Eric and Happie‘s It’s Yours is a pristine example of a male/female duo folk-pop album in 2016. The eight songs of the album rarely feature more than guitar/bass/drums, which is just the way I like it. The subtle inclusions of ukulele, strings, and accordion provide great accent to the tracks. Eric and Happie are credited with vocals on every track. It’s an uncomplicated collection of tunes that works excellently.
The songs are not as high-drama as those of The Civil Wars, nor as perky as The Weepies’; it’s not as radio-curated as The Lumineers’ work (with the exception of “Falling For You,” which is a romp complete with “hey!”s). Instead, these are folk songs with pop melodies that you can sing along to with ease. There are romantic songs (the title track, “Falling for You,” “A Dream”), travel songs (“Louisiana,” “Oklahoma,” “Stranger”), and more poetic offerings (“They’ll Never Take Us Alive”).
The tunes often land in the realm of Jenny and Tyler’s early work, which was warm, friendly, and pop-oriented. It’s a pure, unadulterated sound that often doesn’t last past a few albums, as the lure of larger arrangements draws so many. (And those larger arrangements can be awesome too.) But there’s a special glow that shines off an intimate, simply-wrought album like this; that lightning in a bottle is rarely caught.
The Soldier Story‘s Flowers for Anonymous inhabits a dusky, complex space triangulated between the suave nighttime antics of Bloc Party, the howling reveries of The Walkmen, and the manic fever of MuteMath’s first record. The songs of this record absorb the best bits of each of those bands and synthesize them into something new and fresh. The trick here is that Colin Meyer has the chops to pull off frantic, mathy indie-rock, but he distills those melodic and rhythmic tendencies into tension-laden mid-tempo pieces that are just as ghostly as they are grounded.
Tunes like “Drifting Apart” have patterned guitar leads, syncopated drumbeats, whirling vocals, and more, but in the service of a subdued, push-and-pull mood. Follow-up “Talk With Our Eyes” barely contains the underlying power and passion, as it spikes up through the tension in the form of synths, drums, glitchy beats, and more. It’s a tune that carries the OK Computer torch, updating the “contemporary technological fears in sonic form” palette. (It’s not surprising that various eras of Radiohead are a touchstone for these pieces as well.)
But Meyer isn’t all chaotic rock filtered through massive restraint filters. Elsewhere Meyer turns his penchant for complex, burbling guitar lines into an indie-pop mold, creating beautiful, subtle tunes like “Life is Short” and “An Overdue Farewell.” These tunes balance Meyer’s complicated arrangements with his smooth, airy, at-times-feathery vocal melodies. He can soar with the best of them, but he can also disappear off into the distance. This tension between the chaotic and the delicate is a powerful element in making Flowers for Anonymous a big success. There aren’t many people making music like this; adventurous listeners will greatly enjoy hearing Meyer’s carefully constructed sonic landscapes.
I’m pretty far behind the bandwagon on reviewing M. Lockwood Porter‘s How to Dream Again, even though I have it on vinyl. It’s been getting a ton of accolades from people like Paste and No Depression, so it’s been doing pretty well without me chiming in. But as a person who’s reviewed both Judah’s Gone and 27, I did have a few thoughts that maybe haven’t been said before. (Probably not.)
The new lyrical direction of How to Dream Again has been getting a lot of play: it’s a protest record, save for three love songs at the beginning of the record, and it’s an incisive, thoughtful turn. It pushes on both on internal problems (“Sad/Satisfied”) and external issues (every other song) in a style that’s more Woody Guthrie than Bob Dylan; there aren’t a whole lot of stacked metaphors, but there is a whole lot of direct analysis. Porter also continues to grapple with religion, this time taking God to task over the question of God’s lack of direct intervention on issues of injustice. It’s a question that has resonated through the ages, and one that fits in a protest album. Even if Porter and I come to different conclusions on the matter, the question is real and remains.
