Silver Torches‘ Let It Be a Dreamspeaks convincingly and heartbreakingly in a rural, blue-collar voice, along the lines of Jason Isbell or Hillbilly Elegy. (The excellent album art perfectly displays the culture the band is talking about.) But where Isbell’s work can get raucously loud, Silver Torches’ singer/songwriter work is intimate, drawing the listener close to the pain and difficulty of that life.
The lyrics throughout the record are powerful. Even in the most sonically expansive track, the ’80s-synth-led “If I Reach,” principal songwriter Erik Walters ties blue-collar concerns (“There’s no heaven or hell waiting for us / we punch the clock”) to the emotional realities of a dead-end situation (“If you leave before me / Don’t you know / I won’t be far behind / If you make your peace / Before me / I won’t mind”). Elsewhere, stories of small town bars (“Bartender”), rust belt unemployment (“Half a Heart”), and missed opportunities (“Keep the Car Running,” “At the Lantern”) call up comparisons to Bruce Springsteen’s lyrical concerns. In dealing with these nuanced, complex situations, Walters shows himself an skillful lyricist and observer of the human situation.
The music is just as impressive as the lyrics: this is a full-band effort, expanding singer/songwriter tunes with strong arrangements. The tone is different, but the work of Counting Crows has some of the same contours–songs that could be solo pieces, but are filled out. Walters knows how to write an inescapably catchy vocal hook (“Keep the Car Running,” “Like a Child,” “At the Lantern”)–these songs stuck with me for a long time after their runtime. Those aforementioned arrangements are strong: they allow the songs to surge, swell, and sway where necessary. The band offers up a quiet intensity that lends a vital urgency to the tunes of difficult life.
Every song on Let It Be a Dream is commendable, from the emotionally devastating “Let It Be a Dream” to the impressive vocal performance of “Half a Heart” to the soulful “I Can’t Lie” to spartan vibes of closer “Bartender.” It’s not a long record, but it’s one that stuck with me for a long time. If you’re looking for incisive lyrics, excellent songwriting, and intimate performances, Let It Be a Dream is a must-hear. It’s heavy, but it’s the right kind of heavy: the kind that lets you take something away that you didn’t think about before.
1. “Silverlake” – Underlined Passages. The dreamy indie-pop of UP’s previous work is traded for a punchy indie-rock model; Michael Nestor’s vocal lines are still flowing and smooth, but the now-more-crunchy-than-jangly guitars and snappy drums give this tune a new-found pep.
2. “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow;” – Glacier. Dense, heavily distorted, pounding guitar chords set the atmosphere for this 13-minute post-rock/post-metal epic, but there’s a lot more going on in 13 minutes than just chug (including a found-sound clip of an old time voice reading the end of Matthew 9).
3. “English Weather” – Fick as Fieves. British rock that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines, propelled forward by an indomitable syncopated guitar riff.
4. “Like Lightning” – Cosmo Calling. Fun vocal rhythms and melodies take the lead on this indie-pop-rock track. The guitars are neat and accompany well, but this one is all about the staccato, syncopated vocal delivery.
5. “Canary” – Holy ’57. There’s a certain type of major-key, drums-first vintage groove that reminds me of fuzzy home videos of summer in NYC during the ’60s and ’70s. People are rollerskating. A dude is playing a trumpet on the corner. There’s a hazy glow around everything. This indie-pop song sounds just like that (even includes a trumpet!).
6. “I Can’t Say No” – The Crayon Set. Smooth, appealing acoustic indie-pop with some fuzzed-out guitar and shimmering synths adding color. The chill vocals fit perfectly over the backdrop.
7. “Bedford” – Too Many Zooz. If you’re into Moon Hooch’s mad sax blast, you’ll be equally thrilled by the sax-trumpet-drums maelstrom that is Too Many Zooz. This video sees them bringing their incredibly infectious rhythms and powerhouse melodies to the NYC subway–at 3:33 in the morning. Stuff like this just happens at 3 a.m. in New York, I guess?
8. “Keep the Car Running” – Silver Torches. If Bruce Springsteen had emerged in this era, this might be what like he would have sounded like: surging drums, melodic piano, yearning vocals, and a serious-yet-warm atmosphere. Just a great tune.
9. “International Dreams” – Farm Hand. A rubbery, loping electronic beat underlines distant, almost-droning vocals for a tune that sounds like “My Girls”-era Animal Collective in a sleepy (yet still happy) mood.
10. “Like Going Down Sideways” – Cut Worms. Lo-fi tape hiss, Beatles-esque songwriting impulses, and “eh-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-perfect” performances make for an endearing tune.
11. “Old Fashioned Way” – Todd Kessler. Ah, yes. A calm, gentle folk love song talking about slowing down and looking back to the old fashions. It doesn’t get much more folky than this, y’all, and it doesn’t get much more chill.
12. “Enjoy It While It Lasts” – Easy Wanderlings. Strong female vocals lead the way through this easygoing folk tune. The video has an actress gallivanting around in a field, which is a pretty much perfect analogue to this wistful, nostalgic tune.
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.