Colour the Atlas is labeled an alternative/trip hop band, but I find it more accurate to compare the liveliness found on Amethyst to 2000s UK rock. And the more thrilled I got about this revelation, the more I thought vocalist and key player, Jess Hall, resembled the one and only pop-punk princess, Avril Lavigne. Don’t let this confuse you though–Colour the Atlas may involve a recently-retired pop punk sound, but they’ve put a contemporary, soulful spin on it.
It’s more than the texturizing of swelling piano, emotive guitar riffs, and rocky percussion–the vocals most effectively aggrandize emotion. “Scared” features head-turning male and female vocals that somehow never compete with the pop-rock instrumentation. Hall’s voice soars on “Lighter,” where her confidence in range is Aguilera-esque. And “Sweet Harmony” takes the amplification down a notch with a pairing of breathy, smoky male and female vocals.
Variance in instrumentation peaks during “Hold Me Down,” a gradually charming mix of luscious vocals, rich bass, and even glimpses of soulful guitar lines that are all initiated by exotic bits of percussion. Lyrics like, “Hold me down and make me feel/Take me anywhere but here/Show me love and show me fear,” give this track soul.
But it was “I’ll Be Your Lover” that clung to my heart like a Joss Stone song. Once the beat drops, there is a No Doubt feel that had me hooked, especially with the breezy vocals that drift through the dreamy trip-hop. I can imagine “I’ll Be Your Lover” as the opening song on the Ten Things I Hate About You soundtrack. It’s a pair of high-waisted jeans, a crop top, and short/spiky hair in song form.
Colour The Atlas hasn’t missed their time; they’re just bringing it back, alternative/trip hop style. —Rachel Haney
Boston-bred T e e n e n d e r fuses indie, pop-punk and 80’s elements, culminating in a young-American-just-trying-to-get-laid sound, similar to the one popularized by late 90’s pop punk/alternative rock bands. If you’re looking for something reminiscent of your first sip of beer or those basement hangouts where you nervously inhaled Cheetos and proceeded to make out with a braces-wearing classmate, then the duo formed by brothers Brian and Chris McKenna will hit the spot.
Twinkling, synth-studded opener “checks+crosses” jabs a spunky, upbeat groove, sending me back to those Music Express carnival rides that made the Top 40 sound suddenly awesome. Passion Pit-esque vocals hit it off with The Killers’ retro poppiness. Half-way through, the sonic pairing joins forces with a jazzy horn section, resulting in a feel-good epicness that shimmers throughout the rest of the EP.
But it’s “nitetrap” that emits a heart-racing, cheeks-blushing angst through a catchy chorus, breezy vocals, and a handclap that cheers our pretend couple on. Lyrics like, “It’s a seductive drug…Your sweet reaction gets me high” give this track a caramel-sticky-crushin’ theme. “nitetrap” is that summer camp love, the song you could lose your skinny dipping virginity to.
Pop party track “noheadrush” takes a slightly different stance, warning, “Be careful what you’re craving/She’s not sugar.” At the EP’s end, Baerstronaut gently pumps the original with enough helium until his remix reaches a bouncy playfulness, making for a total roller rink vibe–disco ball and all.
As we tend to save the best for last, “badangel” is a standout on the EP. Dark alt-pop energizes this track from the start; by adding that tinge of malevolent naughtiness through intensified synth and pulsing rhythm, T e e n e n d e r continues to evoke slick casualness. “badangel” is like being in the coolest detention ever.
The duo has brought back the freshest qualities of the ‘80s and sweeped in enough of a modern sound for this EP to be decadeless. If I could describe T e e n e n d e r as anything, it would be passing your license test on the third try and heroically speeding off in your mom’s minivan with the speakers giving all they’ve got. –Rachel Haney
Do you ever just turn on a song and immediately feel happier–even lighter, perhaps? That’s the way I felt when I first listened to the opening track off Hanna Kostamaa’s self-released EP Spectrum. Even though the subject matter of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is not lighthearted, the sounds of the song filled my ears with whimsy.
