bill_fayOne of Bill Fay’s favorite lyrical tricks begins with him describing a pastoral scene. In “Underneath the Sun,” the fourth track on his fourth record, he follows along as “Rain falls down and waters the ground/Where the cherry tree is forming buds/For the blossoms to come.” Fay sings with great delicacy; his voice traces the melody as it carries the droplets from cloud to ground and up again through roots. He carries on this way, subbing scene-setting for storytelling, for two drifting minutes. Then, halfway through a line, just when you’ve begun to overlook the circular, dabbing piano and the slowly rising synth, and without a grain of Fay’s voice shifting in mood, a snare drum falls in with a sigh and “people are shooting at everyone/Even little ones.”

Moments like these, where reverence and violence meet and depart in separate directions, define Fay’s songwriting. The two records he released during the singer-songwriter boom — 1970’s Bill Fay and 1971’s Time of the Last Persecution — shift between free-jazz folk songs about human depravity and paeans to the beneficent potential of humankind. Taken together with 2012’s sterling Life is People and now Who is the Sender?, they form a complicated lament that also functions as a love song that’s meant to woo humanity back to the source of its potential. It’s an odd thing to say about someone who averages two records per half-century, but Fay is a remarkably dependable songwriter.

Of course, that’s only half of the formula. Across Who is the Sender?, Fay’s singing is animated by his tenderness and clarity of vision. Listening to him sing about William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating the Bible into English, you get the sense that Fay isn’t nearly as concerned with Western civilization’s complicated 500-year relationship with Scripture as he is with Tyndale’s dedication to his democratic mission and his radical sacrifice. “This was his prayer within the fire,” Fay whispers as the song begins, “Open the King of England’s eyes.” When magisterial horns and strokes of guitar unfold around Fay’s lilting, semi-spoken benediction in “World of Life” (“May the all-present spirit be with you/May beacons everywhere be lit to guide you”), he sounds practically giddy.

It’s that intermixed esteem and humility that makes Who is the Sender? feel vital. It isn’t the strength of his argument — he barely makes one, anyway — so much as the depth of his sincerity. He’s genuinely in awe of Tyndale, just as he’s genuinely angered and heartbroken by war, just as he’s genuinely amazed by the presence of so much grace in a world so broken. There was a time not long ago that simply hearing Bill Fay sing in 2015 would have seemed impossible. But hearing anyone in 2015 sing with such a palpable sense of hope, and doing so without turning their face from the void, seems like something more than impossible. It feels like a revelation. words / m garner

Bill Fay :: A Page Incomplete

Related: Bill Fay :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

DVTraversing the same retro-futurist dreamscapes that the late, lamented Broadcast first explored, Swedish trio Death And Vanilla dig into some lovely sounds on their sophomore effort, To Where The Wild Things Are. Thanks to the group’s arsenal of vintage microphones and equipment — Moogs and mellotrons abound — aficionados will have a field day playing spot-the-influence as the album’s 10 tracks unfold. Silver Apples, the United States of America and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop are perhaps the most obvious touchstones.

Of course, having a cool record collection doesn’t necessarily make you a cool band, but Wild Things hangs together wonderfully, regardless of its sources, as Marleen Nilsson’s breathy vocals float over the dreamy, haunting sonics. An album well worth getting lost in. words / t wilcox

Death and Vanilla :: Time Travel

Tim_Sitting1_HiRes

Read the title of Tim Foljahn’s latest LP, Fucking Love Songs, however you want: as a sarcastic sneer, a wounded sentiment, or somewhere in between. Foljahn’s enjoyed a storied career as a sideman, playing guitar with Townes Van Zandt, Cat Power, Brokeback, Thurston Moore, Half Japanese and more, and appearing on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black as a member of the bar rocking band Sideboob. But he’s written songs along the way, too, leading the country-tinged Two Dollar Guitar with Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley through the mid-‘90s and into the aughts before striking out under his own name with 2012’s Songs For An Age of Extinction.

