Personal Reflections: The National – I Am Easy To Find

New York is a fickle mistress: all are welcome (subject to having the right immigration papers), its charms are universal, but few are invited to stay forever. Each and every time I visit, I hope that at some point the city will just absorb me, cling onto me, plead with me to hang around for as long as I want, rather than sending me back to JFK feeling as rejected and unwanted as a cast-off, spurned lover; like I have no place there; like I just don’t have what it takes to make it there.

It was in that state of mind that I arrived back into London from New York on early Friday morning, and it was in that state of mind that I listened to I Am Easy To Find by The National. This was possibly a mistake. Notwithstanding the mood of this album which, like much of The National’s music, has a brooding, maudlin quality – if that’s what you’re drawn to, which I generally am, it seems – there’s one lyric on the fragile, electronics-laden title track that seemed to be intended just for me: “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes.” To me, it reaffirmed how I felt right then: you just didn’t fit in; you’ll never completely fit in; feel free to come back, but don’t expect us to let you stay.

Even though that track arrives almost a third of the way into the album, it was that quality of emotional turbulence and displacement that I heard throughout I Am Easy To Find. I’m sure that tracks like ‘Hey Rosey’ (with guest vocals from Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey) or the stuttering, complicated trademark Bryan Devendorf rhythms of opening track ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ and ‘Where Is Her Head’, or even Kate Stables’ plaintive ruminations of the title track do have some sort of transcendent, euphoric quality to them – if that’s what you’re seeking – but for me I just wanted the darkness, and that’s what I found in this album. I wanted to feel shit about my lot and the non-linear rock gestures – processed and infused with copious synths and electronic rhythms with the assistance of Mouse On Mars’ Jan St. Werner – all sitting restlessly beneath Matt Berninger’s quietly expressive vocals, enabled that. Maybe one day I’ll acknowledge the sparse and tender balladry of ‘Kansas’ or the shimmering synth textures of the duet with Lisa Hannigan on ‘So Far So Fast’, or maybe I’ll forever associate this record with feeling jetlagged and empty.

If the album spoke to me in a way that suited my mood at that particular point, the accompanying twenty-five minute black and white film, directed by Mike Mills, left me with profuse tears running down my cheeks; tears that were years and years in the making.

The film charts a life, from birth to death; through joy and sadness; from innocence gained to innocence lost; the discovery and development of oneself; the anguish of relationships; the first meetings and last goodbyes; the endless, endless, endless arguments; the wanting of different things; the inexorable passage of time; the purposefulness and futility of existence. The central character, played vividly and sensitively by Alicia Vikander, never ages throughout the film, even though all those around her do, while the captions – acting as the film’s dialogue – are largely culled from tracks on the album, with the words of ‘Dust Swirls In Strange Light’ and ‘Hairpin Turns’ suddenly making infinitely more sense once coupled to the visuals.

It takes a few short scenes to figure out what Mills’ story is showing us, but the gravity of what is unfolding becomes apparent when Vikander races abruptly into teenagehood, with the attendant and all-too-common hatred of her mother, despite everything she provided her daughter. There’s something about the duration of the film, and the way songs from the album – with all their evocative traits of unresolvedness – soundtrack Vikander’s passage through her life that takes its toll on you; if Mills had compressed her life into the length of a single three-minute song, you’d have no opportunity to adjust to what is inevitably going to happen to everyone she has ever loved or cared about, and then her own passing. Instead, by stretching this out over an intermediate length of time – too long for a promo video, too short for a feature film – the progress feels unswervingly, unbearably, savagely languid.

The film of I Am Easy To Find is thus harrowing viewing in the way extreme horror films are, and yet everything the camera shows you is utterly quotidian, unexceptional, unremarkable – reflections of your own life, maybe. As with the tone I was drawn to on the album, perhaps it was the mood I was in and my own vantage point from probably halfway along my life’s own twenty-five minute high- and lowlights reel – that point where you start to acknowledge your parents’ mortality, where your kids don’t idolise you anymore, where nothing that was previously carefree and innocent seems to be straightforward any longer – this beautiful film made difficult viewing for me. There is plenty of unbridled joy here, I’m sure, but I was mostly oblivious to any of that.

That’s all I have to say. Maybe the entire I Am Easy To Find package will affect you this way and leave an indelible mark on you like it already has for me; maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll see the happiness in all of this that I can’t see. Maybe your eyes will suggest you belong in New York after all. Maybe you’ll brush off your teenage daughter’s disdain for you or the feeling that you’re exactly where you were yesterday, last year, a decade ago – just older. Take a listen (or a watch) and decide for yourself. I’ll still be right here. I am easy to find. I’m not going anywhere.

