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Jenny and Tyler release their best yet in Open Your Doors

April 3, 2012

Being prolific is one thing, but being consistent while in the midst of a never-ending release cycle is quite another. Folk/pop duo Jenny and Tyler have trumped mere consistency with Open Your Doors, maturing in musical and lyrical skill while keeping a high release rate. Each song here moves me in a different way, while still holding together beautifully as an album: what else are you looking for?

Open Your Doors takes a leap forward from last year’s excellent Faint Not, which ranked #3 in my “Top Albums of the Year” and placed “Song for You” at #5 on my “Top 11 Songs of the Year.” A leap forward.

Full of towering arrangements and difficult emotions, Faint Not is a turbulent record. Even the happiest of the tunes are tinged with pain; as a result, it’s a comforting listen on a hard day and tough to hear when things are going well. Open Your Doors splits the difference between those two poles in a realistic way, creating an album that can be enjoyed by those in the struggle and those in the sun.

This means that this, their most mature work, ties together fans of their two eras in both lyric and music: the charming acoustic pop tunes of A Prelude and the heavy folk/rock tunes of Faint Not. Opener “Little Balloon” is a perfect example: it begins as a gentle, sunny ditty with melancholy lyrics before unfolding into a more assured, full-band proclamation of hope.

And hope is the theme of the album. It’s structured almost as an epilogue to the storms of Faint Not; from the get-go the tempos are calm, and the mood feels like the relief of a still day after a long week of rain. There are moments of stress (“O That the Light,” “Fear Thou Not”), but the tone of the album is upwardly ascending, literally and metaphorically. The album’s third act consists of an evocative setting of “Psalm 86,” a triumphant modern hymn about the end of history (“See the Conqueror”), a reverent tune about subsequent celestial perfection (“Kingdom of Heaven”) and the worshipful piano intrumental “Selah,” which is so hushed that the sound of the pedals moving can be heard. A full listen of this album is genuinely comforting. The care with which it was assembled and ordered is evident, and it’s easily the most complete effort they’ve produced.

But the songs contained within it can stand alone as well. “Fear Thou Not” is a powerful sonic holdover from the tension of the last album, but the lyrics tell the other side of the story: instead of the narrator “Faint Not” telling her own soul to keep on, the narrator of “Fear Thou Not” assures, “For I am with thee/for I am thy God/and I will strengthen thee/Fear thou not!” The heartrending “O That the Light” is a lament for someone trapped in addiction; “You Keep Loving Me” is a stark, lo-fi tune that cuts to the core of things.

But it’s “See the Conqueror” that’s in the running for Song of the Year. The beautiful lyrics are carefully written and ordered into a specific scheme, then fit to an equally detail-oriented musical framework. The arrangement builds in tension, but the expectant sort: it’s that feeling you have when you know that the beat is about to drop and everything is about to get crazy up in the club—except it’s a folk song, and the beat is sleigh bells. (They’re that good.) It’s an exhilarating tune, and one that doesn’t drag out the proceedings. It leaves me wanting more.

The first act of the album leans heavily on their pop side, while the middle draws from their emotive folk-rock. But that final chapter is a new direction for the band, synthesizing both visions into something greater. And that’s ultimately the most incredible thing about this album: not only did they surpass their last work, they’re setting up another album. This feels like a full statement, but of the summing up and moving on variety; there is more to come from Jenny & Tyler, and I’m stoked about that. Open Your Doors lives up to its title and opens up their sound through a complete artistic vision. You need to get this album: it’s going to be one of the best of the year.

Top Albums of the Year, pt. 2

December 30, 2011

Here’s part two:

10: Common Grackle – The Great Repression. Absolutely unhinged western swing/rockabilly. I listened to this for a couple weeks straight when I first heard it.

9: Hoodie Allen – Leap Year. The indie-rock-appropriating beats float the cleverest lyrics I’ve heard all year. “Soul on Fire” and “James Franco” blow my mind.

8: Braids – Native Speaker. The most mesmerizing album I listened to all year. Raphaelle Standell-Preston can make even curse words sound beautiful and delicate.

7: Typhoon – A New Kind of House. Strings! Horns! Choirs! Acoustic guitars! Melodies! Emoting! I saw them in a huge church!

6: Brine Webb – O You, Stone Changeling. Morose, beautiful, touching. “Too Small to Pray For” and “rrose hips” are excellent.

5: Generationals – Actor-Caster. The best indie-pop songs of the year, hands down.

4: Laura Stephenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. There’s not a single bad tune on this album, you can sing along to almost all of them, and they pull off the “multiple genres but overarching mood” thing perfectly. 

