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2016 Singles: Acoustic

January 18, 2016

 

Acoustic

1. “A Better Life” – Supersmall. A good-natured, walking-speed tune that gives more than it asks back from you: you don’t have to listen hard to enjoy, but there are charms for those who listen deeply to the early ’00s, Parachutes/Turin Brakes-style work.

2. “May the Stars Fall at Your Door” – Andrew Adkins. We all need an encouraging blessing every now and then–Adkins provides uplifting lyrics with an equally uplifting folk arrangement (complete with harmonica). Totally great work here.

3. “Nowhere” – Swaying Wires. Tina Karkinen’s confident vocals give a levity to this serious, acoustic-led indie-pop tune.

4. “Know It All” – Bitterheart. Brash, immediate, strum-heavy, full-throated folk-pop that marries the enthusiasm of folk-punk with the good-hearted charm of a folk-pop tune. If all their work is like this, their album’s going to be a blast.

5. “One Three Nine” – Jacob Metcalf. Fluttering, ethereal folk that stays grounded basically by force of will, a la Andrew Bird.

6. “Chandelier” – Russell Howard. This gender-flipped cover of Sia’s tune creates a stark atmosphere by modifying Howard’s vocals and putting them over a delicate guitar accompaniment and subtle percussive beat.

7. “White Light Doorway” – Florist. The band has mastered the skill of keeping a song together while lead singer Emily Sprague purposefully sounds like she’s falling apart. The tension there is beautiful and weighty.

8. “While You Stand” – Michael Nau. The wide-eyed naivete of Page France is long gone, but the absurd ease with which Nau pens a lyric and fits it to a simple guitar line persists. It hits me.

9. “Habits” – Adrienne Tooley. Carrying that Lilith Fair torch: female perspective; sharp, witty lyricism; clear, uncluttered acoustic songwriting.

10. “Secrets” – Nick Zubeck. Laidback chill doesn’t get more laidback than this.

11. “Monde” – Stranded Horse. Fleet, powerful fingerpicking contrasts a laissez-faire vocal mood for a knotty, beautiful tune that feels like it fell out of a Wes Anderson movie somewhere.

12. “Black Gold” – Black Country. There are few substances so evocative as oil, with its viscous flow, vibrant sheen, wealth-making potential, and divisive opinion-making. Black Country spells out a narrative of the open spaces, where finding oil is the difference between emptiness of landscape and buzzing life–hanging the promise of oil over the head of a barren, windswept instrumental landscape.

13. “We’ll Get By” – The Singer and the Songwriter. One of the more un-Google-able bands working today drops a stately, moving tune that includes accordion and shuffling snare under a beautiful alto vocal melody.

14. “Wanderer’s Waltz” – Youth Policy. Here’s a wintry, stark tune composed of breathy, Elliott Smith-esque vocals, cascading fingerpicking, and a moody sense of melancholia.

15. “Ghost Blue” – Sparrows Gate. If I walked into a bar where Sparrows Gate was playing this moving, piano-driven ballad-esque tune, I hope it would be to work off a breakup instead of celebrate a success. “Gravitas” doesn’t sell it well enough.

16. “Goes Without Saying” – Melaena Cadiz. A relaxing, unspooling, wandering tune that just feels lovely.

17. “Kicking You Out” – Merival. Few things get me more than a raw, open-hearted acoustic tune with some room echo. Merival’s strong songwriting skills are on full display here, with nothing else added but some harmony vocals. As they say: all the feels.

32 Songs I Loved in 2015 (In no particular order)

January 1, 2016

Here’s a non-comprehensive, unordered list of 32 tunes that I just really loved in 2015. They approximately go from fast and loud to quiet. Happy 2016, y’all.

Let’s Go Jump Into the Fire” – Devin James Fry and the Namesayers
Glass Heart” – Magic Giant
Seven Hells” – Quiet Company
Shiny Destination” – The Rutabega
The Fringe” – Sego
In the Woods” – Bobby’s Oar
Run with Me” – Heather LaRose
Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music
Marina and I”  – The Gorgeous Chans
Bad Blood” – Fred Thomas
Golden Coast” – Billy Shaddox
Flare Gun” – In Tall Buildings
All This Wandering Around” – Ivan and Alyosha
See You Soon” – Valley Shine
Through the Night and Back Again” – Michael Malarkey
By the Canal” – Elephant Micah
Everglow” – Jared Foldy
Father’s Day” – Butch Walker
Muscle Memory” – Laura and Greg
Odell” – Lowland Hum
Waking Up Again” – Emily Hearn
Pilot Light” – The Local Strangers
Death Came Knocking” – B. Snipes
Hold On” – We are the West
Money in the Evenings” – Hermit’s Victory
California Song” – Patrick James
Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle
Paperback Books” – The Pollies
Closet” – John Vournakis
Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf
Spring” – Sam Burchfield
Vacation” – Florist

November Acoustic Singles

November 3, 2015

1. “Sometimes It’s a Song” – Rob Williams.  The fresh, round, earnest qualities of Williams’ voice match the subtle sweetness of the surrounding arrangement, resulting in the sort of song that feels real and weighty without being heavy or loud. It makes quite an impact.

2.”Heart of Stone” – The American West. This one captures the easygoing, lilting West Coast country sound in full flower, with the pedal steel more floating than weeping and the guitar more calming than cutting. The vocals and lyrics, however, supply all the heartbreak you could ask for from a country tune.

3. “Lovedrunk Desperados” – Annabelle’s Curse. That opening thumping kickdrum creates a sense of urgency that cuts through the banjo and acoustic guitar songwriting and lends it the hint of grandeur that compels me to keep listening. The rest of the song does not disappoint.

4. “Set on Fire” – Magic Giant. They’re not referencing their meteoric rise, but this rave-folk outfit (seriously, right there with Avicii, in only a slightly different way) is making a big noise in a lot of places. This particularly tune will keep their star right on rising.

5. “Mountains” – Andy Hackbarth. Even though its title says otherwise, this one invokes the beach: chill, Mraz-style acoustic-pop meets reggae in a sunshiny brew.

6. “Molly Put the Kettle On” – Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. It doesn’t get much more authentic-sounding than this rootsy, bluegrassy croon/holler tune featuring harmonica, banjo, and fiddle.

7. “Mother” – Adam Busch. Touches of psychedelia flavor this otherwise unassuming, easygoing, fingerpicked acoustic tune.

8. “Lighthouse” – Phillip LaRue. The subtle alt-pop of Peter Bradley Adams meets the flitting, romantic strings of Sleeping at Last for a romantic, lovely tune.

9. “Cool and Refreshing” – Florist. Sporting another not-quite-yet-self-aware title, this tune delivers fragile, melancholic, beautiful indie-pop that really seems like it should be acoustic. Shades of Lady Lamb, Laura Stevenson, and Kimya Dawson appear, but Florist uses the references as touchstones instead of crutches. Just beautiful.

10. “Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf. This tune has the gravitas to convey history in all its glory and terror–a tune so infused with lyrical weight that a single sigh can speak volumes. Distant trumpets, careful strings, twinkling glockenspiel and gentle baritone make this some sort of cross between Beirut and Kris Orlowski, which is only positive. Metcalf previously was in IC faves The Fox and The Bird, and it seems he hasn’t missed a step since stepping out.

 

 

 

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

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