Category Archives: FEATURES

The Steel Woods: Skyn Deep

The Steel Woods make (legit) Southern rock safe for Nashville

Now that Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson have rendered outlaw country palatable for indie hipsters and CMT viewers alike, perhaps life will be a bit easier for an unwieldy upstart outfit like the Steel Woods. Gritty in their execution but not averse to a little studio refinement, the Nashville quartet may just be OC’s most authentic answer to Lynyrd Skynyrd—Southern-rocking old souls with enough savvy to take what they need from Music City machinery and escape relatively unscathed.

“I feel at home in Nashville,” says band cofounder Wes Bayliss. “There are all types of people and all types of music. It’s become a real mixed bag.”

The Steel Woods’ strikingly accomplished debut, Straw In The Wind (Woods Music/Thirty Tigers), manages to sound utterly current and defiantly retro at the same time. Credit the Alabama-born Bayliss and Asheville, N.C., native Jason “Rowdy” Cope’s classic songwriting acclivities and salt-of-the-earth narratives, and the beefy, nuanced sound they concocted as co-producers. “We just started thinking about our heroes,” says Cope. “I love AC/DC, but I also love Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. You want big guitars, but you want beautiful acoustic guitars, too—and John Bonham drums.”

Bayliss was in grade school when he started playing harmonica in his family’s gospel group. From there, he moved on to piano, bass and drums. Two years ago, he ran into Cope—an accomplished songwriter, producer and guitarist—at a gig in Nashville, and the two initially bonded over a shared love of fishing. “I wish there was a great, interesting story, but we really just had a lot of mutual musician friends,” says Bayliss.

Save for a few covers—including a taut rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Hole In The Sky”—Straw In The Wind is an impressive collection of originals that documents the first gasp of a creative partnership with some serious staying power. Given the album’s fixation on keeping the faith despite the reality that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, it’s obvious that Bayliss and Cope’s narrative sensibilities were shaped by their Bible Belt upbringings and a genuine empathy for those weathering the life-altering consequences of their own mistakes. “Forgiveness, redemption, justice—they’re all the things you go through in life,” says Cope. “It’s stuff everyone can relate to.”

—Hobart Rowland

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Jason Isbell: That’s Not Me

Former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell fights against identity politics

“Heard enough of the white man’s blues/I’ve sang enough about myself,” Jason Isbell sings toward the end of The Nashville Sound (Southeastern/Thirty Tigers), his sixth album and third with his band the 400 Unit. The song is “Hope The High Road,” and it’s a rousing rocker about optimism in the face of pessimism from the former Drive-By Truckers guitarist. “Last year was a son of a bitch/For nearly everyone we know/But I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch/I’ll meet you up here on the road.”

The song is self-referential; in a sense, it claims the album is moving on after previous songs about white privilege (“White Man’s World”), love and death (“If We Were Vampires”) and nervous paranoia (“Anxiety”). But Isbell bristles at the idea that any of the songs should be taken autobiographically.

“Why the fuck do people still think that every time you say ‘I’ or ‘me’ in a song, you’re talking about yourself?” he says. “It’s beyond me. I just don’t get it. I never saw songs that way. Maybe it’s because I was listening to people like John Prine. I was lucky enough to have parents who would play (Prine’s) ‘Angel From Montgomery’ for me when I was a little kid, and I’d think, ‘This guy’s not an old woman.’ Still, still, everybody thinks every single character in every single song is the guy who wrote it. None of us has that many stories to tell.”

Isbell, who is now sober and married to singer and fiddler (and 400 Unit bandmate) Amanda Shires, became a father between his last album and this one, and it’s hard not to see autobiographical details in the references to his wife and daughter in several songs. But Isbell notes that all the songs blend his own experience with character studies and, often, something about songwriting itself. “Hope The High Road” is an example: The song was well-received as a dose of rock ’n’ roll after two excellent but quieter albums, 2013’s Southeastern and 2015’s Something More Than Free. But Isbell did hear some backlash for its seemingly political point of view, much to his frustration.

