TRACK REVIEW: Dia “Covered in Light”


Composer and singer, Danielle Birrittella, under the moniker Dia, is releasing airy, ethereal tracks that’ll transport you in space and time—or so it’ll feel like.

After performing ceremonial ragas on a Hindu ashram where she was raised, she went on to train and perform as an opera singer, which is a background that clearly shines through in her current music, with its rich and velvety baroque pop sound. Her music utilizes a variety of string instruments: guitar, ukulele, and cello, to name a few. Her single “Covered in Light” is a perfect example of her unique background; she draws heavily on classical elements and gives them a unique experimental twist that’ll make your head spin.

Dia just released her first EP Tiny Ocean on Manimal Records. Check out “Covered in Light” below, then head to her SoundCloud to complete the journey.

TRACK PREMIERE: Led to Sea “Breathe Some”

Alex Guy

Elevate your Friday with the premiere of Led to Sea’s new track “Breathe Some.” It’s the first song from the upcoming album, The Beautiful Humming of Ms. Fortune, set to drop May 5. Led to Sea is the solo project from the Seattle-based violinist, violist and singer Alex Guy. In a sea of recycled pop production grey seagulls, Guy soars like a dove. Her sound merges her classical sensibilities into an experimental package with a pretty pop bow. Some of that shining production quality is likely due the engineering and co-producer role of notable Jherek Bischoff (David Byrne, Amanda Palmer, etc) who Guy worked with over the past two years creating the project.

Us femmes always enjoy anything that expands our music education while pleasing the senses – and “Breathe Some” does exactly that. Cheers, Alex Guy. We must add we get a kick out of imagining how many fans will be surprised to learn you’re a classically trained woman with striking eyes, rather than another bloke, with a name like Alex Guy.

Listen to “Breathe Some” below:

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If you’ve ever wondered what the perfect song for cloud-watching would be, this is it: “Fleece” by GABI is one of the track’s on the singer’s upcoming album, Sympathy. Gabrielle Herbst’s voice floats gentle by, sometimes as a whisper, other times soaring. A distant roll of percussion, droning strings, and the rustling of keys join her in a crescendo, before a chorus of horns swirl around the settling sounds. It’s quietly breathtaking, but only she knows: does “Fleece” represent a beautiful moment, or just the calm before the storm?

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ALBUM REVIEW: Weyes Blood “The Innocents”


Just now, I googled “1960s witchy psychedelic folk,” grasping, I guess, for a manageable term that encapsulates both Nico’s glamourous theatrics and Brigitte Fontaine’s quirky darkness. I’m sitting at a table in the pool-house out back of a big and beautiful summer home on the coast of Maine, where I’ve been hired as a kind of temporary live-in servant. I shit you not. I’ve got a view of the Atlantic from nearly point blank range, and the moon is new, and all things witchy seem more than possible tonight.

Natural beauty this acute makes any little thing that sticks out of the landscape seem intentionally sinister, like the pale pink dismembered crab torso I saw ripped open and splayed out on a rock while I was on the beach this evening waiting for the moon to rise. The music of Weyes Blood, whose earth name is Natalie Mering, is sort of like that–so beautiful that its oddness makes that beauty spooky, and so strange that its classical loveliness gleams even brighter.

Mering has been under the radar for a couple of years, but that doesn’t mean she’s stayed quiet. After a stint with experimental psych folk outfit Jackie-O Motherfucker, she sang backup vocals for Ariel Pink, and has since performed prodigiously as a solo artist – touring, appearing at festivals, and playing shows of her own with friends like Quilt and The Entrance Band‘s Guy Blakeslee.

