Written by Redaction Nantes on 22 septembre 2017
Listen to an interview with Ed Horrox, head of Artists and Repertoire at 4AD, here:
4AD is a British independent record label that was started in 1980 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, originally funded by Beggars Banquet.
The label gained prominence in the 1980s for releasing albums from alternative rock, post-punk, dark wave, gothic rock and dream pop artists, such as Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Modern English, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Throwing Muses and Watts-Russell’s own musical project This Mortal Coil. 4AD continued to have success in the 1990s and 2000s with releases from The Breeders, Red House Painters, TV on the Radio, St. Vincent and Bon Iver. The label’s current roster includes independent acts such as The National, Camera Obscura, Deerhunter, Grimes, Purity Ring and Future Islands.
4AD forms part of the Beggars Group, along with Matador Records, Rough Trade Records and XL Recordings. Its history has been detailed by Martin Aston in his biography of the label, Facing The Other Way, released 2013.
Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, employees of the Beggars Banquet record store and label, founded Axis Records in late 1979 as a property of Beggars Banquet that was run by the two. After the first four Axis singles in early 1980, the name was changed when it became apparent that the name Axis was already being used by another music company. The solution to this problem came from a promotional flyer that they had printed up to call attention to the new releases. The flyer’s designer had added some typography that played on both the new year and the idea of progress:
Scrambling for a new name, Ivo glanced at the flyer and suggested « 4AD. » Peter Kent agreed, and, with that split-second decision, 4AD was named.
An initial idea for the label was that it would be a « testing ground » for Beggars Banquet; successful acts would graduate up to Beggars Banquet after a year at 4AD. The only band to follow this path would be Bauhaus, who were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980 right before Ivo and Peter purchased the label outright.
The two were the sole owners for about a year. Kent sold his share to Watts-Russell at the end of 1981, and started a new Beggars Banquet subsidiary, Situation Two Records. Watts-Russell would maintain ownership of the label, and act as its president, until the late 1990s.
Watts-Russell invited the graphic designer Vaughan Oliver to create sleeve art for the label, and as a result, 4AD acquired a visually distinctive identity. Its artists, like Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, developed cult followings in the mid-1980s, but 4AD continued to evolve, and, after signing Throwing Muses and Pixies, the label increasingly concentrated on underground American rock music. In 1983, 4AD had a minor hit in America with the Modern English single « I Melt With You« . In 1987, 4AD had a UK number-one hit with the collaged « Pump up the Volume » by M|A|R|R|S (licensed to 4th & B’Way/Island Records in the US).
In the 1990s, 4AD established an office in Los Angeles and enjoyed success with bands such as The Breeders, Red House Painters, Unrest, and His Name Is Alive. In 1999, Watts-Russell sold his share in 4AD back to the Beggars Group (as it had by then become), but the label continued to release music and add new artists to its roster.
The label’s deal with Warner Bros. Records in the United States in 1992 would start the beginning of a new phase in 4AD history. New signings that year included American underground acts Kendra Smith, Tarnation, Air Miami and The Amps.
Simon Halliday took control of the label at the end of 2007. Immediate successes were Bon Iver‘s critically lauded debut For Emma, Forever Ago (CAD 2809) and Dear Science by Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio (CAD 2821). In 2008, the Beggars Group re-aligned itself so that several labels (including Beggars Banquet itself) were folded up on to the 4AD label. Bands like The National were moved to 4AD as a part of this merger. 2009 saw the release, amongst others, of St. Vincent‘s second record Actor (CAD 2919) and Camera Obscura‘s My Maudlin Career, with 2010 bringing The National‘s High Violet and acclaimed albums from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Blonde Redhead and Deerhunter.
In the next three years, 4AD oversaw new releases from Scott Walker, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, and Tune-Yards, whilst also expanded its roster with a number of beats and electronic acts in the shape of acts including Purity Ring and Grimes, with the latter releasing one of the best received albums of 2012. The latest signings to the label are bEEdEEgEE, of Gang Gang Dance, Lo-Fang, and British producer SOHN. At the start of 2014, the label also announced the additions of Future Islands and Merchandise, followed by D.D Dumbo.
