Greg Hughes’ Among Giants songwriting vehicle took him from a folk-punk solo act to a full-distortion punk outfit pretty rapidly. Since Among Giants now doesn’t function as a folk-punk outfit, he took things back to his roots with a new album and a new name. The diverse acoustic-based songwriting of Weeds In Your Garden by Bobby’s Oar will satisfy folk-punk purists and adventurous folk fans.
The standout cut here is opener “In the Woods,” which marries a rapid-fire folk-punk strumming pattern to a meandering vocal line that’s heavy on pathos and melody. Hughes grows the song from that intimate opening to a blown-out full-band chorus that includes horns and a shout-it-out punk choir. I couldn’t avoid humming the “whoah-oh” line for days. Hughes’ lyrics have always been deeply introspective without getting cloying, and he fits a fresh set of similar concerns to the work here: The mid-tempo folk explosion of “I Find Comfort” details the difficulties of moving cross-country; the back-porch picking of “That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man” is a exposition of optimistic existentialism (which has philosophical forebears that don’t include Camus). At the other end of the spectrum, Hughes screams his voice ragged on the aggressive crumbling-relationship tableau “Heart.”
Thoughful lyrics, heart-on-sleeve narratives, sonic rage, and melodic charm are the recombinant building blocks of Weeds in Your Garden–“It’s a Vice” is a lovely acoustic indie-pop song that Hughes screams over most of. If you’re into Andrew Jackson Jihad, Attica! Attica!, or Nana Grizol, you’ll love Bobby’s Oar.
I tell every band that will listen that the long press cycle is a real thing. You’ve gotta get content out there at periodic and consistent intervals so that press people remember that you’re there and then therefore tell their readers. This means dribbling out content in ways that don’t necessarily fit with the last 30 or so years of music history (but actually fit real nicely with methods of the 30 before that; truly nothing is new under the sun).
There is no one who is a champ at this more than Brook Pridemore (person and band). Between 11 videos, a teaser EP, and a live release that started all the way back in early 2013, I feel like I’ve been listening to Gory Details for years already because I have. At its worst this could produce burnout, but with Brook it basically just makes me love the album. I mean, who doesn’t like an album where you can sing along with half of the songs the first time you press play?
It helps that Brook Pridemore’s work perfectly matches my favorite styles of music. Gory Details starts with the energetic strum of folk-punk, layers on impressively thoughtful lyrics sung via infectious indie-pop vocal melodies, then arranges the whole thing with an excellent band and even some horns. It’s like Andrew Jackson Jihad mellowed out into The Mountain Goats with some Josh Ritter thrown in for good measure (“Damage Control”). The weird way I’ve heard this album kind of skews the review: my favorite tracks are the tracks that were already my favorites. “Oh, E!” is tons of hyperactive, travelogue fun with an earworm melody; “Listening to TPM” is awesome for its horns as well as its tight control of mood. “Celestial Heaven or Leap of Faith” has a great instrumental hook and an urgent vibe throughout; the intelligent set of lyrics make it seem somewhat like a super-powered version of a Johnny Flynn song. “Brother Comfort,” one of the more aggressive tracks here (and new to me), is also fun in its neat complexity.
Gory Details is, above all things, a ton of fun. Brook Pridemore has a lot of things going for them on this album, and all the complex pieces have come together to make an album that transcends them all. Great lyrics, mature vocal control, excellent production job, solid contributing rhythm section; all of it comes together to make tracks like “Oh, E!” seemingly obvious songs: when has this not existed? When was it not amazing? To steal a song title, no one belongs here more than you. Of course you’re one of my favorite songs. Of course you are. You always were, as soon as I knew you existed. You need more Brook Pridemore in your life.
Maybe it’s the World Series, but there’s all sorts of baseball metaphors I can make about Blake Brown and the American Dust Choir‘s Three EP. The band’s straightahead alt-country could be called a fastball straight down the pipe, because you know exactly what you’re going to get and you can smash a home run off it. You could also call it a change-up, since the band prefers mid-tempo, Jayhawks-style work as opposed to the hectic Old ’97s style. If I were really reaching, I could point out there are only a few baseball teams left that use organ as prominently as Blake Brown’s outfit does.
