The start-stop arrangement of Harp Samuels‘ “Wanting” sounds like the distant fragility of Jeff Buckley’s guitar work run through a latter-day Bon Iver-esque mood filter. Soul-inflected vocals, a la Moses Sumney, complete the arrangement. The tune itself takes its time to get where it’s going–at over six minutes, the song gently unspools at its own pace. The results are a languid, free-flowing tune that would fit nicely as the satisfying conclusion of a soulful indie playlist.
“Wanting” comes from Samuels’ self-released album of the same name, which drops September 8.
We took a day off from driving toward Phoenix and went up to see the Grand Canyon.
46. Anybody Out There? – Burlap to Cashmere. Almost certainly the only Christian flamenco-fusion band that was ever popular.
47. Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie. “Death of an Interior Decorator” is the only song on this record that isn’t flawless.
48. Give Up – The Postal Service. After hiking six miles at the Grand Canyon, I fell asleep on the way back to Flagstaff and missed half this record. Boo.
49. Give Us Rest – David Crowder Band. A massive triple album that capped the band’s career, this record almost can’t be contained in words. It is an experience and a half.
Day 8: Flagstaff to Scottsdale
Coming into the home stretch!
49b. Give Us Rest – David Crowder Band. Did I mention this is a triple album?
50. The Goat Rodeo Sessions – Stuart Duncan, YoYo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meier. We finally hit the high desert (you know, the part with Saguaro Cactus), and this kind of felt appropriate. I almost chose some Calexico, but I wanted to hear this more.
51. Ocean Eyes – Owl City. I won’t say who chose this record, but we both enjoyed the crap out of it.
51b. “Elegy” – The Young Blood Brass Band. A one-off while trying to figure out what to listen to next.
52. Declaration of Dependence – Kings of Convenience. KoC is pretty distinctive: I’d never heard this record but still was able to guess that it was them.
53. Bleed American aka Jimmy Eat World – Jimmy Eat World. We were driving through Mesa, so it worked.
Day 9: Scottsdale to the Phoenix Airport
All things come to an end, and so did this journey. I sent Kevin off early in the morning to
54. Goths – The Mountain Goats. Another great album from 2017, this low-key record was a suitably soothing way to wake up. It also put a nice bookend on it: Mountain Goats at the beginning, Mountain Goats at the end.
1. “Haze” – Grapefruit Moon. Comes barreling in with a bold, mature folk sound that does not let on that this is a debut. You can hear snatches of influences in the song if you try, but overall this is a bold sound with a clear identity that establishes them as one to watch.
2. “Understanding Light” – Florist. Listening to Florist is like standing outside looking at the night sky and realizing that the moon is slightly orange tonight, and it looks really pretty, and you don’t know why, but it’s too beautiful to pull out your phone and find out, so you just look at it some more. Maybe someone comes up and says, “What are you looking at?” and you just kinda nod that direction and they get it and you’re there together doing the staring and it’s the way things should be.
3. “Make Believe” – Ben Bateman. It’s a tough thing to make a single acoustic guitar sound vibrant and fresh (even with a stomping kick drum). Bateman pulls in characteristics from The Tallest Man on Earth and Brett Dennen to create a bouncy, thoroughly engaging, fresh acoustic tune.
4. “Wild, Wild, Wild Horses” – A. Savage. Lopes along with the idiosyncratic confidence of a person who doesn’t feel any need to be anything other than himself because he already has another band (in this case, Parquet Courts). This tune, a speak/sing ramble full of distant synths, is weird and lovely and unforgettable.
5. “I Won’t Sleep” – Caiti Baker. It’s been a while since back-up vocalists and marching-band horns sucked me in to a song so hard. This one has learned all the lessons of swaggering hip-hop and filtered them through an indie-pop sieve for a really nice cocktail.
6. “Too Good” – Marsicans. Are you sick of me praising Marsicans yet? Here’s another vibrant, bouncy slice of indie rock.
