Nick Bollinger investigates two new releases from the National members Bryce and Aaron Dessner's Brassland label.
Brassland is an indie label, set up in New York in 2001 by twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, with their friend Alex Hanley Bemis. The original idea was simply to release music the brothers were involved in, like Bryce’s contemporary classical group Clogs, and rock band The National, in which both Bryce and Aaron play guitars. The National, of course, took off and before long had outgrown their own label, winding up in the hands of much bigger indie 4AD. Yet their success has, in a way, helped Brassland continue as the small and esoteric indie it first set out to be. And ongoing sales of those first few National records have allowed Brassland to keep making new records like these
Music For Wood and Strings by Bryce Dessner and So Percussion
On Music For Wood and Strings the wood and strings in question are actually a set of instruments designed by Bryce Dessner and his friend Aaron Sanchez, and built by Sanchez who is also a member of another Brassland band Buke and Gase. A sort of cross between a hammered dulcimer and an electric guitar, they call the instruments chordsticks. They have eight strings which can be tuned to an open chord, and when struck produce a sound that is simultaneously harmonic and percussive. But the real effect of these remarkably simple and old-fashioned-looking instruments is the way they sound when there’s more than one them being played at once. And that’s the basis of Dessner’s composition here. There are four musicians in So Percussion, each playing a chordstick and, in some cases, extra percussion, and much of the beauty is in the patterns that emerge as the instruments interlock rhythmically and harmonically.
Songs played: Sections 1-8
Bashed Out by This Is The Kit
The other recent release from the Brassland label is from a European signing: singer, songwriter and bandleader Kate Stables, who hails from Norwich, lives in Paris and records under the name This Is The Kit. And if your preference is more for melodies and lyrics than the hypnotic hocketing of So Percussion, then this could be for you. Bashed Out is the third album Stables has made as This Is The Kit, but her first since the Dessners signed her to Brassland, and it hardly feels like it was just bashed out. Stables plays guitar and occasionally banjo, and has a two-piece band who embellish her songs with bass, percussion and vocal choruses. But with Aaron Dessner taking the production role, that simple sound has been added to in deep and subtle ways. Both the Dessner brothers add their guitars, and you’ll hear other instruments at different times too – keyboards, occasional horns and violin – creating what is sometimes sounds like a small orchestra playing sympathetically somewhere in the next room. But in the end it’s Stables’ voice and songs, with their soft surfaces and unexpected angles, that make it such an attractive set.
Songs played: lver John, Spores Are Settling, Bashed Out, Nits, Magic Spell
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