Bella Union Founder Simon Raymonde Finds Creative Balance with Lost Horizons

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

When we met on a recent video call, Simon Raymonde was in the studio he built in his garden just a few years ago. “It’s my happy place, really,” he says. “It’s a real treat to me to have this place, to be able to come in here and actually make music.” 

Initially, Raymonde was best known as a musician – the longtime bassist for Cocteau Twins, who played on albums like 1986’s The Pink Opaque, 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll and 1990’s Heaven or Las Vegas. Following their split, Raymonde continued to make music here and there, but much of his energy went into his label, Bella Union. Since 1997, the indie label has amassed a roster of critically acclaimed artists, releasing music from the likes of Beach House, Father John Misty, Spiritualized, and The Flaming Lips.  

In recent years, though, Raymonde struck a balance between musician life and label life. He teamed up with drummer Richie Thomas, who had been part of Dif Juz and toured with Jesus and Mary Chain, Felt and Cocteau Twins, to form Lost Horizons. They released debut album, Ojalá, in 2017 and the first half of sophomore effort, In Quiet Moments, last December.  The second part of the album is out today, February 26. 

For Raymonde, the music that he creates now in his studio doesn’t necessarily have to be for a project. It can be music that exists solely for himself. “I can’t believe I wasted so much time not making music and missing it so much,” he says, “but now I’m happy.”

Several years ago, when Raymonde was preparing for Bella Union’s 20th anniversary, something was amiss. “I guess I should have been feeling really happy with, proud of, the achievement of making it this far, which I am and was,” he says. After some thought, he realized that it was because he wasn’t making music all that often. 

“I just think I was not managing my time right,” he says. Raymonde also had a change of scenery. After growing frustrated with life in London, he moved to Brighton in 2012. He and his wife now live just outside of the city, where he can see the sea from his window and take his Labrador for walks along the beach twice a day. It’s been a major quality-of-life improvement, he says. 

He says too that he had a “mental block” related to the dissolution of Cocteau Twins. “I needed to grieve that, I think, better than I had,” Raymonde admits. “Once I worked out why that was, I asked myself, ‘What are you going to do?'” Raymonde had wanted to work with Thomas. “I adore his style of playing and I thought it would be fun and I just wanted to have fun, to be honest with you. I didn’t really ever think, ‘I need to make a record.'” 

Lost Horizons’ songs begin with jam sessions between Raymonde and Thomas. From there, Raymonde will tinker with the arrangements and incorporate additional instruments in his studio. Once the instrumentals are at least roughly finished, he’ll start looking for the appropriate guest vocalist. “You’ve got to think about what’s right for this tune,” he says, “and that part of it I really, really, really love.” 

In Quiet Moments clocks in at one hour, 14 minutes, and it’s an eclectic album, stylistically ranging from the groovy title track to the ethereal “Every Beat That Passed,” with Swedish singer Kavi Kwai on vocals, to the dark, noisy rock of “One For Regret,” featuring British band Porridge Radio. Each of the 16 tracks features a different vocalist, including John Grant, Marissa Nadler, Karen Peris of Innocence Mission and many more.

The length and breadth of the album is why it was initially released in two parts. Raymonde explains that a traditional campaign might have confused potential listeners. “I thought the idea of spreading the whole thing out a bit over a longer period, and releasing a lot more tracks during the build up, would give people more of a clue as to what was going,” he says. “Splitting it into two parts was a way of achieving that, so at least people have something at Christmas time to listen to online in one place and then they get everything at the end of February with a full vinyl release.”

One of the standouts is the title track, which features vocals from veteran soul singer Ural Thomas, who had performed with such artists as James Brown and Otis Redding, and now leads Portland-based soul band Ural Thomas & the Pain. Ural Thomas’s collaborators “started sending me bits and pieces of demos of [his] tracks” Raymonde says, and he fell for the music. Meanwhile, he was sitting with a mellow, contemplative instrumental that he and Richie Thomas had recorded for Lost Horizons; it needed a vocal that would add soul and mystery, and “all I could think about was Ural Thomas,” he says. Raymonde reached out to see if there was interest in a collaboration, and of course, the rest is history. “That came so organically and out of the blue,” says Raymonde.

