Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Early January Singles 1: Indie Pop

January 16, 2018

1. “Ride Down the Avenue” – Walter Martin. If you threw dance-rock, Vampire Weekend, CCR, and Jimmy Buffet into a blender, you still probably couldn’t come up with this unusually fun and exciting tune about getting older. Martin’s blurry vocals are the perfect counterpoint to the wall of cheer that he so convincingly creates. Wow.

2. “In Darkness We Feel Our Way” – Delorentos. The impassioned lead vocal performance steals the show here, and there’s quite a show to steal: the tropical-inspired indie-rock arrangement of the sound is pierced by vocal melismatics and occasional choir. The percussion here does unsung hero work in keeping the many parts of this piece on track. The results are spectacular.

3. “With Me” – Language Arts. This flickering, fluttering indie-pop/emo tune has all the best qualities of Braid and Football, etc.– lots of dreamy soundscapes paired with zinging guitar lines that make the whole thing shine like a diamond under a light. The ability to firm up into a straight-forward emo/rock phase is also a bonus, giving some diversity to the piece.

4. “The Emperor” – The Gold Web. Where At War With the Mystics was The Flaming Lips’ response to a Republican administration, “The Emperor” is The Gold Web’s response to another one. This is a huge, whirling, technicolor psych-pop nugget that draws heavily from the aforementioned era of The Flaming Lips, glam-rock, and the Beatles (if you listen close to the vocal lines and back up vocals).

5. “Giants” – Sure Sure. Recipe for this ray of sunshine: the perkiness of Ben Folds, the off-the-cuff holler of Generationals, and the precise rhythms of Bishop Allen. The piano and vocals both deserve mad props for their contributions to this fantastically summery track.

6. “Soul No. 5” – Caroline Rose. Is this a parody of money rap? Or of indie rock? Or both? Or neither? What the lyrics suggest, the video only amplifies–there is definitely something going on here lyrically. But beyond the lyrics, this is a rambunctious, rollicking rock’n’roll song with a delectable indie-pop chorus vocal melody. Whatever conclusions you come to about the tune, I can guarantee you’ll have a blast figuring it out.

7. “Portrait of Arthur Russell” – Similar Fashion. Sounds like a jazz combo and a math-rock band in a contemporary West Side Story rumble. By the time that Logan Hone starts chanting “research and dancing,” I’m all in on this totally madcap, how-does-this-all-hold-together vision of collaborative music. Also I’m researching and dancing. I can at least vouch that you will want to do the latter, but maybe even the former!

8. “Hiding Places” – Rain on Monday. Solid popcraft sometimes is codewords for “sounds like the Beatles,” but I would suggest that it has wider implications now. This solid pop song builds out of chipper acoustic guitar, bass punched way up in the mix, solid percussion contributions, well-placed synths (including arpeggiator, man I love those things), and a low-key memorable lead vocal melody in the chorus. There’s no big eruption of sound, no curveballs, just really great indie-pop throughout.

9. “Strange But True” – Western Scene. This indie-pop jam spends the first minute teasing you with what a jubilant, exuberant track this could be, then lets you have it. Big guitars, lots of cymbals (thankfully turned down low in the mix–enough to get the point across but not to shred ears), and soaring keys make this a shake-your-hips-whip-your-hair jam.

10. “Easy Company” – Safari Gold. A perfect name for the song and band. This track is an easygoing, easy-to-love indie-pop track. The whole vibe of the tune is warm and bright, just like the gold of the band name. If Lord Huron got some MGMT mixed in his drink, we might end up with something like this.

11. “10,000 Year Old Woman” – Long Neck. An immersive, convincing breakup-or-is-it? tune that goes beyond the tropes and reveals a little more of the story. The strong, clear vocal performance is the thing to write home about musically; the well-done acoustic work is also compelling.




Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017

January 15, 2018

May we continue to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” When the despair seems never greater, so must our hope be.




