Johnny Brenda's Presents
Lost In The Trees
All Tiny Creatures, Our Griffins
1201 N. Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA, 19125
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Lost In The Trees
When Lost In The Trees set out to record Past Life, their third album for ANTI-, they knew they needed a break with the past. Frontman Ari Picker looked to move beyond the themes of loss that fueled two emotional, densely personal collections of songs. Channeling the liberating happiness he felt in his young marriage into his method, he came up with a new approach to writing: "I wanted to reach out and grab the music rather than have it come from some internal place." On past releases Picker had used an expanded six-member band to render his carefully composed, classical-inflected songs, bringing them fully arranged to the studio for the band to perform. For the new album, the band was pared to a lean electronic-rock four-piece, and in this new configuration Lost In The Trees took to the road to workshop the songs that would become Past Life. Immediately, the new tracks evidence more than a band pared down; the arrangements are modern, spare, minimal, emphasizing groove and rhythm, blending the sonic architecture of 21st century electronic dance music, the austere emotion of the minimalist composers, and the sensual swerve of post-Bowie 80s pop.
Having crafted the songs to create a maximum impact in a live setting, the band made their next break with past practice, electing to work with an outside producer for the first time. Nicolas Vernhes, whose credits include breakthrough albums from Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, and Wild Nothing, endorsed the band's new minimal aesthetic, and the question in the studio became, "How much can we strip away" With an approach that forefronts beats and basslines, Vernhes and the band lift away the orchestral density of the previous albums – the emotional analog of Picker's intense lyrics – leaving a more direct framework of soul-inflected guitar lines, throbbing groove, and Picker's soaring vocal hooks.
Fans that came to the band lured by the lush classicism of All Alone In An Empty House and A Church That Fits Our Needs (the Wall Street Journal's album of the year in 2012) will not be disappointed. After all, the band are known for their unique orchestral sound, and Church, with its intense narrative of loss, drew lavish praise from all quarters, both as an "exquisite exercise in the seduction of melancholy" (Iowa Press-Citizen) and "a stirring blend of modest rusticity and urbane ambition" (New York Times). The haunting lyricism of Picker's voice and melodies has not diminished in the new sparer approach, but instead rises to the fore, bringing out that timeless quality of the melodies that is the common ground of both folk and pop music. This pop quality, buried but always present in previous efforts, shines on Past Life; not pop in any trivial, retro sense, but the yearning lilt of Harry Nilsson or Mark Hollis, that floating melodicism that Relix found so "achingly beautiful."
Picker, for one, is pleased to be moving on from the highly personal lyrics of the previous albums to more universal themes. He singles out "Glass Harp" from the new album, describing it as "a half awake song to my wife," adding that it may be "as much of a love song as I can write." On "Daunting Friend" Picker promises his companion "we'll float around the town," a cinematic image that recalls the romantic mysticism of Wings of Desire more than it does any past Lost In The Trees lyric. This new openness in Picker's imagist lyrics – loose, joyful, embracing – tends on Past Life toward meditations on what Picker describes as "recognizing impermanence," all rendered by Lost In The Trees' greatest instrument (perhaps overshadowed in the past by the violins and harps): Picker's profound tenor voice. The voice the New York Times called the "essential embodiment of vulnerability" becomes on Past Life the load-bearing wall – it's a burden this extraordinary instrument, and Picker, are more than ready to take on.
All Tiny Creatures
For as long as I've listened to music, I've been planning the soundtrack for the movie of my life. "Comfortably Numb" scores a pitch black drive through the woods in a 280ZX. A hand selects "Into the Mystic" on a jukebox. A clever scene fades Neurosis into Tangerine Dream, and Fleetwood Mac's exquisitely-titled "Albatross" is looping through eternal credits. Music is a part of everything, both the product of life on Earth and a dominant ingredient of living in the first place.
