Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 In Review

In looking back at the kind of 2006 that Camera Obscura had, like 2005 it seemed very much a case of one step forward and two steps back. Or maybe only one step back, I'm not really sure. Like 2005, the label only released four new titles, and I'm hoping we're at the bottom of some kind of parabola there. In any case lots of good stuff happened, and bad as well.

On the up side, we continue to get offered great projects, to the extent that a fair bit of discipline is required not to just got out and borrow a shitload of money to get them done. Much of that hasn't come through in the schedule yet, but it will in 2007. I was stunned to be offered a Tanakh release, and that will be out early in the new year. It's their first release not to be on Alien8, and showcases the might songwriting and vocal chops of Tanakh member Michele Poulos. I was also blown away to be offered the debut full-lengther by Saint Joan to release, and it's a cracker. I'm also pretty excited to be releasing United Bible Studies' follow up to "The Shore That Fears the Sea", one of the best releases of 2006 IMHO. The Carnival compilation keeps expanding, and will get done when the funds are there - a grant will probably be needed. Also on the good side, I finally got some Shopping Cart e-commerce happening on the web site, and it's a lot easier for folks to order our stuff now. Lots of Lucky Bishops and Black Sun Ensemble CDs got ordered that way, and it was good to see that plenty of punters picked up back-catalog as well. Should have done it several years ago, really. Lot's of good (mainly web) reviews this year, too, including on Pitchfork and in Harp, which shouldn't be as big a deal as it seems to be, but there you are.

On the down side, the AUS-US exchange rate is killing cash-flow in death-of-a-thousand-cuts fashion. We just get less and less back for stuff sold in US$, which is a lot of our sales %-wise. The distributor world shifted on its axis with Caroline being bought out, and pretty much getting out of the indie game. It remains to be seen if others can fill the breach. But we're lucky to have CTD, Midheaven, Clear Spot and others, who care about the music, are pretty honorable in their dealings and always seem to rise above in the end. Piracy is probably killing our sales to some extent, as is our absence from iTunes, which may have to change next year, much as I don't want to sell stuff that way. I'll try it with the Tanakh release and see how it goes. Fewer and fewer print journals review our stuff, and there are no resources to change that. As discussed on this list earlier in the year, some magazines have adopted a bunker mentality against the volume of music out there, and it's hard to crack. There is so much stuff coming out of the CD-R underground now that these traditional forums for review are being left behind anyway. This is the first year in a long time that I've trouble compiling a top 10 list because of too much stuff, rather than not enough. I now have a baker's dozen for the year, which seems to change from day-to-day:

Agitated Radio Pilot "Your Turn To Go It Alone" (Rusted Rail 2x3" CD-R)
Anton Barbeau "In the Vilage of the Apple Sun" (Four-Way)
Nick Castro and the Young Elders "Come Into Our House" (SAAH)
Comets on Fire "Avatar" (Sub Pop)
Current 93 "Black Ships Ate the Sky"(Durtro)
Elf Power "Back to the Web" (Rykodisc)
Espers "II" (Drag City)
Fern Knight "Music For Witches and Alchemists" (VHF)
Flying Canyon - s/t (Soft Abuse)
Handsome Family "Last Days of wonder" (Carrot Top)
Meg Baird/Helena Espvall/Sharron Kraus "Leaves From Off the Tree" (Bo' Weavil)
Tanakh "Ardent Fevers" (Alien 8)
United Bible Studies "Shore That Fears the Sea" (Deserted Village)

So as to 2007, the scrawled back-of-the-beer coaster Camera obscura schedule looks something like this:

CAM078CD Tanakh "Saunders Hollow" (Feb 07, mail order from early Jan)
CAM079CD Saint Joan "The Wrecker's Lantern" (April 07)
CAM080CD United Bible Studies (May/Jun 07)
CAM081CD Christian Kiefer and Jeff Pitcher "For All the Dead Sailors" (Jun/Jul 07)

Carnival Compilation (2 or 3 CD set) maybe around mid-year.

Releases hoped for later in 2007, a new Alphane Moon CD, a new Fell CD, and Sharron Kraus and Gillian Chadwick as "Rusalnaia", we'll see what comes in and what funds are available.

Anyway, I wish everyone all the best for 2007, and may bad wars end, bad governments fall, and Peace, Love and Understanding reign, hippie-style.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tanakh "Saunders Hollow" Cover Art

Thanks to Chia-chi Charlie Chang for the stunning imagery that will house the forthcoming Tanakh CD. Here is the front cover...

Bo' Weavil Interview for the Ptolemaic Terrascope

I recently interviewed Mark from Bo' Weavil here. It was a fast an fun interview, with a great label owner who had never been interview before. Check it out if you've a mind to. Here's some intro as a taster:

In an industry dominated by the venal, the mediocre and the exploitative, just occasionally there comes along a label that seems to exist purely to celebrate the music itself. It shouldn't be rare but it seems to be. If you were to put together a dream brief for the kind of label that might ensure the continuance of music in hard formats like LP and CD, it might read something like London label Bo Weavil's statement of intent:

Bo Weavil Recordings is a new London based imprint dedicated to releasing on to vinyl and CD great music that has been long out of print, or never had a release before. The label's intention is to put out some lost gems from the wealth of traditional folk music and avant-garde / free music, while also releasing records cataloguing the current scene of avant folk music from around the globe.

