Redvers Bailey‘s if you want to fly you’ve got to let go is a charming, evocative album that sounds like a cross between The Mountain Goats, Belle and Sebastian, and Wes Anderson. Whoa, you might be thinking, that’s a lot of hipstery junk. Well sure. But if you’re into that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll really like.
For instance, opener “Young Romance” contains 450 words, some of which are Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, microfibre cloth, and several puns about the word “arm.” Follow-on “Elephant Ballerina” contains 537 words and includes the fact that a group of angels is a murmuration, some characters doing Gangnam Style, and “a hundred Michael Jackson zombies filling the dance floor.” Both of these tunes include only acoustic guitar and Bailey’s quirky, endearing, affected tenor (except for a very brief intrusion by a pseudo-marching band to the latter tune). By this point you’re in or you’re out, but if you’re in, here’s some more information.
Past those two opening tunes, things level out a bit into a melodic singer/songwriter with a Mountain Goats bent. “You and Me and My VW” includes a glockenspiel over the fingerpicking to give the pop tune a eternally-sunny Avalanche City vibe, while “The Key to Happiness” has furious, chunky guitar chords straight out of John Darnielle’s early ’90s period. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” and “Sarah” are ballads that lean heavily on the descriptive lyrics instead of the quirky guitar-based songwriting; they fit with the earlier songs through a similar hyper-specific lyrical disposition and Bailey’s voice, but musically they’re a lot different.
Still, Bailey wraps up the collection with the title track, a tune just as verbose, humorous, and enthusiastic as the opening two tunes. The track is a mission statement of sorts, relating the poignant yet still smile-inducing story of how Bailey ended up trying (and failing) to disavow being a musician. (Spoiler alert: he comes back to music.) It’s the perfect mid-point between the earnest emotionalism of his quiet tracks and the passionate theatricality of his poppier tracks.
If you’re into self-aware singer-songwriters with a huge vocabulary and tons of cultural references, you’ll find a gem in Redvers Bailey. if you want to fly is a whirlwind trip through someone else’s mind, and it’s a thoroughly invigorating experience. Here’s to knowing what you do and doing it unabashedly.
1. “Delightful” – Katie Garibaldi. A delightfully honest reflection on how to live life in this crazy world.This sweet-sounding song beautifully combines acoustic guitar strumming with Garibaldi’s unique voice.
2. “Alaska” – Tina Refsnes. This thoughtful folk tune starts off with minimalist guitar instrumentation and slowly expands to include a rather full orchestral accompaniment. “Alaska” is a lovely track that provides just the right amount of cheer for a rainy day.
3. “No Last Call”– Emily Rodgers. A contemplative, melancholic folk tune with alt-country influence coming out in her use of pedal steel. The long length of the track gives off a feeling like it may just be an endless beauty. When it comes to a close, you are left wanting to return to its peaceful arms.
4. “Little by Little”– Niamh Crowther. Crowther’s soaring sopranic voice pairs well with her playful instrumentation. Similar to the likes of Regina Spektor, Crowther hits, holds, and transitions through very high notes; it’s rather awe-inspiring.
5. “Miami”– Kara Ali. Soulful, jovial, and refreshing, the funky instrumentation of “Miami” makes me want to groove. Ali’s voice is this interesting combination of Mariah Carey and Joss Stone. This is a great ode to a fun American city.
6. “Cormorant”– Dana Falconberry and Medicine Bow. I love this song; it feels very Birdy meets Fleet Foxes with some Dirty Projectors thrown in. Heavy on the banjo and bass, this track combines unique instrumentation with quizzical lyrics and a powerful voice. Fun all around.
7. “Oliver”– Brooke Bentham. This simple, lovely singer-songwriter track will steal your heart with its raw vocals and compelling lyrics. I can truly feel the warmth emanating from this song.
8. “Tonight”– Ashley Shadow. This is a great example of how Ashley Shadow makes music that builds and climaxes magically, akin to The War on Drugs. And Shadow’s coy alto female voice correlates well with the male background vocals entering at the chorus.
9. “Next To You”– Dannika. Sit back, relax and chill out to this track. Dannika’s unassuming vocals paired with the guitar provide a perfect example of casual feminine rock.
10. “Late to the Party”– Heavy Heart. Another chill rock song, this female-fronted rock band makes great rock music. The crisp electric guitar steals the show from the start, but the layered strings certainly deserve an honorable mention.
