s

Blog

How tape label Evening Chants tackled vinyl (and how they’re pushing forward in 2020)

How tape label Evening Chants tackled vinyl (and how they’re pushing forward in 2020)

A little disclaimer: the people behind Evening Chants are good friends of mine, and I’ve had the honor of performing at their pop-up shows in pre-COVID times. But while the growth of the label is something I’ve witnessed from the ground up, with the grunt work carried out by label owner Nigel Lopez in its infancy, there’s also very little I know intimately about the label’s behind-the-scenes activity. At least, until now.

With just three releases under their belt, Evening Chants has defied easy categorization. The duo of Nigel Lopez and Jasmine Ho, who serves as the label’s creative director have established the label as less a distinct home for genre-specific music than a space of unfettered exploration — allowing the crystallized loops of Softman to coexist with Melting Bridge, a Taiwan-based duo whose music is a meditative and fractured reflection of the environment it was birthed from.

Handpicking music from Singapore and beyond, Evening Chants releases albums on limited edition cassettes; replete with artwork and packaging that explains why their tapes sell out so easily (aside from their limited quantities).

The recent re-release of Kwaidan, the haunting debut from Japanese artist Meitei, also marked the label’s very first vinyl release, a significant undertaking for any independent record label. While it’s already fetching heavy prices on Discogs since selling out, the duo are now preparing a second print with an elegant addition that you might want in your collection.

  

And with the year still powering through cautiously, Evening Chants have a slate of upcoming releases that signal further depths into the label’s expanding ethos. What the heck does that mean? You’ll have to read my conversation with Lopez and Ho to find out, where they speak freely about running Evening Chants, Kwaidan’s repress, their schedule of upcoming releases, and what “horror musique concrete” sounds like.

---------

1. Hey guys! How was the circuit breaker for yourselves and Evening Chants?

Nigel: Hey Dan! I’ve always been a homebody, so I have to say that I selfishly enjoyed the circuit breaker. It definitely gave me some space to breathe and somewhat relax. I can’t say that much of my lifestyle changed.

Jasmine: The circuit breaker was great for me. I like staying at home and I don’t have any complaints being near my cat all day for the past three months! Been reading a lot more and having more time for myself!

---------

2. Have the events over the past few months changed the course for the label’s plans?

Nigel: We were due to release the repress of Meitei’s Kwaidan in May. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the pressing plant we use in Dublin had to temporarily pause operations, which meant that we had to put our plans on hold as well. Other than that, we’re still on schedule for our upcoming releases!

Jasmine: That’s right! Due to delays in production, we took the time to pre-prepped ourselves on the release by liaising with artists and exchanging design ideas so that we can plan ahead and send them out once it was open again!

---------

3. Stepping back to a few months ago, you guys handled a breakthrough release with Meitei’s Kwaidan on vinyl. For a tape label, why was vinyl added to the equation?

Nigel: I’ve always wanted to put something out on wax, but due to the costly nature of the medium, I’ve always been averse to it. However, I felt like it’s about time I took some sort of ‘risk’ and shake things up on my end, presenting the label with new challenges and opportunities.

Being a naturally risk-averse person, I only decided to press on vinyl after seeing the immense success that Meitei’s debut album Kwaidan got, and was fairly confident going into it. Now I’m hooked and wish that all of our releases can get pressed and released on vinyl. Hopefully, we’d be able to do it eventually.

---------

4. Was the process different from getting your usual releases pressed?

Nigel: For sure. It’s definitely a more intricate format, which requires test pressings and intense scrutinizing before giving the green light. Moreover, the medium itself is significantly larger in size than a cassette tape, which means more space to play around with. Jasmine did an incredible job designing the vinyl artwork and layout and shaping the rest of our label’s identity on wax for all of our releases in the future. We have a very beautiful insert that will come with the upcoming Kwaidan repress that we’re very excited about!

Another difference would be in terms of shipping. Vinyl is relatively heavy and bulky, and as such, not only was it more expensive, but I had to make sure I had the right packaging materials and ensuring that it reaches the listeners safely.

---------

5. Jasmine, how was the experience like doing artwork for Kwaidan’s vinyl release?

Jasmine: Evening Chants has given me the opportunity to directly communicate with the artist to find more ways to help visually translate, reflect, and amplify the experience of the music/record. I’ve always found that as one of the key responsibilities of a designer.

The feedback has been great so far and I am currently working with Meitei to do his other collaterals outside of EC. For the reissue this time, we’ve included an insert which is accompanied with a text-based commentary for the album to bring the experience even more. Meitei, of course, has helped pick beautiful Japanese artworks that captured the inspiration found in his soundscapes.


