I’m always honored when I get asked to premiere tracks, but I don’t often do it–I want to be fully behind a band before I put my seal of approval on it. But there’s a premiere today, because I am 100% behind Charlotte, North Carolina’s Ancient Cities.
Ancient Cities’ “Werewolf” is a complex tune that deceives you into thinking it’s not as difficult as it is. Songwriter Stephen Warwick deftly balances gentle acoustic guitar, walloping drums, lazy horns, reverb-washed tenor vocals, and warbly synth in a way that makes each of those disparate parts feel like a natural part of the arrangement. In lesser hands, it could be a mishmash, but Warwick’s arrangement gives each instrument space to be itself. The song comes together, and it seems obvious. Of course it’s supposed to sound like that. (But it didn’t have to–that’s the magic.)
This excellent songwriting is capped by a deft production job that keeps the “laid-back cool” vibe going throughout the entire song. Beck would be proud. “Werewolf” draws from folk, trip-hop, the Gorillaz, and heavily-arranged singer/songwriter fare to create something beyond all of that. “Werewolf” is a fascinating, memorable track that I bet you’ll want to push repeat on.
The Old Town School of Folk Music is a pretty amazing establishment in Chicago. Whenever I hear its name invoked, it’s always in the context of some brilliant traditional music. Charming Axe, which features a teacher from Old Town, is no exception. If you’re into traditional Appalachian harmonies and instrumental style, you’ll fall in love with Charming Axe‘s Gathering Days.
The trio features a bright, traditional Appalachian folk sound that’s heavy on mandolin, banjo, and vocal harmonies. In contrast to more modern folk bands like Mumford and Sons or even Nickel Creek that create a very loud, percussive sound, Charming Axe keeps things light and warm here. The majority of the songs are covers, although there are some nice originals. This gives them strong source material to work with; they can focus on their performance and arrangement of tunes by masters like Bill Monroe, Earl Montgomery, and the Louvin Brothers. They also put a pleasing folk spin on tunes by more contemporary pop artists like James Taylor and Bruce Cockburn.
Traditionalists will love this trio; they play ‘em like nothing has ever changed. There’s something warm and comforting in this sound, and that’s not something to be taken lightly these days.
One of the many things I do is teach at a university, which means that my summers are a little less hectic than “real life” strictly demands that they be. I’m not sitting around and playing Skyrim every day, but I am a little more in touch with the lazy summers of youth than some. That’s why Summerooms‘ self-titled album appeals to me so much: it’s perfect lazy summer pop.
It also helps that Summerooms is the side project of the prolific Josh Jackson (of Fiery Crash, not of Paste). Jackson usually splits his time between fuzzed-out dream pop and bleary-eyed acoustic work, but in Summerooms he lets those lines blur in a delightful, delicious way. It’s a testament to Jackson’s thoughtfulness and status as a student of music that he tagged the release as dream pop, folktronica, hypnagogic pop, indie folk, jangle pop, and neo-psychedelia. All of these tags are fitting, which proves A. how many people will love this release and B. how diverse he manages to make the offerings here. The best part about B is that even with the varieties throughout, the mood remains consistent. This is for the dreamy, chill, relaxing days of summer.
“Try to Wake Up” is a perfect example of Jackson’s cross-genre mash. The twinkly guitar line has the rhythms of The Last Man on Earth-style indie folk, while it has the tone of dream pop and the subtle energy of hypnagogic pop. Outside of genre labels, it’s a happy, quiet, dreamy tune that doesn’t get ponderous. He follows it with the ambient/chillwave interlude “Seth’s Backyard” before delivering a drum set, some guitar chords, and more tons of reverb in the neo-psychedelia/dream pop of “Ohm I, Ohm E.” All of these tunes are delivered with a guileless, wonderfully relaxed tone. You just can’t beat it for relaxing to.
Summerooms is a beautiful, chill, sun-dappled album that doesn’t need me to explain it to death. If you like lo-fi pop that will put you in a good mood, you’re going to love it. Here’s to lazy evenings by the pool and in the hammock.
Buffalo Clover captures a timeless sound on Test Your Love. The mix of ’60s hippie rock, old-school Southern rock, motown horns, female-fronted soul, and even some gospel is a sound both fresh and familiar. The performances are crisp and tight, held together by a superb production job that lets you hear everything going on (from the vocals to the bass to the oh-so-important tambourine). It just sounds right.
