Man, it’s been a weird last few months. I gotta give a maximum shout-out to Lisa Whealy, who has basically kept this place publishing since roughly April when my second child was born. (Welcome to the world, little baby!) Things are starting to settle down a bit, and I’m taking a moment to catch up on all that I’ve listened to recently.
Master Spy (Original Soundtrack) – RAC. Better known to me for his remixes (his mix of Rostam’s “This Song” is a personal fave), this is completely different. This is a high-drama electro spy movie soundtrack, and it is sufficiently tense and dense. It’s got a lot more Mission: Impossible in its blood than Pink Panther in terms of vibe–lots of thumpin’ and jumpin’ instead of slinking and drinking. But there are some ambient bits (“Cutscene 3”) and some even poppy bits [“Mission 3 (Hk)”]. It’s really rad, and great working music.
The Fleeting Light of Impermanence – The Appleseed Cast. Some bands reinvent themselves constantly (The Flaming Lips, The Mountain Goats, Teen Daze, just to think of a few) and some drill down into the core of what makes the band itself. Appleseed Cast is of the latter ilk, as anyone who’s listened to an Appleseed record since 2006’s excellent Peregrine will recognize The Fleeting Light of Impermanence immediately. It’s got the same evocative guitar tones, huge drums, yearning vocals, expansive song frames, and searching lyrics that make The Appleseed Cast so great, and it does all of it really, really well. (“Chaotic Waves” could literally be on any TAC record, and that’s a testament to their high quality over years and their continued focus.)
There’s a bit of a shift in the lyrics toward more earnest and straightforward work, as standout track “The Journey” is a clear statement of principles: “Now I get the lesson / Of the words that my father said / Life ain’t easy / But if you do it right, it’s worth it.” You betcha. Keep on keepin’ on, Appleseed Cast. Highly recommended for TAC fans, recommended for everyone else.
Mister Lies – Mister Lies. This album is hard to describe. There’s ambient work, occasional soulful vocals, downtempo electronic bits, jazzy interludes, and more on this dusky record. It’s hard to pin down, yet it’s hard to stay away from. I keep coming back to it over and over; it’s been a near companion for the last few months. It captures a certain sort of mood where the days blend together and time is difficult to parse; things are happening fast, or slow, or fast-then-slow, and it’s all a lot to process. That mood. You know, modern life mood.
Multiple – LITE. I was in a situation where I had to explain what math-rock was to a friend, and I discharged my duties as faithfully as I could (and included examples). I should have just sent him a link to this record. In an era where many bands are disavowing math-rock as a term and math-rock’s idiosyncrasies as outdated/irrelavant, LITE is leaning hard into it. All of the patterned guitars, atypical song structures, complex rhythms, and punchy melodies that you can imagine are right here waiting for you. Opener “Double” is about as good an opening salvo as you can get for this type of work, while “Zone 3” is an elegantly frantic blitz. But they can also chill it out: “One Last Mile” shows their jazzy chops. An excellent work of math-rock, this one.
Back to the Fuzz – Panfur. This is a big, fun, instrumental electro record. There’s influences from everywhere (trap, dream-pop, trance, video games, and more), making this a blast to listen to. It’s heavy on the electronic instrument samples as an aesthetic, so if you’ll be very into this if you’re up for “this sounds like strings but not” as part of the mood.
Poke and Chill – Mikel, GameChops. The people behind the excellent Zelda music mashup from earlier this year are back with a really fun follow-up: a selection of the chill music from various Pokemon games, set to downtempo beats. There’s none of the uptempo stuff, just all chill all the time. They chose a lot of iconic themes, so fans of the series will be immediately pleased. But the compositions are so tight that even people who don’t do Pokemon will find much to love in the inventive, immaculately done tracks. Excellent work.
1. “Stanley and Seafort’s” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig has been at this singer/songwriter game so long that he’s gone through his rock phase and his voice-and-guitar-only phase to come back out at the other end with a sound that’s matured but not all that different than his original ideas. What has developed is his lyrical approach–moving from (devastatingly effective) straightforward folk storytelling to a much more poetic approach, dropping evocative, picturesque lines next to each other and asking the listener to interpret. This song is short but packs a huge punch lyrically; there’s more going on that can be easily explained, and explaining any of it would detract from the joy of listening to it. Highly recommended.
