Love can be a fickle mistress, filled with hope and expectation, fear and anticipation. Grover Anderson has found a way to tap into the journey almost everyone experiences in his new album From the Pink Room. This new acoustic album, released March 3, 2017, is a simple, sweet expression of how a skilled songwriter shares his perceptions acoustically with incredible ease.
As the story goes, the musician holed up in the back room of his house that is covered with pink striped walls. The concept of this album was born out of a meeting with a woman. She had been in a relationship for seven years; the house’s previous owner had painted the room with the vibrant color. It is also known as the healing color for the heart chakra, making this album all the more special.
Anderson opens the album with “Evergreen” as an intentional hope for the future. The growth of something special is like the organic path of life. With exceptional talent, Anderson’s fingerpicking guitar fits the content. When telling a story like this, it could be easy to get lost, but Anderson paints a masterpiece landscape with the songs. Harry Nilsson comes to mind in “Parallel,” challenging listeners to come along for the ride, soulful and real. The lyrical landscape here is full of imagery, and the sensory exploration of “Natural Bridges” is no exception. Raw and unapologetic, it is a challenge to get real. It is also a tribute to the landmark that graces Calaveras County, where Anderson grew up–undoubtedly a hangout for the locals.
The great thing about music that fits into the Great American Songbook is that there is depth and substance in telling the American experience. This album is no exception, painting a picture through the color spectrum. “Holes” hits the dark places between relationships, often painful and uncertain. Part of the experience with this auditory picture book is the cover art design and artwork by Alexis Wagner; the color spectrum is the left to right vision that parallels the album. “Little Spoon” is the uptempo romp that square dances its way through the middle of the album–a heartbeat of hope and joy.
It is not strange how art is shaped by real life. “Willie Nelson” and “For Goose” both touch on grief and the power it has over a life left to live. Haunting and hopeful, the two songs contrast each other like complimentary colors in a garden of flowers. What lessons are learned is the message, but the memory is the real foundation. “Boulder” is one of the absolute standouts on an exceptional indie acoustic guitar release. In covering The Smiths’ classic “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” Anderson shows off a stellar mix of simplicity and power. Haunting and painful, the song resonates with every and any broken heart. Emotions bleed through the vocal delivery from Anderson.
A full fourteen songs includes “Old Songs” as a mash-up of other music, creative and fresh. Taking it back into the breakup of love, “Ember” is a rip-to-shreds appraisal of a she-devil mankiller. A lyrical masterclass, it is a joy to feel the burn. “The Best You Can” has also found its way onto From The Pink Room, taking everything full circle. Its acoustic elegance is wrapped in a neat package. A fourteen-song journey through the spectrum of emotions as well as color, this album is Americana Country at its finest.–Lisa Whealy
Prana Crafter’s psychedelic bliss always leaves me wanting more. After reviewing last year’s album, Rupture of Planes, I could not wait to get my hands on what William Sol had brewing next. And MindStreamBlessing was worth the anticipation. Just as the album’s title suggests, the tracks take me on a matchless journey, with no vocals and quite the range of instruments. Each instrument used brings its own flavor to the collection of six songs.
Released last month, MindStreamBlessing is an entrance to a world I wish I knew more intimately. The tracks feel playful yet seductive, as they show us a peek into the Washington woodlands. The first song, “At Agartha’s Gate,” is the most inviting, as the acoustic and electric guitar sweetly set the mood. As the album progresses, I notice that since this collection contains no vocals, the instruments are left to tell the stories, akin to orchestral works. Each time a particular instrument–like the electric guitar, drums, or synth–appears, they are like actors on a stage. For example, the intricate electric guitar work that is sprinkled in this first song fully grows into its soulful skin by the last track.
Similarly, the acoustic guitar that starts off the album returns in the title song “MindStreamBlessing” to show off more of its sassy personality. With each track, the first guitar or bass lays the rhythmic foundation so that a second, often electric, guitar can enter in and take the lead. That second guitar usually comes in and sings a soulful, jazzy tune. Similar to Jimi Hendrix, you never know when the lead electric guitar plans on ending its rant.
