James McAlister is a longtime collaborator of Sufjan Stevens and Aaron Dessner and a member of the Planetarium project with Sufjan, Bryce Dessner, and Nico Muhly, and as mentioned, he's now releasing a solo album called Scissortail on March 26 via the Dessner brothers and Justin Vernon's 37d03d label (pre-order). He recently released lead single "Portrait" and today he followed it with second single "Slow Wave," which comes with a one-shot video directed by Tyler Rumph and starring Kelsey Guy (the same two people behind the "Portrait" video). Both songs are meditative, ambient tracks that are as minimalistic as they are gorgeous, and if you like the music James has made with Sufjan and the Dessners, you'll probably like this too.

You also might like this if you're into things like Boards of Canada, Brian Eno/Harold Budd, Oneohtrix Point Never, Rival Consoles, and My Bloody Valentine, all of which James cited as influences on this album, alongside several other artists. He made us a list of songs/albums that specifically inspired him, with commentary on each pick, and you can read on for what he had to say...


Chihei Hatakeyama - “Blue Reminder” from Scene

His work is a recent discovery of mine. Chihei’s textural work is mesmerizing.

Brian Eno/Harold Budd - “First Light” from Plateaux of Mirror

This will always be a defining piece of music for me, instant sunlight. I used to park my car in the sun and listen to this with my eyes closed.

Boards of Canada - “Kid for Today” from In a Beautiful Place Out In the Country

The GOAT. This particular EP from these guys is perfect top to bottom. Pastoral electronic music, before it was a thing.

Scottish Bagpipe Players - “Amazing Grace”

Something about how the pipes bend at the beginning into the drone… whew. Not a particular subtle sound, but a lesson in how a wall of sound loud can soothe you.

Terry Riley - The Harp of New Albion: I The New Albion Chorale/The Discovery

The alternate piano tunings in this and the interplay between them creates so much texture and oscillations.

Oneohtrix Point Never - “Ships Without Meaning” from Rifts

Lopatin’s catalogue is always inspiring, this particular piece is one I always come back to. Masterful efficiency.

LNZNDRF - "Hypno-Skate" from LNZNDRF

I love LNZNDRF. Nobody does the relentlessly driving and melodic beauty better.

Rival Consoles - “Sudden Awareness of Now” from Articulation

This piece is fascinating in its use of the arpeggios - there is so much momentum in it, and when the beat drops, it’s a highly syncopated, yet still hooky one.

Ataf Gnawa Group - “Baba Mimoun” from Gnawa Music From Morocco

This music is like instant time and space travel. The circular phrasing is a mystery to me, but I love to get lost in it.

Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate - “Ruby” from Ali and Toumani

Ali is my favorite guitar player. This record with Toumani on the beautiful Kora is a classic. Light as a feather, with forward momentum like a freight train.

My Bloody Valentine - “To Here Knows When” from Loveless

I mean…c’mon, there’s nothing like it and there will never be.

Daniel Lanois - “Sketches” from Belladona

Lanois’ influence on my music is dense. I love the humanity in this piece… it’s futuristic and classic at the same time. Brian Blade is a painter on the drum kit.

James McAlister

1/ Portrait (5:39)
2/ Slow Wave (5:14)
3/ Cycle 3 (6:16)
4/ Crowns (5:29)
5/ G0 (5:33)
6/ Cycle 5 (5:05)

Pre-order Scissortail here.

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