1. “Saturday” – SPORTS. This evanescent (1:13!), earnest, perky garage-rock track hits all the right notes and touches a chord in me. It’s the perfect mix of enthusiasm and grit. Father/Daughter Records is on a roll.
2. “Vultures” – Delta Mainline. Call it Spiritualized at its most arch or acoustic-based ’90s Britpop (Oasis, The Verve) at its most early-morning woozy–this track is a memorable one.
3. “Wall Ball” – Art Contest. Any band that can make math-rock accessible and hooky is greatly to be praised. Art Contest’s impressive technical chops are only overshadowed by their incredible songwriting ones. This song is an adventure.
4. “There’s No Love” – We Are Magnetic. It’s summer, so I need a continuous stream of brash, upbeat dance-rock tunes. This one plays out like a less yelpy Passion Pit, complete with a giant chorus anchored by a soaring melody and backed with a choir. Get your dance on.
5. “Pistoletta” – North by North. Imagine My Chemical Romance had a little more rock and a little less theatrics, or think of late ’60s/early ’70s rock, right as glam was breaking out and wasn’t really there yet. Soaring vocals, rock drama, and crunchy guitars sell it.
6. “Get on the Boat” – Little Red Lung. This female-fronted outfit calls up Florence and the Machine comparisons through its adventurous arrangements (check that booming cello), minor-key vibes, and front-and-center vocals.
7. “Then Comes the Wonder” – The Landing. An ecstatic mishmash of handclaps, burbling synths, piano, and falsetto vocals creates a song that makes me think of a half-dozen disparate sonic influences (Foals, Prince, Fleet Foxes, and the Flaming Lips among them).
8. “Dust Silhouettes” – CFIT. Glitchy electro-pop noises give way to psych-influenced guitar and vocals, all stacked on top of an indie-rock backline. It’s a head-spinner in the best sort of way.
9. “Take Me Away” – Late Nite Cable. The chorus in this song is the electro-pop equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after two days of rain.
10. “ONE” – Moving Panoramas. Sometimes I wonder what people are listening to when they’re walking down the street with headphones in. This feels like it could be one of those things: a walking-speed indie-pop-rock song with excellent bass work, down-to-earth vocals, and a little sense of wonder.
11. “Alien Youth” – The Albino Eyes. Calls back to the time when synth-rock meant The Cars: the zinging, charming synths over slightly-smoothed out garage-rock is nostalgic in the best of ways.
12. “Strangers” – Balaclade. Balancing guitar crunch with feathery vocals makes this an engaging post-’90s-indie-rock track.
13. “Falling” – Here We Go Magic. This warm, swirly, electronics-laden pop-rock tune calls to mind School of Seven Bells, if their sound was a little more tethered to acoustic instrumentation.
Candysound‘s Past Lives is the sort of garage rock that seems born of good-natured experimentation, a genuine sense of joy in creation, and a dedication to writing catchy songs. This isn’t four-on-the-floor chord mashing–the trio makes lithe, lively, effervescent tracks full of rhythmic, melodic, and textural diversity.
I’m getting all adjective-y on it, but that’s because “Be Around” is a gleeful whirlwind, “Details” is all yelpy and groove-laden, and the title track is a mini math-rock tune. Closer “This Place” is a beautiful acoustic tune in the vein of Rocky Votolato and other even-handed tale-spinners. All of the tunes have a fresh, slightly gritty sheen about them, the sort of vibe that is confident but not super-invested in polishing every sound to its poppy ultimate. This feels like a document, not like a presentation: it’s the sort of indie-pop-rock that makes me want to hear more of it, maybe even write some myself. If you’re excited by a quirky melody and a yelpy vocal hook, Candysound should tickle your ears quite well. Here’s to that. Highly recommended.
I knew this day was coming, both for me and for the indie-rock world. Andrew Skeet‘s Finding Time can be described as a delicate post-rock album that fits in next to The Album Leaf and the soundtrack work of Sleeping at Last or as an engaging work of post-minimalist modern classical music (it’s being put out on Sony Classical). Much alt-classical music has been made, but this is the first time it’s fit so neatly for me inside the music-listening frameworks I’ve already cultivated. My listening habits have been moving toward the classical, since my discovery of John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean and Philip Glass’s work, and now the loop has closed. It’s all one continuous line for me now.