---------

6. Is vinyl a format you’re still thinking about for future releases?

Nigel:
Of course. As mentioned, if we could, I would press all of our releases on wax. But due to the costly nature of it, and how we are an independent label, we have to be more selective in which we choose to release on vinyl. Sometimes an album is just meant to be on tape and not on vinyl.

Jasmine: I agree with Nigel. Although I think we also look into other ways to help make the physical releases more interesting. For example, all our cassette tapes have an OBI band with a hand-embossed logo and our upcoming release includes a story booklet in the cassette.

---------

7. So now that we’re entering a period for music where COVID-019 continues to rage on, what’s your take on the label’s future moving forward?

Nigel: We’ve already shifted away from the traditional record label since streaming took over, so I don’t see COVID-19 affecting Evening Chants in any way as we operate mainly online. Occasionally, we organize live shows here in Singapore, but we do not have any fixed schedule when it comes to it. I guess, when the right opportunity comes, then it comes. But, we don’t see it happening anytime soon.

One change that we do see happening is how our artists are going to tour. It is extremely unfortunate that this is the case, but hopefully, things will get better in time to come and they’ll get to share their music in the best way that they can: live.

Jasmine: On top of that, I definitely see us experimenting with different formatting. I would like to see our releases put out in more innovative ways in order to give and help the artiste reach a bigger listening audience that they deserve.

---------

8. Are there certain decisions taken differently?

Nigel: We have taken into account that people are more wary of how they spend their money. Especially with this uncertainty, many people have lost their jobs or are at risk of doing so. As such, their priorities have changed and rightly so. I have to admit that it does feel a bit surreal releasing music in such times, but like myself, music will always be an important constant and it is only right that we continue to contribute to this the only way we can – to put out more amazing releases.

---------

9. Do you believe it has affected the label’s use of physical formats?

Nigel: With the temporary closures of the vinyl pressing plant, it has accumulated some backlog in terms of operations, which has resulted in our orders taking longer than usual. Thus, we had to shift some of our releases to a later date.

Jasmine: I’ve got an extra soft spot for physicals — I feel that if it’s done nicely and well thought-out, people would still try to acquire them at the right cost.

---------

10. Ever since the label has gained followers with each release, has it been a priority to engage with them?

Nigel: We try our best to keep them updated as much as we can on social media. We also keep in touch with them with our new releases via Bandcamp’s messaging system (which is incredible, by the way). We are immensely grateful for the support and love that we get from the community.

11. Could you tell us about what’s on the schedule for the label in 2020?

Nigel: It has been pretty quiet on our end since the Melting Bridge release due to personal commitments. But this year, we’re very excited to be working on a few releases that are all due for the second half of 2020. Apart from the Kwaidan repress, we have a few new releases lined up.

We have been working on one of the upcoming releases for awhile now by an incredible artist that not only dabbles in music but also art. So, we are very excited about introducing this highly overlooked artist to everyone. The best way to encapsulate the release is if the movies Midsommar and The Blair Witch Project had a baby, it would be it both sonically and aesthetically. I would also describe it as “horror musique concrete”.

Another one of our releases that we’re excited about is from a musician who has been composing music for films, documentaries and tv shows on Adult Swim, Netflix, etc. The album takes us into his own world of celestial soundscapes and personal life, completely disconnected from any of his professional work.

We also have an upcoming release from one of our familiar names, where we’ll be releasing our most “dance-iest” record so far, but of course, with an Evening Chants twist to it – keeping it weird.

---------

12. Just to cap it off, what’s been spinning on your turntable lately?

Nigel: I’ve bought so many records during this period! But here are my more regular spins in the recent weeks:

Craig Kupka Crystals: New Music For Relaxation 2 (Smithsonian Folkways)

Side A’s “Trombones of Lithia” is a gorgeous 20 minute composition with meditative, gentle and warm brass textures and layers. Very aptly named New Music For Relaxation 2, this album delivers exactly what it promises. A+ ambient/drone record.

Maxwell Sterling Laced With Rumour: Loud-Speaker Of Truth (Ecstatic)

I’ve never heard of Maxwell Sterling before this release but immediately became a fan. This album originated from a “multi-channel installation commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary in 2018”. (Boomkat). An intricate mosaic of jazz sensibilities with a strong ambient foundation, this album brews some sort of a fog throughout its 40-minute runtime. While it leaves me in an amnesiac state by the end of it, I keep wanting more and flip the record all over again.

