When it comes to truth, The Wood Brothers have proclaimed that their new album One Drop of Truth was the most fun the band has had making a record. This concept might be hard to believe ten records in, but this self-produced album feels free. That happiness shows. Featured in both Rolling Stone and NPR as a preemptive strike, the force of this musical tsunami of talent is not to be taken lightly.
The Wood Brothers have something to say on their sixth studio album One Drop of Truth via Honey Jar Records/Thirty Tigers. This trio, comprised of Chris and Oliver Wood along with Jano Rix, created a ten-track collection that drifts away from their normal, concept-oriented fare into a deeper level of sonic genius. Simple and elegant, this is authentic beyond belief. “Often, when you’re making an album in the traditional way, there will be a unifying concept, whether that be in the approach to the music stylistically or lyrically in terms over the overall narrative. And even though there are some themes that revealed themselves later, this one is all over the place,” explains Oliver Wood. “What I really love about this record is that each one of these songs has its own little world. There are diverse sounds and vibes from one track to the next.”
The band’s embrace of a diverse release has offered up a collection of tracks that slide through vibes effortlessly. A stellar showcase of dense instrumentation and lush rich vocals, this is not 2015’s Paradise. Thatone was called “the warmest, most sublime and occasionally rowdiest Wood Brothers release yet” by American Songwriter. One Drop of Truth is a revolution and evolution; rather than recording all at once in the same studio, one or two songs a day were tracked then allowed to rest.
Sliding in with “River Takes the Town,” a comfortable flood of familiarity eases in lyrically. Oliver Wood’s poignant delivery envelops the listener with a flood of emotion. Featuring a groove that will not quit, “Happiness Jones” (the first single from the album) dips into the sublime contradictions of love and life. “Laughing or Crying” is a gem of folk composition, as Jano Rix makes this a great adventure in a gypsy-esque romp through the haunts of the city. The tune is a dark narrative of decay and contradiction. Listeners get a visual with the music here: this is songwriting at its best.
Soft and sensual, “Strange As It Seems” is a love song for the ages. Beautifully arranged cello and guitar shine along with simple vocals. Earthy and real, this is a picture of love painted with musical notes. A masterful bit of sequencing happens with “Sky High” here taking love from the bedroom out into a strut on the street; a completely different different experience.
Among the standouts on this masterful album, “Seasick Emotions” is a seascape blowing in with a hollow wind. Chris Wood’s bass paints a seascape of metaphors lyrically. Beautifully executed with harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, this song is stellar. Finding listeners over halfway through a great album, “This Is It” brings it backs to the porch or barn dance: simple life, rustic and real. Chris and Oliver Wood are so good together, and this song is that toe-tapping damn good time. No pretense, no confusion. Just love.
With an acapella opening “One Drop Of Truth” wraps up this album with a raw, swanky groove that earns its place as the title track. Honky tonk instrumentation is just damn cool, fading out with an echo of hope toward the final track. Hitting it home with “Can’t Look Away,” this is the partner to the title track; rather than selling one’s soul, it is best to walk away, The Wood Brothers say. It’s the perfect haunting bluesy punctuation mark on the album. Regardless of what the band says about no concept going in, there is definitely one for the listener going out. Truth is all about seeing the train wreck and the love while not losing hope in between. —Lisa Whealy
Jan. 25 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theatre Jan. 26 – Washington, DC – Lincoln Theatre Jan. 27 – Washington, DC – Lincoln Theatre Jan. 28 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer Jan. 30 – Albany, NY – The Egg (Sold Out) Jan. 31 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza Feb. 1 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza Feb. 2 – Portland, ME – State Theatre Feb. 3 – Boston, MA – House of Blues Feb. 10 – Miami Beach, FL – Groundup Music Festival Feb. 21 – Phoenix, AZ – MIM Music Theater (Sold Out) Feb. 22 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up Feb. 23 – Los Angeles, CA – Fonda Theatre Feb. 24 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore Feb. 25 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore Feb. 27 – Arcata, CA – Kate Buchanan Room Feb. 28 – Ashland, OR – Southern Oregon University Mar. 1 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom Mar. 2 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Mar. 17 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium Apr. 11 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue Apr. 12 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre Apr. 13 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre Apr. 14 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre Apr. 15 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant Apr. 17 – Cincinnati, OH – Taft Ballroom Apr. 18 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark Apr. 19 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue Apr. 20 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theater Apr. 22 – Charlotte, NC – Tuck Fest 2018 May 25 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre May 27 – Cumberland, MD – DelFest 2018
As I sit here with the sun shining on my face, sipping my peppermint tea, Jeremy Bass’ latest release, The Greatest Fire, gently caresses my ears. The well-orchestrated indie-pop/ alternative masterpiece is comprised of many moving parts. Each track contains a unique combination of the guitar, bass, percussion, brilliant background vocals, and an occasional appearance from instruments suited for a symphony. The album mellows out as it goes along–each song moving further away from its indie-pop beginnings.
