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Month: March 2021

Pinhdar’s breathtaking Parallel

Cecilia Miradoli and Max Tarenzi, Italian trip-hop artists known as PINHDAR, offer up the breathtaking Parallel, which is like nothing in modern psychedelic rock today.

Opener “Anacreonte” feels like dropping musical acid in preparation for an eight-song sonic joyride. Primal and powerful with its siren-like song, tribal drums contrast against synthesizers. These contradictions all perfectly entwine with Miradoli’s sexualized vocals. Working with legendary Scottish producer Howie B (U2, Bjork, Tricky, Massive Attack), it’s clear the Eurythmics’ sonic palette influenced this record’s production in all its stunning glory. The duo blends stylistic choices into sophistication rarely heard in decades since the ‘80s.

“Parallel” seems steeped in an intoxicating vibe, like a snake charmer’s song transfixing the viper so as not to strike. Each sound layer shows brilliant production. This first single reflects  the album’s weird, isolated recording process during the pandemic lockdown. The hypnotic “Parallel” contrasts with the fragile “Glass Soul,” as humanity’s disconnection perfectly meshes with the track’s discordance. It could be a difficult track for some to listen to, but it is my personal favorite.

Halfway through the eight songs, the techno rapture of “Corri” slides in. Somewhat out of place, this fairly traditional rock tune still shines thanks to its instrumentation. Harpsichord sings as subtle notes ring out, a cathedral-like ambiance creating an otherworldly distraction. Like gazing out at far-off destinations, seemingly simple lyrics are an escape from our own locked doors. “Too Late (a big wave)” broadcasts the love Miradoli and Tarenzi have for some of history’s rock and roll legends. The 1960s tempo and cadence ooze from each note.

I confess: Italian progressive metal works for me with its stark assessment of humanity. “Atoms and Dust” sings of humanity’s demise, harmonic spirals with lyrics that could land the tune firmly on any prog-metal soundtrack. This track is brilliance unleashed in its dark haunting beauty. In contrast, “Hidden Wonders” whiplashes back into space, showcasing talents like Annie Lennox’s own. The tune’s fantastic, surreal, dream sequence feel comes to life effectively. Closer “The Hour of Now” is a largely instrumental, primal journey that recalls Plastic Ono Band.

If, like me, you miss adventurous bands like Depeche Mode, PINHDAR will make your year. Hold on, close your eyes, and start PINDAR’s Parallel.  Just don’t forget to breathe. Catch the band on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and Twitter. –Lisa Whealy

Premiere: Sonja Midtune’s “Wildflowers”

There’s a great moment at the end of the trailer for The Other F Word, the documentary about punk rockers who find themselves twenty years later as fathers. Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, who looks about as punk as is physically possible, says, “Sometimes you think about, ‘Oh, should I have tattooed my forehead?’, you know?” This is about the most visceral way possible to say: parenthood changes you.

So, it is with no further adieu that I give you a song about a child growing up that made me, as a parent, absolutely joyful and weepy at the same time. I’ll just let you listen to it.

Okay, so, now that all you parents (and some of you children) out there are toast, here’s some music criticism for the rest of y’all out there.

Sonja Midtune’s “Wildflowers” is a delicate acoustic tune that navigates the space between folk, country, and adult alternative with admirable skill. Midtune’s voice is a lovely, lilting voice that keeps this grounded in folk. The subtle yet effective arrangement lends a country air to the proceedings: the twangy guitar is just right, the shuffling drums land emotively right where they should, and the atmosphere is delectably warm.

The adult alternative arm of this is in the lyrics, which focus on the changing relationship between a daughter and a mother over time. This could be presented in any genre, but the delivery of the chorus has an early ’90s level of earnest emotionality to it. It’s the sort of song that channels Sheryl Crow for people who don’t like Sheryl Crow. Ultimately, this is a beautiful, touching song that lands on every level. Especially if you’re a parent. Sniffle.

Midtune’s Dreams Melt Away EP comes out April 2; you can pre-order/pre-save it here. You can catch Sonja on her website, Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Spotify.

We were lucky enough to get a moment with Sonja Midtune to talk about the song.

Sonja Midtune in a field with brown plants forming a wall behind her. The top third has some blue sky in it. He face is pointed upward, and she is centered in the photograph.
Sonja Midtune. Credit: Michelle Lanning.