Premiere: Brook Pridemore’s “No Tiger, Ever”

January 14, 2018

Brook Pridemore is an acoustic-punk band that’s sometimes more punk than acoustic. But on “No Tiger, Ever,” Pridemore is downright peaceful.

A wistful, melancholy fingerpicked acoustic guitar line comes in, given some body by ambient synths and gentle found sound (although, it should be noted, the gentle spoken word clip is about increasing hostility). Pridemore’s vocals replace the spoken word and slowly reveal a single lyrical idea in a delicate vocal melody. It’s not quite a singer/songwriter ballad, it’s not quite slowcore acoustic, it’s not quite indie pop–instead, it’s a self-contained, beautiful song that bends the boundaries of Pridemore’s sound and of the genres it could be associated with. If you’re into left-of-center acoustic stuff, like Clem Snide or Eels or any of Michael Nau’s aliases, you’ll be into this track.

“No Tiger, Ever” comes from the forthcoming Metal Is My Only Friend.

Jenny and Tyler Fight the Darkness

January 8, 2018

I mentioned recently that lo-fi records often have the benefit of being “all of a piece”; the tendency for lo-fi artists to write, record, and release in rapid succession lets listeners get a sense of how artists feel at a given point in time. This look-in isn’t only reserved for lo-fi artists; Jenny & Tyler have been putting out songs almost weekly for about six months, courtesy of a studio they own.

Their newest album is the latest batch of work from that burst of disciplined, hard-working creativity. Jenny and Tyler recently mentioned on their Patreon that they aren’t very good at naming things, which is why their latest album is called Album Two [Patreon]

I have a humble suggestion for a name: Jenny and Tyler Fight the Darkness. Every song on this record is about fighting through hard times–eight out of ten songs mention the words “dark” or “night”. The other two are powerful opener “Who I’m Not,” which is about struggling to feel like a real person while constantly on the road, and closer “Rejoice,” which is about trusting and rejoicing in God to get through hard times. This album is for those struggling personally (“The Sun Will Rise”), relationally (“I’m Sorry”), spiritually (“Now When the Dusky Shades of Night”) and/or existentially (“In These Bones”).

These struggles are real, pitched on massive and intimate scales. On one end, there’s the cosmic sweep of God fighting evil in this mortal plane amid the lives of his people (“The Sun Will Rise,” “In These Bones”); on the intimate side, there are liner notes showing the tiny details of life (“Written on 7/11/2017 during naptime after doctor’s appointment” and “Started writing on 9/29/2017 in guest bedroom while feeding Mary at 6a”) that are no less a struggle at times. The lullabies and assurances written for their children (“Baby I Got You,” “We Will Be Here For You”) also show off the intimacy of these tunes.

The tension between epic scope and intimate detail continues on into the music. “In These Bones” is one of the best, most mature expressions of their indie-folk/indie-rock fusion they’ve yet produced. It starts off all ominous vibes and fingerpicking before building from that small kernel to a huge “whoa-oh-oh” section accompanied by thrashing cymbals, thrumming bass, and distant distorted guitar. It’ll get your blood pumping.

It’s followed up by “Now When the Dusky Shades of Night,” an old hymn sung in duet style against gently fuzzed-out electric guitar fingerpicking. It’s the sort of recording that makes it feel like Jenny and Tyler are in the room with the listener. These two extremes show that J&T have honed and are honing their sound to become consistent and recognizable across many different arrangements and settings.

Other highlights include the straight-up folk-pop of “When I Hold Your Hand I’m Home” and the sun-dappled, Jack Johnson-y, lightly funky groove of “Baby I Got You.” Both are throwbacks to their very earliest albums–it’s a great thing to hear that sound not be completely be abandoned. “Rejoice” is a solo tune from Jenny that shines in its melody as well being a fitting end to the album. Fans of Sandra McCracken will enjoy this one in particular.