Percussion is also a great addition to this album. In “As the Weather Commands,” the beating of the drums tells a story of movement. Picture someone playing wooden drums for a show, perhaps snakes coming out of baskets. Then, my favorite track off the album: “Luminous Clouds” opens up with what sounds like a recording of the night woodland wind and slowly builds until about halfway in, where a tambourine, guitar, and drum circle combination immediately thrust my thoughts to the middle of the woods, dancing around a bonfire. And since that’s one of my favorite places to be, I certainly don’t mind that.
At large, there’s a cyclical nature to MindStreamBlessing. Each track feels orchestrated by jazz musicians. Even when the lead electric guitar does go off on soulful displays of its power, it always seems to cycle back to an established rhythm, giving the album an effect of falling slowly down a concentric helical spring. Finally, the organ-like synth sounds which make a continual appearance throughout the collection add just the right amount of eeriness to complete the album’s wall of sound.
Prana Crafter’s MindStreamBlessing proves itself as another magical journey, clearly constructed by an adventurous soul.–Krisann Janowitz
Those with a fondness for acoustic guitar work combined with simple, straightforward songwriting will find great satisfaction in singer, guitarist and songwriter Matt Record. Record has developed his craft over the last decade and a half, covering some of the most fertile musical regions in the United States. Originally from Plymouth, Indiana, he has been blowing on the wind of his music from there to Chicago, Indianapolis, Oregon, Los Angeles, and London. With the Black Swan EP, Record delivers a fresh take on life that settles firmly in the country and folk genres that many have grown to love.
The Black Swan EP is “a mixture of some songs I’ve written over the last 12-14 years that fit together very well and were more acoustic driven,” says Record. Not only did the songs take time, they were written in four states and two incredibly fertile music scenes. Once it was finally recorded, the release featured Record (Martin D-35 acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, vocals), Andrew Madden (lap steel, keyboards, electric guitar), Paul Duda (bass), and Stephan Kohnke (drums and percussion).
The five songs of the EP are masterfully sequenced to feel like a sit down around a campfire or a fireplace. Opening with an aptly-named song featuring a simple sound, “Beautiful” is a love song singing the praises of real life with an almost Neil Young falsetto. Flowing from one song to the next can be a challenge, but it’s not hard for Record. “Black Swan” has an authentic “home, home on the range” feel punctuated by sparingly-used electric guitar. The newest song of the EP serves as a perfect title track. Restraint in the mix is key here for sure.
Record then strolls into “Insomnia,” which is reminiscent of some of the best from Charles Ellsworth and the Dirty Thirty mixed by the great Bob Hoag. “Dear Lord” firmly embraces the sentimentality of roots Americana, as the song fits neatly within the story Record is telling. The five-song collection ends with “Saddle Up,” which features the most rock vibes of the EP. The song ties together everything into a concise picture.
Great music can take sometimes take a lifetime in its creation; sometimes there’s an instantaneous connection to something real. Like the real-life landscapes that inspired this musical picture that he paints, Matt Record is the real deal here. Matt Record’s Black Swan EP, the follow-up to the 2010 release Kickbush, is out April 7th 2017 on Captain Beardo Records.–Lisa Whealy
Rarely have I had so much fun listening to a longhear than when listening to Lullatone‘s Thinking about Thursdays. The twee instrumental outfit, already an IC fave, recently compiled their “a song every Thursday in 2016” project into one big album of 52 songs. Their twee instrumentals are brilliant as ever, but their expanded sonic palette is what makes this album so wonderful.
Lullatone excels at making child-like music, turning toy pianos, music boxes, ukuleles, flutes and other small-sounding instruments into delicate and charming tunes (mostly in major keys). Their basic sound is something like The Album Leaf’s tender expansiveness mashed with Wes Anderson’s distinct, precise nostalgia. Openers “trying something again (again)” and “a photograph from the day you were born” stick to this script, creating memorable entries in the Lullatone oeuvre. This type of chipper, bright, clever song appears throughout the album; collectively, they are proof that Lullatone has mastered their craft and yet not exhausted it.
