Crystal Stilts, Widowspeak

Crystal Stilts

Back in 2008, a lot of heads turned to clock Crystal Stilts’ Alight Of Night, their first album after a string of here-today-gone-tomorrow singles and EPs. It wasn’t exactly a surprise – Crystal Stilts felt like part of a new age dawning, of underground collectives and random, crazy groups who’d rediscovered the joys of noise-pop and set about creating their own Creations – but there was something unique about Crystal Stilts, something hermetic yet gorgeous about the world they created. With their new album, In Love With Oblivion, they stretch things further still, honing their songcraft, indulging their more strung-out sides, full of elliptical verses and perfectly chiming guitars, cranky pop organs and the punkest of rhythms. It’s a perfect blend of pop smarts and beguiling experiment.

Converging in the quiet of South Florida, Brad Hargett and JB Townshend dreamt a perfect pop group and then set about recreating the dream. Along the way to New York, they collected members, record labels, a cultish fanbase, raves from the likes of Dean Wareham and Stephen Pastel, and (from across the seas, at least) the kind of mystique even the ‘know-everything’ glaze of the modern ‘net-age couldn’t debase. I still listen to their records and wonder about the people behind the songs – and this does not happen very often nowadays. Their record covers are mysterious two-tone ciphers. They know the importance of a good font. In short, they sound and look like a group you want to be in.

And as with all good pop bands, Crystal Stilts not only look cool and sound great: they also listen hard. I recently read an interview where JB said his favourite show of ’09 was The Mad Scene, which made me double-take – who else cares so much about Hamish Kilgour’s other best group? But if Crystal Stilts are scholarly about pop, they don’t wear their knowledge heavily. The best songs on In Love With Oblivion are effortless, rapturous – “Through The Floor” burns on fevered energy; “Silver Sun” kisses the air with a beautiful stream of jangle guitar; “Alien Rivers” is a spooked, psychedelic requiem, roughly Opal’s Happy Nightmare Baby + 14 Iced Bears’ “Mother Sleep” x Victor Dimisich Band. (But that was my math, not theirs.) “Precarious Stair” is my favourite girl-pop-song-not-actually-fronted-by-a-girl since, I dunno, “Just Like Honey”.

A friend of mine walked into my flat when “Half A Moon” was playing and for a split-second asked if it was The Damned’s “Smash It Up”, which made me chuckle. Then he looked at the speakers and wondered what exactly he was hearing. Hey, cool – it’s always good to take people by surprise. Well, that’s what Crystal Stilts do with In Love With Oblivion – take all of those expectations you have and quietly, unassumingly, but determinedly turn them upside down, make you listen differently the glorious haze of pop they pour out of their bloodied veins. A buzzing organ, some slack-strung guitars, a clutch of Moe Tucker dreams and some black tambourines rarely sounded this alive. – JADE PILLAR

Widowspeak

Widowspeak is an American band comprised of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, known for its dreamy, western-tinged take on rock and roll. The outfit formed in 2010 and released two singles in 2011 (Harsh Realm, Gun Shy) followed by a debut album (self-titled) in the summer of that year, all on Brooklyn label Captured Tracks. Widowspeak was praised for its reverential spaciousness, Hamilton's haunting voice, and Thomas's spindly, Morricone-esque guitar lines; both drawing on 1950's pop ballads and 1970's psych, creating languid call-and-response melodies. The band then toured extensively, wearing in their warm, nostalgic sound.

Widowspeak began to write what would become their second record, Almanac, at the start of 2012, as popular fears of the apocalypse became imminently close to realization. Though not totally convinced of catastrophic disaster coinciding with the year's conclusion, Hamilton nevertheless began writing lyrics seeped in doomsday imagery, darkness and dread, inspired by the idea of such a universal experience of the end. The two started making demos in their practice space. Thomas shaped the ideas into songs, experimenting with denser arrangements and grander gestures. Black and white became Kodachrome, subdued became saturated. Widowspeak explored Appalachian melodies and desert rhythms, Saharan to the Southwest, as well as incorporated acoustic instruments and slide guitar, stemming from a shared love of Neil Young.

As the compositions were brought to life, they became something new, something unlike the fatalistic seeds from whence they'd grown. These songs were no longer concerned with the end of the Earth, but with the life and death of seasons, youth, love, and the cyclical nature of all things. The band chose the name 'Almanac' in tribute to those annual tomes which have eternally provided predictions of weather patterns, lunar and solar movement, and astronomical phenomena. But the songs are also about the changing times we find ourselves in: "the good old days" at odds with the hyperactive present, and the sense of loss, but also adventure, which that provides.

The album was recorded by Kevin McMahon (Swans, Real Estate) in a hundred year old barn in the Hudson River Valley of New York State during the transition from summer to fall. Producing with McMahon, Thomas expanded on the band's demos, crafting layers of guitar, Rhodes piano, organ and harmonium.

Almanac will be released by Captured Tracks on January 22, 2013.

If Widowspeak's first record serves as a collection of postcards, sent from destinations traveled to in that first transformative year, then their second is the guidebook written after they'd found their sonic home and inhabited it fully.

