New music: "Caroline" by Espers

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Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Espers_Caroline.mp3%5D

Download: “Caroline” – Espers (mp3)

From the forthcoming ESPERS album, III, available October 20, 2009 from the good folk at Drag City Records of Chicago and Wichita Recordings of London.

Marvelous album cover artwork by Xavier Schipani of Baltimore.

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August 13-15: Harvest Records Presents Transfigurations Festival in Asheville, NC

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If you have never scoped out the subtropical vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, August promises to be a sublime time to do so–and not only because its high altitudes provide natural relief against the summer heat. Asheville’s Harvest Records–part independent record shop, part record label, part curatorial team– will mark its fifth birthday with a three-day, multi-venue musical gathering, bringing in over a dozen artists from across the nation to celebrate the organization’s dual commitment to musical awareness and community-building in Western North Carolina. “Transfigurations,” co-owner Mark Capon explains, “brings together the spirits of the musicians that we have brought to this city, the artists who have displayed on our walls, the sounds people have found in our shop, and the togetherness that we have attempted to breathe into the community…hour by hour, day by day.” Featured acts include Akron/Family, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Books, Budos Band, Circulatory System, Mount Eerie, Espers, War on Drugs, Brightblack Morning Light, Kurt Vile, Ice Cream, Jonathan Kane, Coathangers, Villages, and Steve Gunn, along with a Saturday-afternoon panel discussion on musical documentation in the digital age by Eric Isaacson (Mississippi Records), Lance Ledbetter (Dust-to-Digital label), and Nathan Salsburg (Twos & Fews Records/Alan Lomax Archive).

Transfigurations 2009, August 13-15
The Grey Eagle, Diana Wortham Theatre, & Fine Arts Theatre
Asheville, NC
Festival Schedule

Tonight, June 11, Philly: Arthur presents Doug Paisley, Greg Weeks, Willie Lane, Sondra Sun-Odeon in a special evening garden show (all ages welcome)

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Thursday, June 11

Arthur presents…

A soiree at Frankford Gardens

8pm

featuring four solo musicians…

DOUG PAISLEY

GREG WEEKS (Espers)

WILLIE LANE

SONDRA SUN-ODEON (Silver Summit)

2037 Frankford Avenue (enter around back on Sepviva Street)
Philadelphia, PA 19125

suggested donation $5 * bring your own whatsits

inappropriate weather moves show indoors to the music parlor

DOUG PAISLEY
This will be the Philadelphia debut of the Toronto-based country-folk songwriter best known as half of the Will Oldham-championed Dark Hand and Lamplight, a live performance collaboration with visual artist Shary Boyle which features Boyle creating live drawings and animating pre-drawn images on an overhead projector while Mr. Paisley sings and plays guitar.

Tonight, Doug will be playing songs from his gem of a debut album, released late last year on No Quarter Records, as well as new songs. Doug’s first LP, an enduring favorite at Arthur Philly HQ , garnered four stars from Andrew Male at Mojo magazine, who saluted its “lilti​ng melod​ies,​ comforting​ Guy Clark​ drawl​,​ and lazy Bears​ville​ arrangemen​ts… ​ [There’s] nagging details within these love songs​ of union​ and division—great​ fireb​alls,​ waves​ risin​g up, birds​ falli​ng from the sky, unima​ginab​le thing​s burie​d in the groun​d,​ deeds​ that can’t​ be undon​e,​ cold,​ sound​less rain and somet​hing on the horiz​on ‘we will surel​y see coming/​in the wide open plain​.​’ This mood of proph​esy and foreboding​ lends​ Paisley’s debut​ an eerie​ power​ and stren​gth,​ meani​ng that as you retur​n to his charm​ing and encha​nting​ country melod​ies—and you will —they’​ll continue to throw​ up their​ weird​ detai​ls,​ glint​ing symbo​ls of doom on the horizon of the Ameri​can west.​”

And here’s Mike Wolf in Time Out New York: “Comparisons between musicians usually do a disservice to all involved, but ignoring the minor detail of one sui generis decades-long career, Doug Paisley and Neil Young share many key traits. Both are Canadian and have a grasp of American roots-music traditions so deep you’d think it comes from their bones. More important, Paisley, like Young and few other singer-songwriters, has the power of immediate communication: When he opens his mouth, you believe him utterly—that he has crossed the rivers, climbed the mountains, come through the fires, lived every molecule of what he sings.

“Paisley’s self-titled album is last year’s most extravagantly unadorned piece of music: plain as dirt and direct as sunlight, and no less elemental. “Frost leaves a sign on your window/Now you know the summer’s been and gone/You wonder when you’ll see another one/Where did the sweet love go?” he sings on “A Day Is Very Long,” fan-dancing the profound behind the mundane. There are few highs and lows in Paisley’s economical songs; he’s whittled out his space in the middles, where all the forethought and aftermath that sandwich life’s big events go on, though gravity and shadow loom toward the edge of the sky.