The San Diego-based Kostamaa plays with rock instrumentation and pop melodies to create a sound that’s all her own. Spectrum combines this indie-pop/rock sound with very realistic lyrics that seem to say, “even though life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, our instrumentation can be.”
Opener “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is the shining single off this EP. The keyboard intro is very reminiscent of the beginning of “Cherry Tulips” by Headlights–in fact, Headlights is a really great comparison to this release. The quirky pop sound of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” and “Lost in a Dream” contain the same whimsical instrumentation found in many Headlights songs. Both artists fill their instrumentation with the electronic keyboard, funky bass lines, and beachy Californian guitar. Hanna’s voice even sounds very familiar in tone and style to Erin Fein’s. Unfortunately, Headlights has disbanded; luckily we have Hanna Kostamaa to keep their sound alive!
The other two songs on the EP, “Claustrophobia” and “WIldfire,” have much more of a indie rock feel akin to The Black Keys. “Claustrophobia” begins with a light drum beat and quickly points our attention towards a truly funky bass line. On top of the drums and awesome bass line, Hanna layers a slightly chaotic electric guitar that takes off on solos which ooze rock ’n roll sex appeal, similar to what Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney tend to do. “Wildfire” then begins with the sexy electric guitar that “Claustrophobia” left off on. Hanna’s experimentation with badass rock ‘n roll instrumentation delightfully keeps Spectrum from being an innocent indie-pop EP. The way Hanna fully enters into two different worlds- the rock and the pop- and makes them both her own in Spectrum that really makes the unique sound of the EP stand out.
Hanna’s darker lyrics also inhibit Spectrum from being a happy-go-lucky pop collection. Even “Lost in a Dream” is not as innocent as its name and instrumentation sounds. Instead of “Lost in a Dream” being an angelic love song–which is what I originally thought it was–it speaks a much darker message.The track opens with “Meeting by the swings/ Innocence and its dream” and I thought, aww–how sweet, a love song! As the song progresses, the chorus hit me with a reality check–this song isn’t about gaining love, it’s about losing love. The chorus repeats throughout the song: “Hold on, where are you going?/ We didn’t agree that it was finished for you and me/ Hold on, why are you going?” I then realized that the first few lyrics were actually what she later describes as “Clinging onto the few good things.”
The sweet-sounding instrumentation of “Lost in a Dream” continues to the end of the song, leading us to the final, despondent lyric: “Hold on, why are you gone?” It’s as if the playful, dream-pop sound of the song is meant to lead us astray just as much as the “few good things” led her to think that maybe there’s a chance that the relationship doesn’t have to end. But all good things must end at some point.
The very realistic, human lyrics pair with the quirky indie-pop/rock vibe in a wonderfully paradoxical way. It is beautiful hearing a budding artist play around with sound, resulting in an EP that’s entirely unique. Hanna Kostamaa’s Spectrum is a great example of what it sounds like for an artist to have fun with her music and not worry which subgenre to perfectly fit into. It’s just good music. And good music should be appreciated. —Krisann Janowitz
There is no doubt that the tracks found in Shoplifters will make you groove to their beachy sound. The instrumentation is heavy on electric guitar and drum. The electric guitar starts off every song on the EP. Percussive elements such as the full kit or cymbals usually enter after one or two measures. Even as Zebeeb Awalom’s smooth soprano voice quickly follows in, the drums and guitar continue to be a primary focus of each track. In half of the songs (“By the Moon,” “Wasting Time,” “Temporary Love”), the guitar takes on a beachy jazz vibe. In the other three tracks (“Direct Affect”; “Bleack Sea”; “She Told Me”), the guitar gives off more of a rock and roll flavor. In each track off the album, the drums deliver the driving beat that brings the tracks home. I particularly enjoy the use of the pounding cymbals in “By the Moon.” Overall, the instrumentation delivers a perfect summertime rock and roll/ jazz feel through the electric guitar and drum power-duo.
Honestly, one thing I didn’t notice at first was the well-targeted lyrics of Shoplifters. The lyrics found in the EP’s six tracks all speak to common issues felt by teens and twenty-somethings alike. The album covers scenarios like falling asleep as you wait for a long-anticipated phone call (“By The Moon”), the struggles of breaking up with someone that just won’t get it (“Wasting Time”), and what you’re thinking when you’re drowning in a sea of infatuation (“Direct Affect”; “Temporary Love”).