And why shouldn’t it be? The keening repetition that opens “Passing Phase” calls to mind Philip Glass’s Glassworks, while the slow-moving elegy it morphs into is reminiscent of Sigur Ros’s work. “Reflect” is nearly ambient in its pacing; the sharp, brittle, electronic dissonance of “The Unforgiving Minute” would make Modest Mouse proud. The two worlds collide here, at least from my frame of reference. “Taking Off” and “Stop the Clock” feel more traditionally classical, with the latter’s nearly baroque flurry of keyed notes and the former’s heavy reliance on cello and violin. There are moments even in the aforementioned pieces that skew towards traditional sounds, like “The Unforgiving Minute,” but overall this is an album that can be appreciated both by the modern classical music enthusiast and the post-rock one.
Andrew Skeet’s Finding Time is an engaging, enigmatic, comforting and challenging listen. It has kept me company on long slogs of reading (particularly the electronics-laden title track) and warm afternoons. It’s just really impressive, regardless of what you call it.
Like many people my age, my first introduction to the sounds of Armenian music was through the melodic structures that System of a Down fused to its already-wild metal song structures. Since then, those sounds (along with associated gypsy, Balkan, and Eastern European elements) have been floating around in my brain. Izam Anav by Vana Mazi puts those sounds squarely on the forefront on my brain once again, as the album features gypsy sounds played earnestly and enthusiastically.
With so much cultural weight surrounding sounds of this variety, it’s refreshing to hear the Austin-based outfit play their songs without theatrical bravado (a la Gogol Bordello) or overtly ominous vibes. These tunes, instead, feel like an tasteful interpretation of a long tradition. “Jove Malaj Mome” marries a complex percussion pattern with an intricate instrumental melody from the accordion and fiddle. The male and female vocals double the melody, creating a dramatic vibe without resorting to tricks. It’s just all right there, written in. If you start to sway your hips unintentionally, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That call to dance is another distinctive element of Vana Mazi’s work: the songs here are miles away from dance rock or electronic music, yet they very distinctly beg to be moved to. It’s hard to deny the rumbling, percussive energy of “Don Pizzica”; the sultry, inviting “Celo Skopje”; and the major key perkiness of “Tarantella Del Gargano.” This ain’t an indie-rock show–crossed arms aren’t going to cut it. The most serious of the tunes here is “Fireflies,” which heavily draws on the ominous, quixotic Armenian vibe that System of a Down mined; the rest are more like “Sandansko Horo,” whose titular element is a Bulgarian folk dance. Eastern European music buffs, adventurous musical types, or fans of interactive live shows (their press assures me of what seems to be inevitable true: these shows are a party) should rush in the direction of Izam Anav. While dancing.
The Bellfuries‘ Workingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.
By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.
On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.
McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.
It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.
1. “Soul Makossa (Money)” – Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP. Take the summery flirtatiousness of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” with Lou Bega’s trumpet-filled “Mambo No. 5,” and turn it up five notches on the dopeness meter. It’s a total pull-this-out-nonchalantly-at-a-party-and-immediately-become-the-coolest-person-there tune; the new “Macarena” we have all been waiting for.
2. “Glider” – Greyhat. This track hails from Foreign Family Collective, where radiant Odesza influence gleams through sci-fi glitch, guiding you through a labyrinth of zips, zaps, bings, and bass.
3. “The Gift of Giving” – CDAD. Labeled as dadstep, CDAD places breathtakingly honest lyrics with deep male vocals for a James Blake-vibe that is somehow rawer and heavier, but just as sensual.
4. “Spring” – Calvert. ‘Easy, Breezy, Electronic Pop Cover Girl’ could be the slogan on this track, which is laden with buttery vocals and a catchy, paisley-patterned beat.
5. “Cave Drops” – Minor Rain. A psychedelic experience in the rain forest and this beautifully textured chillstep track go hand-in-hand, or wing-in-wing–whichever takes you as high as Minor Rain has intended.