It was the kind of serendipitous collaboration that reflects the balance Raymonde strikes between his A&R ear and his skill as a musician and producer. Says Raymonde, “I’ve been incredibly lucky and very grateful with all the contributions, because it would just be 16 instrumentals without them.”

Follow Lost Horizons on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Make More Noise!, The Neptunas, and L7

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

The 1970s punk explosion in Britain rewrote the rulebook about who could become a musician. Suddenly, you didn’t have to aspire to be a virtuoso; you simply had to have the desire to create, and the confidence to get your voice out there.

And a fantastic new compilation from Cherry Red, Make More Noise! Women in Independent Music UK 1977-1987 takes a deep dive into the heady era of punk and its immediate aftermath, from a female perspective. Among the 90 acts featured, you’ll find some familiar names, but there are many more less well-known acts, particularly in the US, which makes this set particularly exciting to explore.

Where to start with this bounty? Well, the set opens with X-Ray Spex’s exhilarating “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” It’s an obvious choice for a collection like this, but it’s also a song you can’t hear too many times, a number “as era-defining and as crucial to punk as ‘God Save the Queen,’” as the liner notes put it. Lead singer Poly Styrene is in full battle cry from the off, bolstered by the accompanying off-kilter wailing sax of Lora Logic; its freewheeling exuberance is irresistible. Logic’s “Brute Force” is also featured on the set, a jumpy number that manages to be both edgy and whimsical.

And that’s just for starters. Girlschool stakes out hard rock territory with the propulsive “Take It All Away,” their debut single. Singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl, best known in the US as Shane McGowan’s foil on the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” turns up twice on Make More Noise; via Tracy Ullman’s sweet pop cover of MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” and singing her own far more suggestive number, the rollicking “Turn My Motor On.”

In 1992, electronic outfit Opus III had an international hit with the moody “It’s a Fine Day.” But that track was based on the haunting acapella original version released by Jane (Jane Lancaster), in 1983, a sad rumination on lost opportunities. Then there’s the terrifying “The Boiler” by Rhoda Dakar accompanied by the Special AKA. It’s a devastating spoken word piece about rape, made all the more chilling by Dakar’s deadpan delivery throughout most of it. Not for the timid. Dakar was also a member of ska group the Bodysnatchers, whose buoyant “Ruder Than You” is also on the set.

Rip Rip & Panic (featuring a young Neneh Cherry) goes into attack mode in the jazzy “You’re My Kind of Climate.” Vi Subversa of the Poison Girls’ delightfully skewers gender roles in the herky-jerky “Old Tart’s Song.” You’ll also find the Pretenders, Cocteau Twins, Au Pairs, Sinead O’Connor, the Slits, Nico, Lene Lovich, Toyah, Devil’s Dykes, Strawberry Switchblade, and many more. The diversity of styles, both musically and lyrically (ranging from pungent social commentary to dreamy-eyed love songs), on Make More Noise! provides a comprehensive look at this fecund era in indie rock, as it moved from the underground to the mainstream.

The Neptunas, a lo-fi surf guitar trio, launched their career in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, recording two albums before going on hiatus in 2000. They were gone, but not forgotten, as was proven in 2014 when a reunited Breeders asked if the group was available to open for them on a West Coast tour. Pamita, Leslita, and Laura Bethita Neptuna answered the call, and, following other successful live dates, eventually entered the studio to record their third album, Mermaid A Go Go (Altered State of Reverb Records).