Lamin Fofana: Dark Water (Black Studies)



I saw Lamin Fofana in Berlin last year at an old Franciscan monastery (alongside Kara-Lis Coverdale as well). He opened the evening with an ambient dj set that instantly sucked me in and left me with a profound experience. When I went back that night, I started doing some research on his work and have been waiting for him to release more music. Then came “Dark Water”, which released in June this year. This ambient record epitomized the very same feeling I had when I saw him in Berlin –peculiar yet highly intriguing synths and organic textures pieced together to create an incredibly cohesive sound. This album is not on vinyl, but really hope it gets pressed eventually.

Jasmine: I think the new Green-House and Skee Mask are great! I’ve been going back to The Depreciation Guild and Computer Data a lot too, it’s so enjoyable and always manages to lift my mood up while working.

Skee Mask - Iss006 | Illian Tape

Computer Data - Verlust | Lost Palms

- The End -

Anablog Roundup - July 2020 Round 1

Anablog Roundup - July 2020 Round 1

This coming week is going to fly by faster than the entirety of Circuit Breaker — we are, after all, knee-deep in the General Elections and we’re only days away from voting.

I’m not going to be parroting voting issues here — that’s not what you’re here for — but the information overload is certainly an effect of this pivotal period, and there’s nothing better than stepping away from your laptop and diving into your record collection for a good minute.

This week, Nick and Leon have rounded up crates of records that shine in jazz excellence, unsurprisingly, and there’s a healthy mix of current releases and reissues to dig into to get the blood flowing (if you’re not already watching Hammer Time wink wink).

Let’s get it.

Sachiko Kanenobu – Misora | Light In The Attic

The resurgence of Sachiko Kanenobu is one of the more heartening consequences of our YouTube crate-digger age — unearthed obscure treasures, forgotten over the decades, uploaded for online consumption. Cue “where has this music been all my life” comments from gobsmacked YouTube users.

The Japanese musician released Misora in 1972, amidst a wave of poetic singer-songwriters discovering their voice in a post-war society rebuilding itself (the compilation Even A Tree Can Shed Tears is the perfect gateway into that scene). Misora remained her only full-length effort, recorded with the creative assistance of peers Haruomi Hosono and Eiichi Ohtaki, but it had only flourished in appreciation within secretive circles of music nerds outside of Japan. While it has been reissued in limited quantities over the years, it’s gotten its proper due with Light in the Attic.

Now that Kanenobu has enjoyed a renewed path in her career, performing select shows around the world and attaining a young, newer audience, now’s a good a time as any to delve into the earthy magic of Misora, a gentle and sweeping album so captivating at any time of day. This LITA reissue comes prepared with an extensive interview with her. 

-----

Shirley Scott – One For Me | Arc Records

 

Jazz organ is remarkably enjoyable, but with its historic association with the marketable genre tag known as “easy listening”, it’s also a bit of a challenge to find the musicians who creatively pushed jazz forward with the instrument. We already covered the inimitable Dr. Lonnie Smith in the previous roundup, but Gilles Peterson’s Arc Records has made the search much easier with this new reissue.

A labor of love from “Queen of the organ” Shirley Scott, a prolific and highly versatile jazz musician and composer, One For Me glides along smoothly — even as the performances recorded herein come across less like rehearsed parts and more like collaborative explorations. Scott uses the organ and mellotron with a deft textural touch, allowing saxophonist Harold Vick to occupy the space with terrific immediacy. This is undoubtedly Scott’s album, with maximized creative control on a recording fully self-funded, after years of working on projects subjugated by stuffy (and sexist) record executives. Let her words speak for themselves:

“All of the music recorded in this album is both personal and very purposeful to me because it is the first step toward honesty about what and how I want to play. I’ve done a lot of other albums, a lot of different ways for a lot of different people and now, with the help of the Creator, in whom all things are possible, I have done one for me too.”

-----

Sault – 5 / 7 | Forever Living Originals

Sault remains a mystery — all we know about them is they reside in the UK and are led by artist Dean “Inflo” Josiah — but when the music’s this gripping, the allure is merely a bonus.

5 and 7 are two albums the group dropped in succession last year, a collection of immensely spirited funk tunes that feel transported straight out of the 1970s, with an urgency that’s eternally relevant. The group’s newest album, Untitled (Black Is), was only just released and it’s an essential listen for these times.

While that title might take a while to be issued on wax, 5 and 7 are albums you should immerse yourself with while there’s still time — they’re only going to get bigger, so now’s the perfect chance to get a headstart.

