Brook Pridemore’s second video is as much fun as his first one. Punchline: Brook takes his guitar everywhere–really, everywhere. The Mountain Goats-esque power-pop is also awesome.
Kodacrome’s elegant “Strike The Gold” has a perfect video: super-slo-mo of a horse getting ready for a run and then doing it. I can’t even explain how perfect this video is for this song.
In June, I got to see The Postal Service live. It was such an incredible experience that I couldn’t find words to adequately explain it. Instead, The Creators Project got together and made a 14-minute video about PS’s tour. It is beautiful. You should watch all 14 minutes.
The ever-prolific Fiery Crash has ditched the fuzzed-out dream pop for a much more straightforward acoustic guitar album on Practice Shots. The results sound something like an early M. Ward album on downers: Josh Jackson’s acoustic guitar sound is warm and gentle even while being played in precise rhythms, and his rambling/mumbling/singing vocal style calls up great memories of “Chinese Translation“–although Jackson’s voice is lower than Ward’s. Working with not much more than that throughout the album, Jackson constructs tunes that float the entire way through.
Jackson’s baritone voice could be a dominant feature, a la the National, but he balances it perfectly against the other elements. The result are tunes that flow smoothly on their own and as a cohesive whole. “Equinox” layers three guitar parts, a vocal line, and simple percussion without ever feeling cluttered; opener “Cada Ano” pulls a similar feat while featuring an arresting vocal melody. “For the Canopy” is a little duskier in its mood, allowing for a pleasant variety. Even the louder tracks fit with the lazy, slowly rolling mood: “Volleybeachball!” uses an electric guitar and a speedy drum machine but is dragged back into the mood with a lackadaisical vocal line.
Fiery Crash has kept the quality level incredibly high over this latest dispatch of prolific production. This is the second full album and fourth release in this calendar year, and Practice Shots is the best of the bunch so far. I don’t know when Jackson will let up, but at this point he’s clicking on all cylinders. Fans of cheery, breezy acoustic songwriting like (early) Shins, She & Him, and more will love this. I look forward to his next move.
The title track for Together Through It All must have been an incredibly easy choice for Kye Alfred Hillig: in a 14-song album with few clunkers, “Together Through It All” stands head and shoulders above everything else on the record. Hillig’s forte is creating almost uncomfortably intense tunes, as if Ray LaMontagne’s vocal chords, Josh Garrels’ lyrical depth, latter-day Sam Beam’s arrangements, and David Bazan’s general passion were all crammed into one artist. “Together Through The Years” tracks the downward progression of a troubled son through the eyes of his loving, committed father: by the last verse, Hillig is roaring out over pounding drums and blasting horns that “the tombstone don’t make the man/And that’s not how I choose to remember him.” Hillig then returns to the devastating chorus: “I’m still his father/he’s still my son.” If you don’t get shivers or goosebumps or something during this tune, I don’t think this blog can help you much.
Hillig doesn’t just focus on heavy topics; there are some excellent love tunes here as well. “An Unedited Presentation of Souls,” “You and Me and Time,” and “Trampled/Triumphant” all take the average love ballad and crank up the intensity a few notches. The lyrics themselves are far more intimate and emotionally raw than I expect to hear, and the passionate vocal delivery is jaw-dropping at times. Hillig is a focused, powerful vocalist, but he can also deliver songs sweetly. It’s a rare thing to find.
It’s also rare to hear so much diversity fit so neatly on a record. The dense arrangement of opener “Breaking Lungs” makes it feel like a lost track from Iron and Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean, while “War in Spring” is a perky piano-pop tune anchored by a Postal Service-esque beat. Closer “Does My Soul Still Sing?” is a majestic, reverential, synth-laden elegy, while “Free the Birds” is a garage-rock track anchored by campy organ. (Okay, “Free the Birds” does stick out a bit.) But other than that one, Hillig makes all of the tracks work by investing each of them with an equal amount of passion and care. No track here feels cast off on a whim: Together Through It All is completely and carefully organized.