The titles are just as much fun as the music. The snaky instrumentals “Billy The Kid’s Water Pistol,” “Undersea Grand Prix,” and “Nancy Drew’s Wetsuit” are perfect mood music for a twisted Spaghetti Western; one in which the cast wears pastels, perhaps. There’s a good choice of covers too; twangy guitar takes on Herb Alpert’s trumpet line in “The Lonely Bull,” the first hit for Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And their deadpan delivery of the Kinks’ “Till the End of the Day” makes the tune cool as a cucumber.

The own songs are a hoot too: “Neptuna Car Wash” celebrates the joy of having a clean vehicle; “Hey Jimmy Freek” is a sweet story of unrequited love (though Pamita does seem like she’s a bit of a stalker); the title track refers to the band’s own personal love shack beneath the sea, with a cover charge of only five clams. “We don’t do the Watusi/but we’re doin’ the swim,” they promise. A fun, kitschy confection.

L7 rock hard and they rock loud. They spit out six albums during their initial lifespan (1985-2001), during which time they also founded the pro-choice advocacy group Rock For Choice, and had a great moment on the silver screen in John Waters’ satiric Serial Mom, gleefully thrashing their way through their song “Gas Chamber,” as the killer’s latest victim is set on fire right beside them on stage.

They split in 2001, but resurfaced in 2014; subsequent years have seen tours, a documentary (2016’s L7: Pretend We’re Dead), and a new album (2019’s Scatter the Rats). Their latest release is a reissue, a remastered edition of their sole album for Sub Pop, 1990’s Smell The Magic. It kicks off with the mighty roar of “Shove,” with Suzi Gardner giving the heave-ho to various unsavory types (bill collectors, creeps who pinch you, pesky bosses who want you to comb your hair). There’s a lot going on in L7’s lyrics. “Just Like Me” sends up rock stardom; “Packin’ a Rod” is a pointed depiction of wannabe Dirty Harrys; the slow burning “American Society” sneers at consumerism.

My personal favorite is “Fast and Frightening,” a thunderous number about a charismatic neighborhood hellraiser, with Donita Sparks on lead vocals. Which is the better couplet? “Popping wheelies on her motorbike/Straight girls wish they were dykes” or “Throws M-80s off in the halls/Got so much clit she don’t need no balls”? The choice is yours. Also available on CD or as a download, the reissue marks the first time the album is being made available on vinyl.

ALBUM REVIEW: Money “Suicide Songs”


Glancing at the tracklist for Money’s sophomore LP Suicide Songs, one might suspect singer/songwriter Jamie Lee has a tenuous relationship with subtlety. Titular track aside, the record touts audacious titles such as “Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year” and opening anthem “I am the Lord.” The album art is no less provocative, featuring a par-naked Lee balancing a knife on his forehead. Though these names and images may seem flippant on paper, the gorgeous density of Money’s music elevates them contextually; there isn’t a scrap of irony to be had here.

The Mancunian band made a grand entrance with their debut record The Shadow of Heaven (Bella Union) in 2013, a dazzling hymnal pop opus that is nothing if not beautiful and original. The album dealt with dense themes, manifesting in songs such as “So Long (God is Dead)” and “The Cruelty of Godliness.”

In keeping with the last record, Lee is approaching concepts laden with baggage and trying to look at them from a different vantage point, perhaps imbuing them with new meaning along the way.

“Above all else, I’m just trying to project and portray a poetic truth,” Lee said in a press release. “Suicide is about anonymity, to the point where you don’t exist, which I definitely feel in my songwriting and as a person. But rather than writing myself out of anonymity, I want to remain there, in this record at least. It’s recognizing a kind of sacrificial nature, in making artistic choices. By rummaging around in your feelings and trying to make sense of life, to the detriment of your health, there might be some poetic value to what you have created.”

In a strange way, despite the intensity of Suicide Songs, it does seem Lee has achieved a sort of anonymity, if only due to the force of the album’s instrumental arrangements. His vocals are less pristine on this new material…there is a drunk and snarling slouch to them, and they easily surrender to the orchestral maelstrom of each track. He sounds raw, worn and drowned by desperation, but with good reason. In a press release, Lee confirms that he “wanted the album to sound like it was ‘coming from death’ which is where these songs emerged.”