2. “Here We Go Again” – Big Little Lions. We can always use more uplifting, group-sung pop-folk goodness.
3. “Conversations” – Little Chief. I basically don’t believe that any band is actually broken up these days, and so it’s with great excitement that I found out that Little Chief is back (albeit greatly slimmed down in the personnel department). This track is slightly less stomp-‘n-holler than their earlier stuff; there’s more sonic diversity and mature melodic development. Except for the big guitar build toward the end of the song, it sounds like a quieter version of The Head and the Heart (themselves graduates of the stomp and holler class, mostly). If you’re in for folk-pop, you’ll be in for this.
4. “At a Bar Downtown” – Steph Casey. Here’s some really great storytelling in an easygoing indie-folk track. The arrangement is rock-solid, Casey’s vocals soar, and the whole piece comes together beautifully.
5. “Point of no return” – Slowburner. It takes a lot of skill to make a solo piano piece tense and yet not overtly dissonant. This is a cleverly written and recorded piece that has lots of atmosphere.
6. “Siberia” – Lorenzo Masotto. Mid-way through summer in Phoenix, I start to long for Siberia and other incredibly cold places; get me to where it’s chilly and I’ll be happy. Lorenzo Masotto can’t take me there physically, but he’s certainly trying to take me there sonically. This piece is actually a bit warmer and friendlier than you might expect, but it still has rich, dark overtones of the perpetual winter. There’s also some classy, Romantic elements in the melodies. A lovely piece.
7. “Something” – Wall of Trophies. Dense walls of distortion and staccato arpeggiated rhythms are tamed into a backdrop for an track that’s somehow both grooving and thumping. Throw in some group chant and Brittany Jean’s excellent vocal delivery, and you’ve got a winner that’s not quite any genre: it lives in its own airspace between electro, indie-pop, and School of Seven Bells.
8. “How Do You Like Me Now” – The Local Strangers. Well, hot dang–that’s one way to start a record. A torrential blast of alt-country guitar and attitude-filled vocals power this big ‘ol kiss-off track. There’s even a brass line thrown in there to make it a bigger, badder, get-out-of-here tale. This is some killer alt-country. Highly recommended.
9. “Air On Line” – Anamanaguchi. There’s nothing quite like Anamanaguchi.
1. “Monolith 1” – The Kompressor Experiment. Here’s 15 minutes and 43 seconds of gloriously thunderous post-rock/post-metal that draws its inspiration from Kubrick’s 2001. Need I say more?
2. “Ocean in a Drop” – GoGo Penguin. This churning, dense piece resists classification. Is it a post-rock piece being played by a jazz trio? Is it experimental jazz? Is it something entirely different? Whatever it is, it is wildly engrossing and deeply interesting. The bass gets a lot to do, which I very much enjoy.
3. “White” – Liam Pitcher. This is the first track of the first album of an eleven-album synchronous release. Ambition much? The solo piano work is delicate and lovely; it’s very sweet but with notes of dissonance throughout. It is evocative of the Japanese video game soundtracks (FFVIII in particular) that Pitcher grew up on. (Full Disclosure: IC writer Lisa Whealy is doing the PR for this.)
4. “Blackberry Wine” – Jon Bennett. If you think that they don’t make folk singers like they used to, then you’ll love the early ’60s finger-pickin’ folk of Jon Bennett. It’s evocative of a singer whose name rhymes with Rob Millen.
5. “His Name Was the Color That I Loved” – the Good Graces. A sentimental, touching ode to a male family figure (grandfather? father?) in the tried-and-true alt-country vein: train-track drums, crunchy lead guitar, and acoustic guitar. The Good Graces are always a safe bet, and this one pays off in spades.