His resume makes for good reference points, along with touchstones like Lee Hazlewood, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Cave, but Foljahn’s sly and busted poetry is distinctive on its own, as are his reverb-drenched melodies. Joined by a cast of fellow session all-stars including guitarist Tom Waits guitarist Smokey Hormel, Fucking Love Songs makes for exceptional listening. Whether Foljahn is taking on Stones-leaning gospel, sock hop shuffles, swinging blues or mellow folk, he sounds like he’s singing from the wrong side of midnight, broken up but managing a wry grin. “My lover, you remember, all those nights when we laid together,” he sings on “River,” before musically and lyrically quoting Kern and Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River,” an ornery inversion of that song’s heavy history which serves to almost celebrate his misery. “I just can’t behave,” he sings on “Beloved,” and thankfully, Foljahn’s songs are all the better for his lack of manners. words / j woodbury

Tim Foljahn :: Wild Tonight

BRIAN_WILSON

Brian Wilson opens his new album No Pier Pressure with a quietly profound lyric: “Life goes on and on, like your favorite song.” Wilson has written many people’s favorite songs over the last five decades – the rollicking surf rock of “Little Deuce Coup,” “teenage symphonies to God” like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows,” profound psychedelic laments like “’Till I Die,” from 1971’s Surf’s Up — and over the last decade he’s enjoyed a healthy surge of activity, finishing old Beach Boys business with Smile, exploring nostalgic territory with That Lucky Old Sun and collections of George Gershwin and Disney songs.

No Pier Pressure began as a follow up to the Beach Boys’ 2012 reunion album, That’s Why God Made the Radio and that band’s triumphant 50th anniversary tour. Not surprisingly, the album’s best moments feature former Beach Boys Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and David Marks and evoke Wilson’s classic West Coast pop. But it also charts new territory for Wilson, with producer Don Was assembling a roster of artists like Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward of She & Him, Kacey Musgraves, Nate Ruess of fun., and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities to add modern touches.

Though not the most even effort – Wilson doesn’t always sound natural with his guests – the record’s highlights are warm and sweet, with songs like “Whatever Happened,” “The Right Time,” “Guess You Had to Be There,” and “Half Moon Bay” showcasing Wilson’s writing at its sunny best.

Notoriously terse in interviews, Wilson was nonetheless enthusiastic discussing the record with Aquarium Drunkard, as well as his role in The Wrecking Crew, a new documentary about the cast of Los Angeles session players that helped create Pet Sounds, and Bill Pohlad’s biopic Love and Mercy, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson.

Aquarium Drunkard: There are a lot of different sounds on No Pier Pressure – some dance elements, some pop songs, and lots of Beach Boys-evoking moments.

Brian Wilson: We wanted to make some good harmonies, like the 1960s Beach Boys harmonies. We wanted to make some good harmonies, you know, so people could enjoy it.

AD: “Runaway Dancer” has almost a disco sound. Did you listen to disco at all in the ‘70s?

Brian Wilson: Yeah, I did. It does have a little bit of that kind of a feel to it, it does. I wanted to try something different and new. What we did was we’d take a song, we’d write the chord pattern, then we’d write the melody, then we would write the words. And when it’s done it’s time to produce it, so I’d go in…I produced Nate Ruess, you know from a group called fun. and Zooey Deschanel on a song called “On the Island.”

little_Wings_Aquarium_drunkard

Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.

Bruce Springsteen. Billy Idol. Lil’ Wayne. Van Morrison. A diffuse bouillabaisse of sound and influence as experienced through the lens of Kyle Field’s perennial Little Wings. This week’s installment of the Lagniappe Sessions finds us with Field and co. in Topanga Canyon, one month out from Little Wings upcoming full-length, Explains, via Woodsist May 26th.

The artist on the session, in his own words, below…

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Each one of these songs holds a similar sentimental thread inside for me and they feel linked together for some reason. In some sense I feel like they have similar cathartic tone to each other as well as to the songs from Explains, angling with intimacy and a firm blocking tackle so the moment won’t get away. It is exciting for me to hear these artists’ songs together on a mix tape and I hope someone feels the same.

Little Wings :: Bobby Jean (Bruce Springsteen)
Little Wings :: Eyes Without A Face (Billy Idol)
Little Wings :: Promise (Lil’ Wayne)
Little Wings :: When the Leaves Come Falling Down (Van Morrison)

Recorded for Aquarium Drunkard in an original pump house turned studio in Topanga Canyon California by Kyle Mullarky, with Neal Casal. March 2015.