The musical direction is also different, albeit more slightly. The songs here are a synthesis of the folk of Porter’s first record and the American rock’n’roll of his second; the troubadour folk style that comes along with protest lyrics is present throughout as well. The three sounds come together to make a mature sound for Porter, one that may not be his last stop (who among us can claim to be in our final form?), but certainly indicates his direction. There are dashes of Dawes (“Sad/Satisfied”) in the rhythmic vocal delivery, rattling ’50s rock’n’roll throughout, and more things thrown in the pot. The title track, which closes the album, brings it all together into a very American amalgam. It’s Porter’s distinct voice that leads the way, adding the final element to make the sound unique. If you’re into protest music or American folk/rock/other, How to Dream Again should be on your to-hear list. It probably already is.
Full disclosure is important in journalism, so I have to point out that I was as surprised as anyone to find myself thanked in the liner notes of Fiery Crash‘s In Clover. I’ve covered Joshua Jackson (not the Paste editor) many times before and named For Tomorrow Will Worry About Itselftop EP of the year in 2013. Over those years we’ve become friends over e-mail, having never met in person. The chronology was music, then friendship–not the other way around. Okay, enough about that.
In Clover is the high-fi culmination of almost a dozen lo- to mid-fi releases under this and other names. Jackson bounced back and forth between garage rock, dream-pop, and fingerpicked singer/songwriter genres in each of his releases, and here he brings them all together. He opens with the dreamy pop of “Julie,” throws down some ’90s rock with the crunchy guitars of the title track, shows off his singer/songwriter side in the evocative “Loser Street,” and closes with the achingly beautiful acoustic instrumental “Meadowsville.” There are occasional forays into casio beats to back up his dreamy pop (“If You Were Mine”), violins for pathos (“Annie”), and the swift fingerpicking of Alexi Murdoch (“Loving Wish”). Jackson packs a lot into 13 songs. (For ease of use, the front half is louder than the back half.)
What saves In Clover from being an amorphous grab bag is the consistent production vibe (hazy around the edges, focused at the center) and Jackson’s comfortable baritone voice. His vocals guide the listener through each song, whether it be the hollering frustration of “The Divorce,” the yearning tones of “Julie,” or the soothing notes of “Loving Wish.” The most common vocal type sees Jackson surrounded by his own arrangements, leading as the center of the mix, but not its most prominent feature volume-wise. It’s not as speak-sung as CAKE, but it has the same sort of connection to the music: Jackson’s voice is shepherding the rest of the instruments along, even if they’re running out in front of him. It makes for an album that feels relaxed and comfortable while still being confident and tight in the performances.
The centerpiece of the record is “Steeples,” which starts out with simple fingerpicked acoustic guitar and voice. The arrangement builds around that core, bringing in drifting background vocals, gentle electric guitar and distant drums. The lyrics are questions of religion and existentialism, giving us a peek into an ongoing conversation about life: “I’m trying to answer you/dear brother of mine.” Jackson’s vocals are compelling without being theatrical, emotive without being maudlin. The song floats by without seeming to take the four minutes of its run time.
The brilliant In Clover packs a lot of sounds into 13 songs, but all of it hangs together. It’s the sort of listening experience that takes you through an emotional and sonic narrative. Fiery Crash is on top of his game as a melodist and arranger. If you’re looking for an album that will push you through spring and get you to summer, this should be your jam. In other words, if you’re into dream-pop, indie-rock, or tightly arranged singer/songwriter work, you should really check this out.
My favorite genres are acoustic folk, indie-pop, and indie-pop-rock, so it makes perfect sense that a North Elementary / Jesse Marchant / Bishop Allen show was my favorite I’ve been to all summer. The three bands converged on Carrboro’s Local 506 for a Sunday night show that didn’t disappoint those who stayed up late the night before the local university started back to school.
I caught about half of the set from local indie-pop-rockers’ North Elementary. I would have caught more of it, but I never expect any venue to start on time. (Props to Local 506 for starting at 9 when the poster said 9.) Their enthusiastic, noisy, occasionally jubilant rock was fun to hear; closer “Hi-Lo” was especially smile-inducing. The guitars were noisy but not overly heavy; there’s a lot of levity in their tunes. As a bassist, I particularly enjoyed the great low end lines laid down by Jimmy Thompson.
