Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.
Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.
I’ve been real far behind on things I want to review this year, because I’ve had a particularly busy year at work. Before the year comes to a close, I feel the need to give a shout-out to some albums that came out earlier this year that are worth hollering about. I’ll be throwing these out for the next few weeks.
I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m far more impressed by a person’s decision to stay quiet than any boldness in getting loud. Cancellieri‘s 46 and Raleigh is a gentle, tender record that builds on last year’s beautiful Closet Songs by featuring Ryan Hutchens’ voice with only a sparse acoustic guitar or banjo as framing. This collection is named after the cross streets of a childhood home, and the tenderness and nostalgia those memories evoke are written all over these tunes, musically and lyrically (“Fake Flowers and the Weather, John Fogerty’s “Paradise”). Hutchens’ soft, supple, yet clear voice takes the lead here, guiding the listener through originals and re-imagined gospel tunes.
The mix of the old and the new cements the nostalgic cast of this record, but it never turns to navel-gazing. “I’ll Fly Away” evokes the joy of the tune but isn’t afraid to keep it minimal (just imperfect, enthusiastic vocals and a foot stomp); his wonderful “When the Saints Go Marching In” similarly distills the tune to its core essence. “Lay Me a Pallet” sees a lower vocalist added for a nice change of pace. It’s an commendable element throughout: Hutchens never lets the album get repetitive or boring. It’s a rare skill that keeps a minimalist record from getting boring, and Cancellieri has that skill. If you want a beautiful acoustic record, you need to look up 46 and Raleigh. [Editor’s Note: Cancellieri is now known as Ryan Hutchens.]
I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize my 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)
1. “Started a War” – My Own Ghosts. Builds from a fragile, rickety beginning to a full-on indie-rock/shoegaze stomp without losing a deep sense of pathos. Oddly beautiful.
2. “Boys in Blue” – Inner Outlaws. Bass-heavy indie-rockers Inner Outlaws bring their genre-wandering sound to a fine point here, taking all sorts of sonic turns you wouldn’t expect.
3. “White Lodge” – The Kickback. “Hey guys, let’s phase the drums on this one.” “Why? Dark, serious indie rock bands don’t do that.” “Because wouldn’t that sound rad? It would sound rad. Trust me.”
4. “Show Some Shame” – Caustic Casanova. This is definitely the most amped up I’ve ever been while being told “we are doomed!” The innate melodicism of this riff-heavy rocker turns my head, even though I’m not that into heavy stuff anymore.
5. “Lint” – Teen Cult. I spent four years playing in a band composed of a metalhead drummer, a jazz pianist, a Radiohead-addled guitarist, and a pop-rock bassist. As a result, I am the perfect audience for Teen Cult’s sprawling, genre-mashing art-rock. It starts off in traditional Spanish guitar (and Spanish language!), then morphs into difficult-to-classify, Mars Volta-esque stuff (only slightly less heavy).
6. “Spirit of Discovery” – Have Gun, Will Travel. Sometimes I call things alt-country because it’s neither Sweet Home Alabama-style Southern Rock or hot country, even though it’s definitely not the Jayhawks. Whatever you call HGWT, there’s a sweet pedal steel and a workman-like approach and vibe to the song. It feels real, like it’s made by guys who you just want to hang out with.
7. “Next Life” – Tyler Boone. Dedicated to the victims of the Charleston shooting, this tune bridges the line between pop-rock (giant drums!) and alt-country (pedal steel!) but without dipping too deeply into hot country sounds.
8. “Belinda’s Cross” – American Elsewhere. Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov are easy touchpoints for this charming acoustic tune that rides the line between warmly nostalgic and and remorsefully wistful.
9. “Wait” – Wyland. Goes from Lumineers to chiming U2-esque work back to horns-and-group-vocals folk-pop. You know who you are, readers.
10. “The Third Light” – The Left Outsides. Sway your shoulders/hips and bob your head to this folk-tune with a touch of gypsy magic in it.
11. “Sparrows” – Scott Krokoff. I’ve been getting an unusual amount of e-mail about ’70s soft-country and indie-soul recently; Krokoff’s easygoing acoustic tune fits in the former genre as a more full-sounding James Taylor, complete with smooth, smooth vocals.