In 2011, Mering released The Outside Room, her debut under the Weyes Blood name, on Not Not Fun. Already then, her basic toolkit (haunting vocals, ancient-sounding folk music) was essentially intact, although The Innocents reveals some significant updates. Less funereal but more complicated, Weyes Blood substitutes her first album’s foundation of abject misery for one of classical–even courtly–dignity. Harmonizing against herself, Mering’s vocals take on an entirely new, much richer quality on The Innocents, almost like putting on 3D glasses. But that isn’t to say that melancholy has no place on the album: when Weyes Blood tells you, in the middle of the strange, sad, choral “Some Winters” that “I’m as broken as woman can be,” you believe her. That’s the kind of voice she’s got, low and regal and primed for heartbreak. The finery of that song has a cracked-china feel to it, stemming from its psychedelic tendencies. Static and interference marr dreamy piano arpeggios. The angelic chorus of ahhs hovering around Mering’s tortured alto like a halo slowly melts into a mechanized humming that sounds like the low buzz of an airplane engine. When the song has sentimental moments, something cold and sterile always follows.

If, like me, you’re listening to Weyes Blood someplace wild and desolate, The Innocents intensifies things. It is sparse and spooky. It makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get swept along with Mering’s moonlit, forlorn reality.

The Innocents won’t be out in the U.S. until Oct 21st, but you can pre-order your physical or digital copy by heading on over to Mexican Summer. In the meantime, check out “Hang On,” the album’s power-driven first single. “I will hang on when the rains come and wash away all I’ve come from,” Mering sings, holding the melody steady as the rest of the song careens through chord progressions and time signatures.   The song is sturdy at its core, her voice a pillar of strength in the center of an embellished, rhythmically complex track. She plays Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on Friday, August 22nd.

LIVE REVIEW: Bryce Dessner’s Lachrimae US Premiere @ Le Poisson Rouge


Le Poisson Rouge might seem like an ill-suited venue for a classical concert, but on Friday March 7, the place was transformed into quite a classy joint. The disco ball hanging above the heads of the elegant and clearly seasoned audience was the only giveaway that the concert would be followed by a ’90s-themed dance party with a live cover band and all (yep, I attended both shows).

But perhaps a “modern” and slightly out of the ordinary venue was the ideal spot for the night’s performances by LPR’s own ensemble, conducted by the well-known André de Ridder. The program featured excerpts from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood, “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” by famed composer Béla Bartók, and the U.S. premiere performance of The National’s Bryce Dessner’s “Lachrimae.” Dessner and Greenwood’s works were recently paired together on an album released via Deutsche Grammophon, and the concert celebrated the two composers alongside Bartók, a mutual inspiration and influence.

At 8pm sharp, conductor André de Ridder appeared on stage looking cheerful and excited for the night’s proceedings. He pointed out both Bryce and brother Aaron Dessner seated in the center of the room with their family, but the program began with Greenwood’s compositions first.

The There Will Be Blood score came to life on the stage, with the cinematic sounds seeming much more rich and fleshed out. The dense string section made for a gorgeously layered sound, and the highly emotional pieces were reflected on De Ridder’s facial expressions. He deftly pulled the sounds from the ensemble, embodying the music with wide, sweeping, and dramatic motions.

As it turned out, though, that was simply the warm up. Bryce Dessner’s “Lachrimae” came after the short intermission, introduced by De Ridder who commented that this was “music without any boundaries.” Indeed, “Lachrimae” sounds immediately and arrestingly different, taking off with distorted noises from the cello that captivate with their dissonance. The intense piece required a great deal of energy from the musicians as well as De Ridder—the buildup in tension and, subsequently, the cathartic release were made visually very clear. The song unravels somewhat like a nightmare with feelings of anxiety and fear, but its a scintillating piece nonetheless. Audience members, including the standing audience in the back and Dessner himself, were absolutely rapt for all 13 minutes of the composition.