The album starts off on a very chipper note. Both “CA, Plz” and “The Greatest Fire” feel very happy-go-lucky, in the best kind of way. “CA, Plz” begins with delightful acoustic guitar plucking, paired with soothing male background vocals “bababa”ing us into the album. Jeremy Bass’ voice soon enters in and the ode to a state (California) lifts off with synth sounds drifting us into the “ocean blue”. Female background vocals also provide support in the chorus and transition us into the next track.
The album’s first single, “The Greatest Fire,” echoes the chipperness of the first track with the great addition of keys layered into the guitar/percussion combination. The message of the track also seems very optimistic, yet grounded. The lyric, “Don’t you ever feel there’s a truth deeper than your point of view?” shows off that mixture well.
Unlike what the title of the next track may lead you to think, “(So Glad) Everyone’s Happy” is seeping with irony, as the repeated lyric “so glad everyone’s happy” seems more sardonic than authentic. Instead, the lyrics “I’m not ready to go” and “Breathe, breathe, breathe” seem to get at the heart of the track. Unlike the other songs, the bass guitar leads us through a playful arrangement of percussion, a beachy guitar, and Jeremy Bass’ steady vocals filling out the track.
“1,000 Yrs” and “‘Till the Summer Ends” both contain softer sets of instrumentation. “1,000 Yrs” is the cutesie love song on the album, with lyrics like “I wanna be here for a 1,000 years with you”. The violin-heavy instrumentation ensures the track’s romantic sound. Meanwhile “‘Till the Summer Ends” shows off Bass’ talented acoustic guitar playing. In general, this track’s sound is softer than the previous ones. Similar to Fleet Foxes, the soothing background vocals and instrumentation take the listener drift to a peaceful place.
“Halfway Sane”, “Trees for the Forest”, and “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)” continue to steer away from the chipper indie-pop sound that kickstarted the album. “Halfway Sane” does this through a certain edginess in its arrangement, with the help of a heavy use of the electric guitar. “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)” is the only instrumental track off the album. The acoustic guitar serves as its anchor, as percussive elements enter and exit as they please. The cyclical sound of the track seems to echo the pattern of a lightning storm, as the title suggests. And before you know it, the storm has passed and the track is over. “We Will Be You” brings the album to an eerie close, as it begins with a slowly played banjo, progresses with an organ, and ends with creaking wood floor sounds.
Before I close out my review of this masterful album, I must draw attention to the creative way Bass titled his tracks. From “CA, Plz” to “1,000 Yrs” and “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)”, his use of parentheses and text-speech are brilliant. The Greatest Fire is an album created for those of us who are tired of the same old indie-pop productions playing over and over again.–Krisann Janowitz
Michelle Mandico‘s “Ptarmigan” is a testament to the elegance of simplicity, from the melody to the arrangement to the lyrics. The delicate, spacious folk song features Mandico’s pure and clear voice delivering a compellingly unadorned melody. Mandico doesn’t go for tricks or quirks; instead, she delivers with confidence a vocal performance that perfectly meshes with the guitar line.