-----

Kaytranada – Bubba | RCA

No other album quite personified the freewheeling energy of 2016 (well most of it) like 99.9%, the infectious debut of producer Kaytranada. The only producer bold enough then to harness the power of Craig David, Anderson .Paak and BADBADNOTGOOD on a Gal Costa-sampling dance album — seriously, what a visionary — this album still slaps, but Bubba arrives in 2020 a different beast.

The focus remains on the dancefloor, but the techniques Kaytranada employs are different. Gone are the days of being a solitary producer hunched over his laptop — Bubba is a piece of work birthed from a fully-fledged studio, and the tracks are the result of extensive in-person collaborations (the list includes Kali Uchis, Masego, Mick Jenkins, Charlotte Day Wilson, amongst others).

It’s a dense R&B and afrobeat-inflected album to groove to, and it works equally as an enveloping listening experience and a perfect mood-setter for any ordinary work task.

 

-----

Jeff Parker – Suit For Max Brown | Intl Anthem

While International Anthem hosts a vast array of exciting young artists, many of whom reside in Chicago, a name like Jeff Parker sticks out not just for his veteran status but for his immense contribution to the city’s flourishing underground music scene.

A member of pivotal post-rock group Tortoise, Parker has also contributed to the experimental sounds of Chicago — notably with label Thrill Jockey Records — and with his new home, he’s advanced his own musical language. It doesn’t get any better than Suite for Max Brown, where he effortlessly bridges the sounds of older jazz and funk with avant-garde digital techniques he’s amassed over his career. The final product is a constant conversation between what he dubs as “man vs machine”, with live improvisations backed by intuitive drum loops.

For an album personally dedicated to his mother, it’s expectedly tender and heartfelt, and unexpectedly short: the 39 minutes will be over before you know it. Buy it on vinyl and cherish every minute it’s on your turntable.

-----

Ed Longo & Applied Arts Ensemble – The Other Fantasy | Early Sounds Recordings

The mention of the musicians involved might suggest a heady or complex experience listening to The Other Fantasy, but that is far from the real thing.

A recent phenomenon that you can find online are musicians inspired by Weather Channel music — essentially, the smoothest jazz music you can conjure, inflected by celestial synths, and a pressing need to relax. It’s corporate mood music of the highest order, and this space is explored by a collective of seasoned jazz musicians in The Other Fantasy.

There’s lots of slap bass and flute magic to dig into here — but the centrepiece on this EP is ‘A Palm in the Closet’, which dares you to manifest the island breeze in your bedroom, even if it faces a multi-storey carpark.

 

-----

The Koreatown Oddity – A Beat At The Table | Strictly Cassette

Yes, you’re not seeing things — that album title looks familiar, but it’s not the only thing this project shares with A Seat at the Table, the 2016 opus by Solange.

The Koreatown Oddity is an MC, producer, and a familiar face in the indie rap scene of Los Angeles. He’s notably made contact with the larger hip-hop community on his latest effort Little Dominiques Nosebleed, a raw and focused documentation on life in his neighborhood. 

This little curio, however, was initially issued on cassette to small and captive fanfare in 2018. It’s a distillation of the impact Solange’s masterwork had on him — reworking snippets of the album into a brisk 19-minute beat tape. Now pressed on fancy coke bottle clear vinyl, The Koreatown Oddity unearths new magic from an album already teeming with boundless depths.

-----

Angel Bat Dawid – The Oracle | Intl Anthem

We treat the experience of listening to music as something restorative, but Angel Bat Dawid believes it’s even greater. “The Egyptians used the power of sound to move objects. I believe that sound technology can move things. Sound is more powerful than we can imagine,” she speaks in a conversation with writer Emma Warren you must read.

It’s hard not to get engulfed by the world she meticulously crafts here, and the effect of listening to The Oracle feels like intruding into a spiritually-powered improvised jam session. The disbelief will set in once you read that Bat Dawid recorded every instrument on this album, save for a drum track on ‘Cape Town’. Bat Dawid masterfully uses catharsis as a foundation, and The Oracle ends up an intense and unfettered meditation on Black identity.

International Anthem’s discography is an extraordinary deep dive into modern jazz and improvised music — The Analog Vault’s got a few others stocked too — and the heights The Oracle achieves tower like a cathedral all on their own. Do not miss!!

-----

THE END

Anablog Roundup - June 2020

Anablog Roundup - June 2020

The good people at The Analog Vault — the breezy selectors with the most immaculate tastes in town, Leon and Nick — have already got you covered over social media with their new arrivals.