Béla Bartók’s piece was performed last, with the noticeable addition of a piano and more percussion. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” premiered in 1937, but performed side by side with Greenwood’s and Dessner’s works, it seemed to fit right in. The style and themes were conspicuously similar to the other compositions performed that night, with the same kind of tension and feeling of trepidation. The music evokes a sinking sensation and feels sedative and disruptive at the same time. It seemed a fitting choice to close with a piece that further connected the dots between Greenwood and Dessner, ending the night with a full-circle feeling.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bryce Dessner & Jonny Greenwood


Most people know Bryce Dessner and Jonny Greenwood as members of The National and Radiohead, respectively (they both play lead guitar). But outside of their work with two of the most respected rock bands currently around, both Dessner and Greenwood have a background in classical music—Dessner received his music masters at Yale, and Greenwood gave up his music degree at Oxford Brookes University when Radiohead was signed. Both musicians are currently working as composers in residence, Dessner with Dutch orchestra Muziekgebouw Eindhoven and Greenwood with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Those similarities seem like enough justification to pair the two on this nine track release by Deutsche Grammophon—three of the tracks are Dessner’s compositions from over the past few years, while the other six are Greenwood’s original score for 2007’s There Will Be Blood—but Copenhagen Philharmonic conductor André de Ridder brought the two composers together for stylistic and thematic reasons, which are easy to pick up on after a few listens through the album. The two composers share a penchant for high contrast—dark, deep tones and textures are often juxtaposed with softer, prettier ones—and a knack for depicting a sort of vast musical landscape.


Greenwood’s score, though, has been available for quite some time to the public and is probably familiar territory to fans of his growing soundtrack repertoire (he’s composed the score for four other movies in addition to Blood). The six tracks included on this release, “Open Space” in particular, exhibit an influence from scoring masters like John Williams with the use recurring musical motifs. Greenwood’s work expertly renders original interpretations of emotions that could easily come off as trite; “Henry Plainview,” for example, is a lush piece that explores a kind of sadness and despair, and shows how ugly emotions can be portrayed gorgeously. “Oil” also reveals great sensibility and a certain beauty, with a theme that brings to mind a long journey coming to its end, or the relief that comes with reaching one’s destination.

Dessner’s compositions, on the other hand, are fully fleshed out pieces that range from 13 to 17 minutes long. All three tracks build up slowly but with great intent, saturating moments of stillness with an uneasy tension. “St. Carolyn by the Sea” starts off rather sparse, but Dessner injects the song’s tranquility with moments of acute emotion—trembling violins, thundering horns—that give it an overall feeling of anxiety. The use of electric guitar is particularly noticeable in this track, which features Bryce’s twin brother and fellow National cohort, Aaron Dessner. Later on in “Raphael,” backdrop of low grumbles and droney sounds give a sense that something lurks in the distance, but the menacing beginning gives way to a beautiful and sparkling build up of instruments and emotions. Its ending feels like the calm after a storm.

The album is an overall testimony to contemporary classical music being alive and well. Deutsche Grammophon is a label with an impressive reputation in the classical world, and the association with their business alone signals Dessner and Greenwood’s abilities, but the two composers’ extraordinary abilities speak for themselves. Catch a live performance of these tracks, conducted by André de Ridder, this Friday at Le Poisson Rouge. 

TRACK REVIEW: David T. Little “…and there was morning – the Second Day”


David T. Little’s seemingly inborn theatricality complements his music’s strong themes. A classical composer with a rock drumming background who, in the company of an array of edgy and sometimes rock-leaning classical groups–the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, and his own project Newspeak, to name a few–flirts with the rock/classical boundary, Little’s got a knack for unlikely but accurate pairings. In “…and there was morning – the Second Day,” the first track released off his forthcoming album Haunt of Last Nightfall, that tension lies between the courteous delicacy of minuet-ish xylophone trills and heavy strains of hard rock.

In early 2013, Little’s evening-long, multi-perspective cantata “Soldier Songs” demonstrated this blend of theme and experimentation on a grand scale. After interviewing soldiers, Little divided the experience into three phases of life–the young soldier playing war games, the fighting soldier, and the old soldier reflecting on his experience–to draw tormented circles around the ultimately incommunicable experience of war. Details like hip hop music filtering out of young soldiers earbuds add sharp, astute, and decidedly Little-ish twists on the music.

