Lights & Motion‘s Dear Avalanche delivers more of the high-drama, major-key post-rock that composer Christoffer Franzen has come to be known for. Fans of this style of post-rock already know what to expect from a Lights & Motion album, and Franzen does not disappoint: there are a lot of delicate melodies that grow into giant codas, big explosions of sound, and pounding percussion.
There are a few new touches (or old touches with new emphasis): Vocals appear in standout “Silver Lining,” which will appeal to fans of Sigur Ros; “Perfect Symmetry” includes some intriguing patterned piano playing; “DNA” is a stomping, aggressive minor-key piece. Beyond these small changes, Franzen sticks to what works: closer “We Only Have Forever” opens with a celebratory guitar melody underpinned by punchy drums and big pad synths, then grows to a giant, revelatory conclusion. Fans of enthusiastic, cinematic post-rock will find much to love in Dear Avalanche.
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Jake McKelvie‘s The Rhinestone Busboy EPis an alt-country record mostly because of the tone in which he sings and the lyrics he pairs with his traditional, spartan country arrangements. If McKelvie had a baritone drawl, this would be pretty close to vintage country. Instead, McKelvie’s voice is a wobbly tenor, and his lyrics include lines like “‘Cause I flat-out can’t kiss you with food in my mouth” and “I’m a brutal believer, you’re a tongue-tied late teether.” There’s a tension between these two elements, with neither the “alt” or the “country” winning out.
Instead of sounding goofy or unrealistic, McKelvie’s slightly warped delivery and alternately quirky/incisive lyrics are lent gravitas by the precise guitar strum and subtle arrangements. The results are a set of tunes that sound like a usually-cheery person trying to cope with a broken heart, trying to be mature about things but really just not wanting to. Like this set of lines from standout “Fantasy Team”: “And it’s time for me to leave / To practice my cursive and eat lots of ice cream / And buy a new weight set to leave / In the box that it comes in and draft my new fantasy team.” Pretty real, man. If you’re not into stark alt-country, these six tunes may all sound similar; but if you’re a card-carrying sad-song-person, this one will be a great friend in your next sad-song-binge.
Side projects can be confusing whims, cross-genre experimentations, or weird one-off collaborations. They can also be unhurried, easygoing works that reveal new facets of musicians.
Tim Carr‘s The Last Day of Fightinghas that unhurried ease in spades. His indie-pop/folk album has overtones of French pop in the meandering vocal melodies, airy guitars, and lazy rhythms; these together create a short album that’s relaxing to listen to. “Easy for Me” is not just a fitting title to add on such a flowing album, it’s a standout tune that sees Carr’s room-echo vocal performance mesh beautifully with a rolling, tumbling acoustic guitar performance. Carr’s sleepy-around-the-edges tenor recalls Paul Simon’s at times in this Simon and Garfunkel-esque tune. “Beyond You” and “The Last Day of Fighting” also show off his folky bonafides, while “Kindred One” has some rhythmic alterations that give the tune a different, slightly African feel.
No matter what track you’re listening to on The Last Day of Fighting, you’re sure to hear some relaxing, enjoyable acoustic music. Lots to love here.
Galapaghost released its self-produced album I Never Arrived earlier this year. Recorded in Italy, the album shows classical influence in the intricate acoustic guitar work. The layered vocals, creating a Simon & Garfunkel effect, are also notable. What really makes this album shine is how all of the elements come together to create a sound all its own.
The acoustic guitar begins every song off in I Never Arrived, with the exception of “The Secrets our Body Keeps,” which begins with the electric guitar. The beautiful intricate guitar work displayed in this album is stunning. Right off the bat, with “Mazes in the Sky”, listeners get hit with gorgeous acoustic guitar picking that continues to be a theme throughout the album. For example, towards the end, “Goodbye (My Visa Arrived)” pairs brilliant guitar picking with a twangy electric guitar that’s suiting for the somber track.
