If I were to describe Jenny Ritter’s breakout albumRaised by Wolvesin one word, it would have to be layering. Over and over again, I kept noticing the many magnificent layers to her music–the vocal, instrumental, and lyrical layering.
Let me begin by first painting a portrait of Jenny Ritter’s voice. To begin, think of Paramore’s Hayley Williams’ voice, particularly in her more delicate tracks, such as “The Only Exception.” The strong softness of Hayley Williams’ voice in those quieter songs are much like Jenny Ritter’s voice. Now add a more motherly, storytelling quality similar to many female ‘90s country artists, minus the country twang. There you have it–a beautiful sopranic voice that maintains both sweetness and strength. Many of the songs build off her crisp voice. Others have additional harmony vocals which serve to add depth (“A History of Happiness,” “Turn Your Thoughts”).
The instrumentation of Raised by Wolves is what made me fall in love with the album. There is so much instrumental layering, I almost can’t handle how amazing it is. Take “Turn Your Thoughts,” for example. In it, Ritter provides the vocal melody, while Keenan Lawler joins in to serve as the vocal harmony. The instruments can be described in those terms as well. “Turn Your Thoughts” opens up with the drums and acoustic guitar providing the melody. The electric guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, and banjo all fill out the sound through adding harmony. Sometimes this occured in the form of awesome breakout solos such as seen with the fiddle and electric guitar. The instrumentation is so great that it can stand all on its own, as proved by the instrumental track “Slide Mountain.” “Slide Mountain” has a slightly darker sound from the rest of the album because of the addition of the double bass, which adds a lot of depth to the sound. The instrumental layering creates a very full sound for all of the tracks on the album.
Jenny Ritter’s lyrics remind me of someone I once reviewed, Paul Doffing. Both artists focus heavily on nature and mankind’s relationship with nature. Take the single “Wolf Wife”: Ritter’s lyrics speak more depth than what is on the surface. She uses this metaphor of being a “wolf wife” because she was “raised by wolves,” yet there seems to be a larger commentary about family and societal expectations underneath the nature-focused lyrics.
“Remember the Life” is a beautiful song, and the lyrics are particularly majestic. At the song’s chorus, Ritter posits the first time around that “we should go out and see the stars right now.” The second time she says, “we should go out on the sea right now.” The third time she replaces the stars and sea with, “on the hill right now.” Each time the lyrics are followed up by “remember the life that we want to live.” Experiencing nature in a real way has a tendency to revitalize our life and remind us what it is really about.
In Raised by Wolves, Jenny Ritter reminds what life is all about– beauty.–Krisann Janowitz
The Band and the Beat‘s two-song single is a warm, lush blast. It’s a blast in the “blast of air” sense: the analog synths and drum machine create a surprisingly different atmosphere than the harsh digital synths I’m used to. (It’s also a blast in that it’s a lot of fun.) Even when the sound turns ominous, as it does about four and half minutes through the seven-minute runtime, the tune seems comforting. I keep wanting to say “warm blanket,” but gives short shrift to the tightly constructed arrangements and song structures. Freeflowing jams these are not, which is good–I’m not usually the guy trying to sell people on lengthy noodling (be it of the synth or guitar type).
No, “21” stays tight due to thoughtful songwriting and Tracy Tritten’s pristine vocals (of Tracy Shedd). Her soft alto/mezzo-soprano floats effortlessly over the seas of synths. Her voice is more playful in b-side “Buoy,” which fits with the lighter mood of the track. “Buoy” sounds like a lost Mates of State track, if they gave up the piano altogether and went full synth. It’s a friendly, smile-inducing song that features a bit of arpeggiated bass thump to break up the legato lines. “We were never meant to settle down,” Tritten claims, “Another trip and another town.” The song fits as a road song–perfect for the bit when the adrenaline of leaving has worn off and the enjoyment of the ride has set in.
“Get ready / suit up,” Tritten offers at the conclusion of “21,” and it’s a worthy mantra for the outfit as well as the listeners. I’m intrigued to hear more from The Band and the Beat, as their synth-pop is more than just cheery melodies. The complexity of the songwriting in “21” points towards strong offerings in the future.
