SAMARA LUBELSKI
The Fleeting Skies

IND 044 LP

Can music get any gentler than this? Spectacular of Passages isn't "soft" in the sense of "soft rock" or "the quiet is the new loud"; carving her own niche of idyllic bedroom psychedelia, Samara Lubelski's newest takes pop orchestrations to levels of insulation previously unimagined-- it's as though she recorded her murmured symphony inside a down pillow and comforter.

Unlike de rigueur solo folkies, Lubelski isn't afraid to surround herself with an airy "teenage symphony to god" army. According to the liner notes, there are 15 participants here, not including the multi-instrumental, knob-turning Lubelski. Donning headphones, it's fascinating to try charting the ingenious ways she tucks and repositions the players into such a precise sound. The album was recorded between Germany and Brooklyn with a cast that includes some of her ex-Tower Recordings chums: P.G. Six on baroque flute and 12-string and Tim Barnes on drums/percussion. Among the other guests are Matt Heyner of No Neck Blues Band on upright bass and Espers' cellist Helena Espvall. Of course, Lubelski comes armed with everything from guitar and violin to poppi shakers, mellotron, and her lovely voice.

For those who don't recognize Samara's name-- well, shame on you. Actually, no, she's such an understated, ethereal figure (think 4AD taken down a notch) that her relative anonymity makes sense. Still, she's been doing great things for a long time, whether fronting the trio Hall of Fame, playing internationally with Metabolismus, or working as an engineer at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room where she recorded the Fiery Furnaces and Magik Markers, among others. Her history with Tower Recordings was mentioned above, and she's also collaborated with everyone from Tara Jane O'Neil and White Magic to Jackie-O Motherfucker and Tony Conrad.

Lubelski's 2004 solo album, The Fleeting Skies, was a favorite of mine when it was released. It's unfortunate to report that besides Spectacular of Passage's opener, "Lick 'n Leap", its neighbor "Sister Silver", and "Broken Links", this collection doesn't provide the same Technicolor chills and crushed velvet hooks as its predecessor.

Judging from its luster, The Fleeting Skies aligned itself more with sunrises, whereas Spectacular evokes a powdered duskiness. There's plenty of beauty, but last time around the hooks were sharper, more defined. There's less temptation to sing along now; but then, perhaps these are mumbled good nights. (Images are often kinda blurred when you turn out the lights.) The gorgeous "Orion"'s syrupy whispers could very well be an eventide offering to the constellation that gave it a name-- but eventually Mr. Sandman hits you upside the head with his goods.

Don't misunderstand sleepiness as boredom. Spectacular of Passages can be a rich experience, and there are a number of strong moments. The album's so tight it has a tendency to close in on itself, but when you do duck your head inside there are plenty of, well, spectacular passages. Let me equivocate a bit more: I'd be curious to see what'd happen if Lubelski's magisterial sonic precision was taken for a more arresting ride-- more cracked, splintered, or rusted-- because what we have now is a beautiful, precious music box or curio that you won't be compelled to open that often.

~Brandon Stosuy, January 27, 2006
Pitchfork Media

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A veteran of the New York underground scene, Samara Lubelski has been involved in a number of innovative musical ventures. As a member of both Tower Recordings and Hall of Fame, she has ventured into some deeply psychedelic waters. She’s also engineered a number of amazing albums at the Rare Book Room, including the marvelous Halve Maen by fellow New Yorkers Double Leopards. When Lubelksi is left to her own devices and ventures out solo, she allows her inner chanteuse to be released. The results are always both surprising and satisfying.

Spectacular of Passages continues down the same path as her debut, The Fleeting Skies. Intricate guitar passages, free of cumbersome effects, are coupled with Lubelski’s honey-sweet voice and flourishes provided by a host of talented guests. Each of the ten songs featured on this release is a perfectly crafted gem, exuding a rare beauty. The music is wonderful and infectious, the crafty melodies and varied instrumentation – whether horns, strings or analog electric piano – will keep you guessing as to what’s coming next.

Samara Lubelski has already proven that she’s a remarkable musician and a magnificent songwriter. Spectacular of Passages isn’t simply a restatement of the facts, it’s another chapter of an ever-evolving epic. Highly recommended.