Another notable feature of the album is the layered vocalization. Beginning with “Mazes in the Sky”, we get introduced to two sets of male vocals. The first is a softer, higher voice and the second is more of a deeper baritone one. Together, they create a classic Simon & Garfunkel sound that proves quite soothing. For many of the other tracks, the deeper, crisper voice stands alone (“Salt Lake CIty”) or immediately enters in with the harmonizing set of vocals (“Science of Lovers”).
Many of the tracks take on a more eerie tone. “Science of Lovers” is a great example of the harmonization taking on a creepier effect. In particular, the melismatic “Ahhh”’s that the harmony intersperses throughout the track adds a certain level of eeriness–think modern day Gregorian chant. “I Never Arrived” also has a similarly brooding sound. Here, the instrumentation makes the track sound darker with the acoustic guitar/ piano combination that is also met with spacey effects. The meditative lyrics of “I Never Arrived” also add an extra level of melancholy, with lyrics like “Can I/ be who I used to?”. The tracks are in great contrast to the few that are abundantly more hopeful, namely “Bloom” and “Somewhere.”
It’s interesting that Galapaghost thought to add “Somewhere” followed by “Bloom,” adding in more cheery tracks close to the end. “Somewhere” starts off the mini-hope train with a more peaceful acoustic guitar and piano combination. “Somewhere” is a very hopeful song, with the chorus repeating “Somewhere/ you’ll arrive/ Somewhere/ the sun will rise.” “Bloom” kicks it up one notch further with a bit of whimsy. For the first half of the track, the lyrics tell a tale of jealousy and pressure, while everyone else is finding deep success. The turning point in the song begins with the lyrics “But I’m happy for you/ Everything around me/ and everyone around me/ is in bloom.” The next verse depicts beautiful moments within the speaker’s own life, leading up to the final lyrical climax of a slower, self-realized repetition of the above chorus.
Overall, I Never Arrived is a calming album, filled with many beautiful elements. I highly recommend checking Galapaghost out. —Krisann Janowitz
1. “Mirrors” – Mos Eisley. Triumphant folk-pop that’s exciting without going over the top into cliche.
2. “Glow” – The National Parks. Big instrumental melodies, lots of instruments, charming vocal melodies, subtle-enough-to-not-be-gimmicky underlying electronic beats; this folky indie song is just a blast.
3. “Vintage” – High Dive Heart. Throw technicolor girl pop, white rap, a banjo, and folk-pop harmonies in a blender and you get out this enigmatically engaging song. This song doesn’t make any sense to me in so many ways and yet I love it. It just works. Amazing. (Video direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDtZ__MOT20)
4. “Ancient Burial Ground” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig gives us the demos of his new album before it’s released, and you can color me excited: this tune and the handful of others that come with it are chipper musically and intricate lyrically, just like his best work. Watch for Great Falls Memorial Interchange in 2016.
5. “Canada” – Nikki Gregoroff. “The people are nice cross the border,” sings Gregoroff, which is just a really nice thing to write into a Simon and Garfunkel-esque tune.
6. “Chantilly Grace” – Granville Automatic. Bell-clear female vocals lead this tune that looks back to vintage Americana (that fiddle!) and forward to modern alt-country melodies.
7. “Bliss Mill” – Matthew Carter. The laid-back chill vibe and unhurried vocals of Alexi Murdoch meets the shuffle-snare of traditional country/folk for a memorable tune.
8. “Set Sail” – Matt Monoogian. Monoogian’s calm voice leads this acoustic track with an intricate arrangement that pulls the Gregory Alan Isakov trick of feeling both comfortingly small and confidently big.
9. “Bentonville Blues” – Adam Hill. A protest song for the modern day working poor, Hill captures the everyman ethos with great delivery of relatable lyrics, simpple arrangement of singalong melodies, and a the burned-but-not-killed mentality similar to old-time protest work songs.
10. “Itasca County” – Rosa del Duca. The frontman of folk outfit hunters. releases her own album of singer/songwriter tunes that focus on her voice and lyrics, both of which are in fine form on this rolling, harmonica-splashed tune.