3: Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. Their cute pop turned into churning folk-rock overnight, and the effect is hair-raising and goosebump-inducing. There were few moments as dramatic as the full-band entry in “Song for You” this year; Faint Not was the only album that made me write the sentence “I forget to breathe.”

2: The Collection – The Collection EP. The melodies and instrumentation seem effortlessly perfect on this folk album. David Wimbish’s lyrics and deft and quick, delivered in a vastly adaptable voice that seals the deal. “Stones” is just a wonder.

1: Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. This album just blows my mind. It is beautiful, haunting, terrifying, elevating, artsy, powerful, surreal and hyperreal (you can hear him clicking the keys) at the same time.

Vids! Blogs! Rivals!

September 10, 2011

Since releasing Faint Not earlier this year, everything that Jenny and Tyler touch turns to gold. Or, in the case of this gorgeous music video for one of the album’s best tracks, yellow.

Google, not satisfied with controlling every piece of information ever, has announced a music discovery site (read: blog) called Magnifier. Excuse me while I go weep. All joking aside, it’s well-thought out, just like everything Google does.

The title track off Andrew Belle’s The Ladder gets the hand-drawn treatment.

Kickstarter, still one of the best ideas in a long time, now has some competition. (FREE MARKETS RULZ!1!!1!1?!) PledgeMusic cuts out all those pesky other arts that Kickstarter supports. The twist that makes it different than Kickstarter? You can designate some of the funds you raise to a charity of your choice. That’s pretty cool. Charming songstress Meiko brought this site to my attention. And if nothing else, you can hear “Boys With Girlfriends” at that site, which is hilarious/heartbreaking. And watch the pledge video, which is hilarious (without the heartbreaking).

Jenny and Tyler grow leaps and bound in songwriting on the amazing 'Faint Not'

March 30, 2011

I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler for some time now. I’ve heard their music, seen them live and talked with them. Their charming folk-pop fell a little to the more serious side of the Weepies, and that was just great.

Faint Not blows everything out of the water. It’s almost not worth it to compare their new work with their old songs, because they’re just so much better. In one album, they’ve matured from a duo making fun and romantic music to a band crafting powerful songs.

They make this very clear on opening track “Song For You,” which unfolds from a gentle mandolin and guitar strum to a pounding, enveloping track that includes drums, bass, piano, guitar, mandolin, dual lead vocals and choir background vocals. I usually hate cymbals, but when the drummer starts mashing the crash in the high point of the song, it gives me goosebumps. When I turn it up loud, I forget to breathe.

The incredible part about the opener is that it’s not even the best track on the album. “Song For You” has powerful instrumentation, but its lyrics pale in comparison to the devastating “Faint Not” and “Through Your Eyes.”  Even though “Through Your Eyes” doesn’t have as marked a music crescendo, the emotional power wrenched out in the phrase “No one else has to know/about this” is incredible. The desperate cling to hope that is “Faint Not” resonated with me almost instantly. The great piano and guitar work helped out, of course; the gorgeous music video just put it over the top.

Jenny and Tyler share the vocal duties much more comfortably on this album than in previous efforts; they’re growing into themselves as a songwriting duo, and it shows in dynamic, powerful songs that draw from raw and honest wells. There are no maudlin breakup tunes here; instead, they ask deep soul and life questions. Just an attempt at lyrical depth makes me perk up; successful shots at it are simply remarkable.

The love songs have been cut down in number, but “As Long As Our Hearts Are Beating” bears more weight than their previous charming tunes. When you’re married you get to know each other pretty well, and while it shows not just in this song, this love song seems more real for the shared experience it’s grown out of.

The songs of Faint Not are an astonishing jump from their previous work. The whole album hangs together with an excellent flow, which is the sign of attention to detail. No matter if the songs are fast or slow, these tunes make my heart pound. Their newly fleshed-out tunes are head and shoulders above their old stuff, and above almost everything else I’ve heard this year.

Faint Not is a deep, meaningful folk/pop triumph, and it’s only their third full album. You’re forgiven for the clapping and jumping around you’re doing right now. Okay, maybe that’s just me.

You need to watch the Faint Not music video

March 12, 2011

Guys. Guys, for real. You need to watch this. I haven’t been so blown away by a music video in a long, long time. The song, the cinematography, the concept, the other concept that meshes with the first concept… I sat with my mouth hanging open. Ladies and gentlemen, Jenny and Tyler’s “Faint Not”:

Expect a CD review of the CD, also titled “Faint Not,” very soon.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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