THE ARTISTS / RECORDS
Formed in 1999, the Ohio-raised, Brooklyn-based band consists of vocalist Matt Berninger plus two pairs of brothers: Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar), and Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).
Sleep Well Beast was produced by member Aaron Dessner with co-production by Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger. The album was mixed by Peter Katis and recorded at Aaron Dessner’s Hudson Valley, New York studio, Long Pond, with additional sessions having taken place in Berlin, Paris and Los Angeles.
More infos : https://www.facebook.com/thenationalofficial/
2013 marked the release of their debut album, the much anticipated If You Leave, a record that left many a fan and critic spellbound; « Word-in-the-ear intimate and mountain-range massive » The Fly, « Staggeringly beautiful from beginning to close, a catharsis that’s both bracing and woozily amniotic » The Line of Best Fit, « An album as beautifully conceived as (this) you follow from start to finish, riveted by the story it weaves and the emotion it bleeds » Drowned In Sound. Entering the UK album charts in the Top 20, If You Leave continues to spread it’s magic via word of mouth with both the band touring extensively and radio stations playing them with abandon. By the time 2013 is out, the band will have performed in excess of 130 shows across four continents in the calendar year, playing pretty much every major festival too. As well as playing shows with Sigur Rós and The National, one of their year’s highlights will undoubtedly be their two packed shows at Glastonbury Festival, a real moment for the band and also when they finally make their UK TV debut, performing a stripped back version of ‘Youth’ for the BBC’s Treehouse Sessions.
2016 will see the long-anticipated release of the group’s second record Not To Disappear. It is preceded by ‘Doing The Right Thing’ and ‘Numbers’, with the accompanying videos directed by the BAFTA-nominated Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, which was adapted from a short story by Stuart Evers. They are the first two of a trilogy from the team.
More infos : https://www.facebook.com/ohdaughter
THE LEMON TWIGS
Born into a musical family, Brian and Michael grew up on The Beach Boys and The Beatles, whose albums and films played constantly in their house. As toddlers, they were already harmonizing on ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, and soon they were playing drums and mastering whatever instruments they could get their hands on. Ask about their childhood dreams and they’ll tell you that they never aspired to do anything but make music together. It shows.
“Brian and Michael are two of the best musicians I’ve ever met,” says Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, who discovered the duo via Twitter and produced the new album. “As teenagers, they work like studio vets. Brian can play anything you hand him – he played all the strings and horns on the record – and Michael is the most captivating drummer I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing they can’t do.”
Rado proved to be the perfect foil for the wunderkinds, and the resulting album brings together everything from Brian Wilson and David Bowie to Queen and The Association. Their music can soar like a carnival calliope and then swiftly drop down to its knees in the hushed tones of a confessional booth. Their vocals move seamlessly from a cabaret croon to classic la-la-la harmonies. They mine inspiration seemingly from every era of rock, stitching it all together into a baroque-pop quilt of many colors.
It’s an ambitious approach, to say the least, but the album lives up to the hype. Do Hollywood opens, appropriately enough, with ‘I Wanna Prove To You’, which parades out of the gate like a circus arriving into to town. “I wanna prove to you what I can do,” Brian sings as he and his brother proceed to do just that. Bouncing piano and dense harmonies give way to shifting time signatures and mind-bending arrangements. It’s the perfect introduction to The Lemon Twigs, and to Do Hollywood which features the brothers alternating writing credits on each track and liberally swapping instruments, just as they do in their electrifying live performances (they tour with live members Megan Zeankowski on bass and Danny Ayala on keyboards).
Lead single ‘These Words’ builds from a delicate whisper to a rock and roll roar, while ‘How Lucky Am I?’ tugs at the heartstrings, and ‘As Long As We’re Together’ calls to mind the memorable melodies of Big Star and T-Rex. Perhaps no song demonstrates their brotherly democracy better than ‘Hi+Lo’, the track unfolding in movements like something off of Abbey Road’s Side B medley with Michael singing and playing guitar, drums, and bass, and Brian adding horns and strings to flesh out the orchestral atmosphere.
“We were crafting these songs pretty intricately,” Brian says. “There’s a lot of care in the arrangements. They’re built to get at people who like nice pop songs. But they’re not empty. We put a lot of ourselves into it and the album has a lot of substance.”
