1. “Sun” – Cavegreen. Stomping toms, dense synths, heavily reverbed guitar squalls, and feathery female vocals drop this piece into a triangle between synth-pop, folk-pop, and earthy new-age work. It’s an impressive, unique sound.
2. “Back to Life” – Mama Ghost. It’s got a folk-pop chassis, but the engine is “Lean On”-levels of pop catchiness and chanting vocal hooks and the paint job is a sweet whistling hook. If this were the type of thing that was on the radio, I’d be listening to the radio more.
3. “Hold Us Together” – WILD. I am pretty sure I will always have room in my heart for an anthemic folk-pop song featuring group vocals, big melodies, clapping, and thumping tom hits.
4. “February” – Smith and Thell. These Swedes meld the soaring drama of Irish folk melodies (that fiddle!), the stomp-and-clap enthusiasm of folk-pop, and the soulful piano of Hozier-style work to come up with a bold, very catchy sound.
5. “Ghosts” – Mara Simpson. Theremin is a really cool concept, but it has to be used really well to connect with me. Simpson here implements long notes held by the instrument to contribute an eerie cast to a singer/songwriter tune.
6. “Portraits” – Runabay. Hypnotic, jangly guitar meets swooping cello and layers of percussion and vocals to create a thick, full sound. The jaunty violin melody at the very end seals the deal.
7. “What a Life” – Ziegler Co. Old-timey acoustic pop is a tough thing to pull off without sounding cheesy, but Ziegler Co. keep things simple enough that the vintage songcraft doesn’t sound cliche. Instead, it’s recognizable and smile-inducing.
8. “Cheap Words” – The Bergamot. Songs with a lounge-singer vibe usually aren’t mining a deep emotional vein, but this one is an exception. Fans of Josh Rouse, Josh Radin or Josh Ritter will find that the gentle vibraphone, male/female duet, and subtle groove create an engaging emotional experience that is right up their alley. The glitchy, unexpected coda makes the track even more exciting.
9. “Border Town” – Boom Gallows. A bed of dreamy pad synths; muted, trumpeting synths; rattling percussion; and casual guitar strum allows the female vocals to mosey through a environment that sounds as if Braids had gone acoustic. It’s a lovely, lush experience without being over-produced or overwhelming.
10. “Brother Mars” – L-Space. Here’s a tender, wide-eyed song depicting what it would be like emotionally to live on Mars. The vocal melodies and harmonies mesh wonderfully with the lyrics to create a real sense of wonder.
11. “Get Physical” – PEP. I’m not usually a fan of spoken word in pop songs, but the chorus here is so much fun that it’s hard to resist. Fans of Grouplove will be all into this.
1. “Hollow” – Musketeer. Control of line length is a very fine skill that is deeply under-appreaciated when thinking about what makes a song good. But Musketeer’s careful control of where words start and end, how many syllables get in a line, and how long each syllable should be held give this a very distinct air. His lovely vocal tone and deft, airy arrangement help as well, but it’s those vocal lines that make this the excellent track it is.
2. “Blue” – Ziegler Co. The glockenspiel (kalimba? so hard to tell sometimes) that opens this track sets the stage for a beautiful back-porch rumination that I could listen to on loop for a very long time.
3. “Marjorie” – Reddening West. The almost-reverent, elegaic arrangement to this folk tune creates a gorgeous frame for mournful vocals. Fans of Blind Pilot and The Low Anthem should latch on.
4. “Beggar Woman” – Eden Hana. Hana makes dusky, soulful magic here with nothing but two female vocalists and a banjo.
5. “Tall Towers” – Wolfcryer. Matt Baumann’s baritone and incredible way with melodies make him one of my favorite troubadour-style folk singers. Wolfcryer will donate all the proceeds from this particular political tune to the ACLU.
6. “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra. This is a moving, arresting version of the traditional spiritual. The non-traditional part: Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra is from Norway.
7. “Waltz” – Andrea Silva. The vocal tone and performance here grab me and don’t let go for the duration of the four-minute singer/songwriter tune.
