Sufjan Stevens dropped by WNYC to sing “Pleasure Principle” the last acoustic portion of his 25-min long epic “Impossible Soul,” from his even more epic album Age Of Adz. He’s joined here by The National’s Bryce Dessner and two members of his band, including Kat Martino. Sufjan is ending his so-called touring behind this record next week with two big shows at Prospect Park, which is shame because this material deserved more of a showcase on a fuller national tour.
Before he was the the brooding baritone singer of The National, Matt Berninger used to be a graphic designer (albeit one who reportedly distracted himself by scribbling lyrics in the margins during meetings). So it sorta makes sense that he and the band would have a great, clean sense of design when it comes to their record covers. Starting with last year’s very fine High Violet, and continuing through their subsequent singles and EPs, The National’s album art has been particularly gorgeous, with a cohesive, evocative look and feel.
These covers are the work of New York-based artist Mark Fox, whose sculptures have been the basis for, and in some cases, re-purposed into album art. These incredibly intricate sketches and sculptures look to be crafted out of all sorts of textures and tactile materials: wood, string, metal, tape, paper colored with paint and colored pencils, and so on. There is so much detail to these pieces that you want to reach out and touch them, but at the same time there is a simplicity to Fox’s work which allows them to be a natural fit for an album cover.
When viewed together into a series, and coupled with a sleek typography layout, there’s a clear sense of style and direction that seems perfect for the dark, melodic vibe that The National’s music exudes.
Fox’s piece “The Binding Force” was used as the basis for the cover for The National’s full-length album High Violet:
The cover to the lead single “Blood Buzz Ohio,” is based on Fox’s piece, “Jane Jacobs Understands The Beehive:”
The cover to “Terrible Love” single and the expanded edition of High Violet uses Fox’s piece, “Ark:”
The cover to the single “Think You Can Wait,” is based on Fox’s “Cloud (Days Of That Are Over):”
And finally, the cover to the brand new single “Exile Vilify” is based on “The White Sawhorseman:”
(part 929 in a 1001 part series)
One of my favorite new music discoveries this year has been the duo Houses, who’s album All Night was one of my most heavily played albums from about October on. As I said in my recent Song of the Day write up, their minimalist electronic music is dark, hazy and yet completely blissful and emotionally cathartic.
So I was happy to find — albeit belatedly — that they recently released a new song, “This Is War,” on the site Alternative Apparel. This one eschews the electronics and samples for a dirgey piano, washed out guitar lines and haunting vocals that build to climactic peak that recalls The Antlers, The National or Deerhunter. Apparently a holiday song, here’s what Houses’ member Dexter Tortoriello writes about the music:
Holiday songs are often about snow, gifts or family – all of which are happy and nice – but when you stop and think about it, most holidays are based around very serious events. Christmas is, at its core, a recognition of the birth of one of the most famous and controversial figures in history. His birth and life are a truly incredible story in themselves, regardless of your personal beliefs. The song is about that very first Christmas day. It’s a haunting yet beautiful melody; we chose not to use the electronics that we’re known for on this song and opted instead for a more traditional composition. It seemed fitting.
Needless to say, it’s great. Check out the video below:
Since the release of Boxer, The National’s brilliant record from 2007, the band has become one of my favorite bands. So when the band’s two nights (Sunday and Monday, May 24 and 25th) at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club sold out in less than 3 minutes, I was a little miffed I couldn’t see them without scalping or pulling some strings. The band even lined up a late show on Sunday as well but that was hard to come by as well.
Turns out the band has been debuting some new songs during their recent tour, which makes me even more pissed at myself for not trying harder to get tickets for these shows. From some videos I’ve found around the web, their new stuff looks to be just as great as the music from Boxer and Alligator, not to mention the phenomenal track from this year’s Dark Was The Night compilation “So Far Around The Bend.”
Watch “Vanderlylle Cry Baby” live from Toronto:
Watch “Runaway” live from Toronto: (or an in-studio performance here.)
Watch “Blood Buzz Ohio” live from Montreal:
Man, so freaking good. Maybe next time.