Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Two EPs: The Coconut Kids / The Wild Reeds

September 6, 2016

coconutkids

The Coconut Kids’ debut release This Time Last Year  proves to be a delightful and complex four-track EP. The instrumentation is comprised of trumpet, two lovely ukuleles, an acoustic guitar, and relaxing percussive elements to create a jazzier Jack Johnson sound. And the powerful vocals pair so well with the relaxed jazzy instrumentation. Finally, the moody lyrics pair with the relaxed, jazzy sound to create an emotional texture all its own.

The tug-and-pull lyrics combine with the delightful instrumentation to create a beautiful incongruity. Right off the bat, the first track showcases this as the repeated lyric “It all went wrong” is paired with a flirty combination of the ukulele and trumpet. The vocal pairings on this EP also prove beautiful. “Richman” showcases the perfect sassy soprano/seductive baritone combination that works so well. In fact, the whole EP gives off Once vibes; I can picture these two people singing these songs to each other in a Once-like world.

“Lullaby (Don’t Say A Thing)” stands out from the rest of the tracks in the many layered vocals and more melancholic sound with the guitar and ever-present trumpet. It’s a slower track with a powerful Adele-like voice that will be sure to blow you away. “Lullaby (Don’t Say A Thing)” is a pleasant way to close out the EP.

thewildreeds

The Wild Reeds’ three-track EP Best Wishes is like an assorted candy sampler displaying the range of sounds The Wild Reeds is capable of producing. The lyrics showcase a variety of human emotions such as hope, dejection, and self-awareness. Similarly, the overall sound varies from classic singer/songwriter to folk-country. The one thing that ties the tracks together is the perfect harmonization from the array of female vocalists.

The lyrics of “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)” explore the emotions of dejection, balancing regret and acceptance. The emotive lyrics eventually lead up to the track’s lyrical and instrumental climax, going from gentle fingerpicking to a voracious guitar/drum kit/keys combination. “What I Had In Mind” gives off a very Eisley sound, showcasing the band’s perfectly harmonizing vocal layering. Then “Love Make Me A Fool” comes on and a more cheery folk-country track enters my senses. The track’s classic country rhythms, self-aware lyrics and robust instrumentation make a refreshing end to an eclectic EP.  

The Wild Reeds’ Best Wishes EP is an assorted delight to the senses. —Krisann Janowitz

May Singles: Acoustic, Pt. 2

May 3, 2016

1. “Finally Happy” – Exzavier Whitley. A major key fingerpicking job that strongly evokes Nick Drake’s work is paired with some heavy lyrics. Delivered by Whitley’s breathy tenor and placed in the context of the guitar work, they aren’t quite as sad as just reading them on a page would be, but they’re still pretty heavy.

2. “Jumping Ship” – Theo Kandel. Lots of people can throw their voice around, but Kandel uses tonal and dynamic shifts carefully (and thus expertly) to take this singer/songwriter tune to the next level.

3. “The Reason for Living” – The Folk Today Project. A short, sweet, simple folk tune that employs a great stand-up bass and solid contributions from the rest of the band.

4. “6 Shots” – Kate Brown. The strum presses forward relentlessly, while the vaguely Celtic strings pull back on the reins. Brown’s alto splits the difference excellently, walking through the tension comfortably and confidently. By the end, Brown has turned in a pretty powerhouse performance vocally.

5. “Silver Mountain” – Adora Eye. The immediate vocal performance and insistent piano call up comparisons to serious folk singers like Josh Garrels and Chris Bathgate. The vibe here is serious, but not so much that there isn’t a bit of swaying that can be done by the listener.

6. “Already Gone” – Wild Rivers. A male/female duet powers this folk-pop tune that sounds like it can scratch the itch left behind by the demise of The Civil Wars.

7. “Teenage Crime” – Rod Ladgrove. Beachy acoustic jams are an intrinsic part of summer, and Ladgrove’s contribution on that front has the mystique of “crime” thrown in on top of a relaxed-yet-carefully-arranged atmosphere.