It was that substance that caught the attention of the iconic 4AD label and has already earned the band dates with other critical darlings like Foxygen and Car Seat Headrest. With high profile tours and their label debut on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the world discovers Long Island’s next great cultural contribution. Get ready to Do Hollywood. It’s time to meet The Lemon Twigs.
Her debut release with 4AD, Party (produced with the award-winning John Parish; PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse) introduces a new pulse to the stark and unpopulated dramatic realm where the likes of Kate Bush and Scott Walker reside.
Comprising a formidable clutch of songs, 2017’s Party sees Harding shape-shift through a variety of roles: chanteuse, folk singer and balladeer – all executed with her twisted touch of humour, hubris and quiet horror. In other words, she’s having a good time. Stretching her limbs with playful cunning; every note, word and arrangement posed with intellect and inventiveness.
Created in Parish’s hometown of Bristol, Party saw Harding depart her New Zealand base in the antipodes for an intensive two-week immersion in the studio. Articulating her ambitions for Party to Parish was a galvanizing process for Harding, met with stunning results. The pair developed a near non-verbal shorthand, audibly evident in a raft of musical contributions from Parish. Alongside such special guests as Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas (having worked with Parish and toured with Aldous, it only took asking once), there is an exhilarating sense of risk throughout the record as Harding’s muscular wingspan extends. Teased out with inflections of experimental instrumentation and arrangements; Party is always anchored by Aldous’s intimidating command of her own songs.
First single ‘Horizon’ is a lover’s call to arms, powerful for its brutal simplicity and rawness of feeling, love and loathing colliding to devastating effect. “Aldous Harding repeats the line as a mantra, as a truth, as a reality. It’s as if the gift of life is right here, with all its beauty and its limitations”, said NPR.
‘Imagining My Man’ commands an air of delicacy as Aldous explores the curiosity of a lover’s idiosyncrasies; steering listeners into a state of intense intimacy laced with hyperactive shots, dirgey saxophone and Harding’s aching voice. The track is one of two that Mike Hadreas lends his inimitably sultry vocals to, the other being the intimate Party closer ‘Swell Does The Skull’.
‘Blend’ sensitively ushers the mood of Harding’s flourishment throughout Party. Its opening lines a nod to the mood of Harding’s last record; sameness is quickly quashed with an electronic drumbeat and the announcement of Aldous Harding as an artist of stirring ambition and trajectory.
The album’s eponymous single ‘Party’ harks to Aldous’ earlier work; delicately pulling at the threads of a seemingly late-night love affair. Again, it’s not long until the rug is pulled out, with a searing chorus – Harding’s electrifying vocal accompanied by a choir of women and waves of percussive bass clarinet – piercing the balloon of expectations around Harding’s new record with effortless vigour.
Released on 2nd June, The Age Of Anxiety is a brave step forward from Pixx’s first release, 2015’s Fall In EP. A deeply personal document of heartbreak, those four folk-infused torch songs drew early critical praise, with the Sunday Times hailing it “one of the most arresting debuts of the year,” and led to tours with the likes of Daughter, Lush and Glass Animals.
Instead of tales of loss and affairs of the heart, The Age Of Anxiety finds Hannah Rodgers ostensibly place herself outside looking in. Her twelve-song collection seeks to address a generation increasingly isolated by an unprecedented new world order, from the pressures of social media to ever-changing political turbulence.
This bold debut borrows its title from W.H. Auden’s final poem, charting one man’s quest to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialised world. Published in 1947, Auden’s six-part rumination on human isolation in the modern age parallels the overarching themes of Pixx’s work some 70 years later.
Originally from Chipstead, just beyond the fringes of south London where suburban sprawl start to break into countryside, Rodgers experienced a year-long period of insomnia caused by recurring nightmares at age 9 – her first awareness of anxiety. It left a lasting impression, inspiring a fascination with different states of consciousness, and is one of many somnolent events she draws upon for The Age Of Anxiety.
