Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthemsby José Medeles with Marisa Anderson, M. Ward, and Chris Funk is a unique release. Medeles gets top billing as the convener of the occasion, a drummer who wanted to make a tribute to John Fahey not by covering the legendary guitarist’s work but by creating songs in his style. To do this, Medeles had to recruit guitarists who could play in Fahey’s style, landing on the trio above. Each of the 11 guitar-and-percussion pieces features Medeles and a single guitarist: five for Anderson, four for Chris Funk, and two for M. Ward.
This unusual process makes the album a bit of a collection rather than a statement. Each of the guitarists contribute at least one “Railroad Cadence” and one “Melancholic Anthem,” but it’s Marisa Anderson’s upbeat, melodic opener “Please Send to J.F.” that exemplifies the Railroad Cadence and Chris Funk’s exploratory, ruminative closer “Voice Of The Turtle” that exemplifies the melancholic anthems. (“Voice of the Turtle” also includes a long recording of Fahey talking about the guitar and performing, which is very melancholic indeed.)
Between these poles, the guitarists each have high points: M. Ward’s walking-pace “Something Else” evokes “Chinese Translation”-era charm while still delivering on an instrumental guitar instead of voice. The ominous, bluesy “The Paper Snake” is a high point from Anderson, while Funk’s work on the shapeshifting “Golden” stands out.
Throughout it all, Medeles holds the record together. Medeles’ drumming is tasteful, restrained, and spot-on. Rattling snares, booming toms, and low cymbals slide fluidly in the melancholy pieces. The same concepts keep the earthy, traditional country-folk energy going during the upbeat work. These songs are supposed to sound iconic, and they for the most part do: if that comes at the sacrifice of some of the pieces’ individuality, that’s a price a tribute will pay. The vibes never stop on this one; it’s a good tribute to a legendary part of the scene in feel and sound. Fans of Fahey will appreciate it, and fans of folk music in general would do well to give it a listen (especially those looking to see another side of M. Ward).
Those who love gritty rock and roll, thank the airwaves for generations of musicians that grew up on old classic southern rock, and look for that “Aerosmith meets Alice in Chains” grind can count on bands like Grandpa Jack. The Brooklyn rockers land with Grits to throw down in style.
The power trio of Matt C. White, Jared Schapkerf, and John Strom deliver a nine-track, self-produced trip with the help of Stephen Mason & Kyle McEvoy (recording), Matt Labozza (mixing/engineering), and Brad Boatright (mastering). The result is a cohesive mind trip reminiscent of early Roger Waters. White leads the way, but the vibe is only achieved with these three musicians joining forces into one distinct sonic feel.
Opener “Once Bitten” tosses rockers off into a carefully crafted, downbeat-driven world. Heavy, deliberate, drawn-out production generates a drift and drive. Standout “Hate the Heartbeat” has echoes of Richie Blackmore, as emotion seethes out of each vocal. White’s voice is perfectly balanced with the guitar and stripped instrumentation.
Personally, I listen to albums. Grits is for me and other album lovers, because the artistry of “Moths” would be lost to someone just jumping in on that song as a standalone piece of music. Though brilliant, it is the connective tissue that audiences need to get to “Evil Eye.” Its lyricism drops into the instrumental stunner “Mosquitos,” subtle and biting.
“Consumption Crawl” seems a decadent, drifting bit of genius that embraces an essence of haunting backwoods darkness. Clueing in their audience with the fact that “Consumption II Parasite” creeps the theme on, the plodding production quality lends itself to a sonic palette of haunting grit and analog beauty. They sharply drop into the album’s ending with “Consumption II Cannibal” reminiscent of the greatest moments of Dave Peverett’s (Foghat) guitar style.