This latest Patreon album is available if you become patrons of Jenny & Tyler’s. They will be re-recording tracks from Album One, Album Two, and the upcoming Album Three to develop into a full-length, public release record, so you’ll hear some of these tracks in the future even if you don’t join the Patreon. However you hear these tracks, you should get excited about them if you’re into indie folk or indie rock. Jenny and Tyler are producing high-level work at an astonishing clip, and listeners are the winners.




Ben Anderson’s YouTopia: A fresh, eclectic indie voice

January 4, 2018

Ben Anderson is a unique man in the glut of indie singer-songwriters. The four songs of his November 2017 release YouTopia, produced by Olivier Zahm and recorded at Electric Lotus, are a showcase for this Phoenix-based talent. Standing out in one of the strongest music scenes in the country is a feat in itself.

On his fifth release, Anderson has taken his music and tossed it into a blender with a twist. The essences of Thom Yorke, Placebo, and Philip Selway beg attention and reflect the eclectic substance in the quartet of tracks. This makes an adventure for listeners heading in. The vibe shifts easily from dark, haunting rock to pop to soul. The connective tissue is authentic tone Ben Anderson brings, the tonic of this release. Interesting here is the juxtaposition of the music against lyrics. Bright music acts as a counterbalance to dark lyrics, making for a fresh indie voice.

All songs on YouTopia are a collaborative effort by Anderson, Zahm, and a host of contributors. Giving this record its life are Ben Anderson on vocals and guitar; Olivier Zahm on vocals, guitar, bass, piano, keyboard, and percussion; Greg Jacks on drums; Mario Mendivil on bass; Dan Puccio on horn arrangement; Shea Marshall on baritone sax and keys; Danny Doyle on trumpet; Anthony Reed on trombone; Holly Pyle on background vocals; M.S. Kannan on violin; and Ganesan Gajendran on mridangam.

Opening with “Clay Pigeons,” the lyricism supports the titular metaphor with destructive imagery. Lush with guitar and gang vocals, the song was one of the lead singles and accompanied by a video. One of the most haunting tracks from the artist is enhanced by some great production values.

“Absentia” pulls in instrumentation that sometimes overshadows the soft-spoken artist in a good way. Feeling like a dream, the chaos is intentional; piano-driven, feeling like an abstract painting by Picasso. Zahm delivers a piano masterclass here, finding a way to connect with the smoky piano bar, Al Green substance that lurks behind the dark vocal delivery. Following up with the uptempo “Goodbye Serenity,” listeners can be lulled into missing out on the lyrical message. Truly a masterful rabbit out of the hat, this song creates the path that the final track can follow.

Dropping in to the sweet spot vocally makes for  a Ben Anderson wet dream. The place of “Lukewarm” in the quartet of songs is a perfect bit of sequencing. Putting the Sam Smith sexy on this song : slow and easy, the song is a satisfying sensual crescendo.

Taking into consideration that art is a combination of all elements, a singer-songwriter has a difficult job. The suspension of disbelief must be based on an authentic connection to the finished masterpiece. If listeners need a visual to go with the audio, the Ben Anderson YouTube loops the musical art. Like fingers intertwined while holding hands, lyrics and music are the spark to this indie acoustic flame.–Lisa Whealy




Young Mister’s Wise Soft Rock

December 19, 2017

Young Mister’s latest EP, Soft Rock, gives its listener an immediate sense of being rooted in wisdom and nature. The unassuming acoustic instrumentation serves to foster a minimalist sense of letting what is not necessary to life simply fade away. Layered atop the instrumentation, Steven Fiore’s crisp, Ben Gibbard-like vocals allow the lyrics to come to the forefront of the EP, further solidifying its message of simplicity.

