Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Grab Bag 3: Zach Winters / Naïm Amor

December 17, 2014

monarch

Zach WintersMonarch is a gentle, calming, delicate album of pristine singer/songwriter work reminiscent of Sleeping at Last. Winters’ modus operandi is to develop a single quiet element into a whole array of sounds without ever crossing the threshold into noisy.

The lack of kit drums throughout much of the album helps greatly in building this lush, soothing sound: strings, voice, two guitars, and auxiliary instruments can still sound intimate if there’s no snares and cymbals marshaling them forward. Instead, the sounds and songs here unfold tenderly, one part after another. This is not a pop album; these songs are not built for instant gratification. Monarch sets the mood for an hour, or a day, or a week.

The high points, insofar as can be picked out from the gorgeous whole, are the swells where Winters exercises his arrangement skills: the title track soars as Winters puts everything he has into the six-minute tune; “Deep Deep” shows his “poppiest” vocal melody, which makes the song sound like a lost Josh Garrels tune. “Meant” is a beautiful love song that calls up the closest Sleeping at Last comparisons, while “Tonight” is one of the warmest tracks I’ve heard in a while. Monarch is a romantic wonder in the literary and literal senses of the world: the emphasis on beauty appeals to those eloquent novels and poetry of yore, while lovers of all types will find a sonic analogue to tender affection. Highly recommended.

naimamor

Naïm Amor‘s Hear the Walls is also quiet, but in a different way. Hear the Walls is a stark, enticing album that relies on mystery and intrigue. The album’s allure starts with its lyrics: the songs are sung in both English and French, giving some of these songs the mystique of a foreign tongue. The ones that do appear in English draw on lightly reverbed guitar, distant arrangements, and whispered vocals to create their enticing moods.

Lead single “No Way Back” is one of the most full arrangements, incorporating prominent strings and a second guitar into the mix. The result is a tune something like Joseph Arthur or an acoustic Teitur might make: a mature, full-bodied song that just happen to be quiet. Follow-up track “Cherche Dans la Brume” features Andrew Bird-style whistling into a tune that’s far more tense than the small arrangement should be able to create. There are some lovely moments, such as the beautiful closing instrumental “Learning America”; the overall impression, however, is one of intrigue.

Amor’s offerings here are equally as mood-creating as Zach Winter’s, but in a very different way. The quiet tension throughout the release makes me look always just around the corner, waiting for the next element to emerge. If you’re into serious music a la Andrew Bird, Patrick Watson, or Joseph Arthur, Hear the Walls will provide a treat.

Jon and Roy release effortless, pristine beach music on Homes

June 2, 2010

Jon and Roy - HomesI can’t stomach Jack Johnson. I like “Bubble Toes” and assorted other singles by him, but on the whole it just strikes me as vapid. You can be minimalist and not useless; Damien Jurado’s made a career on it, to name just one.

Jon and Roy also are staking their career on it. Their Homes inhabits a space very similar to Jack Johnson’s camping grounds: mellow acoustic tunes with a surfer mindset. Where Johnson tosses in John Mayer-esque pop overtones, Jon and Roy throw in reggae underpinnings. Jon and Roy have soul, too, which makes the whole album go down even smoother.

Yes, this is thoroughly a beach album. It’s absolutely perfect for putting on when lounging about and relaxing. But it’s by no means filler or vapid; the tunes are solid in their songwriting, melodies and rhythms. Just because a thing is simple doesn’t mean it’s well-done, and Jon and Roy work hard to make their simplicity excellent. Not a thing is out of place on Homes: the casual-sounding acoustic strum is quite precise, the seemingly effortless vocals are measured and placed specifically, and the drums are so well-written that they seem entirely uninvasive. Jon and Roy so incredibly talented as songwriters and performers that it doesn’t even sound like they’re trying.

From the folk shuffle of “Boon Helm” to the beachfront sway of “947” to the Ben Harper strum of “Get Myself a Gun” to the inviting pop of “Any Day Now,” Jon and Roy conquer anything they try by making it seem utterly effortless. If there’s one serious criticism to be levied against the album, it’s that they make it sound too easy; if one is not paying close attention, Homes could be dismissed as repetitive, boring or uninspired. None of these things are true. After an initial recognition of that fact hooks you, the ease of mood becomes the glue that keeps you stuck on Homes instead of a detractor.

It is incredibly rare for me to be calmed by music as I review it. Reviewing requires being on my toes, scouring for the right words. Jon and Roy’s Homes disarmed my uptight writing and honestly chilled me out. I knocked out these words in one sitting with the tunes mellowing me the entire way. Homes is a brilliantly written, impeccably performed and astoundingly entertaining release. Fans of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, early Switchfoot, Teitur or beach music in general will find a new candidate for album of the year.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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