1. “Evergreen” – The Tomes. This moving track pits a clear-eyed vocal performance and swift fingerpicking against a swooning violin and delicate piano performance. The results are light and yet weighty; dramatic, yet intimate.
2. “Modesto” – Jon Bennett. This creaky speakin’ folk made my heart leap in recognition and desire, reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis and Bob Dylan. What else do I need to tell you to get you to listen to this?
3. “Unpuzzle Me” – Kate Copeland. There’s something ghostly and close about the mandolin and vocal pairing here that comforts me.
4. “No Mercy in the Night” – Natalie Lurie. Lurie’s harp is insistent, her voice is glorious, and the arrangement frames it all perfectly to sound like a female-fronted Barr Brothers.
5. “Heroin Strings” – Jack Conman. The perfectly-recorded drums here sound just north of empty cans in a big room, which gives this ominous tune a bit of an extra pop. Conman’s vocal performance is also particularly evocative and moody.
6. “The Big Surprise” – Trickster Guru. Elements of Carrie and Lowell run through this moody, death-pondering track.
7. “Long Way Back” – Terri Binion. From the jaunty old-school country vibes, you wouldn’t know that this is a track about a tragic death of a wife and the attempts to cope with that.
8. “Fear of Music” – Tobie Milford. Fans of Antony and the Johnsons will connect with Milford’s theatrical vocals, complex orchestral arrangements, and intensely dramatic moods.
9. “Up There Listening” – Jordan Prince. Back porch picking on a banjo and guitar with Prince’s sweet, charming voice making the tune even more endearing.
10. “Child of the ’70s” – Derek Clegg. Evocative of flower-power folk (Jackson Browne! James Taylor!) but subverts the script by being a song about growing older. It’s like Ben Folds’ “The Ascent of Stan,” but chiller and more accepting of the realities entailed therein.
11. “I Will Follow You” – RIVVRS. Ah, home sweet home: tom thump, “hey,” upbeat strum, romantic lyrics, catchy melodies. This one’s for everyone who just loves a good, honest, earnest folk-pop tune.
One of the most arresting pitches I’ve heard in a long while was from the songwriter of Filbert, who announced in his e-mail that “My only hope is to run out of free downloads on our Bandcamp!” Well, Daniel Gutierrez, I hope that I can help you meet that goal. Chronographic is a high-quality album that deserves all that and more.
I introduced Filbert to a group of my friends under the tag “Modest Mouse + Jeffrey Lewis + backpack rap + Bon Iver = Filbert,” and I’m standing by that assessment for this review. The core of Filbert’s sound is a dreary acoustic strum not all that different than Bon Iver’s cabin output, but the sound takes a hard left with what’s layered on top of it. Gutierrez has a humble, mumbly voice very similar to the vastly underrated Jeffrey Lewis, but he uses it to announce earnest musings on the often-ignored, normal bits of life (a la backpack rap) instead of Lewis’ surreal scenes. The final identifier (Modest Mouse) comes along in the arrangements, which skew toward the meandering and wandering–similar to the quieter moments of Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
It’s an absolutely glorious, riveting amalgam. Gutierrez and co. hold attention not through electrifying riffs or overtly clever turns of phrase, but through intricate, intimate tunes. Gutierrez includes several long clips of children talking to him and playing music as intros and outros, which give the whole album a distinctly “bedroom project of thoughtful, loving dad in his spare time” air. With folk’s recent self-importance in the era of Mumford and Sons saying big and important things to big and important audiences, it’s quite refreshing to hear an album that’s not targeted at the masses, but the Mrs. This one isn’t a world-conquering statement or important announcement, which paradoxically makes it both of those things. It’s not like slacker chic, where we’re celebrating largely unceremonious things; instead, it’s those guys who kept doing what they loved finally getting their due.
Songs like “Headphones” and “Breath” show that there are indeed some musical chops at play beyond the humble lyrics. The former builds to a desperate, striking conclusion via a slow but persistent crescendo; the latter creates a tune off a memorable guitar line and a surprisingly complex percussive section (complete with essential tambourine). “Breath” ties that commendable arrangement to a perfectly matched lyric set about weariness: “My legs won’t let me get out of the shower / … I just want to let the water hit me for a little while longer.” Yo, if we haven’t all been there, right?
There’s only seven songs in the unassuming Chronographic, and those small aims are part of the charm. It’s a mesmerizing, enveloping release that draws its power from the fact that it’s not trying to be a rock star move. This is not an indictment of the band’s effort: the arrangements are great (check the inventive “Race Cars and Chocolate”), performances are spot-on, and the production quality is immaculate. It’s just that the unpretentious, non-ironic vibe of the tracks really shines. Here’s to all those who do their thing without fuss or concern for what others think. Here’s to celebrating that. Here’s to Chronographic, which is definitely on my short list for end of year lists.
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.