Pure Bathing Culture

It's a rare and beautiful thing when a band emerges fully formed, but it makes perfect sense in the case of guitarist Daniel Hindman and keyboardist Sarah Versprille's Pure Bathing Culture. Having backed folk rock revisionist Andy Cabic in Vetiver, the New Yorkers partnered up and moved West in 2011, settling in Portland, Oregon. Building off their past experiences as musical collaborators, in a short time the duo have created a sound that is undeniably their own: soaring synths, chiming keyboards, and shimmering electric guitars move in lockstep with bouncing drum machines. Sarah's crystalline voice floats on top of it all with divine purpose. It's a sound that looks back momentarily for inspiration — Talk Talk, Prefab Sprout, Cocteau Twins — but then fixes its gaze firmly on the present.

Further developing the sound of their acclaimed four song, self-titled 2012 EP, at the start of 2013 they set out to record Moon Tides, their first full length album. Again, they chose to work with producer Richard Swift at his National Freedom studio in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon. Throughout 2012 Swift had called on the duo to help him with other studio projects (Versprille sings on Foxygen's latest LP and Hindman adds his sprawling guitar work to Damien Jurado's excellent Maraqopa) which only helped to cement the threesome's musical partnership. For Moon Tides they continued where the previous EP left off, bolstered by Swift's belief in the duo's artistic vision and their unique sound, "From very early on, Richard was the person telling us that what we were hearing and wanting to do musically (which at times could feel a little strange or embarrassing to us) was ok and valid and that we should pursue it."

Like the earlier sessions for the EP, they worked quickly in the studio and improvised parts around the basic song structures that they'd carefully composed up in Portland. Dan explains, "Pretty much all tracks (vocals and instruments) are all first or very early takes. Richard is kind of a stickler about this and I actually don't go in with a clean, pristine idea of what I'm going to play on guitar or any other instrument for that matter, so there's actually a lot of improvisation as far as performances in the studio go." The results, like the earlier EP, are astounding: the arrangements feel fresh and imaginative, the melodies are unforgettable and the finished songs, most importantly, feel intensely human and deeply spiritual.

It's this compassion and warmth in Pure Bathing Culture that set them apart. The music is uplifting. It invites self-reflection. It never feels alienating. This, confirms the band, is no accident: "Concepts of spirituality, self actualization, mysticism, new age symbolism and pretty much anything that has to do with humans making sense of why we're all here are all deep, deep muses for us." To that point, even the album title Moon Tides alludes to self-discovery: "We are deeply inspired by the relationship between the moon and the tides. Particularly in the sense that the tides and the ocean are comprised of water and the element water is often associated with human emotion." While these heady themes can be difficult to explore in a pop song, Pure Bathing Culture makes it feel effortless. "Pendulum" is a perfect mid-tempo album opener that pulses and shines. Other standout tracks from the album — "Dream The Dare", "Twins", "Scotty" and "Golden Girl" — are slices of reverb-drenched, soulful, danceable electro-pop, that musically and lyrically tap into an introspective worship of the natural and psychic mysteries that surround us. Pure Bathing Culture's debut album Moon Tides is optimistic modern music for souls who seek to explore the infinite.

Zachary Cale

Zachary Cale is a songwriter originally hailing from the small town of Enon, Louisiana. His music ranges from lyrical folk balladry and American primitive inspired guitar instrumentals to experiments in popular song forms.

Over the span of 6 years he has released four full length albums, Outlander Sessions (2005), Walking Papers (2008), a full band rock record See-Saw (2008) under the name Illuminations, and most recently the critically acclaimed Noise of Welcome (2011). He has toured extensively throughout the U.S. and in Europe, often performing alone with only an acoustic guitar, but has been known to perform with a revolving cast of musicians whom he calls The Rain Band.

Upon the release of his sophomore album Walking Papers Cale was described by New Jersey's, WFMU as a "songwriter's songwriter" with a writing style comparable to the greats like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Leonard Cohen. In concert his melodically complex guitar playing has been compared to Neil Young and Bert Jansch with nods to pre-war Piedmont and Ragtime players such as Blind Willie McTell and Mississippi John Hurt. In a full band setting Cale has been known to strap on an electric, adopting a style and delivery that flies closer to country-tinged rock songwriters such as Alex Chilton, Ray Davies and Tom Petty.

Since the release of Noise of Welcome Cale has toured the U.S., completed his first European tour including performances at the No Mean City Festival (Glasgow), the Incubate Festival (Netherlands), Festival de Pilar (Spain) and Reeperbahn Festival (Germany), released a new 7″ single on Dull Knife Records, performed at the End of the Road Festival in the UK sharing stages with artists like Robyn Hitchcock, Justin Townes Earle and Deer Tick, and completed another successful European tour sharing dates with The Black Swans and Six Organs of Admittance.

2013 will see the release of Blue Rider via Electric Ragtime / All Hands Electric on September 24th in the USA and on Sept. 9 via JellyFant in Europe.

$18 adv / $20 door

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Crystal Stilts, Widowspeak with Pure Bathing Culture, Zachary Cale

Friday, October 18 · Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM at The Chapel