Every few weeks, there’s always a new shipment of wax goodies to be discovered, and it’s no surprise that the choices cover so many bases that sorting through them all might be a tad overwhelming for some of you.

With this assumption, this is where I’ll be coming in, shining a light on just a handful of the stellar picks that the TAV team has brought in. If your post-CB budget is tight — whose isn’t, really? — this is exactly the place to be. (plus the store’s extended their 15% discount if that helps)

Ghostpoet – I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep | Play It Again Sam

It only feels like yesterday when a certain 27-year-old who went by the enigmatic name of Ghostpoet shook the UK with Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy, an unwieldy title for an album brimming with brisk and captivating wordplay, courtesy of Ghostpoet’s spoken word-style delivery.

Even till today, Ghostpoet refuses to go by genre — he once defiantly called it a “marketing tool”, and frankly he’s got a point there — but he’s been steadfast in waxing lyrical about despair and malaise in everyday life that rarely feels tiring.

While his early work is rooted in a charming late-night combination of fluctuating hi-hats and aquatic synths, with a persistent low-end punctuating each line of wisdom, his latest album I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is driven entirely by the analog, with angular post-punk guitar work that has added a new dimension to his body of work.

Recommended if you like: King Krule, later-day Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sleaford Mods, Radiohead (especially if you love In Rainbows)

Altin Gun – Gece

A country with a rich and deep trove of psych-rock treasures like Turkey has got record collectors and musicians worldwide entranced. Altin Gun has taken their niche interest into overdrive. They’re a beacon for a new breed of Anatolian rock, where dusty psych-rock collides with traditional Turkish folk music (if you want to dig further, archival label Finders Keepers is a good start to explore some of the genre’s high points).

Based in the Netherlands, Altin Gun places the spotlight back on Turkey’s folk songbook, with expressive new arrangements of songs frequently overlooked outside of the country’s borders. Gece is their second album, and the band draws upon an even more expansive palette of sounds: the percussive magic of ‘Leyla’ resembles most closely to the hypnotic grit that first inspired the band, but album closer ‘Süpürgesi Yoncadan’ is a propulsive and playful synth-pop ditty.

The only thing that unites these disparate sounds are their burning compatibility for the dance floor — while you’re still stuck in your bedroom, you might as well fashion one just for this album anyway.

RIYL: Selda, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Goat, Kikagaku Moyo

Greentea Peng – Rising | Different Recordings

 

Nope, it’s not Ice Green Tea (this joke must be tired by now so allow us to make it for the very last time, we promise), but Greentea Peng’s status has been brewing in the British R&B underground for a while now.

Since 2019, the name has been synonymous with a moody, playlist-friendly form of the genre, one that’s been given a robust platform through video series Colors (Greentea Peng’s appearance has raked over 5 million views alone).

Listening to the aptly-named Rising, it’s really not hard to see why: Greentea is remarkably skillful in allowing her voice to drift cooly overproduction that never overpowers her. Even as countless R&B singers attempt to project a detached presence to their work, Greentea never falters in making her intimate words sound impassioned. This long-awaited pressing on translucent green vinyl has only been out for a few months, but it’s unlikely to last on the shelves for long.

RIYL: ELIZA, Raveena, Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith

 

Against All Logic – illusions of Shameless Abundance / Alucianao

It’s no surprise that with 2017-2019 (also available in-store), Against All Logic has excelled once again. Beginning as an outlet for Nicolas Jaar’s scattered rhythmic blueprints, inspired by the bygone days of Chicago house and disco, the project is now an engaging facet of his ever-growing discography.

But unlike the nostalgic sounds of his first album, the AAL of 2020 is a much tougher beast, and this 12” single is the perfect launchpad into his harsh vision of the dancefloor. Featuring two original tracks, not included in the 3LP album, Jaar flexes his array of distorted, militant synth pads with the help of music iconoclasts Lydia Lunch and FKA Twigs, along with mysterious contributor Estado Unido.

Pressed on a generous 45rpm spread, this single alone will give your speakers a proper workout.

RIYL: Helena Hauff, Tzusing, VTSS, Skee Mask

Masumi Hara – 4 X A Dream | Numero Group

Over the past three years alone, independent labels all over the world have been generous in excavating master tapes of old Japanese albums for new reissues that rival $100+ original pressings.