You can pick any spot in the record, and you’ll find gold. Some starting points: “Come Into My House” is a ’60s San Fran rocker all the way; “The Ruse” taps some Southern Rock piano and CCR-style guitar lines; “Truthfulness” is an excellent vocal turn for both the lead and the background vocals. Buffalo Clover have clearly worked long and hard on their sound, as it comes off completely polished and tight here. J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Needtobreathe, and other bands with that vibe should find a tour partner in Buffalo Clover.
The first half of this list is marked by songs that rock out really hard. The second half is marked by songs that are outside your normal arrangements.
Rock Out / Quirk Out
1. “Station Wagon Apocalypse” – The Outfit. I’d just like to point out that this incredibly-named garage-rock tune is not even the best name on the two-song EP. (That would be “Tyrannosaurus Surfboard,” YOU’RE WELCOME.) As to the tune itself: Big drums, big guitars, big vocals, big fun.
2. “Be Cool” – Cancers. Cancers is the missing link that makes me think Sleigh Bells might not have been robots from the future and instead were just really, really hyped up ’90s kids.
3. “Last Forever” – Fenech-Soler. As a bassist myself, I appreciate it when a song is so thoroughly dominated by bass that the guitar and keys just kind of follow along. When those songs are also jubilant dance tracks with irresistible shout-it-out vocals, well. Well, well.
4. “Metronome” – The Yuseddit Brothers. There was a brand of ’90s grunge/slacker-rock that took pride in sounding like it was kind of underwater. This low-slung groove has that fuzzy-edged production value to match the not-so-ambitious tempo and tone. Chillax, y’all.
5. “Bright Eyes, Black Soul” – The Lovers Key. Sometimes I hear a song outside of genres I usually cover and think, “WHOA WHY DON’T I LISTEN TO THAT GENRE MORE.” Probably because I’m hearing an elite artist, but I don’t know. Anyway, The Lovers Key has me interested in aggressive Blue Eyed Soul with some serious motown horns stacked up on it. This makes me think of a James Bond movie. Can’t really explain that either.
6. “All in a Day’s Work” – Horizontal Hold. As a mid-point between rocking out and quirking out, I submit Horizontal Hold, which is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies at the moment.
7. “You Are My Summer (feat. Coleman Hell and Jayme)” – La+ch. This is a perfect electro-pop tune. In musical world that I ran, this would be the big hit of the summer. It’s got Icona Pop infectiousness and Cobra Starship restraint. What’s not to love?
8. “Old K.B.” – The Solars. Speaking of motown influences, here’s a piano-pop tune fronted by a guy who sounds like Jack White that features organ and horns. This thing grooves way more than piano-pop fans are probably comfortable with. THAT’S OK!
9. “Unrevenged” – Floating Action. Rubbery bass, ethereal background vocals, driving percussion? Clearly indie-pop, but not any like you’ve imagined recently. Has me all stoked for the album.
10. “I’m To Blame” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. After sending us a folky tune for the first single, the second one is a incredible mash-up of jazz trumpet, Radiohead vocals, Muse craziness, and a totally rad guitar solo. It is, in a word, different.
11. “It Doesn’t Even Matter” – Onward Chariots! If the Kings of Convenience had more quirky pop arrangements, it might end up something like this.
12. “Rockingham” – Kasey Keller Brass Band. 58 seconds of found sound, gentle synths, and meandering acoustic guitar paint a sonic picture extremely well. Very cool stuff here.
13. “Shadow’s Song” – Foxes in Fiction. Chillwave + Owen Pallett? TOTALLY THERE, MY FRIENDS.
Here are some neat things that are happening in the music world.
Singer/songwriter Aaron Hale (whose music IC is quite fond of) is now part of The Orphan Care Network as the head of artistry and advocacy. Helping orphans through art? I would say that’s pretty much in line with everything I want to be about. He is currently booking house shows in the Texas/Arkansas/Tennessee/Alabama area. If you want to host/attend a house show, get more information, or support him financially, you can e-mail him at email@example.com.