The first two tracks of the three-song outing are the sort of pedal steel/harmonica/organ/acoustic guitar fare that is most recognizable as ’90s-era alt-country. The band doesn’t give in to Wilco-style minimalism or Drive-by Truckers’ rock-oriented guitar walls; they just stay in the pocket and do their work on vocal vehicle “Get Out.” The band is tight and clean throughout the track, notably so. The band gets a little funky on “White Rose” (check those Wurlitzers!). But the standout here is the subdued, late-night mope “Surrender (La Di Da),” which allows Brown to show off his melodic sensibilities and nuanced arrangements. Brown and co. manage to glue me to the track that never gets faster than a mosey and never raises louder than speaking voice through a beautiful electric guitar tone, distant droning organ, and thoughtful percussion.
If you’re in the market for some alt-country at CMJ, I’d look up Blake Brown on Saturday at Wicked Willy’s. (He’ll be there with M. Lockwood Porter, too!)
Falcon Arrow‘s Tower is a soaring, powerful, instrumental, drum-and-bass post-rock duo that ranks as one of the best of the year. Now don’t get tricked into thinking this is drone or anything. This album is one of the most acrobatic post-rock albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. Bassist Matt Reints modulates his bass playing several octaves out of normal bass range, making tunes that have heavy, grooving bass foundations and incredible treble-end melodies. It’s astonishing what Reints can wring out of one four-string bass. (The press photo has him playing a four-string. For real. As a bassist, I can’t even believe that this is possible with essentially the same instrument I have.)
Reints is not just a fantastic technician armed with modulating pedals and loopers; he’s a brilliant melodist. And since he’s a bass player, he knows how to use the low-end not just to support the treble, but to interlock with it to create sums bigger than the parts. Finally, since he’s a bass player, there aren’t chords anywhere on this album: everything is done through cascading single-note runs and super-sludgy single note crushers for some grounding. In short, Matt Reints has taken on the job of being the guitarist and the bassist in one of the more complex post-rock bands I’ve ever heard. I have no idea how he remembers everything. I really don’t. Also Dav Kemp plays drums. (Sorry Dav. Bassist geeking out over here.)
You can pick any of the 11 songs on this roughly 40-minute album and have your mind blown, but my two favorites are “Aldebaran Serpent” and “Cantina Empire,” which form the 13-minute heart of the record. (They’re really into sci-fi; JUST ONE MORE THING TO LOVE.) “Aldebaran Serpent” starts off with some crushing, distorted bass, punchy snare hits, and some syncopated bass drum patterns. After inoculating you into the groove, Reints starts tossing off heavily-reverbed runs of high treble notes, creating a gorgeously full sound. Then he modulates up another octave and starts playing even faster, essentially turning his bass into a synthesizer. If your mind’s not blown, I don’t know what will do that for you. “Cantina Empire” leans more heavily on Reints’ traditional instrumental chops, using a swift, clean bass guitar line as the foundation. Kemp supports neatly with some punctuated, staccato drumming. They eventually do drop in a distorted low-end and a reverb-heavy top line; the riff at 1:30 is one of my favorite on the record, especially when put in the full context of the song. It’s an impressive song.
Tower is nothing short of astonishing. It’s gorgeous and impressive on its own melodic merits, but it’s even more mindblowing that two people (and only two people) composed all of this and perform it live. If you’re into post-rock of any variety, you will be blown away by Falcon Arrow. They’re just absolutely incredible.
Dylan Gilbert is a man of many talents. He’s been tirelessly releasing music since 2005, reinventing himself at every turn. Currently he fronts the manic prog/punk/surf outfit Hectorina and abruptly drops impressive acoustic-based solo albums. His latest offering of the latter is Shaken, an 8-song set that relies heavily on his ability of his voice to sound wildly outraged and outrageously wild.
