Category: Sufjan Stevens

Tonight: Sufjan Stevens and Ray Raposa score an indie film live

Sufjan Stevens

Film scores, some may argue, should give viewers a clearer idea about what's on the screen and how an audience is supposed to feel about it. If that's the case, the soundtrack to indie director Kaleo La Belle's documentary "Beyond This Place" (originally released in 2010) does what it's supposed to do -- and then some, at least for those who see it live tonight at the Vista  in Los Feliz.

Accompanied by the fragile guitar work of renowned folk artists Sufjan Stevens and Ray Raposa, the film follows the story of La Belle, 34, reconnecting with his estranged, bike-ridding, LSD-addled hippie father. It encapsulates a balance of hope and heartbreak, which also happens to describe the style and sound for which the film's composers are best known.

Stevens and Raposa will perform the live original score during two screenings tonight at the Vista. The ghostly, meandering vocals on original songs, such as the film's title track, work in harmony with the tale forged in the pot-hazed hippie communes and winding mountain roads of Washington state, where La Belle's father, Cloud Rock (a.k.a. Gordon La Belle), 70, is an avid cyclist.

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Pop & Hiss premiere: New video for Gabriel Kahane's single 'L.A.'

Gabriel Kahane Gabriel Kahane 
 
The first single from Los Angeles native Gabriel Kahane’s sophomore album, “Where Are the Arms,” is the song “L.A.,” which not only directly references the city he was brought up in, but also another artist’s creative work: Joan Didion’s 1970 novel “Play It as It Lays.”

Anyone familiar with her scathing look at the experience of a young woman who travels to the City of Angels will know that Kahane’s song is anything but a love letter: The key lyrical hook in the song says “L.A. — the selfish city wins again.”

The singer, instrumentalist and composer, who was born in 1981 in Venice  and is the son of pianist and longtime Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director Jeffrey Kahane, Gabriel — who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. — said “L.A.” grew out of a visit home about four years ago when he was serving as music director for a production of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s rock musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

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Digital DIY music platform Bandcamp finds its footing with artists like Amanda Palmer, Sufjan Stevens and RJD2 [Updated]

Amanda palmer After six years, a handful of albums and one censorship controversy, Amanda Palmer wanted a way to call her own shots after splitting with Roadrunner Records in April.

After she claimed the label sought to cut or alter shots of her stomach in the video for the “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” song “Leeds United,” Palmer asked to be dropped in late 2008. As fans bared their own bodies in an online protest dubbed “The ReBellyon,” the singer took to performing a song pointedly titled “Please Drop Me” in concert.

When she finally got her wish, Palmer celebrated by offering a free download of a track titled “Do You Swear to Tell the Truth the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth So Help Your Black Ass,” a decision that probably would have made her former label cringe.

Independence has its virtues.

The Dresden Dolls frontwoman-turned-solo artist has joined a growing number of artists who’ve found a home on Bandcamp, a San Francisco-based website and publishing platform that aims to put musicians in better control of their digital sales and online merchandising.

“We really wanted to do everything quote unquote on our own,” said Sean Francis, Palmer’s director of new media, marketing and promotions, adding that they discovered the site in its infancy. “We always had them in the back of our minds for when ultimately she would get off the label.”

In contrast with a number of rules-clad retailers, Bandcamp offers ease and options: free sign-up; a Bandcamp storefront page to add to an existing site or let stand alone; an array of digital download formats (from hi-fi MP3s to FLAC and Ogg Vorbis files) for customers; physical sales and physical-digital bundling; and, perhaps most important, the ability to set prices, from free to a flat rate to a pay-what-you-want donation.

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Album review: Sufjan Stevens' 'Age of Adz'

Sufjan “We cannot think of any art of our time as latter-day cave paintings,” wrote the art historian Paul Arnett in a recent essay about African American vernacular art. Confronting the work of “primitives” like Royal Robertson – whose magic-marker drawings inspired the new album by the indie-pop urban homesteader Sufjan Stevens -- Arnett noted that even the most isolated among them were influenced by widely available media, like comic books or television, as well as by literature and religious ideas. Robertson may have lived in a trailer and suffered from schizophrenia, but he also once took a correspondence course in art.

Stevens took a big chance by linking his work so strongly to that of Louisiana native Robertson on “The Age of Adz,” titling the album after one of his artworks and adorning the CD booklet with many more. Stevens is far from the first fey rock dude to claim commonality with a Southern outsider artist (remember the 1980s Howard Finster craze?); but to do so when you’re a much-admired member of the Brooklyn art mafia, already teetering on the edge of preciousness, is to risk fatal self-importance.

Luckily for Stevens, intimacy is his strongest suit. Somehow, no matter how many layers of electronic filigree clutter his arrangements, or how many brass or choral parts harken back to some past he’s mostly imagined, Stevens writes music in a way that always feels personal, and often thrillingly private.

His breakthrough album “Illinois,” now 5 years old, established the framework for current songsmiths treading the ground between classically leaning “new music” and more conventional song forms. “The Age of Adz” responds to artists who’ve splashed big since Stevens’ emergence as it maps out a new style in the space where the archaic collides with the avant-garde.

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