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Month: June 2011

James Sera's acoustic instrumentals are wonderful

I am constantly in search of music that fits the moods in which I find myself. James Sera‘s Reality of the Fantasy fills a slot I’ve been searching to fill for some time: total relaxation.

Ridiculous name aside, I am enamored with every aspect of Sera’s debut. This is relatively easy, however, as there is only one aspect to his music. Reality of the Fantasy is 54 minutes of sonorous, melodic acoustic guitar instrumentals. These works are sublime; Sera isn’t out to impress with technical craft (although he does), nor is he striving to create songs that will be covered by legions in the future. He simply put out nine tunes whose melodies will cascade slowly into listeners’ consciousness.

Sera has made a concerted effort here to not make any moves that would disturb the graceful flow that connects each of these songs. The tunes play as one massive work, and I absolutely love that aspect. This is quality music that doesn’t suffer pretentiousness (other than that blech title), oversimplicity or repetitiveness. These tunes are crafted, and if they seem effortless, that’s all the more to the credit of Sera.

These tunes are beautiful, and they work wonderfully to relax to. I will keep this CD on call for when I need a chill-out. It is definitely worth your time if you like any music that includes acoustic guitar.

Quick Hits: Minimus the Poet

Minimus the Poet‘s five-song EP Married in the Mud will sound quite familiar to fans of the Avett Brothers. Minimus has similar ideas on songwriting: play rock on folky instruments, sing easily memorable memories, toss off a great riff here and there. Minimus even sounds like the lower of the Avett Brothers in singing tone; they both have the wry yet animated tone and booming mid-range voice.

The great riff comes in the title track, which is a rhythmic riff that interlocks with the drums for a very post-punk feel. It’s a really sweet aside, and it fits the no-holds-barred feel of the song.

The rest of the EP is less frantic than that rock song; “Drying Out” features accordion and familiar folk/country drum rhythms, while “Indigo” and “Poison” are mellow ruminations — the latter has a great instrumental break featuring subdued banjo and piano. The easy vocal and instrumental swagger of “Prudence” could have been ripped from Emotionalism; some may find the comparison as a downside, but if it’s an enjoyable tune, does it have to re-invent the wheel? I say no.

Minimus the Poet’s music will appeal to those who are fond of the hyper-kinetic folk of the Avett Brothers. He’s yet to establish a signature sound that sets him apart from the pack, but his songwriting skills show that he could do so if he continued to experiment with his craft and hone his solid voice and songwriting potential into something more.

O'Death recreates the feel of folk music instead of the structure

O’Death is definitely part of the new folk music movement, but they take a very different tack than most. Where many bands try to recreate the sound of guitar-based roots music, O’Death tries to recreate the feel of it. The songs on Outside are not anything like Mumford and Sons, nor are they like Iron and Wine. These songs sound like sea shanties (“Ourselves”), dirges (“Look at the Sun”) and other vaguely sinister tunes (“Black Dress,” “Ghost Head”).

To that end, these don’t have as developed a pop sentiment as the new folksters do. O’Death isn’t trying to make pop songs that appropriate a new idiom; they’re trying to inhabit an old idiom, quirks and all. Some lyrics a have a distinctly morbid Appalachian tinge to them (this band is called O’Death, after all). Banjo, violin, cello and non-standard percussion (claps, stomps, clicking things, etc.) play a much larger part in the sound than the usual suspects (guitar, bass, drums).That’s not to say those parts aren’t there, but O’Death doesn’t kowtow to modern sensibilities just because they’re modern sensibilities.

Another element that calls up the feel of a folk album is the reliance on group vocals. There are few moments of lead vocalist grandeur; the vocals are easy to sing along to, if not especially catchy at first blow. Theatrics are eschewed in favor of mood, and it’s a good tradeoff.

This album is like Southeast Engine’s Canary, in that it doesn’t just reward multiple listens: It requires them. This sound falls outside my consciousness, and I bet it will fall out of yours as well. It took me a few listens to understand and assimilate their modus operandi into my brain, and only then did I start to enjoy it for the fascinating album it is. I would like to see them live; I have a feeling that their intense control of mood would make for absolutely riveting gigs.

Outside isn’t for everyone, as it’s not a standard pop/folk album. But if you’re into thoughtful songwriting (or, on the other hand, sea shanties), O’Death’s latest album should be on your list of “to buy.”

Quick Hits: Arran Arctic

Arran Arctic‘s In My Hands has a solid template that needs some expanding. His basic formula consists of gently reverbed clean electric guitar, ghostly reverbed vocals and minimalist electronic beats. It’s a very hushed sound that feels both intimate and expansive — as if you and he were all alone in a big field, playing quietly.

The problem is that after the first three excellent tracks, the lack of variation in the sound becomes tedious. I’m all for a consistent color and tone to an album, but there need to be markers to differentiate. The bright-shiny synths of closer “You Could Have It So Much Better” come off as too little too late, especially since the mood doesn’t fit the rest of the album’s brooding composure.

Another thing that helps out the beginning of the album is the prominence of finger-picking in the first two songs. The single-note melodic style fits his vocals beautifully, where strummed chord structures start to get a bit monotonous against his ghostly pipes. And with Arctic’s specific vocal style, the sung melodies don’t stick out as much as in other bands, exacerbating the back half of the CD’s problem.

If this were a five-song EP, it would be excellent; as a ten-song album it’s a bit much. I’d love to see some other instruments and sounds in his future releases. And I will be listening to those, because the first three songs show a lot of promise.

Quick Hits: The Workaholics

I admire The Workaholics. While I’ve reviewed bands from Greece before, I’ve never received an e-mail entirely in Greek until the Workaholics sent me their self-titled EP. The only words in the entire (lengthy) e-mail that I can read are EP, download, 272 Records, Amazon, and a download link. I’ve done the whole self-promo thing before, but I’ve never done it in another language. While The Workaholics’ method may not be the most effective method, it did get them this review.

The four songs of their self-titled EP compose a release a lot like Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers. The four songs each inhabit a different subgenre of pop, and rock the heck out of it. They don’t quite have the melodic touch of the “Stacy’s Mom” hitmakers yet, but they do have the deft touch and easy-going moods. The songs are all quite well produced, as well. The vintage garage-rocker “The Secret” is my favorite, as it calls up early 2000s revivalists like The Hives and The Vines.

The band is on the right path, but they’re not there yet. Put the name in the back of your mind and watch for it. If they’re true to their name, there should be more music soon.