6. “Pieces” – Yellow Shoots. Of course, we need a trip-hop track somewhere on here, and “Pieces” is it. Smooth groove, easy vocals, and a soaring build from the start give this one a mellow R&B flare.
7. “sore” – elle le fantôme. Twinkling, like metallic rain, and a drudging-along rhythm create a damp, dreamy setting. The gloomy vocals of elle le fantome and her resisting, determined lyrics create a glittery, yet spooky, experience.
8. “The Real” – Hein Cooper. The ice-cold, abstract album art featuring a blurred Cooper perfectly illustrates this melancholy indie electronic track. “The Real” has a classic rock n’ roll appeal to it, making it one of the most versatile on this list.
9. “Queen” – Jon Zott. This is my kind of house music love song: minimalist, clean, and very obviously focused on declaring he’s found “the one,” his queen, this tempting groove. This one’s for the ladies! [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available.]
10. “Play Out” – Zola Blood. Just like the album art, featuring a hot pink blob of what appears to be a rock molting from the inside, “Play Out” drips and dribbles into catchy dreampop. Lyrics like, “I’ll be the left side, if you’ll be the right/I’ll let it bloom and then let it die,” add an emotive dimension to an already gracefully complex electronic track. —Rachel Haney
It’s always interesting when an artist releases one album directly after another–what Jeremy Bass did this year is no exception. Releasing Winter Bare in April and New York in Spring in June, Bass gave us two different eight-song releases that sound worlds apart from each other. Next week, I will be reviewing the more recent release New York in Spring. For now, let’s take a look at the poetic, more low-key, ‘60s folk-sounding Winter Bare.
Although labeled “alt-country,” Winter Bare has a pretty distinct ‘60s folk feel. Bass’ voice takes on a blues feel in the first track, but it maintains much more of a Bob Dylan flavor in the rest of the album. More modern-day vocal comparisons would be Fleet Foxes and Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, both of which seem to stem from this tradition. Take Bass’ “Lift Me Up,” for example: the guitar strumming gives off a very 60s folk vibe. The vocal harmonies of the track are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, whose sound stems from artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel. The lyrics of “Lift Me Up” are also very nature-focused, something which also links it to the forefathers and foremothers of modern folk. The more I examined the track and the whole album, the more the inspiration becomes evident, whether Bass meant it or not.
The low-key vibe of Winter Bare makes the album a relaxing one to listen to. The vocals are clear, and it honestly sounds as if Bass is just telling us story after story. The instrumentation is fairly simple: mainly accomplished through acoustic guitar, but occasionally switched out with a banjo (“Winterlude (Banjo for Annie)”) or mandolin (“Coming Back Home”). There are also subtle appearances from other instruments like trumpets (“Lift Me Up”) and the pump organ (“One More Cigarette”). Even with the added instruments, the songs remain generally relaxing and easy to listen to. You can certainly categorize Winter Bare as a “feel good” album, sonically.
Jeremy Bass is not only a brilliant musician and lyricist, but he is a poet as well–it certainly shows in the poetic nature of his lyrics. One theme that Bass focuses on in many of his songs is love. Yet, Bass doesn’t tackle the subject in an overly cheesy manner as many artists in the past have. Instead, Bass uses a more realistic approach in his lyrics. With lyrics like, “I can’t pretend that love’s not the sweetest salt in the wound/ that the heart gives,” Bass expresses the experience of true love with all of its flaws. That lyric found in “One More Cigarette” is followed up by the chorus ending in “We make our choices and we live with what we choose/That’s why I choose you.” So although in his lyrics, there is certainly a level of honesty about the messiness of love, Bass still maintains an overall optimistic view of love.
Bass also uses nature in his lyrics to express the deeper meaning of life and love. In “Red Tailed Hawk,” Bass uses an extended metaphor to depict an animal that is “white-winged and free.” He continues to describe the peaceful image of this “Red Tailed Hawk.” Finally, in the last lyric, Bass then asks, “Won’t you teach me what it means to be/ White-winged and free?” “Red Tailed Hawk” is but one example where Bass poetically uses nature as a mode to describe his emotional reality.