It seemed that The Shadow Of Heaven would be a difficult act to follow up, but this new record is nowhere near slumping. Instead, it’s leaping upwards towards vast sonic peaks employing horns, strings, choirs, sorrow, and pandemonium. It is, in a word, a BIG album. Sprawling and open, it practically generates its own tidal system.

“I am the Lord” kicks off with lulling strings that resolve to twanging guitar. It builds with atmospheric hand drums, and ghostly harmonies reminiscent of Cocteau Twins. Lee diminishes the implication of the song’s title when he sings “I don’t want to be god, I just don’t want to be human.” It’s the kind of otherworldly, yet oddly relatable statement that has become Money’s lyrical trademark.

Part lullaby, part funeral ballad, “You Look Like a Sad Painting on Both Sides of the Sky” is a strangely sweet song. It is one of the more sonically sparse offerings on the record, sticking to hushed acoustic guitar and piano, with understated drums and cello. But its pretty simplicity doesn’t ebb its melancholy. In fact, the contrast seems to heighten our sense of woe as Lee belts out lines such as: “there will be music all around, when they put me in the ground.”

The entire album is rife with this sort of tension, whether it lies in the discrepancy between lyrical content and the key of the song, or Lee’s ability as a composer to make you feel uplifted and miserable at the same time. This isn’t a record for people who like background music. The closer you listen, the more nuances you can enjoy. It’s a piece of work that unfurls more with every play.

In “Night Came” Lee establishes himself as a modern maestro of crescendo. The track commences in sprawling, muted riffs only to rise steadily into a skyward collision. But the album’s most powerful track is without a doubt “All My Life,” a banging six and a half minutes of heartrending majors and plummeting minor chords. This is Lee at his biggest, holding nothing back. Not reverb, not gospel harmonies, not lead guitar, and certainly not a full drum kit. But once again, the emotive scale of the song is undercut by bleak lyrics. In the chorus Lee confesses “all my life I’ve been searching for something, so I always ended up with nothing,” a truth that leaves him neither here nor there.

Part of what makes this record so great is that it was composed as nothing less than an album; as a continuous narrative in which each song sonically relates to the next, like chapters in a book. While so many contemporary LPs seem thrown together as a compilation of disparate tracks, Suicide Songs maintains a dense thread throughout its 42 minutes. And this thread is as much formal as it is textual. Lee delivers a consistent dose of heady subject matter, yes, but he’s also managed to arrange this album to bear the aural equivalent of dramatic structure; grabbing our attention with “I am the Lord,” building to the crashing climax of “All My Life,” and settling with “Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year” (the latter having Lee at his most Tom Waits).

At the end of the day, Lee does seem to prefer the overt to the subtle, as he plainly explains that “the record is morbid and bleak, and never resolves itself. The only real kind of triumphant realization is being able to express the morbidity of the situation I found myself in.” It’s the kind of statement you’d expect from someone like Lee, a self-effacing British musician, but I’d say that Suicide Songs is triumphant all on its own. Period.

Suicide Songs is out now on Bella Union.




With a name inspired by a Kafka story, it makes sense The Harrow would be well-spoken. Yet even with the bar set high the mysterious Brooklyn coldwave/post-punk band impressed with their bewitchingly intelligent interview. The Harrow is Vanessa Irena (vocals, synth, programming), Frank Deserto (bass, synth, machines), Barrett Hiatt (synth, programming) and Greg Fasolino (guitar). They are currently working on an upcoming LP that we’re already gnawing to hear. I spoke with our Artist of the Month about gothic art, nerdy influences, and selectivity of gigs.

AudioFemme: How did you guys meet and form a band?