8. “Catching Elizabeth” – Carter Vail. Here’s another beach-friendly adult alternative pop tune that sounds like a mix between Jack Johnson and James Taylor. There’s a spark in here that sets it apart from the hundreds of other tunes that bear similar explanations; it’s got some groove that keeps me into it.

9. “Blue and Gray” – O.B. Howard. Pizzicato strings provide a contrast to the hazy, relaxed acoustic indie-pop and transform the track into a wonderful piece of lazy-day hammock music.

10. “Last Light” – Maurice Van Hoek. Traditional country is going through a moment right now, and Maurice Van Hoek’s offering continues that old-school vibe with earnest vocals, strong melodies, tender keys, and weeping pedal steel. If you’re on that Sturgill Simpson / Chris Stapleton train, hit this one up.

11. “Can You Tell” – Bird Concerns. The major key folk aesthetics of Blind Pilot meet a West Coast indie-pop sensibility to create a light, enjoyable tune that’s actually about a breakup. Who would have guessed, from the sound?

Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

May 7, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

1. “Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle. There are few things that get me more than a earnest tenor singing way too many words over a folky arrangement. Lyle plays somewhere between Josh Ritter, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Gregory Alan Isakov.

2. “Resolution” – Young Legs. The world always needs more quirky, delightful indie-pop on a strummed banjo.

3. “The Fall” – Reina del Cid. Warm, fingerpicked acoustic guitar; brushed snare; stand-up bass; contented alto vocals–it sounds like all the bits and bobs of a country song, but del Cid turns it into a charming folky ballad.

4. “Forever for Sure” – Laura & Greg. The gentle, easy-going guitar and male/female vocals create an intimate vibe, while a mournful instrument in the distance creates a sense of spaciousness. The strings glue them together–the whole thing comes off beautifully. I’ve likened them to the Weepies before, but this one also has a Mates of State vibe.

5. “Touch the Ground” – The Chordaes. Dour Brit-pop verses, sky-high falsetto in the sunshiny, hooky chorus–the band’s covering all their bases on the pop spectrum. That chorus is one to hum.

6. “Inside Out” – Avalanche City. My favorite Kiwis return not with an Antlers-esque, downtempo, white-boy-soul song. It’s not exactly the chipper acoustic pop of previous, but it’s still infectiously catchy.

7. “Bad Timing” – The Phatapillars. If Jack Johnson’s muse was outdoor camping and music festivals instead of surfing, he could have ended up like this. For fans of Dispatch and old-school Guster.

8. “Tapes” – The Weather Station. Sometimes trying to describe beauty diminishes it. Let this song just drift you away.

9. “ Forest of Dreams” – Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. The Decemberists have largely gone standard with their arrangements, but there are still people holding it down for klezmer arrangements of gypsy-influenced melodies mashed up with the occasional operatic vocal performance. It’s like a madcap Beirut or a female-fronted Gogol Bordello.

10. “Heavy Star Movin’ – The Silver Lake Chorus. Written by the Flaming Lips for the choir (which operates in a very Polyphonic Spree-like manner), it’s appropriately cosmic and trippy. Strings accompany, but nothing else–the vocals are the focus here.

11. “Emma Jean” – WolfCryer. Here’s Matt Baumann doing what he’s great at: playing the storytelling troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a world-weary baritone.

Singles and some mourning for Jason Molina

November 4, 2014

1. “Great White Shark” – Hollands. Maximalist indie-rock/pop music with groove, noise, melodic clarity, effusive enthusiasm, strings, harp, and just about everything else you can ask for. If the Flaming Lips hadn’t got so paranoid after At War with the Mystics

2. “Coyote Choir” – Pepa Knight. Still batting 1.000, Pepa Knight brings his exuberant, India-inspired indie-pop to more mellow environs. It’s still amazing. I’m totally on that Pepa Knight train, y’all. (Hopefully it’s The Darjeeling Limited.)

3. “Peaks of Yew” – Mattson 2. I love adventurous instrumental music, and Mattson 2 cover a wide range of sonic territory in this 10-minute track. We’ve got some surf-rock sounds, some post-rock meandering, some poppy melodies, some ambient synths, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m big on this.