The subject of the album is not just the wilderness of outer space, but the interior space of human consciousness and how it engages with divinity, depravity, society and self—what does it mean to be human? This existential question rings clear from the opening lyric: “What’s right and what’s wrong?” The 75 minutes of music that follow provide a complex thesis: to be human is to be a total mess. The result of this creative alliance is a musical and aesthetic journey as far-reaching as its subject: from lush piano ballads to prog-rock political anthems, curious electronic back-beats to classical cadenzas, the vast musical styles seek to explore the diversity and mystery of our cosmos.
Planetarium is a concept album that occasionally gives way to ambient interludes and majestic brass chorales, buttressed by a percussive drive that keeps the momentum skyward. In spite of all the experimentation in sound and style, Sufjan’s vocals provide a clear and coherent center of gravity. The album includes some of his most diverse vocal performances to date (from soft hush to guttural scream), and whether he’s singing through effects pedals, vocoders, auto-tune or not, his voice delivers an ambitious flight map through the cosmos.
The project started when the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven commissioned Nico to create a new piece for their audience, and Nico immediately thought of his friends Bryce and Sufjan.
“I’d known Sufjan for years,” says Nico, “and Bryce and I had been in each other’s business” — but, says Bryce, “we’d never worked on something this ambitious together.” Each of the four brought their discrete and complementary strengths to the project. Nico’s experience with composing music for cathedral choirs and symphony orchestras provided the framework for the piece, while Bryce brought his own sense of composition and orchestral color.
“Of the three of us, Bryce is the most virtuosic at his instrument,” said Nico. A studied and accomplished classical musician, Bryce was also fluent in Nico’s unique musical language, and added a layer of rhythmic complexity to the songs.”
Sufjan became the driver behind the “song” part of the song cycle. (Bryce: “I think ‘seven trombones’ was enough to lure Sufjan into it.”) Sufjan also brought lyrics, and with them, the larger ideas around which Planetarium revolves: mythology and astrology, the ancient concept that stars and planets of the night sky represent gods, heroes and monsters. As the project evolved, the group expanded the idea to encompass science and astronomy.
Sufjan also introduced frequent collaborator James McAlister to Bryce and Nico, and James brought the beats—drums, percussion and electronic sequencing.
“Once James got involved,” says Sufjan, “he was like the glue.” Nico might compose a thunderous passage for the orchestra; Bryce might conceive of an elaborate guitar harmony; Sufjan would write the verses and refrains; and James’ beats and electronic textures would bind these disparate contributions into a continuous movement of music.
Nico describes the product of those early working sessions as something like a single manuscript, overwritten by many hands, with each individual contribution legible on the finished document.
More infos : https://www.facebook.com/planetariumalbum/
The band began writing new material in January 2016 on the coast of North Carolina, and continued throughout the year in Baltimore before road-testing these songs at a series of secret shows under fake names. Later that year, they travelled to Los Angeles to record with Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton at the legendary Sunset Sound, where everyone from The Beach Boys to Prince have laid down masterpieces. With string and horn arrangements by Patrick McMinn, « The Far Field » is the first Future Islands record to feature live drums by Michael Lowry, who joined the band prior to their sensational performance of ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ on David Letterman’s late night TV show. Blondie’s Debbie Harry also makes a guest appearance, in a duet with Herring on penultimate track ‘Shadows’.
The monster that is the new Methyl Ethel album Everything Is Forgotten is a vivid, compelling and mysterious creature, all sinewy, curvaceous pop nuggets and enigmatic currents. But ask its leader Jake Webb to explore those enigmas is met with a little resistance. “Ideally, I want the music to speak for itself, rather to present myself,” he explains. “When I was making music alone, before I had the band, it was genderless and without a paper trail of information about my past.”
That paper trail leads back to Perth, the capital of Western Australia, where Webb imbibed the cassettes that he’d hear in his parents’ car – “doo-wop, the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson,” he lists his favourites. “All my knowledge of songwriting is the old way. But I play with the form, to try and push the boundaries.”
Taking a musical alias from father’s work in fibre glass – made using methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, before Webb changed ‘ethyl’ to ‘ethel’ “in order to create an identity, a personality with a name,” he explains – the early Methyl Ethel bedroom recordings realised two EPs – Teeth and Guts – released in quick succession in 2014. A standalone single ‘Rogues’ won Pop Song of 2014 at the WAM (Western Australia Music) Awards, likewise ‘Twilight Driving’ in 2015, both of which were part of the debut Methyl Ethel album Oh Inhuman Spectacle, self-recorded in a remote coastal town south of Perth.