“While his album is gorgeously spare—bass, drum and backing vocals on some songs, plus his guitar and keyboards—Paisley will be playing solo at these shows, which is only fitting for the purest voice to come down the pike in ages.

GREG WEEKS
The Espers guitarist, producer and record label mogul makes a rare local solo performance. “Prolly acoustic guitar,” he sez. “Simple and straightforward.”

WILLIE LANE
“Epic martian love call transmitted by steel strings & flanger” is how this frequent MV & EE collaborator and Child of Microtones scene member, now based in Philadelphia, describes what he’ll be playing tonight. Willie’s just-out LP, Known Quantity (Cord Art), is a favorite in many houses. Arthur Magazine “Bull Tongue” columnists Byron Coley and Thurston Moore call it “a total blast. Willie’s mostly solo (save for some licks by Samara Lubelski) and his playing ranges from Wizz Jones power-pluck at its cleanest to Michael Chapman electro-smear at its phasingest. But Willie knows his stuff cold and this instrumental slide through the gates of Neverland is one of this year’s great rides.”

SONDRA SUN-ODEON
This New York City-based singer/writer/guitarist, best known for her work in Silver Summit, will open the evening with what she calls “a loosely fingerstyle guitar & vocal set conjuring rain…big sad drops of water with dark, hazy, haunting song clouds that speak of death, love, parting, and paradise. ”

Variety on Arthur Nights, Oct 19

Variety
Arthur Nights
(Palace Theater; 1,967 capacity; $24, one night; $80, four night pass) Presented by Spaceland and Arthur Magazine.

Performers: Devendra Banhart, Bert Jansch, Espers, Buffalo Killers, Jackie Beat, Axolotl, Grouper, Yellow Swans, Belong, Numero Uno DJs. Reviewed Oct. 19, 2006. Also (with different line ups) Oct 20-22.

By STEVEN MIRKIN
You have to hand it to the publishers of Arthur Magazine. The (more or less) monthly [solidly bimonthly, actually-Ed.] is not only one of the most interesting reads out there — a consistently surprising mix of truly underground music, politics and art — but in a little over a year (with an assist from local club Spaceland) they’ve become a force on the Los Angeles concert scene, staging three multi-stage festivals that impress with their almost impossibly broad and well-chosen line-ups.

Arthur Nights is their latest offering, and the four-day event (held on two stages in the somewhat decrepit grandeur of downtown’s Palace Theater) once again covers a wildly eclectic range of music, with Thursday’s opening night line-up focusing on the “freak folk” movement the magazine has championed. As Noah Georgeson, producer and guitarist for headliner Devendra Banhart told the young and rapt aud, “We’re seriously laid back.” The evening’s three most intriguing main stage acts — Philadelphia psychedelic folkies Espers, guitar legend Bert Jansch and Banhart — rarely raised their voices or pushed the tempo, but each managed to make a distinct and satisfying impression.

With Meg Baird and Helena Espvall’s wispy, ethereal harmonies, Espers often has an eerie, otherworldly beauty. Their songs (from their most recent album “II” on Drag City) build slowly, almost imperceptibly, turning freer and more psychedelic as they go on; stretched out, they reach for a raga-like transcendence. At other times, when Greg Weeks adds his voice and plays the recorder, the songs sound like a stranger Jefferson Airplane crossed with touches of Fairport Convention and the Stooges.

They were followed by Jansch, who played the most satisfying set of the evening. His captivating mix of traditional folk and modern styles hasn’t changed much — the songs on his latest, “Black Swan” (Drag City) sound timeless. His playing looks almost effortless, but lattice-like interplay between his finger-picking and the movement of his left hand on the fret-board creates a cascade of notes is so sweeping, the counterpoint of melody and accompaniment so intricate, it’s hard to believe that the sounds are coming from one man.

Jansch was warmly received — members of the aud even whooped and applauded when he changed tunings on this guitar. A good deal of the credit for Jansch’s revival can be laid at the feet of Banhart. Jansch repaid the compliment and joined Banhart for two songs during the latter’s set, and “My Pocket’s Empty” had a focus and energy that was missing from most of the headliner’s set.

Banhart is an intriguing figure: with his long hair and beard he could have stepped from a late ’60s Laurel Canyon photo, and the early portion of the show, with three guitars and four-part harmonies, didn’t stray too far from folk cliches. But his music has a much broader reach, although the often feckless presentation blunts his ambition.

With his quivery, high-pitched vocals and Georgeson’s squirrelly guitar, the music often feels like a less jazzy version of Tim Buckley’s “Happy/Sad” (or, in the case of “Heard Somebody Say,” John Lennon’s “Oh My Love”), with Banhart presenting himself as a shamanistic seducer. In “At the Hop,” he wants his lover to “pack me your suitcase/cook me in your breakfast/light me with your candle/wrap me with your bones.”

The latter part of the set, when he stands up and straps on an electric guitar, starts to move further afield, as the music takes on touches of reggae, rock and, in a cover of Caetano Veloso’s “Lost in the Paradise,” bossa nova. But the entire set feels too meandering and laden with ideas that are too coy for their own good, including bringing up a member of the aud onstage to perform and an impromptu imitation of Al Jolson.