What is the story behind this song?  What inspired you to write it?
Last year, a friend of mine was talking about her daughters and said, “They’re my little wildflowers.” I thought about this analogy, how little girls grow up no matter what, whether they are met with resistance or smooth sailing, just like wildflowers can grow through a crack in the concrete. With the help of my co-writer, Candice Kelly, I connected my own story to the theme, and the song came out!

This song has a gentleness to it that is really gorgeous.  What kind of vibe were you trying to achieve with the recording of this song?  Did it come out sounding like you thought it might?
Thank you. It came out even better than expected. I didn’t want it to sound too singer-songwriter or country, and it sounds like a perfect mixture between songwriter/Americana/folk to me. We focused on natural sounds and added a little Mellotron for some flare. I really love it.

Was this recorded before the pandemic started or did you have to navigate recording during COVID?
During! I worked with a producer named Justin Glasco, and he made the process safe and slick. Absolutely no complaints! We used apps like Audio Movers to do remote sessions. I only went in the studio once to do my vocals and guitars. We were tested and used all safety protocols.

How was it working with Justin Glasco?  What kind of input did he provide on this song in particular?
Absolutely fantastic. Justin kept us both inspired throughout the entire process. He played a big part in this song. He heard my demo and thought we should change the cadence to the phrases to have that one shorter measure. When we did this, the song popped out even more. It gave it a little more country flare, but we evened it out with the instruments. We had a blast!

Paper Anthem creates a unique indie-rock universe

What does 2020 mean to you? Seizing this moment, wordsmith Joseph Hitchcock clearly defined his own eclectic experience in his third release. Paper Anthem’s The Year You’ll Never Get Back via Sophrosyne Sounds creates a unique indie-rock universe.

Hitchcock is no mere songwriter: his father’s blues-singer roots merged with his poet mother’s voice, emerging with a timeless, universal style. In eleven songs with a host of talented studio musicians, Paper Anthem trips through a stylistic array in a wildly diverse musical stream of consciousness. From the opener “Sign Language” with its weird pop vibe to the melancholy “Receipt,” it’s obvious something special is happening. Reminiscent of All American Rejects’ Tyson Ritter, Hitchcock’s phrasing increases each lyric’s emotional impact. “Within Walls” shines as one of the best of this record. It’s timely, considering our personal isolation. Introspective, voyeuristic, and even stalkerish, this track is socially distanced yet sonically perfect with backing vocals from Christopher Daddio, Zach Wilhite, and Jason Alderman.

His choice to use contrasting producers in Oakland based Christopher Daddio (Everyone Is Dirty) and Fraser McCulloch works. Recording in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Kent (U.K.) from 2017-2019 allowed for a musical evolution. Kristofer Harris (Ghostpoet, Belle and Sebastian) mixed a cohesive sonic experience, with expert mastering from London’s John Davis (Foals, Snow Patrol). 

“Mistakes” drops a haunting aesthetic, offering an ethereal confession of humanity’s weakness. I can’t think of a better representation of love or its terror-inducing state. Producer McCulloch’s restrained synthesizer soars, fitting Hitchcock’s perfect mood music. Songs like “Shatter” show the exponential growth this band’s frontman has undergone from his previous two albums. Emotional, authentic connection through simple words is all it takes here. Strutting into “Sunday” with its UK groove, the shift to punk rock feels reminiscent of The Clash. The track blends self-aware spoken word, backline magic from Christoper Daddio’s bass, and Tony Sales’ provocative drums. That’s a weighty statement. 

“Patience” invades the space in all of us that hopes for love. Simply poetry set to music, Keegan Leonburg’s acoustic guitar provides a resting place for Hitchcock’s emotive vocals. Diving further inward with each track, “Daywalker” defies vocal reason. Sivan Lioncub’s violin helps develop lush soundscapes with Cheyenne Rain’s cello. The lilting musicality of “Dreamweaver” gives space to the stunning lyricism. Artistic introspection set to a spacious sonic palate, authenticity never sounded quite like this.

Closing out his third album with “Clarity” fits. Enveloped in self, distracted yet self-aware, the track’s sonic busyness fades with the same introduction as the album’s opening song. Masterfully sequenced, Paper Anthem’s The Year You’ll Never Get Back gracefully illuminates the self-discovery journey, patiently becoming the mirror for us all.–Lisa Whealy

Riley Moore’s indie-folk does a lot with a little

sweet boy by Riley Moore is appropriately lower-cased in its title. This is a low-key effort in every way except the massive payoff. In four songs, three interludes (two of them humorous), and one demo, Moore puts his engaging voice, delicate melodies, and easygoing persona on full, impressive display without ever sounding like he’s working too hard. Yet the impact of this carefully curated space is very strong.

