The Smile features a highly accomplished collection of familiar names and faces — Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (maybe you might have heard of them?), and Sons of Kemet‘s Tom Skinner. The Radiohead and Sons of Kemet side project has released three critically applauded singles this year “The Smoke,” “You Will Never Work in Television Again,” and “Skirting On The Surface,” a gorgeous, meditative slow-burn centered around Greenwood’s looping and shimmering guitar, stuttering jazz syncopation, a supple yet propulsive bass line, mournful saxophone and Yorke’s weary falsetto singing lyrics contemplating impermanence and mortality.
The Smile’s fourth single, “Pana-vision” is centered around a mesmerizing piano line, jazz syncopated drumming, a supple bass line and a gorgeous string arrangement paired with Yorke’s imitable falsetto singing the refrain “like a newborn child” throughout the song. While sonically bearing a bit of a resemblance to Amnesiac era Radiohead, “Pana-vision” possesses a remarkably sublime, cinematic quality.
The Smile is a new act featuring some familiar names and faces: Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (maybe you might have heard of them?), and Sons of Kemet‘s Tom Skinner. The act has released two critically applauded singles so far this year — “The Smoke” and “You Will Never Work in Television Again.”
The alt-rock All-Star act’s third and latest single together, “Skirting On The Surface” is a stunningly gorgeous and meditative slow-burn centered around Jonny Greenwood’s looping and shimmering guitar lines, stuttering jazz syncopation, a supple yet propulsive bass line, mournful sax and Thom Yorke’s imitable, achingly weary falsetto singing lyrics contemplating human mortality and impermanence.
The accompanying video was shot in the depths of the disused Rosevale Tin Mine in Cornwall, UK on 16mm black and white film by BAFTA-winning writer/director Mark Jenkin. The visual follows Thom Yorke, as a cart-pushing miner through the mine’s narrow passageways and tunnels. He sees water go about strange, almost supernatural phenomenon. And at one point in his journey, the exhausted miner stops, dumps his load and begins filling in a passageway. It’s as gorgeous, meditative and as surreal as its accompanying song.
The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.
Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.
I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.
Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.
WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?
Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up? How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?
JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.
WRH: How did you get into music?
JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.
WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?
Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.
WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:
“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.
It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”
How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?
JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets. She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.
WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?
JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.
WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?
JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.
WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?
JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time. I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.
WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?
JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.
WRH: So what’s next for you?
JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!
As a solo artist, Carr’s work can be described as minimalist folk, inspired by African rhythms, French Romantics and 60s pop, mixed with instrumentalist melodies — and interestingly enough, his work caught the attention of Robert Redford, who featured material off Carr’s 2016 effort, The Last Day of Fighting on the soundtrack for his movie Watershed alongside material from Beck and Thom Yorke. Carr’s forthcoming EP Swing & Turn is the anticipated follow-up to The Last Day of Fighting, and the EP reportedly derives its name after the feeling of movement, with the material sonically and thematically being a dance between intimacy and independence. The EP’s latest single is the hauntingly beautiful “Take Me There,” which is centered around Carr’s plaintive and tender falsetto, shuffling rhythms, some strummed acoustic guitar and a coda that ends with a bluesy blast of electric guitar, and finds Carr balancing a balladeer/troubadour-liek introspection and thoughtfulness with a cinematic vibe. That shouldn’t be surprising as the song is focuses on the desire to escape apathy, highlighting the difficult but necessary need to either let go and fully love — or to let go of a love, and as a result, the song has a bittersweet air to it.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the up-an-coming Leeds, UK-based, indie electro pop production and artist duo KRRUM. Comprised of Derbyshire, UK-born Leeds, UK-based producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alex, who grew up on punk rock and ska and Leeds-born and-based singer/songwriter Harrison, who’s largely influenced by Bon Iver, Radiohead and Thom Yorke. And as you may recall, the duo can trace they their origins to when they met while studying at Leeds School of Music. Within a relatively short period of time, the duo has seen both commercial and critical success — the duo has had singles land at number 1 on Spotify’s Viral Chart, Hype Machine and Shazam, received regular airplay on BBC Radio 1 and Beats 1, collaborated with with salute and Lao Ra, and have performed at last year’s Pitchfork Paris Festival.
“Moon,” the Leeds-based duo’s first single of the year, found the duo pairing a club banging production featuring enormous, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, stuttering and glitchy electronics, a soaring hook, chopped up and distorted vocal samples with Harrison’s plaintive and soulful vocals giving the song a thoughtful, fatalistic sort of introspection; that shouldn’t be surprising as the song “deals with the ritual of wanting to pursue a relationship withs someone, but not wanting to jump the gun and ruin it. It’s an uncomfortable place to be because you have no control and you’re probably gonna mess it all up, like you always do.”