The most brilliant aspect of the already engaging lyrics is the particularly relatable wording. For example in “Wasting Time”, the narrator attempts to convince the other person in the relationship that “I will waste your time” so let’s just part, through using iconic phrases like “Don’t take it personal/ It’s not you, it’s me.” Let’s face it, most of us have either used that tactic or have had it used on us sometime in the last twenty years. Similarly, the lyrics of “Direct Affect” and “Temporary Love” sound like they flew right out of a couple of my old sappy love poems. Phrases like, “You got this affect on me/ And I just can’t hide it” (“Direct Affect”) and “I waste nights trying to chase you/ You’re so close I can taste you” (“Temporary Love”) have most likely graced the pages of your diaries and love poems as well. The direct, unadorned lyrics found in Shoplifters drive home the band’s relatable sound.
Shoplifters delivers an appeal for those who desire to groove to rock music infused with a beachy jazz vibe. The EP also contains well-written lyrics that reinforce the emotions felt by many of us millenials. All in all, The Gray Company’s Shoplifters isa well-crafted EP. —Krisann Janowitz
Steve Stanley and the Mercs‘ When in Roam is a pristine, idyllic, near-perfect early ’00s Christian punk-rock album with some country-punk leanings thrown in. If every new generation’s music serves a similar social purpose in helping us wind our way through the challenges of life, When in Roam is Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, But Three Do for everyone who was too young to grow up with Relient K. It’s remarkable how many of the sonic markers that Stanley checks off: pleasantly nasally vocals, yearning vocal lines, rapidfire drumming, guitars that span the distance between youthful adrenaline and earnest melodicism, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics documenting big emotions (“Ten Years Ago,” “Fear in a Handful of Dust,” “I’m a Ship,” okay pretty much every song).
When you throw in a production job that’s a spot-on re-creation of the sonic space that Relient K mined in the early ’00s, you have an album that is a deeply enjoyable nostalgic trip for late 20s pop-punk fans and (I hope) a thrilling experience for young pop-punk fans. I don’t know if people are still into FM Static, but they’re another sonic touchstone here. The first time I heard the sonic, emotional, and religious crescendo crest in closer “Death and Nostalgia,” I got shivers: with “It is Well” as the main line and a counterpoint of Stanley’s own creation layering on top of it, I could hear the brilliant songwriter emerging (just like I could with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, all those years ago–and then we got the masterpiece mmhmm and “Deathbed”). I expect great things for Steve Stanley and the Mercs.
Devereaux’s LP Pineapple Flex gives off the same vibes as French action cinema, whose elements derive from Kung Fu flicks, Hollywood stunts, comedy, and Parisian crime shows. Picture a sonic retelling of La Femme Nikita, or even better, a badass electronic take on the Spice Girls minus the vocals, but with all of the spunky, flirty sexiness.
“Ponytails” begins with bells ringing, like the warning of an incoming locomotive. Then, drops a house beat that double-dutches into a line of a catchy vocals. The lyric “Whip your ponytail” summarizes the album’s party-twerking theme.
To evolve the Spice Girl metaphor even more, “Bikini” would be Baby Spice sucking on a lollipop wearing a tight blue mini-skirt. Funky, dreamy ambiance oozes an island-love groove, but it’s the Phil Collins-inspired percussion that swirls in an 80’s retroness.
Overall, there is a mix of glitchy, ambient, and flat-out fun tracks that seal the deal in terms of an eclectic record. “CoastsaoC” is the crunchiest, creepiest song, while the emotive guitar riffs, twinkling texturizing, and lucid vocals create a groovy soundscape on “Sell the Rose.” “Xenodehuir” is infused with piano, an escalating bouncy house rhythm, trumpets, and chiming guitar that had me feeling funky fresh. “Next to Neon” pulls it all together with a flirty, retro beat that screams Prince influence.