7. “And Such and Such” – The Forty Nineteens. Just a big ‘ol rock and roll song from the ’60s or ’70s school: no psych, no minor keys, just big riffs, snarly vocals, and speedy tempos.
8. “Now I Know” – Sono Oto. Riffs don’t have to be face-melting garage-rock theatrics to be awesome. This rattletrap, Beck-inflected tune has great guitar lines throughout that keep the vibe flowing.
9. “Listening to Devil Town” – Jacob Faurholt. This wide-open, reverb-heavy, ballad-esque indie-rock track is literally about the experience of listening to “Devil Town” by Daniel Johnston. If you haven’t heard that, you should listen to that, and then you should listen to this.
10. “I’m a Tree (Acoustic)” – JOY. A solid acoustic version of what sounds like it could be a promising rock track.
11. “Oceans” – Magana. A cover of a tune by the inimitable CHUCK, Magana takes the jittery enthusiasm that is his trademark and turns it into a mournful dirge. It’s quite the transformation.
12. “Brassy Sun” – S. Carey. Carey knows how to make a beautiful song. This serene piano-led piece is just majestic.
Having made it to Albuquerque, we visited Monk’s Corner Taproom, the home of Abbey Brewing. If you are ever in the ABQ, you need to go visit them. Great beer and great bartenders made for a great experience. We also had great coffee at the charming Zendo Coffee. Albuquerque knows its stuff.
39. The Lord Reigns – Hosanna Worship. It being Sunday, we visited City Presbyterian Albuquerque for a lovely service. We also put on this live worship record from the late ’80s that I grew up with. Hail, hail, Lion of Judah.
40. Flying Into Daybreak – Charlie Hall. Kevin preferred this modern worship record to my ’80s worship extravaganza. Pfft.
40a. My friend Duane put together a playlist of songs to send me off to Arizona. We put that on as we approached and crossed the Arizona border.
41. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem. I love this record, but it kinda doesn’t fit with the desert. Oh well.
42. The Life of the World to Come – The Mountain Goats. Now this fit with the desert. There was a thunderstorm at our back as this played, but it never quite hit us all the way. It fit the mood of this record excellently.
43. Fences – Bombadil. If you haven’t heard the new Bombadil record yet, you’re missing out on one of the best folk-pop records of this year.
44. Hold On – Bombadil. I don’t remember why we listened to two Bombadil records back-to-back, but this one is great too.
The longest haul of our whole journey: a 10-hour day. I think we forgot to record some albums in here, but what can you do? We drove for over 10 hours.
28. “Albuquerque” – Weird Al Yankovic. Can’t start a trip to Albuquerque without it. I had forgotten how weird and violent this song is.
29. Theseus and the Time Machine – The Programme. I was obsessed with this instrumental rock album when I was 18. It’s the lone album of a short-lived Tulsa-area band whose live shows still make me miss them, a decade later. Fun fact: Folk troubadour M. Lockwood Porter was in this band.
30. Futures – Jimmy Eat World. This record is almost exactly 40 minutes long and therefore a perfect record to listen to if you’re running 4 miles at a 10-minute mile pace. It is also fun to drive to. Jimmy Eat World is from Mesa, AZ, which is a huge city that you’ve never heard of in the Phoenix area.
31. Computer World – Kraftwerk. Kevin was stoked about this record and I kinda got into it as we went along.
32. Tarpits and Canyonlands – Bombadil. I don’t know how we’d gotten this far without listening to Bombadil, whom I love and he likes. This is a masterpiece of indie-pop; in the Top 10 of all time on my list.
33. mmhmm – Relient K. One of the best RK albums. Weirdly, Kevin’s phone did not have “I So Hate Consequences” on it, which is my favorite track off this record, but it did have every other song. “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” is a close second, and we did jam to that one.