4. “Firing Squad” – Jordan Klassen. Sometimes a pop-rock song comes along that just works perfectly. Vaguely dancy, chipper, fun, and not too aggressive (while still allowing listeners to sing it loudly), “Firing Squad” is just excellent.

5. “Droplet” – Tessera Skies. There’s a tough juggling act going on in this breathtaking indie-pop tune: flowing instruments, flailing percussion, cooing vocals, and an urgent sense of energy. It’s like if Jonsi’s work got cluttered up with parts and then organized neatly.

6. “Available Light” – David Corley. If Alexi Murdoch, Tom Waits, and Joseph Arthur all got together and jammed, it might sound something like this gruff yet accessible, vaguely alt-country track.

7. “Blue Eyed Girl” – Sam Joole. I’d like to make a joke about blue-eyed soul here, but it’s actually closer to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” than that. Lots of laidback guitars, good vibes, but not Jack Johnson twee, if you know what I mean.

8. “By the Canal” – Elephant Micah. I’m a big fan of people who aren’t afraid to let an acoustic guitar and voice splay out wherever they want and however long they want. Here, EM acts as an upbeat Jason Molina, putting the focus on his voice instead of the spartan-yet-interesting arrangements. Totally stoked for this new album.

9. “If It Does” – Robin Bacior. In this loose, smooth, walking-speed singer-songwriter tune with maximum atmosphere, shades of early ’00s Coldplay appear. That’s a compliment, people.

10. “Storm” – Dear Criminals. Not that often do I hear trip-hop, even in an updated melodic form. Way to go, DC–you pick up that torch that Portishead put down.

11. “You Open to the Idea” – Angelo De Augustine. Beautiful, delicate, wispy, earnest whisper-folk. They don’t make ’em like this very often anymore.

12. “Billowing Clouds” – Electrician. The mournful, affected spoken word over melancholy, trumpet-like synths makes me think of an electro version of the isolated, desolate Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats.

13. “Blue Chicago Moon (demo)” – Songs: Ohia. Until Jason Molina, I’ve never had a personal connection to the art of a troubled artist who died too early–Elliott Smith was gone before I knew of his work. Now with unreleased demos coming out consistently after Mr. Molina’s death, I feel the sadness of his passing over and over. Each new track is a reminder that there was work still to be made; it also feels like a new song from him, even though it’s objectively not.

Is this how a legacy gets made in the digital era? How long will we keep releasing new Molina songs, to remind us that he was there, and now he is not? (Please keep releasing them.) Will the new songs push people back to “The Lioness”? Will we keep these candles burning to light our own rooms, or will we bring them to other people? “Endless, endless, endless / endless depression,” Molina sings here. Is it truly endless? Are you still depressed? Does your permanent recording of the phrase make it truly “unchanging darkness”? “Try to beat it,” he intones, finally. Try to beat it, indeed. Keep trying until you can’t anymore. And then let your work stand forever. I guess this is how I mourn.

Cancellieri’s Closet Songs is wholly wonderful

August 7, 2014

Cancellieri

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.)

Three Women: Christa Wells / Caitlin Marie Bell / Steph Casey

July 24, 2013

christawells

Christa Wells‘ music is weighty without feeling heavy, as the singer/songwriter balances heft and grace with ease on Feed Your Soul. Wells relies on smooth arrangements and incredible vocal performances to create and sustain that tension. Songwriters like Sara Groves are the best comparison for Wells’ sound: mature, grounded songs with strong melodies and a melancholy streak.

When Wells delves into that sadness which looks longingly toward hopefulness, her songs soar. Closer “Being Loved” is a powerful tune distilled to a simple truth (“being loved is a hard thing to take/I will try”). “You Are My Defense” shows off the complete comfort that she has in her own skin, musically and lyrically. The opening of “Come Close Now” somehow balances being objectively gentle musically (piano/vocals/tapped drums) and subjectively crushing emotionally. Wells knows how to suck the listener in with a minimum of fuss, and that’s a deceptively difficult skill to master.