11. “Midnight Blue”– Candace. Although the vocals are great, the instrumentation shines on this track. It makes me want to take a drive, roll down the windows, and let the wind mess up my hair as I listen to this song.
12. “Cementville”– Annabelle Chairlegs. This song radiates fun. The vocals are very reminiscent of the female from the B-52s, with raucous screaming to boot. I’m especially in love with the boldness of this song; feels very third wave feminism.
13. “Lies”– ¿Qué Pasa? With quaking electric guitar, sultry vocals and punchy lyrics, “Lies” oozes sex appeal. The multitude of false endings leaves you thinking it’s over and then the seduction starts up again. It somehow feels like something that Quentin Tarantino could have used in a Kill Bill Vol. 1 fight scene.–Krisann Janowitz
Borken Telephone by Rock, Paper, Cynic is a hilarious album. It packs more funny jokes in than I thought could reasonably fit on a pop-rock album. Now, it helps that I am an appreciator of nerd culture and an academic, and therefore get a lot of the video game references and a lot of the philosophy references. (“The Philosophical Zombie Slayer” is a pun-filled description of exactly what the title says.)
There are also references to Cthulhu, a whole song about a woolly mammoth seeking a mate at the end of the ice age, an anti-war song written via Mario Kart references, a paean to Netflix (featuring an A+ punchline at the end of the song), and an 18-minute game of Broken Telephone. Put a different way: this album is largely here for the lyrics. The stomping pop-rock that forms the majority of the musical work here may not be your favorite, or you may not like Peter Chiykowski’s vocals, but if you think that some of these songs are funny, you’re getting it. (If you’re determined to find the musical apex, skip straight to the poignant ode to roommate friendship “This Will Never End,” which is a great folk tune, complete with pedal steel and shuffle-snare drums.)
The tune that gives the album its name is actually an 18-minute collection of songs that are a literal game of broken telephone: 15 artists from across the geek/nerd music landscape each got to hear the previous song before them in the chain only once and try to recreate it in their own style (lyrics, melody, and all). RPC starts off with a lovely acoustic ditty, and by the end of the 18 minutes, the song is 100% different. It is really, really funny to listen and hear how the song changes–some artists are faithful in attempting to copy the previous song, while others basically rewrote it based on an impression. (Maybe they were playing video games while listening?) Jokes fall apart, new ones appear, and the lyrics change dramatically. It’s a really fun experience that I haven’t heard before, and it’s fully worth the price of admission. But the great news is that you get that and all these other funny tunes. If you’re into nerd culture or funny pop-rock, you should be all over this.
Travis Smith‘s Wildness is a delicate, beautifully executed folk / acoustic pop record. Smith walks back and forth over the very muddy line that separates fingerpicked troubadour work (“St. Patrick’s Day,” “Wildness,” “Already Gone”) from James Taylor-esque pop work (“Temporary,” “Try”), creating great work in two related yet distinct arenas.
The unifying characteristic is Smith’s smooth, easygoing tenor; whether singing a yearning, legato pop melody or a more staccato folk tune melody, Smith knows how to get the best results out of his voice. The highlights here are when Smith gets the most vulnerable, as his lyrics and arrangements work together to make each other stronger. The title track and closer “St. Patrick’s Day” both move far beyond the standard love song / break up song that are stock in trade of both these genres and delve into the complexity of human relationships: relationships to family and to the land intertwine with the romantic concerns in a rich patchwork. The arrangements of both are similarly rewarding. Wildness is a record that will satisfy many different listeners who love the acoustic guitar played in a gentle way.
1. “e. silver” – Roco. Noises, riffs, rhythms, and vocals collide in atypical ways, creating an exciting, “what will happen next?” environment. Sort of like The Avalanches, or weird trip-hop, or a Beck fever dream, or none of the above.
2. “Where I’ll Be Waiting” – Why We Run. This Snow Patrol-esque tune that falls between alt-rock and indie-rock rides a memorable guitar riff with an engaging guitar tone. The tune’s about a friend with a mental illness, which many of us can relate to.
3. “Permission” – Slow Falling Sun. If you’re into ’90s Britpop, you need to be listening to this bouncy track.
4. “Fatal Vision” – Brice Randall Bickford. Bickford uses his smooth baritone to turn out a vulnerable, engaging vocal performance. His voice leads the way through this almost-weightless, pristinely recorded indie rock tune that will be appreciated by fans of Spoon.