8. “Dalliance” – Ziegler Co. Impressive three-part harmonies give this good-natured acoustic track a sunshiny cast.
9. “Dance Dance” – No Ninja Am I. Somewhere between the forlorn serenity of Sufjan’s Michigan, the mystical side of Simon and Garfunkel, and the William Fitzsimmons’ subtle depths of emotion lies this beautiful track.
10. “New York” – Passing Pines. I love a good brushed snare, and that particular percussion style underpins a rolling, expansive, pastoral folk track. It sounds like a peaceful walk through a breezy, bright forest. (Not the dark, thick ones of Fleet Foxes tracks.)
11. “Alice” – Timid, the Brave. Some songwriters know how to combine a vocal melody, an arrangement, and production job to create maximum gravitas. This mature, fully-realized folk mosey makes me feel like Timid, the Brave could be a great opener on a The Barr Brothers, Josh Ritter, and Alexi Murdoch super-tour. Check the lovely, distant trumpet.
1. “Holy Moly” – The Forgotten Man. This super-charged indie-rock tune has the whoa-ohs of street punk, the thrashing drums of a rock band, and country touches in the vocals. Yet there remains an overall sense that this could have been a folk tune at one point, albeit in a slower tempo. It’s a blast to hear lead singer Wilson Getchell belt out, “HOOOO-lllly MOOOO-llllyyyyy” in the chorus.
2. “Spring” – The Shifts. Manages to bring together the “bum-bum-da-da-da”s of indie-pop, the melancholy arrangements of minor-key indie-rock and the fury of post-rock vocals together into one eclectic, electrifying, impressive whole.
3. “Bravo Sierra” – Glories. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make it work really well: here’s some Explosions in the Sky-style, controlled-chaos post-rock, complete with thrashing drums, soaring guitar leads, crunchy distortion, and memorable melodies you can hum along to.
4. “Sea Six” – Datura Daydream. This nearly-nine-minute journey starts off a post-rock piece, then transitions into a driving rock piece with classic-rock tones in the guitar; the murky, distant, heavily reverbed vocals add more texture. The bass then gets in on the action with a bass solo. Then it’s back to post-rock guitar screaming, followed up by some more rock, then some post-metal. Radness.
5. “Thunderbolts I Scatter” – The Angelus. The tag on the Angelus’ work is “Dark Hymnal Slowcore,” which sort of gets at the spirit of the thing, if not the sonics of it. The Angelus is equal parts post-rock (in stormy instrumental fury) and indie rock (via Emil Rapstine’s Nick Cave-esque, occasionally apocalyptic howl and some slightly dialed-back instrumentals in places). This particular track is a furious, ominous, thrashing instrumental that’s almost post-metal in its approach. Fans of Russian Circles will find much to love throughout the record, but especially here.
6. “Deep Blue Heart” – Solhund. This tightly arranged, carefully engineered instrumental track has “movie soundtrack” written all over it, from the pulsing synths/percussion mix to the dramatic string section.
7. “Obsessed” – The Co-Founder. Here’s a crunchy emo/indie-rock tune featuring complex instrumental interplay in the verses, leading into a chorus of churning drums and roiling guitars. Strong, emotive vocals layer on throughout.
8. “Cross” – AB7VN. The cascading strings, thrumming bass, and syncopated drumming make for one of an air of cool all throughout this instrumental piece. Could easily pass for the soundtrack to a really intense section of a dungeon-crawling RPG.
9. “Encore” – Roast Apple. Right when I’d given up on dance-oriented, Interpol-esque post-punk giving me a thrill, Roast Apple come along with tight melodies, slick production, and an attitude of cool. It might get harder to get the gold out of a well-tapped vein, but the best can still do it.
10. “Mexican Jackpot” – Flagship. A tight, focused, lightly-dancy indie-rock song with connections to Capital Cities’ and Cold War Kids’ sonic spaces.