With the exception of the gentle closer, this is an exercise in shout-folk from beginning to end. The ominous title track opens the lot, but he quickly moves away from trying to sound scary and embraces the persona of a person outraged at his misfortune. You can read this just from the titles of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Another Beast Washes Ashore” and “This Woman’s Gonna Put Me in the Ground.” His voice and powerfully strummed guitar (those poor guitar strings) come together to create compelling tunes that aren’t exactly Andrew Jackson Jihad, but something pretty near it. Sean Bonnette of AJJ has a nasally voice that he pairs excellently with frantic guitar strum; Gilbert has a very traditionally attractive voice that he just thrashes against the wall of life’s troubles like a dusty rug. Both are very impressive, it should be noted.
Gilbert does two covers here: the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.” The former takes a song many people know and pours all the mourning that’s actually there in the lyrics into the vocal performance. The latter tries to infuse the weary misery of the track (again) that’s already there in the lyrics. These are pretty much required listening; the source material for both are some of my favorite tunes of all time, so it’s impressive that Gilbert can take both and breathe fresh life into them. Gilbert’s an astonishingly talented songwriter and performer, and you’d be remiss to not know of his work. Shaken should be your introduction if you’re unfamiliar.
Hyper-literate story songs and Dylan-esque prophetic jams take time to write, but there’s high upside to anyone who attempts them. If you get good at that, you’re going to be really good: you have more syllables per line to make melodies with, more lyrical lines with which to be clever and interesting with, and more respect from this little corner of the blog world. Let me tell you about The Weather Machine‘s self-titled record, then.
The Weather Machine (band) comes out of Portland like some miraculous child of The Mountain Goats, Josh Ritter, and Andrew Jackson Jihad. Their 2013 self-titled record features the organic acoustic sound of Josh Ritter, meticulous wordplay similar to John Darnielle’s, and the occasional rambunctious energy that AJJ is famous for. For instance, there’s a three-song arc that revolves around stealing the crown of immortality from Satan himself that incorporates all of these influences into one of the more impressive suites this side of the Decemberists (because of course, being from Portland, there are instruments aplenty).
“Puppet” even starts off with similar picking style to Ritter’s magnificent “Girl in the War,” but turns with the vocal line into a plaintive plea for love. It’s earnest, passionate, and yet calm. “Back O’er Oregon” is even more powerful, again using understatement to convey heavy emotions. The gentle string arrangement, unassuming vocals, and quick guitar combine beautifully in a truly memorable track. “Galaxies!” pairs complex percussion work with an impressively complicated (yet not esoteric or snobby) set of lyrics for another highlight. “Leviathans Get Lonely” has AJJ angst and tempo all over it; you’ll be playing it loud and singing along (“CAUSE THIS COULD BE OUR TIME!”).
But the takeaway, the one you’ll be humming, is opener “So, What Exactly Does It Say?” A once-in-a-blue-moon melody combines with evocative, surrealistic lyrics (a la Joe Pug’s “hymns”) to provide the driving force for a track that features great guitar work, steel drums (?!), and a hypnotic groove that is very uncommon in folk. It might sound like I’m going overboard on this, but I’m not. The Weather Machine is a special album, and if the band can keep the quality up, they’ll be big (and soon).
There’s a long history of happy sounds that contain sad lyrics. My mom’s favorite one is the absurdly happy breakup tune “Smoke from a Distant Fire” by Sanford-Townsend Band. I’m fond of the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland (except “That Was Your Mother”). Human Behavior‘s Golgotha might be my favorite “actually kind of devastating when you really listen close” album for 2013.
If you just press play instead of thinking about how the band name, title and album art go together, you’re treated to perky indie-folk-punk. Bandleader Andres Parada has a voice that works perfectly for the genre: it’s warbly, a touch nasal, and completely earnest. If you’re intrigued by Aaron Weiss of MeWithoutYou, early John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), Andrew Jackson Jihad, and the like, you’ll be immediately sucked in to Golgotha. The rest of the sound fits perfectly around Parada’s voice: a small choir of female voices (who sing in the same earnest manner), instrumental performances that retain an urgent “first takes only” feel, and arrangements that are large without feeling pretentious. It’s all grounded in Parada’s voice, and all flows back to his voice.