“Whispering River” starts the release off beautifully. The slowly strumming guitars calm the listener in preparation for the rest of the relaxing EP. I love the repeated lyric: “I want to build us a home, right on this mountain / Give me an ax and I’ll start collecting the wood,” because it describes something that, to me, is very dreamlike. From that one lyric, I can picture a whole surreal lifestyle, where life is built right off the land with flourishing vegetable gardens and maybe even thriving honey bees. I don’t know about you, but that life sounds fantastic to me. When giving the track a further listen, it seems like the life that is laid out in those lyrics is also the speaker’s dream and not yet his reality. The final lyric– “O Whispering river calling me down, I woke up on the other side”– transitions to the next track wonderfully, as nature awakens us all to reality.

“Imaginary Lines”, although still acoustic, has pepped up its step a bit with its slightly quicker pace. Yet, the lyrics maintain a wise groundedness, as Fiore gifts us with nuggets like “You can’t go back / so keep on straight ahead / All the weight that you stack / inside of remember when’s”. The nature-infused lyrics then culminate to the track’s climax: “Let it go man, you’re just holding on,” repeated three times and then paired with “to something that’s long gone”. This track is a perfect example of the minimalistic sound lending itself to reinforce the minimalist message of letting go of the things we hold too closely in life.  

The third track, “Infinite Space,” adjusts its focus from earth to, as the title hints, space. Not only the lyrics, but the whole sound of the track feels more spacey than the other songs; from the warbly interlude mid-track to the ethereal female vocals that echo the hook “somewhere out there in the infinite space”. This first single off the album does not disappoint.

“On the Inside” switches out the guitars for a heavier piano with accents of strings, like the cello and violin. I love that Fiore chose to use the piano as this love-song’s anchor. I say love-song, but there is nothing mushy or gushy about this track. Instead, it’s full of intelligent metaphors, playing off an inside / outside dynamic. The first metaphor engages when Fiore sings “you were a capsule buried in the snow / I found you in the springtime / I want to open it up, I want to know / Let’s see what’s on the inside.” That metaphor then continues with the later lyric: “I can be your summer / you can be my winter / take me to your hidden room.” And everyone’s heart just melted. The next metaphor begins by introducing a “house built with a purpose” (perhaps from the first song) and he continues– “I wanna open up all the doors and see what’s on the outside.” The final metaphor returns to the focus of love, “we are an envelope with a letter written from another time / I wanna hold it up to the sun and see what’s on the inside.”

The final track, “Take Everything” really steps out of the typical instrumentation of the EP, as it opens up with percussive elements and maintains a fuller-sounding instrumentation throughout. One of the most impressive aspects of the EP is how perfectly titled all of the tracks are. Each two-to-three word title echoes the main lyric of each of the songs. So for the final track, “Take Everything” is from the chorus: “We turn to / the clouds for answers that we couldn’t find / they shout back / take everything that you can get and get out of here alive”. It makes so much sense to me that the track that follows up “On the Inside” is one that personifies “the clouds” as the one with the wisdom. Therefore, the most inwardly focused song is quickly followed up by one that focuses on nature truly having the answers.

Young Mister’s EP starts and ends with nature. Nature (“the Whispering River”) is what awoke our speaker in the first track. As we come to the EP’s end, nature (“the clouds”) provides the answers that we can’t find from ourselves, our things, and our loved ones. I get the sense from this album as a whole that true wisdom is knowing that nature is where we find life’s answers, not ourselves. So lounge back, put your feet up, and gain a little wisdom from Young Mister’s Soft Rock.–Krisann Janowitz




The Singer and the Songwriter: A light, airy journey unfolds

December 18, 2017

Being labeled “indie” can be a constricting thing for artists that are searching for solid footing. Avoiding traps such as this, The Singer and The Songwriter are solidly owning their own space in the folk genre. With an airy tone blending into this six song EP Directions, it is easy to hear where comparisons to the likes of Sara Bareilles came from. To be compared to vocalists like that could be a bad thing, if someone cannot deliver. Wonderfully, that is not the case here.

Rachel Garcia and Thu Tran are The Singer and The Songwriter. They each embrace their connection as a duo brilliantly. Written over the past year after a seventy-nine city tour across twenty-five states, the album was recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco with producer/engineer Scott McDowell (The Head and The Heart).

Embracing the songs that evolved out of this journey, “Wild Heart” kicks in with a light, airy vibe, bringing to mind every childhood summertime in the country. A stellar example of painting with sound, listeners are invited on a journey with this band from California. The duo blends multicultural influences into sounds that wrap into the soul. It is easy to resonate with “Give Love”: doesn’t this song speak to us all?  Garcia delivers a vocal performance that finds the strength of Tran’s guitar to lean upon. Stellar and sweet, this one is an auditory vision of love.

Halfway through the six songs, “Anywhere, Everywhere” is a touring musician’s life for the rest of us to enjoy. I love the production here–it is simple and structured, allowing the lyrical simplicity to breathe. Finding a way to bring the road to listeners, “Anywhere, Everywhere” is that life down to fast food and kindness of strangers. Darren Johnston’s trumpet really shines here, giving punctuation to the simple beauty of the song. Uncluttered and unburdened by too much production, each moment is a road trip into the unknown. None the worse for wear, listeners can only appreciate this by hanging arms out of the windows, soaring.

The Singer and the Songwriter explore these same ideas in the album artwork from Danielle Krysa. Mixed media on paper, the album art brings an augmented vision to the music that feels like a watercolor painting: bright and soft, a blend of colors, with light brushstrokes making the impressions.

Many argue that serendipity brings people and situations together for unknown reasons– “Worried No More” questions when and how that happens. Jazz elements come together in a twist-and-shout feel on one of the best tracks of the release. This song provides a playground for Garcia to sing around, all wrapped in Tran’s guitar. “Show Me The Mountain” is that cinematic performance most bands could only dream of. Layering Garcia’s restrained vocal delivery on drums from Aaron Kierbel, this music is exotic and hypnotic. The track is a masterpiece in every way.

Heading out of the record, it is easy to see how a return to the beginning is what feels right for The Singer and The Songwriter. It is delightful to hear Asian influences in “Apparent Brightness” subtly commingling with hispanic rhythmic patterns. Gerry Gross on piano and Mia Nardi-Huffman on violin are not to be forgotten on this release as well. This whole album was done with a gentle hand in San Francisco.

Wrapping the ears around this collection of music over and over again is highly recommended. With each musical vision on each track, the unfolding of a journey begins. Each time around brings to light more and more to appreciate in the sonic layering techniques.–Lisa Whealy




Top Releases of the Year

December 15, 2017

This year I’m just going to have one list of releases that encompasses both full releases and EPs. Without further ado, here it is:

1. Twigs – townsppl. (Review) The most infectious indie-pop I heard all year. I couldn’t stop listening to it from the first time I heard it.

2. A Lovely Wait – Nathan Partain. (Review) Easily balances being a folk album and a worship album, subsequently transcends both genre labels.

3. Thinking about Thursdays – Lullatone. (Review) The scope of this project is massive, but the quality never suffers. Charming, endearing, thoughtful instrumental twee work here.

4. Fear Not – Cameron Blake. (Review) This album spans an impressive range of emotions, moods, genres, and lyrical places. Blake shows off his distinctiveness throughout.

5. Oversleepers International – Emperor X. (Review) Starts off as a acoustic-punk album, then sprawls outward in all directions. The one-two punch of “Wasted on the Senate Floor” and “Schopenhauer in Berlin” is the best album-opening blast of the year.

6. Two Sets of Eyes – Two Sets of Eyes. (Review) A mind-bending amalgam of indie-rock, jazz, hip-hop, and emo that has more twists than a rollercoaster. Whoa now.

7. Bright Hopes! – Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings. (Review) Another album of massive scope, Crawford’s double album of melodic indie-rock is punchy, clever, and unforgettable.

8. Listen to the River – The Collection. (Review) It’s an emotionally heavy piece of work, which is par for the course with the Collection. The orchestral-folk outfit’s songwriting vision is as clear and strong as ever.

