Big Little Lions‘ “Do Better” clip is a beautiful time-lapse of a road trip through the mountains of British Columbia. The easy-going, open-hearted, aspirational bent of the folk-pop tune that accompanies the video matches perfectly with the visuals of open sky, soaring mountains, and endless forests. I love a good video of beautiful scenery, and this one hits the spot.
The song itself is a lovely folk-pop song. Lyrically, it’s a plea for us to “do better”–be more compassionate, less judgmental, and more aware of beauty all around. Sonically, it’s got gently rumbling bass and percussion, cheery handclaps, subtle accordion and piano, and suitably big melodies.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up on a tough week/month/year/etc., this track has a lot to offer. If you crossed the Lumineers with the Low Anthem, you might end up with something like this tune. Definitely a winner.
“Do Better” comes from Alive and Well, which came out February 23 on Far Flung. You can catch Big Little Lions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify. They’re going on tour starting tomorrow, so if you’re on the East side of the country you can see them in action very soon:
4/11/2018 – Nashville, TN / Tin Roof Broadway 4/13/2018 – Roswell, GA / The BZC 4/14/2018 – Birmingham, AL / The Shed Series house concert 4/15/2018 – Orlando, FL / house concert 4/18/2018 – Palm Harbor, FL / house concert 4/19/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / house concert 4/20/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / Listening Room Festival, Palladium Theatre 4/21/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / house concert 4/22/2018 – Gulfport, FL / house concert 4/24/2018 – Nashville, TN / The Local 4/25/2018 – Mills River, NC / house concert 4/27/2018 – Springboro, OH / house concert 4/28/2018 – Cincinnati, OH / house concert
The only way to capture a dream is with art. The mediums of music and visual arts have the ability to put substance to the intangible, an unseen substance taking form before one’s eyes. Listeners can take a trip into a dream, into a mirrored existence with There is Danger. Founder Illya Riske (Reindeer Tiger Team, Whisperlights, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra), Spike, Stefan, Leah, Chelsey, Daniel, Jake, Kevin, Matt, Bryan, and Marcus create a fluid, poetic experience; a true marriage of music and lyricism that is the definition of dream pop. Mirror Eyes, via Lumberjack Records, delivers an ethereal narrative.
This sixteen-minute and fifty-nine-second neo-psychedelic journey written by There is Danger and Owen Wilson is best experienced with eyes closed, allowing the listener to fully absorb each nuanced reverberation. Attention to sonic quality is the essence of There is Danger. Mirror Eyes is a symphony that takes no form, enveloping the listener in color and beauty. Each movement is a surrealist moment that brings to mind what dreams may come. The instrumentation here is lush, featuring a depth that resonates with exotic beauty and vision. Stepping into a surrealist space with this record is necessary.
The cover art created by Davina Griego captures the essence of the lyrical dream presented here. Each brush stroke of sound is performed by There is Danger, featuring Andy Montufar on trumpet and David Moroney on backing vocals. Mirror Eyes was recorded by Adam Burd at Avast! Recording Company and mixed by Adam Burd at Burhouse.
The essence of There is Danger is an amalgamation of many moving parts coming together in a creation of color painted with notes. The finale of the work ideal: folding in instrumentation that includes horns and heavy percussion, the tune marches towards a final waking moment. The cacophony of sound and chaos that wraps the release is simply a brilliant finale to the dream.–by Lisa Whealy
Mallory Graham has a big, powerful voice well-suited to traditional, high-drama alt-country/folk (dramatic alt-country: “Viroqua, WI,” “Better for You”; folk: “Steel in My Blood”). Scott Tyler has a voice more suited to alt-folk/folk-pop a la Nickel Creek (“Take Me With You,” “Let’s Get the Band Back Together”), so they cover a lot of ground here in this album. When they sing together, it takes on a duet-ish alt-country feel with a bit of indie-pop thrown in (i.e. there’s a glockenspiel in “Steel in My Blood”).
The arrangements that support these vocals are always strong and clear; there are no fluffy songs and no filler instruments in the arrangements–just tight, strong folk music. “Bobby and Joanne” connects all their tendencies in one tune, with male/female vocals, alt-country roots, indie quirks, banjo strum, and folk-pop percussion stomp. The excellent “Tiny Moses” also is an examplar piece of work and a good starting place for people to enter the record. (Bonus / bummer: the intro will make you pine for The Low Anthem.)
I personally enjoyed the swift fingerpicking and glockenspiel of “Cohabitation Physics,” as the instruments made me think of Josh Ritter and Justin Towns Earle. The tune continues on into a fun folk-pop piece with accordion and mouth trumpet.