Closing out an album like this requires an artistry not many rockers possess. “Consumption Crawl Reprise” is an homage to the true musicality of this nine-song release. Nuanced, pulsing, it breathes as it slowly eases to its final beat. Grandpa Jack ‘s Grits creeps out into the summer, as some of the best music so far this year.–Lisa Whealy
Great songwriters are wordsmiths who color the world lush, binding us into a shared moment in time with one note, melody, refrain, and chorus at a time. It’s an undeniable gift few artists really possess, like Jason Isbell, Oliver Wood, and Andrew Adkins. Adkins’ Rattlesnake Motions is an immersive, classic blues rock experience that can’t be missed.
The grit and grind struts in via opener “Satellite Mind,” with its laid back, whistling-in-the-dark kind of vibe. It drifts right into the first single “Broken Fangs,” which seems to reinforce the shared horror story we have all lived through since B.C. (before COVID). To me, the video seemed weird and disjointed, yet it may be bringing to light the horror that many people of color live with all of the time. Who is the real villain, anyway? I would guess that Adkins suspects it is our perception of each other.
“Divided Lines” might be what the fearless would lead the parade of change with. A feel-good rag, somehow still calling out the truth. The grittier “Mysterious Engines” fleshes out with trippy synthesizers and driving bass.
Sequencing becomes another piece of artistry in albums like Rattlesnake Motions. We are on a trip here, in the tradition of a cohesive piece of storytelling. Halfway through, “Beautiful and Free” rests easily on the soul, a contrast to the imagery that blasts in with “Death Rattles” and its funky spoken word throwdown. Does everyone have the same chance to experience life in the United States, or is it really about the color of your skin, where you come from, or what you believe? Brilliant!
“Quebrado” punctuates with a multitude of instrumentation in its message of excess. Audiophiles should relish plugging this trip into headphones for a sonic escape. The horns, guitar, and group vocals of “Into Dust” embrace the soul. Jarred back to some other reality, “Whites Creek Rose” rolls on with a frighteningly familiar country twang that feels a bit like a Stephen King short story. Go figure.
Heading out, “The Explosions In My Head” celebrates the shared trip we have all been on, so full of celebratory horns. “Random Cloud Patterns” might be one of my favorite songs of the year, like a warm hug from Mr. Rogers. Adkins’ real, authentic rich vocal tone reinforces what the lyrics of his album say: be yourself. —Lisa Whealy
The thirteen (mostly) instrumental electronic tracks here range from delicate, nearly ambient, piano-driven post-rock (“NOVEMBRE13_,” “ThePlasticWhale_”) to arpeggiator-driven techno cuts (“SAUN_”). Tracks like “TheFirstSong_” and “KOMOREBI_” fuse these two impulses, creating sweeping tracks that blend elements of CUTS’ dark, stark electronic work with Ulrich Schnauss’ maximalist electronic soundscapes.Each of the three types of track are deftly-handled; JOYCUT_ knows how to handle tension and release in each of the three types of tracks.
While the narrative, facts, and commentary surrounding the record are deeply intertwined with climate, the record doesn’t need to be read in that light to be enjoyed. It does shine some hope on the situation, via the warm, major-key “Francis&Violet_”; in other places, the light shines through in other ways . So this is not a grim record in the main, although there are moments of gloom. There are moments of hope amid the climate situation we are in, after all.
As a result of their expert handling of mood, the resulting album feels grand and fully-developed. Fans of almost any type of non-EDM electronic music will find things to love in this record. It’s an excellent offering. If you want to support JOYCUT_’s preferred climate change organization, check out Earth Percent.
1. “from morning no. 2” – Airport People. An expansive, elegant, languid piano and drums piece that seems effortlessly peaceful and calm. The recordings of rain (or what sounds like rain) plus the piano pedal noises make for a rich atmosphere. Highly recommended.
