Daniel Thomas Freeman – The Beauty of Doubting Yourself

The Beauty of Doubting Yourself.   What a title that is.  I mean, in my experience of life and art the people who are actually genuinely gifted, the ones who have the ability to create mind blowingly brilliant work, suffer from huge bouts of self doubt.  Their work, to the normal person, seems incredible but to them seems average, it simply cannot be good enough.  The people I know who are arrogant, over confident in their own abilities, tend to be the ones who produce things that disappoint.  A good first record/book etc, lots of back slapping, and before you know it ego has replaced doubt and averageness, potential greatness.  It happens more than I care to think about.  True brilliance tends to come hand in hand with self doubt.  And in that alone I see some real beauty in doubting yourself.

Obviously, that’s not necessarily where the word ‘doubt’ fits with this  record.  In his solo debut outing, Daniel Thomas Freeman  documents beautifully his battles with, and recovery from, depression.  Recorded over six years the album is split into three distinct sections.  The first section focuses on the darkest moments of Freeman’s depressed state – beautifully highlighted in the 25 minute epic ‘Staring into Black Water’.  There is a beautiful moment at the end of this track where the darkness lifts and we are left with the sound of only waves.  It’s a poignant and evocative mood shift highlighting the transition from real darkness and despair to a conscious battle for light.  It feels like the moment that the light is let in, if only slightly, and the second section is packed with the struggle to overcome.

This mood shift suddenly comes clattering down with the aptly titled ‘The Devil Would Steal Your Joy’, a clear indication of the constant battle that those who suffer from depression face.  Moments of real light can disappear in an instant.  Again, the battle to overcome is beautifully presented and as ‘Elegy and Rapture’ begins you know that there is another shift in mood and tone on the horizon.  Violins layered and looped creating a feeling that something brighter is on the horizon.  And in closing track ‘Staring into the Light’ Freeman completes his deeply introspective journey from the darkness to a calmer more peaceful place.

What is quite incredible about this record is the skill with which the story is told.  It’s a journey.  Without a doubt.  And in many ways it’s a very personal and intense one.  Yet, like all good story tellers, Freeman manages to captivate his audience and make them feel like part of the experience.  Using only sound, that in itself is an incredible feat.   Make no mistake, this is a masterpiece in conveying emotion and when all is said and done you really do feel like you have been on an important journey both musically and emotionally.

I sat and listened to this record on the morning of Christmas eve at 5am with a pair of good big headphones.  I don’t think I could have listened to it for the first time in a more appropriate way.  I was completely spell bound by what I heard.

You can check out Daniel Thomas Freeman here.  Enjoy.

The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh

I am well late with this review.  But it’s really only over the festive period that I started to listen to this record properly.  Thank Christ I did though because it’s just stunning.  It really is.

I never got into The Low Anthem through their debut record.  A bit like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver etc I kind of rebelled when everyone started a hooting and hollering about this stunning new record they’d all heard/bought.  The usual fanfare that turns me off an artist fairly quickly.  Thing is, it’s not like I even give them a chance.  I just refuse to listen for some reason until the kerfuffle has died down and I can make my own assessment on the music without all these voices in my ears about whether I should like something or not.  So, this really is my first proper encounter with The Low Anthem and it’s a pretty great way to start.  It makes me want to go back to the debut now.  And I am glad that this is how it’s panned out.

‘Ghost Woman Blues’ is just a stunning way to open a record and sets the tone for what is to follow, in the same way that title track ‘Smart Flesh’ finishes the album in a sublime manner.  Although I did, and do, struggle a little with the weird country shuffle of ‘Apothecary Love’.  Fortunately, ‘Boeing 737’ kicks in immediately afterwards and reignites the album in brilliant fashion. (A tune about the destruction of the TwinTowers, cutting and direct without feeling sentimental or contrived – perhaps due to the wonderful imagery created by the lyrics).  Anyways,  it’s an odd blip in an otherwise faultless record and yet, it’s an oddly endearing tune despite not  fitting in the context of the record.  And I mean that about the record.  It’s pretty close to faultless for me.  I wish I had listened to it earlier.  It would certainly have been in my top 10 of 2011.  It’s just great and I cannot get it off my stereo at the moment.