This ongoing campaign has only revealed a sliver of the creative spark that thrived in the country from the 1970s to the present. The genre of “city pop” alone, first discovered by YouTube sleuths and vaporwave producers, has engaged an entirely new (and wholly international) generation of listeners, which we’ll get to in a bit. Meanwhile, artists instilling their own revolutionary takes on jazz, ambient, folk and new wave have been dutifully celebrated, but an artist like Masumi Hara stands as a unique example crossing these already-malleable boundaries.

4 X A Dream is a heady combination of chunky dub basslines, icy synths, ghostly tribal percussions and a commanding performance by the multi-media artist. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard, really, but Hara manages to be playful enough for these songs to be enchanting upon first listen. This masterfully-crafted reissue by Numero Group is the perfect gateway into his work.

RIYL: Yasuaki Shimizu, Nightclubbing-era Grace Jones, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Talking Heads. 

 

Coastlines – Coastlines | Flower Records

With the tumultuous events of now, it’s imperative to plug out once in a while for your mental health. You’ll need a proper soundtrack for these fleeting periods, and it has arrived in this intoxicating 2LP package.

A collaboration between two esteemed Japanese musicians, producer Masanori Ikeda and keyboard player Takumi Kaneko, this self-titled effort is immediately evocative of 80s jazz-fusion — behaving like a distant counterpart of the breezy Pacific — but with a pronounced sensibility for modern house and Balearic sounds, complete with steel pans and lightweight piano chords. Simply put, if Pacific was made for fancy yachts, Coastlines is primed for the beach clubs.

This is an album best experienced cranked up with the window open and a tropical cocktail on hand. Trust us when we say this album has the power to gently nudge off the weight of the world, even if it’s just for an hour.

RIYL: Seaside Lovers, Hiroshi Sato, Azymuth, the albums Pacific and The Aegean Sea.

 

VA – Pacific Breeze 2 | Light In The Attic

Japan going three-for-three on this list, unsurprisingly. And it is with Light In The Attic, whose ongoing Japan Archival Series have led the way in unearthing Japan’s heritage of eclectic and groundbreaking music.

The first Pacific Breeze compilation compiled treasures across the city pop spectrum — from infectious boogie tunes to offbeat studio experiments — and Pacific Breeze 2 is evidence that one release was simply not enough to capture its range. True enough, this edition tells a story of its own, beginning with artists like Bread & Butter and Eiichi Ohtaki — both rooted in the summery folk-pop sounds of the Laurel Canyon — who helped lay the foundations for the nebulous genre.

Across the board, there’s plenty to dig into. While city pop favorites like Anri, Kikuchi Momoko, Piper, and Junko Ohashi are present, the tracklist offer delights from Sadistics (who emerged from the ashes of Sadistic Mika Band, one of the country’s biggest glam rock outfits) and Mystery Kindaichi Band (a terrific one-off disco/funk project with little in the way of backstory), amongst other iconoclasts.

RIYL: If the first Pacific Breeze was your thing, this is simply unmissable.

 

Moses Sumney – Grae | Jagjaguwar

 

A distinct and unwavering vision is the calling card for Moses Sumney, whose debut Aromanticism found an immediate audience in 2017.

Grae is something else, a two-part project of unfiltered ambition — the old saying goes that artists have their entire lives to prepare for their first album, and 2-3 years for their second. Sumney evidently made every waking minute of those years count to pour his heart and soul into this. The list of collaborators is breathtaking too: James Blake, Jill Scott, Daniel Lopatin, Shabaka Hutchings, Thundercat, Nubya Garcia, FKJ, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart — and that’s barely covering the whole lot of talent here.

The album is full of broad strokes of musical delights, with a distinct art rock sound that shapeshifts with inflections of strings, flutes, synths, and even organs. If you caught Sumney at Laneway 2018 and saw a glimpse of his potential, trust us when we say it’s beautifully realized here.

RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Janelle Monae, Solange, James Blake

- The End -

Blue Note’s Tone Poet series: how the label is telling a different story with new vinyl reissues

Blue Note’s Tone Poet series: how the label is telling a different story with new vinyl reissues

To explore the long and illustrious body of work that is Blue Note’s is to learn the history of jazz.

One would easily venture for the classics: you could already start and indulge in John Coltrane’s career-defining Blue Train, a masterpiece of hard bop as they come. Or you could expand your horizons with Eric Dolphy’s revolutionary Out to Lunch!, which nudged the label into the fringes of the avant-garde jazz world.

Or, if you’re recovering from a long day, you could sink into the tranquil and adventurous Maiden Voyage, which allowed a 25-year-old Herbie Hancock to establish his name outside of his work in Miles Davis’ “second great quintet” of the 1960s. And those barely skim the surface of the label’s most celebrated oeuvre.

