This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ‘em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
That old trope that “he/she could sing the phone book and I’d listen” does belie a fundamental truth: some artists connect with us in amounts that far surpass the normal (some would say appropriate) level of interest. Singer/songwriter David Wimbish is one of those for me. He exploded into my listening world with The Collection’s self-titled record, which I called “the most exciting album of the year” in 2011. Wimbish informed me about his more bluegrass-oriented group ElisaRay, and I found All Creatures thrilling as well.
The Collection is a new-folk group, based in the singer/songwriter tradition. Wimbish is not the primary songwriter here (Tommy Chesebro writes most of the songs and sings lead), so the trio’s primary sound on All Creatures is slightly different. The album is bluegrass-inspired, as guitar, string bass, banjo, and fiddle dominate the proceedings. Oh, and vocals; the group harmonies here are absolutely delightful. One of the most sublime moments in the whole album is the half-song “Intro,” which pairs a plaintive guitar line against three-part harmony. It falls in that perfect space between a hymn and a folk tune, as it segues perfectly into “Anxious,” one of the most singer/songwriter-oriented tunes on the album. Their voices are simply shiver-inducing; that element alone is enough to recommend this album to you.
“Rocks in My Stomach” is a downtrodden country tune, augmented by pedal steel and echoing percussion. It comes to a crashing conclusion, with Wimbish summoning a powerful roar from within him. When Wimbish puts his mind to something, he is a commanding presence. That roar also makes an appearance in the conclusion of the title track. “All Creatures” melds a gentle guitar line, swooping strings, and restrained vocals to allow for a cathartic conclusion. Oddly, the tune doesn’t include the banjo, making it the most like The Collection of the tunes here. I love it for that.
But Chesebro’s songwriting has its own charms aside from the influence of David Wimbish’s songwriting style. “Brother Caleb” uses interactions between the fiddle, bass and banjo to stand out, while “Hoping” is a heartrendingly beautiful boy/girl love song duet accompanied only by acoustic guitar. “Profound Distractions” employs a rattling, shuffling snare in its bluegrass/country amalgam.
It’s worth noting that “Outro” is a reprise of the gorgeous melody from “Intro,” but played on a piano; it sounds even more like a hymn than it did the first time. All Creatures doesn’t just get better from beginning to end, it gets better as you hear it more and more. This is an album you can live inside, and not just from a musical perspective; there’s a lot going on lyrically that I haven’t even touched on. It’s a beautiful, powerful release, and one that deserves your attention. Maybe you’ll become as taken by David Wimbish’s skills as I am.
4: Laura Stephenson and the Cans - Sit Resist. There’s not a single bad tune on this album, you can sing along to almost all of them, and they pull off the “multiple genres but overarching mood” thing perfectly.
3: Jenny and Tyler - Faint Not. Their cute pop turned into churning folk-rock overnight, and the effect is hair-raising and goosebump-inducing. There were few moments as dramatic as the full-band entry in “Song for You” this year; Faint Not was the only album that made me write the sentence “I forget to breathe.”
2: The Collection - The Collection EP. The melodies and instrumentation seem effortlessly perfect on this folk album. David Wimbish’s lyrics and deft and quick, delivered in a vastly adaptable voice that seals the deal. “Stones” is just a wonder.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n'loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
Bison‘s orchestral folk-pop takes a bit different tack than The Collection, who I’ve gushed over repeatedly. Bison’s debut album Quill uses the seriousness of Fleet Foxes’ grounded sound as a framework, layering strings, bells and more on top. “Iscariot” and “The Woodcutter’s Son” have a darkly pastoral bent that recalls pre-The King is Dead Decemberists. But it’s not all heavy and bleak; the title track and “Switzerland” show off a deft balance of meaningfulness and instrumental levity. The former is especially buoyed by a perky, rumbling tom roll.
Vocalist Benjamin Hardesty has a less unusual but no less malleable tenor voice than Colin Meloy, and that lends considerable enjoyment to these tunes. While his voice is the focus in several tunes, the instrumental and near-choral arrangements take precedence in others. This focus is rare for folk, no matter how much instrumental virtuosity is praised in the related genre of bluegrass; instead of being about the individual performances (as in that genre), Bison’s folk is very concerned with mood through the writing of parts. There are many intros and outros, setting the stage for tunes: this took some getting used to for me, a fan of immediate folk tunes. It’s not bad, just unusual: this is an asset toward their originality, after I got used to it.
