1. “Silverlake” – Underlined Passages. The dreamy indie-pop of UP’s previous work is traded for a punchy indie-rock model; Michael Nestor’s vocal lines are still flowing and smooth, but the now-more-crunchy-than-jangly guitars and snappy drums give this tune a new-found pep.
2. “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow;” – Glacier. Dense, heavily distorted, pounding guitar chords set the atmosphere for this 13-minute post-rock/post-metal epic, but there’s a lot more going on in 13 minutes than just chug (including a found-sound clip of an old time voice reading the end of Matthew 9).
3. “English Weather” – Fick as Fieves. British rock that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines, propelled forward by an indomitable syncopated guitar riff.
4. “Like Lightning” – Cosmo Calling. Fun vocal rhythms and melodies take the lead on this indie-pop-rock track. The guitars are neat and accompany well, but this one is all about the staccato, syncopated vocal delivery.
5. “Canary” – Holy ’57. There’s a certain type of major-key, drums-first vintage groove that reminds me of fuzzy home videos of summer in NYC during the ’60s and ’70s. People are rollerskating. A dude is playing a trumpet on the corner. There’s a hazy glow around everything. This indie-pop song sounds just like that (even includes a trumpet!).
6. “I Can’t Say No” – The Crayon Set. Smooth, appealing acoustic indie-pop with some fuzzed-out guitar and shimmering synths adding color. The chill vocals fit perfectly over the backdrop.
7. “Bedford” – Too Many Zooz. If you’re into Moon Hooch’s mad sax blast, you’ll be equally thrilled by the sax-trumpet-drums maelstrom that is Too Many Zooz. This video sees them bringing their incredibly infectious rhythms and powerhouse melodies to the NYC subway–at 3:33 in the morning. Stuff like this just happens at 3 a.m. in New York, I guess?
8. “Keep the Car Running” – Silver Torches. If Bruce Springsteen had emerged in this era, this might be what like he would have sounded like: surging drums, melodic piano, yearning vocals, and a serious-yet-warm atmosphere. Just a great tune.
9. “International Dreams” – Farm Hand. A rubbery, loping electronic beat underlines distant, almost-droning vocals for a tune that sounds like “My Girls”-era Animal Collective in a sleepy (yet still happy) mood.
10. “Like Going Down Sideways” – Cut Worms. Lo-fi tape hiss, Beatles-esque songwriting impulses, and “eh-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-perfect” performances make for an endearing tune.
11. “Old Fashioned Way” – Todd Kessler. Ah, yes. A calm, gentle folk love song talking about slowing down and looking back to the old fashions. It doesn’t get much more folky than this, y’all, and it doesn’t get much more chill.
12. “Enjoy It While It Lasts” – Easy Wanderlings. Strong female vocals lead the way through this easygoing folk tune. The video has an actress gallivanting around in a field, which is a pretty much perfect analogue to this wistful, nostalgic tune.
I live in the Phoenix area now, which means that my predisposition towards seasonally-themed music is suffering from a seemingly perpetual summer. It’s almost October, dang it, and it should be fall. Joel Madison Blount‘s “Inner Monologue” is a tune helping me get into that autumnal spirit.
“Inner Monologue” is a dusky, twilit tune with a bit of a split personality. The verses are downcast, summoning feelings of urban nightly gloom. (The lyrics about middle-of-the-night doubts help this mood along.) The chorus, though, is all soaring lines, yearning guitars, and hopeful lyrics: “release your burdens / let it go / just let it go.” This section has just as much ’90s Oasis-esque Brit-pop in it as it does contemporary acoustic work.
Ultimately, the back-and-forth mirrors some of the alternating cold and warmth of fall. Fans of Gregory Alan Isakov will immediately gravitate toward the tension-and-release nature of the work and the cloudy-yet-tight arrangements.
“Inner Monologue” comes from Our New Moon, which drops September 29. You can pre-order it here.
Listen to the River by The Collection opens with a midrash on 2 Samuel 6 that functions as a breakup letter to God: “I can no longer carry the ark / if it’s causing the death of my friends /
So I’ll trade that gold ballast for hand-laden altars / And baptize myself in the lake.” It’s a bold, thorny way to start a record, even if it is a fitting thesis statement for the following work that grapples with a seeming loss of faith amid a beautiful folk-orchestral suite.
For listeners tracking with Wimbish’s exploration of doubts in Christianity, this lyrical direction will not come as a surprise–but it might still hurt: lines like the aforementioned, the title “Siddhartha (My Light Was A Ghost),” and “I hope to break myself open / Drain this poison water / Let it flow back to its ocean / That I used to call, “Father”” (from “The Alchemy of Awe”) make no bones about the crumbling of faith. For those still in the faith, it’s always troubling to see people take their grievances and make for the doors; for those outside of the faith, this might read like someone coming to the light. For those who may be going through the same thing with Wimbish, this might be a vital touchpoint in the experience, along with David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches.
While Bazan has been very open with his atheism, Wimbish’s lyrics throughout still seem to be grappling. There are harsh words, yes, but there are also many moments where the harsh words seem to give way to resignation (“No Maps of the Past”) or disappointment (closer “The Listener”). The closer is sung directly at / to God, and Wimbish seems to be, yes, heading for the doors (“If I head south, will that be heresy? / No, I don’t think so”). But the fact that He’s still addressed leaves the door open enough to wonder where this will all go. That’s the thing with doubt: until it crystallizes into something else, it’s always a door that yet remains ajar.
In that opening salvo I mentioned earlier, it’s just Wimbish and a keyboard; the rest of the seven band members come crashing in afterwards. It’s indicative of the tensions encompassed in the record: the lyrics of this record are focused almost exclusively on Wimbish’s spiritual journey at the same time that the orchestral-folk unit sounds tighter than ever.
The Collection has really come into its own as a unit on this record, as Listen to the River replaces the fire and fury of predecessor Ars Moriendi with intricate, dense melodicism. Both are giant records stuffed full of instruments and vocals, this one is filled with subtle touches that play up the strengths of the band members.
Upbeat indie-pop tune “You Taste Like Wine” has a sweet (yet short) bass solo. Standout “Birds” has an astonishing clarinet melody–actually, anywhere Hope Baker’s clarinet appears is a great moment. The group vocals on “Sing Of The Moon” seem more like an actual choir singing than a giant group of people yelling. (Far be it from me, though, to knock group yelling: the shout-it-out conclusion of “Birds” is one of the most rousing moments on the record.) The electric guitar leads on “The Older One.” The songs are composed with a full outfit in mind, not just with the band as the finishing touch. As a result, the whole record is a touch calmer musically than former work.
There’s so much going on in a Collection record that there are nigh-on infinite angles to take in a review. I haven’t mentioned the lyrical themes of mysticism and divorce that run through this record, nor the sudden appearance of A Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay piano work. There’s the consistent mention of rivers and water, of sleep and waking, of going somewhere. There’s vibraphone and synth. It’s just a ton of stuff happening.
If you’re into folk-orchestra work, challenging lyrics, religious themes, and/or music that requires your full attention, Listen to the River will give you plenty. It’s heavy. You may not want to go where it’s going. It is not dumbed-down. It is an honest chronicle of where they were and what they had to give, lyrically and musically. Wimbish and co. poured it all in. That’s worth noting.
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.
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.