Pretty ambitious, but a perusal of the label's prolific output between inception at the end of 2004 and now shows that they've pulled it off so far. Starting out with archival releases of old-timey goodness by maverick US musician, composer and philosopher Henry Flynt in deluxe vinyl editions, the label rapidly moved on to secure the LP release rights to several classic Shirley Collins LPs, as well as Anne Briggs' complete Topic recordings. Along side that, innovative acoustic guitar releases by the likes of Sir Richard Bishop and James Brayshaw solidified the label's reputation and they ventured into the avant-garde as well with "Free London" projects like The Eidetic Band, Ladywoodsman, Rob Mullender and Wooden Spoon. What makes the label really cohesive is that even their most outré offerings link back to some kind of folk tradition. The label has a massive 2007 planned, so we thought we might catch label owner Mark Morris between breaths and have a chat.

Terrascope-Online: Who is involved with Bo' Weavil and when did the label come into existence?

Bo' Weavil: Bo’ Weavil is just myself, and obviously the artists involved. It came into existence in November 2004 with the release of Henry Flynt’s records 'Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Vol 1 & 2' and 'I Don't Wanna'. The first idea for the label was to reissue the Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, but Folkways cannot license this material, as they have licensed the majority of it from smaller old 78 labels. So the Flynt records were next in line in my head, so I made contact with Locust and they were totally up for it.

It's quite unusual for a label to have a twin focus on the retrospective and the current. What led you to decide on that as the label's stated mission?

I basically wanted to run a label that dealt with the music I feel most passionately about, so for me that meant reissuing records that are hard to get on vinyl, and dealing with contemporary music as well. But also there are a few labels that also do the same today…Locust and Time-Lag spring to mind.

Read more here.

Tanakh CD for Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of the latest Tanakh CD "Saunders Hollow", a sister record to the Alien8 release "Ardent Fevers", featuring the same musicians, but focusing on the songs and vocals of member Michele Poulos. This is the first release by Tanakh not to be on Alien8, and we feel privileged to have it. Mail order copies will be available from around 08 Jan 07, and the release has a street date of 14 Feb 06 (Happy Valentine Day folks!). For goodies, check out the links after the description below:

Recorded the week before Ardent Fevers (already being hailed by critics as one of the best releases of 2006), in the same studio, with the same engineer (Bryan Hoffa), and with the same cast of musicians, Saunders Hollow, is not a collection of out-takes from those sessions, but a fully realised sister record to Ardent Fevers. Growing out of the song-writing explorations of Michele Poulos and Jesse Poe, Saunders Hollow is a record focusing on the songs of Poulos, who gave them to Poe in the form of thumb-strummed singer/songwriter demos. The results form a female Yin to the male Yang of recent Tanakh work. From the opening seconds of Poe's tortured guitar squalling to the final seconds of fading footsteps, bowed bass and saw that seal the record, the listener is treated to a million sounds all gently gelling into the world of sonic beauty we have come to expect from Tanakh, except for one thing…Tanakh in their ever changing exploration of sound have placed the lead vocals and songwriting in the ladybird hands of bassist and erstwhile backing vocalist Michele Poulos, leaving Poe in the musician/producer seat, dividing Poulos' previous backing vocal duties between himself and Isobel Campbell. What results is warm bouquet of songs that range from poppy-jazz, through renaissance remembrances, sweet folk, to dark drones and dreamy electronics and even straight up raunchy blues. Saunders Hollow is a place full of inviting mystery and rich texture, with musical twists and turns of every type, leaving the listener in a state of remembrance of all things past, like a stroll amongst Proustian Gardens. Gentle bass, scorching electric guitars, lilting tablas, Asian-strummed ukuleles, swirling electronics, lamenting violins, pulsing vibes, regal harpsichords, gospel organs and juke-joint pianos, sex-driven saxophones, folky acoustic guitars, sound-scaped lap steels, pulsing drums, and honeyed vocals grow together in an immense garden of sound and color that populates the dream landscape of Saunders Hollow.

About the band:

Tanakh is the banner for music written and improvised by a collective of musicians; music that is focused towards beauty and experimentation within structure instead of towards a particular musical genre or style. In the last six or so years this revolving collective has included a large number of musicians headed up by principle songwriter Jesse Poe. Although currently residing in Florence, Italy, Poe comes from a background of American rural music. His great-grandfather wrote country ballads and his great aunts and uncle had a live radio program broadcast out of Indiana. Tanakh has released a series of critically acclaimed CDs for the Alien8 label including "Villa Claustrophobia" (2002), "Dieu Deuil" and "s/t" (2004) and "Ardent Fevers" (2006).

Press quotes on previous outings:

"Opulent and low key, gilded and grimy, humid and gorgeous." Ian Penman on "Villa Claustrophobia" for The Wire, July 2002.

"Enhanced, groove-centered propulsion punctuated by the frequent Muscle Shoals-style horns, dustbowl lap steel, and a surprising abundance of hypercharged, Crazy Horse guitar soloing." Pitchfork reviewing "Ardent Fevers", April 06

Tanakh on MySpace

Michele Poulos on MySpace

MP3 From this Release on this C-O Page

Black Sun Ensemble CD out in the World

Jeez, it seems like forever since I updated this blog, partly due to inertia and partly due to the damn slow loading of the blogger control panel over my VSAT connection. It seems much improved over the magnificent Firefox 2.0, so expect regular updates from now on. Since the last update, we've released the latest Black Sun Ensemble CD "Bolt of Apollo" and folks seems to be liking it OK. Here are some reviews:

Ptolemaic Terrascope
High Bias
Psychotropic Zone

It's ready for mail order from the Camera Obscura Web Site, or all good stores and etailers now.

Release notes can be found here. Links to MP3s can be found here.