Winter Bare shows off Bass’ skills in a subtle way. His lyrics appear seamlessly written. The instrumentation is simple, yet more complex once examined. One may even wonder if the title relates to simple bareness of the album. Nevertheless, Winter Bare is a truly beautiful folk album, reaching back to the ‘60s. Stay tuned for next week, when you’ll find that New York in Spring shows off quite a different side of the talented Jeremy Bass. —Krisann Janowitz
Glen Brady’s Redeemer EP can light a deep house dance floor on fire with his trademark clean bass lines. But it’s the mix of smooth flow, deep grooves, and melodic downtempo tracks that makes Redeemer sure to win over the ears of electronic listeners.
While the title track and “Rathmines Rock” are pulsing house songs stacked with building, sexy synth, elevating bass lines, and quick vocal bits, I was most impressed with the more ambient soundscapes. Slo-house elements and stunning melodies unfold on “Baby Maker.” The closer,“Once Was Glamour,” boasts enough breaks and ambient guitar to qualify it for late-night, sunroof-cracked cruising. Each song of Redeemer has that chill trance energy to it. It must be the clean production overall that, even while uncontrollably head bobbing and toe tapping, made me want to slow down and soak in every aspect of these tracks.
Vienna producer Bendejo delivers raw emotion like he invented it in his latest EP Unravel, where soaring strings and piano compliment the rich synths and dark undertones this release is heaving with. Ambient and misty, Unravel is a scenic soundscape unto itself.
The title track exhales that emotion through quick bursts of grand piano and an undulating, heavy rhythm. Reverse Commuter’s eerie, dance-inducing “Swallowed Shadow Mix” heaps on the trippiness with warped, echoed synth. Stefny’s “In The Night Mix” is just as darkly atmospheric; for as foggy and wandering as the texturing gets, there is a breathtaking introduction of strings that made me think of a trippy version of The Secret Garden–if the film were ever lucky enough to have an electronic soundtrack.
But it’s Bendejo’s “Landscapes” that epitomizes Unravel’s “epic melancholy balanced out by progressive techno” approach. It churns things up with jumpy, hilly, minimal bits that sound, quite literally, like a rocky landscape. Unravel is just as much sonic terrain as it is an EP; if that doesn’t get your techno appetite growling, I don’t know what does.
As soon as I read that Groove Squared is an Italian producer, it all made sense: the sexy ambiance, that unique European density, those beautifully restrained vocals. Chemistry is an EP made up of four remixes of Groove Squared’s original track “Chemistry,” with each song emphasizing certain aspects of the track’s soulful, deep house makeup.
Musumeci’s vocal and instrumental remixes stay true to the ambient soundscapes of Chemistry–his vocal remix a deep trance track whose powerful, intensified vocals stand out amongst twinkling synth and a punchy rhythm. Remixes from Dodi Palese offer both a melancholic side and a deep techno burst at the end, which left me with an embarrassing seizure-like twitch long after the music stopped–you go, Dodi Palese. Palese’s original edit plays up those soothing, lulling vocals, but it’s his final remix that reminds me Chemistry offers a provocative European club feel–one brimming with jabbing beats, dramatic vocals, punchy percussion, and some simply unforgettable electronica. —Rachel Haney
I rarely go out of my way to comment on the religiosity or lack thereof espoused in the lyrics of the bands I cover here on Independent Clauses. While I’m not quite as agnostic as Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman on whether “Christian music” can exist, I focus pretty heavily on the music at IC. (This decision in and of itself points toward my answer on the question; a deeper philosophical treatise on this issue will have to wait.)
However, it’s almost not possible to talk about Nathan Partain‘s Jaywalker without mentioning that these Southern-rock/folk-oriented tunes are meant to be sung in churches. Partain’s melodic and arranging chops accent but never hinder the ability of these songs to be easily sung by congregations (or people in cars, or walking down the street, etc.).