I Am Easy To Find by The National is out now on 4AD.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Josephine Wiggs – We Fall

If you’ve followed the path of Breeders bassist Josephine Wiggs, you’ll have become accustomed to expecting surprises, and nothing about her latest album – recorded with longtime collaborator and Spacemen3 / Spiritualized mainstay Jon Mattock – has very much at all to do with anything else in her peripatetic back catalogue. If you don’t especially have the patience to read on, then these words will suffice: it is a collection of ten beautiful pieces, each one loaded with sparseness and understated drama.

Each piece here is led by either meditative piano or cello, augmented by a panoply of ever-so-subtle but incredibly expressive additions – scratchy little electronic impulses for which the lazy electronic music journalists’s favourite descriptor ‘glitchy’ is absurdly excessive; quiet bass motifs; guitar passages and non-rhythms that seem to have been cut and spliced in from something far larger.

Pieces like ‘The Weeping Of The Rain’, ’37 Words’ or ‘In A Yellow Wood’ could have been presented as fragile, almost folk-leaning acoustic ballads; instead, an acute capacity for adding fragmentary detail and gentle sound design makes these tracks far more engaging and open, washing them in ambient texture and providing a perfect soundtrack for nature’s omnipotence – and our individual, ephemeral legacies.

We Fall by Josephine Wiggs is out now on Sounds Of Sinners.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Erland Cooper – Sule Skerry

Sule Skerry is the second album in a three part sequence by composer and multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper, intended to evoke the air, land – and, for this LP, the sea – of his native Orkney. As with last year’s Solan Goose, this collection of nine pieces shines a spotlight on Cooper’s fastidious approach to recording, and his borderless, free-thinking arrangements.

Comprising field recordings made on Orkney, strings, tape loops, electronics, vocals, poetry and a diverse set of collaborators, Sule Skerry is a concept album with naturalistic poise. The ebb, flow, power and violence of the North Sea is apparent throughout these pieces, most prominently on the evocative looped recordings of wind gently buffeting the masts of fishing boats and the enveloping see-sawing strings of ‘Flattie’, also featuring readings by Kris Drever and Kathryn Joseph.

Perhaps the most surprising of all these delicate and evocative pieces is ‘First Of The Tide’, which opens with a gently pulsing Moog sequence from Benge. Over the course of this short, journeying statement, Cooper nudges this piece imperceptibly from a plaintive synthscape to a piano and string evocation of the same motif, brilliantly augmented by haunting operatic vocals and a denouement of waves gently lapping the shore.

Sule Skerry by Erland Cooper is out now on Phases.

Words: Mat Smith

Big Bend – Radish

Radish is the second album by Brooklynite Nathan Phillips’s Big Bend. Here you find layers of guitar and piano combining with electronics, processing, backward effects and a mournful sheen, designed to evoke the inexorable passing of time and the development – then eventual collapse – of memories.

While it’s not necessarily an album in which you can identity much joy, the inclusion of vocals from Phillips’s mother on tracks like ‘Swinging Low’ creates a wistful, almost folksy contrast with some of the other pieces, her voice having a clarion quality that glides effortlessly over her son’s inventive musical tapestry.

‘1000 Ways’ and ‘Long Time’ are complex, tightly-woven pieces full of heartbreaking emotion, supported by an accompanying architecture of noisy, unpredictable sounds, while reversed guitar, meditative piano and a restless vari-speed synth loop allows ‘12’ – 15’’ to convey just as much as Phillips’s haunting vocal tracks.

The album’s central piece is ‘Can’t Get Around’, wherein whining guitar is blended with a vocal processed into pure texture; the track has a post-rocky, dubbiness where Phillips’s vocal seems to bespeak of everything from lethargy to demotivation to emotional helplessness. Even when the track approaches a sort of resigned euphoria, it is still fully laden with tension.

Radish by Big Bend was released by Ohie Records on May 10 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Craig Leon – The Canon: Anthology Of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2

Craig Leon cemented his reputation in the late 1970s by becoming the go-to producer for New York’s nascent punk scene, lending his control room nous to early releases by The Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell and, in 1977, Suicide’s eponymous debut. Four years prior to that, Leon had discovered a book that outlined the theory that alien visitors had colonised Earth, inspiring him to create the cult album pairing of Nommos (1981) and Visiting (1982). The best part of forty years later, Leon decided it was high time for a sequel.