9. II – Alex Dezen. (Review) A veritable jukebox of ’70s and ’80s pop styles matched with Dezen’s eye for lyrical detail and ear for inescapable melodies.

10. Tambaleo – Matthew Squires. (Review) Squires’ left-of-center, idiosyncratic vision of indie-pop is on full display here. I didn’t hear anything else like Tambaleo all year.

11. Wives’ Tales – Illustrated Manual. (Review) A moving, carefully-crafted set of acoustic singer-songwriter/folk tunes.–Stephen Carradini

Winding on out of each year, the reflection of great music begins. Here are my picks. That being said, I do hope that you find a bit of something new that brings you cheer heading into the 2018!

10. Jenny ScheinmanHere on Earth. It’s a rare feat to bring true roots Americana to life. Jenny Scheinman does just that in her album Here On Earth. History brought to life musically, this is an experience not to be missed.

9. This Pale FireAlchemy. Singer/songwriter Corban Koschak performs as This Pale Fire from Auckland, New Zealand. His subtle, nuanced acoustic music is finding wings around the globe with soulful melody and emotive vocal delivery, bringing to mind early years of Michael David Rosenberg.

8. Cyclope EspionFriday Night Epitaph. The best music tells a story. Finding a voice in America, French-born Cyclope Espion’s Friday Night Epitaph is the story of New York City. With every raw, Dylan-esque moment, this album is “Indélébile” from start to finish.

7. DoubleVeeThe Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider. This is trippy indie at its finest. With shimmers reminiscent of Oingo Boingo, this is musical deliciousness not to be missed. Jack the Rider emerges out of Norman, Oklahoma–not normally known as a spot for a concept album. But to say any more about the album might take away from an initial listener experience with Alan and Barb Vest.

6. Charles Ellsworth Cesaréa. Ellsworth’s 2017 record found him back at Flying Blanket Studios working with producer Bob Hoag. This partnership helped shaped the evolution of many tracks that populate Cesaréa. Travels and journeys forge this singer/songwriter’s journey through life. This is the third full-length album by the artist who left the wilds of northeastern Arizona to finish film school in Utah, only to uproot and end up in Brooklyn. It will be great to hear what the next five years in his life sounds like.

5. The American WestThe Soot Will Bring Us Back Again. Matthew Zeltzer (guitar/vocals) and Maria Maita-Keppeler (vocals, violin) are The American West from Portland, Oregon. Their “post-Americana” sound envelops each track off their debut album The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again.

4. Trevor James Tillery Together, Alone. With some of the most stunning artwork of the year representing an album of pure social analysis, this Nashville-based singer/songwriter proves that each carefully-chosen lyric can paint a picture in music. Undeniably outstanding.

3. Jason Van WykAttachment and Opacity. These two albums of piano is the storyteller for a look at relationships. This two-part masterwork is composition at its finest.

2. Grover AndersonFrom the Pink Room. All listeners gravitate toward great songwriting. From The Pink Room is the third album from the folk singer/songwriter from historic Murphys, California. The album blends great storytelling in a true troubadour fashion with country flair. Anderson is a man to watch.

1. Polyrhythmics Caldera. Genius takes all forms, but rarely does that put nine musicians of incredible caliber into a creative space–the album is named Caldera after the form left behind from a volcanic eruption. On their fourth studio album, the Seattle-based band is all about that jazz. But that foundation allows the band to stretch into rock, funk, blues, and R&B forms. Their sound expands like the caldera that is the album’s namesake.

I hope to hear your favorites from this year’s IC. Have a prosperous 2018! –Lisa Whealy




Lord Buffalo: tense/quiet, powerful/blasting

December 11, 2017

There’s no one quite like Lord Buffalo. The Austin outfit combines acoustic drone, folk, indie-rock, and post-rock into inventive, unexpected tunes that capture a sense of the Wild West. If you’re up for a wild, blow-back-your-hair listening experience, Lord Buffalo should be your jam.