That melancholy fingerpicked guitar line comprises a large chunk of the arrangement, as Mandico keeps the instruments to a minimum. An emotional fiddle enters a third of the way through the song, occasional acoustic guitar overdubs appear–and that’s the whole setup for the track. The power of the song comes not from its complexity, but from how well everything comes together into a full work.
The lyrics focus on stripped-down simplicity as well, although that simplicity isn’t always for the best; the simple statement of “and it’s funny how we need no words / when silence carries” is less optimistic when paired with the refrain of “I’m alone again.” But the refrain also includes “I’m a ptarmigan / in my mountain home”–being at home is good, but the home of the ptarmigan is very cold (the ptarmigan is the official bird of Canadian province Nunavut, otherwise known as the farthest northern part of Canada). So there’s complexity in the simplicity, too. Mandico’s tune is impressive, and establishes her as a newcomer to watch.
Lots of people want their songs and music videos to be surreal, but few can pull it off. Via Intercom‘s song and associated clip for “The Photographer” nail the balance between atypical weirdness and utter banality that creates truly surreal moments.
We’re premiering the video, so I’ll start with that first. The video is ostensibly a lyric video, but the lyrics are mostly difficult to read–they scroll right to left with the lines running away from the reader. It’s like the beginning of Star Wars out of a misaligned projector. The squinting I had to do for most of the lyrics creates an unusual atmosphere; the jolt of the occasionally-right-side-up lyrics makes the situation even more interestingly uncomfortable.
Once we get past the atypical lyrical presentation, there’s the nature of what’s going on around the lyrics: the members of Via Intercom are dancing inside a dollhouse with giant shadows creeping around outside the house. That’s weird enough, but the dollhouse is icy blue, the dancers are only partially present (no head, no legs, no hands), and the shirts of the dancers are contrasting colors to the icy blue of the dollhouse. Everything seems perfectly calculated to be weird. But it’s not overtly weird–it all seems plausible, as if this would be normal if not viewed through this specific camera lens. That level of unusual-yet-almost-usual is compelling.
If this were some psych-rock nugget, this unusual video might be par for the course. But the song is not some technicolor freakout–it is a measured, considered, detailed indie song. It’s almost slowcore in its arrangement, as a glacial-pace fingerpicked pattern is the main motion of the tune. Strings sway in and out, the occasional glockenspiel note hits, background vocals sigh mysteriously, and the whole song lopes onward under some unseen internal power. Pairing this slow-paced tune with the video isn’t jarring–it’s revealing, influencing how I interpret the video and the song.
The lyrics tell the story of a house party gone totally awry in a specific level of detail that adds another layer of complexity. Multiple characters weave in and out of the song. Tiny details are juxtaposed against sweeping emotional statements. Adding this level of lyrical detail on top of the songwriting and the video results in a unique, fascinating experience. It should go without saying that this is one of the best, most interesting videos I’ve seen in a long time.
1. “You” – David Gorman. The first 45 seconds are a beautiful a cappella chorale reminiscent of the best moments of early Mumford and Sons. At 45 seconds, a delicate, pristine, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line comes in. The rest of the track continues to expand, somewhere between Mumford and Fleet Foxes. It is an excellent track. Highly recommended.
2. “Dollar General Blues” – John John Brown. Gentle, finger-picked, back porch folk that rolls off Brown’s tongue with unbelievable ease. Brown could sing anything and it would sound great, but he chooses to sing a song of (very) contemporary rural America. It’s an unusual type of protest song (probably has too many words for Woody Guthrie’s taste), but it’s one all the same, and it is a poignant (instead of brash) example of the form. This is exemplar: this is how folk should work. Highly recommended.
3. “Tearing Seams” – Micah McCaw. If you’re into major-key folk, you need to jump on this track immediately: this one has the major-key strumming of Josh Ritter, the smooth vocals of Josh Rouse, and the lyrics of early Joe Pug. The triumphant conclusion of the track, led by blaring organ, is just off the charts in terms of satisfying endings. I got shivers. Highly recommended.
