While there has been no talk of a follow-up to 2008′s phenomenal Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, Sigur Rós fans have much to be excited about. The Icelandic frontman, Jon Thor Birgisson has had a busy 2010 so far. He has written and recorded a new “solo” album that is set to be released digitally on April 6th along with a limited edition box-set. The new album, Go, follows in the poppy footsteps of Med Sud and I believe is his first record to be written and recorded in English (although you can hardly tell that upon first listen). On a recent session BBC Radio session Jónsi plays a stellar cover of MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” which is much better than anything off of MGMT’s new record. He also has collaborated with contemporary classical composer, Nico Muhly to shoot a video for one of the first singles from the new record, “Kolnidur.”
There is a young singer/songwriter that I want to introduce you to. Currently he is just a student at John Brown University, writing and playing music for his friends and family. I have a feeling that it won’t be long before his words and music are being heard by much larger audiences. There is a very raw power in his voice that reminds me of the likes of Damien Rice. He may not have the most soothing or pleasing voice, but he sure knows how to use it. Like Rice, his voice is one of his best instruments and he uses it stir up emotions in you that you didn’t even know were there. His debut album, Shadows & Shapes, is a piano driven record that explores one of man’s greatest fears: of being alone. It’s a very introspective and heartfelt record that I think shows a lot of potential of great things to come from.
Take a listen to a few of my favorite tracks from Shadows & Shapes. You can find the album on Emusic, Amazon, or iTunes. It’s a great record, through and through, and hopefully this album is merely the tip of the iceberg.
I had the opportunity to interview Howard recently.Here are some of his thoughts on the album and what is to come.
IHYEB: Did you record this album yourself?
Adam: Yes and I played all of the music, except for the upright bass and cello throughout the album and the electric guitar on the whisper track.
IHYEB: Where did you do the recording?
Adam: Various places…mostly places at JBU and around Tulsa. I think I used six or seven different pianos with the intent of capturing the character of the song in the character of the piano itself (that was the intent anyway).
IHYEB: How long have you been playing the piano? Did you teach yourself?
Adam: I started playing the piano mid-way into my senior year of high-school. I borrowed a digital piano from a friend so that I could learn to play in order that I might be able to play at my grandmother’s wedding reception. So, yeah I taught myself.
IHYEB: Have you ever had any formal musical training?
Adam: Not really…I had adrum lessons in the sixth grade (but I didn’t really learn how to play the drums until like 9th grade). I also played the violin in my middle-school and high-school orchestras. I don’t really do well with formal music, mainly because I can’t read music. I could probably learn if I applied myself, but I guess I never valued it enough (even though I am quite envious of people who formally understand music, especially of those who can sight read music really easily).
IHYEB: What was your inspiration for the record?
Adam: Life, I suppose was my inspiration…the dark side. It is about going to sleep at night and facing your fears and dreams and hopes and failures. It is about the figurative shadows and shapes in life, that may not be what we take them for…like the album cover, seeing the shadow of a lamp and thinking that it’s a ghost.
IHYEB: So what’s next for Adam Howard?
Adam: Well I sort of rushed this album because I told myself that I would release an album or EP by the end of last semester. So I rushed it in order to keep the promise I made to myself. But I have another album I am already working on that I am not going to rush. I’ll finish it when I figure out how to record in a manner that meets my liking.
MGMT is giving fans an early listen to Congratulations, the follow up to their phenomenal Grammy-nominated debut, Oracular Spectacular. The new record isn’t due out until April 13th, but right now you can stream the entire thing for free from their website. This random act of kindness was prompted by the unfortunate leakage of the new album. Fortunately for us, these guys kept a positive attitude about the situation: “Hey everybody, the album leaked, and we wanted you to be able to hear it from us. We wanted to offer it as a free download but that didn’t make sense to anyone but us.” It makes sense to me. But I’m still grateful for this nice little treat. Hope it makes your ears bleed.
Gil Scott-Heron sounds older than 60. Years of cigarettes, cocaine and prison time have weathered his voice, scrubbed it with sandpaper. What remains is thick and careful and potent, like some forgotten whiskey. His voice is timeless.
Especially on I’m New Here, the poet’s first proper record in 16 years, which sounds like the Tibetan Book of the Dead as interpreted by William Faulkner as produced by Portishead. Still, that description underestimates the record’s touchstones, made by decades of artists that Scott-Heron himself influenced.
In fact, nearly a third of I’m New Here is cover songs (bold, considering the record doesn’t even spin for half an hour), but as blues standards, they’re the perfect canvas for Scott-Heron. All is cyclical with this raspy poet.
This is most obvious in the two parts of “On Coming from a Broken Home” that bookend the record. Lyrically, Scott-Heron sees just and vicious circles of morality: “If you’ve got to pay for things you’ve done wrong, uh, I’ve got a big bill coming,” he follows with a laugh on “Being Blessed (Interlude).”
That sort of casual introspection typifies I’m Not Here. It shows the poet also feels older than 60 – death looms ahead like a tall, scruffy pine and casts a shadow over all these song-poems.
Scott-Heron even anticipates his eulogy and mocks it in advance: “As every -ologist would certainly note, I had no strong male figure, right?” he says in the first song.
With much help from producer Richard Russell, I’m New Here is blues for the future. There are nods to folk, R&B, and hip-hop and some songs even recall dubstep, the most successful electronic movement of the past few years. But somehow all of it together makes for a lonely listen.
The best example is “New York Is Killing Me,” which is a classic blues tune recast in harsh streetlight. Russell uses cymbals, warped handclaps and a gospel choir to assemble I’m New Here’s darkest and best song.
If the record has a theme, it is uncertainty: in God (“if there is one,” he sneers, only to beg for His mercy a few songs later), in time (“Where Did the Night Go”) and in safety of any kind (“Running”).
But in his age, the poet is always certain of himself. “I was guided to get here,” he states, saying elsewhere, “I did not become someone different that I did not want to be.”
So while Gil Scott-Heron remains sure that his life was exactly what it was supposed to be, we remain sure of his genius. I’m New Here is an old-time record completely devoid of clichés, and one of the best records of this young year.