34. Leftrightleftrightleft – Coldplay. This is my second-favorite Coldplay release, behind A Rush of Blood to the Head. It has a perennial contender for my favorite Coldplay song on it: the 7/4 guitar chug of “Glass of Water.” “SON! DON’T ASK! NEITHER HOW FULL NOR EMPTY IS YOUR GLASS!”
35. Demon Days – Gorillaz. Right up there with Slavic Soul Party in “Weirdest experiences we had during this trip.”
36. Borderland – John Mark McMillan. It was either this or Love and War and the Sea in Between by Josh Garrels, and I’d heard the Garrels record a number of times already.
37. Coming Home – Leon Bridges. This record is just awesome.
38. Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac. Kevin made me choose between Rumors or the self-titled. A real tough choice.
1. “Hey! Ya, You” – The Elwins. Every now and then a song comes along and makes me think, “Oh yeah, that’s what that genre is supposed to sound like.” This slightly funky, slightly spacy, slightly disco-esque tune combines a lot of genres into one big ‘ol indie-rock track.
2. “Top 8” – Who Is She? There’s big cloudy SanFran garage rock, and big Weezer garage rock, and then there’s the chipper, hectic, fun major-key garage rock of this track. It’s a tune as old as MySpace–the cultivation of identity via the selection of top friends in digital space. Love it.
3. “Harvard” – Diet Cig. This kiss-off to an Ivy Leaguer is the latest proof that Diet Cig makes great, punchy punk rock. Also, the video here is just fantastic–I won’t ruin it any more than that.
3. “Avalon” – The White Buffalo. Here’s some excellent country rock that speeds along with the tempo, acrobatic drums and melodic punch of a pop-punk tune.
4. “Walk the Other Way” – Bend Sinister. There’s a corner of my music heart still reserved for excellent rock songs. Bend Sinister’s tune reminds me of Brand New’s Deja Entendu combined with a dance-rock band. Great stuff.
5. “Clean Lines” – Rotoscope. The sort of vaguely dancy, emotionally-infused indie rock that sails on a huge, memorable chorus.
6. “Companion” – Humming House. Man, but does Humming House know how to write a pop song or what? Fans of singing, happiness, love, and fun should apply.
7. “Tunguska” – Ephrata. Fun fact: Tunguska is/was a giant meteorite explosion. Sounds like something more in line with death metal or space-rock bands, but this relentlessly cheery, high-powered indie-pop-rock tune is what we have instead. If you love big vocal harmonies, this one is chock full of them.
8. “Lowlands” – Far Lands. Comes in smooth, doesn’t ask too much of you, leaves before it can outstay its welcome; this sleek indie-pop tune is basically the coolest friend you know.
9. “Gold and Green” – Slaughter Beach, Dog. The vocal approach of emo married to some low-key, slightly minor-key indie-pop with great results.
10. “Honey Colony” – Soft Fangs. You’re headed over to the next door neighbor’s to hang out, kick it, maybe have a beer. It’s a lazy Saturday in the fall. It’s kinda overcast, but still bright enough that you can see the sun and feel its warmth. This song comes on and it’s perfect.
11. “Push the Boat Out” – Hero Fisher. This keys-led track inhabits a unique, almost unclassifiable space: there are dramatic lead vocals; whirring, doomy background vocals; arhythmic whistling; and more. It’s like Imogen Heap in a marsh at night, maybe.
It has been a while since I have been able to consistently post album reviews. I hope I will be able to get back to a more stable pattern of posting soon. Until then, here are four releases that I have been listening to for a while but haven’t had a chance to write up.
Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings – Bright Hopes!: This double album is chock full of the type of sun-dappled, hectic indie-rock that Switchfoot was great at before they turned into arena rock all-stars. The overall vibe is light and bouncy, but there’s some serious melodic and instrumental chops lurking underneath the mood. The songwriting is complex and surprising; there’s not a dull moment throughout the extensive run-time.
The centerpiece of the record is a song you may have heard before if you’re into Christian music: Crawford wrote “Be Still (Psalm 46),” which is treated to a lush version here with lazy horns and tossed-off, jazzy keys. Somehow, it doesn’t jar against the indie-dance-rock of “Balm of Gilead” and the chiptune-inflected “Grace and Peace.” Wild.