In “…and there was morning,” the parallel lines–one light, one heavy–lose separation as the song progresses, the bell-like melody drawn into and eventually transformed by the dark, rock and roll line. For all the new dawn-ness of its title, there’s little salvation in this song. Biblically, the second day marks a separation between the waters, and the creation of the heavenly expanse that sits between them. The song plays with boundaries and borders, considers and inverts the meaning behind their distinctions, but doesn’t seem to end with separation–if anything, the opposite is true. The song begins clear and clean, the xylophone separated into neat phrases, but by halfway through the track this line has been overtaken by chaos, churning electronics and sinister bass line lows. Little’s imagination is active, creating shadows out of clean separations, and a kaleidoscopic image out of a familiar picture.

David T. Little’s new album, Haunt of Last Nightfall, is out February 25th on New Amsterdam Records. Listen to the first single off that album, “…and there was morning – the Second Day” below:

ALBUM REVIEW: Sondre Lerche “The Sleepwalker Original Soundtrack”


Sondre Lerche‘s shadowy soundtrack to the Sundance contender The Sleepwalker opens with a love ballad turned inside out: “You Sure Look Swell”, is a familiar melody of lullaby arpeggios, touched with a creepy distortion that becomes more prevalent as the album progresses. Picture an empty gas station with flickering lights, at a nowhere intersection in the middle of the night, with an old radio behind the counter playing Skeeter Davis, the song slowly being overtaken by radio static. That’s the effect.

The track—one of a minority of vocals-heavy songs on the record—ends with a total disintegration into the white noise that has been threatening it from the very first chord, the initially sweet lyrics melting into something sinister. The vocal lines recall the balladry of sixties country pop, and their incongruency with the surrounding music defamiliarizes their warmth. The contrast is further accentuated, in the three subsequent vocal tracks on the record, by silvery female vocals. Ably handled by Marit Larson, Nathalie Nordnes and Sylvia Lewis, the mournful prettiness of the singing offers relief against the instrumental tracks, where the album is at its bleakest.

Spooky ambience and chaotic classical influences mark a sharp departure for the Norwegian musician and composer, whose discography since his debut in 2000 has circled around friendly indie rock melodies flecked with jazz, lounge and eighties pop influences. Sleepwalker is his second soundtrack (in 2007, Lerche recorded a pop collection for Dan In Real Life that bore his musical signature so strongly it could easily have been released as a standalone album). This was a credit to Lerche: his music framed the film without deferring to it, and although the album shifted gracefully into the role of chronicling for a visual storyline, the album was still essentially a collection of songs.

Not so in Sleepwalker. Lerche wrote the music for the soundtrack with Kato Ådland, an actor and composer who had an acting role in Dan In Real Life. The result—Lerche’s first collaboration—is a far-reaching, textured soundscape with elements of spiny, jumbled classical and jazz. Particularly on the less linear second half of the album, the songs don’t feel so much like songs as they feel like one large, shapeshifting piece of music. The guitar arpeggios that predominate in the first track fade in and out of the less melody-driven back half of Sleepwalker, but feel farther away, as if they’re emerging out of a thick fog or through a dream. A common beat—a foreboding, clock-like rhythm shared by strings, electronics, and percussive instruments—recurs as the tracks wear on.

The Sleepwalker soundtrack may come as a surprise from Lerche, but it’s perfectly in line with the aesthetic of the film, which tells the story of Christine, who makes an unexpected appearance at the estate where she grew up as her sister Kaia is in the midst of renovating the property with her partner Andrew. It soon becomes clear that Christine’s grip on reality is growing progressively looser, and the unraveling of family grudges and relationships that ensues is heightened by the uncanny element of Christine’s sleepwalking. Themes of night and obscurity loom large, both visually and in this soundtrack. Moments of ambience serve as blank spots, unrevealed secrets.

