Polecat reads at times like a cooler Dave Matthews Band and at others like a chiller Michael Franti and Spearhead. The members of the band are extremely talented instrumentalists, which means that they can pingpong back and forth between the sort of acoustic-based instrumental jam that DMB is best known for and the free-wheeling, world-music-informed pop songs that Franti is mostly known for (Ok, it’s really only that “Say Hey (I Love You)” song, but you know what I mean) without missing a beat anywhere. As a result, Into the Wind is a remarkable album.
The instrumental songs are really where Polecat blows it out of the water. Armed with a mindmelting drummer that occasionally takes center stage with complex rhythms, unique sounds, and incredible taste, they’re able to pivot between parts of songs seamlessly. This is an important skill when you’re cranking out songs that mash up Irish folk melodies and reggae (as they do in the cleverly named “Lochs of Dread”). They also know how to meld American folk, traditional country, acoustic pop, and more into their eclectic mix. It wouldn’t do justice to try to explain all the inventive fusions they create: just know that they tear it up in ways that both impress and surprise me, which is a rare achievement.
Elsewhere they show off their vocal melodic ability, in tunes like “In the Cold” and “Fly on the Wall,” where the band wraps itself around Aaron Guest’s melodies. Polecat is proof that you can have catchy pop melodies and not sacrifice an ounce of musicianship–if more people would take up the mantle, music would be a much more interesting place. But it starts with every member of the band being incredible talented at their instruments, and that’s a rare thing. (If everyone were as talented as Chris Thile, we could all be the Punch Brothers, for example.) All that to say, you’ll be singing along while also cocking your head to try to hear the guitar, drum, and fiddle parts that make the songs so interesting.
Polecat’s Into the Wind has fun songs all around, whether they’re instrumental or singalong. If you’re into an album that both shows off instrumental prowess and makes you smile, you should check this one out ASAP.
For the first review of the new year, I chose something upbeat and fun. Beginnings are important, you know? And Tyler Boone‘s Changing Pace is quite a good start to the year. Boone’s five-song EP features a strong beginning itself, as “Don’t Forget the Name” is a poppy, infectious tune that includes all the best parts of his Dispatch/Dave Matthews Band sound. A little bit of beach vibes, a few jammy tendencies, chill vocals and liberal doses of organ all come together for a tune that you won’t be forgetting any time soon. That is, until closer “Put It Down” rolls around. Featuring that organ again, but now with an enthusiastic horn section punctuating the proceedings, the song is even more peppy than the first. If you’re into fun, upbeat tracks, there’s not much better mixtape fodder than this.
In between the two standouts are three tracks that don’t hit as hard. “Stuck Between” and “All of This” lean more toward the rock persuasion, which isn’t as interesting to me as the pop tunes. (This style, however, may appeal to other listeners.) “Home,” at the very center of the EP, is in the poppy vein of the highlight tracks, but doesn’t have quite the same melodic impact due to its more pronounced efforts at being poignant. Boone is at his best when the vibes are just rolling off him; this recognition most likely led “Don’t Forget the Name” to be the very worthy single.
If you’re missing the summer and need a quick fix, I recommend giving Changing Pace a spin or two.
Woven Green wears everything on its sleeve. Even the band’s name points toward its philosophy; while not necessarily “green,” the members of Woven Green espouse taking care of the earth, being unified with each other, and loving one another. The lyrics bear no subtlety; Woven Green is what it is, and it’s not hiding it.
The same aesthetic carries over into the songs on their self-titled EP. They have a sound similar to what you might imagine from the themes presented; a few parts wah-pedal funk, a few parts upbeat acoustic pop, a few parts middle eastern instrumentation. They wear their influences on their sleeve, not trying to hide. This total honesty is to be commended, as posturing, irony and cynicism has become the norm in independent music.
Thankfully, Woven Green meets their honest aesthetic with songwriting skill. Woven Green has taken steps to make their songs not just your average song. “Sixth Sun” experiments not just with middle eastern instruments, but with middle eastern chord structures (which are unusual to the western ear, but intriguing!). “Between Worlds” uses strings in an unusual breakdown of sorts. “Generation Zero” has an extended guitar solo. “Wild Love” has a violin solo in the way that other bands would have a guitar solo. It’s these touches that make their songs better than the standard upbeat acoustic-pop fare.
This four-song EP establishes Woven Green as a band that wants to take a tired genre and make it interesting again. I hope that their creative energy and unique ideas keep flowing to future releases. Their songwriting skill makes them a band to watch for fans of John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band, OAR, Jason Mraz and others of the like.
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.