11. “Tongue Tied” – Oktoba. That space between soul, folk, and singer/songwriter keeps getting more populated: let in Oktoba, whose offering isn’t as overtly sensuous as some but is just as romantic (and hummable)!
12. “The Blue” – David Porteous. Canadian Porteous beautifully splits the difference between two UK singer/songwriters here by invoking Damien Rice’s sense of intense romantic intimacy and David Gray’s widescreen pop arrangements.
13. “Whirlpool Hymnal” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Squires expands his yearning, searching alt-folk to include found sounds–the lyrics are just as thought-provoking and honest as ever.
14. “Playground” – Myopic. The fragile swoon of a violin bounces off the stately plunk of melodic percussion in this thoughtful instrumental piece.
15. “Siphoning Gas” – Luke Redfield. This gentle, ambient soundscape is the sound of looking out the window when rain is coming down and you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything but cuddle up with a blanket and a book in a big bay window and enjoy it.
It’s always interesting when an artist releases one album directly after another–what Jeremy Bass did this year is no exception. Releasing Winter Bare in April and New York in Spring in June, Bass gave us two different eight-song releases that sound worlds apart from each other. Next week, I will be reviewing the more recent release New York in Spring. For now, let’s take a look at the poetic, more low-key, ‘60s folk-sounding Winter Bare.
Although labeled “alt-country,” Winter Bare has a pretty distinct ‘60s folk feel. Bass’ voice takes on a blues feel in the first track, but it maintains much more of a Bob Dylan flavor in the rest of the album. More modern-day vocal comparisons would be Fleet Foxes and Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, both of which seem to stem from this tradition. Take Bass’ “Lift Me Up,” for example: the guitar strumming gives off a very 60s folk vibe. The vocal harmonies of the track are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, whose sound stems from artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel. The lyrics of “Lift Me Up” are also very nature-focused, something which also links it to the forefathers and foremothers of modern folk. The more I examined the track and the whole album, the more the inspiration becomes evident, whether Bass meant it or not.
The low-key vibe of Winter Bare makes the album a relaxing one to listen to. The vocals are clear, and it honestly sounds as if Bass is just telling us story after story. The instrumentation is fairly simple: mainly accomplished through acoustic guitar, but occasionally switched out with a banjo (“Winterlude (Banjo for Annie)”) or mandolin (“Coming Back Home”). There are also subtle appearances from other instruments like trumpets (“Lift Me Up”) and the pump organ (“One More Cigarette”). Even with the added instruments, the songs remain generally relaxing and easy to listen to. You can certainly categorize Winter Bare as a “feel good” album, sonically.
Jeremy Bass is not only a brilliant musician and lyricist, but he is a poet as well–it certainly shows in the poetic nature of his lyrics. One theme that Bass focuses on in many of his songs is love. Yet, Bass doesn’t tackle the subject in an overly cheesy manner as many artists in the past have. Instead, Bass uses a more realistic approach in his lyrics. With lyrics like, “I can’t pretend that love’s not the sweetest salt in the wound/ that the heart gives,” Bass expresses the experience of true love with all of its flaws. That lyric found in “One More Cigarette” is followed up by the chorus ending in “We make our choices and we live with what we choose/That’s why I choose you.” So although in his lyrics, there is certainly a level of honesty about the messiness of love, Bass still maintains an overall optimistic view of love.
Bass also uses nature in his lyrics to express the deeper meaning of life and love. In “Red Tailed Hawk,” Bass uses an extended metaphor to depict an animal that is “white-winged and free.” He continues to describe the peaceful image of this “Red Tailed Hawk.” Finally, in the last lyric, Bass then asks, “Won’t you teach me what it means to be/ White-winged and free?” “Red Tailed Hawk” is but one example where Bass poetically uses nature as a mode to describe his emotional reality.