I don’t know what it is about music like this that fills me with such pleasure.  It’s a little like the writing of Raymond Carver, Willy Vlautin and most recently Donald Ray Pollock.  There is something unquestionably American about it.  I know that sounds obvious.  But it’s like the photography of Pat Sansone in that much of what he photographs is completely American.  It could only be America that you are looking at in his pictures.  From the broken down signs to the images of the Marlboro man.  And this music, like the work of Carver, Vlautin, Pollock and Sansone represents America perfectly.  It’s not the glitz and glam of NYC or Los Angeles but the down trodden and the broken.  The rough around the edges.   It comes from somewhere much darker and yet with much more soul.  I don’t know.  It just resonates with me in the same way that those other mediums do.  It gets right into my soul, my bones and my blood.  It moves me.  It makes me want to hear more.  That’s what good art of any form should do right?  The Low Anthem achieve it beautifully with this record.  It is such a fearful record.  I love it.

You can check out the Low Anthem here.  Enjoy.

The Kays Lavelle in 2012

So, for those of you who know about The Kays Lavelle, the band split in late 2010 having released our debut record ‘Be Still This Gentle Morning’.  After a long time away from writing music I have found focus again and will be releasing a number of records in 2012/2013.   And one of those will be the follow up record from The Kays Lavelle.  This record will be very much a solo effort using friends and colleagues to supplement the music I write and will not result in any live shows.

It really has developed from working on songs with Matt for the debut Graveyard Tapes record.  Sifting through the tunes we could use for that I discovered there was a real separation between the tunes that would work for GTapes and for The Kays.  And so, after rediscovering my passion for writing music there will be a new Kays record.  To be recorded throughout 2012 I would expect it to be ready to be released in early 2013.  Hopefully, for those of you who supported us in the Be Still Days, this will be good news.  Many of you will not care.  Just thought I’d put it out there.  It will probably be out on mini50 records unless somebody else shows an interest in what we’re doing.

Anyways, the Graveyard Tapes record should be completed in February with me and Matt taking a week or so to just focus on it and get it done.  Very excited by it.  Think it eclipses anything I’ve been involved in to date and is a nice departure from the Kays stuff.  So will be nice to have it done and see where it can take us.  Hopefully to only good places.  Though I have no expectations when it comes to my music anymore if I am honest.  I am just enjoying being part of really positive experiences in terms of the people I’ve got to work with through mini50, glacis, graveyard tapes and now the kays.  2012 should be fun music wise.

If anyone who doesn’t have Be Still This Gentle Morning is interested, we are currently giving away free copies to thos who email mini50records@hotmail.co.uk with their name and address.  So yeah, drop us a line if you would like a copy of the record (If you want a listen before hand just go to the mini50 bandcamp page).  We will post them out at the end of this month.  And it is a limited time period that we will be accepting requests so act soon.  Oh, and while stocks last we’ll through in a couple of badges with the record – if you’re lucky featuring the image above by the awesome Lizzy Stewart.

Oh, and if you want to keep tabs on the progress with the new Kays record you can do so by going HERE.

Richard Knox and Frédéric D. Oberland – The Rusle of the Stars

Friendships don’t always result in brilliant records.  In fact, sometimes the very fact that friends are involved means that it becomes more difficult to be critical and creative.  I have known many friendships that have dwindled because of musical differences.  It’s silly, but it’s true.  Richard Knox and Frédéric D. Oberland are members of Glissando and Farewell Poetry respectively.  This collaboration was built out of a friendship formed when the pair toured together.  Not only did it lead to a friendship but for Farewell Poetry a record deal with Gizeh and then of course this wonderful, wonderful record.