Moore’s singer/songwriter approach is intimate and deceptively hi-fi. He evokes the moods of lo-fi, bedroom folk but the production goals of early Tallest Man on Earth: the notes from the guitar of Mattson and Moore seem to jump pristinely, untranslated and unruffled, out of the speakers at you. Even though background noise plays prominently in opener “a hundred and fifty,” the recording is about as bright and clear as it can be. It sounds like Moore is sitting there in the room with you, working his magic. (Full disclosure: I can say this with confidence because I have actually been in the same room with Moore: Moore played my house as part of The Walking Guys.) This is the best track on the record, as the aching sonics just can’t be ignored.  “Gold” is equally intimate, with his delicate guitar playing and uber-comfy vocal tone creating a satisfying, deeply nostalgic vibe.

None of these tracks are truly guitar and voice (except the demo); they have spartan touches here and there to accentuate Moore’s voice and guitar. “Mansion”–the only track that feels fully fleshed-out, and also, meaningfully, the only song title that is capitalized–develops this tendency. The swooping electric guitar, the subtle pedal steel, and the shuffle snare beat give this my-girl-rejected-me song a tasteful country grandeur that elevates the lyrics. The lyrics here are all your-mileage-may-vary sad takes on relationships, but with the arrangement here Moore reaches up toward fitting in next to Rocky Votolato’s elegant, dignified sadness.

While “Mansion” feels done, that doesn’t mean that it’s the loudest. “stones” starts small but ratchets up to Manchester Orchestra levels of guitar crash and angsty yowl. It’s a great cut with the best line of the record (“I hope I’m damned / if I ever do wrong by you / I hope I’m damned if I do,” leaving the “damned if I don’t” punchline hanging out there unspoken, floating, emotionally punishing in its absence), but it still feels like there’s a capitalized version of this song out there somewhere.

The kicker about sweet boy is that it is funny and comforting amid its moody state; the interludes are charming reminders that we used to go to shows and chatter on stage and in the audience. “rain” is literally just the sound of rain following the emotional crash of “stones,” a sort of penance for the noise. It feels like “a hundred and fifty” is where Moore wants to live, but circumstances have forced him into “stones.” The existence of “rain” is a fitting, self-aware interlude that does a lot more effective work than most interludes.

Riley Moore’s sweet boy is a little EP that achieves way more than it really should be expected to. Everything here, even the interludes and song titles and art (I’ll leave that for you to ponder), serves to tell a story of a time in Moore’s life. Maybe it can be a time in your life too. If you haven’t heard Moore’s evocative, impressive indie-folk yet, you will soon–you can jump on the bandwagon now or later. Highly recommended.

Charles Ellsworth blossoms as a narrative songwriter

NYC has become a modern country music mecca, with the likes of Zephaniah OHora and Jason Patrick Meyers growing the city’s often harsh musical landscape. Now firmly rooted in Brooklyn, Charles Ellsworth’s Honeysuckle Summer via Burro Borracho Records continues the trend of some of my favorite country artists blossoming in the Big Apple.

My introduction to Arizona native Ellsworth came through his role as bassist with the indie folk-rock act Alaska and Me. Its 2008 debut EP I Will Die in the West shot up the charts after its release garnered national attention. But Alaska and Me suffered band implosion, disbanding only a year later. This dream-shattering disappointment mixed with the classic country and Mormon hymns Ellsworth was raised on to influence his musical development. From there, he began a prolific songwriter spree. After making solo and collaborative work in Salt Lake City, Ellsworth built up to national and international touring (Australia!) before uprooting and heading east. 

Following his solo album Cesárea (2017) and the collaborative Rose Door EP with Matt C. White (2018), Honeysuckle Summer brought together fellow Brooklyn musicians Jared Schapker (Grandpa Jack) and Blake Suben (Dirty Bird) in Philadelphia’s Headroom Studio with Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Algernon Cadwallader). 

Opener “Gripping Into Water” seems a perfect fall into this baptism. Ellsworth makes a balancing act between Americana and rock, as the rich sonic textures are perfectly mixed so that each note resonates. Ellsworth’s fierce respect for craftsmen like Jason Isbell, Tom Waits, and Johnny Cash shows in his skill as lyricist and storyteller. Life’s dark truths seem easier to swallow when delivered via uptempo country instrumentation, easy vocal tone, and careful lyrical contradictions.

