Jeremy Tuplin‘s Open LettersEP is a gorgeous, swooning, romantic EP that takes full advantage of his lush baritone. Tuplin surrounds his arresting voice with gentle acoustic folk arrangements, all fingerpicking, pump organ, and background strings. The songs are leisurely, unfolding slowly; they’re not dirges, but they certainly aren’t going anywhere quickly.
Standout “Time’s Essence” is a beautiful slice of modern folk that will resonate with those who love The Low Anthem and The Barr Brothers, while “The Morning Sun” has the distant notes and atmosphere of a Gregory Alan Isakov tune. Tuplin’s Open Letters EP creates a tight, careful, ornate beauty over five tracks. It sounds effortless, which is a grand achievement.
1. “Red Road” – Trevor Green. It’s hard for me to resist an uplifting, hopeful, fingerpicked folk tune sung in an earnest, clear voice.
2. “Shade in the Shadow” – Dan Lipton. Evocative and cinematic without piling on the instruments, Lipton’s story-song here reaches into the folk tradition for its lyrical and musical genesis (but never feels derivative).
3. “Love Sweet Love” – Taylor Grey. Fun folk pop a la The Lumineers, Twin Forks, and the like, with a female vocalist: prepare for “whoa-oh”s, romantic lyrics, and lots of strumming.
4. “Untethered” – Halcyon Drive. Quirky, affected electro-pop with some crunch amid the smile-inducing pop.
5. “Everyone Wants to Love You” – Japanese Breakfast. This is just an amazing pop song. It sounds like it should already be on classic rock radio and permanently in our subconscious memories.
6. “Warpaint On” – Risley. It’s a tough thing to achieve gravitas, but this indie-rock tune has an emotive gravity to it that makes it hard to stop listening to. The sounds are modern, but it’s got the sort of weight that early ’00s indie-rock (Shins, Death Cab, Modest Mouse) had.
André Bratten’s latest album, Gode, is just as striking and vivid as the landscape of his native Norway. Thespian and emotive, the album captivates its audience through stunning piano, string sections, and unconventional techno that will melt the walls in your bedroom. It’s strong, patient and graceful, exemplifying those three values that root the album.
Between November and late January, Norway’s sun never rises above the northern horizon and daylight across the nation is sparse. “Intro/Cave” resembles this climate, sounding like a dream engulfed by synthesized beats, heavy-eyed vocals, and distorted piano.
“Bivouac” is another cinematic cut, beginning like the opening scene to an intense Mel Gibson or Colombian surrealism flick. Think Apocalypto mixed with The Revenant; it’s all about the landscapes. But what starts as an atmospheric track morphs into one of the groovier pieces on the album; it gets quite loungey, with a sharp, minimal techno beat and jazzy piano.
The story continues on “Ins.,” a sad, beautiful string arrangement that sounds like the pivotal moment in a classical, romantic movie. The volume dips in and out like your consciousness is wavering. It’s so trippy that it’s worth mentioning, even if the song is barely over a minute long. “Math Illium Ion” picks up where “Ins.” leaves off; it has patient piano and a dignified, elegant polish.
Still, Gode is largely dismal and smoky. Tracks such as “Quiet Earth” and “Cascade of Events (feat. Susanne Sundfør)” are sultry and steamy via rumbling, billowing techno beats. “Space Between Left & Right” sounds just like that: two polar forces pulling away from each other, only to be snapped back — that is, until a series of what sounds like gun shots at 2:50 settle things and a bit of calm takes over. “Zero” is the most atmospheric, with bits of home recordings and a duration of over seven minutes. But the standout is “Primordial Pit,” an emotional, building, percussion-heavy force, pushing forward only when it needs to and never losing itself throughout.
Gode expresses emotions through experimental and earthy electronic soundscapes. Gode says everything Bratten wishes to say, having enough trust in his music that no more than a handful of syllables are needed.–Rachel Haney
LA based singer-songwriter Alma has massive musical talent, as evidenced by her latest EP Travel Size. She not only wrote and produced the EP, but her soulful voice provides all of the female vocals. The four-track EP maintains a beautiful balance between soothing slow songs and fun fast ones.
The first track, “Get-Go,” starts the EP off strong. A rhythmic clapping sample drives the song as its main source of instrumentation. Alma’s soulful voice has a soft tonal quality reminiscent of Jo-Jo. Throughout the song, two other voice parts–one higher and one lower–back up Alma’s primary vocals, while a fourth breaks free, sounding improvisational. All four parts are Alma herself; such a feat takes great talent.
“Medicine Man” slows it down a bit, as the track opens with a piano and more legato vocals. Another sample, snapping this time, joins the track. Midway through, an electric guitar fills out the instrumentation. The electric guitar takes front and center with short solos toward the end, adding a bit of flair to the track.
“Oh, K” opens with a sweet acoustic guitar anchoring the track. In this one, Alma’s voice has more of a sassy, rap-like quality to it that adds spice to the song. The end picks up pace with a breakdown where Alma goes back and forth with her harmonic back-up (which, as we know, is all her).
