The Wooden Birds know their sound perfectly: “Long Time to Lose It” is the second pitch-perfect music video they’ve released from their latest album Two Matchsticks. It features a woman walking calmly around in the beautiful wilderness, as well as a stop at an interesting house. It is beautiful.
“Life is Good” by I Used to Be a Sparrow is ascendant, triumphant indie-rock that recalls everyone and no one. The band features Andrea Caccese of Swedish post-rock band Songs for the Sleepwalkers, and a wintry, elegant Swedish landscape gets significant play in the clip. Despite the enthusiastic musical charge and beautiful visuals, the narrative is pretty heavy.
Keeping the heavy theme, here’s a mini-documentary from Bowerbirds. It’s about how they got back together, recorded an album and built a house. It is visually incredible, and the music is equally sonically amazing.
Great parodies sneak up on you, and the video for The Gorilla Press’s mega-fantastic “On Fire” is a great parody of music videos and Kung Fu action. I love the ending sequence.
Little things can make an amazing difference. Rebecca Zapen strums a cavaquino—a South American relative of the ukulele featuring non-metallic strings—for most of her folky album Nest, and the change of string tone elevates this album. The delicate nature of these 13 songs is accentuated by the fact that there are few (if any) jarring moments on the album- hard stops are just difficult to do on this graceful instrument.
That grace lends tunes like “Swamp Pit,” “Lakewood,” and “Grandfather’s Song” a lilting, gentle quality that sets them apart from other musicians’ works. It’s likely that these songs would not sound as arresting with a metal-strung acoustic guitar. The strummed instrument in “I’m Gonna Make So Many Things For You” has a resonance and string squeak that are indicative of a standard acoustic guitar; the song sounds much more like Sandra McCracken and other upbeat female folksters than the rest of the tunes. “I’m Gonna” is a very good song, but its charms come from its vocal melody and rhythm patterns, not from its tone. The rest of the songs, which draw all of those three elements together, truly shine.
But Zapen isn’t a one-trick pony, as she proves with “Colorado.” The state-inspired closer actually sounds more like it should be called “Ireland,” as Gaelic-reminiscent cello and violin lines accompany Zapen’s tender voice in a very Unthanks-esque tune. It’s pretty, but certainly unusual in the context of the album. Then again, it’s not as strange as the bossa nova cover of “Addicted to Love” (seriously) that directly precedes it. This is not your average album in many ways.
Nest‘s brightest moment is the aforementioned “Swamp Pit,” where poise meets charm, and tone meets melody. The arrangement is subtle, yet strong: understated, but confident in it. Rebecca Zapen realizes a fully formed vision, and it is unsurprisingly resonant emotionally. The rest of the tunes attempt to hit that height, and succeed to smaller degrees: “Jarcaranda” probably comes in second, although the Simon and Garfunkel-esque ballad doesn’t display her own idiosyncratic vision as strongly. The clarinet in “Grandfather’s Song” helps create a beautiful tune as well.
Nest is a beautiful album that draws the light toward a talented, unique songwriter. It is not without room to improve, but it certainly offers a lot to hear and revel in.
Songs:Ohia plays a critical role in my musical history, somewhat akin to the lack of respect Bob Welch gets for keeping Fleetwood Mac together until they could get around to recording awesome things.
In my transition from “Super Good Feeling” to “Get Lonely,” Songs:Ohia was one of two artists who would entice me to jump from the poppy precipice of Transatlanticism to the downtempo jeremiads of Damien Jurado and The Mountain Goats. Without the influence of those latter two bands, this blog would probably not still exist. So, indirectly, you and I both owe a debt to Jason Molina (and David J of Novi Split, who was the second guide).
The emotions that Elephant Micah‘s Louder Than Thou conjures up in me match almost exactly the ones I felt while listening to Songs:Ohia’s “The Lioness” as a teenager. This is an incredible statement: I had chalked up this intense connection with S:A’s slow, weighty songs up to “my first time.” For a band to repeat in me that sort of emotion amid my now-steady diet of folk and singer/songwriter is stunning.
Pre-Magnolia ELectric Co. Jason Molina originally intrigued me for several reasons. I am intrigued by Joseph O’Connell (the songwriter behind EM) for the same reasons:
1. He is very talented, although the simple musicianship bears no ostentatious markers of technical skill.
2. He imbues songs with honest, weighty emotion.
3. He is unafraid to play a slow, quiet song for a very long time.
I started to feel the old longing during the second track, “Won These Wings.” A slowly thumped tom and sparse yet terse notes on an acoustic guitar create the backdrop for O’Connell’s plaintive voice; far-off background vocals and some sort of woodwind form intermittent ghostly asides. The whole thing just feels heavy; but more than that, it feels compelling. Instead of being wallpaper music, this is gripping. You know those movies where the soundtrack is so integral and vital that it should be credited as a supporting actor? The 7:25 “Won These Wings” is that sort of tune.