1. “Outlandish Poetica” – Jonathan Something. A wild, whirling track that takes bits of Pavement slacker rock, lo-fi enthusiasm, kitchen sink-arrangement, and mystical/religious fervor and blends them into something unclassifiable. Also, Larry Bird is involved. Not kidding.
2. “Jungle – Saint Mesa. Starts off as a deconstructed electro-pop song and slowly edits all the missing parts back in until it’s just a big, towering, Bastille x ODESZA jam. Whoa now.
3. “Unsymmetrical” – Eli Raybon. A spitfire vocal attack and groove-heavy bass anchor this deconstructed post-punk/indie-rock blitz.
4. “Dear Abby” – Rees Finley. This song operates exactly in the space where indie-pop meets pop-punk, which is an area where Relient K and Say Anything have spent a lot of time. The vocal and instrumental melodies are infectious.
5. “Big Deceiver” – Foresteater. Fans of twee indie-pop with full-band arrangements (like It’s a King Thing) will find much to love in the distinctly charming vocal style, twinkling guitars, and warm background vocals.
6. “The Shield” – Syntax Club. They hail from Oklahoma and have the least tropical name I’ve ever heard, but this outfit has the reverb-heavy, super-laid-back, beach-friendly indie-pop thing on lock. The earnestness with which it is all pulled off keeps them just shy of yacht rock. And that’s a great thing.
7. “The Glow” – Mateo Katsu. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel will have their eyes brightened by this rambling, shambling indie-pop tune led by a wistful, winsome accordion melody. There’s also some Weezer influences in the chug to the strum and the arc of the melodies. In short: long live the indie ’90s.
8. “Up” – Ships Have Sailed. SHS follows in the vein of Grouplove, Magic Giant, and Moon Taxi in creating really fun dance-oriented pop-rock out of primarily acoustic parts. This one’s a mid-tempo piece, but that makes it no less fun.
9. “No Going Back” – Ghosts of Social Networks. If Funeral-era Arcade Fire and the Killers had a child, it would sound a lot like this enthusiastically dancy indie-rock track.
10. “Honey Honey” – SISTERS. Subtle things sometimes make all the difference: the claves here match perfectly with the guitar tone and the soft vocals to create a great atmosphere. From that beginning, the song blossoms out into an expansive, post-Transatlanticism indie-pop-rock track. They incorporate synths well too, creating a synthesis of a lot of different ideas on indie-rock into one very exciting track.
1. “Jessie” – Morricone Youth. This inventive track blends lounge-y jazz saxophone with a Spaghetti western percussion backdrop and an Album Leaf-esque, dreamy digital/analog arrangement. Definitely not something you’ve heard before.
2. “Weather Spirits – Yellowhead. Zinging, ping-ponging synth bonks rattle around over a staccato percussion line and neat samples (static, as well as what sounds like someone breathing) in this instrumental hip-hop track. It’s a way fun ride.
3. “Yamakuza Sunrise” – Sky Vettel. Breakbeats percussion, dj scratching, UFO noises, and funky vocal samples: sign me up for that instrumental hip-hop throwdown.
4. “Post Mortem Muscle Memory” – London Missile. This instrumental hip-hop track skews closer to a chillwave or twee tune, as subtle beats give frame to hushed fuzz, light glitching, a mini-breakbeat section, and sun-dappled moods. Pogo would love this.
5. “Corfu Town” – Hauture. Some chillwave tunes are reverb-heavy fuzz-taculars, but Hauture takes the opposite approach here in creating a precise, pristine electro tune with dreamy atmospheres created through the tones of the synths instead of giant clouds of reverb. The results are a tight, snappy tune that will appeal to fans of Teen Daze.
6. “Lumière” – Noel. There’s so much gravitas packed into this little piano-led instrumental piece that it feels like it could suck the air right out of a room. Made me think of the visual and emotional tension of Inception (but thankfully, the giant foghorns of the soundtrack are not present).
