The Local Strangers cover a lot of ground with their acoustic amalgam on Left for Better: “Easy” is a stately, Josh Ritter-esque tune with a booming weight; “Mr. Blackberry” is a swampy, bluesy stomp; “Chase the Battle” has a bit of a Fleetwood Mac vibe to its gently pressing tension. These things are all possible on the same album because vocalist Aubrey Zoli, vocalist/guitarist Matt Hart and the rest of the quintet are comfortable using their skills in multiple ways. Lock in on a groove? “Devil and a Stiff Drink.” Blend into a textured whole? “I Will Let You Down.” Create a tense, spartan environment? “Beneath the Weight.” This is a confident outfit, and it shows. The highlight for me is “Easy,” as it pushes the folky buttons I like. But with songs this confident in many different sounds, you’ll probably have a different favorite. More power to ’em. Can’t wait to hear more from this Seattle group.
The Marvins‘ Waves of Strange also has a wide array of sounds, going from the harmony-heavy country-rock of “Two Joints on the Table” to the surf-esque space rock of “Girls Go to Venus” to the unclassifiable sludge/folk of “Still is the Light.” Still, they keep a firm sense of melody about them, no matter what they’re writing. That element ties the whole album together, from its farthest weird edges to the most traditional tunes. And it’s all worth celebrating: “Still is the Light” is a powerful, pounding tune that works because of its disparate elements, not despite them. You’ll be humming the chorus for sure. If you’re really into cohesive sounds, you may get frustrated around the time the power-pop of “People Like You” comes around, but if you’re up for a fun ride through a bunch of genres, Waves of Strange is definitely for you.
The Roseline‘s Vast as Sky, on the other hand, delivers a heaping helping of a specific sound. The band is in debt to the country-rock of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young for its ominous, dense sound. Weeping steel guitar, droning organ, saloon-style piano and more play in. You’ve heard this, but you haven’t heard Colin Halliburton sing it. There’s a fine line between revivalism and building on a foundational genre, and that line is crossed about the time that you don’t care which one it is–you just enjoy the tunes.
Vast as Sky passes that mark by the first chorus of “Back of My Mind,” a poignant tune about a distracting woman. Halliburton can also channel harrowing moods, as “You’ll Be Fine” details the fear of a possible cancer diagnosis. The band stays firmly in “band” mode, never letting Halliburton drop too much into the singer/songwriter zone, with the exception of the pristine, stripped-down “All Me.” The Old 97s’-esque shuffle of “A Necessary Distinction” is another highlight. If you’re up for some alt-country that knows its forefathers but has its own joys, The Roseline is your band.