But as Blue Note recently commemorated 80 years as a record label, the libations were preceded by a deep pondering over their output. Don Was, president of Blue Note Records since 2012, was tasked with recalibrating the label’s focus after years of releases that veered toward adult contemporary pop — album releases by Norah Jones, Priscilla Ahn and The Bird and the Bee, while distant from the world of jazz, were commercial hits for them.

All the while, classic titles have been dutifully kept in print with digital remasters, replete with enticing bonus tracks, and premium vinyl releases that appealed to the die-hard audiophiles, produced with the help of boutique label Music Matters.

Was, an established musician in his own right, took his newly-minted post with zeal by signing newer artists. Amongst the names he’s secured and nurtured are Robert Glasper (he once described Glasper’s 2012 genre-bending odyssey Black Radio as “everything I want to do at Blue Note”, Jose James and Ambrose Akinmusire, and the label’s taken on recent efforts by younger talents like Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes, Agnes Obel and GoGo Penguin too.

He was also eager to place a spotlight on the label’s lesser-known works, and it is with the Tone Poet series that that latter vision is fulfilled, 180g vinyl and tipped-on Stoughton jackets included. At a glance, the Tone Poet series might appear as yet another vinyl reissue series marketed by a legacy label — and, sure, it is — but the inner workings behind each title make this series a remarkable standout for any jazz lover and curious music collector.

It’s also important to note that with the Tone Poet project, Blue Note was not able to achieve this alone. Enter Joe Harley.

Harley was previously an ally in their vinyl reissue campaign as producer at Music Matters. The label has made it a practice to source original master tapes for any title, cutting brand new vinyl through a strict all-analog method. Those buzzwords are enough to light a fire in any 50-year-old vinyl purist, and Was has repeatedly proclaimed that the label had “cracked the Blue Note code”.

With the Tone Poet series, Harley and his crew — which includes prolific mastering engineer Kevin Gray — brought over their analog rituals from Music Matters, as instructed by Was. “[He] asked about every aspect of production, from the mastering, to the plating, pressing and jackets,” Harley writes in an essay.

“He literally said, “however you do it for Music Matters, that’s how we want to do it here. And I want you to help us achieve that.” How could I say no???” 

The process of returning to the original master tapes — a meticulous and time-consuming process embraced by the likes of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and Analogue Productions — is usually achieved in hopes to replicate the listening experience offered by original pressings, many of which are now scarce and continually in-demand by collectors. For Blue Note, however, they have had to make adjustments for the modern age.

As Harley explains in this video, Rudy Van Gelder, iconic Blue Note engineer, had made technical concessions for listeners in the 1950s/1960s when cutting their records, keeping in mind that most of them played their precious Blue Notes on consumer-grade turntables (ie. ones with tonearms closer to the build and quality of Crosleys than Pro-Jects).

“He would roll the low-end and bump at 90 or 100 [Hz],” Harley elaborates. “So you hear some bass…but the kind of stuff that would get a stylus in trouble and make a record skip? He would roll off.”

Now, with unfettered access to the Blue Note vaults complete with engineering notes by Van Gelder, Harley is able to take full advantage of the frequency range that a studio master tape can provide. Theoretically, these titles are then able to offer audio characteristics deemed more accurate when compared to the original pressings (unless you’re aching for the signature RVG “sound”, in which case, happy spending $200+). The reviews have spoken, and they’re glowing.

The gatefold jackets printed for each title come with extensive liner notes and restored photos, issued to perfection by Stoughton Printing, recreating the tip-on look of the classic Blue Note sleeve.  While the production process remains the same, what distinguishes the Tone Poet project from anything Harley has done at Music Matters is curation.

With input from Was, the titles selected are considered lesser-known and under-appreciated within the grander scope of Blue Note’s story. So while you may not be able to find a souped-up edition of Maiden Voyage in this series, you can explore Hancock’s The Prisoner, a mournful, socially-conscious effort that the musician deems “closer to the real me… than on any other previous one.”

The bulk of Music Matters’ work with Blue Note has consisted of mostly hard bop classics, but with Tone Poet, the wider breadth of styles and sounds that Blue Note has offered over the decades is slowly being unearthed. Fortunately, the ongoing campaign began in early 2019, with over 20 titles now available. Here are some of our picks to get you started. 

Dr. Lonnie Smith - All In My Mind

The work of Dr. Lonnie Smith, first heralded by his 1969 Blue Note debut Think!, is testament to an imaginative fusion of soul, funk and jazz. All In My Mind is a celebration of his work, recorded live in 2017 at his 75th birthday celebration.

