Big Red Machine - S/T

Regular price $ 23.99
Though the seeds of Big Red Machine were planted in 2008, when the National's Aaron Dessner sent Bon Iver's Justin Vernon an instrumental song sketch of the same name, the project's self-titled debut was compiled over the two years leading up to its release in August of 2018. It arrives after Bon Iver's surprising 22, A Million (2016), which saw the indie folk icon incorporating keyboards, samples, and manipulated sounds, and the National's Sleep Well Beast (2017), which also employed electronics as part of its expansive sonic scheme. Using dozens of instruments -- including guitars, programmed and live drums, strings, portable synthesizers, and sampling and looping devices -- Big Red Machine's off-kilter soundscape was designed by Dessner, with Vernon adding impressionistic lyrics and wide-ranging vocal lines. Among the album's numerous guests are prior National collaborators such as Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry, keyboardist Nick Lloyd, and drummer James McAlister, as well as the National's Bryan Devendorf. Other singers, brass players, and even a throat whistler are also in play in what are ultimately quietly dramatic tracks. The opener, "Deep Green," for instance, spotlights Vernon's cryptic remembrance with only skittering drums and electric guitar interjections in the foreground, while eerie backing vocals, keyboard instruments, and glitchy sound effects are recessed. Later, "Lyla" blends soul, hip-hop, rock, and indie electronica on a track that incorporates R2-D2-like blips as well as Rob Moose's violin and viola. (Phoebe Bridgers is among the background singers on the track.) "Hymnostic" is more anthemic and rousing, while "People Lullaby" is relatively sparse and circular by design. It may come as no surprise after listening that the songs were originally constructed as blueprints for improvised live performances with rotating collaborators at festivals in 2017; the songs have an organic, impromptu character to them, even despite the subtle and not-so-subtle intricacy of their arrangements. More a headphones-type album than a radio-friendly one, what emerges are still songs before compositions or productions, though they may appeal to the more explorative indie rockers.