Something of a workaholic – in a ritualistic fashion, Webb rises every day at 8am, and works away (he reveals that 75 per cent of the next album is already demoed), writing and recording without outside assistance, conceiving and shaping every fibre of what makes Ethel so compelling. But Perth, the most isolated city on the planet, was never was never going to contain a driven soul like Webb, who admits, “it’s so easy to get pigeonholed as a ‘Perth artist.’ I wanted to break out… it’s that small-town thing.”
So Methyl Ethel became a touring band, a separate entity to the studio version, with bassist Thom Stewart and drummer Chris Wright. It was Wright, who also works as a sound engineer, who helped Webb get Oh Inhuman Spectacle across the finishing line; for the new album, Webb called on producer and rhythm king James Ford (Artic Monkeys, Foals, Jessie Ware). That’s also Ford’s drums – alongside Thom Stewart’s keyboards (otherwise, every other sound on the album is Webb) – on the album intro ‘Drink Wine’, which establishes the album’s simultaneously simple and complex weave of polyrhythms, all sublimely melodic and eminently hummable, with contrasting dark clouds of guitar and dancing bass parts, topped by Webb’s gorgeous, keening and gender-fluid vocals, and searing poetry.
The new sound slips alongside other adventurous synth/dance alumni such as LCD Soundsystem, rather than the shoegaze-adjacent dream-pop guitars that defined the debut album and which still underpins the trio’s foreboding live sound. “Everything Is Forgotten sounds that way for the sake of the song, I don’t want to make the sound fit the band,” says Webb. “For me, the studio is the best instrument to be able to play. I like to think we’re just the cover band for the artist that makes the album.”.
The album title – “it’s a classic cliché” – came to Webb in a dream. “Someone misquoted the saying, ‘come back, all is forgiven.’ It just felt right for the record. One aspect was my manic oscillating between two states – when it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s bad, you know it will be good again, so things balance out – it doesn’t matter either way. It’s also the idea that everything I say is deeply important, but it doesn’t matter either, because it will be forgotten!”
Suitably, for a record with irresistible danceable properties and yet deep undertows that reveal states of anxiety and enigma (‘See gold is cold all over / a symphony in a very beautiful car accident,” goes ‘No. 28’), a palpable sense of duality permeates Everything Is Forgotten, heaviness and lightness combined. In a musical capacity, there’s ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’, “saccharine pop that tears itself apart in the end,” Webb reckons. “The approach for the live show is the same – creation and destruction all in one.”
Among the lyrical aspects, the lithe, slippery intro ‘Drink Wine’ was inspired by the way alcohol, “opens you up a bit, so you’re more able to speak the truth, but too much wine is not so good.” The gorgeous, simmering finale ‘Schlager’ has a fearful lyric (“A fire in the gut, I will not sleep at all tonight”) yet the track is named after the German term for “terrible pop music, so it’s like my joke. I’m trying to be serious, but it’s just a pop song, so don’t think too hard about it.”
To further illustrate his point, ‘Ubu’ (inspired by Alfred Jarre’s absurdist/ surrealist play Ubu Roi) is a self-portrait of “self-flagellation and guilt, which sets things up to have a serious, cutting point.” Yet the track ends in the giddy mantra “why’d you have to go and cut your hair?” “Perhaps that’s all the song’s really about, being riled,” he says. “So it’s a little silly too. But let’s not reveal too much. It’s just as relevant to say what you think about the words.”
Echoing Webb’s view is the late Japanese legend Ohno Kazuo, master of Butoh, a very precise, ritualistic, gender-free form of dance theatre that has inspired the white body paint and sunken eyes of the new press shots for Everything Is Forgotten. “It is not important to understand what I am doing,” Kazuo said. “Perhaps it is better if [the audience] doesn’t understand, but just respond to the dance.”
To explore Methyl Ethel’s charismatic and compelling dance on stage, the trio will be augmented by a keyboard player, to better replicate the album’s palate: “We’ll have become a new band by the time you next see us,” Webb promises. Everything is forgotten? Not for something as unforgettable as this.