~ Bryon Hayes
Foxy Digitalis

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It's fair to say that alphabetizing one's record collection irrespective of genre has its advantages. After all, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to file the oeuvres of those artists who ply myriad sonic trades. Take New York multi-instrumentalist, improviser, and singer-songwriter Samara Lubelski. As a onetime and sometime member of ensembles such as the loping communal-music ensemble the Tower Recordings, the quietly intense Sonora Pine, Germany's proggy Metabolismus, and the frenetic Pacer, Lubelski has found herself saddled with musical terms such as "lo-fi," "math rock," "slow core," and "free folk." Yet she has bridged much of this terminology with The Fleeting Skies, a statement that encompasses all of her previous work and also offers up significant new directions.

Released on vinyl (replete with handmade jackets) by Minneapolis's De Stijl, The Fleeting Skies is a far cry from Lubelski's debut album, In the Valley (Com 7--edition of 99), a Fluxus-inspired mélange of violin and feedback drones having more in common with the dense sound pieces of Takehisa Kosugi than the scrabbly heritage of solo violin improvisation (Philip Wachsmann, Leroy Jenkins). To isolate and extend the violin's possibilities is at once grand and elemental, an exploration of resonance and timbre that is anything but routine. The Fleeting Skies is nearly an about-face: For all intents and purposes, it is a pop record. To be sure, the intricate guitar parts found in the work of Tower and their ilk are still present; ditto the insistent yet off-kilter rhythms. But the difference is this: Rather than stemming from a freeform approach, these elements are used to bolster lush (and dare I say catchy) songcraft. The gauzy, dreamy pop textures in "Keeper of Beauty" exemplify this change of focus, as do simple touches like a duet for acoustic guitar and celeste on "Now Morning's Calling." In essence, this is an investigation of "form" to follow that of "sound." Lubelski hasn't often sung on previous recordings, so The Fleeting Skies is a rare treat, offering airy vocals similar to those of Linda Perhacs and other figures of the American psychedelic folk underground of the 1970s. With this synthesis of vanguard mettle and sunny-yet-melancholy orchestral folk, Lubelski has made the musical statement that many of her peers will wish they'd made.

~ Clifford Allen
City Pages
January 19th 2005

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An album more appropriately titled than this would be hard to come by. Samara Lubelski’s gentle folk-rock and sweetly languorous vocals don’t immediately demand attention and may seem slightly generic on first listen. But The Fleeting Skies will hover on the periphery of the memory and each listen strengthens the impression left by this masterpiece of understatement and brevity. These ten songs, ranging from two and a half to three and a half minutes long, bleed together into a tapestry of subtle psychedelia that is just perfect for staring into on a lazy afternoon.

Most of the instruments on the album are played by Lubelski herself. Ultra-clean electric and acoustic guitar lines provide the base for each song with assorted percussive embellishment providing differing shades of detail from tune to tune. Flutes and strings occasionally swoop down and wrap up everything in their warmth. But Lubelski’s voice is the real feature attraction. It’s difficult to tell if it is naturally so resonant or if she is double-tracking, probably a little of both. The background vocal harmonies are sheer beauty.

The Fleeting Skies sounds like a female counterpart to Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter without the embarrassingly dated saxophone solos and with a little more optimism. The timpani drums and string arrangement of “Crowns and Courts” especially recalls Drake’s baroque yet modest songs of hope and longing. The subjects of the songs are rarely as frankly personal as Drake’s, but it is somewhat difficult to discern exactly what a song like “Keeper of Beauty” is about. That hardly matters when the songs are as beautiful as these. It’s incredible that an album so seemingly simple can actually contain a universe of mystery.
Lubelski’s musical talent has already been made clear through her work with various NYC groups (Hall of Fame, Tower Recordings, as an engineer for Sightings). The Fleeting Skies should cement her reputation as an incredible solo performer, as well.

~ Sean Witzman
Foxy Digitalis

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After playing second fiddle (literally) for psych folk luminaries like Metabalismus and the Tower Recordings for the last decade Samara Lubelski finally steps out and releases her first proper solo record. And boy is it lovely. Dark meandering folk, with hints of psychedelic swirl and Appalachian twang. Ms. Lubelski's drowsy murmurred vocals are sorta reminiscent of the Pastels' Katrina and Aggi (but much more self-assured and in tune) or even more so Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley. Delicate chimes and fluttering flutes compliment her voice perfectly. Oh, and P.G. Six drops in to play along on a couple of songs.

~ Aquarius Records