After knocking some of the rust off my concert-lacking ear drums with North Elementary, Jesse Marchant, also known as JBM, soothed my ears. Marchant’s calm, relaxing solo set was an astonishing success, especially considering that he was sandwiched between two loud bands. (He’s on tour with Bishop Allen right now, which I think is cool: I’m a big fan of cross-genre tours.) Marchant’s songs feature the delicate intimacy of Gregory Allen Isakov’s work, but also have a deep grasp of space and mood that reminds me of Jason Molina’s work. Those two songwriters are some of my favorite in my 13-year music-reviewing career; Marchant’s sound was on par with theirs.
His melodic skill, songwriting maturity, and instrumental dexterity are all sky high. Some quiet bands don’t know how to keep attention; Marchant kept me riveted to everything that he played. His new album comes out soon, and I’m very excited for it: his set was one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen all year. If you like quiet, emotional songwriters that can keep you hanging on every note, you need to know JBM (the name his old work is under)/ Jesse Marchant (which the new album will be under).
You’d think it would be hard to top that sort of set, but Bishop Allen is a special band to me. I don’t often indulge in personal backstory for reviews, but BA requires it. Seven years ago, I was an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, doing my best to try to figure out my place in the world. I had a best friend, a mentor, a boatload of acquaintances, and a never-ending stream of girls I liked but never managed to date. My best friend was in pretty much the same boat. In the midst of this very normal college experience, he and I went to Guestroom Records in Norman, Oklahoma to get something to listen to. We didn’t have anything in mind.
After scouting through the store, I found Bishop Allen’s The Broken String. I know I liked the cover; this may have been the only reason I bought the album. (Maybe Paste had put Bishop Allen in a sampler; RIP, Paste printed edition.) We bought it, put it in my SUV, and started driving around the city to listen to it. It was amazing. (It is still amazing.) We did this several more times throughout that year, chasing the ennui away with “The News From Your Bed” and “Like Castanets.” It is a major touchstone in my life.
We were obsessive liner notes readers–me because of The Mountain Goats. We discovered during our first listen to the album that The Broken String had been recorded in Norman, OK–the very town we were living in. This odd coincidence was enough to cement my already burgeoning fanboyship into a full-blown crush on the album. I enjoy the rest of the Bishop Allen catalog (especially the tune titled “Oklahoma,” for obvious reasons), but The Broken String will always be where it’s at for me.
Fast forward to now: Bishop Allen is back with a new album after five years off. Lights Out is a real fun record that I’ll be reviewing soon. Even though I couldn’t get a review done by the time the show rolled around, I wanted to go hear them perform live. Maybe they’d play one or two Broken String songs. I was thrilled by the end of the set: they played almost half the record (5 of 12 songs). So everything you read from this point on is going to be colored by the fact that I heard almost half of one of the more important albums in my life played. They could have played in pitch darkness and I would have been thrilled.
It was a thrill for hardcore fans of Bishop Allen, but I think it would have been a great time for new fans too. BA’s lyrics are often wry and funny, which was reflected in vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Justin Rice’s stage banter. The band ripped through traditionally quieter tunes with extra noise and energy, which made “Rain” in particular into a mini-anthem. With those slight updates to the older material, their new songs fit pretty seamlessly into their live show. The highlight of their new material was the funky, dance-oriented “Breadcrumbs,” which was a lot of fun to dance along to. I and several others were getting into it, dancing-wise. It was a blast–chipper music, fun stage banter, dancing, and singing along to my favorite songs. How can you ask for more?
Bishop Allen’s Lights Out is out now, while Jesse Marchant’s self-titled new album comes out September 9. North Elementary’s Honcho Poncho was released earlier this year.
One of the many things I do is teach at a university, which means that my summers are a little less hectic than “real life” strictly demands that they be. I’m not sitting around and playing Skyrim every day, but I am a little more in touch with the lazy summers of youth than some. That’s why Summerooms‘ self-titled album appeals to me so much: it’s perfect lazy summer pop.