The length here is notable in the context of everyone else’s work, but not so much in comparison to the rest of the album. The six songs on Louder Than Thou run just over 36 minutes, meaning that one EM song averages the span of two pop songs. The shambling, uplifting “My Cousin’s King,” the shortest song, clocks in at 4:29. It could have gone longer and been totally fine: these songs sprawl, and they’re all the better for it.
That’s the lesson to be learned from “If I Were a Surfer,” which is the song that caused me to think of Songs:Ohia for the first time in years. The strum pattern isn’t complicated, the drum part isn’t difficult, and the vocal line isn’t virtuosic. But the parts come together in such a heart-rending way that none of that matters. “Let it lie where it lands / I’ll start all over again,” O’Connell sings with female harmony over a graceful, whirring organ. It’s no lyric shooting for the heart of reality, nor is it a hugely orchestrated epic moment. It is, instead, a testament to patience, dignity and craft. It is beautiful.
The skill and hard work it takes to write songs of such seemingly effortless elegance is hard to overstate. Elephant Micah‘s Louder Than Thou is not louder than much, really. But it is far more resonant than most, and that’s why I can’t stop listening to it.
Now my SXSW fervor has kicked into high gear: I sent out the “Who’s playing SXSW?” e-mail to all the bands that IC has covered in the last four years. With some luck and good planning, I’ll be able to see a large number of bands with which I’ve previously only had a computer-mediated relationship.
I can’t wait to hear of more IC bands who will be kicking it at SXSW. If you’re going, hit me up with an e-mail (indieclauses[at]gmail.com) or a tweet (Scarradini). SXSW is crazy, and I don’t know who all I’ll be able to see, but I want to know who’s going to be there. Awesome.
In all my reading, I haven’t yet come across a book making a connection between punk and alt-country. Perhaps I’m overlooking a book, or perhaps I should get to work: The two seem to overlap in musicians more often than I would expect. Barring a long and drawn-out intro, I’ll just say this: the tunes of PJ Bond‘s Ten Degrees and the Floor EP all started off their lives at the heavily punk Alternative Press’s website as streams. Chuck Daley at Beartrap PR sent them over to me, and he’s a punk lifer.
And the tracks have, uh, nothing to do with punk. Two of the tunes are acoustic and voice pieces, while the third is an Old 97s-style mid-tempo rocker. The first two have pedal steel in the arrangement. These are alt-country songs that seem to come out of the punk world, and this is not the first time I’ve encountered this.
But enough of that. PJ Bond is great at writing songs, and so you should listen to them. He sings from a weary soul on “I’m in a Bad Way” and “Reasons,” but his sturdy strum patterns and grounded acoustic guitar tone contrast with the weeping pedal steel and keep these songs from getting woozy or meandering. (See also: Joe Pug, Rocky Votolato.) Bond has a firm vision of where these songs are going, and they go there. Both of the tunes have memorable vocal melodies as anchors; the latter has a noteworthy lyrical turn.
“Nevermind,” the full-band tune, frames Bond’s voice even better, augmenting it with harmonies. It’s a solid tune; I prefer the first two songs, but this one is no bad mark on his record.
After a hectic and exciting week, it’s a good feeling to sit down at my desk and write about independent music again. It is not by accident that Everyone’s Singing by Jared Foldy is the subject of this post: his gentle folk-pop is a calming breath of fresh air.
The 25-minute Everyone’s Singing is imbued with a grace that moves it beyond its peers. The tunes don’t jar or grate in any area; they ease into my mind. This doesn’t mean the tunes are bland or “easy-listening” (worst genre name ever?); instead, they are so effectively crafted that it seems as if they’ve always been with me. The first listen didn’t feel like an inaugural. But it didn’t feel like Foldy was ripping off anyone, either—the album invokes pleasantly remembered nostalgia without camping out there. This is a rare feat.
Opener “Sleeping in the Snow” unites handclaps, harmonica and harmonies on top of a perky acoustic guitar and keyboard framework. Foldy’s gentle but firm voice caps the sound: as the songwriting goes in comfortable warmth, so goes his voice. “I Found Out” lends some minor-key gravitas to the proceedings and allows for the sweeping, beautiful sad song. Closer “The Fire Started Without You” is Bon Iver-esque in its spacious, multi-tracked beauty, while the title song adopts that same musical environment and appends some of Foldy’s most memorable vocal melodies.