7. “Suddenly Overcome” – Theo Alexander. Like casting stones in swiftly moving water, this piece features left hand chords dropped into a rushing, tumbling right-hand pattern that slowly fades into the background. It’s like a classical piano version of the trick LCD Soundsystem pulls in “All My Friends,” put to very different ends. It’s an emotionally satisfying piece.
8. “INSTYNKT V” – Wojtek Szczepanik. This solo piano piece manages to balance the tensions of soothing and driving, chords and individual melodies, high drama and serene emotions.
9. “Why Go To Paris?” – Alex Tiunaev. A delicate, tender, atmospheric solo piano piece that evokes romantic, mysterious, and melancholy images of the dusky urban cafes in the titular city.
10. “Stairs” – Elgin Thrower Jr. Gentle reverb and hands shifted to the right of the keyboard create an ethereal, soft, pretty piano piece that gracefully moves through space.
11. “Edinburgh” – Nick Watson. Having visited the titular city in 2016, I appreciated the subtle themes that run through this piano-and-strings composition. There’s some city noise in the background, but a gentle set of chords and melodies from the piano take the forefront. (Edinburgh is a bustling place, but there’s also quite a bit of serenity there.) When the strings come in, there’s a sense of arch elegance in the tone contrasting with some severe, serious bowing and rhythms. The city is beautiful but also Scottish: grey, wet, dark, and gloomy. My visitor’s impression of the city is well-captured in this piece.
Reinvention can be challenging: Danny Elfman’s groundbreaking band Oingo Boingo went through a variety of changes, while Berlin changed the record industry’s perception of the band when Terri Nunn re-joined the outfit. Rather than a flashback, Oklahoma City’s former Starlight Mintsfrontman Allan Vest and producer Barb Vest are having no issues creating magic withan incredible blend of vibes that includes touches from the best of the 1980s new wave experimental revolution. DoubleVee is set to release its debut album, The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider, on February 10 via CEN/RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music. Not a bad way to start.
Jack the Rider was recorded and produced at their home studio in Norman, Oklahoma, with some mixing and mastering from Matt Pence at The Echo Lab and additional mixing and mastering from Wes Sharon at 115 Recording. The results are an incredibly cool, distinct concept album. The album follows the story of Jack, a traveler who descends from remnants of the Twilight Zone. The ten songs are a trippy wander, and it is easy to see how the former Starlight Mints work has been exposed to Iggy Pop and David Bowie. “‘Jack the Rider” integrates the vocal gifts of both Vests into a solid, subtle instrumentation that highlights the story. The tune transitions into “What You Deserve,” with background strings and whistles suggesting a stroll down a twisted version of Sesame Street.
“Frucus Minus (The Flycatcher)” is theatrical, the instrumentation a hip go-go grind. Somehow the music overwhelms the stench of the tale, like flowers popping out through manure in a garden. Allen’s beginnings as an adopted child seem to sing through the album: lost but found, alone but belonging–a DNA search around the time of this record found his birth father to be a music store owner in Houston area during the 1960s. “Dangerous World” delivers that feeling with Ziggy Stardust alienation. It also verifies the fact that we are who we are meant to become when the rubber meets the road. The piano-driven “Motorcade Serenade” is perfect; a march into a fuller instrumentation never feels inauthentic.
Ethereal vocals from Barb Vest drift into “Jose’s Apparition,” feeling an echo from Allen. Strings become a force in the story, a complete paradox to the feel of the song. One might think Jose is a tequila reference, especially if listeners have experienced the wrath of the morning after. The introduction of “Bumper Car Parade” definitely is hallucinatory. This is concept art, music, and theatrics worth the attention of Tim Burton. Hitting the retro stroll of “Quiz Show,” the perky feel is a TARDIS of sorts, collecting tidbits of musical history along the way. The modern mashup is impeccable.