Things get even more exciting as they spread their wings. “how frost grows” signals a widening of their sonic scope, as a slurring, glacial, distorted guitar creates a desolate post-rock landscape. “cooped up at home with a fever and a tape loop” is just that: a hazy, tape hiss-laden fever dream that reminds me of a vocal-less version of The Microphones. “two turn tables and a casiotone” is a fun riff on the titular concept, while follow-on “how i broke my parents’ record player (when i was five)” is even more beat-heavy, landing somewhere between instrumental hip-hop and The Postal Service. “aboard Korean Air flight 742 to Seoul” continues what is ultimately a four-week beat fancy, adding stuttering snares and a melodic hook to a cherubic synth.
Things get even more exciting from there: “puddles full of petals (of Sakura)” combines harp, East Asian melodic ideas, and video game soundtrack drama (one of two back-to-back Asian sonic entries); “father-son adventures” has a jaunty, spry electric guitar line that will please any fan of major key post-rock a la Delicate Steve or Fang Island; “concrete waves” is filtered through a dense, stylish mesh of DJ Shadow. Other referents (real or imagined) include Matt and Kim, klezmer music, elevator music/vaporwave, and chillwave. I won’t spoil all the surprises (there are 52 songs!!), but suffice it to say that this is a great collection with almost no dead weight. Beyond the lovely individual songs, there’s a subtle joy in listening to a whole year of someone’s creation in what seems like chronological order, tracking through the seasons with the moods and titles of each song.
Thinking About Thursdays is that rare release that combines serious composition, thoughtful moods, intriguing instrumentation, quality sonic diversity, and out-and-out fun. It’s an incredible release, and it’s one of my early contenders for album of the year. Highly recommended.
Life can be a stark gritty landscape dotted with hope and heartache, but dreams of another tomorrow will bring you back. The American West captures the bleak beauty of Steinbeck’s America with debut album The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again, allowing listeners to immerse themselves in a dust storm of roots Americana music.
The album had humble beginnings. Zeltzer immersed himself in his songwriting as caretaker at an organic farm in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. Living in an Airstream made these songs real, haunting, and alive. The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again was recorded live to two-inch tape in three days at The Hallowed Halls in Portland, with the help of engineer Jordan Richter (Band Of Horses, Legendary Shack Shakers, Plastic Ono Band). Not a bad way to start.
Matthew Zeltzer and Maria Maita-Keppeler create magic together in a harmonic mesh with guitarist Will Haas, bassist Lewi Longmire, drummer Erich Spielmann, and keyboardist Benjamin Nathan O’Brien. The group of musicians assembled here fit together like a wagon train scouting up ahead. No one element instrument stands alone except for Zeltzer’s voice, which leads the music with a graceful, light hand. Standout “Ghost Town” shows off another important element of the album: Maita-Keppeler and Zeltzer work really well together. (Both have supported each other with appearances on each other’s work.) The Soot would be an echo of something great without the pair.
The band delivers an authentic dustbowl vibe, bringing stark images to mind like a Dorothea Lange photograph. Pedal steel shines on “Ritalin” shifting gears into harmonies that tug at the soul. “Ritalin” embraces the folk roots feel brilliantly. “Heart of Stone” is solid country, as angst-filled listeners can feel the rain coming down. “Patience, Young Conquistador” shines a light on the simplistic finger picking from Zeltzer illuminating the challenges from a land that was raped and working to be reborn. The attention-grabbing “Voices” creates an uptempo country-rock ramble with an urgency that stands out to the ear. Lyrically, it hearkens back to the near-apocalyptic destruction of central California land.