When Feed Your Soul heads in louder, funkier territory such as “Vanity Vanity” and the title track, the results are less immediately satisfying. I’d much prefer to keep hearing Wells play simple piano and level me emotionally with tunes like “For My Child” and “This Thing Is Not Going to Break You.” The exception is “The Way That You Love Me,” which funnels her emotional command into an upbeat love song much in the same way that Brooke Fraser turned out the wonderful “Something in the Water.”

Wells’ Feed Your Soul is a beautiful, soul-baring record that works with seemingly little effort. The amount of skill, hard work, and time that go into a record like that are almost never recognized, so I’m celebrating those elements here. Wells knows how to write a compelling song, and she knows that the way to turn it from “good” to “great” isn’t always to add more arrangement. I look forward to hearing more from Wells.

caitlinmariebell

Caitlin Marie Bell does simplicity a very different way. At the extreme, the Americana singer/songwriter goes totally barebones by singing traditional murder ballad “Omie Wise” with only staccato percussion as accompaniment. Bell’s resonant alto voice sells the song perfectly, bringing an Irish flair to the work. Bell relies on her strong pipes throughout Blood and The Water, as she doesn’t employ anything more than a fingerpicked guitar, stringed bass, and gentle percussion to set the backdrop.

The most impressive thing about this spartan setup is not the live feel, but that Bell packs so much personality into the sound. Tracks like “River Song” and “Pallet on the Floor” slot her right in next to some of the giants of the genre both in sound and quality: the former pairs Bell’s lilting voice with the sound of a thunderstorm, while the latter displays a complex intimacy in lyric and vocal delivery. Both will stick with you long past their run time.

Both tunes spin together a small world in a few minutes–that’s hard for any songwriter to do, much less one who isn’t backed by a huge, involved band. The tunes on Blood and the Water possess a gravitas and maturity far beyond what I expect from a debut. These weighty tunes are very worth checking out for anyone who’s a fan of Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and other female Americana singer/songwriters.

stephcasey

The best moments of singer/songwriter Steph Casey‘s Whisper and Holler fall on the “whisper” side of that equation: when Casey’s songs are stripped down to sparse acoustic guitar and voice, her work shines. “Heavy Warm Heart” and the title track are lent an immediacy by their simplicity, as it feels like Casey had the melodies burning a hole in her pocket and just had to get them out there. The delicate guitarwork and engaging vocal tone mesh beautifully, creating magic.

There are some more full arrangements that shine as well: lead track “Nice to Almost Know You” gives off a relaxed, back-porch vibe in its assured/regretful stance looking back on a failed relationship. “Kapiti”builds out a simple Jack Johnson-esque beach vibe into a highly enjoyable track. Both of those tunes fall right in line with the ethos that characterizes the highlights: take one thing and do it well. Added bonus: Casey is a Kiwi. (Australia and New Zealand are just excellent these days.)

Quick Hits: Chloë Sunshine / Akron Engine / Matt Ryd / Wakeup Starlight

April 17, 2013

chloesunshine

Chloë Sunshine‘s new album is called Indian Summer, and the sound matches both names perfectly: perky, bright indie-pop with influences from surf-rock (“I Try,” “Modern House”) and chill beach-pop (“Love Love Love”). Sunshine’s earnest, unaffected voice sells the whole production with a cute-but-not-smarmy air. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a summer road trip, as you’ll be bobbing your head, singing along, and smiling with your hair flowing in the wind. It’s just a lovely album.

akronenginesilhouettes

Folk, country, and rock have been chillin’ together since ever, and yet it’s still always a delight to me when someone comes along with a new take on the idea. Akron Engine is latest contender, taking (or at least sharing) the honor from SXSW darling Dawes. Where Dawes traffics in smooth rhythms and tones, Akron Engine’s Silhouettes keeps things endearingly scruffy. Strummy guitars, up-front rhythms and swooping pedal steel contrast against Davis Jones’ sweet tenor voice, allowing for tunes like ominous “Silhouettes” and the weary “Hold On to It” to succeed. The band can lay down a beautiful tune, as the shuffling waltz “Believe in You” and solitary closer “All We Ever Had” show. Those into country-rock/folk should check this out this fine collection of tunes.