“I Have Found a Hidden Fountain” opens the record with squalling electric guitar feedback before launching into a full-band Southern-rock vibe, complete with screamin’ organ. After the intro, the band tones it down to feature the dual vocals: Partain’s yearning tenor up front and female vocals supporting with harmonies and tasteful wordless counterpoint. The band doesn’t totally drop out–they merely make way for the vocals to take center stage. This allows the tune to feel tight and real while still leaving the vocal melody easily heard, a trend that continues throughout the album. They get soulful in an instrumental solo section, drop down the volume for dramatic effect, then ramp back up to full weight to close out the tune.
Partain rolls out more Southern rock vibes in follow-up “It’s God Who Saves,” unveiling a nicely arpeggiated lead guitar line on top of more tight band interplay. He also lets his voice get a bit ragged in points, giving the performance a grit that wasn’t present in the more straightforward opener. Even though there’s not as much guitar action in this one, this is a bit more wide-open full-band performance. Partain and co. max out the rock grit with the innocuously-titled “Love is a Gift,” which contains a thunderous guitar riff and roaring vocals in the chorus. (As a result, this is the song that least feels like a congregational possibility.) If you love a bass-heavy Southern rock tune, you should skip straight to this one.
Moving toward the folkier end of the spectrum are tunes like “A Son of God” and “In Tenderness He Sought Me”; these dial back the electric firepower and lean heavily on the polished, evocative vocal melodies. The former includes swinging syncopation that makes it straight-up fun to sing; the latter gives Sarah Partain a verse, and her gentle, affectionate alto softens the already-sweet tone of the tune. “Hold Thou My Hand” is a stark, vulnerable piano ballad whose lyrics and melodies helped develop a catch in my throat by the end.
The most intriguing two songs on the record transcend tunes identifiable by genre labels: “Jesus Is Mine” and “He Was Wounded” invert generic stereotypes to create unique tunes. “Jesus Is Mine” opens with heavy-handed piano whacks and insistent bass thump, then splays out into a vaguely minor-key jam: the piano goes all saloon, Partain distorts his “oh-oh” vocals in the verse breaks, and the guitar wails in engaging ways. It’s not your average Southern-rock jam. Ominous isn’t the right word for a worship song, but whoa. “He Was Wounded” uses organ and delicate clean electric guitar to open in an almost ambient drone; there’s a spacious, elegant, cathedral-esque glamour to the tune that doesn’t draw its strength only from the gentle reverb. It’s quiet and tense without being a solo acoustic performance, something that isn’t so common in folk (with the strong exception of the Barr Brothers).
Jaywalker is a powerful album of Southern rock and acoustic-folk tunes that slots nicely next to bands like Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, and Jason Isbell. Because of its roots, you can sing along every single tune (a highlight in my eyes!). On top of that, the arrangements are tight and finely calibrated to make the songs work right. I’ve been listening to it for weeks and haven’t gotten tired yet. Highly recommended.
1. “Marina and I” – The Gorgeous Chans. The syncopated guitars, perky horns, and enthusiastic attack of this track took all of 1 second to steal my Vampire Weekend-loving heart.
2. “The Fringe” – Sego. If you miss James Murphy slurring into a microphone over rubbery bass and insistent dance grooves, Sego is LCD Soundsystem’s musical, lyrical, and spiritual successor. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.
3. “Even Fireworks” – Pushing Static. This electro-pop/dance-rock fiesta makes me want to crank the volume knob way up.
4. “Island” – Hey Anna. If Braids drank a Red Bull and went to a beach party, they might come up with this fragile-yet-peppy indie-rock track.
5. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. Their previous work is chaotic, fractured, ecstatic, and mind-bending; this track sands down some of the eccentric flair and reveals the ecstatic rock band at their core. (The fact that their beating heart sounds like Prince is perfect.) Everybody clap your hands.
6. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs. The sort of melodies that I’d expect from a emo-focused band fused in to a huge punk-rock/pop-punk/power-pop stomper. It just works perfectly.
7. “Sleep Talk” – Diet Cig. The idiosyncratic indie-pop quirkiness of the Juno soundtrack + confessional pop-punk + female vocals + intimate lyrics = excellent track.
