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Tag: Fleet Foxes

Bison's folk-pop focuses on unique arrangements

Bison‘s orchestral folk-pop takes a bit different tack than The Collection, who I’ve gushed over repeatedly. Bison’s debut album Quill uses the seriousness of Fleet Foxes’ grounded sound as a framework, layering strings, bells and more on top. “Iscariot” and “The Woodcutter’s Son” have a darkly pastoral bent that recalls pre-The King is Dead Decemberists. But it’s not all heavy and bleak; the title track and “Switzerland” show off a deft balance of meaningfulness and instrumental levity. The former is especially buoyed by a perky, rumbling tom roll.

Vocalist Benjamin Hardesty has a less unusual but no less malleable tenor voice than Colin Meloy, and that lends considerable enjoyment to these tunes. While his voice is the focus in several tunes, the instrumental and near-choral arrangements take precedence in others. This focus is rare for folk, no matter how much instrumental virtuosity is praised in the related genre of bluegrass; instead of being about the individual performances (as in that genre), Bison’s folk is very concerned with mood through the writing of parts. There are many intros and outros, setting the stage for tunes: this took some getting used to for me, a fan of immediate folk tunes. It’s not bad, just unusual: this is an asset toward their originality, after I got used to it.

But every folk lover will breathe a sigh of contentment at “Autumn Snow,” which starts out with a gentle, poignant, fingerpicked guitar line before adding vocals and strings. It’s a fantastic tune that shows Hardesty’s vocals in full bloom, and showcases the band’s straight-up songwriting skill.

Bison’s debut Quill establishes the band as one to watch in 2012. Their vision is slightly different than most folk bands, and that results in interesting, fun-to-hear tunes. I’m excited to see what Bison will be able to do with some refining and a few more tunes under the belt.

Colorfeels' lush indie-rock wears many masks

ColorfeelsSyzygy is pretty much a primer of indie rock circa 2011: Grizzly Bear’s rustic qualities (“Pretty Walk,” “Be There”), Fleet Foxes’ harmonies (“Mirrored Walls”), Vampire Weekend’s triumphant afro-beat rhythms and textures (“Unplanned Holiday”), alt-country (“Fun Machine”), Bishop Allen’s quirky enthusiasm (the clarinet in “Fun Machine”), Generationals’ perky bass contributions (everywhere) and The Dirty Projectors’ free-flowing song styles (everywhere again). Thankfully, the band eschewed the currently en vogue garage rock recording style for an immaculately clear one.

It’s this pristine engineering that saves this from being a pastiche; even if you’ve heard all of these sounds before, they sound incredibly gorgeous coming from Colorfeels. The clarinet and piano on “Be There” may call up notions of everyone from Wilco to the Beatles, but the sound is so striking that you may not care (or even really notice). This is true of almost every tune — with the exception of “Zenzizenzizenzic,” whose shameless Muse appropriation feels totally out of place. I really enjoyed Syzygy on my first listen, but several minutes later I couldn’t remember anything about it except that I wanted to hear those pretty songs again. And they are very pretty.

After a half-dozen listens with the same ending thoughts (which is saying something — this debut is an hour long), I realized that Colorfeels has no signature. This album is gorgeous and almost infinitely malleable, but there’s not a single thing that screams COLORFEELS WAS HERE!

It should be noted that there aren’t any gimmicks to make it look like the band has a stamp (see aforementioned garage rock). For this they should be lauded; they are not hiding anything. They are what they are, and they let you hear that. That is admirable.

Syzygy is a mesmerizing indie-rock album that wears a lot of masks. Whether or not this was the intent is something only the members of Colorfeels can say. But I would love to see a group of instrumentalists and songwriters this talented explore one area of songwriting more thoroughly and place their stamp on music. It’s comforting and familiar, but there’s more to music than that.