The final track, “West Side Winter Feat. Marcus Broderick,” is a beautiful ballad. The song begins with gorgeous harp playing before Alma’s voice joins in. At the chorus, Marcus Broderick lends his vocals and continues to sing the next verse alone. The male/female vocal pairing is a powerful combination.
Alma’s Travel Size EP is a soothing, soulful collection that you won’t want to miss out on. —Krisann Janowitz
Disaster Lover’s self-titled EP is highly orchestral, brimming with lush instrumentation and ‘80s glitz and glamour. Baroque pop and sunshine-vocals reminiscent of The Beatles create a colorful, imperial vibe that could play as the soundtrack to an indie pop royal wedding.
Opener “Burning Candles” is an upbeat, sun-kissed indie pop cut. Bubbling, popping percussion; strings of “ohs” and “ahs”; and a tinge of Bollywood flair commence the EP with vibrant optimism. It immediately reminded me of Beirut, with its celebratory nature and world music sound.
While “Burning Candles” plays during the engagement of our king and queen, “Every Single Breath” is the track they walk down the aisle to. Synth and horns combine for an epic, triumphant sound. It’s like this indie rock song chugged a laced cup of ‘80s fruit punch.
And finally, the first dance: “Sweet Angel” is breezy, but there is deeper sensuality found in the vocals, lyrics, and sultry-sweet instrumentation. The final cut, “U Don’t Need An Excuse,” amplifies that vibe with ‘80s-inspired synth and bells, leaving you feeling high off of giddy electronic pop. “You don’t need an excuse anymore/So get off the ground and meet me on the floor,” the male vocalist sings, as our royal couple spends their honeymoon dancing on white sand beaches and sipping the laced ‘80s punch from a diamond-encrusted thermos.
Disaster Lover is made for indie pop royalty, but even if you don’t consider yourself an indie pop fan, no worries–you’re still invited to the wedding. Cheers.–Rachel Haney
1. “Wytche” – Zyxz. Fads come and go, especially in the ever-fluid world of electronic music. This track sounds like a witch house track and a chillwave track got together and created something just as creepy and beautiful as you’d expect from that pairing.
2. “Killers in a Ghost Town” – The Magnettes. It’s got that Icona Pop x factor, y’all. Sign up early, before they’re everywhere.
3. “Magic” – ILY. Somewhere between LCD Soundsystem, Icona Pop, and Daft Punk lies this quirky track. The structured, complex melody here is uniquely ear-grabbing, like a human arpeggiator.
4. “The Dark” – Beauty Sleep. Chillwave meets modern electro-pop and boy, is it smooth.
5. “Waves” – CHNNLL. If Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism had been an electro-pop album, it would have sounded like this relaxed, careful, yet passionate tune.
6. “Terminator” – INOUWEE. Sometimes my brain creates these almost-impressionistic RIYL suggestions. This doesn’t sound much like Florence and the Machine, but I think you’d like this electro-infused, female-fronted indie-rock track if you like Florence.
7. “Together We Have It No More” – Leena Ojala. This electro-chill pop tune sounds like the running your hand through the air out the window of a car on the highway feels.
8. “Icing Sugar” – Keiandra. Don’t trust the name: this is an icy, swirling, ethereal song grounded by thump-click percussion.
9. “Lightning Touch” – Eden Warsaw. Warbling post-dub distorted arpeggiator forms the basis for this surprisingly happy electro jam. The surprise is great.
10. “Yearbook Photo” – Late Cambrian. Passion Pit, The Naked and Famous, Late Cambrian. If you’re into slinky/enthusiastic indie-electro, jump on this train.
11. “Zhongguo” – Juche. A thoughtful, warm, burbling rumination. Pogo would love this song.
Sam Hale‘s When in Roam EP opens with the triumphant title track, and that couldn’t be a better choice. Anchored by an indelible chorus melody that I hummed for several days after I first heard it, the enthusiastic acoustic-pop tune rambles and romps through its four-minute length. Hale’s clear, bright tenor is accompanied by Sara Clay’s similarly straightforward alto; the two voices intertwine beautifully. Hale matches the jaunty acoustic strum of the tune with fitting lyrics about wanderlust; the lyrics and sonic palette work together to create an overall experience. (There’s even a few “hey”s thrown in at the end for good measure.) The tune comes together to be a fun and meaningful tune, which is a rare thing.
The rest of the four-song When In Roam shows off the diversity of Hale’s songwriting skills while honing in on his vocals as the central element. “I’ll Wait” is a dramatic ballad grounded in piano that’s sold by a passionate vocal performance that has elements of Ben Folds’ tone in it. The guitar takes the lead again on “Atypical Romance,” which has a romantic narrative element that points toward Dashboard Confessional’s old work (although there’s more fingerpicking and less frantic strumming here). Hale closes out the set with a modern folk tune that incorporates elements of Rocky Votolato’s grim certainty and a full-band flair. Hale moves through these various styles with ease, and each song has its own charms to explore.