“Some people took umbrage with the content,” he says. “They disagree with what I’m saying, that it’s a liberal, left-wing viewpoint. Whether it is or not, they use that to then say that the song is no good, and that drives me insane! Somebody who’s a brilliant songwriter could write a song about murdering somebody who doesn’t in any way deserve to be murdered, and if the rhymes were there and the melody was there and there was tension and release, I would say, ‘OK, that’s a beautiful song.’ I definitely disagree with that person’s idea that you should kill your neighbor, but, you know, the song is absolutely beautiful. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll do that. I’ll write a bunch of songs about some things I completely disagree with, across the board, but I’ll attempt to write the songs so well that they’re great songs. But the point of them is total bullshit.”

He laughs at the idea, and then talks about Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” as an example: “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die.” Isbell ends up being almost dismissive about the content of the songs. The lyrics aren’t the only key to a good song, and they aren’t necessarily the central issue in Isbell’s craft as a songwriter, musician and artist.

“A lot of times, as an artist, as somebody who creates a story—and I know this is a concern of people who write fiction or poems or people who paint—but you don’t usually get asked the questions that you want to be asked by your audience,” he says. “You don’t usually get judged on the criteria that you want your audience to judge you on. And that can be maddening. People have been concerned about subject matter a lot, and they always have as long as I have been writing songs.”

Which raises the question, “What would you rather be asked, Jason?” And that makes him laugh.

“I didn’t necessarily mean by journalists. But that’s a good question, what would I like to be asked? I’ve never thought about that. Honestly, the questions I’d like to be asked are the questions nobody would be interested in the answers to, like gear questions. That’s what I’d rather talk about than what any of the songs are about. What pedals do this on that song—things that nobody outside of the nerdy guitar world wants to talk about. My point was this: What’s important to me is that art and craft of building the songs. I don’t think the subject matter is the be-all, end-all that sometimes it’s made out to be.”

Still, Isbell knows that his point of view may be contrary to some among the conservative-leaning establishment of corporate country radio.

“There are packaged ways people want their country singers to be, and there are packaged ways they want their hip-hop singers to be,” he says. “And honestly, that’s all that’s left, is country music and hip hop. Everything else has been commercialized until it’s gone.”

He does feel optimistic, though, when talking about fellow insurgent country artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price. Calling the album The Nashville Sound is a rallying cry, of sorts.

“I think the Nashville sound is ours to claim,” says Isbell. “I think what we’re doing, and what Sturgill’s doing, and what Chris Stapleton is doing—I think that’s changing what modern pop music really is.”

—Steve Klinge

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Chastity Brown: Magic And Loss

Chastity Brown does dark on her new album

The songs on Silhouette Of Sirens (Red House), Chastity Brown’s latest album, are delivered with a quiet force that makes the emotions she’s singing about come to vibrant life. She deals honestly with many aspects of lost love, looking at them with a poet’s sympathetic eye.

“I was in a dark place for part of the time I was writing these songs,” she says. “When you go through some heavy shit, it gives you empathy for other people’s stories, so I drew on the experiences of many people for these songs. Still, there’s a personal element to them that feels very vulnerable. The words are simple, but the way I’m singing is very broken. I wanted to explore different types of heartbreak, because there’s more to that experience than someone leaving and someone being left. Am I singing about losing my father, my lover or my own sense of self? When you’re disconnected from what matters, you need someone who loves you to jar you back into reality. I try to do that for myself in these songs, in hopes that it will do the same for the others who listen.”

Brown recorded most of the record in four days, playing with musicians who have backed her on tour, as well as on local dates in her hometown of Minneapolis. The band’s bright, wide-open sound makes a startling contrast to the intimate lyrics and Brown’s confessional vocals. “I like that big, bouncy electric-guitar sound,” says Brown. “I wanted to capture the interaction of a live show, the way I respond to the band and the way they respond to me. I didn’t have the intention of creating a specific sound, but I wanted a lot of atmosphere and a lot of different colors in the music.”