If listening through the whole 45+ minutes is a bit of an exhausting experience, it’s a thrillingly exhausting one. There’s more charm and care crammed into this album than most bands can get into three albums. If you love singer/songwriters who aren’t necessarily out to make you happy, but are definitely out to make you feel, you need to know Kye Alfred Hillig. Trust me on this one. Kye Alfred Hillig will make you smile, laugh, and cry.
Pillowhead’s Convictions EP does just about everything right that you can do in an EP. They establish their sound, display variations on that theme, drop in a cover, and then bring it back home with a solid tune as a closer. That’s all in five songs.
Yeah. Be amazed.
Pillowhead plays a sort of rock that isn’t pop-punk but isn’t exactly rock’n’roll. It’s not as giddy as the pop/rock on the radio, but it’s not so overly serious in its music that it falls under the modern rock label. They tackle really heavy topics on the EP (another plus!) but they do it thoughtfully and without ham-fisted theatrics. Even when a choir comes in on “The Reasons,” it doesn’t feel over the top.
If it was going to get overblown, it would have long before, when the singer starts singing to his mother about his and her failures in their relationship (for those keeping track at home: the last time this was an effective tactic not mocked by the mainstream was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”). But it never does. Pillowhead manages to make the maudlin manageable.
“The Revelation” drops into a nice groove and takes the band in a much more low-key direction, eschewing the epic for the sake of a good tune (yet another check mark!). “55 Broad” has an extended instrumental section that shows the instrumental and songwriting chops of the band (can this band get any better?).
They chose to cover “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by the Postal Service, which is a brilliant move on several levels. First off, they hooked me with the promise of this track; I (along with the rest of the indie world) love any and all covers of the Postal Service. Secondly, they didn’t mess with the track; they played it as a rock band playing a straight cover of a indie-techno song. Finally, they pulled it off extremely well. Yet another kudos for the cart.
“Diseased, Misused and Wasted Youth” wraps things up; it’s also the title track, as the line “you’ve got convictions/you’ve got beliefs” shows up. It’s an emotive, powerful track, but it’s also got some solid melodies. It’s not your usual rock track, and that’s great.
This is the best possible EP Pillowhead could have released. Their songs are solid, their delivery is pitch-perfect, and their skills are undeniable. If you like rock or pop, you need this EP right now. We all know there is little justice in the music world, but if there were, you would already know about Pillowhead, ’cause everyone should know about Pillowhead. Amazing stuff.
The most satisfying breakup album I’ve ever heard is the Postal Service’s Give Up. It’s not that Tamborello and Gibbard pinned the sound of breaking up perfectly (that honor goes to Spiritualized’s miserable/wonderful Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space). It sits above the rest because the whole thing is told in chronological order. Attentive listeners can know exactly what’s happening at every point in the album. It turns the collection of songs into an experience.
Paul Phillips’ Every Time I Leave might be a breakup album. There are breakup songs on it, but there are also love songs and worship songs. The jumble makes it difficult to discern what the point of this folk/country album is. And, alas, there may not be one. It may simply be a collection of songs. As a collection of songs, it’s not bad at all, but I feel like Phillips could aspire to so much more than just a collection of songs.
Phillips comes from the Bob Dylan school of vocals: they’re an immediate turn-off that slowly grow on you to the point of affection. His tenor is warbling and creaky, similar to Dylan’s, but thankfully, Phillips doesn’t have that horrible nasal tone that Dylan has. When Phillips keeps his voice low on songs like “Time, Time,” it’s hard to even discern the warbles and breaks.
Taking the focus off the vocals allows the songwriting to shine. I wish it would happen more often, as Phillips crafts some excellent tunes on Every Time I Leave. “Time, Time,” “Come What May” and “Until We Meet Again” are simply gorgeous tunes. The common denominator in all of these is the removal of the excess instrumentation. When Phillips gets down to the bare bones of songwriting, he strikes gold with fingerpicked melodies, subtle keys, and a calm mood. His upbeat tunes accentuate the problems of his songwriting; the slower, quieter ones play up his strengths. He even busts out a solid falsetto on “Come What May,” which surprised me.