4. “Let This Wind Blow” – Sam Alty. The flamenco influences that Alty brings to the table are more subtle in this evocative, expansive acoustic tune. The interest in ostinato rhythms, bass patterns, and pushing forward motion are all present, but in ways that put Alty’s own stamp on the work. His specific vision is coming into focus before our ears.
5. “Mischief” – Dead Seem Old. Flamenco influences always create tunes that seem unable to sit still: there’s always insistent motion, bass groove, big melodies, and punchy moments. This acoustic tune wears its flamenco influences on its sleeve and pairs it with vocals tempered in an contemporary vocal performance fire. Groovy and fun.
6. “A Dog’s Humanity” – Bashful Hips. Insistent, off-kilter speak-sing vocals elevate an unusual folk/indie-rock arrangement into a unique, experimental tune. There’s some pizzicato strings, theremin and thrumming string-bass all threaded between each other. The lyrics are somewhere between the apocalyptica of Modest Mouse, the detailed observations of Emperor X, and personal/collective tensions of I’m Wide Awake-era Bright Eyes.
7. “Good Times” – The Macarnos. The vocals have a touch of Colin Meloy in them and there’s a guitar solo (!), both of which perked my ears up in this heavy-strummed folk/acoustic tune. The acoustic strum meshes tightly with the drums, creating a impressively solid base for the track.
8. “Lull” – Cherophobiac. A slow-burning, minor-key piano tune that would fit easily in a companion to OK Computer, what with the long introduction that includes computer sounds, the lyrical emphasis on human senses (seeing/feeling), and the grumbling bass. The layered vocals throughout the piece create a bit of Imogen Heap flavor, as well. The piece, as a result, is satisfyingly unusual.
9. “Goin’ Home” – Barzo. I’m not really into funk, but every now and then a band can catch my ear with a bass groove, a solid rhythm section, and a lead melody. This one does that, as the bass is thick and rubbery, the drums have some flair, and the lead sax melody is juuuuuuuust right.
10. “you cant repeat the past” – Behind Clouds. Melds trip-hop influences, future bass sounds, and delicate piano into a unique instrumental vision. This is a head-bobber for sure.
11. “Exploration” – Floris Boere. Layers on layers of piano sounds are undergirded by a cascade of piano notes that sound like rushing water. The complexity here is what drew me in: there are a lot of ideas going on in the 5:48 of this track. A very impressive, very soothing track. Highly recommended.
12. “Hamerstraat” – Klangriket & Sjors Mans. A lilting, floating, waltz-style tune that marries piano and strings together in a beautiful way. The pensive, restrained mood is perfectly conveyed by the strings.
13. “Tucson” – Hautefort. Rather than lock into a specific song structure or pattern, this piece flows in many directions, following melodic ideas and rhythms as they appear. The song’s mood is held down by the ghostly synths that hover just outside the frame and the occasional intrusion of a synth bass pulse. Overall, it creates a mysterious, expressive experience.
1. “Ride Down the Avenue” – Walter Martin. If you threw dance-rock, Vampire Weekend, CCR, and Jimmy Buffet into a blender, you still probably couldn’t come up with this unusually fun and exciting tune about getting older. Martin’s blurry vocals are the perfect counterpoint to the wall of cheer that he so convincingly creates. Wow.
2. “In Darkness We Feel Our Way” – Delorentos. The impassioned lead vocal performance steals the show here, and there’s quite a show to steal: the tropical-inspired indie-rock arrangement of the sound is pierced by vocal melismatics and occasional choir. The percussion here does unsung hero work in keeping the many parts of this piece on track. The results are spectacular.
3. “With Me” – Language Arts. This flickering, fluttering indie-pop/emo tune has all the best qualities of Braid and Football, etc.– lots of dreamy soundscapes paired with zinging guitar lines that make the whole thing shine like a diamond under a light. The ability to firm up into a straight-forward emo/rock phase is also a bonus, giving some diversity to the piece.
4. “The Emperor” – The Gold Web. Where At War With the Mystics was The Flaming Lips’ response to a Republican administration, “The Emperor” is The Gold Web’s response to another one. This is a huge, whirling, technicolor psych-pop nugget that draws heavily from the aforementioned era of The Flaming Lips, glam-rock, and the Beatles (if you listen close to the vocal lines and back up vocals).