It’s “Crag” that opens the album, a jaunty tune that calls up vintage-y, Pinterest-y hipsters who attach deer antlers to their heads and such. It’s all fun and games, right? Right. “Yeshua at 12” is dark, but the enthusiastic “Odocoileus Virginianus” is 40 seconds of wonderful! (That’s the Latin name for the whitetail deer, incidentally.) But as I progressed through the album, a dark undercurrent started to suck me in. “Vintage Dad” ends with the band forlornly, repeatedly singing “I am raccoon, and your father thinks that I am beautiful,” which is intriguing/discomforting in a Neutral Milk Hotel sort of way. “Raphus Cucullatus” is the Latinate of the dodo, and it’s a despondent acoustic strum with spoken word that seems to draw a little too close of a metaphor. It’s not overtly depressing, like Brand New or anything, but it’s, you know, just kinda hanging out in background of my brain as maybe not what it seems.
But then I listen to “Crag” again, and the phrases of the chorus are “I’ll strap antlers to my head/and I’ll attract wild dog packs/and I’ll make the woods walkable,” which is either a threat to wild dogs or a commitment to sacrifice in a bizarre way. Also the lines “I don’t want to be attractive,” “I know that I don’t love you two too,” “I’ll probably die sad/and I’ll probably do it by my hand” appear, all of which make me deeply reconsider the wisdom of sending this to my girlfriend because it’s perky and fun. In short, the layers at which you can appreciate Golgotha are multiple, but the deeper ones may render your shallower ones a little bit impotent.
So, are you into folk-punk? Are you into depressed singer/songwriters? Are you into both? If you’re into either of the first two, Golgotha is a fascinating and engaging album. If you’re in the third camp, I suspect that Human Behavior will be quite a find. It’s like a dark mirror of Illinois-era Sufjan, or an alternate-reality Mountain Goats.
My first musical love, as I’ve professed before, was pop-punk. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a passion for acoustic music. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, in my book, acoustic punk is one of the best ideas ever. Violent Femmes ftw. Also Andrew Jackson Jihad.
If AJJ has the hyperactive “We Didn’t Come Here to Rock” as its shout-it-out winner, this album has “Hobo Chili.” It’s unsurprisingly about lovely house shows and celebrating local culture. (Proposed alternate title: “Keep Everywhere Weird.”) The lyrics are incredibly literate, eschewing a repeated chorus slogan and instead using the same meter and melody with new lyrics each time. Don’t worry, there’s a huge “whoa-oh” section so you can sing along, even if it’s the first time you’ve heard the tune. It won’t take you long to remember the fascinating lyrics, but Scott is the type of guy who knows his strengths are also limitations and throws noobs a bone. I appreciated it.
Oh, and it’s hyperactive as anything.
As with the best punk (and this is some of the very best), the album is immediately lovable for its energy, melodies, attitude and random slogans you catch on the first listen (“THERE’S A WAREHOUSE SHOW! OUT IN NEW MEXICOOOO!”), but it’s even more enjoyable once you catch all the lyrics and think about what he’s saying. Lots of bands have the first half, but not many get to the second part.
That’s why you should purchase Napalm & Nitrogen instead of something else: “I Knew I Shoulda Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque” is brave enough to acknowledge the truth that sometimes life on the road (which is rightly celebrated elsewhere) just sucks. “The Children of the Broken Glass” is the honest-but-yet-hopeful story of the Millenials; lots of people want to be the voice of a generation, but they haven’t written “The Children,” have they? “The End of Art” is too brilliant for me to try to fit it into a sentence. It also is a great vehicle for more whoa-ohs (I’ll never get enough) and Scott’s intense, impassioned voice. His distinct pipes are yet another reason this album is great.
I could keep listing great things about this incredible album for a long time: DIY attitude, mellow piano tunes, an accordion in “The Good Ones Go First” … but if you aren’t sold by now, you won’t be. That’s your loss.