“Blessed” touches that introspective place that made our country strong. Ellsworth wraps a visceral emotional streak into the shining “Laundromat” via stellar guitar work. Life’s narratives breathe in songs like this, as the songs become turning points in the process of connecting the dots of our soul. “A White Cross On A Highway” fully embraces metaphor-driven storytelling in its pathway towards rebirth, while the haunted “Miami, AZ” revisits an area of Arizona left behind. Heading towards the end of the record, “Blood in The Halls” lands with satisfying accuracy. Angry, ripping rock calls out the obsession our country seems to have with the right to bear arms over the right to just be. 

Closer “Trouble” is like finishing a great book with the protagonist readers have grown to love. Stark, yet immersive textures create an incredible experience on this final cut.  This record’s eight songs document a troubadour’s journey from his original stomping grounds to his new home (physically and mentally). Charles Ellsworth’s Honeysuckle Summer soars as he blossoms as both a man and narrative songwriter.–Lisa Whealy

Premiere: Melody Duncan’s “Lonely”

A picture of Melody Duncan against a green fence
Photographer: Katy Herndon

Melody Duncan’s “Lonely” starts off with elegant fingerpicking and whistling that evokes iconic western soundtracks. It isn’t a country song, as the song expands into a dusky, folky, orchestrally-ornamented space for the verse and chorus. Yet the song can’t shake its starkly dramatic Western underpinnings, both in returning to the whistling and in lyrically accentuating the titular loneliness that is common to so many country songs.

Duncan’s lyrics are plaintive and earnest: the chorus lines of “I’ve been feelin’ lonely / Such a matter of the head that really messes with my heart” are undeniable statements that many of us have been feeling over the past year and change. The song itself is short: few lyrics, sub-4 minute runtime. But in that short span, Duncan’s lyrics and arrangement create a space that balances yearning for community and acceptance of the difficulties of community (“We can choose to be different, you and I”). There’s a lot packed into a little; the economy of this song is one of the things that sells it.

Duncan’s voice is the other thing that sells it. Her lush alto range is elegant, her straightforward delivery is disarming, and the vocal nuance she puts on lines is compelling. Her vocal performance isn’t ostentatious, and that lack of drama ironically gives the song that much more emotional heft. This is a tune for the lonely by the lonely–not the theatrically lonely, just someone who actually is lonely.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful song.

We were lucky enough to get a Q&A with Duncan about “Lonely”:

What prompted you to write this song? Is there a story behind it? What is the message you wanted to convey or the tale you wanted to tell?
I actually started writing this song earlier in 2020, but the lyrics came together during the first few months of the pandemic. It expresses having feelings of emotional isolation but deciding to reach out despite them. I think when we’re low, it can be life-giving to reach out to someone else, even when it’s difficult.

You recorded everything yourself. Was that a daunting thing, or did you feel like you were completely in your element? How so?
I really enjoy the recording process. It can be extremely difficult, but it’s that much more rewarding when it finally comes together in a way that feels complete. I enjoy learning new recording techniques and experimenting with different compositions. The most challenging thing about recording in a home studio is dealing with outside sound. My studio isn’t completely sound-proofed, so there were times I couldn’t record due to the noise of lawn mowers, rain storms, neighbors talking outside, etc. However, it is also the reason I was able to capture some really cool nature sounds on several tracks.

And related to the last question, what was the easiest part of the recording process? The hardest? How was this song in particular to record?
There are a lot of great perks to recording in a home studio. I was able to set my own timetable, experiment with different ideas, and spend a lot of time in between takes with my dog, Atlas. The hardest part about recording this song was trying to record without the noise of a large generator in the background. Someone was doing construction in my neighborhood, so after several takes with too much noise, I actually moved my entire studio to a different room, sound-proofed the new room, and started over.

If you had to describe your music using only five words or adjectives, how would you describe it?
My dog really likes it. 🙂

Time to share: what is a secret about this song, or about your album, that you’d like to tell our readers that they can’t learn anywhere else?
I was originally going to use a different guitar on this song, but one of the frets was slightly warped. After many hours and several attempts at trying to force the fret in tune, I changed the entire setup for the song to fit the guitar used in the final recording. However, I’m really glad it worked out that way, because I like the final result.

Wolf Song comes out March 12. Catch Duncan at her website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram.