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Tag: Josh Ritter

The Points North create unique folk from a myriad of influences and styles

thepointsnorthOne of my best friends and I are huge folk fans. We share some of the same loves (Josh Ritter, Simon and Garfunkel, Iron and Wine), but we diverge pretty hard at one point: he’s a big fan of the British folk sound, and I’m a big fan of the American folk sound. The British folk sound has a very open sound: capturing the sound of rolling hills on the English countryside, the music often abounds with flutes, mandolin, and other optimistic sounds. American folk has a much less optimistic air about it; Dylan’s strum-heavy protest songs and Simon and Garfunkel’s world-weary pop/folk tunes set the stage for the depressing world that American folk resides in.

The Points North take a distinctly British approach to folk, although they hail from Boston. Accordion, flute, delicately fingerpicked guitar, piano, mandolin and more permeate the sound, creating a rollicking sound. But even though these songs are charming, melodic, and sunny, they never become less weighty. Page France was one of the only other bands I know of that was able to capture the balance between giddy music and serious content. And The Points North don’t geek out on a Michael Nau-esque level; they’re much more tempered than that. Stately, as the Brits might say.

If Sufjan Stevens were a little more obsessed with flute, he could have written “Cape Tryon”; the background vocals and general feel of the song would have fit perfectly on Illinoise! If the Low Anthem cracked a smile every now and then, they would be happy to claim the elegaic accordion intro of “I Awoke a Child.” If Nick Drake had found friends to play with him, he could have written half these songs, from the peculiar picking rhythm of “Ever Bright White” to the carefree feel of “Tires & the Pavement.” There are elements of Nickel Creek’s joyful pop (minus the bluegrass), and Novi Split’s goofy swooping musical instruments.

Although I’ve spent most of this album saying who the Points North sound like, that’s not to their discredit. This isn’t an album that causes me to wince every time I hear a musical familiarity. On the other hand, these references (intentional or otherwise) cause excitement and increase enjoyment. The sound isn’t as intimate as my favorite folk bands, due to the myriad of sounds going on, but that’s not what The Points North were shooting for.

The Points North’s I Saw Across the Sound is a unique release, written and recorded with clarity of idea. It’s a very distinctive brand of folk that draws off all the aforementioned bands, but copies none of them. Quite enjoyable and talented.

The Comet Comes and Drops off Some Good Folk/pop tunes

There’s nothing more invigorating than popping an album in and being hit with a great song to kick off the album. ReedKD accomplishes this impeccably with “This Is It,” the opener to In Case the Comet Comes. The first sound is a wildly strummed mandolin, followed by a bass drum, tambourine, claps and vocals. The motifs of the album are laid out in full before “This is It” even finishes: acoustic instrumentation, instantly memorable melodies, yearning lyrics, folk/pop sound, capable of being uptempo but also comfortable in the slower vein, and established as part of a full-band aesthetic (even if the band is simply providing handclaps and bass drum hits).

Yes, “This Is It” is so good that it shouldn’t be legal to have a second track just that improves upon the formula. But “If the Tide Swings” does just that by adding a full band to the mix, with prominent bass guitar, fuller drum presence, accordion and more. It’s feels like all the members of the band are playing their hearts out, maybe at somebody’s house party somewhere. It has that loose, organic, passionate feeling, although the sound is crisp and the performances tight. It’s been immaculately made, but it doesn’t sound overproduced or thought to death. It’s clean, tight, and adrenalizing.

After the initial bang, ReedKD follows a road map eerily similar to the one laid out by previous effort The Ashes Bloom: slow numbers interspersed with some uptempo pieces and a sole electronic pop piece. His uptempo work is much improved this time around; “Cactus Garden” and “Sleepless Nights in Bed” kick the junk out of the older works due to the experimentation with other instruments. Playing drinking glasses is a great move, only improved by some muted brass picking up the slack in the chorus of “Sleepless Nights in Bed” (a highlight, for sure). The hoedown fiddle of “Cactus Garden” also lends a bit of unusual kick to his sound.

But his slower work is a bit too slow this time around, causing some lag in the album. “Space Vacuums” drags on for almost six minutes, which is far too long. “Lake Missouri” moves at what can only be described as a glacial pace. Closer “Splinters in the Evening” is too stately for the rest of the album, sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s understandable that the slow work is a bit off, though; in his previous album, Reed was everything. Reed’s deft acoustic guitar skills picked up the slow pieces on their own. When adding in and causing other instruments to carry tunes, as the bass does on “Lake Missouri” and the piano does on “Splinters in the Evening,” some of Reed’s skill gets muffled in the transition.

In Case the Comet Comes starts off with a bang and provides some great folk/pop moments along the way. There are a couple potholes on the road, but the majority of the tunes are catchy, peppy, and fun. If you like Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Avett Brothers, or David Shultz, this would make a good addition to your collection.

Leonard Mynx's Vesper gets a rave review.

I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.

Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.

It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.

The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.

Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.

Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.

This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.