Daniel G. Harmann has been recording, solo or with previous band The Trouble Starts, for the last 15 years. It is not surprising that Slowing Downspends time exploring and investigating the intricacies of the sound he’s created over that time span. His early days as a lushly-orchestrated indie rock songwriter meet his crunchy guitar side and mingle with the sparseness he cultivated all along the way. What results is a thought-provoking album of distinctive indie rock.
Harmann’s most distinctive feature is his voice: he has a sonorous tenor that swoops, swoons, quavers, and warbles elegantly. He is fond of rapid interval leaps and drops in his vocal lines, which gives his melodies an inherently dramatic quality. In his early work (The Books We Read Will Bury Us), the songs were built around these giant moments, but here Harmann integrates his vocal stylings into the arrangements much more. Opener “Carbondale” buries his voice in a shoegaze-like way under a barrage of percussion and synthetic sonic haze, but that’s an extreme case. “Hesitations” is as much about the martial stomp of the drums and synth as it is his voice; the melancholy of “Volition” is powered equally by the guitar performance and his pipes.
That trio of tunes holds down the rock end of the spectrum here; on the other end lie delicate tunes “Dues,” “Zocalo” and “Tectonic.” Harmann has always shown an affinity for the acoustic guitar and has often released guitar and voice songs (Westroy Sessions); here he’s polished those skills to a shine. But Harmann’s acoustic songs are not standard singer/songwriter fare. The unique vocal melodies he is fond of give the work surprising twists and turns. “Dues” is as pretty a song as Harmann has penned in his long career, challenging my personal favorite “Last Swim of the Year” for the crown.
The central piece of the album is “Endless,” which brings together his rock interests and his beauty-minded writing in one package. It starts off with a brittle, distorted slice of guitar work before dropping into mid-tempo minor-key rock. His voice soars over the guitar twice: once as lead, once as ethereal backup. The ghostly vocals usher the transition from the minor-key verses to the major-key “chorus,” where the gritty guitar returns with a bright, muscly, uplifting vibe. It strongly echoes early ’00s Deep Elm Records work, like the White Octave, Appleseed Cast, and the like. After the chorus, the guitar fluctuates again, sending the song out on a chunky, powerful riff and repeating square synth. It’s breathtaking, showcasing the nuance and thoughtfulness that can come from 15+ years in the game. It’s a bit noisier than his early work, but there’s a direct line between then and now in this tune.
If you’re into serious indie-rock, Slowing Down should be on your to-hear list. Harmann has spent years tweaking and refining his sound, creating a distinct sonic space for himself. Those interested in clear, strong songwriting voices will have much to celebrate in Slowing Down.
Daniel G. Harmann has been firmly on my radar since 2007, when The Books We Read Will Bury Us made its way into my life. His lush, romantic, slow-moving work helped me first write the phrase “Rainy Day Makeout Music.” Since then he’s gone in all sorts of directions: he’s picked up a noisy rock band (The Trouble Starts) and gone voice-and-acoustic-guitar solo on different projects. The excellent White Mountains benefits from all his various configurations: the whip-smart indie-rock writing incorporates both fury and romance.
You need look no farther than tracks two and three to see how this juxtaposition works out. “Pistols at Dawn” starts out with stark pseudo-grunge clean guitar tone before introducing organ and tempo-pushing drums. The track unfolds as a churning-yet-wiry track, a simmering heat that never boils over but threatens to at all times. Harmann balances the muscle and the melody with his dramatic vocal performance, walking the line between aggressive rock howls and aggrieved indie-pop vocal theatrics. It ends in a drum solo, because why not? It rocks. It’s like Silversun Pickups, but with a window that lets some light in.
“Anna” follows “Pistols,” and it couldn’t be more different. Composed of the same general elements (organ, drums, guitar, DGH’s vocals) with the addition of a Wurlitzer, the song is a mid-tempo tune that showcases the keys and Harmann’s emotive vocals. There’s no aggression here, whereas the last track had the threat of it everywhere. It’s beautiful in a way that hearkens back to his previous work.
This tension goes back and forth throughout the album. “Bastion” is a piano-led indie-pop tune with trembling vocals. The guitar-driven “It’s Fine, It’s Fine” is one of the fastest rock tunes. “New Concerns” encompasses both feelings at once: it’s one of the heaviest tracks here, with a biting guitar tone, brittle vocals, and ominous piano undertones. But there’s also a glorious, dramatic, Muse-esque piano run halfway through that evokes a different mood on top of the one that’s already there. It’s a complex tune with a lot of payoff. Closer “Elkland” meshes the two ideas even more, layering chiming guitar notes over a gritty rhythm guitar to play with the distance between aggression and mourning. It’s evocative, to say the least.