5. “The Great Attractor” – Qualms. Big, round bass and an attractive variety of synth sounds build out this midtempo tune; the vocals ride the waves nicely. Comes out like some mix between Spiritualized and Manchester Orchestra.
6. “The Blue Hour” – Brand New Moon. BNM fuses folk, slowcore electro, and trip-hop to create a unique, fascinating, imaginative track.
7. “Books for the Holidays” – Halcyon Drive. Hits you with the Antlers-style blue-eyed soul/R&B vibe that’s so popular right now, then shifts gears with a ratatat snare into a charging, Bloc Party-esque rock tune without changing vocal style. Now that’s a hook.
8. “Imaginary You (feat. Stahalamora)” – Lyfe Indoors. Ambient? Chillwave? Found sound? Whatever you want to call this, it’s got admirable movement, melody, and arrangement skills. Chill, hypnotizing, mesmerizing.
1. “Finally Happy” – Exzavier Whitley. A major key fingerpicking job that strongly evokes Nick Drake’s work is paired with some heavy lyrics. Delivered by Whitley’s breathy tenor and placed in the context of the guitar work, they aren’t quite as sad as just reading them on a page would be, but they’re still pretty heavy.
2. “Jumping Ship” – Theo Kandel. Lots of people can throw their voice around, but Kandel uses tonal and dynamic shifts carefully (and thus expertly) to take this singer/songwriter tune to the next level.
3. “The Reason for Living” – The Folk Today Project. A short, sweet, simple folk tune that employs a great stand-up bass and solid contributions from the rest of the band.
4. “6 Shots” – Kate Brown. The strum presses forward relentlessly, while the vaguely Celtic strings pull back on the reins. Brown’s alto splits the difference excellently, walking through the tension comfortably and confidently. By the end, Brown has turned in a pretty powerhouse performance vocally.
5. “Silver Mountain” – Adora Eye. The immediate vocal performance and insistent piano call up comparisons to serious folk singers like Josh Garrels and Chris Bathgate. The vibe here is serious, but not so much that there isn’t a bit of swaying that can be done by the listener.
6. “Already Gone” – Wild Rivers. A male/female duet powers this folk-pop tune that sounds like it can scratch the itch left behind by the demise of The Civil Wars.
7. “Teenage Crime” – Rod Ladgrove. Beachy acoustic jams are an intrinsic part of summer, and Ladgrove’s contribution on that front has the mystique of “crime” thrown in on top of a relaxed-yet-carefully-arranged atmosphere.
8. “Catching Elizabeth” – Carter Vail. Here’s another beach-friendly adult alternative pop tune that sounds like a mix between Jack Johnson and James Taylor. There’s a spark in here that sets it apart from the hundreds of other tunes that bear similar explanations; it’s got some groove that keeps me into it.
9. “Blue and Gray” – O.B. Howard. Pizzicato strings provide a contrast to the hazy, relaxed acoustic indie-pop and transform the track into a wonderful piece of lazy-day hammock music.
10. “Last Light” – Maurice Van Hoek. Traditional country is going through a moment right now, and Maurice Van Hoek’s offering continues that old-school vibe with earnest vocals, strong melodies, tender keys, and weeping pedal steel. If you’re on that Sturgill Simpson / Chris Stapleton train, hit this one up.
11. “Can You Tell” – Bird Concerns. The major key folk aesthetics of Blind Pilot meet a West Coast indie-pop sensibility to create a light, enjoyable tune that’s actually about a breakup. Who would have guessed, from the sound?
1. “Where Are You Running Now” – Ivory Tusk. If you weren’t into The Tallest Man on Earth because of the vocals, check out Ivory Tusk instead: the same sort of complex melodic fingerpicking, similarly poetic lyrics, but a much less grating (I say this lovingly, Tallest Man, really) voice. All the upsides, and none of the down. It’s a beautiful, remarkable song.
2. “Sound It Out” – The Hasslers. Pickin’ and grinnin’ meets New Orleans horns and organ for a full-band acoustic tune that’s fun in lots of ways; even the down-on-my-luck lyrics have wry enjoyment running their delivery.
3. “Intention of Flying” – Jon Arckey. Everything meshes perfectly here: Arckey’s vibrato-laden tenor (reminiscent of a lower Brett Dennen), gentle fingerpicking, excellently arranged and recorded drums, ghostly background vocals, and even a guitar solo. This beautiful acoustic tune just nails everything.