If you’re in the Triangle of North Carolina, you’ll have a couple chances to see them live over the next week or so:
Nov 1. Durham. Duke Coffeehouse. w/ Free Pizza (Boston)
Nov 7. Chapel Hill. The Cave. w/ Tim Lee 3
Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.
The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.
The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).
Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.
I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.
Nashville folk/indie-pop outfit Pageant‘s latest single “Don’t Stop the Rain” gets pretty literal in its accompanying clip, surveying the varied lives and meanings of water in our world and culture. It’s enough to make a Californian faint.
The song itself is a jaunty duet that draws heavily on indie-pop and folk conventions without falling neatly into either category. The vocals are the feature here, with Derek and Erika Porter’s voices intertwining throughout the tune as leads and backup vocals. There’s some pedal steel and harmonica to counter the vocal focus, while the bass guitar does some admirable work keeping the tune traveling sprightly on. The overall effect is close to the full-band vibes that Creedence Clearwater Revival put out–which is appropriate, as Derek Porter mentioned the band’s work as a major touchpoint. His full comments, which he graciously penned for us:
“I love CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the mystical, open-ended lyrics of the track, and I always heard it as an anti-war, anti-government protest song at its heart. I wanted to take that idea even further and make the lyrics more universal and removed from the point of view and period of time in which it was originally written, so I wrote “Don’t Stop the Rain” as a direct response, playing devil’s advocate. Pageant’s song doesn’t have a clear message but is more of a free spirited thought exercise — overall, I enjoyed the poetry of the original and riffed on it.”
The Gray Havens are back with a new Kickstarter project! The folk-pop duo is creating a new EP with Ben Shive, who has worked with Andrew Peterson, Ellie Holcomb, and IC faves Colony House and Son of Laughter. Shive seems to always turn out earthy, “real”-sounding recordings; paired with the Gray Havens’ dramatic, tension-filled songwriting, the results should be impressive. Check their video below.
1. “Sync” – Cloud Castle Lake. If Sigur Ros ate a marching band and a prog rock outfit, they still probably couldn’t make this genre-exploding post-rock track. This is some of the most eclectic, beautiful songwriting I’ve heard in a long time.
2. “L.A.M.P.” – A.M. Stations. If you’re on the train that post-rock doesn’t have enough of punk’s energy, then this pounding instrumental track will leave you clapping.
3. “Blood Mirage” – Crown Larks. If you’re concerned that post-rock isn’t weird enough, then Crown Larks’ fractured, wild, sprawling tunes will comfort you. This is one of those bands where you feel bad for all the instruments involved because of the intense, atypical sounds being wrung out of the poor pieces of metal, wire, wood and cork.
4. “Steady Waves” – Cross Record. Pensive and dark, gentle and harsh, like Bowerbirds on an electro bender (even though it feels like these may be all organic instruments manipulated in unusual ways).
5. “Open Season” – Youth Model. Muse would be proud of the move to layer a 1950s PSA about the atomic bomb over the intro to this dark, theatrical rock song about paranoia. Actually, Muse would be proud of pretty much everything in this song.
6. “Coshh” – The Vryll Society. Here’s a highway song for a cosmic, religious, post-consciousness realm.
7. “Take My Hand” – Palmas. And if you go surfing in that cosmic, religious, post-consciousness realm, you can flip on this perfect soundtrack.
8. “Golden Lion” – The Besnard Lakes. ’70s rock’n’roll updated to sound tight and modern, but with just enough guitar haziness to be a little reality-fuzzing.
9. “One Block Bar” – Rett Smith. Here’s some electric blues that don’t sound like The Black Keys. The gritty, urgent noise here is much more earthy and raw than the stadium-rockin’ Keys.
10. “Bruises” – Bells and Hunters. Do you need a stomping, riff-heavy rock track in your life? Of course you do, especially if it has great female vocals on top of all that.
1. “Run With Me” – Heather LaRose. A great pop song that has that Imagine Dragons / Magic Giant / Lumineers type of enthusiasm tinged with minor-key drama. You’ll be humming this one.
2. “New Minuits” – Tri-State. This low-slung rock tune escaped from some preternaturally chill realm: it’s smart, cool, moody, lyrically clever and vocally impressive without breaking a sweat.
3. “Nothing to Say” – WOOF. THAT BASS LINE. (Also, this a burbling, frenetic, arpeggiator-decorated mid-’00s indie-pop-rock tune. Tokyo Police Club would be proud.) SERIOUSLY THOUGH. THAT BASS.
4. “Take Me To a Party” – Sweet Spirit. “I’ve got a broken heart / so take me to a party” hollers the lead female vocalist over energetic, fractured rock music that sounds suitably unhinged.
5. “Corduroy” – Redcast. Gosh, there’s just something irresistible about a fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed pop-rock group with equal parts Beatles, twee indie-pop, and The Cars references.
6. “Soldiers” – Swim Season. Everything about this track makes way more success when you realize that it’s about to be summer in the band’s native Australia. This summery electro-rock jam slinks, sways and swaggers its way into your ears.
7. “Movies” – Captain Kudzu. Meticulous slacker pop seems like a paradox, but Captain Kudzu’s carefully crafted tune here sounds excellently like it’s not trying too hard. Foresty, moody vibes track with the easiness, making it an intriguing song.
8. “Captive” – WYLDR. Temper Trap + Passion Pit + a dash of Colony House = radio gold.
9. “Every Day” – Dream Culture. Here’s a funky psych-rock nugget with one foot firmly in the ’70s and one in outer space. The tension between grounded riffing and free-floating atmosphere pulls at each other in all the right ways.
10. “Hey Little League” – Michael Daughtry. John Mayer’s suave alt-pop touch collides with some tight ’90s pop-rock vibes to turn out this tune.
11. “Time to Share” – Model Village. Grows from a delicate pop tune to a surprising, swirling post-disco tune without ever losing a gentle touch.
12. “You Have Saved Our Lives, We Are Eternally Grateful” – Wovoka Gentle. Chiming voices float over shape-shifting synths, bouncy guitars, and an overall joyous mood. It’s kind of like a female-fronted Freelance Whales, only weirder in the best possible way.
1. “Spring” – Sam Burchfield. Measured guitar strum and an evocative vocal performance draw me in, but it’s the gentle keys and the ragged drumming that give the song character. The rest of the song just seals the deal. Shades of Brett Dennen here–nothin’ but a good thing. What a single.
2. “Vacation” – Florist. Within seconds the tentative, relatable guitar picking has drawn me in entirely. Emily Sprague’s tender, confessional delivery gives this a magnetic appeal usually reserved for acts like Laura Stephenson, Lady Lamb, and old-school Kimya Dawson.
3. “Little By Little” – Niamh Crowther. The melodic folk-pop is charming, and then she starts singing and it jumps way up into the stratosphere. Her voice is just remarkable. Serious one to watch here.
4. “Nevada City” – John Heart Jackie. Pulls the incredible trick of not feeling like a song, but like part of the environment you were already in, turning the corners brighter and lightening the vibe throughout. The easy maturity of this tune is not to be underrated or underestimated, especially when it bursts into a beautiful crescendo near its midpoint. Undeniably powerful.
5. “Reality Show” – Sam Joole. Adept at reggae and acoustic pop, Joole blends the lyrical and musical sentiments of both into a piece of spot-on social criticism about social media that doubles as a chill-out track.
6. “A Bone to Pick” – Ten Ton Man. The gravelly, circus-like drama of Tom Waits’ work collides with the enthusiastic world-music vibes of Gogol Bordello to create an ominous, memorable track.
7. “Walk Right” – Pete Lanctot and the Stray Dogs. An old-timey revival is the site of this tune, where the stray dogs admonish all those listening to forsake their lives of sin and “walk right.” The vintage sound is updated with great production and a hint of a knowing wink.
8. “15 Step” – Phia. The kalimba-wielding indie-popstress drops a gently mindbending cover of the Radiohead tune with just thumb piano, distant guitar, claps, stomps, and layered vocals. Just whoa.
9. “It’s Not Your Fault” – Gregory Uhlmann. Soft woodwinds deliver pleasant texture to this swaying, loose, thoughtful piece. Uhlmann captures a beautiful, unstructured mood here.
10. “If I Go” – Jake McMullen. Hollow and distant yet visceral and immediate, McMullen creates slowcore acoustic tunes similar to those of Jesse Marchant or Gregory Alan Isakov at his most ethereal. Shades of Damien Jurado’s tortured voice creep in too. It’s gorgeous stuff.