The pair set themselves the task of imagining “a musical passage through the North Pole explorer diaries”, to navigate “a polar journey to the ends of the earth through the arctic sea.”  Knowing this sets you up nicely for what is to follow as Knox and Oberland guide us through a range of emotions befitting of those men who have tried, succeeded and failed to conquer the frozen wastelands of the Arctic Circle.  The way the whole story is communicated using gorgeous strings, emotive electric guitars and piano and subtle samples/field recordinngs is, at times, spell binding.

As a geek who has watched many short films and documentaries on the trials and tribulations of such men as Shackleton and Scott (as well as being from Dundee where the Discovery began it’s voyage and now sits proudly in the docks) this record captures beautifully the hope, courage, despair and joy that must surely accompany such a journey from beginning to end, regardless of how that journey ends.  Many tried and failed.  Shackleton gave up to protect the lives of his men.  Scott and his men perished on their way back from the pole.  And Knox and Oberland manage to convey the emotions of such a voyage, through the highs and the lows, in a stunning way.

Much of the recording of this record was done in a church in Leeds, which only adds to the depth of sound on offer.  Hopefully this will not be the only record that the pair release.  Sometimes friendships and music do go hand in hand.  Sometimes, as in this case, they produce something quite magnificent.  This one is definitely one to be bought and enjoyed on vinyl I reckon.

For more information on The Rustle of the Stars you can go here.  Enjoy.

The Haxan Cloak – The Haxan Cloak

I have been listening to some seriously fearful music of late.  On the morning of Christmas Eve I found myself listening to ‘The Beauty of Doubting Yourself’ by Daniel Thomas Freeman at 5am.  And I should say, I would highly recommend that you wake early one morning, just before sunrise is ideal, put on a good pair of headphones and do the same.  An ode to emerging out of depression, that record is, at times, a very difficult listen but hugely rewarding.  However, it is nowhere near as dark and fearsome as this record by The Haxan Cloak or Bobby Krillic to his friends and family.   Yep, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most intense and emotive records that I have listened to in a long time.  It’s DARK.  Seriously dark and seriously compelling.  It sucks you in in a very strange way but when it’s finished with you I can guarantee you will feel all the better for it.

I’m finding it hard to pin this record down if I’m honest.  It feels like a very similar experience to Ben Frost’s ‘By The Throat’, which blew me away with its intensity and immense use of sound and texture on first listening.  Well, this record does something similar without ever really covering the same ground as By The Throat.  I actually think this is darker.  More brooding.  Haunting even.  In fact, there is something very gothic about this record.  I am not sure if that makes sense, but perhaps it will to those who understand Gothic architecture.  And I think that there are elements of black metal in there too.   It’s just so intense and absorbing.

Ultimately, this is a brilliant piece of sound art.  One that anyone with an interest in this type of music should own and one that should be rated up there as one of the most immediate and fearsome records you will hear in some time.  As exciting as ‘By The Throat’ was then?  Absolutely.  And as a debut record this is a very, very accomplished piece.

You can check out The Haxan Cloak here.  Enjoy

*As a point of interest, the term ‘Haxan’ is an old German word for witchcraft.

Tomorrow We Sail – The White Rose

Starting 2012 with a gorgeous offering from Leeds based artists Tomorrow We Sail.  I caught these guys live in November 2010 in York and it seems that in the last year they have gone from strength to strength.  This really is a lovely single.  Not dissimilar in tone to I Like Trains, TWS are possibly less dark, less brooding and more genuinely romantic in tone.

Title track ‘The White Rose’ is simply beautiful and throws a little curve ball to all those who have seen/heard the band before with the lead vocals being female and not male.  This is a duet of sorts I guess.   It’s similar to the little shock that Damien Rice threw on ‘9 Crimes’ where Lisa Hannigan took lead vocals but hopefully when TWS release a record, unlike Rice, there album will be good and not filled with massive disappointments.

Anyways, second track ‘Leningrad’ is equally beguiling and a perfect compliment to the opener though I am left wondering whether they now have a female lead singer and not a male one.  mmmm.  It’s still pretty stunning either way.

Anyways, for a mere £3 or more, this is a bargain and one well worth investigating.  You should do so now.  Here.  Enjoy.