Winter Bare shows off Bass’ skills in a subtle way. His lyrics appear seamlessly written. The instrumentation is simple, yet more complex once examined. One may even wonder if the title relates to simple bareness of the album. Nevertheless, Winter Bare is a truly beautiful folk album, reaching back to the ‘60s. Stay tuned for next week, when you’ll find that New York in Spring shows off quite a different side of the talented Jeremy Bass. —Krisann Janowitz
I don’t cover a lot of post-hardcore anymore; the high-water mark of my engagement with the genre was proclaiming The Felix Culpa’s Sever Your Roots the album of the year in 2010. Since then, nothing has seemed as exciting as TFC’s work. I’ve thrown a review out here or there, but it’s been scattershot engagement with what’s happening in the genre.
Every now and then a band rousts me out of my slumber; New Tongues is the latest band to do it.
Suite is a roughly 22-minute release broken up into Side A and Side B (or four different songs). It can be read, therefore, as one giant piece (suite), two movements, or four sections. (No one can accuse New Tongues of not being detail-oriented.) If you listen to it as one long song, it is a furious, churning salvo of yelled vocals, gritty guitars, rumbling bass, and powerful drums. It spools out like one particularly long post-rock song, if you view it from a high-enough vantage point.
If you break it up into two movements, Side A is the more aggressive side: there’s a lot more work that seems directly born from the hardcore side of the name. After a short melodic intro, the group launches into pummeling toms and bass drums, hollered vocals, and heavily distorted bass. They keep it coming through the rest of Side A: lots of heavy leads towering over a stomping rhythm section.
Side B has more groove going on, right from the get-go: the distortion is much lower on the bass, the guitar is less arch, and the drums are a lot more even-keeled. Side B is also more distinguishable as two different tunes: “El Condor Pasa”–yes, a post-hardcore version of a Simon and Garfunkel song— mashes its way through the final four minutes of the EP. The song’s melody is set up as a pop song’s would be, so it feels different than the rest of the EP. Even though the structure of the original “El Condor Pasa” isn’t 100% pop business as usual, it is a strikingly different way for New Tongues to end their EP.
New Tongues’ Suite is a powerful, churning post-hardcore album that offers up the sound that I’ve come to expect along with some surprises. They pull off the traditional moves with aplomb and make left-of-center ones seem fairly normal. If you’re into noisy work, I recommend New Tongues to you.
If you’re like me, you have a draw toward things that are different. This holds true across many spectrums, but it’s especially true in the music department. Hearing the same songs or structures again and again bores me like none other. I’d assume most of you are at least partially like this, otherwise you wouldn’t be checking out a music discovery site such as IC.
Thankfully, there are many acts out there that satisfy my desire to hear the unique and creative. Neal Morgan’s 2012 LP In The Yard is one of those albums.
Morgan is most noted for his drumming on Joanna Newsom’s album Have One On Me, but In The Yard, released January 24th on Drag City Records, marks his second solo LP release. The record is a drum and voice masterpiece that includes soloing, poetry, spoken word, improvisation, and Simon & Garfunkel-esque background vocal melodies. Morgan covers all the bases.
Tracks like “I Stand on a Roof” feature brilliantly-written, poetic lyrics with eccentric drum fills spacing about the whole cut. Other cuts, like “Thinking Big,” combine vocal harmonies, killer grooves and more of Morgan’s signature spoken word over the top and interlaced throughout the track. As a drummer, I naturally am drawn to this work for Morgan’s groove behind the kit.
A small disclaimer here: I would definitely recommend Morgan to the adventurous listener. If nothing else, it feels good to try something new. But for me, this certainly deserves several more listens to fully grasp just how unique and refreshing this album is.
In The Yard is a tough album to capsulate into one post. The sound is unique and not something that is heard every day. For an artistic change of pace, Morgan’s album is the perfect fit. —Clark Foy
Little things can make an amazing difference. Rebecca Zapen strums a cavaquino—a South American relative of the ukulele featuring non-metallic strings—for most of her folky album Nest, and the change of string tone elevates this album. The delicate nature of these 13 songs is accentuated by the fact that there are few (if any) jarring moments on the album- hard stops are just difficult to do on this graceful instrument.