Everyone’s Singing is a beautiful, refreshing album of folk-pop that employs Bon Iver-style atmospherics without being a slave to them. This songwriting aesthetic, paired with Foldy’s beautiful voice, creates a wonderful set of tunes (and an excellent listening experience).
I’m at the Southwest Texas Pop Culture and American Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, NM. Despite the name and location, I’ve already met people from India and Ukraine. Poring over the schedule and picking which talks I’m going to hit (Sci-fi! Poetry! Gaming theory! Harry Potter!) is incredibly fun.
It reminds me a great deal of SXSW, only with more citations. The number of beards is roughly the same.
I’m a big fan of “Rocking in All the Wrong Places” videos (note Broncho’s masterly take on the theme), so I’m all up in The Foreign Resort‘s clip for the Bloc Party/Joy Division-esque “Take A Walk.” Megaprops to the escalator shots and all the unsuspecting Danes who thought this was awesome.
If I told you that a band called Mombi released a song called “Glowing Beatdown,” you’d expect it to be a mega rave-up, right? Or at least really fast? You (and I) would be wrong. It’s a spare, delicate breakup song. It’s right up my alley, much more so than my aforementioned vision of “Glowing Beatdown.”
And, because it’s February now, here’s the month’s Top 10 Workout Songs from RunHundred, courtesy of Chris Lawhorn:
This month’s top 10 is full of little surprises. Jay Sean and Nicki Minaj’s “2012” actually came out months ago. But, the new year (and an apt title) have given it a second wind. Also, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera got a hip-hop makeover, courtesy of Mac Miller. Outasight got their first taste of chart success. And, Adele turned in a performance so forceful that most folks didn’t seem to mind that the song’s more of a ballad than a traditional workout jam.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music site.
Flo Rida – “Good Feeling (Jaywalker Remix)”
Jay Sean & Nicki Minaj – “2012 (It Ain’t The End)”
Cobra Starship & Sabi – “You Make Me Feel… (Felix Leiter Remix)”
Beatfreakz – “Somebody’s Watching Me”
Katy Perry – “The One That Got Away (R3hab Club Remix)”
Train – “Drive By”
Adele – “Set Fire To The Rain”
Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera & Mac Miller – “Moves Like Jagger (Remix)”
Outasight – “Tonight Is The Night”
Selena Gomez & The Scene – “Love You Like a Love Song (DJ Escape & Tony Coluccio Club Remix)” –Chris Lawhorn
When I was told that M.I.A. was playing the Super Bowl, I responded with “She’s going to say ‘F*** America’ on national T.V.” And while she didn’t say it, she did flip America the bird. Who thought inviting an unrepentant firebrand to the show was a good idea?
Now we’re going to be subject to an incredibly sterilized Super Bowl halftime show next year so that NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. After the wardrobe malfunction, we were treated to Paul McCartney playing “Hey Jude,” which is about the least offensive thing rock’n’roll has to offer. Here’s IC’s picks for who The Powers That Be will front during next year’s un-stravaganza.
5. Beyonce. This is five because although everyone loves Beyonce, she has that whole sexy thing going on. There will be NONE OF THAT next year, if the McCartney redux theory is to be believed. Also, they should be saving her for a humongous 2014: The Super Bowl will be in New York City for the first time ever, meaning that we need to get a Jay-Z/Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” performance. Jova splitting time with Beyonce would just be a blast. More on this supreme show in a minute.
4. Taylor Swift. The only way T-Swift gets controversial is if she rips another ex on live TV. Given her romantic life, this is a probable situation. This may not be the best idea, after all.
3. Bon Jovi. If we’re gonna go retro-rockin’, Bon Jovi’s the safest pick in the world. Perennially populist, working-class heroes with megahits enjoyed in their original release by people who are currently shelling out thousands for Super Bowl tix. However, they could be saving him for the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, creating Bon Hova as a tribute to both sides of the Lincoln Tunnel. Bon. Hova. Let’s make this happen.
2. Coldplay. Older rock fans can dig it, emotive teenagers will dig it, even hipsters who were coming of age around “The Scientist” and “In My Place” would secretly dig it. Throw in a Rihanna guest spot (“Princess of China,” y’all!) and you’ve got a winner. I mean, have you ever SEEN Coldplay live? They throw down on the visual spectacle. Think of all those yellow balloons.
1. Adele (Adele). There is no more safe pick than Adele. She’s non-controversial in every way possible. If you’re looking for a Paul McCartney-esque “Sit there and play songs” pick, this girl is go-to. You can even get a choir going in the background, and Cee Lo Green Andre 3000 can lead it with a lightsaber as a baton, because one ATL figurehead in Star Wars-esque apparel is not enough.
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.