It also helps that Summerooms is the side project of the prolific Josh Jackson (of Fiery Crash, not of Paste). Jackson usually splits his time between fuzzed-out dream pop and bleary-eyed acoustic work, but in Summerooms he lets those lines blur in a delightful, delicious way. It’s a testament to Jackson’s thoughtfulness and status as a student of music that he tagged the release as dream pop, folktronica, hypnagogic pop, indie folk, jangle pop, and neo-psychedelia. All of these tags are fitting, which proves A. how many people will love this release and B. how diverse he manages to make the offerings here. The best part about B is that even with the varieties throughout, the mood remains consistent. This is for the dreamy, chill, relaxing days of summer.
“Try to Wake Up” is a perfect example of Jackson’s cross-genre mash. The twinkly guitar line has the rhythms of The Last Man on Earth-style indie folk, while it has the tone of dream pop and the subtle energy of hypnagogic pop. Outside of genre labels, it’s a happy, quiet, dreamy tune that doesn’t get ponderous. He follows it with the ambient/chillwave interlude “Seth’s Backyard” before delivering a drum set, some guitar chords, and more tons of reverb in the neo-psychedelia/dream pop of “Ohm I, Ohm E.” All of these tunes are delivered with a guileless, wonderfully relaxed tone. You just can’t beat it for relaxing to.
Summerooms is a beautiful, chill, sun-dappled album that doesn’t need me to explain it to death. If you like lo-fi pop that will put you in a good mood, you’re going to love it. Here’s to lazy evenings by the pool and in the hammock.
Here are some neat things that are happening in the music world.
Singer/songwriter Aaron Hale (whose music IC is quite fond of) is now part of The Orphan Care Network as the head of artistry and advocacy. Helping orphans through art? I would say that’s pretty much in line with everything I want to be about. He is currently booking house shows in the Texas/Arkansas/Tennessee/Alabama area. If you want to host/attend a house show, get more information, or support him financially, you can e-mail him at email@example.com.
Andrew Judah is the best singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of (and I hadn’t heard of, until recently). He’s put up all his incredibly complex, unique and engaging work for free on Bandcamp so that you can get to know him better ahead of his upcoming release Monster (which I am absolutely thrilled for). So if you don’t feel like supporting artists but wants lots of music, this one’s for you!
Julianna Barwick and Dogfish Head Brewery are two of my favorites at their respective games. (Julianna Barwick might be the only person in her loop-one-voice-into-dozens game, but the approval still holds!) They’ve teamed up to make a beer and an EP named Rosabi; the EP includes the sounds of the beer being made. The beer, however, does not come with a download of the album (wishful thinking!). You can pick it up wherever Dogfish Head is sold; it just went on sale 6/20, so hopefully there’s some left at your local store of choice.
Youtube just got way more music-friendly: Paste and Music Vault are now hosting their own channels. The Music Vault contains Daytrotter sessions, as well as a veritable treasure trove of historical finds. Go nuts, y’all.
Soundsupply continues to hone their niche in the punk/emo/hardcore world by featuring Say Anything and the beloved-by-pop-punkers Allison Weiss. (Allison Weiss is also beloved by Independent Clauses for being one of the most forward-thinking businesspersons in music.) Go get tons of music for relatively cheap and support artists!!
It was bound to happen at some point: a service called ARENA has busted out a “rent-to-own” plan for music. I have no idea whether this will catch on, but there is a quantifiable difference between a song I played once for research and listening to “Wild One” by Flo Rida 30 times because I run to it. Will keep you posted, if anything happens because of this service.
Speaking of running, IT’S TIME FOR THE RUNHUNDRED MONTHLY LIST!!! —Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs for July 2014
This month’s top 10 list plays host to an eclectic bunch of established and upstart musical acts. On the international front, you’ll find a reggae hit from the Canadian band Magic and a platinum single from Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. Elsewhere country artists Jarrod Niemann and Lady Antebellum document their nights on the town. Finally,you can check out the latest from newcomers Tune-Yards and Charli XCX alongside chart regulars Katy Perry and Shakira.
