18. Bishop Allen and the Broken String. I love this record to pieces, but it was pretty bad driving music. It relies pretty heavily on negative space and hushed sounds for my noisy car. This was recorded in Norman, OK, which we would drive past later.
19. Welcome Interstate Managers – Fountains of Wayne. This is a perfect pop record, and great for driving to.
20. Nice Nice Very Nice – Dan Mangan. Because we both loved Managers, I had some goodwill banked. I tried out this angsty folk record on Kevin. Didn’t quite go over. Oh well.
21. Apartment Life – Ivy. He retaliated with a deep cut ’90s post-grunge record. Didn’t quite go over. Oh well.
22. Kaleidoscope Superior – Earthsuit. Technical difficulties had cut short our first Earthsuit listening experience, so we picked up the back half of the record here.
23. Time – ELO. Kevin loves ELO and NOW I DO TOO. SERIOUSLY THOUGH DID YOU GUYS KNOW ABOUT THIS RECORD????
24. FM Static – FM Static. Rolled in to Wilburton with this early ’00s pop-punk jam playing. I kid you not, I think only one of the tracks makes it to 3 minutes. It is amazing.
Otherwise known as “all of Tennessee in one 8-hour go.”
9. American Kid – Patty Griffin. One time I was at a Patty Griffin show in Durham and she said “HELLO RALEIGH!” and got booed. She tried to pawn it off on the airport being named Raleigh-Durham. More boos.
10. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart. There were a lot of trees on this stretch of road. It felt right.
11. Live at Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash. Surprisingly, I’d never heard this record. Duly impressed. One time Kevin tried to play “Cocaine Blues” at a song swap and mortified all of the other people there. His wife was sitting next to him and approved of his song choice (according to Kevin). Good times.
12. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow. They’re from NYC? Really?
13. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk. Needed a change of pace. “A room within a room / A door behind a door” was one of the worst lines we heard the entire trip.
14. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” – The Darkness. Needed one song to get us to lunch at Marche in Nashville. Who doesn’t love this song?
15. Graceland – Paul Simon. The only album that is allowed to permanently live in my car. Also, we were back in the car headed to Memphis.
16. Beat the Champ – The Mountain Goats. Another Mountain Goats record that is a lot of fun.
[Something else was here, but we forgot to record it.]
17. Employee of the Month – Relient K. Kevin and I share a deep love for Relient K, and this deep cut EP is very near the top of my favorite RK releases.
I recently moved across the country, from Raleigh, NC, to Phoenix, AZ. My friend-for-life Kevin took time off work to drive the 32+ hours with me. He and I kept track of (almost) everything we listened to during the week-long road trip. As a testament to our friendship, good music, the joy of road tripping, and the fact that I run a music blog, I’m going to post that whole log over the next week.
Day 1: Raleigh to Asheville, NC
We wanted to take it easy the first day, and so our first leg was short. After the four hours to Asheville, we took a short jog up the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the sights from the road and from the trail.
1. Heretic Pride – The Mountain Goats. I started off with what I think is the most unabashedly fun album of the Mountain Goats’ discography. John Darnielle’s desperate cry of “I am coming home to you” had great significance as we started our week-long journey.
2. The Complete Travel Series – Future of Forestry. Kevin and I started out swapping albums back and forth, although that would deteriorate by the middle of the trip. Kevin picked this one, I’m assuming because of the “travel” bit.
3. Kaleidoscope Superior – Earthsuit. Future of Forestry reminded me some of MuteMath, and this band was the direct predecessor to MuteMath. If you haven’t heard this album, you’re missing out on a electro-reggae-rap-space-alt-Christian-rock oddity the likes of which the world had never seen and will never see again. It is boss.
4. Comfort Eagle – CAKE. This is just good driving music.
5. Slavic Soul Party Plays Duke Ellington – Slavic Soul Party. These slavs were pretty great at standards but not so great at ballads.
6. No One Is Lost – Stars. Hadn’t listened to them much since Set Yourself on Fire, but I must say this was enjoyable listen from Kevin.
7. Furthest From the Tree – Ty Maxon. As we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway, we needed something woodsy. I didn’t have Fleet Foxes at hand or we would have gone there.
8. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons. Kevin and I both still love this record.
1. “Gold Dust” – Chris Simmons. My, this is a beautiful fingerpicked tune. The recording is immaculate: it sounds like Simmons is sitting right next to me playing and singing gently.
