Birthmark

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While making music as Birthmark, Nate Kinsella’s goal is to create the ideal setting for a mental vacation. On his previous album, 2012’s achingly intimate Antibodies, he explored quiet, contemplative terrain. For his fourth and newest LP, How You Look When You’re Falling Down, he’s created an energized and more positive place. As Kinsella puts it, the album is, “More like a fiesta, less like a respite.” The album’s inspiration came from Kinsella’s relocation from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to New York City, which jolted him out of his Midwestern comfort zone in every imaginable way–not least of all musically. He discovered an electrical charge in the sudden anonymity he found in his new home after spending so much time in the Chicago music scene, where the Kinsella name’s a big deal, and where he’s still better known for playing with his cousin Mike in American Football and Owen and his cousin Tim in Joan of Arc and Make Believe. After taking a year off from making music to get situated in New York, Kinsella began crafting How You Look When You’re Falling Down when a friend donated a corner of his carpentry shop to use as a practice space. Most of the material on the album began with improvised drum beats at randomly selected BPMs. Over the next two years, he and producer Jason Cupp (who also manned the boards on Antibodies) filled out the framework with arrangements full of horns, played by members of New York’s iconic Afrobeat band, Antibalas, and TV On the Radio’s touring band, strings by the acclaimed contemporary classical ensemble Mivos Quartet, and his own signature blend of intimate acoustic sounds and gently psychedelic electronic textures. The lyrics were written during a retreat at an isolated Indiana farmhouse. The harpist on the album is the up-and-coming Brandee Younger, who bonded with Kinsella over their love of Dorothy Ashby.  “Brandee lived a block away from me. I recorded all of her harp parts in the community room of her building, which was basically a computer lab. I tracked a lot of the instruments in apartments and houses, various unconventional recording spaces. It’s less pressure on the musicians and allows everyone to relax.” Even with this impressive list of credits, its Nate that one hears most on the album – he played the vast majority of the instruments, including all of the drums, bass, guitar, piano, organ, keyboards, vibraphone, and marimba. The method of songwriting for How You Look When You’re Falling Down was highly influenced by circumstance and Nate’s environment. The music for the opening track, “Find Yourself,” was written on a flight from New York to Chicago with an iPad app. The track “Hurry, Hurry, Hurry” was written at Seaside Lounge, a studio in Brooklyn where Kinsella says he “found a drum kit…that was perfectly in tune with itself — it sounded surprisingly musical. I recorded the first beat that came to mind. Because the drum kit wasn’t tuned to concert pitch, I came up with a vocal accompaniment since the voice is so flexible tuning wise. Months later, when I was working on vocals at a farm in Indiana, I dug up the track and took the same approach as I did with the drums by singing the first thing that came to mind. On previous albums, I would hem and haw for months about any decision. It was absolutely liberating for me to break free from that. The song is really off-the-cuff, and that’s definitely new ground for me.” A key influence on How You Look When You’re Falling Down also came from time Nate spent in Bali. Kinsella states, “I fell in love with Gamelan music while auditing a Balinese Gamelan class at the University of Illinois and ended up spending my honeymoon in Bali. While we were there, I got to play twice in an impromptu Gamelan ensemble with a village priest and his family on their family compound in Ubud. The ages of the players ranged from 6 to 60, and their skills blew me away.” One can hear this musical influence in the slow-burning track “Sounds Can Be So Alarming” in the way the vibraphone patterns interlock with each other, which is typical of Indonesian Gamelan music. A more obvious example of Indonesian influence in “Body Aches and Butterflies,” are the sounds of a Javanese gong, kenong, gender, and bonang which Kinsella played. For the recording of this song, Kinsella visited Friends of the Gamelan in Chicago and was given free reign to play and record the instruments in their rehearsal space. Kinsella leads his explorations with his heart and his experimentation turns out to be as accessible as it is daring. He’s discovered a new space that music can take him mentally, an idyllic vacation spot with warm brass, shimmering strings, gracious pop hooks, and a touch of harp. Put on How You Look When You’re Falling Down, close your eyes, and join him there.

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