6. “Rush to Spark” – Foxes in Fiction. The former chillwaver has settled neatly into a dream-pop vein, taking some (some) of the big synth washes away in lieu of more intricate, delicate arrangements here. The feathery vocals are a great touch over the keys and gently insistent percussion beat.
7. “Bruises on Your Shoulders” – Thirsty Curses. A piano-driven folk-pop jam that’s a cross between the Lumineers’s pop chops and The (old-school) Avett Brothers’ vocal enthusiasms. The tune is about suddenly realizing you’ve become an adult out of nowhere, which I certainly have experienced more than once.
8. “Holding On” – Tracy Shedd. Shedd is moving in the opposite direction from Foxes in Fiction, going from an introspective singer-songwriter space into a dancy, electro-pop-inspired vein. It’s not quite the big dance-pop of her other project The Band and the Beat, but it’s got stacked big synths and a lot of forward motion accompanying Shedd’s intimate vocals and lyrics. It’s a head-bobber.
9. “At Night They Race Through the Stars” – Clara Engel. If you’re down for some vocal-centric slowcore acoustic work, Clara Engel has you covered. The slow-paced, slow-motion-fingerpicking tune has atmosphere to spare from solid supporting cello work.
10. “Johnny Went Off to War” – The Long Farewells. Here’s a historically-inspired (although it could be about any war at any time, the mark of a true folk song) folk song with a tragic ending. The arrangement is spartan but effective, and the female vocals are strong.
11. “Something in the Background” – Samuel. Funky, soulful, downtempo instrumental work with a sax as the lead voice. I’m sure someone somewhere is claiming this as some variant of jazz, too. Whatever you call it, it’s chill and would work great in the chill-out section of your next party playlist.
12. “O World! I Remain No Longer Here” – Glacier. I’m far from the first person to note this, but the fact that crushing post-rock band Glacier named their latest release No Light Ever is basically all you need to know about this release. There’s so much heavy guitar distortion here on this track that you’d be forgiven for thinking Glacier is a metal or doom band. This stuff is sludged-out to the max–until it goes almost silent. This is quiet/loud/quiet taken to its utter extreme. Oh, and it’s 14 minutes long.
I’ve been buried under work for my day job recently and dealing with a whole lot outside work too. But all difficult seasons pass! Spring comes after winter. And lo, I’m trying to get the IC backlog back down. Here are some singles from … uh … July onward that are good and that you should listen to. These are in chronological order from when they arrived in my inbox.
1. “Howl at the Moon” – The Rough & Tumble. This engaging track has the dignity and maturity of grown-up folk while maintaining the enthusiasm and powerful melodies of folk-pop. The us-against-the-world, we’ll-go-it-alone mentality only adds to the great vibe. The arrangement is perfect, too; it perfectly enhances the mood created by the vocals and lyrics.
2. “Remote” – Tyler Berd. Berd’s latest anti-folk track consists of hyper-specific, stream-of-consciousness lyrics unspooling against a delightfully unstructured acoustic backdrop. It’s like a cross between The Mountain Goats, Daniel Johnston (RIP), and old-school Joe Pug. It’s pretty short, but it rewards multiple listens.
3. “Discover” – Kazyak. This is a get-high-and-listen-to-Kazyak major-key psychedelic jam straight out of the ’70s. It is six minutes long and I’d be disappointed if it isn’t twice that live. The vocal performance here is particularly inspired, which is not something that you get with jammy psych; this has all the best aspects of classic psych rock with few of the downsides. And I thought Kazyak was a folk outfit! Imagine.
4. “Crooked Games” – Moon Under Water. Here’s an impressive, moody indie-rock track that features an exultant chorus and outro tempered by an unusually calm vocal delivery. It makes me think back when indie rock meant “weird types of rock that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else,” because this is certainly atypical to big, bombastic rock. A very compelling track for fans of Manchester Orchestra, et al.