There are upbeat tunes here as well, but they’re standard for the genre. The downtempo work is what shines. If Phillips could apply the lessons learned from the slow tracks to the aesthetics of the uptempo tracks, he would be able to accomplish a lot. He’s got solid songwriting skills that need to be refined. His voice needs to be reined in. Future albums could be structured to not be so confusing to the listener. Still, Every Time I Leave is a solid effort from a developing songwriter. I hope to hear more from Paul Phillips in the future.
I’ve been following Like Clockwork for a long time. Jesse Astin, the driving force behind the band, has always had a unique vision for his songs. Sometimes this is awesome; sometimes it’s just confusing. “Oh My God!”, a new single off upcoming album These Are All Things is no different.
It is different in the fact that this is the most accessible thing I’ve ever heard Like Clockwork make: the bulk of this song is a indie-pop techno ditty, a la Postal Service. The vocals are in turns sneering and vulnerable, but always clear and confident. The song’s melodies are all clever and immediately memorable, inspiring multiple listens. The only problem is that there are some weird extra bits in the song that drag it in weird directions. I don’t say they drag it down, but with their inclusion, “Oh My God!” definitely situates itself outside the canon of “normal pop songs.”
The first fifteen seconds are distorted screaming. I kid you not. It doesn’t seem like the best intro to a pop song, and to be honest, I’m kind’ve disappointed in the intro, because it doesn’t introduce the song well. Then the pop song about paranoia comes in and sticks around for a while; then a rock song denouncing America appears. The juxtaposition holds together because he says he’s worried about living in America, as “every empire must fall, and I live in America.”
But the weirdest bit of the song comes in the last minute, which is a field recording of a guy ranting about all of us being one. It’s your garden-variety “all is one! forget countries! forget religions! just be one!” street corner ranting. In addition to it being a peculiar addition to a pop song, I can’t figure out if he’s supporting or rejecting this guy’s ideas. I think he’s supporting it, but it’s not clear.
Even though it’s a bit conflicted and a tad bit confusing, it’s a mark of a good songwriter that I can write three hundred and fifty words about one song. If Jesse Astin has more songs of this caliber or better lined up in an upcoming release, I’m very excited for that release. I recommend checking out Like Clockwork’s myspace for this track.
You May Die In The Desert started out as a guitar and bass duo from Seattle before morphing into what they are today—a three-piece instrumental group. Bears in the Yukon is a purely instrumental album, consisting of seven tracks. I automatically assume that boredom will ensue when it comes to purely instrumental albums, but this day I was in luck. You may Die In The Desert (YMDITD) has immense technical skill. One of the first bands I thought of in comparison was the technical, instrumental aspect of Between the Buried and Me.
The sound could be described as ambient, atmospheric, spacey; the type of music that would be playing if you were to suddenly take flight. Seriously–if I was so lucky as to have a spaceship come into my possession, this is what I would be pumping through the speakers. It’s the kind of music that inspires the listener to get off their butt and embark on some sort of creative enterprise of their own; I love that in music.
It’s refreshing that the sound of the guitar is played with and changed up—there isn’t just a barrage of distortion or acoustic, which is extremely important in an instrumental album. The tracks all are very cohesive, but I found “The Writer’s Audience is Always Fiction” to be the most enchanting. Amidst flashbacks to songs by Modest Mouse and The Postal Service, I found myself immensely enjoying this track. Its tempo is set by what sounds like a digital high hat drum beat—it stands out from the rest. There are definite elements of jazz infused throughout, not only in this song but in the entire album.
They obviously know what they are doing; the technicality of the layering of sounds, the implications of the drum beats, the airy reverb and delay of the guitars; it all makes for a very intelligent, mystic-feeling musical sojourn through the eardrums.
YMDITD possesses enough skill to keep the listener alert yet relaxed throughout their songs. They go to prove that words aren’t needed where music can suffice and thrive on its own.
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.