Whereas The Game Of Monogamy was an orchestral album filled with theatrical arrangements, the new album by Tim Kasher of Cursive -- Adult Film -- favors less ornate, equally impactful instrumentation across its 10 affecting tracks. The album is filled with variations of Kasher’s signature blend of ruminative rock/pop, ranging from raucous and barreling (“American Lit,” “Truly Freaking Out) to uneasy and undulating (“Where’s Your Heart Lie,” the dreamy “Lay Down Your Weapons”), from deceptively bright and poppy (“The Willing Cuckold,” “A Raincloud is a Raincloud”) to tempered and cascading (“You Scare Me To Death,” “A Lullaby, sort of”). Lyrically, Kasher is at his incisive best, thematically elastic and touching on aging (self-reflection and taking stock), mortality (one’s own and others’), and relationships of all kinds.
Kasher is joined on Adult Film by Sara Bertuldo (bass, vocals), Patrick Newbery (organ, keys, synths, horns), and Dylan Ryan (drums) – who backed him while touring around The Game Of Monogamy – as well as additional artists including Nate Kinsella (drums; of Make Believe and Birthmark) and Laura Stevenson (vocals; of Laura Stevenson and the Cans), among others. The album was mixed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Wye Oak, Explosions In The Sky) at Elmwood Recording in Dallas, TX.
Though Stevenson began writing classically on piano early on, it wasn't until her late teens that she taught herself how to fingerpick the guitar, aspiring to have the quickness and intricacy of her "guitar god," Dolly Parton. The new instrument opened up a window of creativity and Stevenson soon began writing songs heavily influenced by the writers her father had raised her on, such as Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Carole King, while also drawing inspiration from music that she discovered on her own like Leonard Cohen, and Jeff Mangum. Meanwhile, leaving her comfort zone, Stevenson started playing in friends' bands in and around Long Island, a time that she says, "taught me how to be on tour, how to give and take with other musicians, and not be afraid of my own ideas." With a new found confidence and a solid and supportive community of creative people behind her, Stevenson moved to Brooklyn in her early 20s and soon started performing her own material, loosely assembling a backing band of friends from other projects. In 2010, she released her bare-bones full-length debut simply entitled, A Record, which she quickly followed the year after with Sit Resist, the first solid document of her work playing with a full band. Those two albums and a healthy amount of touring brought Stevenson a dedicated fan base, drawn to her voice, her words, and her relatable down-to-earth persona.
While writing the 13 songs that make-up her newest record, Wheel, Stevenson sought to understand her place within the frame of time, nature, and among those that she loves. With her words, a careful twine of prose and humor, Stevenson manages to expose the nagging contradictions that make life so terrifying but also so worth living, how it is possible to simultaneously feel both fear and joy, the bitter aftertaste of something so beautiful it makes you sick. Themes of passage, the cycle of the moon, the seasons, and love's ever-shifting states of dependence, are all interwoven throughout Wheel as songs ebb and flow from her band's crashing walls of distortion and pounding drums, to sweet string-led overtures, to moments where it is just Stevenson and a guitar.
Jake Bellows had quit music. Or so he thought.
After fronting Neva Dinova for more than 15 years which included five full-lengths, a split EP, and countless tours, he packed up his dog and moved from his native Omaha to his girlfriend's hometown of Los Angeles. Two days before he left he recorded 18 demos with musician and engineer Ben Brodin (Before the Toast and Tea, Conor Oberst) at Brodin's insistence. Once in L.A., Bellows got a job installing sliding-glass doors and sold his Les Paul to buy a Datsun pick-up truck.
Though he had no plans to form a new band, he played the occasional solo show, performed with Whispertown, and continued to write songs. In early 2011, an invitation arrived from Omaha's Film Streams Theater for Jake's old friend Ryan Fox (Our Fox, The Good Life), also living on the West Coast, to perform an original live film score. Fox enlisted Bellows and Brodin to collaborate and the trio began to compose and discuss improvisational ideas over long-distance. Since they were all going to be in Omaha and had a long history of playing in each other's bands, Brodin and Fox nudged Bellows into booking studio time to record some of his dormant songs.
Fox and Bellows drove from LA to Omaha that November in a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle that didn't have heat, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, seatbelts, or radio. They made it as far as Lincoln, NE, before the car caught fire at 4 in the morning. Later that week the trio performed the score to The Adventures of Prince Achmed. That weekend, they entered ARC Studios for a feverish recording session, arranging and writing parts on the fly with an impromptu band including Heath Koontz (Neva Dinova), Todd Fink (The Faint), Whispertown bandmate Morgan Nagler and other old friends. Committing quickly to intuitive arrangements the band recorded 17 tracks in a little more than a week. They worked remotely on the record throughout that winter and spring, adding overdubs in basements and bedrooms across western North America.
The group reunited in Omaha to debut the new songs at a couple of shows one week the following June. Excited to release the new material on their own terms the band put out a preview EP on cassette, Help, at the end of 2012. The new music is underpinned by philosophical conviction and shaped by an interest in physics, cosmology and mythology. Bellows returned to music with a renewed sense of the intrinsic value of art and its ability to express the commonality of human experience. His debut full-length, New Ocean, offers a mix tape of different kinds of songs hanging out on one record - love songs that are not necessarily ballads despite their introspective gauziness, with left turns into drunk-in-the-sun bossa nova and blue-eyed-soul ruptured by fuzz guitar. Bellows believes that songs change the fabric of the universe through the very frequencies they emit. As such, the record attempts to create the world he wants to see instead of reflect the world that is. "Our theory of the beginning of the universe is the big bang - a sound," Bellows said. "What gave birth to the universe is our one tool that we can change the universe with."