No matter where your interests lie on the musical spectrum, there should be something for you below. So, if you’re looking for a few new tunes to liven up your summer workouts, this month’s playlist will give you 10 great places to start.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn
I love doing long reviews, but SXSW has thrown me off my game. To catch up, here’s a rare quartet of quick hits.
Dana Falconberry‘s four-song Though I Didn’t Call It Came is a beautiful, immersing release. The thirteen minutes pass rapidly, as Falconberry’s uniquely interesting voice plays over intricate yet intimate acoustic arrangements. Highlights include the complex and beautiful songwriting structure of “Petoskey Stone,” the Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens fragility of “Muskegon,” and the casual wonder of whistling-led closer “Maple Leaf Red (Acoustic).” It’s a rare songwriter that has tight control over both individual songwriting elements and overall feel, marking Falconberry as one to enjoy now and watch in the future.
England in 1819‘s Alma will quickly remind listeners of British piano-rock bands: Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay is checked on “Air That We Once Breathed,” Muse gets its nod in the title track, and the melodic focus of Keane is familiar throughout. But 2/3rds of the band is conservatory-trained, and those influences show. “Littil Battur” is a chiming, gently swelling post-rock piece with reminiscent of The Album Leaf; “Emily Jane” is another beautiful, wordless, free-flowing piece. There’s enjoyment in their emotive piano-pop, but there’s magic in their instrumental aspirations. That tension shows promise past this sophomore release.
The bouncy garage-pop of Eux Autres‘ Sun is Sunk EP has been honed for almost a decade to a tight mix of modern sensibilities and historic glee. “Right Again” and “Home Tonight” call up ’60s girl-pop groups but don’t overdo it; “Ring Out” features male lead vocals in a perky, jumpy, infectious tune that includes bells and tambourine. The 1:23 of “Call It Off” is thoroughly modern songwriting, though—the band is no one trick pony. There’s just no resisting the charms of Sun is Sunk, and since its six songs only ask for 15 minutes of your time, why would you?
After seeing part of a breathtaking set by Sharon Van Etten at SXSW 2011, I jumped at the chance to give some press for her new album Tramp. Turns out all the big hitters (NPR, Pitchfork, Paste) are already on it. The tunes powered by Van Etten’s emotive croon are in full form, developed from her sparse beginnings into complete arrangements. At 46 minutes, this mature version of Van Etten is a complete vision; still, the haunting, delicate closer “Joke or a Lie” is what sticks with me.
I am not very often a commentator on “the music industry,” and it is even rarer that I dedicate space to negative trends. However, Spotify is an incredibly dangerous program that has distressing potential impact on not just independent music, but music in general.
For ten bucks a month, you can essentially stream any music, anywhere, anywhen. Spotify has 15 million tracks at its disposal, both new releases and old: it pretty much dumps all the popular music that’s ever existed into one big jukebox. (Remember EMF? Falco? Smalltown Poets? Before Braille?)
But because it’s streaming, it’s a pay-for-play system and not a purchasing system. Bands get paid $0.00029 per track streamed, or approximately 1/34th of a cent (based on 2010’s British information, because they’re hiding the new info). If Before Braille somehow managed to get 34,000 plays, (maybe) they’d get ten bucks. Before Braille’s “Red Tape” is 3:00; to get ten bucks off the song, it would have to be played for 102,000 minutes/1700 hours/70.8 days/10 weeks/2.5 months. I could put a song on repeat and leave it for almost a quarter of a year continuously before the band makes the same amount it can make selling one CD at a show.
Even the 12-second “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have to be played on repeat for 6800 minutes/113.33 hours/4.7 days before gaining $10. It’s not even worth it to game the system.
Record labels have been brought on board as part owners in the company in addition to royalty owners, most likely in an attempt to get them pushing the service too. If Spotify tries hard enough, they may shore up their own finances as well as the record labels’ – all while totally ignoring the finances of the people playing the instruments. And if you think major labels compensate artists fairly, apparently you haven’t been paying attention over the past twenty years.
