Rarely have I had so much fun listening to a longhear than when listening to Lullatone‘s Thinking about Thursdays. The twee instrumental outfit, already an IC fave, recently compiled their “a song every Thursday in 2016” project into one big album of 52 songs. Their twee instrumentals are brilliant as ever, but their expanded sonic palette is what makes this album so wonderful.
Lullatone excels at making child-like music, turning toy pianos, music boxes, ukuleles, flutes and other small-sounding instruments into delicate and charming tunes (mostly in major keys). Their basic sound is something like The Album Leaf’s tender expansiveness mashed with Wes Anderson’s distinct, precise nostalgia. Openers “trying something again (again)” and “a photograph from the day you were born” stick to this script, creating memorable entries in the Lullatone oeuvre. This type of chipper, bright, clever song appears throughout the album; collectively, they are proof that Lullatone has mastered their craft and yet not exhausted it.
Things get even more exciting as they spread their wings. “how frost grows” signals a widening of their sonic scope, as a slurring, glacial, distorted guitar creates a desolate post-rock landscape. “cooped up at home with a fever and a tape loop” is just that: a hazy, tape hiss-laden fever dream that reminds me of a vocal-less version of The Microphones. “two turn tables and a casiotone” is a fun riff on the titular concept, while follow-on “how i broke my parents’ record player (when i was five)” is even more beat-heavy, landing somewhere between instrumental hip-hop and The Postal Service. “aboard Korean Air flight 742 to Seoul” continues what is ultimately a four-week beat fancy, adding stuttering snares and a melodic hook to a cherubic synth.
Things get even more exciting from there: “puddles full of petals (of Sakura)” combines harp, East Asian melodic ideas, and video game soundtrack drama (one of two back-to-back Asian sonic entries); “father-son adventures” has a jaunty, spry electric guitar line that will please any fan of major key post-rock a la Delicate Steve or Fang Island; “concrete waves” is filtered through a dense, stylish mesh of DJ Shadow. Other referents (real or imagined) include Matt and Kim, klezmer music, elevator music/vaporwave, and chillwave. I won’t spoil all the surprises (there are 52 songs!!), but suffice it to say that this is a great collection with almost no dead weight. Beyond the lovely individual songs, there’s a subtle joy in listening to a whole year of someone’s creation in what seems like chronological order, tracking through the seasons with the moods and titles of each song.
Thinking About Thursdays is that rare release that combines serious composition, thoughtful moods, intriguing instrumentation, quality sonic diversity, and out-and-out fun. It’s an incredible release, and it’s one of my early contenders for album of the year. Highly recommended.
Redvers Bailey‘s if you want to fly you’ve got to let go is a charming, evocative album that sounds like a cross between The Mountain Goats, Belle and Sebastian, and Wes Anderson. Whoa, you might be thinking, that’s a lot of hipstery junk. Well sure. But if you’re into that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll really like.
For instance, opener “Young Romance” contains 450 words, some of which are Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, microfibre cloth, and several puns about the word “arm.” Follow-on “Elephant Ballerina” contains 537 words and includes the fact that a group of angels is a murmuration, some characters doing Gangnam Style, and “a hundred Michael Jackson zombies filling the dance floor.” Both of these tunes include only acoustic guitar and Bailey’s quirky, endearing, affected tenor (except for a very brief intrusion by a pseudo-marching band to the latter tune). By this point you’re in or you’re out, but if you’re in, here’s some more information.
Past those two opening tunes, things level out a bit into a melodic singer/songwriter with a Mountain Goats bent. “You and Me and My VW” includes a glockenspiel over the fingerpicking to give the pop tune a eternally-sunny Avalanche City vibe, while “The Key to Happiness” has furious, chunky guitar chords straight out of John Darnielle’s early ’90s period. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” and “Sarah” are ballads that lean heavily on the descriptive lyrics instead of the quirky guitar-based songwriting; they fit with the earlier songs through a similar hyper-specific lyrical disposition and Bailey’s voice, but musically they’re a lot different.
Still, Bailey wraps up the collection with the title track, a tune just as verbose, humorous, and enthusiastic as the opening two tunes. The track is a mission statement of sorts, relating the poignant yet still smile-inducing story of how Bailey ended up trying (and failing) to disavow being a musician. (Spoiler alert: he comes back to music.) It’s the perfect mid-point between the earnest emotionalism of his quiet tracks and the passionate theatricality of his poppier tracks.
If you’re into self-aware singer-songwriters with a huge vocabulary and tons of cultural references, you’ll find a gem in Redvers Bailey. if you want to fly is a whirlwind trip through someone else’s mind, and it’s a thoroughly invigorating experience. Here’s to knowing what you do and doing it unabashedly.
1. “A Better Life” – Supersmall. A good-natured, walking-speed tune that gives more than it asks back from you: you don’t have to listen hard to enjoy, but there are charms for those who listen deeply to the early ’00s, Parachutes/Turin Brakes-style work.
2. “May the Stars Fall at Your Door” – Andrew Adkins. We all need an encouraging blessing every now and then–Adkins provides uplifting lyrics with an equally uplifting folk arrangement (complete with harmonica). Totally great work here.
3. “Nowhere” – Swaying Wires. Tina Karkinen’s confident vocals give a levity to this serious, acoustic-led indie-pop tune.
4. “Know It All” – Bitterheart. Brash, immediate, strum-heavy, full-throated folk-pop that marries the enthusiasm of folk-punk with the good-hearted charm of a folk-pop tune. If all their work is like this, their album’s going to be a blast.