5. “American Fever Dream” – Matthew Squires. There’s a moment that people who stick around with an artist long enough get sometimes get to experience: the moment where you realize that the talent has become fully realized and everything from here on out is on a different plane. The moment for Matthew Squires is teased at about 20 seconds into this song, but the real moment is at 1:04. I won’t spoil it for you, but I got shivers and goosebumps on the first listen and again on the second listen. Squires’ squirrelly slacker-rock compositions are leveled up here, and his propensity for cryptic and religious lyrics is streamlined into zinging satire/commentary using the same themes. This is a winner, and if the rest of the album is like this, we’re gonna have a whole lot of album on our hands very soon.
6. “Visions of America” – Matthew Squires. PREVIOUS ANALYSIS CONFIRMED. We have quite an album on our hands here. Go get this album immediately.
7. “Showoff” – Black Violin. If you need some pump-up music today, here’s Black Violin mashing up classical composition and sick beats the way only they know how. This is awesome. The video is great too.
8. “Really Deep Snow” – Lindstrøm. Was I looking for nine minutes of pulsing, icy, ominous techno this morning? No. Am I thrilled to receive it? You bet I am.
9. “mind” – Mouse on the Keys. If you want adventurous composition, you can always count on Mouse on the Keys, who take jazz, post-rock, math-rock, and synth-rock and just ruthlessly mash them together. There is no one quite like Mouse on the Keys, and we are all better for it. This one has guitars that sound like Anamanaguchi’s, which is just the sweet, sweet icing on the cake.
10. “Ubuntu” – Desingly. My love of ’90s Beck makes me a big fan of this chill-beats-and-acoustic-instruments jam. It’s good-natured, good songwriting, and just good.
11. “Stack the Miles” – Gabriel Birnbaum. The ghost of Elliot Smith hangs over this one in the songwriting and production choices, and that’s a good thing. The melodies are haunting and lovely.
12. “Dawn Chorus” – Racoon Racoon. The male and female voices blend together here perfectly, creating a lilting, sun-dappled, charming folk tune.
13. “Best” – Young Mister. The world can always use more romantic, gentle pop love songs that talk about taking care of each other. Take care of each other out there.
Brooklyn rockers Grandpa Jack breeze in with Staggered Steps, the new acoustic folk-rock EP dropping October 11th via Lost Moon Records. Is this acoustic work an abandonment of the band’s more beastly rock nature? Nah. This is just another incarnation of Matt C. White’s work; the intensity is very much there.
Matt C. White (Guitar, Vocals, Mandolin, Percussion, Didgeridoo) leads the three-part harmonies with Johnny Strom (Guitar, Vocals) and Jared Schapker (Bass, Vocals) in this lush mayhem of orchestrated folk-rock restraint. The vocals drive this EP: this band is really three men who are equals vocally and a triple threat musically. Recorded and mixed by Matt C. White, with the record mastered by Matt Labozza, this is stunning art. Great acoustic records achieve sonic separation, each note resonating with clarity, and this album achieves it.
From the opening notes of “Limbs” (with the soft sounds of fall fleshing out the tune) to the ominous progression of “Creatures,” this is special. White’s vocal delivery is unmistakable and transformative in its soulful connection to the music. His authentic roar is complemented by Shapker’s steady bass drive in this reincarnation of “Creatures,” a favorite of Grandpa Jack’ catalog. The included didgeridoo is a wild creature, and White plays serpent sounds too. This is a wild release.
“Staggered Steps” sets the stage for the strange times in which we live. This dark yet lighthearted gloom featuring violin by Adriana Molello seems the perfect close to this trio of tracks. Simple fingerpicking drives the music, and any tension is provided through vocal phrasing and intonation. Angst-laden vocals rotate among the trio of subdued rockers, somehow coming together in a unified, stark horror. Though there are only three songs on the Staggered Steps EP, it’s enough to make Grandpa Jack fans. —Lisa Whealy
I’ve gotten into contemporary composed music over the past few years, starting with John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean and Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato. Since my realization that classical music didn’t cease to be at some point in the 1800s, I’ve become very interested in instrumental compositions that can do things which no other genre of music can do. Jim Perkins‘ “As Light Moves” is a piece of music that wouldn’t work in any other genre; it speaks in the voice of classical composition and says something unique.