2. “Illinois” – Anna Tivel. This is about as good as folk gets: a heartbreaking tale, a beautiful melody, a moving vocal performance, and a subtle arrangement.
3. “Maze of Glass” – The Roseline. Between indie embracing Sturgill Simpson and Nashville becoming a bonafide music hub for genres outside country, alt-country to me means “not bro country” and not a whole lot else. This excellent “alt-country” song tells an endearing story of small-town living amid great piano, a shuffle snare, swooping fiddle, and some twangy guitars.
4. “Downtown’s Lights” – Kevin Morby. Vocal-centric in the grand folk tradition, Morby leads his band through a tune that flirts with the talking blues and country ramblers without joining either tradition. It’s easy-going but not lazy–dignified in a Low Anthem sort of way, we might say.
5. “Ernest” – Iaowai. Big, bold, emotive, punchy acoustic folk/pop with roaring vocals and strum-thousand tendencies. RIYL: old-school Bright Eyes.
6. “Everything Starts with a Dream” – Redvers and Mélissa. The tender optimism of the lyrics fits perfectly with the carefully-constructed indie-pop arrangement; a little acoustic guitar line is the soul of this track, but the surrounding parts add to the sneaky grandeur of the overall song.
7. “Take It Slow” – Dirty Sunset. Starts off like an alt-country song, then introduces some soulful vocals and thick klezmer-style instrumentation. The ending amps up to a mad blitz. It’s an impressive turn on several different dimes.*
8. “Garden Hose” – Strawberry Runners. Formal ’50s/’60s pop songcraft that yet mines gold from the old vein via lovely trumpets and expert skill in song development.
9. “Depths (Pt. 1)” – Yumi Zouma. This post-disco electro jam is just sooooo smoooooth.
11. “RUN” – Pep. This tune deconstructs ’50s pop and reconstructs it for modern indie-pop ears. The lead vocal hook is simply irrepressible.
12. “You” – Morgan Saint. Downtempo electro-pop that nails everything: the vibe, the super-catchy vocal lines, the blurry bass, the subtle percussion, the warm pad synths, just everything. So, so solid.
*Dirty Sunset is a PR client of Lisa Whealy, who writes for this site.
1. “Spinning Wheel” – Chris Staples. This one’s a humble, earnest, solo acoustic tune that showcases Staples’ emotive-yet-calm voice.
2. “The Move” – Laura Stevenson. Pretty much my ideal form of folk song at the moment: fleet fingerpicking, chipper strumming, lots of lyrics sung quickly, and a strong vocal performance inflected with subtle emotion. Excellent.
3. “God Himself” – Matthew Smith. Videos don’t usually help me get into the song more, but having a wide variety of people “sing” the lyrics to this acoustic new-hymn drove it home for me.
4. “Raise Your Ghosts” – Velvet & Stone. A low-slung, sophisticated folk arrangement here floats lyrics about healing and redemption. The fiddle adds a bit of Irish flair to the otherwise very modern sound.
5. “Glowing Brightly” – Florist. Loopy, gentle twee-pop with an endearing vocal performance and the “could-fall-apart-at-any-moment” qualities that made and make twee so interesting.
6. “Should I Try” – Malena Zavala. Hazy, lazy, and laid-back, this indie-pop track floats along in a measured, chill environment of its own creation.
7. “Time” – David Ramirez. Ramirez stretches his boundaries effectively here: There’s some country overtures in the high-pitched guitar/pedal steel, but this one is mostly an indie-pop ballad with gently bouncy arpeggiator undergirding a plaintive piano line.
8. “Video Daydream” – Freedom Baby. This duo’s electro-tinged indie-pop tune isn’t really stuttering or glitchy per se, but something in-between. There’s a staccato, scattered vibe to the tune, which includes strings, snare rim hits, piano, trumpet, theremin (?), and synths all woven together into a unique track.
9. “Save Me” – Motherhood. The formula for this impressive tune is something like “Post-Vampire Weekend hectic indie rock + Cars-style ’80s new wave.”
10. “L.A. Sunset” – The Crowleys. The band offers up nearly six minutes of beachy, surf-laden indie-rock. The variety of moods throughout the tune is impressive.
11. “A Bright Flame” – Weatherboy. Towering, jubilant, major-key indie-folk of the mid-’00s school (La Strada, Bishop Allen) that features thick, choral/hollered harmonies and adventurous instrumentation.