—j. poet

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Fleet Foxes: Long Time Gone

Six years after their last release, Fleet Foxes return with an album that’s decidedly more Smog or Skip Spence than CSNY

“Wide-eyed leaver, always goin’ … ”
—“Grown Ocean,” the final song from Fleet Foxes’
Helplessness Blues

These harmony-coated parting thoughts were quite literally the last thing to be heard from Fleet Foxes for nearly six years—and they proved strangely prophetic. After his Seattle-area quintet wrapped up its worldwide tour for the 2011 album, founding member Robin Pecknold decided that rather than record what he believes would have been “a pretty bad follow-up album,” he would instead take an extended leave from his own band, move to New York City and enroll in Columbia University’s School of General Studies. For the past five years, Pecknold has spent his time attending a variety of liberal-arts classes (including several in music theory) while using his new locale and life circumstances as songwriting inspiration. All of these pursuits cohered when he reconvened Fleet Foxes to record the band’s long-awaited follow-up, Crack-Up (Nonesuch), named after a 1940s-era collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald essays, written mostly for Esquire magazine, in which Fitzgerald famously insisted that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.” It’s a theorem Pecknold can relate to.

“I was all-in on music from ages 15 through 26, and it didn’t seem like continuing to work on music full-time was actually a way to make the music any better, or more actualized,” he says. “After high school, I took it as a badge of honor to not go to college. I was self-directed and happily honored that; looking at my idols, none of them had gone to college, either. It was that kind of calculus. So I kind of did the opposite of that: flipped every assumption and went into the experience very open-minded. Plus, Columbia has a program for older students, set up for veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. It felt good. There’s a Chekhov quote: ‘If you want to work on your art, work on your life.’ That was my mantra. Going to college was almost like cross-training for me.”

Crack-Up allows Pecknold the freedom to flaunt an otherworldly strangeness that was largely missing from Fleet Foxes’ previous two albums. The first track, “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar,” starts with a fast-forwarded snippet that connects it to the band’s last work, six years ago. From there, it’s almost a dialogue between two Robins—one higher-register and harmony-voiced, describing a journey in objective terms, while a second sotto voce persona (in a different key and tempo) serves as an internal narrative “answer” to these details, essentially two tracks fused together sonically and thematically. It demands close listening that previous CSNY-inspired gems such as “White Winter Hymnal” or “Mykonos” didn’t necessarily require. The album progresses in its non-linear way with acoustic-based tracks that sound a great deal like the Fleet Foxes we know (the high-lonesome “Naiads, Cassadies,” the still and almost madrigal-like “Kept Woman” and “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me”), while others, such as “I Should See Memphis” and the propulsive, Yes-like “Mearcstapa,” feature sonic details that mark them as near to classic Fleet Foxes terrain, but with eccentricities and composition techniques that signal a deliberate departure from what came before.

“Part of the goal with the record is that I wanted to convince the listener, by the end of the album, that the band can go any way they want from here,” he says, “but to lead them there, gracefully. I didn’t want it to be totally alien. But I wanted it to pave a new road.”

Meanwhile, how did the rest of Fleet Foxes spend their time during this lengthy interregnum? Former drummer J. Tillman departed and now goes by Father John Misty; Pecknold’s high-school friend Skyler Skjelset recorded several solo albums and worked with Beach House and the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser, among others.

“Looking back, I’m really grateful,” says Pecknold. “Skye made these solo albums, established his own identity as a musician. And when we came back together to work, it wasn’t so co-dependent anymore, it was a partnership like it hadn’t been before. He had a lot of new ideas, and we had enough time apart that all the vestigial 16-year-old dynamics kind of fell away. Now we come to this as 30-year-old men who respect each other and want to work together. A fuller conversation can be had.”

—Corey duBrowa

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Sylvan Esso: The Sad, Deep History Of Pop

Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn avoid the sophomore slump

On second album What Now (Loma Vista), Sylvan Esso expands the sonic palette of its electronically altered folk, but the band never loses the human touch. Even when they’re riding a crisp, discofied rock beat, singer Amelia Meath and producer/keyboard player Nick Sanborn make warm, intimate music.

“We want our songs to be full of genuine emotion,” says Sanborn. “Every choice we make in an arrangement points back to the original inspiration of the song, an investigation into how hard it is to be a person faced with our inherent contradictions.”

