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Month: August 2007

Ringer T-All Too Well

ringertRinger TAll Too Well


The inevitable question: “What do you listen to?”

My stock answer: “Everything except rap and country.”

Confession: This is not entirely true. I listen to jazz much less than I would like to admit, I’ve never gotten into soul or r&b, I’m just starting to get into old-school country and I listen to alt-country a great deal.

I say “no country” cause it’s nerdy to say “everything except rap and Hot Country, although I do like Americana and Alt-country,” and because I disdain the inevitable explanation I have to give citing the differences between Alt-country (Calexico, The Elected, Neil Young), Americana (Damien Jurado, Ringer T), and Folk (everyone else, pretty much). The reason I disdain the conversation is because there’s a very small percentage of people who care (see Old Canes (folk/indie/americana).

So how does Ringer T do it? They do it with equal parts piano and guitar, equal parts distorted and undistorted, and lots of candor. The lyrics on All Too Well won’t win any awards for high poetry, but in the canon of pop music, they should be lauded for ringing true on breakups. There’s no absurd metaphors here and no over-the-top stories – just confessions of brokenness with titles like “Bare and Empty,” “Why Can’t I Understand?” and my personal favorite title, “Alone.”

From the crunchy, bouncy opener “It Helps to Know” to the loping piano line of “Give Me Some Time” through the patient but enthusiastic “Run & Hide” and ending with the resonant, conclusive piano closer of “All Too Well,” everything in Ringer T’s All Too Well appeals to the pop lover, the country listener, the romantic, the jilted, and the weary.

The secret weapon that creates so much excitement in my book is Grant Geertsma’s everyman, world-weary vocals. Geertsma does not have a perfect voice, but it’s a voice that resonates and fills up the songs that it’s in. And when I say he doesn’t have a perfect voice, I don’t mean that we’ve found the second coming of Bob Dylan or Neil Young – I mean that there’s some nasal edge to the voice, and at times the voice just sounds plaintive. The amazing thing is that the songs in which Geertsma’s voice has the most obvious struggles and victories (the reluctant ballad “Bare and Empty,” the heartbreaking “Give Me Some Time”) are the songs which will have you returning to them. That’s part of the charm of Americana – it’s a sound that is so honest, so real, so uncompromising that you can relate to it. You can sing along brokenheartedly to “Bare and Empty,” and if your voice warbles, well, so does Geertsma’s. Feel safe and comfortable singing along.

Does that mean that All Too Well is a sloppy mess? It certainly does not. In fact, it is much the opposite – the album is lovingly constructed and immaculately produced so as not to lose the mid-fi sheen that creates an immense sense of wonder throughout the tracks.

Even though all the songs have that underlying sense of awe, they aren’t all similar – they’re parsed out pretty evenly between rockers, poppers, and ballads. The ballads, which I first came to love them for, are even stronger than on their debut This Place, while the more upbeat songs jangle and even roar (the end of “Bare and Empty”) with a unique sense of rightness. It just feels correct when they rock out, especially at the end of “Why Can’t I Understand?”, where an overarching guitar line steals the show from the entire song, including the dramatic vocal line.

“Run and Hide” has one of the most infectious guitar riffs Ringer T has ever written, while “So Soon” echoes their previous work (especially “Anew,” a standout on This Place) in a pleasing, comforting, non-derivative way.

But the winner here is “On Your Side Again.” It’s most definitely the “commit this to mix-tape” song, and for good reason. The song starts out with a calm acoustic strum, a shaken egg, and Geertsma cooing “ooo” in a melody that has both confidence and heartache wrapped in it. He then drops these lines:

“I keep coming back/to where I began

Should I keep going on again?

It’s not like it’s bad/just a little sad

That we can’t just be what we had.”

And then there’s a subtle chord change, the kind that you wait for, hope for in every song, cause it signifies an epic chorus on the horizon.

“I tried to be that kind

but I don’t believe there’s time”

And now, here it comes, the thick strum and tom hit building to the chorus….


Crash!! Everything comes in! Drums, guitars, bass!

“Well, guess it’s on your side again

And I wonder, will it end?

Can’t you see I’m just a kid?

I don’t know what I’m doing.”

From the straight-forward rock drums to the yelping background vocals to the pulsing bass to yearning electric guitar sound, this is passion distilled. This is not a chorus, this is a chorus. You will sing, and sing loudly. It is the perfect mix of insecurity and confidence – it captures that hopeless confidence of standing on your own without any sense of what’s going on. If songs are supposed to convey an emotion, then this song, this album, has grasped the concept to a T.

Ringer T’s All Too Well is an incredible album. It’s a downer, for sure – but it is also a near-perfect transcription of the sound of a broken heart. And I know that this may be a little possessive, but really – is there anything as American as a broken heart? Get this album if you’re a fan of good songwriting – you can thank me later for introducing you to the joy that is Americana.