1. “Haze” – Angelo De Augustine. Anyone looking for a post-Iron & Wine flagbearer for the whisper folk crowd wouldn’t do too badly getting behind De Augustine. This is tape-hiss-and-honesty at its finest.
2. “Friends” – Marsicans. Marsicans are in the midst of an incredible run of singles, with each building on the last to create a sterling resume of indie-pop-rock that reads like a slightly smoothed-out Tokyo Police Club. The chorus here is a fist-pumper.
3. “Nothing Makes Me Happy ft. WILLA” – Said the Whale. You coulda fooled me. This tune, while not exactly a ray of sunshine in its crunchy guitars, is a dance-rock workout that certainly makes me happy.
4. “Paresthesia” – Wild Ones. Slinky yet also fun, this electro-inflected indie-pop tune manages to appeal to a lot of different audiences with a subtly complex arrangement and an immediate vocal performance.
5. “Fade On” – Tree Machines. Fans of Sleigh Bells will find much to love in this thumping, stomping hip-hop beat (complete with arpeggiated horns) married to heavy distorted guitars and adorned with soaring, desperate-sounding vocals.
6. “Say You” – Strange Relations. Joyfully off-kilter, this bass-driven rock tune has all sorts of moving parts and unusual conventions going on. It’s like a math-rock song slowed down by half or a deconstructed punk rock song. Fascinating.
7. “Talk About” – The Lonely Biscuits. Just a great indie-pop song. The vocals, the instrumentation, the lyrics, the vibe, it’s all on point.
8. “Only for a Moment” – The Shades. Some songs just sound like the open road. This folk-pop/country tune is packed full of the stuff that lends itself to rolling down the windows: a major key, great percussion, strong melodies, and lots of harmonies.
9. “Dangerous Times” – Jesse Terry. A big, stately alt-country tune with a solid vocal performance and a timely lyric.
10. “Yellow Bird” – Ben Stevenson. Fans of Parachutes-era Coldplay will fall in love with this cloudy, ethereal acoustic cut.
“Death” – Shelley Short. The fusion of traditional song forms and melodic structures with modern sensibilities doesn’t get much more beautifully realized than here in this folk tune. Excellent stuff here.
“Take Me Dancing” – Hafdis Huld. Bright, chipper folk-pop about going dancing. Doesn’t get much happier than this, y’all.
“To Fold” – Sedgewick. The gentle tension between a direct, unadorned tenor lead vocal and the cooing background vocals echoes the push-and-pull between the dreamy and snappy elements of this lovely folk arrangement.
“Takin’ Over” – Humming House. Punchy, dance-party-ready pop-rock here that sounds like Avett Brothers fused to Colony House.
“Odds” – Ephrata. Get ready to get shiny: this track applies a ’50s pop sheen to tight, zooming indie-power-pop. It ends up sounding vaguely beachy on top of all that. Fun!
“This Town” – Mosquitos. A delicate elegy for a city that was, this synth-driven tune avoids almost all of the baggage of “synths!!!!” and creates a fascinating walking-speed indie-pop tune.
“Time Travels” – Matt Tarka. Here’s some punchy indie-pop that fans of the Weakerthans will immediately sit up and take notice of. The guitars and vocals come together beautifully.
“Every Day’s the Weekend” – Alex Lahey. Carefully sheds light on an “it’s complicated” relationship, but trades in the singer/songwriter genre for blast-off major-key indie-rock. It’s the sort of song that I just want to keep listening to over and over.
“New Yorker” – CHUCK. A loving tribute/soft parody of New Yorkers, this is a genuinely funny tune. Layering horns over synths amid a acoustic-indie-pop framework is a great move.
“Technicolour Native” – JR Green. Sleepy vocals and swift fingerpicking patterns turn out a Clem Snide-like track with a subtle, warm glow.
“Dark Matter” – Siobhan Wilson. The stark arrangement of this indie-folk tune allows the intimate gradations, changes, wobbles, and affectations of Wilson’s voice and strumming to come to the fore.
Some music is difficult to explain with the written word; it is an experiential thing that lives and breathes its origins. Such is the case with Cyclope Espion’s new album Friday Night Epitaph. From the very opening “Intro,” which takes audiences on a ride into the singer-songwriter’s life, this record is indie gold. Crossing from France to the United States, it is a cultural journey of an artist who creates in the language of love.
