Ghost to Falco is that sort of folk/rock band that seems to ooze atmosphere. Whether it’s ominous (“Born to Win”), martial (“Enemies Calling”) or warm (“High Treason”), Eric Crespo and co. know how to make me feel things on Soft Shield. Deer Tick and Two Gallants also have this vibe, so Crespo is in good company. These songs lean more toward Two Gallants’ minimalism; even though Ghost to Falco employs a full band throughout, space is an important part of the sound (“No Reward,” “Feel the Glory”).
This gives the songs a cinematic quality different than that of film scores: these songs literally feel like stories, like journeys that have a beginning and end. It’s a rare skill, to take songs out of the realm of “pop song” and situate them in another milieu entirely. But listening to Soft Shield, it’s hard to imagine these songs in the same realm as The Avett Brothers. These songs have grit, body, and a life of their own outside of the preconceived, circumscribed bounds of three-minute pop songs.
Crespo’s vocal delivery documents every swoop and sway of his emotional state in the tiny bends and wrenches of phrases and words. This gives his songs even more emotive punch than the songwriting alone in the hands of a different vocalist might provide. Between the cinematic songwriting and evocative vocals, Ghost to Falco is a band doing things in a unique and exciting way. If you’re into folk-rock that doesn’t prize “singing along” as the only virtue, Ghost to Falco is a necessary listen.
Robert Deeble has been putting out albums at his own pace since 1997. (As a person who’s run the same blog for almost 11 years: game recognize game.) His most recent release is a celebration of that history, as Letters from an Expatriate is a live recording that revisits 1998’s Earthside Down with the original band.
Deeble’s gentle, measured folk vibe is in full flower here; his earnest, emotive lyrics and quiet arrangements come together to make beauty. Fans of Gregory Alan Isakov and Alexi Murdoch will find Deeble’s unhurried moods familiar. But where both of those emphasize lyrical romanticism, Deeble works in much heavier territory, spinning tales of woe and redemption. It’s a very entertaining live set, especially for those who enjoy the quieter side of things. If you haven’t been introduced to Robert Deeble, Letters from an Expatriate is a great place to start.
One of my favorite things about Independent Clauses is developing relationships with young artists and writers. Declan Ryan is both: I covered his split EP with Josh Mordecai recently, and he has written for IC in the past. His new EP Introducing Close Calls marries his singer/songwriter sensibilities to a full band with great results.
Ryan comes from the Dylan/Oberst line of singers that allows the passion of vocals to trump their technical correctness. This is best shown in “Then Don’t Hipst,” which creates a spacious, open-highway feel to the tune for his voice to ramble around in. The first line of the song is “All my lovers name’s are on highway signs/so blow a kiss to the state line,” so the unfettered feel of the vocals perfectly interprets the lyrics. That’s gold. This spacious sound reappears in sparse closer “Two and Seven,” which calls up Two Gallants–another band that uses vocals in an unusual way. Some people aren’t into this style of vocals, but Ryan does it well; if you’re a fan of this sound, Ryan will be up your alley.
His band contributes well throughout, framing Ryan’s vocals and lyrics neatly without becoming the main focus. Opener “Manhattan Square” has a full arrangement, but never cranks any part so high that you don’t know who’s the main draw. The band also doesn’t play up the twang too much, relying on clean notes, straight rhythms, and gentle tones for most of the arrangements. It’s nice to hear an alt-country offering that starts from a different point than The Jayhawks or Old 97s, as this approach has a lot more in common with indie-pop and indie-rock. Still, the end result is strongly alt-country, even if it gets there an unusual way.
Declan Ryan’s Introducing Close Calls allows Ryan to stretch his musical legs and cover some new ground. With “Then Don’t Hipst” as a starting point, fans of alt-country with distinct vocals should find much to love.
I’m usually not a fan of videos that feature their principal musicians playing the song in question, as I vastly prefer to see music videos as their own medium capable of meaning-making. However, sometimes the song is just so good that it’s worth the performance vid.
If you’re going to name your band Tonstartssbandht, you’d better have some goods to back that up. Thankfully Tonstartssbandht totally does, as the duo plays a breakneck sort of indie-rock that incorporates wiry indie-rock, some metal bombast, folky groove, and even some blues. It’s like Two Gallants on steroids. Weird, weird steroids.
I don’t know what’s in the water there, but it seems that every time someone says, “We’re from Scotland,” I’m pretty stoked with their output. Meet Tango in the Attic, an artsy indie-rock band with some electro leanings. Looking forward to more from this band.