Eerie Gaits – Bridge Music: John Ross is as adept at organic, instrumental post-rock as he is at fronting electro-pop (Challenger) and punk (Wild Pink) bands. Bridge Music’s post-rock features an acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar or keys. This means fans of Goldmund, Balmorhea, Seryn, and The Album Leaf will find much to love here.
The album is serene at heart: you can put this one on and relax effortlessly. It’s got a very autumnal sound, so it’ll be great for those of you who will soon see leaves start to turn. (I live in Phoenix now, so it’ll be a while before any temperatures shift, much less leaves fall.) Beautiful and warm.
Make Sure – Town Runner EP: Josh Jackson (Fiery Crash, Summerooms) has a new outfit. Make Sure builds on Jackson’s strengths of evocative vocals and bright arrangements by adding in even more ethos in the arrangements. The indie-rock/early ’00s emo of the four tracks here has twinkling guitars, delicate vocals, and punchy drums to spare, but it’s the subtle touches (a bass run here, relaxed keys there, an unexpected chord change now and then) that finish the puzzle.
The tight interactions between the trio of instrumentalists in “Basement Halloween” evoke the adventurous instrumental ideas of early Appleseed Cast. “If You Were Mine (Shady Glen Session)” hearkens back to Fiery Crash work, stripping out some of the instrumental gymnastics for a quiet little pop song that yet retains the mood of the whole work. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but Make Sure’s debut holds up way past 15 minutes of listening. Definitely a band to watch.
Billy Shaddox – The Record Keeper: Shaddox’s work synthesizes folk, indie-pop, AM radio rock, and even some country (“When I Hand Myself In”) into a big-hearted, good-natured sound that goes down easy. His latest work focuses on a quieter side of his oeuvre, dialing down some of the crunch and substituting mellow moments. An instantly friendly, approachable, memorable record results.
“Blame Your Eyes” is a perfect example of the approach The Record Keeper takes. Shaddox sings guilelessly over a smooth acoustic guitar line, shortly joined thereafter by strummed mandolin, shaker egg, and distant piano. A whirring organ piles in, and a brass instrument caps it off. Each of these instruments pull the arrangement in slightly different genre directions, but never get the song off track. It’s a lilting, assured piece that would fit seamlessly on unknowable numbers of chill mixtapes and playlists. “Saint Vrain” and the title track both have this sort of genre-defying act going on as well. If you’re into (such diverse acts as) Bishop Allen, David Ramirez, and Jason Isbell, you’ll find lots to enjoy here.
After having a great steak dinner with Jeff, we woke up and headed to my old hometown of Tulsa for a family visit. Super-short drive, this one.
25. The Secret in this Town – Mark Mathis. I hadn’t heard this record before, but it is a really nice folk record. Very pleased with Kevin’s selection here.
26. Metals – Feist. Not a Feist record that I had heard before. It was also nice!
27. Underdog – Audio Adrenaline. I got real brave and busted out my favorite record from when I was 13. I had almost put it on earlier but was afraid it was a bit too Christian-nerdy. Kevin said he had almost put it on earlier as well but pulled back for the same reasons. We had a blast with this record. Fun fact: when I DJed at OU, my name was DJ Smooth Steve, in tribute.
8. “Come and See” – Lean Year. This track puts a slightly woozy cast on the “hushed and intimate” school of alt-folk. A beautifully weary vocal performance leads the way through.
9. “Billy Burroughs” – Jeffrey Martin. Sounds as if the expansive work of Gregory Alan Isakov got some Jason Molina sadness mixed into the sound.
10. “Before” – Jason van Wyck. This quiet, piano-led composition has more in common with minimalist composers and modern composition practices than the droning synths that are often associated with “ambient.” The enfolding atmosphere is extremely well-developed.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.