Downtempo for the first time in Jack’s journey, “Wait In Blues” is real love. Heading out of the album, listeners are invited to be witnesses to the transformation that time and the journey made possible over another summer. Back to Oklahoma, Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider comes full circle with “Nocturnal Boy.” Bright and uptempo, often the most demanding challenges become the most rewarding paradoxes in life. Concept albums can be memorable for listeners and thrive for generations. The debut effort from doubleVee has the potential to be one of those special albums.–Lisa Whealy
Nichoals Roberts’ Springbok Sessions video for “River to a Flood” sets him in nature, hanging out in the grounds behind the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando. It’s sunset, and there’s a hazy background that could be a lake, a river, or some other wide expanse. The serene conditions are a perfect match for Roberts’ delicate, almost crystalline tune; his whisper-folk voice meshes seamlessly over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. There are traces of William Fitzsimmons’ hushed intensity here, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era elegies. The results are magnificent; it’s a beautiful rendition of an excellent song.
1. “Me to Bleed” – Madeleine Dopico. Dopico’s powerful voice and large range are on full display here, as she just powerhouses her way through a churning, pounding indie rock tune. It sounds like an unhinged Lake Street Dive working a minor key. Wow.
2. “Pin on a Map” – Fiesta Morose. The band name is perfect here, as the high-drama dourness of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave meets the full-band enthusiasm and stylistic precision of early Arcade Fire in a beautiful collision.
3. “Property” – Jillian Steele. Sometimes a pop song jumps out of the pack and impresses itself upon my brain. This female-empowerment anthem is a acoustic-pop jam that opens up into a big, memorable, Lilith-Fair-esque chorus.
4. “Orbit Berlin” – Evil Astronaut. This thrumming, brooding electro-pop tune has a big human heart via the vulnerable vocal performance and and expertly-employed vocal modulations, harmonies, and counterpoints. The big, heavenly-sounding synths at the end help that warm feeling along.
5. “This Mess Won’t Make Itself” – Dead Seem Old. Songs influenced by flamenco guitar are just always so jubilant and lively, even when not in a major key. This dance-inducing track includes rat-a-tat vocal rhythms, perky horns, and a great mood. Awesome.
6. “Captain’s Ship” – Sasha and the Bear. This swaying, undulating indie-pop track is woozy in the best way: there’s a sense of the unusual and unexpected hanging over this track, from the rhythms to the unique vocal tone to the mix of delicate stringed instruments and big synths. It’s infectious.
7. “Live Like You (The Empty Vignette)” – Eli Otterholt. The lovely instrumental mood is a mix between the calm of Alexi Murdoch and the sweep of Gregory Alan Isaakov. The multi-generational lyrics spin a compelling tale of hope and love.
8. “Walk Towards the Fireworks” – Liam Paton. Ostensibly a solo piano composition, this excellent track combines gentle brushed percussion, lush strings, melodically interesting piano, and even horns to create a whirling, enveloping landscape.
9. “Rain” – Delafaye. A sleepy, reverb-laden acoustic piece that really evokes the mood of grey day. The vocal melodies in the chorus are particularly great.
10. “Sweetly” – The Show Ponies. There’s always room in my heart for a tender, unfussy love song. The warm acoustic guitar performance, earnest female vocal performance, and ear-catching vocal melodies put this tune on the top shelf.
After nearly twenty years of performing, Oklahoma’s Travis Linville has performed worldwide from dive bars to festivals to YouTube music shows to television appearances on CMT and The Tonight Show. Stepping to the front of the stage with his country-and-blues-tinged indie folk, Linville is set to release Up AheadFebruary 3, 2017.
To support his constantly evolving skill as a songwriter, Linville enlisted the help of studio musicians who have also performed with him live. David Leach (John Fullbright) joins on upright bass, Ryan Jones (Oklahoma Opry) plays keys, and two diverse percussionists round out the sound: Matt Duckworth (Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus) and Mike Meadows (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson). Linville himself performed all vocals, guitars, lap steel, pedal steel, mandolin, and dobro. The result is a well-crafted piece of art in the form of a ten-song trip down a country lane.