8. “Island Kids” – Holy ’57. Sometimes a chorus just works so perfectly that it feels like I’ve know it forever. The perky tropical indie-pop builds through the verse to a speak-sung chorus that just knocks it out of the park. Re: your summer parties.
9. “’82” – Death in the Afternoon. This electronic cut is a lot more breathy, chill, and smooth than I thought death would be.
10. “Good” – Ehmandah. This, right here, is a modern day (some might even say musically progressive) gospel tune. Get in on this infectious, irresistible vibe. Everybody clap your hands.
11. “Sugar Dream” – Valley Shine. The band’s press photos capture them lying on a bed of brightly-colored candy and showered with an absurd amount of confetti. These are excellent visual representations of their Beatles-on-a-sugar-high sound.
12. “Reach Out” – The Bone Chimes. The arrangement of this orchestral-folk-rock tune is clean, bright, and carefully organized: the band builds anticipation from the first reverbed guitar note to a big conclusion.
13. “Sensual People” – Lylas. If hypnotic groove is one of the things you seek in an indie-rock tune, Lylas’ dense textures, ostinato rhythms, and slowly-unfolding song development will catch your ear.
14, “Up of Stairs” – James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg. Watching two talented athletes go against each other can excite, but only rarely does that interaction produce beauty. It’s much more likely when two talented musicians play off each other, which is the basic premise of this track: two incredibly talented acoustic guitar players push each other and come up with relaxing, impressive acoustic gold.
15. “Repeat” – Sye Elaine Spence. An unconventional acoustic strumming pattern and a strong focus on Spence’s enveloping voice create an immersive, unique experience.
What does environmental activism have to do with indie folk music? For Paul Doffing and his latest album, Songs from the (quaking) Heart, the two are inseparable. Songs from the (quaking) Heart chronicles Doffing’s experience bicycling 7,000 miles around the United States and performing shows at places like houses, libraries and farms. The album combines unadorned instrumentation with raw storytelling lyrics that make you forget all of life’s worries as you enter into a world of hope and simplicity.
Throughout the album, the instrumentation is plain and simple: acoustic guitar. Yet what Doffing does with the guitar is anything but simple. Acoustic guitar strumming (“Reason”) or intricate fingerpicking (“Sure Doesn’t Matter Any More”) beautifully begin each track off the album; Doffing’s voice typically follows after a few measures. A slight deviation, “New Day Dawning” begins first with birds chirping–fitting for the title and optimistic feel of the song–then the guitar enters and the voice enters.
The two instrumental tracks (“The Drifter,” “(No Path Up) Cold Mountain”) are even larger exceptions to that rule. In both songs, Doffing tells the story through the fingerpicking done on his guitar instead of with lyrics. The title “The Drifter” gives away a bit of the storyline, but it’s as if each pluck of the guitar tells us a different aspect about this “Drifter.” Specifically in the chorus, lower register notes seem to remind the listener that even though some parts of the Drifter’s life are good, there does remain a level of drudgery in the end. Some plucking is done in the lower register of the acoustic, while other plucks venture to higher notes, appearing slightly more hopeful. “(No Path Up) Cold Mountain” tells a very different, more pleasantly adventurous story with its guitar melodies and plucking rhythms. It’s really amazing how Doffing tells us stories through an instrument, no lyrics needed.
Two tracks off Songs from the (quaking) Heart tell stories with instruments; the rest do it with lyrics. Generally, Doffing’s voice is crisp and easily understood, making it easier for the listener to catch all of the lyrics and the stories they tell. For example, “The Legend of Mick Dodge” tells the titular story through Doffing’s reverent perspective. The exception is found in “Reason,” where Doffing’s voice is synthesized, so it’s more difficult to hear the lyrics.
