Julian Koster has quietly contributed to some of the greatest indie rock albums, adding banjo, singing saw and vocals to Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control and many more. And just like those contributions, his work leading the Music Tapes is often criminally under appreciated.
The Music Tapes’ third official album, not counting the unreleased album The 2nd Imaginary Symphony for Cloudmaking, is quite the opposite of Koster’s best known work. While In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was masterfully produced by Robert Schneider, Mary’s Voice, like all Music Tapes records, emphasizes the lo-fi.
Koster actually recorded Mary’s Voice using a mix of modern equipment and machines from the early 1900s, ’30s, ’40s and ’60s. The old-timey tones and instruments sound like fond memories, but they can be every bit as grand as their Elephant 6 compatriots. Buried beneath the nostalgic hiss, Koster’s banjo, singing saw and warbly vocals, Robbie Cucchiaro’s horn swells magnify the Music Tapes to typical E6-orchestral heights.
Koster whisks the listener away to old times and old feelings, starting with the opening track, “The Dark Is Singing Songs (Sleepy Time Down South),” a 1930s jazz number made famous by Louis Armstrong.
The Music Tapes’ classic sound never wears out, though, and never turns gimmicky. Koster’s music is written and performed with such honesty and heart, it could never be anything but pure.
Mary’s Voice is out now on Merge. Stream the full album below.