And Lerche more than does justice to the creepiness of the mysterious stranger trope on this album. Flanked by warmth—pretty songs, lines of gentle pop harmony—Lerche bottoms out the murky depths of the story, and ends on the ambiguously resolved “Take Everything Back,” a gorgeously harmonized duet between Larsen and Lewis. In the song’s chorus, the bass line descends into a surprising minor modulation, diverging subtly from the predominant thread of the music. At its end, the album’s resolution is ambiguous, retaining a lot of the mystery that it started with.

“Not bringing what I’ve learned through this process into my future songwriting and albums would be impossible,” Lerche has said of creating the Sleepwalker soundtrack. “It’s been so fucking liberating, I can’t turn around now.” Many of the new directions the music takes in this album do, indeed, feel like revelations, most visibly in the way Lerche plays with time, ambience and rhythm on the soundtrack. Will this mean a permanent shift in Lerche’s work? We’ll have to wait and see. For now, enjoy the Sleepwalker soundtrack, which comes out next Tuesday, January 14th via Mona Records.

Listen to “Palindromes,” off The Sleepwalker Original Soundtrack, and watch the trailer for The Sleepwalker  below!

ALBUM REVIEW: Susanna and Ensemble neoN “The Forrester”


Norwegian vocalist Susanna Karolina Wallumrod has roamed from singer-songwriting solo work to electro-pop collaborations. She’s teamed up with musicians, conductors, and arrangers from different genres to form Susanna and Ensemble neoN. Ensemble neoN is known for their flexible and experimental work, blending art forms, and partnering with visual and installation artists. The sound they have created with Susanna is hard to define, somewhere between classic, pop, and chant. It’s breathtaking, but easy to fall into, conjuring otherworldly spaces to accompany Susanna’s gorgeous, inviting vocals.

The first track is “The Forrester I, II, and III,” actually three songs in one and totaling fifteen minutes. “The Forrester I” very minimalist, in all aspects – mellow, minimal melody, minimal words repeated in different ways, minimal build and movement between parts. I find this an interesting choice for the opening song. There’s a bit of Bjork here, but, surprisingly, given Susanna’s pop background, it’s the Bjork of “Anchor Song”, not “Play Dead”. It’s more beautiful and less powerful in this case, though. Susanna’s voice is sweet and lovely, reaching some truly melancholy high notes.

The music does pick up a bit here and there with guitar and reverb in “The Forrester II”, but it’s a little bit boring. The music is close to creating a great atmosphere – it succeeds at some parts of the song with wind instruments and violin doing some world building – but fails to make enough of an impact a lot of the time. It has a score-like quality. I imagine if they pushed it just a little bit more in terms of melody and harmony it could inspire brilliant visuals instead of waning into something soft and sad and somehow less natural.

“The Forester III” has lyrics that push the storytelling into a more navigable space. “We can hear our children call,” Susanna cries, “Forest leaves us cold.” There’s still that melancholy that’s so easy for quieter, minimal music to fall into, but it feels less confessional and more actually personal.

Susanna sounds great on “Hangout” with its easy to follow melody and far more casual lyrics than “The Forester”. “Why can’t you hang out with me a little longer?” She pleads with someone unknown to us. The music also seems to take most of its direction from her vocals. This puts the importance of the song in the words, which is intriguing for a fairly classical sounding piece. The logic is simple – “When you’re not here / I wish you were here . . . Breathing the same air,” but the effect is very sympathetic. Though we don’t know who Susanna is singing to, it doesn’t really matter. That loneliness, that longing is palpable to us as human beings, something we can understand without getting at the complications or details.

When I say cross-genre, I mean it. The piece “Oh, I am Stuck” combines the group’s classical and jazz elements with a pop piano and vocal melody. Susanna seems more comfortable singing on this track. I’m not sure if I like that better, but I think it provides a necessary juxtaposition to the softer sounds on the rest of the album (the dreamy, wistful “Intruder” and the unexpectedly upbeat “Lonely Heart”).

This record is definitely worth a listen if you can get into a space that combines human fragility and daydreams of dark, enigmatic woods. Listen to “Intruder” by Susanna and Ensemble neoN below: