beautiful music performed in the Opera House was a privilege. And while Bon Iver may not believe that they’re magnificent – everyone at the Opera House on Sunday most certainly does.

~

Check out some of the great photos taken by Music at the House over here on Facebook.


VIDEO: Bon Iver performs at AIR Studios (4AD/Jagjaguwar Session)

Bon Iver 4AD

I am stunned. I truly am.

I began watching this video under the impression that I’d quickly bookmark it in favour of sleep. It’s now 3.30am, and I watched the whole damn thing.

This is real art. This is two people sitting down at a couple of pianos, making music that speaks to the heart. Music that makes you feel something. Justin Vernon and Sean Carey reinterpret these Bon Iver songs (and a Bonnie Raitt cover) with such poise and artistry – in such a genuine manner – that it’s impossible to not be captivated by their performance.

I don’t care how many generalisations I’m about to make – no matter what I say, there will always be an exception and someone to argue it. But it doesn’t matter how many “fans” any superficial dance-floor “Yeah-I’m-out-getting-smashed-off-my-face-and-trying-to-have-sex-with-everyone” popstar has. It really doesn’t. It’s one thing to make people dance and give in to basic primal urges, but it’s another thing entirely to make people feel. It’s another thing to stir emotions so complex and diverse, so powerful and evocative, that no two people ever respond in quite the same way. Which is why artists like Bon Iver, who can do just that, will always be valued – even if it may not be by the majority. This music will mean much, much more, to Bon Iver’s fans, than any of that other music ever will. Because at the end of the day, this is music that makes a real connection. It speaks to something more lasting in all of us.

Do yourself a favour. Shut out any distractions, dim the lights, and spend 25 minutes watching this. You won’t regret it.

Setlist:
1. Hinnom, TX
2. Wash.
3. I Can’t Make You Love Me
4. Babys
5. Beth/Rest

FEATURE: Albums Of The Year – 2011

This is more a quick list of albums I’ve enjoyed over this last year than some kind of definitive I-went-through-my-entire-iTunes-library-and-ranked-everything-in-order list. I might have missed a couple of releases – all I know is I really liked all these ones. You might too.

So without further ado, Album of the Year goes to…

Los Campesinos - Hello Sadness

Los Campesinos!Hello Sadness

Hello Sadness sees Los Campesinos! trying to refine their output into a concise body of work. A structured and focused album. Gareth’s imagery is darker than ever, and hidden within the album are melodic hooks and intricacies that take a while to become apparent (the vocal crescendo in “To Tundra” is nothing short of beautiful). Brilliant, and another great release to add to their discography.

Other albums I enjoyed, in rough order of how much I enjoyed them, kind of. Just look.

Johnny Foreigner - Vs Everything

Johnny ForeignerJohnny Foreigner Vs Everything

A very close runner-up for AotY. Messy on the first few listens, it truly opens itself up after a few sit-throughs, and it gets better and better. Loud, fast, interesting, moving. Time will determine its longevity and significance in their discography, but it’s definitely a huge step in the band’s journey – hopefully one of many more to come.

Thrice - Major/Minor

ThriceMajor/Minor

Consistent and strong. Not one song feels under-baked. There are a lot of huge cathartic sing-a-long moments, and I don’t care whether or not you associate that as being a good thing or not with Thrice, but I think lyrically and musically this is an incredibly good album. Stunning. If you only listen to one song from Major/Minor, check out “Words in the Water”.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Bon IverBon Iver, Bon Iver

Intricate. Delicate. Evocative. This is a great album full of great songs, and they paint a picture unlike many musicians ever could. It’s easy to understand why it got Pitchfork’s Album of the Year.

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

RadioheadThe King of Limbs

Arguably a step back towards their more experimental work, this was a tough album to digest. It’s entirely possible that this album takes even longer to appreciate and understand than a year, and maybe with more time I’ll enjoy it even more. It definitely has its high points, and it’s full of interesting textures – but I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. It still gets a place here though, ’cause it’s quite good.

Grieves - Together/Apart

GrievesTogether/Apart

With the help of producer, multi-instrumentalist, and beat-maker – Budo – Grieves has released a great album here. Criticised by many (unfairly so, I believe) for his consistently emotive lyrics, Grieves tells stories of girls, drinking, anxiety, and those monsters under your bed, amongst everything else, and while it can feel like a long haul at times, there are a pile of gems on this album. If you needed any more proof that the Rhymesayers crew were some of the best out there, this shouldn’t take long to convince you.

The Weeknd - House of Balloons

The WeekndHouse of Balloons

This particular instalment of The Weeknd’s trilogy of 2011 releases is making my list not because I believe it’s the best of the three, but simply because I haven’t been able to give Thursday or Echoes Of Silence a fair go yet.
That aside, this release is really interesting. I’ve never really been into R&B in a huge way, yet The Weeknd drew me in. And it’s interesting because it paints a picture of a world so foreign that I struggle to find any personal connections. It almost feels voyeuristic to listen to. It’s intriguing at any rate, and was well worth my time. It’s free too.

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Foo FightersWasting Light

A great album from a rock band still going strong, after all these years. Consistent, full of energy, and another strong release from a band that really are going to stand the test of time.

These last few albums haven’t had as many listens as those above, but from the amount of time I’ve given them, I like them a lot. Very much worth mentioning here.

Example - Playing in the Shadows

ExamplePlaying in the Shadows

Slow ClubParadise

Phantogram - Nightlife EP

PhantogramNightlife EP