5. “Giants” – Sure Sure. Recipe for this ray of sunshine: the perkiness of Ben Folds, the off-the-cuff holler of Generationals, and the precise rhythms of Bishop Allen. The piano and vocals both deserve mad props for their contributions to this fantastically summery track.
6. “Soul No. 5” – Caroline Rose. Is this a parody of money rap? Or of indie rock? Or both? Or neither? What the lyrics suggest, the video only amplifies–there is definitely something going on here lyrically. But beyond the lyrics, this is a rambunctious, rollicking rock’n’roll song with a delectable indie-pop chorus vocal melody. Whatever conclusions you come to about the tune, I can guarantee you’ll have a blast figuring it out.
7. “Portrait of Arthur Russell” – Similar Fashion. Sounds like a jazz combo and a math-rock band in a contemporary West Side Story rumble. By the time that Logan Hone starts chanting “research and dancing,” I’m all in on this totally madcap, how-does-this-all-hold-together vision of collaborative music. Also I’m researching and dancing. I can at least vouch that you will want to do the latter, but maybe even the former!
8. “Hiding Places” – Rain on Monday. Solid popcraft sometimes is codewords for “sounds like the Beatles,” but I would suggest that it has wider implications now. This solid pop song builds out of chipper acoustic guitar, bass punched way up in the mix, solid percussion contributions, well-placed synths (including arpeggiator, man I love those things), and a low-key memorable lead vocal melody in the chorus. There’s no big eruption of sound, no curveballs, just really great indie-pop throughout.
9. “Strange But True” – Western Scene. This indie-pop jam spends the first minute teasing you with what a jubilant, exuberant track this could be, then lets you have it. Big guitars, lots of cymbals (thankfully turned down low in the mix–enough to get the point across but not to shred ears), and soaring keys make this a shake-your-hips-whip-your-hair jam.
10. “Easy Company” – Safari Gold. A perfect name for the song and band. This track is an easygoing, easy-to-love indie-pop track. The whole vibe of the tune is warm and bright, just like the gold of the band name. If Lord Huron got some MGMT mixed in his drink, we might end up with something like this.
11. “10,000 Year Old Woman” – Long Neck. An immersive, convincing breakup-or-is-it? tune that goes beyond the tropes and reveals a little more of the story. The strong, clear vocal performance is the thing to write home about musically; the well-done acoustic work is also compelling.
Brook Pridemore is an acoustic-punk band that’s sometimes more punk than acoustic. But on “No Tiger, Ever,” Pridemore is downright peaceful.
A wistful, melancholy fingerpicked acoustic guitar line comes in, given some body by ambient synths and gentle found sound (although, it should be noted, the gentle spoken word clip is about increasing hostility). Pridemore’s vocals replace the spoken word and slowly reveal a single lyrical idea in a delicate vocal melody. It’s not quite a singer/songwriter ballad, it’s not quite slowcore acoustic, it’s not quite indie pop–instead, it’s a self-contained, beautiful song that bends the boundaries of Pridemore’s sound and of the genres it could be associated with. If you’re into left-of-center acoustic stuff, like Clem Snide or Eels or any of Michael Nau’s aliases, you’ll be into this track.
“No Tiger, Ever” comes from the forthcoming Metal Is My Only Friend.
I mentioned recently that lo-fi records often have the benefit of being “all of a piece”; the tendency for lo-fi artists to write, record, and release in rapid succession lets listeners get a sense of how artists feel at a given point in time. This look-in isn’t only reserved for lo-fi artists; Jenny & Tyler have been putting out songs almost weekly for about six months, courtesy of a studio they own.
Their newest album is the latest batch of work from that burst of disciplined, hard-working creativity. Jenny and Tyler recently mentioned on their Patreon that they aren’t very good at naming things, which is why their latest album is called Album Two [Patreon].