2. “Rusty Trucks and Daisies (Midnight Version)” – Martin Ruby. A friend dying unexpectedly is a truly awful experience. Singer/songwriter Marco North (aka Martin Ruby) offers a true lament: a deeply aching song of remembrance for a lost friend. The song itself uses a nearly meterless acoustic guitar as the base, with North’s gravelly vocals tumbling out over the chords. A pedal steel guitar floats above the proceedings to complete the instrumental contributions. The almost continuous sounds of late-night street action complete the ambience of late night gloom and sorrow. It’s a good one to grieve to. Highly recommended.
3. “Interstellar Medium” – Lunar Lemur. This fantastic piece lands somewhere between the gentleness of William Basinski’s ambient work, the forward motion of The Album Leaf’s pieces, and the dreamy electro of Teen Daze. It’s evocative without being over-the-top and thoughtful without becoming ponderous. Highly recommended.
4. “At the Harbour” – Velt. Delicate, calming piano work with subtle beachside recordings for atmosphere. Beautiful.
6. “The Lighthouse of Alexandria” – Beatenberg. Fans of Belle & Sebastian, Vampire Weekend, Wes Anderson, and basically the year 2010 in indie music will be electrified by this floating, charming, walking pace stream of consciousness.
7. “Disappear” – Catherine Campbell. A slow arpeggiator, warm Rhodes keys, and a laidback drum groove give this singer/songwriter track a lightly psychedelic flair. Campbell’s smooth voice fits the vibe perfectly.
8. “New Light” – Stefania Avolio. A dark, dramatic electro/singer-songwriter piece that opens with ominous vibes before blossoming into a soaring, operatic chorus. The song fits emotionally with the strangely mesmerizing video of a dancer in an abandoned, dilapidated building (mansion?).
9. “The Rumination Waltz” – kid null. Primarily gloomy, between the bass and downtempo percussion. The melismatic vocals give it a little levity, which the crunchy electric guitar snatches away. Feels like a fitting piece for a gritty, perhaps even dystopian, street movie.
10. “Headache” – Adam Rich. An old-school rock/metal instrumental that features a winding guitar riff and fun guitar tricks in the bridge. It’s a solid opener to Rich’s latest, Peaceful and with Purpose.
11. “Bal” – Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek. A funky, groovy, enigmatic piece that fuses bits of many different world music styles into a distinctive whole. Fans of Khruangbin will find much to love here.
Andrew Yarovenko‘s Start Somewhere is a rich, multi-textured record. Yarovenko’s piano-based compositions draw on flamenco, electronic post-rock, chamber pop, and acoustic guitar explorations to create a unique, engaging collection. Yet even through the diversity of sonic touchstones, Yarovenko never loses sight of the elegant, melodic core of each piece.
Yarovenko’s core ideas are elegant, even (post-)romantic. Opener “No Body to Blame,” “Lost in Time,” and “Requiem” each display the ability to write effective, moving pieces in largely traditional modes. “No Body to Blame” carefully delivers piano and strings in a melancholy yet inquisitive piece. The composition is confident and clear; Yarovenko expertly uses tempo and negative space to build productive tensions. The solo piano of “Lost in Time” is a slow, thoughtful rumination on a theme, reminiscent of Ben Cosgrove’s work. “Requiem” is just that: a requiem for string quartet. It is somber, mournful, and–due to a few distinctive choices, such as a pizzicato section–unusually enjoyable for a piece intended to accompany mourning.
As great as those pieces are, the adventurous pieces are even more exciting to me. “The Feeling of Breathing” is a fast-paced, somewhat angular work for piano and strings that makes me think of Oliver Davis’ work. “Negative Space” strongly evokes flamenco songs, even including the iconic speedy clapping. “Cloud Surfing” pairs flamenco approaches with chunky strings that would not be out of place in indie rock for a deeply interesting piece. “Explaining the Joke” is a little darker; it contrasts a prominent, distorted electronic rhythm section with delicate guitar work to land a post-rock take on Yarovenko’s vision.