“As Light Moves” is a piece for string sextet that draws heavily on the deep dynamic range of stringed instruments to create great surges of sound from a few instruments. The dynamic range is huge, moving from near-silence to completely full repeatedly. The sound washes over the ear, rising and falling, creating a beautiful, lush experience that you wouldn’t expect from just six players. The melodic elements place some drone-style violin bowing against a slowly unfolding, walking-pace melody. The piece feels light and also serious; the gravitas here is not heavy-handed. Instead, the piece has a dignity that comes of patience and clarity. The instrumental parts weave in and out of each other elegantly; this lovely composition work paired with the intensity of dynamic range create the feeling of lushness and the experience of not knowing how many people are playing.
The mood does darken and feel a bit more ominous towards the high point of the piece (around four minutes), but the coda returns to the lightness of the opening and smooths the piece’s conclusion. It’s a lovely piece that moves in a real way through the four-minute run-time, revealing aspects of the composition as it goes. The ideas are strong, the composition is deftly handled, the performances are strong, and the recording job is excellent. It speaks in a specific voice. Overall, a very satisfying composition for strings.
“As Light Moves” comes from Jim Perkins’ Pools, which is out on October 3 from Bigo & Twigetti. —Stephen Carradini
Lisa has been holding down the fort on reviews lately, as I’ve been hammered with work in my day job. In lieu of new music, I have a few posts that I’ve been sitting on that are unlike most IC posts. Now would be a good time to unleash them, though! I’m clearly not getting anything else done. This below list of fictional artists started as a joke between several friends and I, thinking about all the ways that names of bands can often tell you what genre they belong in. So, without further adieu: all the Sinatras.
Blank Sinatra – Puddle of Mudd mentored them
Clank Sinatra – on tour with Nine Inch Nails
Crank Sinatra – dubstep 4 life
Dank Sinatra – acoustic guitar, cajon, and stand-up bass
Drank Sinatra – Trying to get Lil Jon to listen to his mixtape
Frank Sinatra – actually Frank Sinatra
Flank Sinatra – actually a livestreaming video game player
Gank Sinatra – goofy, nerdy indie pop
Hank Sinatra – Nashville’s finest
Jank Sinatra – Biggest influence: Weezer
Lank Sinatra – Tall, skinny, and very into Death Cab
Manx Sinatra – Female rapper?
Planck Sinatra – Science-obsessed minimalist techno
Prank Sinatra – on tour with They Might Be Giants
Qank Sinatra – Sun Ra-style wild instrumental space stuff
Rank Sinatra – Weird, spooky solo art rock act
Sank Sinatra – R&B bangerz
Shank Sinatra – golfcore
Stank Sinatra – also on tour with TMBG
Skank Sinatra – the inevitable ska band
Spank Sinatra – spiky hair early ‘00s pop-punk
Tank Sinatra – easily the most metal name on this list
Thank Sinatra – twee tunes on an ukulele
Wank Sinatra – provocateur Prince knockoff
Yank Sinatra – trying to be part of Daddy Yankee’s posse
1805 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, better known as The Fillmore, first opened in 1912. A part of rock and roll history, the venue is the perfect place for The Wood Brothers‘ new album Live at The Fillmore via Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers.
For the most part, I am not a fan of live albums. I am often unsatisfied. The Wood Brothers took on the responsibility of capturing an authentic musical experience from a room where Hendrix, Joplin, and Muddy Waters left their vibe in the air–a daunting task. Yet the way these fourteen genre-defying tracks sound, maybe there were some angels at the soundboard.
What makes this a must-have live album? There is something pure here in songs like “Chocolate On My Tongue” that feels like being there. Honest and real, like life can’t be better than this moment. With a simple guitar and a reverent audience, being part of this transformative moment brings a tear to my eyes, reminding me there are a million reasons to live. That feeling is why I love live music, period. “Sparkling Wine” shines, catching the ghost of Jerry Garcia in the room. I’m no Deadhead, but this cut is alive with something otherworldly. Bassist Chris Woods shines here.