That grace lends tunes like “Swamp Pit,” “Lakewood,” and “Grandfather’s Song” a lilting, gentle quality that sets them apart from other musicians’ works. It’s likely that these songs would not sound as arresting with a metal-strung acoustic guitar. The strummed instrument in “I’m Gonna Make So Many Things For You” has a resonance and string squeak that are indicative of a standard acoustic guitar; the song sounds much more like Sandra McCracken and other upbeat female folksters than the rest of the tunes. “I’m Gonna” is a very good song, but its charms come from its vocal melody and rhythm patterns, not from its tone. The rest of the songs, which draw all of those three elements together, truly shine.
But Zapen isn’t a one-trick pony, as she proves with “Colorado.” The state-inspired closer actually sounds more like it should be called “Ireland,” as Gaelic-reminiscent cello and violin lines accompany Zapen’s tender voice in a very Unthanks-esque tune. It’s pretty, but certainly unusual in the context of the album. Then again, it’s not as strange as the bossa nova cover of “Addicted to Love” (seriously) that directly precedes it. This is not your average album in many ways.
Nest‘s brightest moment is the aforementioned “Swamp Pit,” where poise meets charm, and tone meets melody. The arrangement is subtle, yet strong: understated, but confident in it. Rebecca Zapen realizes a fully formed vision, and it is unsurprisingly resonant emotionally. The rest of the tunes attempt to hit that height, and succeed to smaller degrees: “Jarcaranda” probably comes in second, although the Simon and Garfunkel-esque ballad doesn’t display her own idiosyncratic vision as strongly. The clarinet in “Grandfather’s Song” helps create a beautiful tune as well.
Nest is a beautiful album that draws the light toward a talented, unique songwriter. It is not without room to improve, but it certainly offers a lot to hear and revel in.
Stereo Soul Future‘s Ghost in the Night caught my attention with a bouncy, ’70s pop vibe similar to ELO in opener “If I…” The album continues in that grooves for the first five tunes of its 12-track, 40-minute run time, including the back-porch chill of “Sunday Morning” and finishing with the gently propelled lead single “The Freeze.”
From there, the band opens up its sound a bit more, experimenting with Simon + Garfunkel-esque pop (“Unmake the Oddity”), piano-pop tunes (“Killer Klown”), rock’n’roll (“Watching Circles”) and Fleetwood Mac-esque dark pop tunes (“Sinking Stone,” “Whisperers”). Some go better than others: “Unmake the Oddity” is very pretty, even if it has little to do with the rest of the album.
Stereo Soul Future has a bright future if it can take all its disparate ideas from the back half of the album and run them through their well-established ’70s pop filter from the first half of the album. Right now the thing feels a little bit like a good radio station: all songs that are worth hearing, but with little connecting them.
DBG has listened to a lot of music, or has re-invented a whole lot of wheels on Free Burma. Within the construct of a mellow acoustic pop album, he has kept the interest level high by dabbling in many different styles.
“Apples” has a distinctly British acoustic pop feel to it; think Parachutes-era Coldplay or Ether Song-era Turin Brakes. Its spacious, uncluttered sound leaves a lot of room for mood to creep in. The charming “Green” could have been written by any number of lovelorn upbeat acoustic popsters (Jason Mraz, Matt Nathanson, et al). Snare shuffle, banjo and organ anchor the American folk of “Goosey Fayre.” The title track feels a bit like a Cat Stevens tune, which fits its protest themes perfectly. “Wings” feels hearkens to upbeat moments of Simon and Garfunkel’s work. The vocal lines and harmonies throughout call to mind their work, and that’s a very good thing.
The lyrics aren’t all protest songs, although “Free Burma” is a solid protest tune. Much of the album’s content is a personal affair, espousing closely-held ideas on freedom, truth and religious concepts. They are well-written and rarely delivered with a didactic tone. These are DBG’s songs to share, not so much to preach from. This does produce a few saccharine moments (“Thank You”), but overall the lyrics and music are admirably meshed.
DBG’s Free Burmahas some great tunes on it. Despite the many genres represented, the whole thing hangs together for a cohesive set of songs. Check it out if you like acoustic music with a brain.
One 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.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.