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Jim O'Rourke

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A Busy 2015

Friends:

Hope all of you are having a great start to 2015. Things have been busy for me—lots to mention here, so let's get started.

First, Safety Records, the label I started to put out Geography, has a new website. All of the albums I'll be making for the foreseeable future will be done by this label, so have a visit to the new site, and sign up for Safety Records mailing list to keep up with new music.

Pronouncement, album art

Also, I'm excited to announce the first of several non-City States projects I'll be releasing this year. Pronouncement is the debut album by Contretemps, an experimental electronic project I've been working on. People who enjoy the moments of abstraction on Geography will hopefully enjoy these tracks, however some of the songs I've been writing are pretty, well, noisy. Fans of Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, Merzbow, or Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II will probably appreciate Pronouncement. The album will be out digitally (via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify) on Tuesday, March 24th. Here's a track from the album, "Telemusik."

This isn't all I've been up to, though. In fact, I anticipate releasing a lot more music before year's end, and not a single song is under the name City States.

Some of this new music started out years ago on a whim, here and there experiments designed to help me learn my way around Ableton Live when the band was just starting out. Later, around August 2012, I had a serious crisis of confidence while writing Geography, and continuing with some of these experiments helped divert my attention enough to get through that block. By fall of last year following the relese of Geography, these compositions had, much to my surprise, evolved into not one, but three partially formed LPs via three distinct projects: Contretemps, Modal Voices (whose first single I actually released in June of 2013), and an as-of-yet unnamed IDM/post-techno venture.

All of this is to say that in the last 6 months, I've probably been more confident and more prolific than I was in the first 6 years of City States. Moreover, I've sort of discovered that what I have to say as a musician is much more varied, and far more unusual than anything I've tried housing in the more traditional pop format. This does not mean that I will be packing in the City States name. However, I have found that the careers of musicians like Brian Eno, Jim O'Rourke, and Sufjan Stevans, whose discographies have oscillated between semi-traditional pop music and outer-limits experimentation, is something I want to emulate. I'm excited about this. And I hope you'll stay with me through it all until the next City States LP (which already has a working title).

So, to recap: sign up for the Safety Records mailing list. Be sure to check out Pronouncement this March. And anticipate at least one, if not two more full-length records by me before the end of the year.

Stay tuned. Thanks again,

Joel / City States

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Influence V: Fennesz - Black Sea

One of the themes I’ve been working through in my most recent batch of songs is the notion of collapse: the idea that everything we build up (or things that build up naturally around us) eventually breaks down. I’m going to talk about what that means lyrically in a subsequent post about The Soft Bulletin; with regard to music, though, I’ve been taking a lot of joy in constructing these intricately layered pop songs, only to knock everything over later on in each track, allowing the arrangements to descend into static and noise.

I spent the weekend finishing up a song called “Uncharted Waters,” which starts out as an Eno-inspired piano ballad but about halfway through, the track folds in on itself, and the result sounds quite a bit like many of the songs on Black Sea—hazy, fluid, and bordering on caustic. To be clear, Christian Fennesz is one of my favorite artists around: his music is beautiful and strange, and the balance he strikes between melody and atonality is nothing short of fascinating.

Strictly in terms of aesthetics, I’ve been taking lots of cues from his heavy use of grain delays and frequency modulation filters, as well as his more recent emphasis on the acoustic guitar. But recently, I’ve also grown to love Black Sea's particular compositional style, whose songs oscillate dramatically between noisy and calm, minimal and dense, composed and deconstructed. Integrating these opposing values into pop songs isn't exactly easy, though I will say that Jim O'Rourke has provided as good of an example as possible on how to make this happen (I hope this doesn't sound like I'm comparing myself to Jim O'Rourke; I'm simply acknowledging that he's another important reference point for me).

And that album cover: a stark photograph of a steel train track, abandoned, and nearly submerged by encroaching pools of water. It’s a haunting—almost tragic—image. Yet I’m captivated, and even calmed, by its representation of collapse, loss, and the world’s complete inability to escape death.

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The Collector: Part IV

This is the reverse side of my 3x5-inch note card list from a previous post. I used to separate out the ambient/industrial/noise artists from the pop bands because Reckless and a now-closed record store called 2nd Hand Tunes had a separate category for “Experimental” music. It’s a simple organizational conceit, but here it also reinforces the idea that I saw experimental music existing in a musical universe that was wholly separate from pop.

Once again, an top-10, all-time-favorite record is on this list: Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians. It’s strange to remember that there was a time before I owned and loved this album.

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The Collector: Part I

This weekend, Michelle and I got rid of my 850-capacity CD shelf, and built a new set of shelves along the wall of our living room. Here’s my collection hanging out on our dining room table.

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