Barrett: We all seemed to have traveled in the same circles for some years, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time for this band to come to fruition. Frank and I became close friends during our previous band, and we had shared stages with Greg’s previous band as well. Vanessa and Frank met through their respective DJ gigs, and the timing just felt right. Frank had some demos kicking around, I jumped in and we started fleshing things out. We then invited Greg to add his signature sound, and Vanessa was the perfect last piece to the puzzle.

AF: Who do you look up to as musical inspirations?

Frank: As far as sound is concerned, bands like Cindytalk, And Also the Trees, Breathless, Cranes, For Against, and of course, The Cure and Cocteau Twins are hugely inspirational, as well as most of the players in the French coldwave and early 4AD movement. Belgian new beat and ’90s electronica have been influences that I’m not quite sure have fully manifested yet, but are definitely something I’d love to explore further in the coming years.

Greg: For me, the 4AD sonic universe is definitely a place we all intersect and Cocteau Twins are the ultimate touchstone. As a musician, I am particularly influenced by classic ’80s post-punk bands like The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, Banshees, Bunnymen, Sad Lovers & Giants, and The Sound, as well as ’90s genres like shoegaze (Slowdive, Pale Saints, MBV), trip-hop (Massive Attack, Portishead), and alt-rock (Smashing Pumpkins, Suede, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley). Lately I am very inspired by a lot of modern neo-shoegaze bands, who seem to be carrying the torch for dreamy, effects-heavy music now that much of the post-punk revival has dissipated, as well as more atmospheric metal stuff like Agalloch and Deftones/Crosses and creative, hard-to-categorize bands like HTRK and Braids.

B: I’m not sure if I can get through an interview without mentioning Trent Reznor, but he has always inspired me, through his recording methods as well as his choice of collaboration, and just his general attitude towards music. Of course: David Bowie, Chris Corner, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, The Cure. I do have a tendency to lean on bands from the ’80s.

Vanessa: I’m a huge fan of Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray, The Knife) and Elizabeth Bernholz (Gazelle Twin). These days I’m mostly listening to techno and textural stuff (Ancient Methods, Klara Lewis, Vatican Shadow, Function, Profligate, OAKE, Adam X, Mondkopf, etc.).

AF: What about other artists: poets, painters, writers – who else has influenced your sound?

F: Literary influences are as important to me as musical influences. There’s the obvious surrealist and nightmarish nods to Kafka, but other authors such as Isak Dinesen, Robert Aickman, Albert Camus, Charles Baudelaire, and William Blake have inspired the lyrics I’ve written for the band, some more directly than others. As for art, the same applies; Francis Bacon seems almost too obvious to mention, but his work is incredibly moving. Francisco De Goya as well. I’m also drawn heavily to bleak, medieval religious art, usually depicting the crueler aspects of Christianity. Perhaps a bit cliché as far as gothic influences are concerned, but lots of imagery to draw upon.

B: David Lynch, John Carpenter, Jim Jarmusch, Anton Corbijn, just to name a few. These guys paint wonderful pictures through film, and I always find it very inspiring.

V: Frank and I have pretty similar tastes in art, so I definitely agree with him on the above, but I think it’s worth mentioning that we’re also all a bunch of huge fucking nerds. I’m not ashamed to admit that lyrical inspiration for me can come just as easily from The Wheel of Time or an episode of Star Trek: TNG as it does from Artaud.

AF: What do you credit to be your muse?

F: My bandmates.

G: Posterity.

V: My shitty life/Being a woman.

B: Dreaming.

AF: Blogs love labels, but how would you describe your music?

F: I don’t ever attest to reinventing the wheel. We all draw from different influences and I mostly consider our sound to be a blend of shoegaze/dream pop, 4AD, and early ’80s post-punk vibes. We generally err on the dreamier side but have no qualms with getting aggressive if the mood calls for it. At this point in the game, creating a new sound is out of the question, but our varied tastes and interests have led to some cross-pollination of genres that hopefully proves to be interesting amidst dozens of modern bands operating in a similar medium.

