Austin alt-country outfit Salesman’s output up until this point has been eerie, avant-garde, and complex. With theLet’s Go Jump into the Fire 7″, they’ve gone in a different direction that they admit is “a new page” in their book. And boy, is it.
Instead of dark and foreboding tunes that take a while to make their way to your heart, the title track of the seven-inch is an immediately endearing tune. It opens with a jaunty, celebratory, major-key fingerpicking pattern on an electric guitar, which is a shock in itself.
The rest of the arrangement unfolds in a careful way that builds the song seemingly organically to a jubilant point two minutes in where Devin James Fry yells “Yeah!” not out of terror, but out of enthusiasm. Wavering pedal steel, tasteful drums, and thrumming bass create a warm atmosphere that’s hard to resist. It’s very much alt-country, and the rhythms and vocals still mark it as a Salesman track, but their powers are definitely engaged in a different direction.
“Let’s Go Jump into the Fire” is backed with “Riddle of the Source,” which is darker in tone and timbre. It’s still not as difficult as their previous work (or Fry’s previous work with apocalyptic post-rock band Lord Buffalo), but the vibes are darker, more forlorn, more at home in the minor key. Fry stretches out his vocals here, leading the song with his nuanced performance. There’s an awesome (and all too short) guitar solo as well. Salesman’s new look is less obtuse, more direct, and thoroughly enjoyable. “Let’s Go Jump into the Fire” is a brilliant track that speaks optimistically toward things to come.
Janet Devlin‘s Running With Scissors is a thoroughly modern acoustic pop album, putting all the things we’ve learned since Nevermind to good use. The Irish singer/songwriter channels The Lumineers, Lilith Fair, Ingrid Michaelson, and KT Tunstall throughout the album, creating tunes that fit the best adjectives of each turn. Opener “Creatures of the Night” is a perky mid-’00s acoustic-pop song with mandolin and stomping drums; the booming kick bass turns into the walloped, four-on-the-floor tom of “House of Cards,” which is a female-fronted Lumineers track if there ever was one. (It’s even got the obligatory “hey!”)
The tunes set the tone for the album: fun, smart, and melodically mature. The surprisingly maturity with which she traipses through genres is worth noting here: “Hide and Seek” is straight-ahead ’90s female pop (Jewel?), “Lifeboat” includes melodica and separated strumming a la Ingrid Michaelson, “Things We Lost in the Fire” is an introspective piano ballad (Fiona Apple!), and her cover of the The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” is all folk fingerpicking and whispered vocals. “Wonderful” has a regrettable lyrical concept, but if you just ignore the words, it’s another cheery ’90s pop tune. (On second thought, maybe the goofy lyrics are just part and parcel of her commitment to the style.)
Janet Devlin’s Running With Scissors is a carousel of delights: no matter which song you pick, it will take you for a warm, lovely trip. If you’re into acoustic pop, you should know about Devlin.
The Forty Nineteens from Temecula, California, create a bathing suitable (though cut off blue jeans) backdrop for a straight-up, rocked-about, garage-door-up chill out. Spin It is an album at the heart of maximizing summertime, utilizing nighttime, taking all bets before ring time. They’ve made a classic-sounding album: a whiskey sour made with The Makers and Copper Blue Sugar. Like a classic album offering, they even cover a song, The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”
What strikes me is that Spin It is so ridiculously similar to one of my favorite albums, the self-titled Durocs record. The Durocs in 1979 covered Gene Pitney’s “It Hurts To Be In Love” on their consummately sequenced, rock/soul throwback. Both bands are from California. The Durocs’ hit “Lie To Me” : The 4019s’ hit (this reviewer’s pick) “Can’t Let You Go” :: squeezing oranges : making orange juice. There is no second Durocs album, but there is a first Forty Nineteens album, which I went feverishly searching for as soon as I heard Spin It.
Three sentences on a true ache: Jenny’s at her figure drawing class, but she wants to be at the smoked-out, punk-band-stickered, freshly bleached, checkpoint-tiled Toilet Club. The Forty Nineteens are playing with Old 97’s and The Delta 72. There are going to be a lot of good numbers.
Chris Pope spits his stories in your ear, laughs at you – a creep at the wet willie weary. Your eyes refocus. “Are you ten years old?” On his third EP, High Times, with his group Blonde Summer, he continues to lay down his prize prose in a distinct voice. This is what has set indie-rock apart since it was a thing. We know Lou Barlow’s lovelorn; we know Ted Leo’s aware. We want to be a part of these tales and feel that there’s a leader.
Blonde Summer jumps out of the storybook page so abruptly they take the fish bowl and doily down, too. I remember Scott Yoder bruised my brain on The Pharmacy’s “Choose Yr. Own Adventure.” I remember Ray Weiss rearranged my reason on Le Rug’s “Sex Reduction Flower.” I think Chris Pope has a similar spark for matching words with music and for taking the listener into his world without having to say “Pay attention,” “Look,” or “Listen.”