And please ignore the cliche, but it’s the little things that count. The drops Devereaux employs are bricks of gold; At 1:40, “Azúcar” drops with the sound of a trigger being pulled, and at 2:30 “Fashion for Sharks” drops into a grittiness that sounds…exactly like sharks chomping down on your expectations for a drop.
The vocals and lyrics, spritzed like confetti, are also what form Devereaux’s precise sound. While not featured on every song, the vocals that do appear are a pleasant combination of both male and female, with the female vocals often singing French phrases. The easy, deep breathiness of the female vocalist on “Hatchets” has a Lana Del Ray flair, and the snippets of conversation recorded on “Costarricense” highlight the subtle humor Devereaux slips into these tracks.
So the next time I go on a fast motorcycle ride along a winding, mountainous highway or decide to fight neighborhood crime wearing nothing but a bikini and brass knuckles, I’m listening to this. Full of bold energy, Pineapple Flex is an animatedly euphoric, at times violent, assault on epic electronic music. It’s hot-pink-grit good. —Rachel Haney
Jeremy Bass and his many talents never cease to surprise me. In his first eight-song release of the year, Winter Bare, we witnessed poetic lyrics shine with simple, mainly acoustic accompaniment and a sound that echoes ‘60s folk music.This second collection (released two months later) strikes quite a different note. New York in Spring is a collection of eight equally poetic songs, yet with Spanish inspiration and an easy listening sound.
On first listen, the aspect that most catches my ear is Bass’ talent as a classically-trained guitarist. The guitars in Winter Bare had a much more relaxed folk sound, while the guitar parts get a little more complicated on New York in Spring. Although “Firefly” maintains more of the former’s folk sound, the rest of the album does not. Bass was trained in classical and flamenco guitar, and it shows. Particularly in the guitar-only tracks “Berimbau” and “Theme from El Decamaron Negro,” Bass shows off his classically trained roots. In fact, the latter is Bass’ version of a composition for classical guitar by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. From extensive finger picking to fast-paced Bossa Nova rhythms that make you want to do the samba, Bass shows off a side of himself that was modestly veiled in Winter Bare. Bass’ classical Spanish inspiration shines bright and clear in New York in Spring.
Bass’ combination of classical guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, accordion and percussive elements come together to create an album that easily falls under easy listening. By easy listening, I am by no means saying that the sound is boring–it’s simply relaxing. Bossa Nova can often be classified under easy listening, and this album is a clear example of that happening. The guitar and piano pair up beautifully in tracks like “Prayer” and “Julia.” When other instruments such as the trumpet (“Work”) and violin (“New York in Spring”) enter into the mix, the spanish flavor of the tracks that make you want to dance gets heightened. Yet, the flawless blending of instruments and the smooth way they are played serve to mitigate the flavor, making the album an easy listening treasure.
I knew I could never review a Jeremy Bass album without commenting on his poetic lyrics. Having actually won poetry awards and scholarships, Bass’ lyrics in both Winter Bare and New York in Spring ooze with depth and beauty. The title track is a poetic ode to New York City, with lyrics like, “But how could you not ever have lived here and ever said you’d truly been alive/ In New York in Spring.” One brilliant thing Bass does in New York in Spring is pair his heavy lyrics with light-hearted instrumentation that makes you not realize the lyrics’ exploration of the darker aspects of humanity. The best example of this is “Work.”
“Work” is one of the most brilliantly written set of lyrics I have ever heard. The song starts off with exuberant trumpets and continues with rapid Bossa Nova guitar rhythms. The instrumentation maintains a very fun and fast-paced sound that makes me want to dance the samba. The fun sound of the song masks the dark commentary Bass makes through the lyrics. The lyrics tell the narrative tale of hard-working farmers and constant-working businesspeople. He also has secondary characters such as himself (“Here I sit in my usual place”) and children (“In the city children play”). Through highlighting an array of human situations, Bass is able to universally draw attention to the one thing they all have in common: work. The lyrics have a slightly sardonic tone, since you can tell that all this work isn’t necessarily leading to good things: “A man tries to make his lover stay, hey they’re working.” (I could go on exploring more themes and figurative language, but I’ll spare you.) Looking past the vibrant sound of the track, “Work” has lyrics that point out one of humanity’s darkest struggles–our desire to rest overcome by our enslavement to work.