If you’re into a wide range of acoustic-oriented sounds, you’re going to have a lot of fun discovering the many surprises and gems of The Rough and Tumble’s We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn’t Know. It has charms galore.
Dane Joneshill‘s voice is impressive. It’s a strong, clear, and confident tenor, soaring in the right places; it’s the kind of voice people work a very long time to gain control over. Joneshill, by contrast, has it nailed on his debut album.
The vocal performances aren’t the only thing that Joneshill delivers with excellence. His arrangements, whether piano-based or guitar-based, frame Joneshill’s voice perfectly. Everything about Everything That Rises Must Convergefeels very established and mature—there aren’t any notes out of place or elements of the arrangement that detract from the songs.
Joneshill’s milieu is a gravitas-laden mix of contemporary folk, Southern rock, and singer/songwriter work; fans of Jason Isbell, Needtobreathe, Josh Ritter, and more will find themselves grabbed by this work. “First Communion” is a powerful example of his sound—start here if you’re going to start anywhere. The melodies are indelible, the arrangement pounds, and the overall product mines a deep vein of emotion.
“Live a Little” has a more southern rock vibe, a la Needtobreathe. “If I Could” features more excellent vocals from Joneshill; the vocal melodies are particularly great in the bridge. “Billy” is a great piano-led folk tune—there aren’t a lot of those, so this is high praise. This one is an elegy for a dying person, which makes it hit pretty hard. Fans of a more singer/songwriter-oriented Jason Isbell will feel this one real hard.
Speaking of hitting hard, “We Lie Together” is a devastatingly sad tune about a crumbling marriage. It might be a bit too close to home for some people, but then again, it might be encouraging in some way to those going through it.
“The Long Way Around” wraps up the record excellently, bringing all of the elements of his sound together in one strong tune. He throws in some gospel for good measure, making this one of the most fun songs in addition to being one of the most interesting. If you’re looking for some Southern music that’s full of emotion and depth, Everything That Rises Must Converge should be on your must-hear list.
I’ve been listening to a lot of major-key indie-pop lately, and Driftwood Scarecrow‘s Beyond the Breakers fits near that realm. It’s as if Alexi Murdoch’s chillness, Bright Eyes’ vulnerability, Elliott Smith’s commitment to small-sounding arrangements, Sufjan Stevens’ titles (“Concerning the Incident by the Shed”) and twee vocals all had a picnic on a sunny hill while talking about death.
Seriously though, almost all of these songs are about death and trauma: family members dying (“Buffalo”), depression/suicide (“The Herpetologist”), self-harm (“Concerning the Incident by the Shed”), terror attacks (“Maury Park”), and unspecified tragedy (“The Vermonter”), among others. But fear not: all of those songs are in major keys, quietly strummed and sung. So if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t listen to lyrics too hard, this can be super-chill! If you’re into lyrics, then those who are into Elliott Smith songs should apply within.
The arrangements are small, as mentioned above, but they are impeccably done–these songs sound confident and well-written in their quietude. You don’t have to get wild and crazy to know you’re doing what you want to be doing. I’d start with the impressive “The Herpetologist” and then move on to the deeply moving “Buffalo.”
On No Story Is Over, Son of Laughter (Chris Slaten) stretches his wings way out and shows what he is capable of. Unshackled from his original genre as a light-hearted folk-pop singer/songwriter, this indie-pop album explores wide-ranging sonic interests and complex lyrical territory.
No Story Is Over opens with a giant Illinoise-style pileup in “Voting Day,” complete with a giant horn section, gospel choir, electric guitar, and more. Slaten conjures up marching-band levels of enthusiasm in the instrumentalists and the listener. The enthusiasm continues in a different vein on “Flesh and Bone,” where there’s a Middle-Eastern sound to the strings and percussion. There’s even a flamenco-esque vibe in the swift nylon-stringed guitar performance. Slaten is a more aggrieved than charmed (“Oh my brothear! Killing me with categories! Oh my sister! Killing me with categories!”) but the energy holds throughout. It is an interesting, unique song.
“Hurricanes” is a high-drama indie rock song that has (appropriately) some sea shanty vibes. It’s the most complex tune he’s yet attempted, featuring a six-minute runtime and multiple distinct sections. There’s more than a bit of Mumfordian, high-drama folk in it. Lyrically, it aims high as well; the whole thing is an extended metaphor over the stormy relationship between the narrator and God over the problem of evil. If your opinion of extended metaphors is good, you’ll like this solidly-executed effort quite a bit.