The songs on What Now are optimistic but measured. “Die Young” looks back on the hedonism of youth from an adult perspective that sees the folly in excess and the comfort of a lasting relationship. “Kick Jump Twist” is a bubbly number that considers the sadness lurking behind the narcissistic moves on the dance floor, while “Song” has traces of ’60s R&B as it recalls the bittersweet happiness generated when you listen to the hits of yesteryear.

“As we were making this record, we kept thinking, ‘What now?’” says Sanborn. “We had success with our first CD and didn’t want to repeat ourselves. We were thinking about growing as a band, and as individuals, coming to terms with the idea that nothing is ever really over, no relationship is going to save you, and no solution is ever going to be eternal.”

Meath agrees: “We found ourselves wanting to be more realistic. Singing about sadness has a deep history in pop music. There was a spate of flowers and sunshine from the ’50s to the ’70s, but pop music, in general, is sad. A good pop song has a feeling that, within the majesty of happiness, there’s always a bit of ennui lurking.”

The duo got together when Meath asked Sanborn to remix “Play It Right,” a song she wrote for her all-female folk trio, Mountain Man. “Everything I added seemed to subtract from the song,” says Sanborn. “When I started using the texture of the three voices as the main instrument, I saw how I could serve the song and have the electronic effects amplify the emotions. You want people to focus on the song first and hear all the interesting layers after.” Meath liked what she heard. They began writing songs together, letting the vocals determine the direction of the arrangements, with the electronic sounds kept to a minimum. “I love pop, but the sound of the human voice is disappearing,” says Meath. “I learned how to sing by listening to the radio, but you’re hearing fewer and fewer voices that aren’t crammed into key with Auto-Tune. Young people today are trying to sing like they’re Auto-Tuned, but the goal of music, and singing, is to access real emotion. You have to feel the breath of the singer. I still love the hits, but on most records today, you don’t really  hear the singer breathing.”

—j. poet

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Finn’s Motel: Tune Inn

Long closed for renovations, Finn’s Motel is taking reservations

When we last heard from Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau, a technical writer/family man from the St. Louis suburb of Affton, Mo., it was late 2006, and he gifted us with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Suitably impressed by Thebeau’s literate lyrics and Beatles/Cheap Trick/Guided By Voices-inflected power pop, MAGNET profiled Finn’s Motel in its January 2007 issue, and an optimistic Thebeau pondered the notion of a rock ’n’ roll livelihood far removed from his boring orbit.

Instead, with the exception of occasional stray online tracks, there was mostly silence until the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau jokes that he should’ve fabricated a story that master tapes were lost in a disastrous studio fire or that potential classic LPs went unheard due to rancorous legal battles with former bandmates. The truth, much like life, is far more mundane: Thebeau lost some inspiration when benefactor/collaborator Robert Griffin (Prisonshake), who released Escape Velocity on his Scat label, essentially retired from music and some momentum when he returned to school to earn his bachelor’s degree in 2010.

He also realized his professional lot, bizarre as it seems given Escape Velocity’s existential yearning, might be something akin to his destiny.

“I’ve come to believe that the universe will let you know what you’re going to get and it’ll make very clear what it wants from you, if anything,” says Thebeau. “The universe is happy with me as a technical writer. The shoe just started to fit, so why take it off? I don’t think the universe needs much from me, either. I go to work, write the instructions and procedures, get paychecks and then make my records when I can.”

Stocked with melodic gems like the gorgeous, poetic “Wings Are Not Made Of Angels”—“A just reward is just a dream/This time, freedom comes from leaving/Not celestial decree from sacred eagles”—Jupiter Rex mines Escape Velocity’s themes but, drawing inspiration from Henry Miller’s Tropic novels, considers the crossing of literal and figurative lines into temptation, infidelity and giving in to desire. It’s highbrow stuff from a down-to-earth guy.

“The big question is whether crossing these lines delivers us into evil, as we’ve been taught to believe, or maybe crossing the line is what will lead us into the empyrean realm of kings,” says Thebeau. “I realize how silly that sounds when applied to pop-rock songs, but hey, this is what I do.”

With another record, Quinta Del Sordo, and an EP, Stone Lions, ready to go when time and finances allow, but preferably before 2017’s end, Thebeau is again focusing on future possibilities. The goal may be less lofty, but the creative drive remains.