B: I’m still trying to get a little saxophone in there.

AF: Will you speak to the darker element of your style?

F: Operating in this medium is less of a conscious choice for me than it is a catharsis. Therapy in a sense – a method of expressing otherwise unpleasant thoughts and feelings to make something creative, rather than letting my shadow side consume me.

B: Darkness is way more interesting. And real.

AF: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?

F: At this point, the idea of collaborating with someone famous is an overwhelming thought. Sorry for the cop out, but I can say that we’re looking forward to some collaborations from some of our peers, both original and in remix form. More on this as it develops!

B: Sorry Frank, but I’m going with Pee-Wee Herman.

AF: Will you tell me about your current LP you’re working on?

F: We spent the majority of 2014 hunkering down and working on the record. We recorded Silhouettes in piecemeal form over the course of the year, layering synths and guitars and drums as they fell into place. The record is currently in the can and is being mixed as we speak by the uber-talented Xavier Paradis, and will hopefully see release this fall via aufnahme + wiedergabe.

AF: How does it differentiate from previous work?

F: The new record is incredibly diverse – there are ambient segues, the occasional industrial/hip-hop hybrids, and plenty of other eclectic sounds to go around. There are more complex rhythms that are the result of Vanessa and Barrett’s superior drum programming talents, for starters. We also took turns writing lyrics this time around, with Barrett, Vanessa, and I all contributing. It’s truly The Harrow as it’s meant to be – a band hitting their stride as a full working unit with equal love and collaboration driving us.

AF: Can we expect any live shows for you in the future?

B: While we enjoy playing live from time to time, it isn’t the primary focus of the band. We are at points in our lives where making the music is more important and rewarding in and of itself than performing it on stage. Our goal with the band leans much more toward the creative side. When we do play though, we want to make sure it is an event, and something to look forward to, not just the typical four random bands on a Tuesday night thing.

Watch The Harrow’s music video for “AXIS” below.

LIVE REVIEW: Bella Union Label Showcase w/ Marissa Nadler, Mt. Royal, Ballet School & Pins

Pins Live Bella Union

Still a bit SXSW-weary, I ventured out to Baby’s All Right for Bella Union’s stacked showcase this past Wednesday, a chilly Brooklyn rain washing some of the Austin dust from my boots.  At first glance, the artists on the bill seemed pretty disparate, but then again, that’s really the beauty of Bella Union’s curatorial scope.  Though not sonically cohesive, something gelled as I watched sets from Pins, Ballet School, Mt. Royal, and headliner Marissa Nadler, and remembered how Bella Union was born – as a way for Cocteau Twins to release their own material.   When the enigmatic Scottish group disbanded, Simon Raymonde kept the label afloat, signing Dirty Three and other genre-defying bands of high artistic caliber.  And given that history, it’s no wonder that Raymonde is so acutely tuned to picking out female vocalists with innovative approaches, much like his former bandmate, the incomparable Liz Fraser.  Wednesday night’s line-up shone a spotlight on some newer additions to Bella Union’s stellar roster who follow Fraser’s tradition of fearlessly pushing female vocals to new, experimental heights.

Pins Live Bella Union

Manchester-based quartet Pins started the whole thing off.  They showed no fatigue despite the fact that it was the group’s third show in a string of NYC appearances, also coming on the heels of SXSW, where I caught them at Music For Listeners’ day party.  These ladies play searing garage rock with dire lyrics, but their penchant for the dramatic narratives belies a decidedly fuzzy approach.  They are a bit reminiscent of early Dum Dum Girls and in fact are scheduled to play shows with Crocodiles upon their return to the UK, so Dee Dee should probably watch her throne.  Frontwoman Faith Holgate sings in a troubled, deep-throated wail, occasionally interjected with spritely yelps.  Lois MacDonald’s back-up howls and distorted guitars lend elements of shoegaze to the froth, while plodding bass from Anna Donagan and Sophie Galpin’s crashing drums allow post-punk to creep in.  Though Bella Union released their debut record Girls Like Us late last year, the gals also run an impeccably curated cassette label of their own called Haus of Pins, no doubt part of the reason Raymonde was so impressed by the British babes.