Lagniappe Sessions Archives / imagery via d norsen.

RT_stillLike any artist who has been making records for close to five decades, Richard Thompson has tried out various modes and methods in the studio. He’s worked with a variety of producers, from the legendary Joe Boyd in the 1960s to Mitchell Froom in the 1990s to Buddy Miller on 2013’s invigorating Electric.

After all these years, probably the best approach for anyone working with Thompson is to just step out of the way and make it easy for the man do his thing — that wonderful thing that no other musician in the world is capable of. And that’s what Jeff Tweedy seems to do on Thompson’s latest effort, the powerful Still.

Thompson has made more than 40 albums at this point, so it’s easy to take him for granted. But this razor-sharp collection deserves your attention, whether you’re a longtime fan or a new convert. Recorded at Wilco’s expansive loft studio in Chicago, Still boasts a classic-but-contemporary sheen that puts the singer-songwriter’s distinctive guitar and vocals front and center, right where they should be.

As always, listening to Thompson on guitar, whether acoustic or electric, is pure pleasure; as an instrumentalist, he’s incapable of a wrong or misplaced note, even at his most adventurous — check out his stinging, quiet storm of a solo on “Where’s Your Heart,” or the bravado, virtuosic display on the closing “Guitar Heroes” (wherein Thompson cheekily quotes Django, Chuck Berry, Les Paul and more, like it ain’t no thing). He’s also a great bandleader: Still allows for plenty of dynamic interplay between Thompson and his crack rhythm section, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer Michael Jerome.

The trio’s easy rapport is evident on Still’s second track, “Beatnik Walking,” a travelogue with an infectious thump that belies some of the dark undercurrents of the lyrics. Thompson has always been attracted to the less pleasant sides of the human psyche, but he never loses his warmth and caustic wit. Take a listen and enjoy the work of one of music’s few true masters. words / t wilcox

Next-Stop-Soweto-4

After a five year hiatus Strut Records Next Stop Soweto series returned last month with volume four, Next Stop Soweto: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbanqanga 1975-1985. Compiled by Duncan Brooker, the fifteen track compilation finds itself in the wake of the series second installment, highlighting a wide range of lesser known South African artists working under apartheid – an amalgamation of psych, funk, disco and beyond.

Kabasa :: Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo

AQUARIUM DRUNKARD

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can now be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 385: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane  ++ Talking Heads – I Get Wild/Wild Gravity ++ The Clash – The Call Up ++The Aggrovators – Dub Is Shining ++ Talking Heads – Born Unto Punches (The Heat Goes On) ++ Los Holy’s – Campo de Vampiros ++ Ben E. King – Don’t Let Me Down ++ Los York’s – Solo Estoy ++ Mad-A – Aouh Aouh ++ Mel Brown – Eighteen Pounds Of Unclean Chitlins ++ Los Sleepers – Zombi ++ Les 5 Gentlemen – LSD 25 Ou Les Metamorphoses De Margaret Steinway ++ Thee Milkshakes – Gringles And Groyles ++ Gabor Szabo – Caravan ++ Los Holy’s – Cissy Strut ++ Willie Wright – Nantucket Island ++ Blossom Dearie – That’s Just The Way I Want To Be ++ Blur – Blue Jeans ++ England’s Glory – Shattered Illusions ++ Seu Jorge – Rebel Rebel ++ David Bowie – Fantastic Voyage ++ Women – Black Rice ++ Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange ++ The Art Museums – Oh, Modern Girls ++ Lou Reed – A Gift ++ Jay Wiggins – Sad Girl ++ Nick Drake – River Man ++ The Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning ++ Merit Hemmingson – Brudmarsch efter Florsen i Burs ++ Carsten Meinert Kvartet – One For Alice ++ The Life of Clutchy Hopkins

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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smokey

Via Chapter Music this June, the first-ever reissue of 1970s LA pre-punk gay icons Smokey: >How Far Will You Go?: The S&M Recordings, 1973-81. The collection features cameos from James Williamson of the Stooges, Randy Rhoads and members of the Motels, King Crimson, Suburban Lawns and Bowie’s Tin Machine. First taste (with Williamson sitting in), below.