“I feel like I’m supposed to at least try to leave my mark,” says Thebeau. “Up to this point in life, that mark includes making music and putting it out there. I do it because I want to and because I feel compelled to, and I hope to have fun while doing so, although sometimes pain is part of the process. I’m a recreational music artist, I guess. I don’t think I’m being defeatist when I say that these records will probably do about the same (as) or worse than the first one. And I’m OK with that.”

—Matt Hickey

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Ron Sexsmith: Eyes On The Golden Age

With his new album, Ron Sexsmith has made the soundtrack of his life

Beloved songwriter Ron Sexsmith never wanted to be a cult artist. “I could never figure out how to take what I’m doing and make it so that people can get it,” he says. “I always wanted hit records.”

Sexsmith is admired for the effortless perfection of his melodies and his thoughtful, earnest lyrics. His friends and collaborators have had hits—from the Barenaked Ladies to Feist—but so far, his acclaim has come more from critics and connoisseurs than from the paying public. “The people who like it seem to really like it, but it’s an acquired taste,” he says of his style.

When Sexsmith talks about his albums, he often refers to them by their producer: “the one I did with Steve Earle” (2001’s Blue Boy), “the Bob Rock album” (2011’s Long Player Late Bloomer), “the last one I did with Mitchell” (2013’s Forever Endeavour; Mitchell Froom, who had a hand in four other Sexsmith albums, either alone, with Tchad Blake or with Daniel Lanois). For Sexsmith, the producer defines the album, which adds significance to his choice to produce The Last Rider, his 13th album—himself.

Sexsmith says his primary concern has always been the songs, but he has often deferred to the producer in the studio, letting him choose the players and define the overall sound—and he knows listeners questioned some of the results.

“A lot of people didn’t like some of the Mitchell Froom/Tchad Blake production because some of their choices were pretty outside; the first album (1997’s Other Songs) especially was very sparse, and the drums sounded weird, but I liked all of that,” he says. “Some people didn’t like Cobblestone Runway’s production (by Martin Terefe in 2002) because it had electronic noises, and there’s a disco song on it.”

Sexsmith himself wonders about some of those choices. “I always felt (1999’s Blake/ Froom-produced) Whereabouts was a bit of  a disaster, and the one I did with Steve Earle always to me sounded a bit like a demo rather than the record it could have been,” he says. “Although a lot of people tell me they  like that one, I’m too close to it. (2004’s Terefe produced) Retriever is one I thought turned out nice. Even the Bob Rock album, which was probably my most successful, I can’t listen to it anymore because of the Auto-Tune. There’s a lot of people who have complained about that, too: ‘Why are you using all that Auto-Tune?’ I could always say, ‘Well, I worked with Bob, and he uses Auto-Tune.’ But this album, I was totally owning it.”

Sexsmith had hoped to work with Terefe, who also produced his previous album, 2015’s Carousel One, as well as 2008’s Exit Strategy Of The Soul, but Terefe had become too expensive after working on hits with Shawn Mendes and Mike Posner. So Sexsmith “put my producer’s pants on,” gathered his touring band, with whom he’d never recorded, and set out to do the record himself. Longtime bandmate Don Kerr co-produced.

“We were just laughing our heads off most of the time,” Sexsmith says of the sessions. “It felt like a camping trip. We recorded it at the Tragically Hip’s studio, which is this old colonial mansion near Kingston, Ontario. We were sleeping there, eating there and recording; it felt like Exile On Main Street or something, without all the debauchery. A little debauchery, but not much—a lot of drinking,” he says, laughing.

He wanted The Last Rider to sound more “current” than his last few  records,  which he says sounded “very retro,” but he didn’t necessarily want it to be as “super slick” as Rock’s work on Long Player. Sexsmith wasn’t interested in tailoring his album for current fashion: “Radio,” the lead single, snaps at the hand that could feed him with lines like “The shameless and the appalling/Have sunk things to a new low/What has become of the world we used to know?” in a song longing for the “golden age of radio.”

“The late ’60s to about ’74—for me, that was my favorite period,” says the 53-year- old, whose first novel comes out this fall. “I’m listening and I’m hearing Badfinger and all that melodic music, like Harry Nilsson or Bill Withers. Radio was the big deal at that time. If you were playing road hockey, you’d have the transistor radio on the curb. It was like the soundtrack; it was on all the time.”