Dave McPherson’s deeply emotive acoustic guitarwork and vocals call up David Gray and Damien Rice comparisons, the latter of which is exciting because Rice works at a pace roughly known as glacial. “Kingdom” is is quite the engaging tune.
Another mixtape! This one’s predominantly dark indie rock, instrumental hip-hop, and lush indie.
0. “Need Parmesan” – Pjaro. From the surrealistically named Why Is No One Here I Can Make You Alt comes a crazy instrumental indie-rock piece that’s like a post-rock piece if Two Gallants were trying to play the genre and out of frustration they gave up and played really loud. This one’s surprising and intriguing.
1. “Waiting” – Program. Remember the mid ’00s, when everything was super-epic because The Arcade Fire ruled and everyone wanted to be like them? I loved that time. Program remember that time well, with synths and toms and all the right stops’n’starts.
2. “Liar Liar” – Vienna Ditto. Someday, all genres will be one genre, and I’ll be out of a job. Until then, it’s my job to tell you that tribal drums, Portishead-style vocals and swaggering guitar riffs come together for some crazy, gripping music here.
3. “View of My Sanity” – Anna Lena and the Orchids. Another singer/songwriter indebted to the icy soundscapes and incisive vocals of Portishead, another beautiful tune.
4. “Endless Possibilities” – The Boxing Lesson. Space rock that consumed an orchestra? Sign me up.
5. “Proto” – Ryan Hemsworth. This one comes from Mitsuda, the hip-hop tribute to video game soundtrack creator Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger). YES TO THE YES.
6. “I Still Think of You From Time to Time” – Louville. Trombones, pulsing beats, and wiry synths come together to form … euphoric electronica? Whatever, just roll with its beauty.
7. “Nothing Left to Say” – Poldoore. Super cool heist movies, take notice: here’s a candidate for your next soundtrack inclusion.
8. “Staying In” – Ola Podrida. Mysterious tune that kinda sounds like a dungeon level soundtrack, until the beautiful chorus kicks in.
9. “Chinese Paper Cuts” – Own Goal. The sparse instrumentation creates a unique indie-soul atmosphere that will appeal to fans of The Antlers.
10. “Blue Elvis” – Peals. It sounds like two guys sitting on the porch making beautiful, low-key, beautiful instrumental music because they can. I dig it.
11. “Seven” – Qualia. Loose, chill, moving post-rock that evokes The Album Leaf, lazy Saturday afternoons and/or epic realizations. Wonderful stuff.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: no one likes everything musically. Show me someone who loves klezmer, Kreayshawn, Liturgy, Neutral Milk Hotel, soca, Tears for Fears and “Call Me Maybe,” and then maybe we’ll talk. I know that I’m not such a big fan of rap, but I’m a huge fan of folk/alt-country. As a result, my tolerance for the excesses of the folk/alt-country genre (playing fast and loose with the concept of vocal tone, thanks to Bob Dylan and Neil Young) is higher than most, while my tolerance for the excesses of other genres is low. That’s just the way it is.
St. Anthony of Shipwrecks EP by Friends of Mine will charm fans of folk/alt-country, but it won’t convert non-fans to the genre: the vocals privilege passion over tone, the snare shuffles like you might expect, and the bass goes up and down in a very country way. You’ve heard these parts before, but they rattle and scuffle together in endearing ways throughout the EP. The melodies that the band puts together stick in my head, especially in the winking “Pop Song (Be My Girlfriend).” The band does occasionally throw in a garage-rock/surf-rock edge (“Dear John Proctor,” “Girls”), and it’s in the latter track that the worst vocal tone excesses nearly derail the song at the climax of its six-and-a-half-minute length.
But the misstep is redeemed by closer “Coffee House,” a folky strummer with killer melodies and harmonies. Again, there’s nothing groundbreaking in the tune, but it just stays up there in my mind. Once the harmonica comes in, the tune is reminiscent of Two Gallants’ best work. Sometimes you don’t need to be innovative to be brilliant; you just need to be well-versed. Friends of Mine’s St. Anthony of Shipwrecks sounds incredibly knowledgeable about their subject. Here’s to tradition, and great things within it. I look forward to what the band turns out next.
This stark, genreless tune from Charlotte & Magon will stick in your head, even without the sparse, haunting video. The clouds of breath that Charlotte makes only enhance the ghostly feel. It’s like Two Gallants without the drums and a female singer. I know that sounds like a stretch, but yeah. That’s what I’ve got. Comparisons aside, it’s a brilliant track, and it makes me look forward to their not-so-soon-forthcoming album.
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.