CELEBRATION: WOUNDED HEALER
“It seems like the last three years have been filled with contrasts,” says Katrina Ford, force-of-nature singer in Baltimore’s Celebration. “Fantastical musical adventures against the backdrop of adult crisis.” From this collision of opposites comes the kaleidoscopic Wounded Healer, released through Bella Union on XXXXX. Drawing its galvanic thrust from contrasting elements, the band’s fifth album is their purest and most richly realized statement yet: intimate and expansive, cohesive and wide-ranging, bruised and restorative.
Since the release of Albumin in 2014, the core trio of Ford, husband (multi-instrumentalist and organ player/rebuilder) Sean Antanaitis and drummer David Bergander have battled in times of struggle to uphold their founding strengths. “Midlife, we find ourselves dealing with bathroom renovations, death and elder care for parents, raising kids, careers, multiple surgeries, and totally fucked scheduling,” says Ford. “But despite it and yet inspired by it all, we have a place to come together and do this thing we love.”
That sense of resilient joy bursts out of Wounded Healer from front to end. ‘Rollin On’ erupts in a flurry of soulful vocals, bass swagger and organ-driven sassiness. ‘Velvet Gloves’ is like a Bond theme in waiting, its string-lavished grandeur turning heartache into drama. Elsewhere, ambitious arcs are traced from the melting balladry of ‘Spider’ to the gospel plaint of ‘Granite’, sax-strafied funk of ‘Stevie’, fleet-footed alt-pop of ‘Paper Trails’ and marching-band spritz of ‘Drum and Phife’, which strikes a closing note of think-forward hope. “Let it shine,” Ford sings, “give it time…”. Celebration gave the album due time to stew, using money from gigs to book studio stints and the downtime between sessions to dream up ideas. Former band-mates Walker Teret and Tony Drummond were instrumental in helping to lay its foundations, until Drummond left to work on his solo album and Teret left to tour with Lower Dens – both with Celebration’s blessings. Doors were flung open for guests to add piccolo flutes, tubas and strings. Besides Teret and Drummond, some 17 extra musicians stepped in, eight of them singers. Among the voices are self-styled “obscure Americana” duo The Twanger Sisters (on ‘Freedom Ring’), Lauren Shusterich of noise-pop mavens Wildhoney (on ‘Granite’ and ‘Stevie’) and Samuel T Herring (on ‘Paper Trails’) of Future Islands, the Baltimore-based break-out heroes whose touring/recording ties to Celebration go way back.
What emerges is an album emboldened enough by core group bonds to open its arms in a spirit of full-blooded generosity. And if the result ranges rich and wide, the tight knot of contrasts in its title lends Wounded Healer its force of cohesive conviction. “Only when the name came to us did I understand this was a medicine record,” Ford explains. “Most of the songs were written a while ago. Some of the feelings experienced when written have changed context over time. They have evolved towards healing or resolution.”
And, perhaps, towards an album that cuts to the quick of what Celebration are about, as Ford elaborates. “I'd like to think we paint emotional landscapes, maybe a theatrical version of real life in broad strokes. A musical revival tent… electric church. Turning the hard times into sermon, tales of redemption and homecoming. Licking the wounds and tending to the den.” On Wounded Healer, that sounds like the kind of tonic we could all use right now.
(Bella Union – 18th August 2014)
Living legends on Baltimore’s thriving music scene, Celebration return with Albumin, a distinctly vivid, seismic slice of psychedelic rock and soul.
It’s the band’s first album since 2010’s acclaimed Electric Tarot: Hello Paradise, and their first for Bella Union, initiating a new chapter in a story marked by triumph and disaster, struggle and redemption. Albumin is also Celebration’s finest record to date, the album the quintet has been leading up to. From the anthemic opener ‘Razor’s Edge’ to the pop levity of ‘Tomorrow’s Here Today’ and the shape-shifting centrepiece ‘I Got Sol’, these are their strongest melodies, most dynamic arrangements and singer Katrina Ford’s most impassioned incantations, drawing on years of studio know-how and emotional ballast.
“It’s been a long journey,” recalls Ford, who with multi-instrumentalist (and husband) Sean Antanaitis and drummer David Bergander, formed Celebration in 2004. “We’ve all experienced a lot of life, toured a whole lot, had our ups and downs, and the music reflects that. It goes deeper now.”