A satisfying eleven-song album, this record tells a story. The sound is born of the Lower East Side, a magic place musically. The essence of greatness is in it, as the place gave birth to scenes long dead before the songs here were conceived. Originally from France, Cyclope Espion (guitars / vocals / harmonica) was sleeping on couches, eating at food kitchens, and performing in New York City during the creation of this album. “It is also in New York that I learned how to play,” says Espion.
That connection to reality is heard in the vocal delivery of the upbeat “Faux Départ,” sung in his native French and alive with imagery of the Champs-Élysées. This transitions to the title track, which is a painful, hollow, hopeless trudge shown through rich lyricism. The title track heads into the meat of the story, from dark alleys and back door clubs in New York City where the gritty harsh reality often meets hope and reinvigorated dreams.
Nearly halfway through the record, “Wishful Thinking” is an homage to that lost relationship, a vocal delivery that brings to mind Bob Dylan with its plaintive heartbreak. Slightly off in pitch, it fits with the feelings of angst that combine with loneliness in a mind-numbing brilliance. The metaphor-rich “Snapdragon” moves with an uptempo vibe and hopeful feeling. A troubadour fingerpicking acoustic bit of beauty, “Mad Love & the Self” is definitely born out of a incredible skill of multicultural songwriting. This song has Lennon-style ambiguous lyricism that paints a vivid picture without directly saying a word. Stellar.
Produced by Nate Kohrs (guitar) and mastered by Tony Mantz (Nick Cave), the expertise in the engineering is apparent. The DIY release has a solid foundation: Espion caught the ear of Kohrs while performing around the city with the likes of Skinny Bones (wrote songs with The Ramones), The Bowery Boys, and David Reel (who himself was produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono). Photography within the album and cover art from Takako Ida adds to the imagery here, telling the story along with the music, page by page.
“Satellite” is possibly the best song of the record, bringing everything together in two minutes and forty eight seconds of greatness. Masterfully mixed, a lush instrumentation does not overwhelm the indie rock vocal delivery from Espion. This songwriter creates a multidimensional listening experience via his vivid lyrics, hollow vocals and echoes as punctuation.
Heading out of the record, “Indélébile” returns to the French language that so beautifully mixes with the instrumentation. Followed by “Outro,” the subway moves back into the language that Cyclope Espion has created by finding his voice as a songwriter. Closing this story with “Le Boa,” the story comes full circle. Elegant and simple, it is a goodbye from a talent who has transformed the grit of New York City back to a place of beauté complexe, a place that immerses the listeners.–Lisa Whealy
More than a gentle hello, Van William is set to release The Revolution EP September 8, 2017 through Fantasy Records. This highly anticipated collection of songs from the man who was part of the highly successful Port O’Brien is a lyrically vulnerable and lyrically contrary set of songs.
Already released to streaming audiences, “Revolution” (feat. First Aid Kit) sets the tone. This song is a treat, as it paints a vibrant picture with lyrics and masterful instrumentation. Musically upbeat and perky, the arrangement contrasts with the skillfully pointed lyricism. This song and “Fourth Of July” make positive vibes and tumultuous introspection hold hands.
“Never Had Enough” has that Ben Howard vibe, introspective and full of longing. One of William’s strongest talents here is the ability to juxtapose musicality with lyrical content. This song also pulls in some great guitar work that contrasts with the fingerpicking acoustic heard elsewhere. An expansive auditory experience for the listener, it breathes without limits. Closer “Cosmic Sign” is best sequenced last here. With its Simon and Garfunkel movement and soft vocal delivery, it is the song that lets everyone into the life of the narrator. “Cosmic Sign” is truly the star of the release, as piano joins the solid fingerpicking acoustic guitar.
This effort was recorded in Stinson Beach, California. All of the songs on The Revolution EP were co-produced by Van William. Key contributors include drummer Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes), bassist Chris Chu (the Morning Benders), keyboardist Tam Visher, co-producer Brian Phillips, and Klara & Johanna Söderberg (First Aid Kit).
This EP hits every feeling from exuberant and smart to bittersweet and everything in between. And it all connects, which attests to the impressive talent of Van William. This highly anticipated four-song EP is a preemptive introduction to the full length album, currently in production, set to release sometime in 2018.–Lisa Whealy
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.