The other thing that makes a good live album? Well, The Wood Brothers have never been better. Out of fourteen songs, some definite stars stand out. Cris Wood’s fuzzed-up bass licks in “Snake Eyes” drive the tempo, wrapped in Oliver Wood’s excellent guitar runs. A masterclass in ramping up the tempo, each chorus roars with gang vocals into a crash. “Keep Me Around” pulls in a feel-good stroll and displays stunning songwriting. Pure and simple, the pacing is sweet. (Shout-out to drummer/keyboardist Jano Rix on sitar!) In contrast, “Raindrop” oozes with imagery and metaphor over a dirty bass grind.
There is a new sadness to “River Takes The Town” in the aftermath of Dorian’s devastation. Always poignant, this now takes on a whole new meaning. The Wood Brothers brilliantly follow up with the snarky strut “Glad,” whose fuzzed-out guitars seem to ooze sarcasm. Further rejoicing in the gift of breath, this celebration fits with a roar of the crowd. Rix performing both drums and keyboards makes a new cacophony, translating his work from the studio onto the stage. Pleasingly, this album is fourteen tracks rich with musicality, not filled with incessant jams. The Wood Brothers are having fun sharing their joy with those of us that couldn’t be there, isn’t that what I am hearing?
“Happiness Jones/Express Yourself” is the one jam, easing on towards the end of the record and the show. Really, the gift of The Wood Brothers Live at The Fillmore adds to rock and roll history as one of my all-time favorite live albums ever. –Lisa Whealy
Transformation–that metamorphosis, shaking off one form in order to be reborn–can be a tricky thing. Embracing profound change, The New Mastersounds leave twenty years of instrumental funk behind with the release of Shake It on Color Rad.
Born of the UK club scene, the band’s core is built on a bedrock of the Gibson-guitar-slinging singer Eddie Roberts’ jazz-funk groove, Simon Allen’s deadly serious acoustic drums, and Pete Shand’s beautifully meshing bass. Seasoned Leeds piano/organ player Joe Tatton rounds out the sound. Longtime contributor Mike Olmos on trumpet welcomes Jason Mingledorff (toured with St. Paul and The Broken Bones) on flute and sax into the fold as a guest.
Denver’s Color Red Studios, producer Eddie Roberts, tracking engineers Mike Tallman and Dan Cohn, mastering engineer Doug Krebs and vinyl mastering engineer Carl Saff (which I cannot speak to yet) represent the team behind this sonically impeccable release. Listeners can hear the space between the vibrations of Shand’s bass licks and the jazz-driven riffs Roberts famously throws down, all amidst horns and Allen’s steady drum beat. Each instrument resonates in an extraordinary way. This is mind blowing technical work!
This record introduces guest vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr., the son of late Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Williams. I could guess he grew up immersed in music. Shake It is a soul joyride back to a 60s R&B groove that surged through the charts. Adding Williams, Jr., with his vocal vibe reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, shapes the sound of most of the album’s eleven tracks. From the downbeat of “Shake It,” long-time fans of New Mastersounds fans will feel the party has changed. And changed for the better, as Williams, Jr. elevates the band’s sound by adding another dimension to a band already known for its funked-up jazz groove. Williams, Jr. delivers, carrying the band’s metamorphosis into the best of R&B whiplashed through basic elements of The New Mastersounds.
Shifting to a soul vibe on “Let’s Go Back,” organ and bass dance to a dirty groove James Brown would be proud of. Even though it’s a departure from the sound the band is known for, this is just plain cool. This one’s a classic, the signature cut of the release. Truly a throwback, Robert’s guitar reverb struts with Olmos and Tatton, all while Allen’s soft steady beat keeps time. It feels like 1967, with great soul coming from Custom Records. The essence of that genius has been captured and recreated here.
“Love They Deserve” captures the funky dance groove. Getting into the meat of the record, “Taking Me Down” feels crazed, reflecting the blistering guitar-driven tempo. Jazz-driven high anxiety is incredible. The cut includes guest Jeff Franca on percussion, helping set the pace.