Clearly something in Baltimore’s water supply has a slowly seeping effect. Following the recent breakthrough by another local favourite, Future Islands, it’s now Celebration’s turn to carry the torch for bands that only improve with age. This is partly down to the permanent addition of former collaborators Tony Drummond (keyboards, percussion, backing vocals) and Walker Teret (bass, guitar), whose creative input has had a galvanising impact on Albumin’s sweltering grooves. It’s a record that revels in tradition, such as the Sixties girl-group swing of ‘Blood Is The Brine’ and the southern rock base of ‘I Got Sol’, while the album’s spread of fabulously funky-chunky organ is a hallmark of vintage psychedelia, but the music’s art-punk ambition makes Celebration a distinctly 21st century entity.
Back in the early 90s, Ford and Antanaitis’s first band JAKS, formed with friends at high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were more gothic in nature. “I've always struggled with depression,” recalls Ford, “and in my teens, what we called ‘death rock’ back then, like Joy Division, Christian Death, Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Birthday Party, made me feel I wasn’t alone.”
JAKS’ album Hollywood Blood Capsules (recorded in Steve Albini's home studio) was followed by a new band and line-up. The similarly gothic Love Life, which included Ford, Antanaitis and Bergander, recorded two albums, produced by Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio), before Celebration was born. As the name change suggests, the trio had decisively retired that dark sound and vision - as had legendary UK indie 4AD, yet the shared roots in that genre made for a natural fit. But the band’s two albums (again produced by Sitek) on 4AD, 2005’s Celebration and 2007’s The Modern Tribe, unfortunately coincided with the label’s internal upheavals, so neither got the support they deserved.
Feeling eaten up and spat out by the music industry, Celebration chose to go it alone. The subsequent months were, Ford says, “a manic burst of activity. I didn’t leave the house in six months.” By the end, they’d stockpiled 22 songs: the same number, the singer realised, as the Major Arcana (‘trump’) cards in the Tarot deck, representing the journey through life, from birth to enlightenment. Discovering that all but three songs thematically linked to a trump card, the band recorded nine and released Electric Tarot: Hello Paradise online on a name-your-price basis.
The album – the Hello Paradise addition signifying an increasingly positive outlook – was another crucial step in Celebration’s own path toward enlightenment, even if it didn’t have the marketing budget it deserved. But that didn’t deter them, as they continued to add new songs and update existing ones, such as a studio version of ‘Tomorrow’s Here Today’ originally written in 2008 by Ford and Antanaitis as a gift to Begander’s new baby son, Asa. In autumn 2013 the track was released by Friends Records as a 7” A-side, backed by the wistful declaration of ‘Don’t Stop Dreaming’, though by then, Bella Union had fallen for the band. “Working with the label is a dream come true,” Ford says.
Believing that Celebration intended to stay self-sufficient, Bella Union has first teamed up with Mt. Royal, Ford’s collaboration with some other Baltimore stalwarts (“everyone’s in multiple bands, that’s the community here” says Ford, who has sung on Future Islands and TV On The Radio records among others). Bella Union released Mt. Royal’s self-titled EP in early 2014, but Ford remains totally committed to the band she’s spearheaded for the last decade. After all, the title Albumin specifically refers to the tight-knit family that is Celebration.
“An albumin is the membrane inside of an egg, which is this symbol of this beautiful self-contained environment that we’ve created as a group,” she explains. “We’ve produced it ourselves, at a studio four blocks from our house, and we have enormous self-belief. I like the play on words too, Albumin being an album.”
Ford’s lyrics come from a similar place of community spirit. “Music has always fed me through my depression, so our hope that we can be that light for someone else to hang on to, to be a kindred spirit. There’s much in life to celebrate, and we try to represent our name as best as can, and I want our music to do the same.”
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Celebration – (October, 2005)
The Modern Tribe – (October, 2007)
Hello Paradise – (December, 2010)
Albumin - (October 2014)
Wounded Healer -(June 2017)
Diamonds – (December 5, 2005)
War – (February 20, 2006)
New Skin – (May 22, 2006)
David Bergander and Sean Antanaitis appear on the album Anywhere I Lay My Head by Scarlett Johansson.
Katrina Ford appears on the album Villainaire by The Dead Science, Maximum Balloon by David Andrew Sitek and on the albums Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science, all by TV on the Radio. She appears on the song In The Fall on the 2010 EP In The Fall by Future Islands. She also appears on the song Caged Bird on the 2010 album Where Did the Night Fall by UNKLE.
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