The lyrical quality shines elsewhere as well: “Roadsick Blues” and “Westward Man” showcase the masterful lyricism on this release. The latter has a chorus that demands attention: “He’s a shipwreck/He’s a bounced check/He’ll cut you down in the muddy street/He’s a tin can/He’s a fake tan/If you can read his lie you know you’re halfway there.” It’s a stellar mash of Townes Van Zandt and a present-day warning, like smooth bourbon going down smooth at the end of a long night. In the land of longing, “Looking For You” encompasses the sweet indie vibe, like a bee that cannot find the blossom on which to land. The language of longing and love take on different objects of affection with a cool lounge singer feel. Intimacy is the prize here.
Sometimes a listener just does not want a story to end. Such is the case here on the debut album from The American West. Coming to the end, “Let Me Love You Like A Pauper Does” pleads for a love that certainly suggests that fans will tire of the troubadour and his saga of life. The thing is: that’s not true. The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again is adding to the Great American Songbook, and we can only patiently wait for the next volume. Get yours March 17th, 2017.–Lisa Whealy
Maybe having an arsenal of Tennyson and Yeats really was the key to survival for songwriter, composer, and fiddle player Jenny Scheinman. “Okay, Jenny,” I imagine her mother telling her, “One more time, repeat after me…‘He clasps the crag with crooked hands.’” “What does any of that have to do with an album of fiddle tunes?” Scheinman asks. “The fiddle has that same raw, outlaw, dirt-on-your-knees spirit of prison poetry. The fiddle can be played by anyone with rudimentary musical skill,” her mother says. “It can entertain a crowd. Its songs are the people’s music. And honestly, if I ever end up in prison, I’d much rather have a fiddle on me than a poem,” retorts Scheinman. Her instrumental album Here on Earth is a reflection of that storytelling through the voice of the instrument Scheinman knows best.
The fifteen-song album has seen many of its songs find a home in Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, a collaboration with filmmaker Finn Taylor that was commissioned by Aaron Greenwald at Duke Performances. The music completes the picture, which collects archival footage taken between 1936-42 by H. Lee Waters (1902-1997). Waters was a North Carolina photographer who traveled across the Piedmont, a region spanning much of central North Carolina that includes parts of Appalachia. During his travels, he made short movies of people living ordinary lives during the Great Depression. This backdrop for the music makes the album extraordinary.
Scheinman based her band for these recordings on a specific scene from the movie, where three musicians (fiddle, banjo and guitar) are playing at a dance party. Danny Barnes (banjo, guitar, tuba), Robbie Fulks (guitar, banjo), Bill Frisell (guitar) and Robbie Gjersoe (resonator guitar) were brought in not just for their brilliant skills and deep-rooted understanding of fiddle music, but because they brought the barn-stomping, slightly unhinged energy she was trying to conjure.
By collecting this authenticity in the studio, the magic of a specific period in time is captured inHere On Earth. From the opening song “A Kid Named Lily” to “Broken Pipeline” and all those in between, each sings Americana in the purest form. It’s a treat for the ears to listen to American history. Scheinman makes the fiddle sing, delivering elegant beauty in the time capsule. The songs here are diverse: listeners will hear a jig (“Up On Shenanigan”) coupled with mournful work from Robbie Faulks (“Pent Up Boy”). It seems pointless to single out an individual track when they are part of a whole evoking deep emotion. The best suggestion is close your eyes and listen. Listening to Here on Earth by Jenny Scheinman is a joyful, haunting, hopeful journey that is not to be missed. For those lucky enough to be on the east coast, there are two upcoming opportunities to see this piece live in Maine or New York. Don’t miss out. —Lisa Whealy
1. “Friends” – Marsicans. Marsicans appeared fully-formed writing masterful indie-pop-rock songs. I have no idea how that happened, but we’re all beneficiaries. This one manages to get heavy on the lyrical content and yet still manages to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard since … uh … “Swimming” by Marsicans.