Transitioning The New Mastersounds’ identity effectively needed a strategy, since certainly some longtime fans would be angered at the abandonment of the purely instrumental jazz-funk fusion. That said, “Too Late To Worry” is perfection. Highlighting Jason Mingledorff’s flute as an easy transition to Williams, Jr. smooth vocals, this track seems to be a warm embrace, appeasing conflict and channeling an essence of Marvin Gaye. Shand lays down a masterclass in bass, subtly driving the frame of the composition for all other instrumentation to hang their notes on. Less funk and more jazz/soul, this is among the best cuts of the record in its pure musicality.
“Layin Low” is a pure instrumental for New Mastersounds purists. The best of what has given the band its longevity is here, but it’s a quick hit into the massively uptempo “Live Your Life Free” and its crazy Joe Tatton keyboard runs. “Permission to Land” features Franca again on percussion adding to Simon Allen’s steady backline.
Going forward, The New Mastersounds are strolling easy in a new direction. They’re musically not settling on being just a great jazz-funk-infused instrumental powerhouse. The addition of guest Lamar Williams, Jr. connects rock and roll blood, creating soul that resonates for new generations. Wow! –Lisa Whealy
Even though Denmark’s Jacob Faurholt is prolific via his solo project and his more eclectic experimental project Crystal Shipsss, not enough noise has been made about his skill as a songwriter. Released through Faurholt’s label Raw Onion Records, Shake Off The Fear is folk rock for the truly imaginative human. Fear is this album’s thematic compass, as the nine songs reveal a man who has lived, loves, and has grieved the loss of life.
The record features a variety of sounds and references coming together effectively. Faurholt’s vocal phrasing and tone mirrors superstar Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones on “Stargazing”–it’s a little freaky. Nadia Sharpe Faurholt blends sweetly on the duet “Hide From The Dark.” In its authentic love, an essence of Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia oozes through. Shifting gears, “Super Sorry” pulls in the talents of Rasmus Fink on drums and Anders Ahle on bass into this well paced tune. Fleshed out completely with Victor Kim’s electric guitar, this is a 1960’s rock and roll flashback masterfully executed.
“The Burning Ship” features Jacob Faurholt’s banjo-driven emotion, stopping time for a moment in remembrance of a 1990 Scandanavian ferry disaster that claimed the life of his childhood friend. Authentic, hollow, with painfully stark and perfectly executed production choices by Victor Kim, this track shows how important restraint can be. Each purposeful note is steeped in anxiety, as the ghosts of troubadours like Tom Waits sway. Those solid production choices combined with Andy Magoffin’s strong mixing and mastering make this album is fantastic technical work.
Halfway through Shake Off The Fear, standout cut “The Dark Isn’t Right” reverberates like a cinematic crash of expansive concepts set to a musical waltz. Ahle on piano and slide guitar joins Faurholt’s acoustic guitar with plaintive vocals reminiscent of the great Neil Young, creating a vibe Conor Oberst would appreciate. Hauntingly breathtaking lyrics pack a moody compositional punch. Understated, expressive genius reminds us all we are all afraid of the dark sometimes. The album’s cover art with William Kudahl’s Mars-scape layout containing a solitary guitarist pushes at Faurholt’s status as a father, partner, and leader.
Turning toward the end of a journey of self-discovery, “Dark Moons” hits quickly. In a little more than two minutes, the mood has changed. An ethereal harmony swings into the final tracks and “Satellite” is a love song whose orbit resonates. Skilled at his craft, Faurholt’s quirky imagery is sometimes reminiscent of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. So what is binding the man together, serving as connective tissue allowing him to “Shake Off The Fear”? The joy of records like this is that there are an infinite number of answers, all meaningful and true.
“Rainbow in the Sky” brings a forty-year-old songwriter’s evolution full circle. Acoustic guitar drives this closer, breathing sweetly the joys of love and grief to illuminate the beauty, like a rainbow after a summer rainstorm clears. Jacob Faurholt’s Shake Off The Fear may be channeling his heroes with love and blotting out fear with music. His voice as a lyrical craftsman has certainly earned him a spot in top releases of 2019. —Lisa Whealy
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.