“Take Me Down” has some more Mumfordian drama in the lyrics. The torrential arrangement still manages to include a glockenspiel and jazzy clarinet, despite the ominous minor key vibe and the dark lyrics (“I’m a monster / I’ve been this way”). But the arrangement, even in its most dense and thick, has more levity than a Mumford tune due to its choice of instruments and Slaten’s voice being less howling than Marcus Mumford’s. (Almost everyone’s voice is less howling than Marcus Mumford’s, to be fair.)
“The Meal We Could Not Make” continues that drama with choir, horns, glockenspiel and pizzicatto strings. The swift fingerpicking points toward the light folk he was doing before (as do the title track and “The Gardener”), but everything else points in his new direction. The lyrics here are moving for those of the Christian persuasion. Closer “Make Me Captive” is a worship track of sorts—the lyrics are definitely worshipful, while the music is more along the lines of the slightly-off-kilter, The Welcome Wagon approach than a CCM jam. It is quiet and far less dramatic than that of the previous tunes, pointing back toward his earlier work.
No Story Is Over suggests in its title and in its tunes that Slaten’s work as Son of Laughter is an ongoing reinvention. Slaten’s ability to pack instruments into a tune but not turn out a heavy, thick sound is deeply admirable; it will serve him well no matter where his tunes may lie in the future. Yet those who loved the bright folk-pop of his earlier work won’t feel out in the cold. No Story Is Over bridges two sounds beautifully and points off into the future–it’s quite an accomplishment.
Angela Josephine‘s “River Rising” is a mystical, mesmerizing folk tune. It’s not a folk-pop tune; this is an earthy, organic song that seems drawn out of the titular body of water or the depths of a forest. Josephine relies much more on mood, atmosphere, and impeccable arrangements than huge melodies–the result is a carefully constructed tune that is hard to stop listening to.
Mandolin is the base of this tune, but subterranean cello, loping bass, subtle percussion, and occasional dramatic violin create the sonic landscape. Josephine’s voice is the last layer on top, a low, confident voice bearing religious imagery and effortless gravitas. The tune re-tells the Biblical narrative of Rahab, a prostitute who ended up in the lineage of Christ due to her actions saving Israelite spies. (It’s really quite a wild tale.)
The coda speeds up the walking-speed tune a bit, increasing the urgency of the piece. But overall, this is a song that moves at its own measured pace, creating the vibes it wants to create and not being hurried or harried by other genre expectations. It’s an unusually compelling tune.
“River Rising” comes from her forthcoming record Daylight, which drops May 4. IC fave Chris Bathgate produced the record. You can check out Josephine on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Ezra Feinberg‘s Pentimento and Others is a deeply intriguing instrumental album that bridges the space between zen-style ambient bliss and acoustic post-rock. If you’re the sort of person who has names for different types of chill moods, you’ll be very into this.
The album opens with “God Sized Hole,” a zen, free-floating ambient track that would fit perfectly for meditation or yoga background. “True Refuge” is the highlight, a dense, layered piece that stacks gentle acoustic guitars, bass, and twinkling keys on top of each other like an acoustic version of a Teen Daze tune. It has movement like a road trip tune, building over the first few minutes to a glorious cascading guitar line that just nails it. And then, Feinberg layers on yet more melodies. But it never seems heavy—-just surging, always forward, ever forward. “Kernel and Shell” returns to the relaxing, zen ways, importing a little hippie ‘60s with dueling flutes and kalimba. It’s like Lullatone with more density. “Sweater Weather” is a pensive, solo guitar rumination, only 71 seconds long.
“Pentimento” is the math rock version of “True Refuge,” as a staccato guitar rhythm holds down the ostinato while an exploratory low-end line competes with a zooming high end line in a jigsaw-fit, mesmerizing pattern. Amazingly, Feinberg turns this mathyness into a backdrop for the slow unveiling of heavily reverbed chords, like the slow motion movement of storm clouds in the midst of a heavy summer rainstorm. It resolves into a guitar rumination (a la “Sweater Weather”), tying the two parts of the record together.
“The Sensory Floor” ties the zen and the math together, creating a warm, moving track that is not good for yoga but is good for a lot of other things. It is one of the dreamiest of the tracks. Closer “Experience Near” is the most organic of the tunes, with acoustic guitar strum leading the way through a loose, rolling arrangement reminiscent of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar artists like Makana. Imagine lounging leisurely on a beach, but not with a ukulele in your hand. If you’re into Balmorhea, The Album Leaf, or Seryn, you’ll love this.
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.