12. “Education” – Cancellieri. Ryan Hutchens continues his hot streak of brilliant songwriting with this ethereal, floating-world gem. It’s a beautiful, expansive, warm tune that seems to color everything that’s happening while it plays with a bit of a softer tint. If you’re not listening to Cancellieri, you should be.
Brooklyn Doran’s jazz-standards vibe brings a classy aura to Lake Street Dive-esque charm. The band knows how to hit it and quit it, as Doran and her crew mesmerize in less than two minutes.
Mann Friday are trying to get the booker at Glastonbury to book them by dedicating a video to her. “Say Yeah (Emily Eavis)” might mark the only time that the booker of a festival has been immortalized in song. The acoustic-fronted pop-rock song is pretty great too.
Jen Chapin’s “Gospel” pays homage to historical and current protest movements around the world.
Acoustic fingerpicking; versatile, powerful female vocals; an intimate performance–what more could you ask for? Courtney Marie Andrews is impressive here.
Ryan Culwell’s “Red River” is a desolate, stark, moving tribute to the people and land of South Texas. Shades of Jason Isbell, but for a different people.
As they say on Imgur, “Always upvote Cancellieri.”
Without further adieu, numbers 1-10 in the best albums of the year.
Album of the Year: The Collection – Ars Moriendi. (Review) This album epitomizes the type of music I look for: intricate, complex arrangements of acoustic-led, folk-inspired indie-pop tunes with deeply thoughtful lyrics about life, death, and religion. The fact that you can shout along to half of the tunes only makes this more impressive. This was a no-contest winner for album of the year.
2. Kye Alfred Hillig – Real Snow. (Review) Temporarily shedding the acoustic singer/songwriter mantle, Hillig struck gold with a set of electro anthems cut through with his well-developed indie-pop songwriting techniques and evocative, thought-provoking lyrics. “None of Them Know Me Now” is the jaaaaaaam.
3. St. Even – Self-titled. (Review) I love concrete poetry that relies on images to portray meaning instead of adjectives. St. Even knocks that type of work out of the ballpark here, pairing it with playful, unexpected, herky-jerky, innovative arrangements of horns, piano, and strings. “Home Is Where You Hang Your Head” is a stand-out among stand-outs.
4. Brittany Jean and Will Copps – Places. (Review) Giant washes of sound meet indie-rock emotion over acoustic instruments to create something that’s not exactly electronica, indie-rock, or singer/songwriter. It hit me in unexpected ways, and always from unexpected angles.
5. The Fox and the Bird – Darkest Hours. (Review) The folk-pop boom is largely over, meaning that we can get back to people doing folk-pop because it’s their thing, not because it’s a trend. The Fox and the Bird produced the best straight folk-pop this year, both lyrically and musically. Challenging lyrics and breezy, easy-to-love music is a great combo for folk-pop, and Darkest Hours has both.
6. Cancellieri – Closet Songs. (Review) Welcome to Mount Pleasant was a gorgeous album, but this collection of demos, b-sides, and covers was the Cancellieri release that stole the most of my listening time this year. Ryan Hutchens’ delicate voice is beautifully juxtaposed against a single acoustic guitar, putting his songwriting, song re-envisionments, and impeccable taste in covers on display. A perfect chill-out album.
7. Little Chief – Lion’s Den. (Review) Arkansas folk-pop outfit Little Chief took the path trod by The Head and the Heart in creating chamber-pop arrangements to fit on their pastoral, rolling songwriting ways. The subtlety and maturity in the songwriting is astonishing from such a young outfit. If you need an album to drive around to in fall or winter, here’s your disc.
8. Novi Split – If Not This, Then What / Keep Moving Disc 2 / Spare Songs / Split. (Reviews) My favorite hyper-personal, intimate songwriting project got a massive bump in exposure this year. David J took the recordings of a decade that were spread about the internet and finally compiled them in one place. I’ve heard almost all of them before, but the fact that they’re official and can be easily accessed caused me to listen through them again. They’re all still amazing examples of painfully poignant bedroom singer/songwriter work. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Novi Split.
9. M. Lockwood Porter – 27. (Review) Porter’s second full-length expanded his alt-country sound in dynamic ways while developing his lyrical bent. The results are memorable rock tracks (“I Know You’re Gonna Leave Me”) and memorable ballads (“Mountains”), a rare thing indeed.