The six-track record starts off with “Xochimilco,” a tune with roughly 30 seconds of drone and 50 seconds of gritty single-note guitar and shrieking violin on top of that drone. That interplay between tense, quiet moments and powerful, blasting ones is a theme that continues throughout the record.

“Axolotl” is a microcosm of the whole record: powerful, emotion-wracked vocals howl over a simple rhythmic base of stomping guitar chords, simple drums, and patterned bass before exploding abruptly into a furious maelstrom of sound. (I’ve used “maelstrom” to describe Lord Buffalo before, and the word is not getting any less apt.) The band goes back and forth in quiet/loud until the absolutely towering conclusion that would put a lot of more traditional post-rock bands to shame in sheer force.

The last dying organ holds bleed into “Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca,” which is a mournful, skyscraping dirge that resists going full out into post-rock (it just threatens it, which is a threat to believe after “Axolotl”). The ten-minute “Saxifrage” is the most country-inflected of the tunes, as the opening salvo sounds almost traditional (but there’s always a tinge of doom from the ever-present reverb). The tune moves through sections that can be even called pretty before punching into something approximating indie-rock. And that’s only half the tune.

There’s a lot going on in Lord Buffalo, as the band stretches their bounds in every possible way. (I feel just terrible for the violin used on this record, what with all the sounds that are wrung out of it.) But all throughout there is a consistent ethic: an intensity that manifests itself in all-out pounding and in very quiet sections. Lord Buffalo is giving its all on this record, and you can tell. If you’re into maximalist music, atypical folk, weird post-rock, or any combination of those things, you’ll find a treasure trove on this self-titled record.

Silver Torches: Incisive, insightful songs of the blue-collar condition

December 8, 2017

Silver Torches‘ Let It Be a Dream speaks convincingly and heartbreakingly in a rural, blue-collar voice, along the lines of Jason Isbell or Hillbilly Elegy. (The excellent album art perfectly displays the culture the band is talking about.) But where Isbell’s work can get raucously loud, Silver Torches’ singer/songwriter work is intimate, drawing the listener close to the pain and difficulty of that life.

The lyrics throughout the record are powerful. Even in the most sonically expansive track, the ’80s-synth-led “If I Reach,” principal songwriter Erik Walters ties blue-collar concerns (“There’s no heaven or hell waiting for us / we punch the clock”) to the emotional realities of a dead-end situation (“If you leave before me / Don’t you know / I won’t be far behind / If you make your peace / Before me / I won’t mind”). Elsewhere, stories of small town bars (“Bartender”), rust belt unemployment (“Half a Heart”), and missed opportunities (“Keep the Car Running,” “At the Lantern”) call up comparisons to Bruce Springsteen’s lyrical concerns. In dealing with these nuanced, complex situations, Walters shows himself an skillful lyricist and observer of the human situation.

The music is just as impressive as the lyrics: this is a full-band effort, expanding singer/songwriter tunes with strong arrangements. The tone is different, but the work of Counting Crows has some of the same contours–songs that could be solo pieces, but are filled out. Walters knows how to write an inescapably catchy vocal hook (“Keep the Car Running,” “Like a Child,” “At the Lantern”)–these songs stuck with me for a long time after their runtime. Those aforementioned arrangements are strong: they allow the songs to surge, swell, and sway where necessary. The band offers up a quiet intensity that lends a vital urgency to the tunes of difficult life.

Every song on Let It Be a Dream is commendable, from the emotionally devastating “Let It Be a Dream” to the impressive vocal performance of “Half a Heart” to the soulful “I Can’t Lie” to spartan vibes of closer “Bartender.” It’s not a long record, but it’s one that stuck with me for a long time. If you’re looking for incisive lyrics, excellent songwriting, and intimate performances, Let It Be a Dream is a must-hear. It’s heavy, but it’s the right kind of heavy: the kind that lets you take something away that you didn’t think about before.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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