Daniel G. Harmann’s White Mountains offers up complex, satisfying compositions. Harmann’s distinctive voice adds character to the evocative tunes that play with the borders between rock and indie-pop, resulting in an album that doesn’t sound quite like anything else going on. Harmann has honed his craft to a fine point with this release, and it’s worth checking out for any fan of “indie rock,” broadly conceived. Pre-order it here, then start with “New Concerns.”
I’m not very good at telling the news on this blog, but here are some things that happened and/or are happening.
Hi-res audio’s time seems to have come, what with Pono breaking huge. Hi Res Audio Central wants to be your one-stop shop for all things HRA. Jump on it, if applicable!
NWCZRadio.com is running a Kickstarter to get new gear to keep growing their indie-focused radio station. Three days left!
IC faves The Trouble Starts, Kye Alfred Hillig, and Cloud Person are all part of the initial offering of The Good Pack, which is a system that lets you download (excellent) albums for free, with all donations for that music going to a youth shelter in Seattle. Good music, good cause! LET’S DO IT!
And, finally, it’s time for fall, and that means cooler weather, and that means more running for me. That means RUNHUNDRED. See below. -Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs for October 2014
Fort Wayne, IN – September 30, 2014 – Pop rules in this month’s workout music recap. First off, you have the lingering effects of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Collaborations pairing Ariana Grande with Zedd and Iggy Azalea with Rita Ora both received a significant boost in popularity following performances on this year’s broadcast. Moreover, the show is where Taylor Swift debuted the first single from her new album. “Shake It Off” was the most popular, workout song in our monthly poll. Moreover, at 160 beats per minute (BPM), it’s the best song in the list for running.
Remixers also racked up three big tunes this month. Zedd makes his second appearance in the the list with an uptempo version of the summertime smash “Rude.” OneRepublic also find their latest release reworked for the club. Though both of those tracks are geared for the dancefloor, they’d be equally great for a jogging or walking. For a lower rep routine—like kettlebells or Pilates—you might check out the Surkin remix of Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap.” At 93 BPM, it’s on the slower side of things, but it’s lives up to its title with thunderous production that’ll power you through your next session.
On the whole, Top 40 tracks dominate this month’s list. But, there should also be enough alternate versions—plus some crossover hits from upstarts like Kongos and Echosmith—to keep things interesting. So, if you’re looking for something new to freshen up your gym playlist, you’ll find 10 great places to start below.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
Echosmith – Cool Kids – 130 BPM
Magic – Rude (Zedd Remix) – 130 BPM
Kiesza – Hideaway – 123 BPM
Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care – 121 BPM
Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow – 82 BPM
Charli XCX – Boom Clap (Surkin Remix) – 93 BPM
Kongos – Come With Me Now – 104 BPM
Ariana Grande & Zedd – Break Free – 130 BPM
OneRepublic – Love Runs Out (Grabbitz Remix) – 124 BPM
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off – 160 BPM
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. -Chris Lawhorn
A ton of great singles have come my way in January, so I thought I’d put them all in one big post arranged quiet to loud. Enjoy!
1. “Pacific (Acoustic)” – Indigo Wild. Were you looking for a rolling, intricate, acoustic mountain jam? Like Fleet Foxes if they were less hazy, this will make you long for the pines.
2. “Anna” – Daniel G. Harmann. After graduating his solo project The Trouble Starts up to a full-on rock outfit, Harmann gives old-school fans a few tracks that hearken back to his early, dreamy days. His trembling, soaring voice over spare guitar chords is just wonderful to these ears.
4. “Slow & Easy” – Scott H. Biram. Less gospel and more ominous vibes mark the second Biram single off Nothin’ But Blood. It’s still incredibly engaging, what with the crisp production and Biram’s voice.
5. “Celeste” – Ezra Vine. If you’re of the opinion that you can never have enough hand claps, whoa-ohs, and happy melodies, raise your hand. Then lower that hand and click on this peppy, wonderful tune.
6. “Girl Don’t Fight It” – Phone Home. Optimistic, keys-heavy, proggy indie-rock in the vein of Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, and others. It’s giddy and heavy and intelligent!
7. “Planets” – Little Earthquake. Peppy acoustic-pop + massive MGMT synth melodies = this unique song.
9. “Violent Shooting Stars” – Robot Princess. Mostly RP is a heavy, exuberant, video-game-infused garage-pop band (WEEZER FOREVER!!). This track puts them more in a pensive mood (at least for them) before ratcheting up to some stomping guitars. Get your power-pop on, dudes.
10. “Bird in the Water” – The Trouble Starts. Harmann’s band, throwing down pop-rock a la Snow Patrol. This would be fun to hear live.
11. “Tangle” – Acid Fast. Starts out with a nostalgic, emo-esque half-time section, then blasts off into a punk rock second half. The melodies bounce off those basement walls with almost more cymbals and passion than you can handle.
So I didn’t post much in June, so all of the June singles are getting posted now. This means that instead of one mix, there are two: a loud one and a quiet one. I’ll start today with the loud one.