Ghost Heart's American tribal melodies melt brains

I have never heard anything like Ghost Heart. For starters, there are no snare drums on their album The Tunnel. There are shakers, cymbals, three million tom hits, bass drum and more, but not a single snare. Most of the vocals are modeled after soaring tribal chant style, but with a distinctly Western melodic bent. The guitars range from indie-rock to mathy patterns. The bass guitar is about the only normal thing in this whole album.

It sounds glorious. It’s really confusing and convention-busting, but it’s a good confusing. The tunes are very long, too; the eight songs here run forty minutes, with one outlier at 1:29. Surprisingly, their unique uncategorizable genre encompasses several different moods; “Salty Sea” is indeed a sea shanty, while “No Canticle” is something Sufjan could write if he spent a week or two in South Africa (Sufjan’s Graceland would be a thing to behold). “Whoever You Are” is an odd, Pontiak-esque mellow rumination. After forty seconds of weirdness, “Black Air” turns into an incredibly surprising indie-rock tune featuring the aforementioned mathy guitar work.

Again, The Tunnel is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Also, The Tunnel is brilliant. It’s bands like these that test reviewers’ moxie: can this incredibly original sound be translated to text well enough to convince unsuspecting listeners to check it out? I don’t know if I have succeeded. But here’s a list of RIYL bands: Funeral-era Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, American Football, Coldplay (any album except Parachutes), American Football, Journey, yodeling. No, for real.

Really.

Get this album.

Of the Cathmawr Chills

I listen to a wide variety of music – really, almost anything but country (cue an involuntary shudder). I’ve got music for different moods and different activities. Of The Cathmawr Yards is the newest album from Horse’s Ha, an indie pop group with folk influence. Their sound is mellow, with a pace that is almost leisurely. Standard rock/pop instrumentation is set off by violin and non-standard vocals that vary from a single, husky female voice to a trio of two women and a man. If I had to describe them, I’d say they’re a varying mix of Fleet Foxes, Rocky Votolato, and The Arcade Fire.

The song “Plumb” is a somewhat simplistic opening, but it captures their style nicely. They make use of contrasting male and female vocals throughout, which is especially appealing with the multi-octave separation. The tone is a little dreamy, something like a folk-influenced lullaby.

Here and there in other parts of the album are bits that will make you smile. “Asleep In A Waterfall” has a bass and percussion intro that’s fun and mischievous; “Left Hand” delivers a solid dose of wit with the lyrics, “Let down by my own left hand / A pox on this man let down by his own left hand.” Additionally, use of trumpet on “Left Hand” gives it some great flavor. When I listened to “Heiress,” it reminded me of Firefly, beloved one-season sci-fi fusion of space, westerns, and competing western and Chinese culture. It has strong emotional appeal and a bevy of instruments coming into play throughout.

Elsewhere in the album, “The Piss Choir” is a standout with a playful intro and strong melody and progression. There is always something going on in the music of Horse’s Ha. It’s rich, full, and captivating; I’m constantly trying to identify the various elements floating in and out of each song. That’s awesome.

In spite of their interesting and nuanced vocals, instrumentals are where Horse’s Ha really shine. The song “Liberation” is an instrumental that makes use of a range of instruments, including guitar, violin, percussion, piano, and trumpet. “Map of Stars” also displays excellent instrumentals. The song has vocals, but they are secondary to some fabulous musicianship that occurs when removing singing from the equation. The song has a great feeling of movement and progression, almost like there’s some Aaron Copland (classical composer) influence to it. Horse’s Ha should do an all-instrumental album, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Of The Cathmawr Yards is a strong album that displays a wide range of musical capabilities and thoughtful writing. More importantly to me, it’s great music for relaxing, which is something I’ve found myself craving while traveling in Beijing. If there was ever a city absolutely guaranteed to make you feel stress, Beijing would definitely be that city. Not only am I enjoying the album, I’ve actually found it a little therapeutic! If you need something similar, be sure to pick up Of The Cathmawr Yards by Horse’s Ha.