Interestingly enough, the duo’s first single “Evil Twin” was their first single and although it caught on virally, the duo reworked and fleshed out the song in a way that makes them feel as though the song is finally completed; in fact, the song features a production consisting of a cinematic, looped horn arrangement, a chopped up, soulful, house music-like vocal sample, tweeter and woofer rocking beats and Harrison’s vocal taking on a gravelly ache. And while the song is rooted upon a swaggering hook, it possesses an underlying aching uncertainty — the sort of uncertainty of someone who’s swaying between a good life, and a life of sin and vice. Sonically, the track manages to further cement their reputation for crafting hook-laden pop but while gently pushing their sound in an avant-garde leaning direction while remaining playfully accessible.
As the band’s Alex explains of the song, the song toys “with the duality of wanting to be healthy, productive and find some long-term stability, but wanting to throw all of that away and indulge your vices. Individually, they are comforting but they are always competing with each other to come out.”
Directed by Camille Summers-Valli, the video as the duo’s Alex notes is a strange realization of the competition between one’s good, healthy side and one’s vice-loving, trouble-seeking side, as it stars Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Boy George and Michael Jackson lookalikes auditioning for a gig for Krrum’s lead producer and co-vocalist Alex, who appears both unimpressed and confused. Interestingly, the visuals give these world famous superstars a desperate and ridiculous humanity, as they’re auditioning for a role they don’t fit for.
Comprised of Derbyshire, UK-born Leeds, UK-based producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alex, who grew up on punk rock and ska and Leeds-born and-based singer/songwriter Harrison, who’s largely influenced by Bon Iver, Radiohead and Thom Yorke, the Leeds, UK-based electro pop production and artist duo Krrum can trace its origin to when the duo met while they were studying at the Leeds School of Music. Within a short period time, the duo has seen a rapidly growing profile — the duo’s has had work land at number 1 on Spotify’s Viral Chart, Hype Machine and Shazam, received airplay on BBC Radio 1 and Beats 1, collaborated with salute and Lao Ra, and have performed at last year’s Pitchfork Paris Festival.
The Leeds-based duo’s first single of 2017, “Moon” pairs enormous, tweeter and woofer rock beats, stuttering and glitchy electronics, a soaring hook, a chopped up and distorted vocal sample, and Harrison’s plaintive and soulful vocals in a song that the duo says “deals with the the ritual of wanting to pursue a relationship with someone, but not wanting to jump the gun and ruin it. It’s an uncomfortable place to be because you have you control and your’e probably gonna mess it gallup, like you always do.” And as a result, the song possesses an aching vulnerability and longing, but an underlying fatalism while simultaneously being radio and dance floor friendly.
Interestingly, Tinariwen’s forthcoming full-length effort Elwan (which translates into English as The Elephants) is slated for a February 10, 2017 release, and the album thematically focuses both on the disappearing traditions of the Tuareg people and of being forced into exile — oddly enough as the members of the band were touring the world. And the album’s gorgeous first single “Tenere Taqqal” possesses an understated longing for a way of life and for a home, which as Thomas Wolfe wisely suggested they can never return to and will never get back. And yet there’s a tacit acknowledgment that life must continue onward and that they have a profoundly important duty of ensuring that something of the old traditions can be preserved and passed on to future generations. As a result, the single while being slow-burning and brooding also manages to possess an understated, quiet urgency — all while feeling older than time itself. Every time, I’ve listened to this track I can picture sitting among the Tuareg or the Bedouins at a campfire, as they tell tales of creation or of the great mystics and teachers, who have led flocks of faithful . .
The recently released animated video was directed by Axel Digoix and it vividly depicts the desert’s harshness, cruelty and beauty, and the profound spiritual and physical connection that the Tuareg people have towards it, while pointing out that their traditions and their world is being violently torn apart.
Warp Records released Pritchard’s latest effort Under the Sun earlier this year, and from all accounts the album has Pritchard maintaining the lush and accessible production style that has won him international attention — but while crafting material that may arguably be the least club and dance-floor ready he’s released to date. Interestingly, one of the album’s singles is”Beautiful People,” a lush and ethereal collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke that pairs Yorke’s plaintive and aching vocals with a slow-burning production that possesses an almost painterly quality as it consists of an airy and gorgeous, looped flute sample, steady yet tribal-like drum programming and cascading layers of shimmering and undulating synths. In some way sonically speaking, the song meshes the ancient and tribal with the contemporary in a way that’s spectral –and in fact, in some way the song reminds the listener that ghosts linger and have a way of haunting your life in unexpected ways. That shouldn’t be surprising because as Pritchard explained in press notes “The original instrumental to ‘Beautiful People’ is a personal song about loss, hopelessness and chaos, but ultimately the message is love and hope. Thom’s contribution to this collaboration captured perfectly what the piece is about. . .”
The recently released video is a stunningly gorgeous video that follows its hooded, central character as it hikes and explores scenery that possess an otherworldly beauty before revealing that the character is a sort of Thom Yorke avatar. As the camera pans out in a cinematic fashion, it manages to reveal how small and insignificant its central character is the proceedings at hand — that is before some amazing gravity defying action at the end. Much like the song that inspired it, the video possesses a patient yet intense quality.