2. “My Roommate Is a Snake and the Landlord’s a Bat” – Gregory Pepper and His Problems. If the conceit of Sleigh Bells is “hardcore guitars tamed by pop melodies,” the conceit of Pepper’s new album Black Metal Demo Tape is “sludge metal guitar and indie pop melodies.” This particular track starts off as a doomy dirge before transitioning into a early-Weezer power-pop tribute to metal. It’s a fun ride the whole way through the track. The rest of the album is equally inventive, charming, and gloomy (sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but also sometimes not).
3. “Weathering” – moonweather. Fans of the acoustic work on Modest Mouse’s Good News album will love the unique vocal style and swaying, shambling, enthusiastic folk arrangement of this tune. The lilting, floating horns/string arrangement is excellent.
4. “€30,000” – Emperor X. If John Darnielle had collaborated with Pedro the Lion in between his All Hail West Texas and Tallahassee days, the results would have sounded as enigmatic and engaging as this incredible track. It’s almost pointless to tag this with genres–it’s a thoughtful, passionate, wild indie-pop (okay, I did it anyway) track.
5. “Unbroken Chains” – WolfCryer. If you’re not listening to WolfCryer yet, you’re missing out on some of the most vital, important folk songs being sung today. Baumann’s vocal delivery, vocal melodies, and lyrics are all top-shelf in this weary, burdened protest tune.
7. “I Won’t Rest Until” – Brianna Gaither. Following in the vein of Moda Spira, this tune seamlessly blends electro-pop synths, instrospective singer/songwriter piano, soulful vocals, and indie-rock drums for a thoroughly modern-sounding take on serious pop.
8. “We Notice Homes When They Break” – Loyal Wife. An earnest, charming love song that’s part alt-country (via the blaring organ), part indie-pop (through the vocal tone and vocal melodies), and part singer/songwriter (through the lyrics).
9. “Hold On” – Midnight Pilot. The title track to Midnight Pilot’s latest EP is a distillation of their Paul Simon-meets-Americana sound, a yearning piano-driven ballad augmented by lovely fluttering strings and capped off by a beautiful male vocal performance. The vocal melodies in the chorus are catchy and sophisticated, a balance rarely struck well.
10. “Alone with the Stars” – Ofeliadorme. Portishead-style trip-hop with a heavy dose of spacey/ambient synths for atmosphere. The video is in black and white because the song sounds like it is in noir tones.
11. “Eternally” – Julia Lucille. Fans of the complex emotional states of Julianna Barwick will find much to love in this track, which has similar focus on wordless vocals (although not looped and layered ones) to convey the dramatic, almost mystical mood. This track does have a full band supporting Lucille’s voice, and the band’s patient, thoughtful accompaniment creates a dusky evening for her voice to wander through.
12. “Islands III” – Svarta Stugan. Instead of releasing a video, this Swedish post-rock outfit released a video game. Set in a gray, bleak warzone environment, the game has elements of Helicopter Game and a side-scrolling space shooter. (It’s fun!) The song itself is a slowly-moving, minor-key, guitar-heavy post-rock piece of the Godspeed You Black Emperor! school. The game and the song really mesh well–it was a great idea.
Sometimes life gets in the way. Inspired by family, life, and death, Cadillac Pickup Truck(Slept On Records) was ten years in the making from Brother Paul, out of Stockton, California. Paul Hermann, a fixture in the local delta blues scene of the central valley, hammered out the authentic vibe that oozes out of this nine-song album while gigging in bars and nightclubs all over the Bay area. Though the city and scene have fallen on hard times, Brother Paul has found a new outlet for his music in Cadillac Pickup Truck, featuring Matthew Shaw (Her Space Holiday, City Light, Conrad the Band).
As a teenager, Shaw’s father passed away, and Hermann became his surrogate father. Shaw had always wanted to record songs with his uncle, and after sharing his early recordings with bandmate Nick Andre (Her Space Holiday, City Light, Dirty Ghosts) Brother Paul got real. Foundational musical influences–like Elvis Costello, Billy Bragg, and Wilco–and a thriving scene in the area gave this project’s music life. “Cadillac Pickup” sets the tone of the album, opening with an easy laugh and delta groove. The song gives a tease to the journey that life is compromise and change. The Wilco influence on this stroll of a story song is evident. “Telling Everybody” is the classic blues song of the record, dirty and down with that barroom feel.