New York in Spring is certainly an album pleasing to the ear, but unlike Winter Bare, it is not for its simplicity. Instead, New York in Spring maintains a smooth easy listening sound accomplished through a complex arrangement of instruments and Brazilian-inspired rhythms. New York in Spring shows off a classically complex side of Bass that was hiding in Winter Bare. I do not discredit Winter Bare; in fact, I admire it for its more simple folk sound and equally poetic lyrics. Yet, there is no denying that New York in Spring is where Bass lets his talent truly roam free. And for that, we must thank him. —Krisann Janowitz
Candysound‘s Past Lives is the sort of garage rock that seems born of good-natured experimentation, a genuine sense of joy in creation, and a dedication to writing catchy songs. This isn’t four-on-the-floor chord mashing–the trio makes lithe, lively, effervescent tracks full of rhythmic, melodic, and textural diversity.
I’m getting all adjective-y on it, but that’s because “Be Around” is a gleeful whirlwind, “Details” is all yelpy and groove-laden, and the title track is a mini math-rock tune. Closer “This Place” is a beautiful acoustic tune in the vein of Rocky Votolato and other even-handed tale-spinners. All of the tunes have a fresh, slightly gritty sheen about them, the sort of vibe that is confident but not super-invested in polishing every sound to its poppy ultimate. This feels like a document, not like a presentation: it’s the sort of indie-pop-rock that makes me want to hear more of it, maybe even write some myself. If you’re excited by a quirky melody and a yelpy vocal hook, Candysound should tickle your ears quite well. Here’s to that. Highly recommended.
I knew this day was coming, both for me and for the indie-rock world. Andrew Skeet‘s Finding Time can be described as a delicate post-rock album that fits in next to The Album Leaf and the soundtrack work of Sleeping at Last or as an engaging work of post-minimalist modern classical music (it’s being put out on Sony Classical). Much alt-classical music has been made, but this is the first time it’s fit so neatly for me inside the music-listening frameworks I’ve already cultivated. My listening habits have been moving toward the classical, since my discovery of John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean and Philip Glass’s work, and now the loop has closed. It’s all one continuous line for me now.
And why shouldn’t it be? The keening repetition that opens “Passing Phase” calls to mind Philip Glass’s Glassworks, while the slow-moving elegy it morphs into is reminiscent of Sigur Ros’s work. “Reflect” is nearly ambient in its pacing; the sharp, brittle, electronic dissonance of “The Unforgiving Minute” would make Modest Mouse proud. The two worlds collide here, at least from my frame of reference. “Taking Off” and “Stop the Clock” feel more traditionally classical, with the latter’s nearly baroque flurry of keyed notes and the former’s heavy reliance on cello and violin. There are moments even in the aforementioned pieces that skew towards traditional sounds, like “The Unforgiving Minute,” but overall this is an album that can be appreciated both by the modern classical music enthusiast and the post-rock one.
Andrew Skeet’s Finding Time is an engaging, enigmatic, comforting and challenging listen. It has kept me company on long slogs of reading (particularly the electronics-laden title track) and warm afternoons. It’s just really impressive, regardless of what you call it.
Like many people my age, my first introduction to the sounds of Armenian music was through the melodic structures that System of a Down fused to its already-wild metal song structures. Since then, those sounds (along with associated gypsy, Balkan, and Eastern European elements) have been floating around in my brain. Izam Anav by Vana Mazi puts those sounds squarely on the forefront on my brain once again, as the album features gypsy sounds played earnestly and enthusiastically.
