The Severely Departed is a post-rock duo that does a very good job of not sounding like a duo. This isn’t to say that they pack their tunes with instruments to hide the fact that it’s two guys; it’s that the elements they incorporate sound full and natural. The songs on Two build and fall in exciting and interesting ways, playing off tensions between the performers. Many duos can become the back line supporting the front line, but The Severely Departed encourages the drums to play an equal role in the tunes. Whether this is by setting a near-constant cymbal backdrop for “Moving On” or by supplying solid contrast to the guitar antics in “A Parting Glance,” Ben Crowley’s drum parts shine. In parts of “Relapse,” Crowley’s complex parts are the whole action, as Chris Grimm repeats a distant guitar riff and lets Crowley roll. It reminds me of the acrobatic, heavily rhythmic drumming of Josh Baruth on The Appleseed Cast’s Mare Vitalis.
Grimm has his own highlights, as the guitar and keys bounce back and forth between beautiful clean melodies (a la Moonlit Sailor) and heavier riffs. The tensions between these two styles are played up in “Relapse,” making it the most intriguing tune of the bunch. But each of the five tracks here have their own merits: the layered piano and guitars of “Beneath the Years” allow for one of the more complex arrangements of the bunch, while “Into the Open” displays great use of tension. Two is an impressive release for the Severely Departed, and I hope it gets them a lot more recognition in the post-rock world.
Chicago’s Shiloh refers to itself as scum pop. It’s nowhere near as scuzzy as SanFran garage rock, but it does mash up indie-rock, indie-pop, and alt-country in a lyrically and musically irreverent way. There’s plenty of glee to be had throughout the 10-song Mrs.: the excellent a capella chorale of “Perfecting the Art” gets pummeled by one of the loudest rock sections on the album; opener “Midwestern Sigh” recalls Pavement and the like in their giddy disregard for vocal and songwriting conventions; “Winking Buick” is some sort of alt-country/indie/surf-rock instrumental jam sesh. The core of almost every tune is recognizably alt-country, but the tunes sprawl out over a wide spectrum from there. For instance, closer “Perfecting the Art” crams a mellow pop song, a saloon-style breakdown, and the aforementioned a capella/rock breakdown into 3:54 (all while still retaining an irresistible melody). If you’re into varied, genre-bending songwriting, Shiloh is a good bet to pique your interest.
Zack Walther and the Awe Hells play a mash-up of rock, folk, and Southern rock that calls up comparisons to Needtobreathe pretty quickly. Walther has a resonant, powerful voice that plays on top of twangy banjo (“Heartstrings”), foot-stomping swamp rock that incorporates a manic gospel tint (“Mustang Wine”), and mid-tempo rock (“Stand Up”) with equal ease. His baritone provides a lot of the direction, but the band provides swagger to match. The bass work is especially notable, as the low-end contributes a great deal to the feel of tunes like “Stand Up” and “Here With You.” If you wish that Zac Brown Band was a bit more muscly, or that Needtobreathe get a little bit too Muse-y at times, then Zack Walther and the Awe Hells’ 15:51 EP will be in your corner.
I am a big fan of compilations. Twenty or more bands to check out at once in a format that plays them end to end while I chill? Yes please. On Joyful Wings‘ compilation We Were Lost, We Were Freeis the best compilation I’ve ever heard, bar none. It even trumps Deep Elm‘s enormously influential Too Young to Die; seeing as I discovered my favorite song of all time via that comp (Appleseed Cast‘s “Fishing the Sky”), please know that I’m endowing an immense amount of praise in those words.
The reason it’s the best ever is because out of the 21 bands featured, there’s only two bands whose offerings I didn’t enjoy. Furthermore, I was inspired to go get more music from eight of these bands. Add in the fact that I already own music by three of these bands, and you’ve got an 11/21 conversion rate. That’s enormous for a comp. Mostly I find one or two bands off a comp that I enjoy enough to follow. These guys know what’s up when it comes to tracking a comp.
The bulk of the tracks here are gorgeous, flowing acoustic tunes; there are a couple indie-rock tracks, an indie-pop song and an excellent pop-punk tune by Chasing the Sky, but other than that it’s all acoustic. Holcombe Waller contributes “Risk of Change,” which has brilliant melodies, solid lyrics and a contained energy that makes the song infectious. I’ve listened to it 22 times already. I’ve also listened to “Umbrellas (Acoustic)” by Sleeping at Last 22 times; the track itself is gorgeous in its construction, and this acoustic version translates beautifully.
Carl Hauck‘s “To Coast” was written specifically for this comp, and its optimism through depression sets the tone for the whole album for me. Ikaik offers up a soul-crushing (yet still beautiful) tune that contradicts that last statement, as there’s little hope in the lines, “you can hate me/you have got the right/and when you leave tomorrow/don’t say goodbye/and don’t try to change my mind.”
TW Walsh (ex-Pedro the Lion) contributes a really nice change of pace with a goofy, upbeat tune; Tom Hoekstra reinterprets “Be Thou My Vision” excellently; Josh Woodward goes all Depression-era troubadour tales on us; Fireflies offers a beautiful “fields at dusk”-type piece; and Jeremy Larson leads off the set with an impeccable piece of melodic, cinematic pop.
If a 19/21 success rate and a 11/21 conversion rate aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that you get all that plus contributing five dollars to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation should pique your interest. Great tunes and a charitable feeling in your soul. At this point, your only question should be “why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?” and the reason for that is that I’m a jerk. and I’m busy. But mostly a jerk.
But seriously, get over to their Bandcamp page and download it. You will not regret it if you like acoustic music. It’s an absolutely incredible collection, and I absolutely can’t wait for their next project, which they’re already working on. I promise I’ll tell you about it quicker next time.
Even the most optimistic people in the world have their down days. And I’m definitely not the most optimistic person in the world, so I have more than my share of down days. That’s why I’m really, really glad that I know what I have to do get out of my slumps. It’s really simple, actually- which is good.
I listen to “Fishing the Sky” by the Appleseed Cast. It’s old-school Appleseed- I don’t even know what album it’s off of. I could look it up, but that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t even really listen to the Appleseed Cast (except for their new album, which is mind-blowing, but that’s a different article). I just know that “Fishing the Sky” by Appleseed Cast is my favorite song of all time. It appeals to me on all levels.
From the very first winding, passionate guitar line to the distant piano to the heavy melodic bass to the separated, complex drumming, I love it all. The way the instruments interact is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The guitars seem to be serving up some urgent, vibrant message, and the bass is the interpreter that lets the message fly loose. The vocals merely serve to make the song more passionate- I’ve never known the lyrics, and while I may learn them so I can sing along at an Appleseed show (man, I hope they still play this song), they won’t ever really matter to me. The passionate yelps and yells are really what matter- it’s not what he’s saying, it’s how he says it.
This song is the sound of vibrant anticipation. It is the sound of expectancy. It is the sound of how I feel about life. It is what I know about life. What does Fishing the Sky mean? I don’t know what it means to the Appleseed Cast, but to me it means that when life here on earth is going wrong, there’s still the sky to love. You can go love what hasn’t come yet while you work through what you’ve got. It’s always being passionate, not always about the same thing, but always about something.
Whenever my passion is running low, I listen to it, and I air-guitar my way around the room. When Christopher Crisci screams out in the middle of the song, it gives me shivers. I love it.
I don’t have to be depressed. I have my favorite song ever.
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.