Nashville folk/indie-pop outfit Pageant‘s latest single “Don’t Stop the Rain” gets pretty literal in its accompanying clip, surveying the varied lives and meanings of water in our world and culture. It’s enough to make a Californian faint.
The song itself is a jaunty duet that draws heavily on indie-pop and folk conventions without falling neatly into either category. The vocals are the feature here, with Derek and Erika Porter’s voices intertwining throughout the tune as leads and backup vocals. There’s some pedal steel and harmonica to counter the vocal focus, while the bass guitar does some admirable work keeping the tune traveling sprightly on. The overall effect is close to the full-band vibes that Creedence Clearwater Revival put out–which is appropriate, as Derek Porter mentioned the band’s work as a major touchpoint. His full comments, which he graciously penned for us:
“I love CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the mystical, open-ended lyrics of the track, and I always heard it as an anti-war, anti-government protest song at its heart. I wanted to take that idea even further and make the lyrics more universal and removed from the point of view and period of time in which it was originally written, so I wrote “Don’t Stop the Rain” as a direct response, playing devil’s advocate. Pageant’s song doesn’t have a clear message but is more of a free spirited thought exercise — overall, I enjoyed the poetry of the original and riffed on it.”
I’ve been behind on MP3s and videos, so there’s going to be a lot of them posted in the next few days in addition to album reviews. I’m breaking my “one post a day” rule, but I’ll get back there shortly enough.
Fun in the Sun
1. “Bring You Down” – Ships Have Sailed. Oh man, remember early 2000s indie pop-rock? Like Watashi Wa and stuff? The bright-eyed sound, the self-abasing lyrics, the high harmonies, the twinkly guitars? It’s all here. I can’t help but love this song entirely. That lead riff is just so great.
2. “Bitter Branches” – Static in Verona. I’ve always got room in my heart for a pulse-pounding, towering power-pop song. This one features high, melodic, non-aggressive vocals. It’ll be in your head for a while.
3. “Silhouettes” – Colony House. Are you looking for a fun, upbeat rock track to blast in a car? Here’s my pick for this week.
4. “Boulders” – Dear Blanca. Dear Blanca’s Talker was one of my favorite records of 2013, so it’s thrilling to hear the noisy folk/rock band back with an even tighter sound and lyrical sense. Can we get this band on tour with Conor Oberst already? Please and thank you.
5. “Figure Eight” – Pageant. Peppy acoustic guitars get kicked into overdrive by electric organ and hyperactive drums, turning a folky/poppy tune into a charging pop-rock tune. Fresh, tight, and fun.
6. “Insults and Polemics” – Wall-Eyed. I bet you’ve never head a punk band mashed up with a Norteño band. I bet you’ve never heard a Norteño band. I bet you’re really going to like it.
8. “Come Up and See” – Tree Dwellers. Instrumental hip-hop with an acoustic bent: we’ve got acoustic guitars, cello, and Spanish guitar vibes going on here. Totally cool.
9. “Could Be Real” – Diners. Lazy, chilled-out, but not chillwave, this acoustic (but not folk!) band carves out the hardest space: the space that’s always been there. This is pop music, for real.
10. “Licorice the Dog” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig has been on a songwriting bender lately, pushing the bounds of prolific by doing all of his songwriting in vastly different genres. “Licorice” sees him return to his hometown of intimate singer/songwriter music with great results.
The state of the acoustic guitar: It has become helpful, perhaps even necessary, to say the word “folk” in reference to yourself if you play songs that include an acoustic prominently. This is sad, because it muddies the real definition of folk and devalues other genres that also use the six-string prominently. Pageant plays songs based in old-school country, ’50s girl-pop, and perky piano indie-pop. It is a fascinating and engaging amalgam, and Lost Ourselves deserves its own praise (not just the overused label of “folk!”). But linguistically we must say what we must to get people to listen. Oh well.
This intriguing genre soup is most easily evident in single “Trustfunders,” which combines tambourine, pedal steel, plunking bass and saloon piano as a foundation. On this very country structure, Erika Porter and her back-up males sing verses that sound straight out of 1958. The chorus makes me wonder why they aren’t on tour with Mates of State right now. It all flows seamlessly, which is no small feat. Bravo, Pageant. Bravo.
This fluid merging of genres is assisted by Derek Porter’s presence in the band: Porter has experience with experimental pop that comes through on “I Live in My Father’s House.” The song starts off in an a capella format before morphing into a bass-driven indie-pop tune. It takes yet another turn into a madcap, sort-of rock tune before slamming the door. That all happens in under two minutes. It’s followed up by the title track, a straight-ahead vintage pop nugget with a sweet sax-led horn section. “Thinking Makes It So” sees Derek take the lead vocals on a song that leans all the way over to Western swing. It’s excellently pulled off. Then there’s the gorgeous “Shut the Door,” which pulls all of their affectations together into something beautifully, distinctly Pageant.
Pageant has a lot going on, but it never feels like they do. They’ve managed to situate all of their songwriting flights of fancy so that none of them feel out of place. That’s a rare feat. Lost Ourselves is an inventive, creative record that packs a ton of ideas into seven tunes. I eagerly look forward to what else Pageant comes up with, and encourage you to jump on the Pageant train before it takes off from the station.
The line between Peter Bradley Adams’ nuanced singer/songwriter fare and Matt Nathanson’s bright, obvious pop is sometimes a matter of magnitude and emphasis: the most cerebral of tunesmiths can fall in love with a big melody, while populists can get complex too. Russell Howard lives in the space between these poles, drifting toward one side or the other as the song demands on his City Heart + double EP.
“Home Sweet Home” is his most Adams-esque tune, as Howard pairs a gentle, fingerpicked guitar line with shakers and a pristine vocal performance. His confident but not overbearing voice carries the sense of loss that runs through the tune beautifully. Add in some light arrangement and an octave-jumping vocal finale, and Howard’s mined gold. On the other side of the spectrum, “Under the Weight” and “You, Me & Someday” mine Room for Squares-era John Mayer in the guitar and drum styles. The quiet closer “Morning” leans toward more pensive work, giving his voice a showcase again.
The acoustic side of the double EP isn’t markedly different from the full-band version of the release, as his arrangements are tasteful and uncluttered in their fleshed-out form. City Heart + shows Howard as a songwriter who has the skills to write compellingly for different audiences. It’s a fine introduction to a new voice, if you’re not acquainted with any of his back catalog.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.