While this Tone Poet edition is a streamlined version of the digital release, it cherrypicks the most intriguing performances of that night. Dr. Smith has made his name with funky reworks that tackled songs like Hugh Masekela’s ‘Son of Ice Bag’ and Carole King’s ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, and this set was marked by spirited renditions of compositions by Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Paul Simon.

With each track averaging at 8-9 mins, this is a live album to delve into — the vitality of Dr. Smith captured herein, at age 75, will blow you away.

Andrew Hill - Black Fire

 

An important chapter in the advent of post-bop in the early 1960s, Black Fire was the sophomore effort by a 32-year-old Andrew Hill, but it quickly established the pianist as a singular voice that veered towards the avant-garde.

While Point of Departure and Compulsion!!!! are celebrated by followers as Hill’s deep plunge into the abstract, Black Fire had already broken ground by challenging bebop conventions. With the help of saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Roy Haynes, Hill draws upon the unhinged within familiar form and structure.

It’s the kind of album that will compel you to sit up and pay close attention — more than 50 years later, it’s still standing strong.

Lou Donaldson - Mr. Shing-A-Ling

 

Within the first few seconds of the first track ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, you might already stumble upon something vaguely familiar.

The song kicks off with a leisurely drum break, one that has been sampled across hip-hop — from the beat that pushes Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ to full-throttle, to the serene moments that add to the uniform weirdness of A$AP Rocky’s ‘L$D’, it’s as iconic as they come.

Mr. Shing-A-Ling is far and beyond the most playful entry in this list — although sharing a spiritual kinship with All In My Mind, as it prominently features the smooth organ work of Dr. Liston Smith himself — and it’s a terrific party starter with its embrace of hard-knuckled funk grooves and gliding saxophone solos.

Duke Ellington, Max Roach & Charles Mingus - Money Jungle

A jazz album that rarely gets the respect it deserves, Money Jungle is the coalescing of three disparate and brilliant minds — the elder statesman Duke Ellington, aged 63 at time of recording, banded together with Charles Mingus, an avant-garde visionary with a fiery body of work, and bebop pioneer Max Roach. 

What transpires is a collision still unmatched to this day. The recording sessions were denoted by tension, and the performances result in a grittier experience than most of Ellington’s lyrical discography.

For decades, however, the resulting recordings have been hindered by a sub-par mix — with distortion and imaging problems that bury the performances at crucial moments — so the Tone Poet reissue arrives as a godsend. It’s a significantly cleaner mix with added clarity and heft, especially with respect towards Roach’s fiery and polyrhythmic drum work.

Cassandra Wilson - Glamoured

 

Cassandra Wilson has the distinction of being one of the few contemporary voices put to wax in this series, and it’s not hard to see why.

Her 2003 effort Glamoured is a consolidation of Wilson’s powers, imbuing a mix of originals and covers — as wide as Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ to the Stax Records staple ‘If Loving You Is Wrong’ — with the same kind of languid energy that makes it a hypnotic listen. The vocalist is joined by the likes of multi-instrumentalist Fabrizio Sotti, who sat in the producer’s seat alongside Wilson, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, whose distinguished solo work includes a reimagining of Money Jungle.

Now a relic of Blue Note’s adult contemporary era, it’s concrete proof that the label has never slept at the wheel, just attempting different routes. 

Outin 014 - Guided Meditation + Daniel Peters [Selector Special]

Outin 014 - Guided Meditation + Daniel Peters [Selector Special]

The 14th edition of our intimate in-store series OutIn saw Guided Meditation (Nigel Lopez) and Daniel Peters take to our decks for a Selector Special. 

The last time these two got together was back in 2016, for the official Daido Moriyama exhibition afterparty at the Singapore International Photography Festival. They were joined by The Analog Vault Selectors for an evening of eclectic selections, making for a journey through numerous windows and alleyways of music throughout. If you've missed it, here is your chance to check it out! 

AV Mix Series -

For the 7th Edition of our mix series, we have Daniel Peters who has been writing about music for close to a decade, occasionally taking the reigns at parties to play a selection of dance floor burners and atmospheric jams. He’ll claim it’s eclectic, but it’s really just all he has.

AV Mix Series -

For the 6th edition of our mix series, we have Nigel Lopez aka Guided Meditation, founder of experimental label Evening Chants and indie label Middle Class Cigars. His moniker Guided Meditation is a channel for him to share his discoveries in the experimental/ambient/electronic side of things.

Have a listen :)