4. “I Feel a Light” – Aaron Kaufman. Starts off like a solid acoustic tune, then bursts into an unexpected chorus that grabbed my attention. The inclusion of gong and various melodic percussion instruments develop the tune and stick in my mind.
5. “False Flag” – Vice-President. Starts out a weighty singer/songwriter tune, turns into an alt-country song, then ratchets up to a towering conclusion. The lyrics are socially and politically minded, which fits perfectly with the serious vibe of the whole work. Yet, the song remains engaging to listen to; don’t get scared off.
6. “Beautiful World” – David Trull. Jason Isbell fans, take note: Trull’s Southern-steeped acoustic troubadour work is in the same vein as the work that Isbell is currently making hay with.
7. “Blue Whales” – Ulli Matsson. The staccato guitar playing here is almost percussive, playing against Matsson’s legato vocal lines. A mysterious, haunting vibe ensues.
8. “Like a Funeral” – Erik Jonasson. Jonasson puts the focus squarely on his vocals with this minimalist, stark ballad, and they hold up to the scrutiny. The tenor tone is beautiful, and there’s a lot of nuance in his performance. By the end it’s grown and shifted to a Sigur Ros-esque vibe, which is always great.
9. “Loves Company” – The Hasslers. In stark contrast to their joyful tune above, this banjo-led ballad is a deeply sad tale (complete with weeping pedal steel). The hooks and the engaging vocal delivery are still there, but this definitely shows a different side of the Hasslers.
10. “Blind” – Raquelle Langlinais. If Regina Spektor, The Jayhawks, and Jenny and Tyler got together for a jam session, something like this perky alt-country tune anchored by charming female vocals might appear as a result. Everything about this is just infectiously fun, from the drums and bass to the guitars to the vocals.
11. “What If” – Big Little Lions. Here’s some soaring folk-pop with an epic bent and giant choruses, similar to Of Monsters and Men or Fleet Foxes.
1. “Swimming” – Marsicans. This song dropped April 22, and summer officially started the instant it did. It’s all the best parts of The Vaccines, Vampire Weekend, Tokyo Police Club, and The Drums thrown into one indie-pop-rock amalgam. As a result, Marsicans have created one of the most exciting singles of the year so far, if we judge by the amount of spontaneous dancing it has inspired in me. Totally looking forward to more from Marsicans.
2. “Going Going Gone” – Bows. One summer of my life is captured in the memory of Chairlift’s “Bruises,” which I spun a lot. “Going Going Gone” has that same sort of effortless charm, breezy songwriting, and hooky melodies, so I expect to find this one on my summer playlists a lot.
3. “Love Will Come Back to You” – Two Year Vacation. A sunny, electro-pop tune anchored by a whistling melody (or a whistling-esque synth) and a buoyant sense of summeriness.
4. “Martyrs” – Living Decent. The mixing work here keeps everything in this pop-punk-inspired indie-rock tune feeling open and airy. Vic Alvarez’s vocals mesh neatly with a chiming lead guitar to create a mature yet smile-inducing track.
5. “Last Forgiven” – Luke Rathborne. That snappy snare sound just makes me want to hit the road and roll down the windows. The yelpy vocal melodies and handclaps make me want to sing and clap and have fun right along with Luke. A great summer jam.
6. “Pasadena” – Young Mister. A song about California that sounds just about as bright and shiny as California. If you were a Phantom Planet / The OC person, this one’s for you.
7. “Vampires” – Spine of Man. Beachy, yacht-y, ’80s-inspired indie-pop that’s heavy on reverb, baritone vocals, and the best type of nostalgia.
8. “Squeeze” – Foxall. This is the friendly type of folk punk: the “everyone gather round the guitar” vibe spills out of the speakers. I can hear this being played around a fire on a summer evening at a campsite somewhere.
9. “Barcelona” – TRY. Ah, Spain, another of the iconic Summer destinations. The chorus of this indie-pop-rock jaunt includes a breezily sung “Bar-ce-loooooooo-na,” which is just perfect for the city and the carefree, jetsetting vibe of this song.
10. “Things That Get Better” – Boy on Guitar. This female-fronted acoustic indie-pop tune is one for the pessimists: the lyrics marvel at the fact that things have gone well. Walking-speed accompaniment and floating background vocals round out this lovely track.
