CFCF + JEAN-MICHEL BLAIS - CASCADES
LABEL : ARTS & CRAFTS // RELEASE DATE : MARCH 15 (DIGITAL) APRIL 14 (LP)
Michael Silver (aka CFCF) is one of those rare talents to whom pop sensibility seems to be second nature. The Montreal native has been making music in his bedroom since he was 12 years old, and over the past 6 years or so that the rest of the world has been able to share in his pop experiments. This wide scope of interest in genre and pop structure and mature melodic instinct allow him to shift gears effortlessly from Techno & House to Ambient & New Age; from Kate Bush-tinged pop to the melancholy micro-genre known as ‘Night Bus’ (of which Silver has been a pioneer), and everything in between. His pop music can be sweetly sad or creepily disturbing, but it is always fundamentally Pop.
CFCF’s debut LP, ‘Continent’, was an impressive and prescient collage of vintage electronic textures evoking grandiose , neon-soaked landscapes worthy of a Michael Mann film. Across its 12 tracks, he explores numerous styles, including tropical-tinged house, nervous film-score electronics, and lush, beat-driven soundscapes, resulting in a cohesive masterclass on the variety of dance music.
‘The River’, an EP based partly on Werner Herzog’s classic film Fitzcarraldo, deepened a growing obsession with conjuring far-away landscapes and voyages through a style which is at times melancholy, propulsive and ecstatic. This vivid record creates a world that is fantastic, frightening, and illusory, using acoustic guitars and ambient synthesizers to evoke the madness of the jungle.
Silver’s craft grew considerably following these releases with a pair of complementary EP’s. ‘Exercises’ incorporates influences from neo-classical composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, to Brutalist architecture, to the film and musical works created by Norman McLaren at the NFB. Pitchfork called it “chilly, spacious, and oddly out of time”, noting that “by stretching out into classical- and kosmische-informed keyboard selections, CFCF has reached a place where his next options are almost limitless.” This was followed by ‘Music for Objects’, a more micro exploration of the secret life of inanimate objects, the meaning we give them, and the small moments they inhabit. As per Pitchfork again, “it's another excellent chapter in CFCF's story, a strong case for how much unexpected magic can be found in the ordinary and, more importantly, in CFCF's ever-mutating discography.”
Silver’s 2nd full-length LP, ‘Outside’, released in late 2013, feels like a culmination of the ideas Silver was exploring. Much of the tracks were written while he was traveling on buses and trains, usually between Montreal and New York or Toronto, and the music reflects the yearning for stability that comes from constant movement, as well as the fascination with the inherent beauty of new environments. Silver’s vocals are finally in the forefront here, and in the hands of a less defined artist, there'd likely be a disconnect between the external and internal elements of emotion, but Silver excels at making songs that situate him in particular environments, exploring how they effect his emotional state through the contrast of natural and synthetic elements. In some cases, artificial choirs intermingle with live drums and, unexpectedly, electric guitar, which provides the thrust of some tracks ("Find," "Beyond Light") and works to subtly thicken others, like Silver's excellent cover of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "Strange Form of Life," which he's reworked into a lush moment of visceral, heartbreaking sadness.
In 2015, CFCF follows up this impressive discography with two new explorations of the New Age aesthetic which is experiencing a strong resurgence. The first is a new LP titled ‘Radiance & Submission’. Adding acoustic guitar to his trademark warm synths and masterful electronic production, Silver has made an album that plays like a dreamtime paean to ECM and Windham Hill’s catalogs of meditative folk explorations. Silver’s guitar arpeggiates sublimely throughout the record, at times sounding like a choir of otherworldly hammered dulcimers. Fragments of voices, chattering percussion, nature recordings, film samples, and Silver’s sparse vocals arise and disappear, calling from somewhere just outside the boundaries of the waking world.
Immediately following this, Silver released ‘The Colours of Life’ on Vancouver label-of-the-moment 1080p. The album is a continuous 41-minute piece exploring the boundaries of New Age cheese, in the most sincere and devoted manner possible. Silver states in a recent press release, “The song that really inspired the first iterations of ‘Colours of Life’ is “Hand in Hand” by Phil Collins, from ‘Face Value’. It’s a super simple corny song built on a Roland CR-78 loop and just the silliest pan-global optimistic tone. And I got into the idea of doing a record of music like that, that would incorporate a lot of this stuff I was listening to and be of use as like, call waiting background music, just the most pleasant thing and kind of trying to push to the edges of tolerable cheese in some places, but also have it be totally sincere and not ironic, like actually purely pleasurable music.”