The album art on Unalaska’s self-titled debut EP says it all — purple gradient waves appear as eggplant-colored tides, layered shorelines, mountaintops even. It captures the mellow fluidity of the four tracks on Unalaska: the EP’s abstracted sway and occasionally gravelling soundscapes.
Stirring techno elements whirl on “Air Transylvania.” Ghostly english-accented vocals, hollow tinkling, and lush guitar lines mesh together for an ominous and sober first track. The repeated, taunting lyric, “It’s madness,” plays just as loud as the building, lonesome guitar line that leads the song out.
While “Air Transylvania” evokes a futuristic feel, “Skeleton” has an initial air of nostalgia accompanying it via crunchy guitar riffs and echoed instrumentals. That nostalgia soon gives way to synth, heavy texturing, and charming vocals that make this track somewhat of a futuristic campfire song. I could nod along to this one in front of a bonfire on another planet, where we can look up and spot at least two moons.
That distance from planet earth continues onto “Salaryworld.” A rippling beat creates soft current under various, incoming channels of static-churned vocals. Powerful electric guitar lines make a sweet juxtaposition; this track packages both high and low frequencies. “Salaryworld” sounds like a jumbled mind, a collage of sounds, but yet, it’s repetitive in its chaos.
The last track on Unalaska is a desolate indie song titled “Fallows.” Just as–if not more– far-out as the rest, it sounds more like a howling wolf in moonlight than anything. Raw and emotive, “Fallows” is darkly choir-like. It has ghastly, Bane-inspired breathing, which adds to the overall solitude–a solitude that left me strangely at peace. “Fallows” is a thunderstorm of a song.
In fact, all of Unalaska can be compared to a rainstorm; it’s an obscure, drizzling, cerulean-tinted rainy season of an EP. And if you’re not outside with your mouth open wide, you’re missing out on some quality weird music. —Rachel Haney
Charlie Belle amazes me with their second EP, I Don’t Want To Be Alone. Seventeen-year-old Jendayi Bonds leads Charlie Belle with her guitar, vocals, and songwriting skills. Her brother, fourteen-year-old Gyasi Bonds, gives their songs sonal depth through the drums. Together, the two sibling prodigies leave a lasting impression with their masterful rhythm & blues/pop fusion sound.
Ironically, mature pop is one way I would describe the sound of the EP I Don’t Want To Be Alone. At first, Charlie Belle’s sound comes off like very happy-go-lucky pop. The drums provide the songs with a driving beat while the guitar strumming adds an easygoing flair, making this EP perfect driving music. Yet, the more closely I listened, the more I noticed the mature R&B elements and poignant lyrics. Particularly when arriving at “You Don’t Know Me,” I am hit with the sassy R&B flavor that Jill Scott is known for, both in the lyrics and overall sound.
The single “Petting Zoo” is another great example of Charlie Belle exploring mature topics in a fun sounding way. The guitar strumming intro sets you up for happiness and rainbows but eventually the weight of the lyrics become apparent. Particularly when the song slows down at the chorus, Charlie Belle emphasizes the weightiness of the lyrics: “Nobody knows me like I do / But everyone is telling me what I’m supposed to do.” “Petting Zoo” depicts the reality of hitting that age where you realize that family, friends, and society are all trying to tell you how to live your life–and then having the maturity to reject parts that don’t fit with your true identity. It’s awe-inspiring that Jendayi Bonds can write such mature lyrics at such a young age.
I cannot finish a review on I Don’t Want To Be Alone without notingJendayi Bonds’ beautiful voice. Jendayi’s voice has the sweetness of Colbie Caillat with the soul of India Arie. Some tracks emphasize more of the sweet side, such as “Petting Zoo.” Other tracks bring out more of the soulful side of her voice, particularly “You Don’t Know Me,” where she even raps mid-way through. While still maintaining her vocal flavor, Jendayi’s crisp vocals enable the lyrics to be heard clearly.
Charlie Belle’s I Don’t Want to Be Alone is a prime example of truly well-done music by musicians who haven’t even lived two full decades. Never underestimate youth. —Krisann Janowitz
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.