March 30, 2015

Secret history of Sufjan's CARRIE & LOWELL

Oh hi. Recently we've heard some grumbling about these news updates on "It's so long I didn't read it," people complain. "Why do your news updates take such a roundabout way of getting to the freaking point?" one friend told us. (i.e. Note the picture that goes with this particular update, a barely relevant #selfie of Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and some dude with a hat from the most recent installment of the MusicNOW festival.) Finally others criticize: "You could say the same thing with far less verbiage." Basically "TL;DR" one might say, if one cared to use contemporary internet slanguage.

So, in the interest of quickness we're going to start exploring strategies to save you, the record buying (or streaming) audience, valuable time. For example here's an abstract of the below news update: community...solidarity...selfies of men identified with Brooklyn (even if they don't spend that much time here)...Sufjan Stevens...nice British writer person.

Ah, that was refreshingly efficient!

However if, like us, you're willing to go the long route, indulge us as we take a rare break from this site's self-promotional (label-promotional?) rigamarole, and encourage you to purchase someone else's record: in this case, Sufjan Stevens' new jam Carrie & Lowell. Just go here, enter your credit card details (or enter PayPalspace or what have you), done.

Wait, what's that? You're not ready to spend money on something just because we say you should? Well, hopefully you streamed the above song, and if that doesn't convince you, you can explore the full story of the record in varous multi-media formats, check out a video-ish thing we've embedded below, or even go deep and read up on the vinyl production process via Asthmatic Kitty's reddit thread or the pics they posted on imagur. (Being simple people here at Brassland, at this point they kind of lost us.)

Still not ready? Well, like us, maybe you're not as excited by net-enabled bits of trivia (erm, content...) as you would be for a juicy, old-school journalistic take on the album. Yep, we're suckers for narrative non-fiction, what you people of the internet might call a "longread." So, without further adieu, we want to point you toward a lovely article about the album in the April 2015 issue of one of our favorite music publication UNCUT wherein one-time label confidant and a most-excellent journalist Laura Snapes teases out the contribution of two members of the Brassland family in getting it done. (And wow, are you in for a doozie if you click on that last link.)

If you're still all like "TL; DR" here's an abstract: "composer" friends Nico & Thomas — summer holiday — CD of rough mixes — a little lost — complicated misdirection and architecture — 50 states as promotional gimmick.

And now for that excerpt of Laura's article:

[Sufjan's] friends, however, weren't about to let him ditch the...material. "Anybody who heard that album was like, 'you have to put this out yesterday'," says composer Nico Muhly. "I have like, 60 emails where I was literally like, 'put it out', both as subject and content." Manhattan-based composer Thomas Bartlett got in touch last summer to ask what was going on with the music. Stevens invited him to his studio to hear it.

"He said he felt a little bit lost with it, that he had been working on it for some years and didn't really have a sense of where the record was going, or if he had anything at all," says Bartlett, who insisted that Stevens make him a CD of rough mixes that he would take on his summer holiday. "There were some outliers: electronic things, or sometimes four versions of the same song, with different lyrics or a radically different approach musically."

There was one aspect to cull immediately. Michigan and Illinois were the first entries in a project whereby Stevens apparently intended to document the historical quirk and emotional resonance of all 50 states in song. He eventually abandoned the idea, calling it a promotional gimmick. But Carrie & Lowell almost became "Oregon" until Bartlett talked him out of it. With no criticism implied, he calls Stevens' state records "complicated misdirection and an architecture by which he could actually write about himself. I asked him to let go of the idea that this was an Oregon record and just allow it to be what it really feels like it is, which is a very, very personal record."

Bartlett returned from vacation with the tracklist, made Stevens change some titles and vocals, and remixed it. "It all came together within a month," says Stevens. "He doesn't fuck around. I wouldn't have wanted to have made such a direct and depressing album, but he called me out on my bullshit and said, just be honest to this experience and stop trying so hard. I don't think I would have made this record without him."

To shift our tone from waka waka to a sincerity more called for by the current subject matter, we were really excited to see such an august publication covering the community behind a record's creation with such respect and detail — just as excited, in ways, as we are about the way our community has been able to make meaningful contributions to the work of an artist we really admire.

Want to read more? (Is this post not TL enough for you?) We're not sure how or if you can get the full article online but this is probably a good place to start if you're not into hunting it down on newsstands in Fleshspace.

PS - Also note that Laura calls Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett a "composer" which probably makes Mr. Thomas itch. Being gluttons for a good feud, we're going to see if we can turn this into an Oasis vs. Blur-like throwdown.

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