mattryd

Matt Ryd combines country with pop, but not in the schmaltzy, Rascal Flatts sort of way. Imagine if a power-pop band also had a pedal steel in it, and there you are. At least, there you are as far as “Nobody But Me” is concerned, the infectious, energetic opening to track to Ryd’s 3-song EP Ryd ‘Em Cowboy. The follow-up “Long, Long Time” is a ballad that does head in that direction, but Ryd’s earnest vocals make sure that the love song stays firmly in realm of “pleasantly familiar” instead of “cloyingly obvious.” Closer “Marianne [Country Remix]” leans even more toward ballad-style country, with the inclusion of a female back-up vocalist. It’s not what I usually cover, but Ryd’s earnest voice and spot-on production make this a fun listen.

wakeupstarlight

Wakeup Starlight‘s awesomely-titled The White Flags of Alderaan rounds out this collection of bands that are easy to listen to. The acoustic-heavy band sounds like Jack Johnson jamming on “Hey There Delilah” with a dash of Dispatch thrown in. If that sounds like the most cheery thing ever, you wouldn’t be wrong in your assessment. It’s hilarious, then, that they have songs titled “The Earth is Dying,” “Loco Train (A Canadian Tragedy)” and “The Ghost of Myself Facing You.” To be fair, that last one tries to be ominous until it breaks into a “hey-o” section. For real. They’re smart to put that one last, because the happier this band is, the more entertaining their songs are. So if you want a few rays of sunshine in your life, you should go for “The Earth is Dying” and “Loco Train (A Canadian Tragedy).” Trust me, they’re actually smile-inducing.

Joshua Stamper's compositions fall between indie and classical

July 12, 2011

I saw Norman staple Mike Hosty play his standing gig at The Deli for the last time Sunday night. Halfway through my reminiscence-laden evening,  he played the excellent “In The Future All Music Will Be Made By Robots.” (Noting its quality is somewhat redundant — 90% of his songs are awesome.) But currently, all music is made by humans, at least at some original level. This is important to note when considering Joshua Stamper’s Interstitials.

The idiosyncratic horns and strings of these nine songs make them better described as compositions. The odd dissonances and polyrhythms are strongly related to improvisational groups like Fight the Big Bull and vaguely reminiscent of highly orchestrated songwriters Sufjan Stevens (the fluttery saxes on “Honeychild”) and Dirty Projectors. But Stamper isn’t freestyling. The songs may sound completely random at times, but they were forethought by a human. (Read also: Not a robot.)

While Stamper sounds rather unplanned at times, these tunes reside in (an unusual corner of) the songwriter ballpark. While “Wake, Worried Sleeper, Wake” will overflow the boundaries of the average listener’s musical tastes, it still has a tender heart beating at its center. Stamper’s gentle voice, never completely given fully to melody, strikes a nice balance between the halves of his speak/sing delivery. His horns and strings never sound rough or gruff.

The title track is anchored by a repeated acoustic guitar bit, while the vocal melody of “Well” is almost catchy. “Arbor” sounds like a meandering cross between Jack Johnson strum and sonorous Low Anthem horns. But there, and especially in “Incredible People,” the difficult balance of pop sentiments (Stamper played bass on Danielson’s latest album) and composer’s moves creates a tension that sometimes feels like a man with a particularly dry humor trying to write playful, fun music.

That’s why the two best pieces almost entirely give over to classical music. The acoustic guitar and voice of “Press” prove that Stamper’s off-kilter rhythmic and melodic ideas don’t apply just to horns, while the instrumental “Away My Sin,” with its beautiful french horns, is the most transcendent piece here.

Interstitials is an oddly compelling release that introduced me to a creative, thoughtful composer. Whether Stamper will focus his attentions on pop, “classical” or refining his current vision of a place somewhere in between is yet to be seen, but that decision will need to take place before the next album. Stamper’s album is good, but it’s a point on the road and not a stopping point.

The Bramble Jam plays pop music for more than just kids

June 30, 2010

I like to give everything a fair shot. I’ve heard some pretty terrible things in my day because of this policy, but I have also found some treasures in things that other reviewers may have instantly passed for one reason or another.