Crucially, though much has changed in the intervening years, for The Canon Leon decided to deploy more or less the same synthesizer kit that he’d used for Nommos and Visiting, as well as the voice of his partner Cassell Webb. That gives key pieces like ‘The Twenty Second Step As Well As The Tenth’ a retro-futuristic period continuity to its droning, layered tones and percussive high end, as well as a rich, mystical underpinning. The slow, haunting evolutions of the expansive ‘The Gates Made Plain’, and the Marty Rev-style unswerving sharp-edged synths of ‘The Respondent In Dispute’ stand out as pivotal moments in Leon’s overdue conclusion of his conceptual odyssey.

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2: The Canon by Craig Leon is released by Rvng Intl on May 10 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Andrew Poppy – Hoarse Songs

Hoarse Songs is composer Andrew Poppy’s first release since 2012’s Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling and finds him presiding over an eclectic sequence of ten pieces, each one as vastly different in its presentation as the next.

On the captivating opening piece, ‘Song Tide (Interruptible ted)’, you find Poppy blending together the strictures of modern classical musical with a nod to Erik Satie and a perhaps unexpected sojourn to the most introspective moments of ‘Rhapsody In Blue’. Just as you think you’ve worked out the direction of the album, the next piece is almost entirely electronic, delivered in a jerky, non-linear fashion that sounds like the confluence of a series of differently-timed layers of loops – brass sounds, off-kilter percussion, electro pulses, bubbling electronics, poetic vocals – occasionally intersecting like an AI-derived score.

And so it progresses, each successive piece throwing you ever so slightly off-balance. ‘Wave Machine (Endless Parting)’ deploys exciting synth patterns with white noise percussion and hypnotic harp flourishes beneath Poppy’s canticle-esque vocal; ‘Downside Up’ plays with wonky fusion jazz; ‘What Alice Said’ and ‘What Is This Place’ are evocative, beatific moments of operatic theatricality; ‘Riderless’ takes cyclical horns from Mike Soper, Laura Jurd and Nathaniel Cross and attaches them to metallic music-box electronics; the delicate ‘Cyber Spark’ is enveloped in a sparse, fragile, icy brilliance.

The album’s surrealist twelve-minute centrepiece, ‘X Y Song’, is like a modernistic tone poem with relationship fluidity as its ever-mutable central reference point, while ‘Hoarse’, the album’s final statement, is a genteel, gently uplifting piano composition that would bring this collection to a serene full stop were it not for the interjection of its composer’s strangely unsettling intonation of the title.

Perceived wisdom says that composers and musicians must shy away from these dexterous displays of magpie-like eclecticism, that they just stay shackled to something forever and never liberate themselves from it, however uncomfortable and restrictive that might prove to be. Andrew Poppy has ever been the contrarian composer, and Hoarse Songs is yet another timely and deftly-delivered two fingers to the new classical tradition.

Hoarse Songs by Andrew Poppy is now available for pre-order from

With thanks to Philip.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Dark Star Safari – Dark Star Safari

Dark Star Safari is a quartet of Jan Bang (vocals, samples, piano), Erik Honoré (synths, samples, lyrics), Eivind Aarset (guitar, bass, electronics) and Samuel Rohrer (drums / percussion, synths).

The sessions were instigated by Rohrer at Berlin’s Candy Bomber studios with the assistance of Conny Plank accomplice Ingo Krauss, and were originally intended to be relatively freeform instrumental improvisations; instead, as the reductivist recordings progressed, Bang found himself compelled to add vocals to the tracks, giving the ten tracks on this eponymous album a searching quality that lifts these pieces from interesting sketches to powerful, song-based compositions.

The fragile musings of ‘Resilient Star’, ‘White Rose’ and ‘Faultline’ emerge as highlights, finding Bang delivering his vocals in an almost-whisper that prompts comparisons with David Bowie at his most introspective, while the four-piece lay down a rich, turbulent bed of quiet, but ever-evolving accompaniment.

Bang’s delivery of Honorés cryptic lyrics is given a natural prominence across the album, but divert your attention toward the atmospheric music embedded within pieces like the languid ‘Child Of Folly’ or the faltering synth theatricality of ‘Your Father’s Names’ and what you hear is an understated, restrained complexity that whirs with relentless inventiveness just below the surface.

Dark Star Safari by Dark Star Safari is released by Arjunamusic Records on May 10 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.