As might be expected from an Arthur evening, there were other styles of music to explore. Buffalo Killers opened the main stage perfs with a set of well worn, if well-played sludgy blues rock; an update of ’70s dinosaurs Mountain or Cactus. But they could surprise with a cover of Neil Young’s “Homegrown.” In the upstairs loft (accessible by an ancient manually operated elevator or a twisty staircase right out of a ’40s film noir mystery) Axolotl played an intriguing mix of tribal sounds with treated guitars and Grouper — a man [Actually, Grouper is a woman-Ed.], a guitar and a fuzz box — initially sounded like a noisy blare but his layers of feedback slowly built to something quiescently lovely.

LATimes on Arthur Nights Oct 19

Fringe-minded Arthur fest enlivens Broadway with a focus on folk.

By Richard Cromelin
Times Staff Writer

October 21, 2006

“I’d like to thank the cockroach who joined me for that one,” Greg Weeks said Thursday after his band Espers finished a song during the opening concert of the Arthur Nights festival. Weeks had been visited by the insect as he crouched on the stage floor with his electronic keyboard, adding some spacey trills to a folk ballad by the Philadelphia-based group.

Such are the perils of commandeering a faded downtown movie and vaudeville emporium on short notice. But despite this and other small drawbacks, the Palace Theatre on South Broadway proved to be a harmoniously funky setting for the most ambitious yet of Arthur magazine’s extravaganzas of esoterica.

Of the nearly 50 performers scheduled to play over four days through Sunday, only Devendra Banhart, who brought Thursday’s show to a joyous peak, and the Fiery Furnaces, on deck to play Sunday, have what would be considered substantial drawing power beyond the cult level.

So it’s remarkable that in the city where England’s similarly designed All Tomorrow’s Parties failed to establish an outpost after a couple of tries, Arthur has now mounted three significant showcases of fringe music in little more than a year.

Jarring juxtaposition is usually the operating principle, and it’s in force over much of the weekend, but the heart of Thursday’s concert amounted to a themed program spotlighting various facets of the underground folk movement.

Los Angeles-based Banhart is the standard-bearer for this thriving scene, but his hour-plus performance Thursday took him far beyond the acoustic roots and the image of the eccentric sprite that won his initial following.

His set progressed from light, lilting shuffles buoyed by four- and five-voice harmonies by his band members through classic folk-rock (David Crosby’s “Traction in the Rain,” Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) to some hard-driving, rhythm-heavy versions of favorites from the Banhart songbook.

At the end, with the crowd finally on its feet, the strikingly dark-suited, dark-bearded singer was shaking maracas à la Jagger on “I Feel Like a Child,” and looking like a rock-star-to-be.

But the most Arthurian moment came earlier in the set, when Scottish folk-music icon Bert Jansch joined Banhart and his band for two songs.

Though it was a bit of a no-brainer (Banhart sang on Jansch’s new album, “The Black Swan,” and his guitarist Noah Georgeson produced the record), it was the kind of special mix you hope for at a festival such as this.

And the pairing conveyed a sweet sense of community and continuity as the generations met for “My Pocket’s Empty,” from the new album, and a song from Jansch’s influential ’60s-’70s folk-rock band Pentangle.

Jansch, who has been hailed as a hero by an army of rock guitarists, preceded Banhart with the kind of solo performance he’s been doing for decades. But he usually plays tiny rooms such as McCabe’s on his infrequent visits to the area, so this larger setting was a welcome showcase for his restrained virtuosity and modest personality.

Always aiming for harmonic invention and emotional statement rather than empty flashiness, Jansch, 62, moved from traditional folk songs to blues to originals, adding some political weight with “Let Me Sing,” about Chilean martyr Victor Jara, and “The Old Triangle,” about capital punishment in Ireland.

Espers are inheritors of Jansch’s pioneering work, and the sextet preceded him with a chamber-folk performance whose female vocals suggested both Pentangle and the Incredible String Band.

And what about the famous Arthur eclecticism? Well, drag performer Jackie Beat followed Banhart with a short set, and the main showroom opened with the heavy, power-trio riffing of Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers.

Arthur Nights was originally planned for the Echo and its new sister club the EchoPlex, but when the latter encountered construction delays, it was moved to the 1,050-capacity Palace, which was colorfully thronged Thursday by a coalition of scenemakers and serious-music geeks.

They discovered that the theater’s second stage is on the fifth floor, requiring a ride in an antique elevator or a walk up many steps.

But the room, with its art-space feel, large windows and bean-bag chairs, was a perfect setting to bask in the experiments of such noise manipulators as Axolotl and Grouper.

And things figure to get much more eclectic these final two days, with Beastie Boys associate Money Mark and the Sun Ra Arkestra sharing the bill tonight with folkies White Magic and Six Organs of Admittance. Sunday’s highlight looks to be the rare solo performance by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio.

Just watch your step.