The Bramble Jam‘s Move Your Boots is a kid’s album. Don’t be frightened: the tunes play out like a smoother version of They Might Be Giants’ work (a band that has also composed some kids’ music). The songs are primarily acoustic folk and pop tunes, as that seems to be the only genre that people think kids like (although Fang Island and the Sugar Free Allstars are striving to change this). The assured male and female vocals set this apart from other kids’ albums. There is the obligatory wink at the audience every now and then, but the band members mostly play the songs straight, not laughing at their own jokes.

This sounds like not a big deal, but anyone who has suffered through a self-congratulating children’s album knows how far an ounce of sincerity goes in this genre. “Pancakes” is the runaway favorite here, as the lyrics are genuinely funny (“Don’t you know that your mommy is the better milk and cornflake maker? Don’t you know that your mommy is the better low-fat yogurt scooper?”), the melody is dry and infectious, and the band locks on a loose, Jack Johnson-esque groove. It’s a lot of fun.

“Hey Crazy Kid” features a propulsive groove and a more dry melodies that would make it perfect to be a cover by any indie band. The lyrics wouldn’t even have to be altered. It’s that good. “Mommy’s Lost Her Marbles” hangs on a great organ riff. “Piggies (acoustic)” does sentimental in a way that actually makes me want to sigh instead of gag. I won’t ruin why it does.

Yes, there are a couple of stinkers, like the regrettable opener “Going to a Party” and the oddball surf-punk of “Chicken Soccer.” Things do get a bit too saccharine on “I Am Not Gone,” as well. But they are easily passed over for the other treasures within.

Move Your Boots by the Bramble Jam is unabashedly a kids’ album. But it has the musical quality to be enjoyed by their parents (and, apparently, at least one single-as-can-be music critic). If you’re adventurous, have kids, or really want to try something outside of your normal listening, hit this up.

Jon and Roy release effortless, pristine beach music on Homes

June 2, 2010

Jon and Roy - HomesI can’t stomach Jack Johnson. I like “Bubble Toes” and assorted other singles by him, but on the whole it just strikes me as vapid. You can be minimalist and not useless; Damien Jurado’s made a career on it, to name just one.

Jon and Roy also are staking their career on it. Their Homes inhabits a space very similar to Jack Johnson’s camping grounds: mellow acoustic tunes with a surfer mindset. Where Johnson tosses in John Mayer-esque pop overtones, Jon and Roy throw in reggae underpinnings. Jon and Roy have soul, too, which makes the whole album go down even smoother.

Yes, this is thoroughly a beach album. It’s absolutely perfect for putting on when lounging about and relaxing. But it’s by no means filler or vapid; the tunes are solid in their songwriting, melodies and rhythms. Just because a thing is simple doesn’t mean it’s well-done, and Jon and Roy work hard to make their simplicity excellent. Not a thing is out of place on Homes: the casual-sounding acoustic strum is quite precise, the seemingly effortless vocals are measured and placed specifically, and the drums are so well-written that they seem entirely uninvasive. Jon and Roy so incredibly talented as songwriters and performers that it doesn’t even sound like they’re trying.

From the folk shuffle of “Boon Helm” to the beachfront sway of “947” to the Ben Harper strum of “Get Myself a Gun” to the inviting pop of “Any Day Now,” Jon and Roy conquer anything they try by making it seem utterly effortless. If there’s one serious criticism to be levied against the album, it’s that they make it sound too easy; if one is not paying close attention, Homes could be dismissed as repetitive, boring or uninspired. None of these things are true. After an initial recognition of that fact hooks you, the ease of mood becomes the glue that keeps you stuck on Homes instead of a detractor.

It is incredibly rare for me to be calmed by music as I review it. Reviewing requires being on my toes, scouring for the right words. Jon and Roy’s Homes disarmed my uptight writing and honestly chilled me out. I knocked out these words in one sitting with the tunes mellowing me the entire way. Homes is a brilliantly written, impeccably performed and astoundingly entertaining release. Fans of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, early Switchfoot, Teitur or beach music in general will find a new candidate for album of the year.

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

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