But even more distressing than the fact that Spotify is very nearly legal piracy is the effect it will have on consumers of music. With Spotify set up to automatically withdraw money from subscribing users and considering how Americans carelessly spend money, people will not even realize they are paying for Spotify, and by extension, music. People will become accustomed to logging in to their computer and getting whatever music they want, guiltlessly, for “free.” I wouldn’t want to buy what’s available for free, either.
Even if Spotify crashes due to its unsustainable business plan, they may have fundamentally changed how people view music. People may have moved from seeing artists as creators that should be fairly compensated for their work to “MUSIC EXISTS EVERYWHERE OH WOW OH WOW IT’S FREE LET’S DAAAAANCE!!!”
So let’s recap. Spotify undermines artists on two levels: first by making sure that they can’t get paid fairly for streams of their music, and second by disinclining listeners to buy physical music instead of streaming. Artists only have two main streams of revenue: selling music and playing shows. If they make no money selling music, then the cost of shows will go up, because the costs associated with touring will be the same and artists will have to bankroll their next album off the tour money, because they can’t make money off their CD sales (ask a member of a low-level touring band how much money they make off the merch that isn’t CDs).
This is already taking into account that most artists have day jobs when they’re not on tour.
So if the cost of shows goes up (say, from $7 to $15, from $15 to $25, all the way up), that’s equals out to a cutting of the number of concerts that the average person can go to almost in half, without changing a budget. Even if a person still wants to support music, they’re going to have to be more stingy with the concerts they see. I shelled out $70 to go see Coldplay and then $10 to go see three local shows in one month; if the Coldplay ticket would have been $100, I would have either not bought the Coldplay ticket or not gone to three local shows. Either way, artists lose that fight.
Then it’s just a race to the finish at that point; as less people go to shows, ticket prices have to increase to keep bands on tour, making even fewer shows a reality for people. And with people listening to more music for free, how will they have a connection with anything enough to want to go to a show? Investing money in something causes a deeper appreciation for it; something that’s free and disposable isn’t treasured or valued as much as something we spend $10 or $20 to purchase.
I know this sounds dire, but how many albums have you listened to this year more than ten times? More than twenty? If people decrease their attachment level to bands because they’re getting the music for free, plus it’s expensive to go to shows, people will be very sparing with the shows on which they spend cash.
It’s already difficult for bands that aren’t huge to tour; this could kill mid-level touring (somewhere, the ghost of Black Flag is cursing loudly and punching things). And if bands can’t go on tour, how will they get discovered? Through the Internet?
If you place even more of a premium on blogs and other tastemaker discovery devices, yet don’t pay people who work them (RIP Paste magazine), you can’t count on good music to be discovered. I can attest that as a blogger, I get around a dozen of e-mails a day from bands seeking coverage. That’s already more than one man can listen to and analyze, and that number would only go up. It would be harder for me to find good music to tell people about because it would take more time to get through everything. Also, my real life would suffer if I committed that much time to a non-money-making entity. Most likely the blog would suffer from the overload, not my social life.
So Spotify has the potential to crush music sales, create even worse slumlords out of record labels, raise ticket prices at concerts, make it even harder to tour, overwork blogs and make it harder to build up a fan base (the modern-day equivalent of ‘getting discovered’). And while the absolutely brilliant Kickstarter (and similar projects Feed the Muse and Fiverr) is the antidote to many of these problems (need to record an album? Run a campaign! Need to go on tour? Run a campaign! Need to buy a van? Run a campaign!), you need a fan base to make those campaigns work.
If Spotify makes it impossible to get a fan base, because no one’s heard of you, because you can’t get covered in blogs, because they’re overworked, because they’re being depended on even more highly to help create a fan base, because no one will spend money on bands they haven’t heard of live, because the cost of attending live music is prohibitive, because the ticket has to be that high to offset the fact that no one buys music anymore, the music world is going to have a really rough time.
And, honestly, it’s not just Spotify’s fault. There are many streaming music services contributing. But Spotify is the Google of them. It’s not going to be easy to avoid this catastrophe, but the answer is really simple:
Buy your music. Don’t stream it.
That’s all there is to it. Yes, it costs more. But the long-range costs are far, far worse than an extra twenty dollar billar to your local record store, iTunes or Amazon.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.