I have a humble suggestion for a name: Jenny and Tyler Fight the Darkness. Every song on this record is about fighting through hard times–eight out of ten songs mention the words “dark” or “night”. The other two are powerful opener “Who I’m Not,” which is about struggling to feel like a real person while constantly on the road, and closer “Rejoice,” which is about trusting and rejoicing in God to get through hard times. This album is for those struggling personally (“The Sun Will Rise”), relationally (“I’m Sorry”), spiritually (“Now When the Dusky Shades of Night”) and/or existentially (“In These Bones”).
These struggles are real, pitched on massive and intimate scales. On one end, there’s the cosmic sweep of God fighting evil in this mortal plane amid the lives of his people (“The Sun Will Rise,” “In These Bones”); on the intimate side, there are liner notes showing the tiny details of life (“Written on 7/11/2017 during naptime after doctor’s appointment” and “Started writing on 9/29/2017 in guest bedroom while feeding Mary at 6a”) that are no less a struggle at times. The lullabies and assurances written for their children (“Baby I Got You,” “We Will Be Here For You”) also show off the intimacy of these tunes.
The tension between epic scope and intimate detail continues on into the music. “In These Bones” is one of the best, most mature expressions of their indie-folk/indie-rock fusion they’ve yet produced. It starts off all ominous vibes and fingerpicking before building from that small kernel to a huge “whoa-oh-oh” section accompanied by thrashing cymbals, thrumming bass, and distant distorted guitar. It’ll get your blood pumping.
It’s followed up by “Now When the Dusky Shades of Night,” an old hymn sung in duet style against gently fuzzed-out electric guitar fingerpicking. It’s the sort of recording that makes it feel like Jenny and Tyler are in the room with the listener. These two extremes show that J&T have honed and are honing their sound to become consistent and recognizable across many different arrangements and settings.
Other highlights include the straight-up folk-pop of “When I Hold Your Hand I’m Home” and the sun-dappled, Jack Johnson-y, lightly funky groove of “Baby I Got You.” Both are throwbacks to their very earliest albums–it’s a great thing to hear that sound not be completely be abandoned. “Rejoice” is a solo tune from Jenny that shines in its melody as well being a fitting end to the album. Fans of Sandra McCracken will enjoy this one in particular.
This latest Patreon album is available if you become patrons of Jenny & Tyler’s. They will be re-recording tracks from Album One, Album Two, and the upcoming Album Three to develop into a full-length, public release record, so you’ll hear some of these tracks in the future even if you don’t join the Patreon. However you hear these tracks, you should get excited about them if you’re into indie folk or indie rock. Jenny and Tyler are producing high-level work at an astonishing clip, and listeners are the winners.
Paper Canoe Company‘s Beanstalk Jackis an adventurous, ambitious work. It’s a concept album about the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s pitched as a kid’s album (as a concept album about a fairy tale might be), but it’s a complex piece of work that transcends that pigeonholing. The band isn’t afraid to indulge all their ideas, as this album is 16 songs long. In short, Paper Canoe Company threw out all the rules and just made what they wanted. As a result of all these things, the album is a rewarding, engaging listen.
Starting from a grounding of acoustic folk (“Daydream”), Paper Canoe Company expands outwards in all directions: the title track and “Let Me Be” have zydeco flair via accordion inclusion, “Bestest Bargain” evokes the Simon & Garfunkel folk of “Scarborough Faire,” “Lucky Jack” is a hoedown, and “Fee Fi Fo Fum” is a Tom Waits-ian dirge. “All The Pretty Things” sounds like a dreamy ’70s pop cut, even. I won’t spoil all the surprises–there are tons, and they are fun to hear.
These tunes each serve a role in the narrative, but these aren’t showtunes–the closest the band comes is in the major/minor fluctuations and soaring vocal lines of “Look At Us Now,” where upbeat Jack tries to convince his downcast mother that the beans are actually valuable. I had a blast listening to this record–the diversity of musical styles made me think of Fountains of Wayne’s fantastic Welcome Interstate Managers. The many vocal performances throughout range from exuberantly fun to downright impressive, as well. If you’re looking for a fun record for anyone (or, I suppose, kids–the intended audience), Beanstalk Jackis a surprisingly good pickup.
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.