Ballet School Live Bella Union

It was the first NYC show for Berlin-based Ballet School, who played next.  Of the four acts playing that night, Ballet School bore the closest resemblance to Cocteau Twins, but have updated that sound just enough to elevate it far above retread.  The trio look more metal than they sound, leaning toward shoegaze-tinged new wave pop more than anything else.  Irish chanteuse Rosie Blair has an almost operatic range, her voice trilling gorgeously over extended notes, taking on some of the abstract qualities for which Fraser was renowned.  The vibrations settle easily against the electronic loops and guitar manipulations that Michel Collet provides, his silky black mane falling over his face while Louis McGuire lays down R&B-inspired beats, often opting for a drum machine over pieces of his kit.  Blair’s stage persona is that of tortured wraith or sea-nymph, her pale skin framed by long, white-blonde hair, both set against dark garb which flared dramatically as the singer contorted her otherworldly frame.  Audiences at SXSW were awed by Ballet School’s performances; suffice to say this emerging band could be the next huge thing for Bella Union, who’ve already put out one EP (entitled Boys Again) for the newcomers.

Mt. Royal Live Bella Union

Mt. Royal was, for me, the true standout of the evening.  They’d already made the trek from Baltimore to Brooklyn for a few scattered shows, but this was my first opportunity to catch one of the band’s gigs.  Lead singer Katrina Ford is best known for her work in Celebration, and as with friends Future Islands and Wye Oak, has always had a reputation for putting on a phenomenal live performance.  Not only did Mt. Royal meet all those expectations, it destroyed them; Ford is an engaging performer who gave a powerhouse vocal performance, ululating between sensuous low registers and lilting peaks.  Her movements gave the impression of wrenching that sound from a deep emotional core, and her bandmates built anthemic paeans around it.  Their ferocious energy spread like wildfire around the room, with most of the crowd shimmying as enthusiastically as Ford herself.  The band hopes to put out a full-length in the fall to follow up their excellent six-song self-titled EP.

Marissa Nadler live Bella Union

It was a bit of a shame though, for Marissa Nadler, who had no choice but to take it down several notches in the now very noisy bar.  To her credit, she took it in stride and sounded perfectly ethereal despite having a bit of a sore throat.  Her elegant, moving record July is the fifth studio album the singer has released but a debut on Bella Union, who handles it in the UK while Sacred Bones oversees its US promotion.  Nadler mainly stuck to material from her latest, backed by cellist Janel Leppin, who added  some beautiful atmospherics with reverbed strings.  The less-than-attentive folks in the audience missed out on Nadler’s inspiring versatility – her resolute delivery of the very personal narratives that comprise July was both unflinching and delicately nuanced, indicative of the relentless touring she’s done over the last ten years of her career.  To those that were listening raptly, she had a special treat: closing the set with “Fifty Five Falls” from her first record, Ballads of Living and Dying.  It showed how far she’s come as a songwriter and performer, that there’s far more to her than the wispy caricature so often drawn due to her folksy roots.  As dreamy as her music can sound, it’s never timid, particularly on this last LP.  And it’s that quality that allows her to make a home on a label alongside bands like Pins and Ballet School and Mt. Royal, even if on paper it seems like a bit of a puzzle.

The common thread of the evening, then, was certainly commanding performances from charismatic women.  As Bella Union expands into the States, we can count on them to reliably unearth the most compelling voices in the industry, without rigid preoccupations as to what genre fits or doesn’t fit.  It’s endlessly encouraging to see a label truly invested in such an admirable endeavor.