With so much cultural weight surrounding sounds of this variety, it’s refreshing to hear the Austin-based outfit play their songs without theatrical bravado (a la Gogol Bordello) or overtly ominous vibes. These tunes, instead, feel like an tasteful interpretation of a long tradition. “Jove Malaj Mome” marries a complex percussion pattern with an intricate instrumental melody from the accordion and fiddle. The male and female vocals double the melody, creating a dramatic vibe without resorting to tricks. It’s just all right there, written in. If you start to sway your hips unintentionally, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That call to dance is another distinctive element of Vana Mazi’s work: the songs here are miles away from dance rock or electronic music, yet they very distinctly beg to be moved to. It’s hard to deny the rumbling, percussive energy of “Don Pizzica”; the sultry, inviting “Celo Skopje”; and the major key perkiness of “Tarantella Del Gargano.” This ain’t an indie-rock show–crossed arms aren’t going to cut it. The most serious of the tunes here is “Fireflies,” which heavily draws on the ominous, quixotic Armenian vibe that System of a Down mined; the rest are more like “Sandansko Horo,” whose titular element is a Bulgarian folk dance. Eastern European music buffs, adventurous musical types, or fans of interactive live shows (their press assures me of what seems to be inevitable true: these shows are a party) should rush in the direction of Izam Anav. While dancing.
The Bellfuries‘ Workingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.
By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.
On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.
McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.
It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.
It’s always interesting when an artist releases one album directly after another–what Jeremy Bass did this year is no exception. Releasing Winter Bare in April and New York in Spring in June, Bass gave us two different eight-song releases that sound worlds apart from each other. Next week, I will be reviewing the more recent release New York in Spring. For now, let’s take a look at the poetic, more low-key, ‘60s folk-sounding Winter Bare.
Although labeled “alt-country,” Winter Bare has a pretty distinct ‘60s folk feel. Bass’ voice takes on a blues feel in the first track, but it maintains much more of a Bob Dylan flavor in the rest of the album. More modern-day vocal comparisons would be Fleet Foxes and Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, both of which seem to stem from this tradition. Take Bass’ “Lift Me Up,” for example: the guitar strumming gives off a very 60s folk vibe. The vocal harmonies of the track are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, whose sound stems from artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel. The lyrics of “Lift Me Up” are also very nature-focused, something which also links it to the forefathers and foremothers of modern folk. The more I examined the track and the whole album, the more the inspiration becomes evident, whether Bass meant it or not.
The low-key vibe of Winter Bare makes the album a relaxing one to listen to. The vocals are clear, and it honestly sounds as if Bass is just telling us story after story. The instrumentation is fairly simple: mainly accomplished through acoustic guitar, but occasionally switched out with a banjo (“Winterlude (Banjo for Annie)”) or mandolin (“Coming Back Home”). There are also subtle appearances from other instruments like trumpets (“Lift Me Up”) and the pump organ (“One More Cigarette”). Even with the added instruments, the songs remain generally relaxing and easy to listen to. You can certainly categorize Winter Bare as a “feel good” album, sonically.
Jeremy Bass is not only a brilliant musician and lyricist, but he is a poet as well–it certainly shows in the poetic nature of his lyrics. One theme that Bass focuses on in many of his songs is love. Yet, Bass doesn’t tackle the subject in an overly cheesy manner as many artists in the past have. Instead, Bass uses a more realistic approach in his lyrics. With lyrics like, “I can’t pretend that love’s not the sweetest salt in the wound/ that the heart gives,” Bass expresses the experience of true love with all of its flaws. That lyric found in “One More Cigarette” is followed up by the chorus ending in “We make our choices and we live with what we choose/That’s why I choose you.” So although in his lyrics, there is certainly a level of honesty about the messiness of love, Bass still maintains an overall optimistic view of love.
Bass also uses nature in his lyrics to express the deeper meaning of life and love. In “Red Tailed Hawk,” Bass uses an extended metaphor to depict an animal that is “white-winged and free.” He continues to describe the peaceful image of this “Red Tailed Hawk.” Finally, in the last lyric, Bass then asks, “Won’t you teach me what it means to be/ White-winged and free?” “Red Tailed Hawk” is but one example where Bass poetically uses nature as a mode to describe his emotional reality.
Winter Bare shows off Bass’ skills in a subtle way. His lyrics appear seamlessly written. The instrumentation is simple, yet more complex once examined. One may even wonder if the title relates to simple bareness of the album. Nevertheless, Winter Bare is a truly beautiful folk album, reaching back to the ‘60s. Stay tuned for next week, when you’ll find that New York in Spring shows off quite a different side of the talented Jeremy Bass. —Krisann Janowitz
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.