1. “Strange Thing” – DL Rossi. Pedro the Lion has left few followers in the emotive alt-rock space, but DL Rossi is a welcome addition to the space. He also brings in Bazan’s qualms with Christianity, although Rossi seems to hold fast to the tenets of the faith while contending with some practices of Christianity. Also, he has a Mumford-ian penchant for dramatic f-bombing.
2. “Glaciers” – The Trouble Starts. Daniel G. Harmann has completed his transition from bedroom indie-pop hero to rock band by dropping his name off the front of the group. Here’s a roiling, churning example of the newly-christened group’s output. Foo Fighters’ fans will approve.
3. “All the Lights in New York” – Autumn Owls. The fractured folk of Autumn Owls casts its foggy, urban, streetlight glow on you. You smile uncertainly, and step forward into the gloom.
4. “We Are the Dreamers” – The Stargazer Lilies. Shoegazer Lilies, maybe, plus some Portishead dread and staccato stomp. Overall, a very different dream than Teen Daze’s chillwave dreaming. But still quite engaging!
5. “Be Someone” – Post War Years. The Postal Service + Passion Pit = Post War Years. Clicky, hooky, fun, and now with 100% more xylophone!
6. “Cut Free” – The Alibis. Yo, this ’90s-style Brit-pop track is all about the excellent bass player. I look forward to more fascinating work from this band.
7. “Bystander” – Shotgun No Blitz. Shotgun No Blitz might be the best possible pop-punk name, calling up youthful games, playful but aggressive contact, friendly agreement, and speed. And the spread offense, which I just like.
8. “We’re the Kids” – Parade of Lights. New formula for massive single: use the word kids, employ that specific synth noise, and crank the bass. MONEY.
Even listeners who obsess over their favorite bands do not spend as much time with the tunes as the artist who created them does. This uncomplicated fact should be reason enough for artists to routinely change sounds and for listeners to accept those changes. Sadly, this is often not the case. “I’ve just got a connection to that one album, y’know?” For that reason, I try to give a wide berth to bands that want to change it up.
I say that because Daniel G. Harmann‘s Risk is a change of sound. It’s not a dramatic change in sound (i.e. Plans –> Narrow Stairs), but it is a fundamental shift in the purpose of the tunes. While Harmann still makes grand, sweeping, morose tunes, he’s making them this time with the express intent of rocking while doing it. Note the fact that he’s brought along a band, cleverly titled “the Trouble Starts.”
While Harmann was no stranger to distorted guitars, pre-Risk, they weren’t the central mood marker in most tunes. Here, they are: Harmann’s voice, which previously drove the proceedings, takes an equal seat with the guitars in many songs. This is not a bad thing, but for a guy who absolutely loves The Books We Read Will Bury Us, it’s disorienting to hear a distorted version of Books’ “Solidarity” appear on Risk. I could write a whole post on the differences between the two versions, but that wouldn’t tell you much about the album as a whole.
On the other hand, it’s comforting that he did include some old tracks (the entirety of Our Arms EP appears), as it eases the transition some. If he had just dropped a whole album of tunes like “Estrella” on us oldtimers with no warning, there would have been a lot of weeping.
That’s because “Estrella,” in the vernacular of rock’n’roll, absolutelykills it. I’m talking charging guitars, pounding drums, rushing cymbals, Daniel G. Harmann yelling unintelligibly in the roar and epic strings to top it all off. It sounds like Explosions in the Sky. It is absolutely fantastic, and totally unexpected. It is far and away the highlight of the album, as it’s the one that you’ll be pressing repeat for.
There are other moments on the album of similar but not greater caliber. The playful riff of “Auckland to Auckland” is underscored by a complicated tom pattern. “The Horse and the Sistine Chapel” is a straightforward rock song, albeit with Harmann’s decidedly unstraightforward vocal tone. “Lions” even starts out with a guitar riff as opposed to a big sheet of distortion. In short, Daniel G. Harmann really wants to rock out. So he does.
Is it good? Yes. It’s definitely good. Harmann’s aforementioned vocals and unique melodies keep the proceedings from turning into a Silversun Pickups album (although “Lions,” with its male/female vocals, tries really hard to ape their sound), and the band is incredibly tight behind him. They manage to keep Harmann’s more ambient tendencies in check, which is good for his new rock sound. Things never get monotonous, as they well could have, had he just slapped distortion over his old songwriting ideas.
I like Risk. It’s a well-composed album of rock tunes with occasional forays into mellow romanticism. As I skew toward the calmer side of music most of the time, I prefer the fewer moments of mopey emotionalism (” Knob Creek Neat”) to the squalling stomp of “Brass Tacks,” which is the majority sound. Be not swayed, though: Risk has definitive charms (again: “Estrella” destroys it) that I would be slighting if I passed over the album. If you’re a fan of art-powered, moody rock like Silversun Pickups, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and things of that ilk, you will find many joys in Risk.
Daniel G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts’ Risk drops Tuesday. Get it here.
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.