-Stephen Carradini

Sebastian-The Vintage Virgin

SebastianThe Vintage Virgin

Sebastian Karlsson was a contestant in Sweden’s 2005 Idol show, and last year’s self-titled debut showed little difference to any other Idol-related releases. Despite a few promising (and self-penned) tunes, a large chunk of space was devoted to tired covers and pedestrian pop songs. It’s great news, then, that his new offering, the cover-free The Vintage Virgin, practically brims with accomplished pop/rock.
“Troubled Skies” opens the record with a great singalong chorus, and the rest of Virgin follows suit. This is music for fast consumption: one listen and you’ll be humming along. Luckily, it does not become tiresome. The songs, even with their glossy finish, have an organic, lazy feeling to them – jolts of piano and gospel influences help as well. “Words And Violence,” the lead single, is the strongest track. Beginning as a ballad, it quickly chugs along until it reaches almost rapturous highs. Similarly, “Trigger,” with its Razorlight-esque beat and subtle use of a backing choir may just be the album’s most propulsive moment. The gentle “Falling In Love with You Again” and Karlsson’s Melodifestivalen entry, “When The Night Comes Falling,” are also highlights.
Most notably (and unlike his debut), The Vintage Virgin is a perfectly paced pop record. It is not particularly revolutionary. There are the ballads, the rockers, the singalongs, etc. Standard fare for the teen crowd, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if Virgin reaches beyond (and matures) Sebastian’s core fan base. It is a record absolutely full of potential singles, and most certainly a step in the direction to give Sebastian a career past the initial Idol glow.

Nick James

Springhill-Contemporary Theories

springhillSpringhillContemporary Theories

Last year, Carradini, our fearless editor-in-chief, wrote a review on Springhill’s debut EP A Year from the Valley. While I have not heard the EP myself, I can safely judge from the review that not much has changed for Springhill in the way of musicality, or much else for that matter. Contemporary Theories is a solid album with some catchy melodies and interesting vocal hooks, but there isn’t much that “hasn’t been done before.” Perhaps this mindset is just an aftereffect of all the “push the envelope” albums that have come out in the last few months by artists like Panda Bear, Deerhunter and Patrick Wolf.
While Springhill might not have brought anything particularly interesting or special to the table, this does not mean that Contemporary Theories is a poorly done album. Springhill draws much of their influence from Dave Matthews and Dave Matthews-like artists. The album starts out with “Blues in Paradise,” which features a wonderful electric guitar solo and has some of the best vocals on the album. The following tracks are similar in fashion, but not as impressive. “No Better Place” is a great track that just screams “chill.”
After a few downer tracks, Springhill suddenly takes a rather quirky turn. “The Pirate Song” is just what the name implies. Vocalist Dan Prokop croons that he is a pirate, “the last real kind/drinking booze all afternoon.” As quickly as they turn to pirates, the members of Springhill turn to kings in an anthem about the evils of monarchy in “Long Live the King.” The downer tracks return with the gem of the album, “Hope.” After “The Pirate Song, I needed some “Hope” for this album. The track features a sweeping piano line and a matching set of excellent vocals. This piano line returns with only a bass in “Frantic Dreamer.” As you can see, a trend has been set. Tracks with strong piano presence > tracks without strong piano presence. You do the math.
Contemporary Theories is not a weak album and doesn’t lack in very many areas, but somehow I felt a little deceived by the title. Currently, our favorite true indie artists seem to be in the mindset of pushing the envelope further. I guess Springhill is saving it for their next album. This album does show, however, that they have a great deal of potential and will be able to go in whichever direction they so choose.

-Mark Pranger

Writer-Cover Your Tracks

writerWriterCover Your Tracks

Writer has a lot invested in Cover Your Tracks.Even though this is a self-released disc, the artwork is more eyecatching, snazzy and professional than most small indie labels can afford to create. It actually calls to mind the bizarre yet cool artwork from Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, although Writer exercises more restraint than Coldplay did on its singles and live album with similar art themes.
That’s where the similarities to Coldplay stop, though. Writer is a sleepy-eyed indie-pop band in the vein of Grandaddy (more well known) and Meryll (more accurate). It falls squarely into a genre that I coined last month: Rainy Day Makeout Music. It’s got all the characteristics: shuffling, slow-moving, lush, full, and beautiful. But where many RDMM bands fall into the homogeneity-inspiring trap of “mood is all,” Writer deftly sidesteps the pit and makes a clean getaway.
Instead of each song sounding like the last, the members of writer made a great effort to distinguish between songs. Whether it be the captivating near-silent break of “Write One Down,” the excellent acoustic guitar ditty that permeates “Friend,” the “sun breaking through the clouds” guitar melody of “Four Letters,” or the extremely Meryll-esque sliding guitar lines of “Make Us Proud,” the members of Writer have immaculately crafted each of these tunes to stand on their own but still flow perfectly in the context of an astonishingly well-paced album.
Those four songs I name-checked? They’re the first four real songs on the album (after the intro). The rest of the album unfolds in similarly exciting fashion, unveiling song after memorable song of guitar-based indie-pop with wonderfully fitting vocals and enough pop hooks to make a fish squirm. This album does not cease to amaze, whether it’s in the buzzing synths and surrounding background vocals of “The Pollution,” the change-in-mood moroseness of “My Thoughts on the Subject,” the stripped-down acoustic winner “Lesson Number Four” (a highlight on the album), the poignant and moving “Title track part two” (another highlight), or in spare, downtempo closer “I Think She Died.”
Yes, this album succeeds on all levels. In fact, everything this album attempts to accomplish, it succeeds at. This is indie-pop of the highest order – completely refreshing, exhilarating and comforting. I would love to see the three men of Writer play a show – it sounds like it would be a cathartic, revelatory experience. And really, that’s why Writer put so much effort into making their website better than most signed bands’ – they’re good enough to deserve such treatment.
I hope that those mourning the loss of Grandaddy will look in Writer’s direction and exalt them as the next great band to follow. I know I’m already on board.

Stephen Carradini