10. Jacob Furr – Trails and Traces. (Review) The subject matter of Trails and Traces is even heavier than Ars Moriendi, but Furr takes a nimble, light approach to his alt-country. Instead of wallowing in despair, Furr’s heartbreaking lyrics are backed up with hopeful, searching melodies. I’d usually say “not for the faint of heart” on matters like these, but Furr has truly put together one that speaks hope for the hurting and hopeless. Search on, friends.
I didn’t do much for Independent Clauses’ 11th birthday, especially after having such a huge 10th birthday event with the Never Give Up covers project. (I needed a rest!) But now I’ve got something way cool to share with you that I can call our belated birthday gift to you.
Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh Brewing, and Independent Clauses are teaming up to host a Hopscotch Music Festival day show 12:30-6:30 p.m., Friday, September 5. I am absolutely stoked. If you’re in the Triangle, you should come hang out with us. We’ll have a poster soon, along with more details as they come available. I’ll keep updating this page.
There’s a press release and everything:
Local theatre, brewery, and blogger unite for local showcase
RALEIGH—Triangle bands Bridges, Drift Wood Miracle, and The Morning Brigade will be among the six bands that Triangle performing arts staple Raleigh Little Theatre will host during the Indie Carolina Hopscotch Day Show, 12:30-6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 5. Admission is free and open to the public.
The showcase is presented by Raleigh Brewing Company and Independent Clauses music blog. Raleigh Brewing Company will be on hand to pour their beers, while Independent Clauses author Stephen Carradini curated the bands that will play. Carradini will also be the master of ceremonies.
Folk artist Cancellieri, of South Carolina’s Post-Echo Records, and Raleigh folk act Grandiflora will also play. A final special guest is yet to be announced.
“Independent Clauses covers a wide range of sounds, so I’m pleased that we’ll have folk, indie-rock, and punk bands on the stage that day,” said Carradini. IndependentClauses.com features musicians and bands that are early in their careers, particularly ones with little to no press. Started in 2003 with a focus on then-local Oklahoma musicians, the blog has expanded to be national and international in scope without losing sight of the goal: covering early-career musicians.
RLT’s Stephenson Amphitheater will host the event, allowing music lovers to bask in the (hopefully) autumn weather and relax. Bring your own blankets and picnic, but not your own booze; the seating is open, but outside beverages are not permitted. Gussy’s Greek Food Truck will be parked outside the amphitheater as well.
LINEUP 12:30 Grandiflora (Raleigh)
Imagine if Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes featured a baritone vocalist.
1:30 Cancellieri (Columbia, SC)
Gentle folk fingerpicking with smooth tenor vocals: let it transport you.
2:30 The Morning Brigade (Chapel Hill)
Swirling, mysterious, full-band folk with male and female vocals.
3:30 Drift Wood Miracle (Durham)
Melodic, noisy punk/indie right in time for the emo revival.
4:30 Bridges (Raleigh)
Dreamy, shadowy indie rock with a bit of an electronic vibe.
I love punk, artsy electronica, even some post-hardcore now and then. But I’m always going to come back to the pristine simplicity of a solo voice over fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Cancellieri, hot on the heels of his excellent LP Welcome to Mount Pleasant, has given the world a whole album’s worth of gorgeous voice-and-guitar tracks. Winning my heart even more, eight of these fourteen tracks are covers. Closet Songs is wholly wonderful.
Ryan Cancellieri has a lot of things going for him on Closet Songs: he chooses covers excellently, he performs covers memorably, and writes songs of his own that stand up to the company of their peers. Let’s take these things in turn.
Closet Songs is put together like a good mixtape: some songs you absolutely don’t know, some you might know, a few you definitely know, at least one curveball to keep ’em guessing. I hadn’t heard “I Love You But Goodbye” by Langhorne Slim or “Mama’s Eyes” by Justin Townes Earle, although I respect both of those guys as songwriters. The songs are great, and I thank Cancellieri for letting me know about them. You may have heard “Bella Donna” or “Famous Flower of Manhattan” if you’re more of a Avett Brothers fan than me. You’ve most likely heard “Green Eyes” by Coldplay and “Murder in the City” by the Avetts. Curveball? “Dreams Be Dreams” by Jack Johnson. (Whoa bro.) The best part about all of these is that they’re not just great songs, they’re great songs for Cancellieri.