But who scores the quick cuts and long stares, those in-between moments that often matter more than anything else? What keeps the pulse of the story of a life? For the past four years, I've been listening to All Tiny Creatures. Living to All Tiny Creatures. It began with a demo forwarded over by Chris Rosenau, attributed to Thomas Wincek, a guy I only knew as Chris's bandmate in the venerable Collections of Colonies of Bees and the brain behind Emotional Joystick, a name that rested in my mind somewhere between Autechre and the Morr Music label. Sure, I'll put it on. A day later, I'd played the songs no less than a dozen times over. They'd taken root. Some guy in Wisconsin just gets it. Among our extended group of friends, I'd found the music that could stand up to my brain and hold its own. I'd long-loved Harmonia, Ashra, XTC, and King Crimson, like some time-traveler three decades away from her home...but All Tiny Creatures taught me why.
Two years after that first listen, Thomas Wincek multiplied by four: enter Andrew Fitzpatrick, Ben Derickson, and Matthew Skemp. Hometapes collaborated with the band on the release of Segni, a four-track 12" EP and instrumental thunderclap of skill, theory, and intention. Live performances turned explosive; All Tiny Creatures was evolving. By then, Wincek, along with his Collections of Colonies of Bees bandmates and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, was now a force behind the band Volcano Choir. With a mind stretched across projects, not to mention life with a young family in Madison, Wisconsin, Wincek seemed to run on some hidden aquifer of ideas and energy. It was just this accretion, like gasses swirling in outer space, that brought the band to critical mass in the shape of 2011's Harbors.
Harbors, like any great album, defines its artists and has the power to further define its listener. It's meticulous and soulful. The building blocks of the record, like Segni, were whittled from looped and freestanding sounds democratically created by synthesis, guitars, and percussion. But as the needle glides into "Holography", the swift and playful start of side A, there's a new kind of compositional poise. Harbors is an album of transformative repetition, of music that travels freely between the left and right brain. It pulls from the same well (with a new bucket) as their Krautrock and Minimalist forebears (guys like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Manuel Göttsching) and even the greater history of rhythmic percussion found the world over. And then there's one entirely new instrument for All Tiny Creatures: the human voice.
All Tiny Creatures introduce vocals on Harbors, adding a new dimension to their sound as well as to their entire creative process. As songs began to take shape, they were shared with a close (and very talented) group of friends. These were instruments that could talk back. Joining All Tiny Creatures vocalists Thomas Wincek and Andrew Fitzpatrick are Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Roberto Carlos Lange (Helado Negro & Epstein), Phil Cook, Brad Cook, and Joe Westerlund (Megafaun), Ryan Olcott (12 Rods, Mystery Palace), Matthew Byars (The Caribbean), and Jennifer Fitzpatrick (a scientist and Andrew's wife).
This mix of control and community is audibly liberating, balancing what it means to take the primitive urge of music and to push it through machines. The result is just downright beautiful. All Tiny Creatures captures the mood of a sunrise, the hum of a factory line, and the swirl inside your mind, all at once. Harbors honors a whole era of musical history, and, as you nod your head to the beat, writes a new chapter, all its own. This is truly modern music.
-Sara Padgett Heathcott, Hometapes
For Our Griffins front man DJ Brown, writing and performing songs is not just a hobby—it’s a necessity. “I write songs because honestly, I feel like I have to,” he says. “Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me to be out in the world.” It’s not surprising, if you know Brown personally—although certainly his music paints a very different portrait of the young artist. On record, the 21-year-old Brown is deeply confident and passionate, weaving complex tales of family friendships and self-discovery. In person however, Brown is soft-spoken and shy, avoiding eye contact, and glancing downwards at the table. “When I’m performing live, I shake uncontrollably,” he admits. “And I don’t talk. Occasionally, I mutter things into the microphone.” That is, of course, until he starts singing—and the nerves and fears simply melt away. “The motivation when you’re playing live for me to is, 1) to be true to that the moment, and what I’m singing, and 2) to get lost,” he explains. “So wherever we start, and wherever we end, I’m in a totally different place.” Music has always been an escape for Brown, as well as a source of support. The name Our Griffins comes from his mother’s maiden name, Griffin, as was spurred by the passing of his grandmother in 2011. “When a person close to you dies, a lot of things go through your mind,” he says. Titling the project