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For the better part of a decade Half Shadow, the midnight-blue songwriting moniker of Portland’s Jesse Carsten, has been unfurling an enigmatic, windswept music: equal parts earthen folk and cosmic rock and roll, with a primal pop experimentalism seeping from the edges. Wedding an expansive, transcendent poetics to a fiercely home-spun aesthetic, Carsten creates joyful, eclectic song-collages that embrace the experimental singer-songwriter tradition of the Pacific Northwest while enfolding an array of canonical art-voicings; songs range from abstract finger-picked poems to heart-tugged acapella treaties and repetitive art-rock incantations. Half Shadow’s performances—joining quiet song-spinning with performance art, poetry recitation, and instrumental guitar improvisations—are recognized as strange, dazzling, immersive events, inspiring a passionate following in the Northwest. The Portland Mercury has praised Carsten’s shows as “invariably powerful, full of wonder, and unlike anything else.” Following a string of cassette and CD-R releases, Carsten birthed the first fully formed Half Shadow LP in 2019, Dream Weather Its Electric Song, which was hailed by Antiquated Future as “a carefully thought-out work…of poetic devotionals to the natural world, the subconscious, other realms.” The record was celebrated for its ability to work tangible magic: as Queen City Sounds put it, Dream Weather deconstructs “familiar songwriting styles, bringing the logical mind into alternate pathways of operating.” Carsten’s non-linear and environmental dream-lyrics place him in the company of like-minded contemporaries such as Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum, Mega Bog’s Erin Birgy, Yves Jarvis, and Ruth Garbus, for whom songwriting is an attempt at surreal levels of poetic feeling. Having been called “one of Portland’s best kept secrets,” it is paradoxically Half Shadow’s mystery-inspired, DIY ethos that spirits Carsten’s ever-evolving project out of the home-recordist’s cave and onto more illuminated stages. When it does, Half Shadow is ready to wrap listeners in the dark, sparkling hues and mossy undergrowth that have become the poetic trademark of this singular undertaking. Half Shadow’s newest record At Home With My Candles is out now on Bud Tapes and Dove Cove Records.
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Night Palace’s debut album Diving Rings is a shocking alchemy: aching nostalgia meets frothy anticipation of what’s beyond the garden wall. Tantalizing pop melodies take wing with lush instrumentation and glimmers of psychedelia, weaving reedy arrangements for songwriter Avery Draut’s intimate vocals to rest upon. It’s hard to believe the album is not a soundtrack to another world; you find yourself picturing it: a moonlit-gilded diorama of Draut’s dreams and memories.
Diving Rings, out this past April on Park the Van Records, ebbs and flows through tracks like “Enjoy the Moon!” dubbed by an AllMusic Editor’s Choice review, “a song that sounds like a lost Pet Sounds track played by Broadcast;” grounded indie-rock songs “Into the Wake, Mystified” and “Stranger Powers;” and the celeste-gilded folk song “Titania.”
The new album garnered a mention on NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast, and was playlisted by NPR and Consequence of Sound, among others. Paste Magazine encapsulates the now Athens, Georgia and NYC-based act’s sound in a release week highlight: “Diving Rings wraps freak-folk energy in a lush psych-pop package.”
Growing up, Draut would wake to her parents blasting Court and Spark or Nilsson Schmilsson, dancing around the living room, and riling the dogs. At school in Athens, Georgia she studied classical voice; after five years of fruitful and intensive opera performance, she found a Lowrey Magic Genie™ electric organ at the thrift store. Enchanted by its sound, she sat down for the first time to write songs of her own: the songs that would become Diving Rings.