5. “One Three Nine” – Jacob Metcalf. Fluttering, ethereal folk that stays grounded basically by force of will, a la Andrew Bird.
6. “Chandelier” – Russell Howard. This gender-flipped cover of Sia’s tune creates a stark atmosphere by modifying Howard’s vocals and putting them over a delicate guitar accompaniment and subtle percussive beat.
7. “White Light Doorway” – Florist. The band has mastered the skill of keeping a song together while lead singer Emily Sprague purposefully sounds like she’s falling apart. The tension there is beautiful and weighty.
8. “While You Stand” – Michael Nau. The wide-eyed naivete of Page France is long gone, but the absurd ease with which Nau pens a lyric and fits it to a simple guitar line persists. It hits me.
10. “Secrets” – Nick Zubeck. Laidback chill doesn’t get more laidback than this.
11. “Monde” – Stranded Horse. Fleet, powerful fingerpicking contrasts a laissez-faire vocal mood for a knotty, beautiful tune that feels like it fell out of a Wes Anderson movie somewhere.
12. “Black Gold” – Black Country. There are few substances so evocative as oil, with its viscous flow, vibrant sheen, wealth-making potential, and divisive opinion-making. Black Country spells out a narrative of the open spaces, where finding oil is the difference between emptiness of landscape and buzzing life–hanging the promise of oil over the head of a barren, windswept instrumental landscape.
13. “We’ll Get By” – The Singer and the Songwriter. One of the more un-Google-able bands working today drops a stately, moving tune that includes accordion and shuffling snare under a beautiful alto vocal melody.
14. “Wanderer’s Waltz” – Youth Policy. Here’s a wintry, stark tune composed of breathy, Elliott Smith-esque vocals, cascading fingerpicking, and a moody sense of melancholia.
15. “Ghost Blue” – Sparrows Gate. If I walked into a bar where Sparrows Gate was playing this moving, piano-driven ballad-esque tune, I hope it would be to work off a breakup instead of celebrate a success. “Gravitas” doesn’t sell it well enough.
16. “Goes Without Saying” – Melaena Cadiz. A relaxing, unspooling, wandering tune that just feels lovely.
17. “Kicking You Out” – Merival. Few things get me more than a raw, open-hearted acoustic tune with some room echo. Merival’s strong songwriting skills are on full display here, with nothing else added but some harmony vocals. As they say: all the feels.
Here’s some videos that are more focused on “fun” than yesterday’s.
Here’s my highest praise for a pop-art video: The Elwins’ “So Down Low” looks like OK GO could have made it. It’s mindboggling, smile-inducing, and demands repeat plays to catch all the bits. That’s how it’s done, folks.
From the opening frames that compare the Space Needle to a french fry to the final shots of the band (Blimp Rock) in a blimp, this Archer-esque animation style clip is a hoot.
Do you love Wes Anderson? Prepare to love Sea of Bees’ homage to Moonrise Kingdom in the “Test Yourself” clip.
Here’s another tribute to summer camp, with the oh-so-charming Pen Pals singing a awww-inducing, 90-second indie-pop ditty about why camp is the best. The visual style makes me think of camps I never went to but can imagine perfectly in my head. (The one I went to looked nothing like this one, but I still got nostalgia anyway.)
Bellwire’s clip for “Time Out” is like the dream of the indie ’90s revisited: yards of yarn, googly eyes, people dancing through the frame, a haircut, and lots of gawky bounding about. It’s pretty much a perfect analog to the sound.
Ah, the reveries of youth: a kid finds himself as a superhero in this video for Tuff Sunshine’s “Dreamin'”.
Careening around the downstairs of a house is an unusual concept for a video, but somehow Off the Record’s clip for “Whitley” makes it work. I want to know what’s going on upstairs.
Industries of the Blind‘s “Chapter 1: Had we known better” is just over thirty minutes of heavily orchestrated post-rock. It’s split into three parts: 13 minutes, 5 minutes, and 13 minutes. It’s important to note that, because if you didn’t pay close attention, you’d feel that it’s all one piece. Seeing as they did in fact title it “Chapter 1,” I don’t think it’s too out of place to consider it all one piece.
“I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” is the final track and the second of the 13-minute pieces. It follows a predictable but desirable post-rock formula: start with forlorn guitar, bring in the strings, slow build from there to crashing finale. If post-rock were a country, Industries of the Blind would be making their way through Sigur Ros, with Explosions in the Sky coming up over the horizon.
There are no vocals, and that, along with the fact that the 30+ minutes are only divided into three (or one, as I previously noted), it’s hard to pick out parts of this to admire or criticize that would really mean anything to you. But it is helpful to note that the composers were on to something with the title of “I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” : the half hour is absolutely gorgeous.
Put it on repeat and you’ll fall asleep (and have beautiful, Michel Gondry-ian dreams, I bet). Put it in on in your car and you’re suddenly in a Wes Anderson movie. Put it on during a party and you’re in the weird slo-mo part of a Charlie Kaufman film. I have no idea what would happen if you made out with this in the background, but I would sure like to find out. This is the type of music that dramatic things happen to. It’s really good.
If you like post-rock, you should check out Industries of the Blind. It’s not going to blow your mind like Isis or The Non, but it’s not going to require as much effort on your part either. It is music to be heard and loved. Get it here for “essentially free,” as they note in their website. They only ask that you share it and/or donate if you love it. And you should very much do both.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.