He reminisces about radio stations back then playing stuff from the ’50s, followed by Burt Bacharach or a one-hit wonder or something psychedelic. “It was a very magical time, a very melodic period of music,” he says. “You can hear my influences in my music: It’s all based on that melodic, pop kind of thing. By the time I got signed (in the ’90s), that kind of music was not really in fashion. I’ve always felt a bit too late or out of place or something.”

Paradoxically, “Radio” has been getting airplay in Canada, more so than any of Sexsmith’s other recent work,  so he’s encouraged. But not entirely.

“I never feel quite established,” he says. “I always feel like any minute now I might have to go back to my job as a courier or something.”

—Steve Klinge

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Evan Caminiti: Toxic City

Evan Caminiti explores the gritty side of NYC on his latest album

“I’ve never seen so many people crying in public as I’ve seen in New York, so many people angry in public, screaming.” Evan Caminiti is speaking by Skype from his NYC apartment, explaining how the city’s omnipresent hustle and scattered Superfund cleanup sites shaped his new LP, Toxic City Music (Dust Editions). “I think there’s something about the way that I experience reality in New York in 2017 where the fragmented, hectic daily grind has parallels to all of these digital tools that deconstruct moments.”

Real and imagined spaces have shaped Caminiti’s music since his first recordings with Barn Owl, the duo he formed in 2006 with college chum Jon Porras. The stark, Morricone-meets-Neil Young guitar lines of their early records metaphorically transcended foggy, gentrifying San Francisco; the pulsing electronics of their later records for Thrill Jockey expressed the rootlessness of frequent European tours. Since the two men settled in NYC in 2014, Barn Owl has been on indefinite hiatus.

Apart from Barn Owl, Caminiti has released solo albums that encompass elegiac guitar miniatures and synthetic dreamscapes. Toxic City Music is the seventh but the first on his own label, Dust Editions, and the first to be completely recorded in New York. It comprises 10 compact, grainy mood pieces that start with field recordings of Caminiti’s surroundings and live guitar tracks.

“I’m still very much drawn to that energy of creating something in a moment,” he says. But it takes months in the home studio to transform them into finished music, in a process that mirrors the way he has embraced his new home. “I was just trying to draw from all of these things around me and find a way to turn negative things and sources of anxiety into something positive.”

Bill Meyer

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R.Ring: Not A Cop-Out

Ohio duo R.Ring fills debut Ignite The Rest with familiar-yet-new songs

When R.Ring began seven years ago, Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery entertained few expectations regarding their professional pairing. Guitarist/producer Montgomery had his post-rock band Ampline as well as his Candyland studio. Deal was occupied with the intermittently active Breeders. They met when Deal was tapped to contribute to a Guided By Voices tribute, and she asked Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers to accompany her; the Killers suggested recording at Candyland. Montgomery recorded the track, then he and Deal worked on the mix and in the process discovered common creative ground and forged a musical partnership, but neither one considered R.Ring’s potential permanence.

“I didn’t think I’d still be alive after this much time,” says Montgomery.

“That’s my answer, too,” says Deal. “I didn’t think Mike would still be alive  after this much time.”

From the start, neither participant was interested in the lather/rinse/repeat cycle of albums and tours and contented themselves with occasional limited-edition merch-table/mail-order singles. With a handful of those cataloged, it occurred to Montgomery and Deal their singles to date could constitute a potent record, which has become their full-length debut, Ignite The Rest (SofaBurn).

“It was never our intention to make an album,” says Deal. “We’ve both done our share of studio-rat time, so I wanted to play live. The idea of doing singles came out really organically, and honestly, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that I was ready to put these out on one record. It was just time.”

“They were all written for the album,” says Montgomery. “We reverse engineered it. In- stead of taking singles from our album, we made an album out of our singles.”

Ignite The Rest is striking in its cohesion and continuity. Some are taken directly from the singles (“Loud Underneath,” “Singing Tower”), some were re-recorded (the gorgeous “Steam”), others are brand new or old and never recorded (“100 Dollar Heat” and “Cutter,” respectively). They still sound as if they emerged from a single session.