It’s like a day’s worth of bad advice bundled up, tucked, and waxed into a single Zuma Beach morning. The water is frigid and frightening. It takes the breath right out of you. It’s just a doorless Jeep ride home. You sit under covers for two hours, shivering… making no sudden movements. It’s a recovery. It’s like no cop is going to suspect the food delivery man who’s also a drug dealer. So, the plastic-bag cradled meal looks innocuous, and costs $10 more. But, it’s in there. Let’s get baked and shovel Lo Mein.
Three sentences on true ache: Jenny’s all caught up at her volunteer deal, covering turkey hands on a December bulletin board, when she really wants to be – ear buds in – subwaying home. She clicks on the Pre-X-Mas MegaMix, all warm songs: Pavement’s “Summer Babe,” Blonde Summer’s “Jim,” The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up,” The Apples In Stereo’s “Sun Is Out,” and on and on…. The guide lights careen by, accenting the spaces between on a trip usually only highlighted by the stop announcements.
Wreaths are Asbury Park, New Jersey’s new drone-dance space-out shoe-gaze outer-space chill-pill. These madman drummers have a sense of the history of this type of music: The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Warlocks. The band has a great grasp of how to deliver a song without succumbing to the urge to drown… in pools of big delayed guitars and tremolo bar dives. Their self-titled album is solid… no bummers. Feeling kind of older, I don’t want a rehash of records I’ve already put away. I want to have a crush on a band. I want to turn up the band.
The band loops and disintegrates through brimstone baritone – guitars and keys rushing and pushing. They build and build and let the calliope crash to the ground. Feather-headed gargoyles painted neon orange, bright bent whistles, and ornate cylindrical steel shrouds are strewn. No one picks up a single piece. The Designing Women of Asbury Park scoff and get back to it, struggling to muster just what flare will flip another non-ocean-facing condo, while the band members are watching the young girls dance.
At points conjuring Jim Morrison, Wreaths chant, “I Love Me, Dark Wizard.” At other points, Wreaths are just humming a lunar tune. They mid-song break… with fuzz guitar sludge, sloughing off to grow stronger roots. It can get dark with this type of music. The music on Wreaths is more hopeful. This band is currently sold out of their discs. Something is happening here.
Three sentences on true ache: She left the house this morning in pitch dark – Wreaths stuck on repeat… stuck in her iPod-docking wave machine… stuck in her head. Jenny has a brief lunch break… the kind one spends just rubbing temples. Powerhouse sandwich in mouth, she throws open the double doors, and she is blinded by the light.–Gary Lee Barrett
I’ve been listening to Kris Orlowski tinker with his sound for a little over a year. His singer/songwriter tunes fluctuated between detailed, somber pieces and fluffy, Matt Nathanson-style pop songs in the At the Fremont Abbey and Warsaw EPs. Pieces We Are finds him coming into his own by finding a perfect collaborator in composer Andrew Joslyn.
Joslyn’s appearance in the five songs of Pieces We Are doesn’t abolish either side of Orlowski’s songwriting style. Instead, he writes intricate, involved arrangements that accentuate the best parts of Orlowski’s work and strengthen the lesser elements. This is not a “pop songwriter writes string parts” set-up; this is a composer’s work. The results are the best songs I’ve yet heard from Orlowski.
The easiest place to see Joslyn at work is in the plucky (literally) work he assigns the violins at the onset of “In Between Days.” Originally a gleefully upbeat tune by the Cure, it’s the sort of tune that could have come off as pleasant but uneventful in a folky arrangement. Joslyn keeps the instruments of the orchestra interacting with each other in a playful manner, counterpointing Orlowski’s more serious vocal delivery. The violin gets a beautiful solo in the bridge as the song floats to a halt.
“Cables” is another upbeat pop tune that benefits greatly from a perky, horn-heavy arrangement; however, this tune includes a pensive bridge. Orlowski is able to mesh the two parts of his sound more sincerely with the orchestra backing him up, which results in more fully realized songs throughout.
The attention to detail that Joslyn and Orlowski give even the fluffiest of pop tunes transfers to their darker material. “All My People Go” is a powerhouse of a tune, with Joslyn contributing tension and power to Orlowski’s skill at deploying a melodic hook within a melancholy mood. Many “with strings!” albums sound like the arrangement was pasted on afterwards, but Pieces We Are is a true collaboration of composer and songwriter: when the strings drop out for one chorus, it feels similar to when the bass or drums drop out in a punk song. When the players crash back in for a final go at the titular motif, it’s a triumphant, uplifting event.
Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn have created a powerful, fully-realized set of tunes in Pieces We Are. Orlowski’s songwriting has grown to encompass multiple moods in a single song, and Joslyn adds depth to the work with his meticulously crafted orchestral arrangements. Pieces We Are shows off two musicians who are hitting their stride, which makes me excited and hopeful for their future individual and collaborative work. Download “All My People Go” below.
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.