2017 is a pretty important personal milestone: it marks 20 years of blogging by yours truly. Most of that has obviously been here on Opus, as well as the various personal websites that I created prior to starting what would become eventually Opus. But that time also includes my writing for Christ and Pop Culture, Filmwell, and Twitch (now known as Screen Anarchy).
I don’t usually celebrate blogging-related milestones — I prefer to just stick with writing content worth reading and sharing — but 20 years seemed particularly momentous. And while I was trying to think of suitable celebrations, I decided to indulge a long-running fantasy of mine: running a record label.
I’m very proud to announce the first ever Opus album release: Twenty Years and Counting.
Twenty Years and Counting features tracks from a wide range of artists, all of whom I’ve reviewed, interviewed, and written about over the last two decades, and spans a number of genres: folk, ambient, experimental, electronic, etc. It’s a way to spotlight the diversity of musical talent that Opus has focused on over the years while also (hopefully) bringing that same talent a bit more well-deserved notice. What follows is a track-by-track breakdown of the compilation.
“Yesteryear” by Sam Billen
Sam Billen used to be a member of the criminally overlooked The Billions, who released several excellent indie-pop albums in the early ’00s. Following The Billions’ demise, Billen has released several excellent solo albums (e.g., Places, Headphones and Cellphones), a number of Christmas-themed compilations, and even a few soundtracks. “Yesteryear” revisits the melody from one of my favorite Billions songs, which is rather apropos given the song’s themes of nostalgia and moving on.
“Street of Mirrors” by Songs of Green Pheasant
Songs of Green Pheasant is one Duncan Sumpner, who records ethereal, kaleidoscopic music that straddles the line between folk, psychedelia, and bedroom pop. As with much of his music, “Street of Mirrors” may be a pretty lo-fi production, but that does nothing to diminish the song’s beautiful textures and effect.
“Locked In” by Swartz Et
Steve Swartz can’t get enough of atmospheric sounds, whether you’re talking about his work with Au Revoir Borealis, his For Wishes side-project, or his solo ambient recordings released under the Swartz et moniker. On “Locked In,” Swartz layers piano notes, some plain and some blurred with effects, on top of each other in seemingly endless array, creating a contemplative vibe not dissimilar to Stars of the Lid or Goldmund.
“St. Luke’s Summer” by Caul
Brett Smith has released a number of fantastic dark ambient albums through his Caul project, particularly 1998’s Light From Many Lamps and Reliquary — albums full of gloom and darkness but also shot through with moments of beauty and grace. That being said, “St. Luke’s Summer” might be my favorite Caul track to date, as Smith blends expansive, mournful textures and sparse percussion in a manner that evokes all manner of wide open spaces, from the desert to the prairie.
“The Heart Will Remember” by Ecovillage
Swedish duo Ecovillage create swirling, electro-dreampop, and “The Heart Will Remember” is a perfect example of their maximalist style. Choral vocals, string arrangements, crisp beats, synthesizers — this song is stuffed to the gills with a little bit of everything, and the result is as blissed out as can be.
“Tangled” by Karen Choi
Karen Choi is an old friend of mine who’s released a couple of albums of solid rootsy folk/country music. “Tangled,” however, eschews the usual twang. Instead, Choi opts for something a little slower and smokier, an unrequited torch-song ballad that you’d expect to hear in some shady, underground jazz club.
“Placate” by Writ On Water
I still remember the first time I heard Writ on Water’s Sylph: it was (and remains) quite unlike anything else I’d ever heard in Christian music circles, a dark and ethereal album that had lots in common with the classic 4AD sound. “Placate” doesn’t deviate from that lush, atmospheric vibe, proving that some sounds really can be pretty much timeless. (Writ on Water recently announced a new EP that will be released later this month.)
“The Coastal Line” by The Declining Winter
The Declining Winter is one Richard Adams, who was also a founding member of longtime Opus faves Hood (and is currently a member of Great Panoptique Winter and Memory Drawings). Like Hood, The Declining Winter uses sparse arrangements, haunting vocals, and a bit of noise to create a sense of melancholy and introspection — ideal for overcast, pastoral vistas. (The Declining Winter’s next album, Belmont Slope, will be released sometime next spring on Home Assembly.)
“Crumbling Thought Formation” by Jay Tholen
I can’t get enough of Jay Tholen’s Gospel-centric electronic music, which blends together chiptune, video game music, synthpop, and psychedelia with disarming lyrics and vocals. (A good starting place is his latest, Celestial Archive.) “Crumbling Thought Formation” is a little slinkier and funkier than you might expect from Tholen, but it’s still a treat for the ears, and Tholen’s lyrics are deceptively thought-provoking.
“Dream 4” by Sleep Experiments
Sleep Experiments’ music straddles the line between shoegaze and slowcore. It contains the former’s emphasis on gorgeous guitar layers and effects, but also has the latter’s sense of intimacy and space. “Dream 4” is an excellent example of this, and if you dig it, be sure to check out the rest of Sleep Experiments’ catalog, including their most recent album Passages.
“These Days” by Carlos Forster
Carlos Forster is one of my favorite singers, period. His honeyed voice recalls the Beach Boys’ golden harmonies, whether it’s paired with the sterling indie-pop of his former band For Stars, or his more psychedelic solo material. Forster’s songs are almost all characterized by a gentle, wistful heartache, but on “These Days,” the heartache is distinctly political in nature, as Forster laments our current socio-political situation.
“Prayer” by Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus
The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus’ music blends folk, industrial, experimental, and ambient music with a religious aesthetic heavily influenced by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The resulting music is truly sublime (and thankfully, we’ll be getting even more of it as the band is currently working on their fourth album). “Prayer” finds the Army at their sparsest and simplest, as a lovely female voice makes supplication over a haunting drone that grows moreso as the song progresses.
“Transhuman” by Makeup and Vanity Set
Synthesizer music has landed in the popular consciousness thanks to Stranger Things’ moody and evocative soundtrack. Matthew Pusti, aka Makeup and Vanity Set, is one of its finest purveyors and has been creating cinematic electronic music at a prolific rate for several years now. “Transhuman” wouldn’t be out of place in the Stranger Things universe: its creepy atmospherics are the perfect sonic backdrop for exploring parallel dimensions populated by unearthly creatures.
I firmly believe that art should strive to make the world a better, more beautiful place. To that end, all of the proceeds from Twenty Years and Counting will go to Shared Vision International, a non-profit run by several friends of mine that provides vision care and corrective eyewear to communities with little to no access to those things.
Many, many, many thanks to all of the artists who contributed their time and energy to making this a reality — Twenty Years and Counting would quite literally not exist without their art. And many thanks to everyone who’s read Opus over the years, submitted reviews and comments, supported Opus financially, shared posts with friends and family, given me recommendations, and kept in touch. This compilation is for you. Enjoy, and here’s to another twenty years.