It is difficult to tell where the story took a turn, but Hermann became ill at some point during early recording and was unable to continue. “Dream On” has that 1960’s quality of innocence, slow and simple. This song reflects some of the miracle of this album: After it was put on hold due to Hermann’s illness, he was granted a last-minute liver transplant that eventually saved his life.
After a full recovery and new lease on life the project found fresh traction, with “Lil To Late” a musical comment on the costly lifestyle that he loved. Nick Andre’s shuffling drums are the perfect accent here. “Burn That Sucker Down” continues the theme, documenting a day in the life of someone born and raised in the infamous Stockton who got seriously into playing music in the 1960’s. With an easy Grateful Dead feel, it is California dreaming with nice guitar punctuation.
“Student Blues” goes back to timeless dirty blues. Plucking out the qualities of a great party girl, it glides across the ears like a beauty swaggering across the room at the local tavern. Slowing it down with “She Left Alone,” the throwback to a different time is fitting with the lyrics of the song. Finding its voice in the past, the refreshing song has a Freddie King style. “Let the Ribbon Flow” keeps moving through rock and roll history, firmly into the traveling Eric Clapton slide. Slick and cool, the song is a fitting celebration of a life that almost came to an end too soon.
Putting a final note on Cadillac Pickup Truck, “Heroin Heart” tells the story of the blues, real and imagined. A seasoned musician sees different things from a different perspective, as a lifetime of experience can be heard in the vocal delivery. Leaving the live comments from the studio session here brings it back to life. The power of music is the restorative glue for Brother Paul. — Lisa Whealy
1. “Ich Cetera” – Austin Stahl. There’s not as much instrumental indie-rock in the world as I would like. This entry in the genre is a road-tripping song, a friendly and adventurous little tune underpinned by a stable drumline and guitar strum pattern. The Nick Drake-esque piano line is lovely as well.
2. “Retro Kid” – Retro Kid. “It comes into my head / the need to dance” is the refrain on this sleek, low-slung electro-pop gem. If all electro-dance were as slinky and winding, I might be out at the club more often. (And by the club, I mean “me in my living room, playing electro-pop at full blast”.)
3. “Stuck Between” – Klara Zubonja. An almost overwhelmingly twee introduction opens into an exuberant indie-pop track that’s a cross between the sass of Lily Allen, the coy subtlety of Regina Spektor, and the punchy arrangements of Ingrid Michaelson.
4. “Be Here Now” – Annabelle’s Curse. Genre-busting indie outfit Annabelle’s Curse returns with a song that, well, busts genres. There’s some alt-country, some indie-pop, some grungy indie-rock, and more crammed into this flowing, atypical song structure. Viva la invention.
5. “Pocketknife” – The Anchor Collective. The vocal melodies are front and center in this indie rock track, as not even a crunchy guitar section can take my ear away from the comforting, comfortable melodies that play out over the mostly-dreamy arrangement.
6. “Beth” – Paul Whitacre. Every now and then a song comes along that jumps out of the pack and says, “Listen to me!” This folk-pop tune with country guitar leads is a breath of fresh air in a crowded field, from the lovely melodies to the deft arrangement to the carefully organized lyrics to the immaculate production job. This is top-shelf work, people. Jump on it.
7. “Memorial Day” – Palm Ghosts. Dawes-esque Americana meets REM-style ’90s guitar-rock jangle in the sonic equivalent of a well-worn, trusty jacket. You may not have heard this song before, but it will feel familiar and great as soon as you do.
8. “Rosanna” – Mike Llerena. This song has punk rock vocal tone and melodies, doo-wop rhythms, and alt-country guitar tone. All three of those genres have heart-on-sleeve tendencies, and they’re on full display here in this “sad, spurned lover” lyric set. If you’re into 500 Miles to Memphis, you’ll be all up on this.