Of all the pieces here, “The Death of Odysseus” is the one I return to and ponder. It is a subtle piece for guitar and strings that yet packs a hefty emotional weight. The removal of big melodic moves and overt compositional tactics lets the feeling shine through. It’s a piece that remains hopeful in the midst of sorrow, even the grief of death. Hope in mourning is something many of us (I mean, me) need reminders of right now.
Start Somewhere admirably displays Andrew Yarovenko’s ability to elegantly capture moods in traditional and adventurous composition types. The collection holds together well over its whole run time, even with the variety of different feels and approaches here. Those looking for beauty and hope amid evocative pieces will do well to look in Yarovenko’s direction. Highly recommended.
Brown Calvin’s “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” is a mellow, exploratory, subtly mysterious slice of life that brightens the room. It’s heavy on the “slice”: the two-minute piece starts without preamble and ends without warning, ambling magnificently through my ears between those times.
Brown Calvin (aka Andre Burgos) deftly brings many ideas together: hand percussion and an approximation of a snare form a loose backline for the piece, while ambient synth whorls, jazzy keys, and other unidentifiable instrument sounds warp and wander into each other over the walking-pace rhythm. The piece’s mood is “good vibes” on the surface, with mysterious ones underneath. The track is warm and friendly, and yet there’s some ennui hanging out in the background of some of the chord changes.
It’s hard to pin down “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” to any particular genre or space. It’s mellow, for sure, but not lo-fi; it’s jazzy, but not trying to make traditional jazz moves. It matches ambient approaches with steady percussion. It’s unique, interesting instrumental music that makes me excited for the full record d i m e n s i o n // p e r s p e c t i v e, which arrives August 26 via AKP Recordings.
“Dogwood Tree” by The Deer’s Cry is a folky yet distinctive blend of sounds from throughout the world. Traditionally Irish vocal rhythms and tones, spiky Americana banjo, and shuffling rhythms from the African calabash (see interview below!) form the core of a speedy tune that moves in interesting and unexpected directions.
Just when it feels like the song is going to go fully in one direction for a while, it clambers down a different path via the addition or subtraction of instruments. First it opens with indie-folk vibes from Patrick Atwater’s prominent upright bass and Bryan Brock’s assured percussion. Brock and Atwater’s seamless performances ground the song, encouraging the complexity that follows. The entrance of Karen Ballew’s vocals pulls it into an Irish folk vein. The aforementioned banjo (from Will MacLean) introduces the Americana feel strongly. But suddenly, the whole tune pulls back into a wordless aria supported by subtle instrumentation. And from there it’s off to the races again, in another direction; there are a ton of musical ideas crammed into this 4:26.
The lyrics speak to hope, through renewal of life in the dogwood tree of the title (in verse one) and through spirituality (prayer and grace) in verse two. These lyrics tie together renewal of the land and soul with traditional spiritual themes like “living water.” The words form an elegant clutch of lyrics to set to a speedy, complex folk track, but The Deer’s Cry–along with Nick Bullock (Producer, Engineer) and Ethan Howard (Assistant Engineer)–makes it all work together seamlessly.
Band members Karen Ballew (vocalist, harpist) and Will MacLean (banjo) spoke in detail about the song:
What prompted you to write this song? What was the inspiration behind it?
Karen Ballew: The seed for this song was planted in 2018 when my husband and I moved from a house we had been renting into our new home. We moved from Dallas to Nashville in 2017 to explore new opportunities, but we weren’t sure if we’d end up staying here. Purchasing a home was a sign that we were going to stay here and continue the next chapter of our lives in this place. My mom flew out to help us move, and as she and I were taking the last load to the car, she suddenly stopped underneath the dogwood tree in the front yard. There was a moment of awe as we remarked at the beauty of the sun shining through the white blossoms, and it felt as though the tree was sending us a farewell blessing, a message of hope as we embarked on our new journey. Three years later, amidst all the uncertainty in the world, I remembered this moment and began to write “Dogwood Tree.”
How did this song come together when you wrote it? What was the songwriting process like?