“Sure Doesn’t Matter Anymore” stands out in the tone of the story that Doffing tells us. Although some details are left out, in this song I thought of the brilliant “based on a true story” book/movie Into The Wild. Picture those scenes where Chris McCandless begins to get lonely, and his latest kill starts to spoil with a meat-worm infestation. This is where Chris begins to truly learn that living off the land in Alaska is not what will fix all of life’s problems. “Sure Doesn’t Matter Anymore” speaks into that situation and solemnly explains that “Nothing that we cling to ever sets us free.” No offense, Eddie Vedder, but I think Songs from the (quaking) heart should have totally been the movie score for Into The Wild.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, “New Day Dawning” and “Slow I Go” tell much happier stories. “New Day Dawning” narrates those days where you wake up, “the sun is shining down on me” and you feel “so free.” Similarly, “Slow I Go” begins as a sort of self-pep talk, and, as the multiple voices enter in, the hope is extended to all. This then culminates in the outro repetition of the phrase, “We’ll change the world.” Listen to “Slow I Go” and hear the notes of hope for yourself.
Songs from the (quaking) heart makes me want to grab a journal and head to the woods to write poetry. Paul Doffing’s music is not only inspirational, but his life is too. You can even read his bicyling/music tour blog and learn the true stories behind Doffing’s contemplative songs. Paul Doffing and his Songs from the (quaking) heart is one of the few albums that truly provokes me to create art as a response to art. I encourage you to do the same. —Krisann Janowitz
I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize my 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)
1. “Started a War” – My Own Ghosts. Builds from a fragile, rickety beginning to a full-on indie-rock/shoegaze stomp without losing a deep sense of pathos. Oddly beautiful.
2. “Boys in Blue” – Inner Outlaws. Bass-heavy indie-rockers Inner Outlaws bring their genre-wandering sound to a fine point here, taking all sorts of sonic turns you wouldn’t expect.
3. “White Lodge” – The Kickback. “Hey guys, let’s phase the drums on this one.” “Why? Dark, serious indie rock bands don’t do that.” “Because wouldn’t that sound rad? It would sound rad. Trust me.”
4. “Show Some Shame” – Caustic Casanova. This is definitely the most amped up I’ve ever been while being told “we are doomed!” The innate melodicism of this riff-heavy rocker turns my head, even though I’m not that into heavy stuff anymore.
5. “Lint” – Teen Cult. I spent four years playing in a band composed of a metalhead drummer, a jazz pianist, a Radiohead-addled guitarist, and a pop-rock bassist. As a result, I am the perfect audience for Teen Cult’s sprawling, genre-mashing art-rock. It starts off in traditional Spanish guitar (and Spanish language!), then morphs into difficult-to-classify, Mars Volta-esque stuff (only slightly less heavy).
6. “Spirit of Discovery” – Have Gun, Will Travel. Sometimes I call things alt-country because it’s neither Sweet Home Alabama-style Southern Rock or hot country, even though it’s definitely not the Jayhawks. Whatever you call HGWT, there’s a sweet pedal steel and a workman-like approach and vibe to the song. It feels real, like it’s made by guys who you just want to hang out with.
7. “Next Life” – Tyler Boone. Dedicated to the victims of the Charleston shooting, this tune bridges the line between pop-rock (giant drums!) and alt-country (pedal steel!) but without dipping too deeply into hot country sounds.
8. “Belinda’s Cross” – American Elsewhere. Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov are easy touchpoints for this charming acoustic tune that rides the line between warmly nostalgic and and remorsefully wistful.
9. “Wait” – Wyland. Goes from Lumineers to chiming U2-esque work back to horns-and-group-vocals folk-pop. You know who you are, readers.
10. “The Third Light” – The Left Outsides. Sway your shoulders/hips and bob your head to this folk-tune with a touch of gypsy magic in it.
11. “Sparrows” – Scott Krokoff. I’ve been getting an unusual amount of e-mail about ’70s soft-country and indie-soul recently; Krokoff’s easygoing acoustic tune fits in the former genre as a more full-sounding James Taylor, complete with smooth, smooth vocals.
12. “Education” – Cancellieri. Ryan Hutchens continues his hot streak of brilliant songwriting with this ethereal, floating-world gem. It’s a beautiful, expansive, warm tune that seems to color everything that’s happening while it plays with a bit of a softer tint. If you’re not listening to Cancellieri, you should be.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.