11. “Fountain of Youth” – Shapes on Tape. Will we see a resurgence of wah-guitar funk and pop now that Prince has left us? If so, Shapes on Tape are at the front edge of the curve with a funky electro jam, complete with guitar reminiscent of Prince’s work. (Or maybe we’re all just thinking more about Prince these days.)
12. “Circadian Rhythm (Edit)” – I.W.A. The tension between cosmic-sounding pad synths that open this and the thrumming synths that follow it set up this chillwave electronic tune excellently. It’s reminiscent of Teen Daze’s best work: melodic, evocative, and interesting without going maximalist.
Quinn Erwin first came to my attention as a big part of Afterlife Parade, a top-shelf outfit equally comfortable making can’t-ignore-it pop-rock and textured post-rock. Erwin’s Soul EP builds on the pop-rock side of Afterlife Parade, getting crunchier and catchier simultaneously.
The titular track of Soul kicks off the four-song effort with hammering piano, crunchy guitar, handclaps, and Erwin wordlessly throwing his voice around in some great melodies. There’s a pop-rock chassis to the tune, but from the wheels up it’s all muscly soul attitude and yearning blues vocals. There’s a bit of dance-rock thrown in for spice at the end, but this is primarily an earthy, Southern (but not Southern rock) jam. “Heritage” builds on that earthy pop-rock blend, fusing a stomping backbeat to a scuzzed-out guitar line with some zinging synth on top of it. Erwin’s repeated plea (“Don’t let this be my heritage”) and anguished “la”s give the tune some extra punch (as if it needed any). Both of these tunes have a crunch that wasn’t often there in Afterlife Parade, but don’t sacrifice any of the melodic prowess. If anything, these are even catchier tunes.
“Reality” and “Soul (acoustic)” pull back from the unique vibe of the first two tracks and push the sound in different ways. The straightforward pop-rock of “Reality” does have thrumming bass and insistent snare, but the vibe here is less Southern attitude and more U2-style pop expansion. (You can hear Bono in the wordless, nearly a capella bridge, for sure.)
The acoustic version of “Soul” pulls the excellent arrangements out of the mix and shows that with or without a backing band, “Soul” is a torrential song. Just because there’s only an acoustic guitar accompanying Erwin doesn’t mean he sacrifices any of the attitude or intensity of the tune. The song reveals just how impressive a vocalist Erwin is by putting the focus squarely on his vocal performance.
Soul is one in a series of EPs Erwin is releasing, so we’re going to be treated to more work from him in the near future. And the work is a treat; Erwin’s clear vision for fusing his pop-rock background with other sounds creates distinctive, exciting work. Soul establishes (for some) and continues (for others) the need to carefully follow everything that Erwin is up to.
Soul drops tomorrow, April 29. If you’re in the South, you’ll have some chances to catch him soon on the #OYOUGOTSOUL Spring Tour:
04.29: Biloxi, MS
04.30: Mobile, AL
05.06: Baton Rouge, LA
06.10: Birmingham, AL
The Bitter Poet’s “Guy’s Gotta Breathe” is a manic, almost unhinged anti-folk stream of consciousness anchored by literate, specific lyrics and Kevin Draine’s engaging vocal performance.
Over a charging electric guitar line, Draine laments in rapid-fire style relationships current and past, potential apartment hauntings, old laundry, Simon & Schuster, the way coffee tastes three hours after it’s made, never being able to go back to your favorite restaurant, and various other slights (great and small). It is a whirlwind 2:46. His voice moves from a grumble to a howl throughout the song, keeping the listener close with his tenor’s ratcheting tension. The tension finally explodes at the end of the tune, providing a fitting end to the wild ride.
If you’re into The Mountain Goats’ lyrics (or their unhinged moments, like “Psalm 40:2”), you may find The Bitter Poet to be incredibly appealing. In the way of all unique things, the song does takes a moment to adjust to–Draine does not mind dropping you in en media res to his take on things. After you settle in, it’s really impressive and calls for multiple listens.
“Guy’s Gotta Breathe” comes from the upcoming Trail of Glitter, which drops May 6. You can check out tour dates and more info on where to buy the record at The Bitter Poet’s website. If you’re in NYC, you can also check out NYSolo6, the monthly singer/songwriter showcase that he runs.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.