From the self-titled debut by Lean Year. Available October 20, 2017 on Western Vinyl
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Lean Year is the debut, self-titled record by Richmond, Virginia based singer Emilie Rex and filmmaker/musician Rick Alverson. What for Rex was a departure from the structured life of academia toward the uncertain contours of a creative field, for Alverson was a return to form. Having released 5 albums with his previous band Spokane, Alverson took a 10-year hiatus from music to write and direct feature films. These departures and approaches bring a transience and listlessness to the album, like a walk interrupted by both curiosity and caution.
Equally informed by the minimalist folk music of Elizabeth Cotton, Karen Dalton, and Fred Neil; the tenuous, ambient, and orchestral works of Harold Budd, Brian Eno, and John Cale; the quietly pointed but tender songs of Nina Simone and Bessie Smith; and the baroque pop subversions of Love and The Left Banke—the inspirations for Lean Year are as varied as Rex and Alverson’s biographies. Their childhoods—framed respectively by New-Age ideology and antiquated Catholic Catechism; anarchist Montessori and cold, cloistered ice arenas; the chaotic, upheaval of divorce and the strange, obligatory qualities of life-long marriage—provide footing on uneven ground for the record’s dream-like, oblique observations. In the wake of these dynamic histories, the two leaned on music as a kind of secular spirituality.
Rex and Alverson co-wrote the album over the course of a year at their home in Richmond, VA and recorded it in three sessions at the home studio of Chicago musician/engineer Erik Hall (In Tall Buildings, NOMO), who also performs on the record. Alverson and Hall co-produced the album’s ten tracks, drawing on both Hall's and Elliot Bergman’s (NOMO) arsenal of instruments. For Hall and Rex, this project was a reunion of sorts, the two having met as undergraduates in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan over a decade before. Hall’s extensive vocabulary—ranging from jazz and pop to rock and afrobeat—informs his contributions to the record.
Alverson’s films [Entertainment (2015) and the cult-drama The Comedy (2012)] have premiered at Sundance, Locarno, Rotterdam and the Film Society of Lincoln Center among others venues and festivals worldwide. Rex left academia and her position as Indiana University's Assistant Director of Sustainability in 2014 to focus on music and pursue resilience writing and analysis as a consultant. This is her first record.