New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: bon iver

Catching up with Slopes of Distant Hills

How irresponsible is it to sit on an album for over a year before you do something with it? Admit it: there are albums on your hard drive, or your phone, or maybe even under your bed if you have one, that you haven’t heard yet. The same applies in the world of music blogs, probably multiplied by some ridiculously high number. From the point of view of Andrew Maurer a.k.a. Slopes of Distant Hills, that idea is probably something less than attractive…but better late than never, he’s got an album out on insurgent Chicago label Luxotone that you should hear. If you like the idea of Bon Iver – angst-driven rusticity – but can’t stand the reality, this album is for you. Maurer’s voice has a fragile, breathy, anxious tone that contrasts with the steady dexterity of his fingers on the acoustic guitar. Some of the songs here evoke Nick Drake, others are more bluesy or bluegrass-oriented. As with everything Luxotone has put out, the production is rich and artful: producer/multi-instrumentalist George Reisch adds his usual terse, often poignant layers of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums.

The opening track is Sage Leaf, a minor-key blend of Britfolk and indie rock that builds to a lush crescendo of acoustic guitars: “Left the sea crumbling/Left the wind rustling.” It sets the scene for much of what’s to come. A folk-rock number, Sinking in My Heart builds to a hypnotic interlude and then picks up with yet another one of those intricately gorgeous passages with stately, incisive layers of guitars from Reisch: a little surf and some blues this time around.

Long and Dustry Trail sets pensive Drake-style pastoral imagery to an aptly nocturnal C&W tune: “I work in the town serving coffee to strangers; if they say something bright they could become my friends,” Maurer observes somewhat caustically. He blends the folk with oldschool soul on When Birds Fly, digs into Piedmont blues with Reason, then mines a Dylanesque Buckets of Rain vibe with Your Little Smile. Buddha Eye blends reggae with a trippy freak-folk feel and echoey Give Peace a Chance-style vocals and a completely unexpected hip-hop interlude; then he leaps into A Thousand Kisses, a catchy T-Rex style glam/folk anthem. The absolute stunner here is Anyone, a brooding, alienated, Arthur Lee-esque psychedelic folk number that winds up with a lusciously arranged guitar-and-keys outro. The album closes with Saved by Flight, an apprehensive, incisively fingerpicked acoustic blues tune. RIYL: Nick Drake, Love, the Zombies, Steve Kilbey’s solo stuff. And if some of the Deerhunter/Sufjahn Stevens/Bon Iver crowd catch on to this, so much the better.


Lana Del Rey Got a Raw Deal

OK, that’s a joke – sort of. Lana Del Rey is the pampered daughter of a Los Angeles dotcom millionaire: she’ll never have to worry about being a single paycheck away from homelessness. And no matter how much hate spews from the blogosphere, she’ll always at least have the option of hiring a PR team to tell the world how wonderful she is. But that outpouring of hate is hypocritical to the extreme.

Saying that what she does has more artistic merit than, say, Bon Iver or Arcade Fire is like saying that Mad Dog tastes better than Smirnoff Ice (it does, but why subject yourself to it at all). Still, if you’ve seen the stupid video, you have to admit that her phony noir shtick is actually a step (maybe a half-step or a microstep) above either of those two acts, both of whom have been championed by the same boys who take so much pleasure in putting her down. Could this possibly be a case of sour grapes? Maybe those boys have got their boy-thongs all in a knot because what they really want is to be Lana Del Rey. Why should she get all the photoshoots, the endless parade of stylists and sycophants, and trailerloads of American Outfitters knockoff clothes to choose from every afternoon when she wakes up?

Yeah, there’s a studied ineptitude to everything she does. But why should, say, Grizzly Bear get a free pass when it comes to musical incompetence, while Lana gets pilloried for it? That hypocrisy is fueled by misogyny. After all, everybody knows that indie rock is a boys’ club: other than the closeted trust-fund lesbian contingent, it’s no girls allowed. In a genre where being an atrocity exhibition is a badge of honor (it means you’re wealthy and can afford to embarrass yourself onstage or on record), why, all of a sudden, does quality matter when it comes to Lana Del Rey, but not when any of the boys are concerned? And the height of the hypocrisy is borne out by the fact that her Bowery Ballroom show was sold out. Clearly, the pretty boys of Bushwick’s interest in celebrity far outweighs their interest in music. And that’s two-faced to the extreme.