KB: I had been listening to Dick Gaughan’s recording of “Now Westlin Winds” by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96) and was so enamored with the cadence and rhyme scheme of the verses. When I decided to write “Dogwood Tree,” my first instinct was to revisit “Now Westlin Winds” for inspiration. The melody for “Dogwood Tree” was very much informed by Irish sean-nós (old style) singing. I’ve taken some classes with Irish singer Éilís Kennedy, and I remember listening to her album “Gan Tionlacan / Unaccompanied” to help me get into a good headspace to brainstorm melodic ideas. Éilís’s singing is so beautiful, and I love the songs on this album!
When you recorded this song, what kind of vibe were you going for? Did it end up sounding like you expected it to or did it come out different from what you thought it would be?
KB: It’s always a joy and adventure arranging songs with my bandmates! Because of our diverse range of interests, you never know what’s going to bubble to the surface when we collaborate. In general, we were going for a roots vibe, a meeting of Irish and American roots. Once we got into the studio, the song went from what the four of us could produce in real time and morphed into a wider soundscape. Our producer, Nick Bullock, encouraged us to record multiple tracks of melodic and rhythmic ideas. We ended up with several bass lines, auxiliary percussion textures, accordion, and backing vocals. To me, these additions helped elevate the mystical experience of the song!
Will MacLean: From my perspective, I was shooting for a bluegrass type but with the minimal amount of bounce or swing in the beat. I tried to bring in a Ron Block influence to the banjo solo with the bends and blues ideas.
Any great stories from the studio when you recorded this one?
KB: This song kicked off the rehearsal sessions for the new album and was also the first song we recorded in the studio. We recorded a scratch vocal with bass, African calabash, and banjo all at the same time to capture that energy and communication we have when we play live! That’s the core of the track. I’ll always remember how special it was to listen back to our different takes in the control room as everything was coming to life. It was so exciting and a bit surreal!
What do you hope listeners get from the song?
KB: There is so much uncertainty in the world, and many people are going through stressful times. I hope this song encourages listeners to take a moment to breathe, dance, and be in awe of the beauty of our earth and the mystery of life itself.
WM: I hope they get some sort of energetic charge from this tune. It’s got a dance type of groove and a lot of intensity, so I hope it’s something people could use during a workout or something like that.
“Dogwood Tree” is a rare tune that combines elegance, enthusiasm, and expertise, resulting in a nuanced, multifaceted gem. The tune releases Friday. It lives on Heal the Heart, which lands September 30. You can find the band at their website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
1. “Night Bunny” – Alister Fawnwoda, Suzanne Ciani, Greg Leisz. Pedal steel, synths, and what sounds like ocean noises come together to create a space of ambient bliss. Highly recommended.
2. “Training Montage” – the Mountain Goats. This indie-pop/indie-rock track is a return to Beat the Champ-era guitar grandiosity mixed with Transcendental Youth-era paranoiac lyrics and Heretic Pride-style melodic arrangements in the chorus. I haven’t been this excited for a tMG album off its first track since I heard “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” blast out of my speakers. My wife and I danced around the kitchen to it. Highly recommended.
3. “Sunrise (Rumble) ft. Yonatan Gat” – Medicine Singers. A spacious, windswept track that merges slowcore/low-slung rock electric guitar with Pow Wow vocals and insistent drums to create an interplay of varied traditions. Very exciting work. Highly recommended.
4. “Prep Cook in the Weeds” – Fresh Pepper. Ooooh, the vibes here are impeccable: there’s some Windows 95 vaporwave, some ’80s-NYC-style downtown funk, smooth jazz, and casual sing-spoken lyrics that land somewhere between Paul Simon and CAKE in vibe (not in tone). This is a unique experience, y’all. I love it. Highly recommended.
5. “Birthday” – JoJo Worthington. Songs about friends are always going to get me because there are so few of them in comparison to songs about lovers. This one is a delicate indie-folk track that would make Seven Swans-era Sufjan jealous. Worthington’s breathy vocals fit the proceedings beautifully.