One of the problems that people who choose covers run into is that they like songs that they can’t possibly perform, vocally or musically. That is not the case here, as Cancellieri adapts the songs to fit his range comfortably. These all sound very easy and fun for him; they’re pleasing to the ear and soul for that element. (Nothing worse to me than someone who sounds like they’re having no fun trying to cover something.) His version of “Mama’s Eyes” definitely retains elements of Earle’s delivery, but it feels real and true in Cancellieri’s voice. That’s the mark of a strong cover. He doesn’t try to copy the original; he tries to be faithful to it while making it his own. It’s a rare skill, and Cancellieri shows he has it.
Another problem of covers is that sometimes a cover is the best thing in a set. (Uh-oh.) This happens because, well, you’re covering an elite talent, and sometimes you aren’t that. However, Cancellieri is an elite talent, and his songs stack well against his covers. “Fortunate Peace” and “Zalo” had me checking to see who wrote them, because they’re just brilliant songs. Cancellieri carries his songwriting voice with the gravitas of someone who knows what they’re doing. This doesn’t mean that he’s brash and bold; these songs are humble, even sad in spots. But Cancellieri sounds fully in control of the guitar, his vocal range, and lyrics on these tunes, which is not something that can be said of many singer/songwriters. You want to test it? You can press play on the first track of the soundcloud and then go to a different tab. Try to guess which are his and which aren’t. You’ll be impressed.
Cancellieri’s Closet Songs is a beautiful, poised, mature offering. It plays like a good mixtape, and it sounds like a great album. This is one of my favorite singer/songwriter releases of the year so far. (With apologies to his own previous full-length!) You very much need to check out Closet Songs if you’re a fan of fingerpicking-heavy singer/songwriters like Justin Townes Earle and The Tallest Man on Earth. (Also Joe Pug, but not because of the fingerpicking.)
5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.
6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.
7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.
8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.
9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.
10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.
11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.
12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.
13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.
I’ve got a bunch of folk albums coming down the review pipe this week, so I’m naming them all Folk Thousand, because Guided By Voices was great at naming things.
“Listenable” and “enjoyable” sound like euphemisms for “I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” but Rogue Band of Youth‘s self-titled debut LP is immensely listenable and enjoyable. The North Carolina folk outfit have crafted an intimate, relaxed, casual-sounding collection of songs that fall somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.
Opener “Fair Shake” sets the stage of the album with tidy fingerpicking on top of a gentle strum before launching into three-part vocal harmonies. The band sounds completely comfortable here and elsewhere: “Smoke Screens” has an easy flow, while “Blind” has a propulsive energy reminiscent of Blind Pilot. The songs don’t stray from modern folk as a sound, but their songwriting is varied and interesting within those bounds, from country-inflected rhythms (“Daedalus”) to new-school Iron and Wine angst (“The West in My Eyes”). If you’re a fan of modern folk with pastoral vibes and enough angles to keep things interesting, Rogue Band of Youth should be on your to-hear list. You’ll enjoy it immensely.
Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant takes a more modern tack on new-folk, leaning toward the warm, rolling arrangements of Iron & Wine’s recent work. The opener sets the stage for this album as well, as “Oregon” includes some tender bass work; distant, lightly distorted guitar; double-speed drums pushing the tempo; and a beautiful crescendo to the end that turns into a huge wash of sounds. These are beautiful tunes.
These compositions sound more like songs than they do folk songs; the arrangement of these tunes is indelibly important, and if you covered them with another band they might not hold the charm they have now. This not just true of songs like “Oregon,” highlight “Lake Jocassee,” and the Mangum-by-way-of-Win-Butler awe of “Mount Pleasant.” It’s true of stripped-down tune like standout “Hold On Hurricane,” whose rapid fingerpicking meshes perfectly with singer/songwriter Ryan Hutchens’ fragile yet clear voice.
If there’s a single thing to point to in Welcome to Mount Pleasant that turns these arrangements from standard fare to the excellent collection they are, it’s the drums. The percussion throughout these tunes provides a spark that is often under-utilized in a post-Mumford world where straight quarters on the kick and snare are seemingly all that you need. The drum work here is complex and difficult, yet remains in the background, not stealing the show. It’s the little things that make the difference, and here it’s the drums.
If you’re into warm, enchanting, upbeat folk/indie tunes, you should definitely check out Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and quite possibly cheered, by the subtle beauty throughout.
The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.
1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.
2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.
3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.
4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.
5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.
6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.
7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.
8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.
9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.
10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.
11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.