after this grandmother felt like a way to pay her tribute. He originally planned on calling the project simply “Griffins”—but added the “Our” later when “Griffins” was taken. Yet what began as a compromise, he says, has since come to represent a layer of intimacy which informs all his writing. “It’s funny how the ‘our,’ a mistake, came to signify something greater.” He smiles. Family also informs Brown’s new record, Michael Boyd (out September 5), which teems with stories both personal and borrowed, and which was inspired by an old photograph of his uncle, named Michael Boyd, at age 6, found while rummaging through family memories. The photo was taken only weeks after the young boy lost his brother in a swimming accident on the Delaware River, and his expression is haunted and somber. Still, uncovering the image proved particularly enlightening for Brown. “I was with my mom, and we were sitting down looking through some old family photos, and that picture came up,” he says. “And for some reason, it really resonated with me. And it made me think about a lot of things I hadn’t thought about. As in, things being connected. So… you don’t know who your ancestors are, and there’s really no way to find out. It made me think about that concept, and it made me end up writing around that concept.” Michael Boyd encompasses both family stories and Brown’s own story of struggle and self-discovery. It was recorded by Todd Schied, with Eric Slick (Dr. Dog) on drums, and Brad Kunkle on bass, and was mixed by Brian McTear (Sharon Van Etten) at Miner Street Studios. McTear describes the experience as the start of something big. “Our Griffins’ music is powerful and spacious,” he says, “and Brown’s penetrating voice reveals a kid who grew up struggling with his identity, a gentle introvert, much happier to observe the behavior of others, than to speak out loud about himself.” It’s also the debut full-length from an artist with a long musical history, who will continue to inspire for years to come. A native of Easton/Nazareth PA, Brown first learned to play guitar at age 14, after taking lessons from a parents’ friend. Inspired by old blues guitarists, he took to it naturally and began gigging with a band of older musicians in 2008, after meeting up at a dive bar. The experience would spur life-long friendships. Through the group, DJ hooked up with producer/manager Todd Schied, who invited the band to his home-recording studio one weekend to lay down some tracks. “It was a great experience,” Brown remembers. “We went out to Todd’s place to record six songs. But what ended up happening was we did three songs I had written. And they were like, the first three songs I wrote. And I was pissed off. I was shy. And I didn’t want to do it. But I did it anyway. In turn I learned a lot from it.” This would be his first taste of recording, and enough to get him hooked. Shortly after the session, the band kicked him out—“I was only 16 at the time, and was younger than everyone else,” Brown explains. “And they had just gotten to college and were ready to play more seriously.” Left alone with his thoughts, Brown began writing every day, suddenly overflowing with songs just pouring out of him. At the time, he wasn’t enrolled in high school (“I lasted three days in public school before I had a nervous breakdown…” he explains), so he’d spend his days working on home-school work, and writing. A few months later, he received a call from Schied, asking if he wanted to continue working on music. At first he was nervous, but ultimately decided to jump back in. “So I had my folks drive me up there—because I didn’t drive back then—after being like, ‘can I go up to this guy’s house in the woods?’” He laughs. “So it was kinda a weird experience, but it was also great. Todd’s a great guy. He cares about people—he cares about me. So I would go up on Fridays, and we would just play. He’s a drummer, so he would play drums, and I would play guitar.” Under Schied’s direction, Brown released his first EP, Conversations, in 2011, and since then has continued to grow both musically and personally. These days, Our Griffins is a set band, consisting of Brown, Travis Hobbie, Luming Hao, Alex Luquet, and John Kimock on drums. And while the name “Our Griffins” was originally chosen to represent his family, Brown says that anymore, the band is a family onto itself. “It’s the little things that are great with this band—hanging out together, making jokes, gaining friendships,” he says. The band has gigged extensively around the Philadelphia area, performing at Johnny Brenda’s, World Café Live, The North Star Bar, and more, and has been featured on WXPN. And while Brown has been busier than ever as a result, he still finds time to write and record new songs. “Sometimes it gets to the point where you just have to do it,” he explains. “You’ll be sitting down reading something, or watching a movie, or hanging out with friends—and suddenly, you have to leave, and write… something. You don’t know what it is, but you gotta do it. It’s as if it’s falling off your bones.”
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