Following a 12” of straight-ahead techno & house called ‘Head Up’, CFCF ventured onto Mark Barrott’s Ibiza-based International Feel Recordings for the blissfully low-key ‘On Vacation’ mini-album, a collection of balearic-via-new-age recordings aimed at earnestly capturing a kind of relaxed, worldly atmosphere which exists only in films. Exotica blended with pastoral ambience, executed with both absolute sincerity and a hint of a wry wink.
In between all these releases Silver has stayed busy with a series of evolving mixtapes. ‘Do U Like Nightbus?’ explores the titular “genre” through his remixes of Aaliyah, Ciara and ‘Twin Peaks’, while ‘Reincarnation’ presents a dark mindmeld of exotic chants, pounding drums, R&B crooners and menacing dancefloors. As with his own music, you get the feeling you are embarking on a fantastic journey to an unknown destination. Silver followed these with sequels ‘Night Bus II’ and ‘Night Bus 3’, further proving his considerable skill at drawing connections from disparate genres through seamlessly and expertly crafted mixtapes. Taken together, the Night Bus series feels like a dissertation on a fictional genre, one where the only signifiers that draw its music together are neon-lit rain-soaked streets, a feeling of world-weary relaxation while decompressing on a city bus.
As a DJ and a live act, CFCF has toured across Europe and the Americas in a variety of contexts. He’s DJed with indie acts such as Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, and Caribou, played The Museum Of Modern Art’s PS1 Warm-Up venue with Animal Collective and Oneohtrix Point Never and full on parties with Hercules and Love Affair, The Juan MacLean, Nguzunguzu, and Purity Ring, among many others. He has appeared in a live webcast DJ mix on the Boiler Room channel, and DJ’d at events like The Fader Fort in Austin and New York. As a live act, he has performed alongside Tim Hecker (in a church in Calgary, Alberta) and Nils Frahm (at the Decibel Fest in Seattle).
Silver is also active in the art world. In 2013 he contributed music to artist Doug Aitken’s “Song 1” video installation and performance at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. In early 2015 he contributed to the Minneapolis-based Walker Art Center’s ‘Intangibles’ project, where he created a piece of intangible art to be purchased on the museum’s website alongside pieces by Nico Muhly and Martine Syms. And in early 2016, Silver collaborated with visual artist Andrew Thomas Huang, renowned for his continuing collaboration with Bjork on all visual aspects of her last 2 albums ‘Vulnicura’ and ‘Biophilia’, on a new immersive video piece titled ‘Interstice’.
JEAN-MICHEL BLAIS BIO
Jean-Michel Blais is a 31 year-old pianist from Montreal, Canada. His enchanting instrumental compositions pair the melodic pop sensibilities of Amélie-era Yann Tiersen and Arts & Crafts alumni Chilly Gonzales with the breathtaking technical skill of classical minimalists like Philip Glass and Erik Satie. Il, his debut album of original compositions was released on October 7th, 2016 by Arts & Crafts.
Blais grew up in a rural French Catholic town in Quebec absent of Culture save for a giant Encyclopedia he’d read feverishly as a child. At age 9, Blais began tinkering on his family’s organ, improvising, and at age 11 started to write original compositions and taking piano lessons. A natural talent, by 17 he was invited to the Trois-Rivieres Music Conservatory and began training as a classical pianist. However, Blais was entering the throes of teenage rebellion and found the constraints of formal training cumbersome rigid structure. Gravitating towards experimentation, Blais wasn’t content to be told how to play, and not to improvise or compose.
A few years later, he attracted the attention of famed playwright and director, Robert Lepage, who introduced Blais to the who’s who of Quebec’s entertainment industry. With no particular plan for a music career, he quickly took a step back and decided it was time for more explorations.
He moved to Europe in his mid-20s living in Berlin and spent six months in South America. During that time he’d intermittently compose music with long gaps of not even touching a piano. Blais finally settled in Montreal where he rediscovered his love for composing and performing which caught the ear of Arts & Crafts.
Blais’ first single “Nostos” (featuring producer/engineer BUFFLO) immediately connected with audiences landing the #1 spot on Hype Machine’s Popular chart twice (Mar 1, Apr 10), and #14 on Spotify’s Global Viral Chart. To date, it has garnered almost 20 million listens. The full length album Il was originally released in April ‘16 and supported with a month-long residency at The Art Gallery Of Ontario. Il, described by Exclaim as “a masterpiece” and “nothing short of stunning” by IMPOSE, landed the #1 on the Canadian Billboard Classical chart.
The LP release of the album, featuring two additional tracks, was supported with hometown performances at Pop Montreal, and a special collaborative performance with Grammy Award-nominated producer CFCF (née Mike Silver) at the renowned Red Bull Music Academy. Il was long-listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize and made TIME Magazine’s Top Ten Albums of 2016.
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1. Hasselblad 1
2. Two Mirrors
5. In A Landscape (Rework)