Andrew Judah is the best singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of (and I hadn’t heard of, until recently). He’s put up all his incredibly complex, unique and engaging work for free on Bandcamp so that you can get to know him better ahead of his upcoming release Monster (which I am absolutely thrilled for). So if you don’t feel like supporting artists but wants lots of music, this one’s for you!
Julianna Barwick and Dogfish Head Brewery are two of my favorites at their respective games. (Julianna Barwick might be the only person in her loop-one-voice-into-dozens game, but the approval still holds!) They’ve teamed up to make a beer and an EP named Rosabi; the EP includes the sounds of the beer being made. The beer, however, does not come with a download of the album (wishful thinking!). You can pick it up wherever Dogfish Head is sold; it just went on sale 6/20, so hopefully there’s some left at your local store of choice.
Youtube just got way more music-friendly: Paste and Music Vault are now hosting their own channels. The Music Vault contains Daytrotter sessions, as well as a veritable treasure trove of historical finds. Go nuts, y’all.
Soundsupply continues to hone their niche in the punk/emo/hardcore world by featuring Say Anything and the beloved-by-pop-punkers Allison Weiss. (Allison Weiss is also beloved by Independent Clauses for being one of the most forward-thinking businesspersons in music.) Go get tons of music for relatively cheap and support artists!!
It was bound to happen at some point: a service called ARENA has busted out a “rent-to-own” plan for music. I have no idea whether this will catch on, but there is a quantifiable difference between a song I played once for research and listening to “Wild One” by Flo Rida 30 times because I run to it. Will keep you posted, if anything happens because of this service.
Speaking of running, IT’S TIME FOR THE RUNHUNDRED MONTHLY LIST!!! –Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs for July 2014
This month’s top 10 list plays host to an eclectic bunch of established and upstart musical acts. On the international front, you’ll find a reggae hit from the Canadian band Magic and a platinum single from Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. Elsewhere country artists Jarrod Niemann and Lady Antebellum document their nights on the town. Finally,you can check out the latest from newcomers Tune-Yards and Charli XCX alongside chart regulars Katy Perry and Shakira.
No matter where your interests lie on the musical spectrum, there should be something for you below. So, if you’re looking for a few new tunes to liven up your summer workouts, this month’s playlist will give you 10 great places to start.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn
Colony House has impressed me repeatedly in the short time they’ve been around, but this takes the cake. They’ve made the studio video (which I am usually bored by) into something exciting and vibrant. It helps that “Waiting For My Time to Come” is an excellent tune that combines U2 melodies with low-slung roots-rock precision, then throws some horns and a choir of friends at it. They won’t have to wait much longer with songs like this one. Can we get NeedtoBreathe on the phone?
Amy Correia is still incredible, just in case you had forgotten. This live cut of “City Girl” is way fun. Also, note that she’s playing a tenor ukulele slung like a punk rock guitar.
Kylie Odetta has pipes similar to Adele and lyrics like Lady Gaga, making this a pretty appealing piano-and-vocals performance.
Strand of Oaks’ “Shut In” starts slow, but once it gets going the song and the video complement each other perfectly. I cried a little.
Frantic vocals + crunchy blues rock riffs + gender politics = gold. Brother O’ Brother will get compared to The Black Keys and the White Stripes; it should be comparison, not demeaning. Great stuff here.
Some look at the state of the world and say there are too many love story narratives. I look at the same things and say there aren’t yet enough.
1. “Grey Lion” – Cleanup. Remember when The Appleseed Cast was putting out astonishing post-rock records like Mare Vitalis? Cleanup is the heir to that major-key, vocal-friendly, guitar-centric, totally mind-bending post-rock throne. Cleanup is going to go far, y’all.
3. “Sable” – Blood Party. Intense bass riffage, pounding drum attack, creepy atmosphere. This is heavy, heady instrumental rock.
4. “Shifting Sand Land” – Kraj. Instrumental post-rock free association: It kind of reminds me of a time traveler going back to the past and finding it pretty chill in the Mesozoic era.
5. “Thunder” – Liminal Digs. Free association: You’re sneaking through a town at dusk, looking for something that has eluded your grasp for years. You know it’s there, so the tension is both building and falling: so near, yet so far.
5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.
6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.
7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.
8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.
9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.
10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.
11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.
12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.
13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.