6. “So Close” – Aviva Jaye. A subtle, evocative indie-folk track that wisely lets Jaye’s low vocals contrast against the treble of the guitar. The production is spacious and smooth.
7. “For a Chisos Bluebonnet” – Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter. Knowler and Winter know their way around an instrumental folk cut, and this one is an exemplar take: the interplay of guitars is perfectly done that it points it sounds like one impossibly fleet single-guitar effort. The melodicism is impeccable, and the subtle sensitivities in volume and tone make the piece shine.
8. “When You See It” – Pill Super. Slowly unfolding low-key techno that moves from drones to structure to flourishes on the structure. It’s a headbobbing experience.
9. “The Ecstatic Dance” – MISZCZYK feat. Bile Sister. This one explodes borders: it’s a mix of trip-hop, gothy/culty vibes, ’80s electro, VHS visuals, modern dance, and more. It’s not what I’m usually into, but I kept listening to it too often to not include it here.
10. “Dynamo” – Benny Bock. An ambient-adjacent piece that operates in the space between pressing forward and lagging back, with subtly insistent beats competing against languid synths. The song opens up into a full-on instrumental downtempo indie-pop track midway through, complete with piano work, bass, and rhythm.
11. “Heat Haze” – SUSS. The ambient country outfit leans much more toward ambient than country here, convincingly squeezing their usual Western soundscapes into a form that convincingly represents the too-bright, fatigued, liminal space that is a high heat day. (Source: I live in Phoenix.)
1. “I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)” – Gold Panda. The cheerful, quirky sounds of Gold Panda are back! This one has a subtle disco beat feel, the chopped vocals that are his trademark (and evoke similar artist Pogo), and a patience that puts it in line with Teen Daze. Just a lovely piece of chipper dance music. Highly recommended.
2. “Brookside Hybrid 23” – Ott. Chillout electro with world music vibes thrown into the mix. It’s like Ulrich Schnauss on an around-the-world cruise.
3. “For Now” – Lutalo. Low-key indie rock filling in the spaces between Damian Jurado and Make Sure; easy shuffle and real talk.
4. “Look Outside” – Dylan Gilbert. “It’s my choice what I think about / so why am I torturing / myself?” Gilbert sings against a solid guitar strum and dissonant background guitars. I feel that message; I feel that message a lot.
5. “I Will Be Glad” – Jess Jocoy. Jocoy’s vocally patient and instrumentally relaxed approach to folk turns out a beautiful rumination on family and death.
6. “what’s the use, the real use?” – phoneswithchords. An Elliott Smith-style rumination that is both feathery and gloomy. Hope is out there in the distance, just beyond the intimate vocals and calm guitars. Touches of Sufjan’s quietest moments hover in there as well.
7. “We Are The Creatures This Desert Makes Us” – droneroom. Maybe living in the Phoenix desert has gotten to me, but I can’t stop listening to ambient country. droneroom’s latest is a spacious rumination that depends on guitar tone, space between notes, and subtle drone to create an ominous-and-inviting mood. The vast, unforgiving desert has its own charms, and this track depicts some of the emotions that come along with them excellently.
8. “Wide Corners” – Space Between Clouds. Truly ambient and truly jazzy, this piece seeks to layer the elements on top of each other instead of mix them. The result is a ten-minute piece that has quite a lot going on for being a drone.
9. “Kings (Orchestra vers.)” – Jose Pavli. A much more formal choir-and-orchestra soundtrack piece than I usually cover, but it caught my ear with its consistent energy and strong melodic lines.
10. “Elegant Demise” – Once Upon a Winter. The post-metal here makes equally good use of double-pedal kick and violin. Fans of pg.lost will find much to like in the heavy rock approaches, while fans of more moody post-metal will find the soaring lead lines and the classy breakdown section to their liking. A powerful post-metal piece.