But every folk lover will breathe a sigh of contentment at “Autumn Snow,” which starts out with a gentle, poignant, fingerpicked guitar line before adding vocals and strings. It’s a fantastic tune that shows Hardesty’s vocals in full bloom, and showcases the band’s straight-up songwriting skill.
Bison’s debut Quillestablishes the band as one to watch in 2012. Their vision is slightly different than most folk bands, and that results in interesting, fun-to-hear tunes. I’m excited to see what Bison will be able to do with some refining and a few more tunes under the belt.
I can’t stop listening to The Collection’s EP, which I reviewed two days ago. It’s a good thing that there’s a video I can post to keep this album, which is quickly moving up my “best of year” chart, as forefront in your mind as it is in mine. Here’s “Stones,” by Luke Thompson. The weirdly casual feel (“yeah, I chill in church lofts with 10 of my musical friends all the time. what up?”) fits perfectly with the off-the-cuff earnestness of David Wimbish’s lyrics and melodies. Enjoy.
Once in a blue moon I will come across a opening track so arresting that I start telling people about the album before I’ve even heard the whole first song. The Collection, the nom de plume of songwriter David Wimbish, has put out just such a song in “Dirt”: before the song ended, I was Facebooking my Jon Foreman-loving friend to say I’d found him a new favorite band. This ultimately turned out to be untrue: Foreman doesn’t ever end up yelling at the top of his lungs over his acoustic-led tunes, as Wimbish does in the electrifying “Lazarus” and powerful “Leper.” But it’s “Dirt” that glued me to this album.
“Dirt” is a perfect opener not because it’s flawless, but because it encapsulates everything I want to say about the Collection’s self-titled EP in a single unit. The first sound in the song is a poignant banjo melody, and the second is Wimbish’s gentle tenor vocals. The banjo underscores the fact that this is alt-folk of the Sufjan/Freelance Whales variety, but the sobriety of the melody evokes the gravitas of Damien Rice. The horns, strings and everything else that compose the EP’s extravagant arrangements show up later in the tune.
Wimbish’s pleasant, evocative vocals are a bit of a red herring, as he can use his voice in a number of different ways: quiet singing, falsetto, loud singing, full-bodied roaring, all-out screaming. This diversity of vocals is necessary due to the variety of emotions that Wimbish displays throughout the incredible 7-song EP: calm confidence, fear, desperation, enthusiasm, hope. Most of Wimbish’s songs form a lyrical arc, starting in one emotion and ending in another; this lets the music and lyrics unfold in a symbiotic relationship that creates incredibly satisfying tunes and enables the huge sweeps in emotion to be natural instead of forced.
But Wimbish isn’t just a brilliant lyricist: he also played literally every instrument (except a couple guest spots in “Jericho”) on this album, marking him an instrumental virtuoso that can play piano, horns, accordion, strings, flute, drums, auxiliary percussion and all manner of stringed strummers and pluckers. That’s absolutely incredible.
His melody and songwriting skills are top-shelf as well. “Stones” is a chipper tune that puts horns and glockenspiel to charming use, while the unusual strings of “Fever” create a brilliant foundation for a melody. “Jericho” lets a beautiful piano elegy lead the tune, while the aforementioned “Lazarus” has more adrenaline in its folky soul than I do most days. The raw emotional power of “Leper” is absolutely stunning. (Wimbish has ripped a page from the Page France book in naming all his tunes single words.)
As I alluded to earlier, it’s not perfect. It’s easily the most exciting display of raw songwriting talent that I’ve heard this year, but it still needs refining. Wimbish is prone to big, slab-like string-and-horn arrangements; think of the over-arching orchestra on Coldplay’s track “Viva La Vida” and you’ll get why “Dirt” isn’t my song of the year. He also has a tendency to over-arrange; “Dirt” could have stood with far less instruments, because the melody and lyrics are so incredibly powerful. Wimbish has a problem that I have rarely, if ever, encountered in ten years of reviewing: his lyrics and melodies are so good that they actually ask for less things happening than more. A stripped-down version of this EP would be just as good, if not better, than this full-out version. And you’ve just read how I’ve been gushing about the full-out version.
This is the most exciting album I’ve heard all year, and it’s almost December. If Wimbish keeps on this tack, his future music is going to be absolutely incredible. I’ve been listening to this for a month to make sure I’m not just blowing smoke, and I’m not. The Collection EP is a must-listen for everyone interested in folk, pop, singer/songwriter, and just good music. Sign me up on the “huge fan” list for The Collection.
Stephen Carradini writes far too many words about music you may or may not have heard of. Sometimes he takes pictures of aforementioned bands.