9. “Savior’s Hand” – Colin Onderdonk. Powerful vocals and a spartan arrangement consisting almost entirely of rumbling toms and wiry string bass creates a sonic environment that mirrors the lyrics that describe a weary traveler in an ominous, dangerous land.
10. “The Conversation of the Street Lights Will Pass as Quickly as Our Words” – The Bowling Alley Sound. This stuttering, wide-eyed, major-key post rock tune includes burbling guitars, soaring bass work, evocative (and high quality) found sound / spoken word clips, and a delightful sense of motion through the whole piece. Fans of The Album Leaf, Delicate Steve, Adebisi Shank, and other major-key post-rock will find much to love in this.
11. “The Naked Mind” – Ryan Svendsen. I’ve never heard a piece composed entirely of looped, layered trumpet lines and percussion. The trumpet is naturally an instrument prone to brash melodies, long melodic runs, and alternation between mellow and sharp tones, and all of that is on display here. There’s a hypnotic groove to the piece through the repetition of the theme that is only increased by the eruption of the percussion partway through. Adventurous listeners: rejoice!
12. “Himalaya” – Klangriket. By including lots of atmospheric, foley-type sounds, this song becomes both a minimalist soundtrack and the movie it is scoring. It’s a distinct, unique, very adventurous sonic experience that blends classical, post-rock, found sound, and soundtracks together.
1. “Sun” – Cavegreen. Stomping toms, dense synths, heavily reverbed guitar squalls, and feathery female vocals drop this piece into a triangle between synth-pop, folk-pop, and earthy new-age work. It’s an impressive, unique sound.
2. “Back to Life” – Mama Ghost. It’s got a folk-pop chassis, but the engine is “Lean On”-levels of pop catchiness and chanting vocal hooks and the paint job is a sweet whistling hook. If this were the type of thing that was on the radio, I’d be listening to the radio more.
3. “Hold Us Together” – WILD. I am pretty sure I will always have room in my heart for an anthemic folk-pop song featuring group vocals, big melodies, clapping, and thumping tom hits.
4. “February” – Smith and Thell. These Swedes meld the soaring drama of Irish folk melodies (that fiddle!), the stomp-and-clap enthusiasm of folk-pop, and the soulful piano of Hozier-style work to come up with a bold, very catchy sound.
5. “Ghosts” – Mara Simpson. Theremin is a really cool concept, but it has to be used really well to connect with me. Simpson here implements long notes held by the instrument to contribute an eerie cast to a singer/songwriter tune.
6. “Portraits” – Runabay. Hypnotic, jangly guitar meets swooping cello and layers of percussion and vocals to create a thick, full sound. The jaunty violin melody at the very end seals the deal.
7. “What a Life” – Ziegler Co. Old-timey acoustic pop is a tough thing to pull off without sounding cheesy, but Ziegler Co. keep things simple enough that the vintage songcraft doesn’t sound cliche. Instead, it’s recognizable and smile-inducing.
8. “Cheap Words” – The Bergamot. Songs with a lounge-singer vibe usually aren’t mining a deep emotional vein, but this one is an exception. Fans of Josh Rouse, Josh Radin or Josh Ritter will find that the gentle vibraphone, male/female duet, and subtle groove create an engaging emotional experience that is right up their alley. The glitchy, unexpected coda makes the track even more exciting.
9. “Border Town” – Boom Gallows. A bed of dreamy pad synths; muted, trumpeting synths; rattling percussion; and casual guitar strum allows the female vocals to mosey through a environment that sounds as if Braids had gone acoustic. It’s a lovely, lush experience without being over-produced or overwhelming.
10. “Brother Mars” – L-Space. Here’s a tender, wide-eyed song depicting what it would be like emotionally to live on Mars. The vocal melodies and harmonies mesh wonderfully with the lyrics to create a real sense of wonder.
11. “Get Physical” – PEP. I’m not usually a fan of spoken word in pop songs, but the chorus here is so much fun that it’s hard to resist. Fans of Grouplove will be all into this.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.