“I think that has to do with the fact that they were all recorded at the same place with the same engineer and the same gear by the same people,” says Deal. “There’s something to be said for how that affected the musical conversation. And if nothing else, we definitely have a point of view.”

It’s not a cop-out for R.Ring to package its singles for its debut. The original seven- inch copies were produced in such limited quantities that they’ve barely been heard—“Unwinds” was part of a European tour promotional single—and Ignite The Rest will likely be the band’s first exposure to a wider audience. The bigger headline generated by the release of Ignite The Rest is R.Ring’s place in the musical world. Although Deal and Montgomery remain actively involved in their respective bands/projects, the past seven years have solidified R.Ring as a real entity and proven it’s not a transient fling. “I’m not going anywhere,” says Deal.

“There’s nothing fleeting about it,” says Montgomery. “It’s permanent in the sense that it’s always in my mind. It’s something you take into consideration when you’re allocating time for a family vacation or a tour with your other band or a work project. It’s like, ‘What does that do to R.Ring?’”

—Brian Baker

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Jean-Michel Jarre: For Rebellion’s Sake

Jean-Michel Jarre moves from collaboration to solo work

Whether alone for 1977’s prayerfully, atmospherically melodic, multiplatinum Oxygène and its follow-ups (including his recent Oxygène 3) or his collaborative Electronica series of 2015 and 2016, classical pianist-turned-synthetic-godhead Jean-Michel Jarre is a man fond of sequels. “I love the George Lucas idea where a cinematic story is written as a series; not only those in the future but prequels,” says Jarre. “Maybe I try that next: musical prequels.”

Experimentation is Jarre’s stock-in-trade. Rather than make electronic music that stands as a still life—distanced, cool and removed—this son of a French Resistance-fighting mother and a father in the business of composing Hollywood soundtracks (Maurice Jarre) has always forged electronically induced (or rather, seduced) muzik that gets up close and heated in a clinch; “sensualist, as in sex, taste, touch,” he says quietly.

Beyond that, another thing that holds true for the keyboardist/sequencer is that he’s game to try anything, like the vivid, beyond 3-D visuals (“the usual 3-D of film and funny cardboard glasses is boring”) that will accompany his current tour; or pairing Oxygène 3 with its equally moody predecessors for a new vinyl boxed set (“That album, made at a time of rebellion, still speaks to me,” says Jarre of the original); or, gathering electronic contemporaries (“Please, make that heroes,” he says, “inspirations, even the younger ones, especially the younger ones”) such as old friend Laurie Anderson (“a true artist in every medium”), Gary Numan, Pete Townshend, Air, Erasure’s Vince Clarke, Armin van Buuren and more for the double Electronica sets. “We are all part of the same DNA,” he says of Electronica’s fellaheen.

Ask him about the move from the lonely and solitary to the globe-hopping, travel- bound collaborations that fill his dueling Electronica  albums, and Jarre says, “It’s not about age or time; rather, the collaboration— or communion—I seek now relates back to when I was with dozens of other crazy kids in France working on bizarre machines. For me, it was like the student revolution that ran wild throughout the ’60s: against the political system, against everything. Going electronic, for us, was a way of railing against the system, against classical traditions in music. Even the establishment of rock was fair game—especially that.”

Rather than merely rebel for rebellion’s sake, Jarre went one step further—just as he does on Oxygène 3. He relies on simple, intense, richly contagious melody, rather than rhythm and tone, rather than timbre, to make his beauty mark. “I wanted to make the sound of the wind, the sound of the rain,” he says. “I was working as would a painter but with melody, the song, being a large part of my palette. I am obsessed by melody—the idea that I could experiment with both space and noise, along with melody. This is crucial, to be able to sing out.”

Creating the abstract and the direct is key to Jarre’s work—not just with his Oxygène records, with their numerical titles, or his Electronica albums, but with everything in between, such as his epic series of live recordings in China, his avant-punky Zoolook of 1984, his  often  operatic concerts (“Less is more  now,”  he  says of his 2017 excursion) and such.

“All that I have done, just go far beyond Jarre,” he says with a laugh.

Vive la révolution.

—A.D. Amorosi

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