Listeners can almost smell the “Flowers in Your Hair,” smelling the rain as it falls in some skilled mandolin from Linville. Working subtly, the lyricism has a folk Americana flair. Shifting to a more indie feel, “Wishes” still paints with vivid cinematic imagery: authentic and real. Linville is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who is great at pulling in other talents: Jones steps in on keys during “Two Times the Fool,” pulling the stroll into an introspection that everyone can relate to. Nearly halfway through the album, mid-tempo road trip “Finding My Way” is driven more by bass, percussion, and slide guitar.
Country influences are king on “Bar Room,” as the sly humor of Linville’s songwriting is blatantly cool here. You can almost smell the stale beer and sawdust on the floor. The birth of some great music took place in the dingy places, and this song has that East Texas drawl. A great songwriter makes the listener feel, and “Fade to Winter” is a great transition. Sequencing and an intelligent mix makes this song a stronger statement than maybe it started out as lyrically.
“Up Ahead” is the title track for a reason. It encompasses all elements of this musician, from his influences to his experiences: Okie music is influenced strongly by all genres from Texas country to the Nashville sound. This is a beautiful way to start wandering down the road out of this album. “Waltz Ahead” is a slow dance, plain and simple–and that is its beauty. It is is the only song in three quarter time on the album, making it stand out with even more emphasis. Taking that stand-out quality to the next level, “Going Down Easy” is a showcase of musicianship with a solid blues vibe. “Worried Mind” caps off this acclaimed solo release.
Rich with textures, Up Ahead is a soulful and authentic sensory journey of an everyman with a guitar. After this release, listeners will hear the beauty of his truth standing in the spotlight. Get a copy today.–Lisa Whealy
1. “Drop a Pebble” – Cálido Home. The rhythms, melodies and arresting female vocal tone create a skipping, dancing, beautifully complex acoustic tune. The melodies are particularly memorable.
2. “Take Me Home” – Nick Nash. A straight-ahead alt-country song with strong vocals is the vehicle for some working-class musings that Jason Isbell would love: “Give me a Jesus that I know, not the one you say I never will / Give me the ignorant working saints, not the enlightened rich with their fame.” The rest follows suit; really great writing here.
3. “Autumn Moon” – Johnny Nobles. The chorus melodies here are lovely: the lead melody dips low against a counterpoint harmony that soars gently upwards. The strings that come in right after seal the deal on this singer/songwriter tune.
5. “One Day” – Alex Hedley. Hedley’s voice is evocative and emotive over rippling, smooth acoustic guitar.
6. “Will to Abide” – Nathan Andrew Jones. A swooning fiddle and keening pedal steel are sweet counterpoint to an earnest melody and “weary love” lyric in this (alt?) country tune.
7. “Merry Margaret” – David and Brittany Farkas. The mandolin and baritone male vocal give this full-band folk tune an unusual, intriguing sound.
8. “State of Grace” – Last Builders of Empire. One section of a longer song cycle about the afterlife, this post-rock tune sets an elegant mood that reflects the title, but with a bit of distortion and grit to ground it.
9. “Baracus” – Moyamoya. The enigmatic and attractive album art for this song belies the tensions in it: The guitar riffs are really wiry and brittle for a post-rock tune, the tune has a sort of optimistic cast in the key, and the percussion keeps a lockstep beat reminiscent of krautrock. But, right when confusion reaches maximum, a wall of sound appears. So there’s something for every post-rock fan here.
10. “Idle” – Sthlm Falls. Without the searing lead melody, this would be a rolling acoustic guitar composition; without the guitar, this would be a minimalist ambient piece. Together, it’s not quite either thing, creating its own place in the world.
11. “Folds” – Nathan Shubert. The delicate, precise, rushing nature of the piano here makes the keys almost sound like pizzicato strings. The clicking of the keys as they hit and the moving of parts make this an intimate yet oddly intense piece. It’s powerful but in a restrained mood; it’s full of energy but sounds just as much like a rippling river as the rush of people in a subway station. It’s gorgeous.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.