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Tag: Ben Folds

Skyline Circle Rounds Up Some Upbeat Piano-Pop

I am addicted to pop music. I play it, I listen to it, I write about it. So when a band comes along that delivers brain-grabbing melodies, singalongs, and musical skill to boot, I jump on that like a trampoline. Thus, cue the applause for Skyline Circle.

Skyline Circle consists of a pianist/vocalist, a guitarist/bassist/female vocalist and a drummer. If that sounds like a lot of duties for three people, it is. But they pull it off excellently. Whether playing the bouncy, upbeat single “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round),” the driving “Silent War,” the lighthearted and fun “Late” or the pensive “Time and Money,” they fit neatly into a groove and hit it.

This is primarily accomplished because Nathan Lauderdale is a versatile pianist, able to play in multiple styles. He expertly channels Ben Folds on the “The Letter Folds” – an open letter to the famous pianist. He nods to Relient K in form and lyric on opener “Time and Money,” and he releases emotive balladry for closer “Waiting.” None of these sound forced. There are differing levels of prowess at each (“Silent War” gives me shivers, while “Road Trip” takes a while to make an impact), but the underlying thread is the same: Nathan Lauderdale is really good at piano.

The vocals, both female and male, are excellent throughout. If there was to be a signature style of Skyline Circle, it would be their use of vocals to create mood. The moments in which they use background vocals are the most memorable: the la-la section in “Late”, the chorus of “The Letter Folds” (which also features some impressive falsetto leads), the round on “Don’t Let Go,” and the majority of title track “Lights in Perfect Rows.” They don’t just use it as a throwaway element in their songs; the use of multiple vocal tracks sets their songs apart from other artists.

The highlights here are many, but the crescendo of “Lights in Perfect Rows” is worth mention. Skyline relies heavily on piano and bass, so the use of electric guitar to make the statement in the most important part of the song is unique and memorable. If the guitar had been used in the same capacity throughout, the power of the moment would have been diminished. Their ability to notice and use that weapon in their arsenal sparingly is a direct nod to their songwriting skill.

And while they are definitely skilled songwriters, the many moods that this album spans create a somewhat jarring effect on the listener. Many albums have mood shifts, but Lights in Perfect Rows never establishes a consistent mood that would enable mood shifts. This makes the album excellent to listen to in singles or on shuffle, but a bit confusing to listen to as a whole.

Lights in Perfect Rows establishes Skyline Circle as a band with solid, enjoyable songwriting skills. They need to settle into a consistent groove that runs throughout their songs, but within each song they know what they’re doing. Fans of Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, Regina Spektor, and other piano-based pop will love this release. Check out “Silent War,” “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round)” and “Late.”

We Are The City Unleashes Exciting Indie-rock on the World

It’s hard to judge objectively something that you are intimately acquainted with. Vocalists have a tough time taking other vocalists seriously, and writers are notoriously hard on other writers. That’s why We Are the City‘s accomplishment with In a Quiet World is so astonishing. They’ve made the piano (something I play on a daily basis) incredibly exciting.

To clarify the staggering worth of this achievement, consider this: you can be the most talented pianist in the world and still not excite me with your work. I can realize it as incredibly talented and enjoyable (i.e. everything in Ben Folds’ canon), even learn to play it. But get truly excited? Rare as snow in San Francisco.

Werth is Worth It!

maps_webAndy Werth and band hail from Seattle, Washington, but there’s not much evidence from their first full-length album, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, that it ever rains there. And while we all know this to be untrue, Andy Werth sure makes an impressive case for listeners to believe in Seattle’s perpetual sunshine. With bright accompanying horns (trumpet and sax), joyful piano arrangements, and a hint of electronic sounds mixed in, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass is a perfect soundtrack for spring. There are clouds on the album cover, and there are some “cloudy” moments on the album, but there’s always sun in the forecast.

The album’s opener, “Stay Here with You,” begins on a calm note with Werth’s Ben-Foldsy piano part, but really shines during the incredibly catchy chorus. You’ll be singing along the first time you hear it. “Stay Here with You” also introduces the reoccurring theme of travel (especially by car) and direction, which would make this album really great for road trips. “Get in Your Car” has a pretty similar format to the opener, but has a different enough melody to make it another pop gem.

“15th Street” stands out for its fun lyrics and (again) its catchy chorus. By moving seamlessly from verse to hook to chorus, this song is very well-composed in an “art is hiding the art” sort of way. The energetic and dance-inducing bass (played by Steve McPherson) is also fun in “15th Street.” “Emily” has a lyric that really stands out for me – “you’ll find out there’s more to life than just being alive.” Also, listen for a neat bit in here with a low, walking piano line working in tandem with punctuating horns – it only comes once, so pay attention!

“Back Row” brings more upbeat rock to the album, and includes a downright funky horn section. Relentless, pounding energy from drummer Jeff Roeser drives the song. “Nothing to Fix” also adds another jolt of adrenaline to the second half of the album, with an insistent beat and angry lyrics.

Some of the weaker songs on Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass are the electronically-driven ones, but they are pretty short, and it is still interesting to hear it partnered with the classical piano. The best moments on this album are the choruses, which are generally the most full-sounding and satisfying parts. Another strong point is Werth’s voice, which is fun and youthful, but also developed enough to sound mature. He has a no-nonsense vocal style which hits all the notes (some of them soaring) without unnecessary embellishment. Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass will be available for purchase on April 7th, but you can check out the whole thing on Andy Werth’s website.