It’s Hale’s voice that ties each of these tunes together. He isn’t afraid to sing out on this EP, which gives each of the tunes a constant ability to explode into a huge vocal moment. There’s a fun uncertainty there–does he stay in his calm lower register in “Candle’s Wick”? When will he soar it on “I’ll Wait”? Even with the passionate delivery, he’s able to keep everything together, and he never loses control of his vocal performances. It’s just a fun EP to listen to. When In Roam is a strong introduction to a new voice in folk songwriting, literally and metaphorically.
1. “Evergreen” – The Tomes. This moving track pits a clear-eyed vocal performance and swift fingerpicking against a swooning violin and delicate piano performance. The results are light and yet weighty; dramatic, yet intimate.
2. “Modesto” – Jon Bennett. This creaky speakin’ folk made my heart leap in recognition and desire, reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis and Bob Dylan. What else do I need to tell you to get you to listen to this?
3. “Unpuzzle Me” – Kate Copeland. There’s something ghostly and close about the mandolin and vocal pairing here that comforts me.
4. “No Mercy in the Night” – Natalie Lurie. Lurie’s harp is insistent, her voice is glorious, and the arrangement frames it all perfectly to sound like a female-fronted Barr Brothers.
5. “Heroin Strings” – Jack Conman. The perfectly-recorded drums here sound just north of empty cans in a big room, which gives this ominous tune a bit of an extra pop. Conman’s vocal performance is also particularly evocative and moody.
6. “The Big Surprise” – Trickster Guru. Elements of Carrie and Lowell run through this moody, death-pondering track.
7. “Long Way Back” – Terri Binion. From the jaunty old-school country vibes, you wouldn’t know that this is a track about a tragic death of a wife and the attempts to cope with that.
8. “Fear of Music” – Tobie Milford. Fans of Antony and the Johnsons will connect with Milford’s theatrical vocals, complex orchestral arrangements, and intensely dramatic moods.
9. “Up There Listening” – Jordan Prince. Back porch picking on a banjo and guitar with Prince’s sweet, charming voice making the tune even more endearing.
10. “Child of the ’70s” – Derek Clegg. Evocative of flower-power folk (Jackson Browne! James Taylor!) but subverts the script by being a song about growing older. It’s like Ben Folds’ “The Ascent of Stan,” but chiller and more accepting of the realities entailed therein.
11. “I Will Follow You” – RIVVRS. Ah, home sweet home: tom thump, “hey,” upbeat strum, romantic lyrics, catchy melodies. This one’s for everyone who just loves a good, honest, earnest folk-pop tune.
Here’s a collection of rad songs from late January and early February. Enjoy!
1. “Motown” – Light Beam Rider. This remarkable track sounds like Mare Vitalis-era Appleseed Cast fronted by I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning-era Conor Oberst. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what will.
2. “Moonlight” – Jack the Radio. Here’s some earthy-yet-cinematic Southern rock that appeals more to the Drive-by Truckers sort than the Skynyrd sort.
3. “Can’t Get Control” – Serfs. Empirical proof that if you speed up a post-rock song, you don’t get a punk song–you get something else.
4. “Temporary Solution” – Dear Blanca. The frantic, adrenaline-fueled alt-country of previous releases has been tempered by walking-speed impulses–Dylan Dickerson’s voice is no less ragged and raw, though. It’s powerful in a new sort of way for Dear Blanca.
5. “Optimist” – Wanderwild. Pad synths, wide-open guitar riffs and surging drums has been a winning formula since early U2 work, and it ain’t stopping now.
6. “Parts Unknown” – Loop Line. This duo marries Beach Boys harmonies and Weezer-esque power-pop to create a chunky, thumping, fun tune.
7. “Citrus” – Animal Daydream. Breezy, gently psychedelic pop reminiscent of ELO, as well as Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Manages somehow to sound as light and cheery as a sunbeam while also being so dense as to fill up every square inch of the track with sound.
8. “Last Night” – The Sherlocks. I think there’s a rule somewhere in the annals of rock and roll that a steady stream of British youth must at all times be forming into yawping, thrashing garage rock bands. The Sherlocks continue in this fine tradition, more The Vaccines than Arctic Monkeys.
9. “Mother Figure” – Logan Hone’s Similar Fashion. Are you adventurous? The opener to the latest album by Logan Hone’s experimental jazz quartet has incredible charms if you’re ready to open your mind a bit. Fans of Colin Stetson will already have their brain open thoroughly wide enough to jam out to this.
10. “Lovers in Conversation” – More Than Skies. Perky horns buoy this folk-rock tune, becoming something like a punk-rock version of Beirut. It’ll put a smile on your face.
Helen McCreary’s recently released album, The Lovely Days, is a beautiful example of well-done folk music. The album explores a multitude of human emotions through the use of effortless vocals, unembellished instrumentation, and relatable lyrics.
Throughout the album, Helen McCreary’s voice sounds effortless. Her crisp, sopranic voice allows all of the lyrics to be easily understood, reminiscent of other folk artists like Denise Moser. The first track, “Heart Beats,” shows off her large vocal range; most of the song she stays in the higher sopranic range but she flawlessly transitions to lower notes. “Don’t You Worry” includes a second vocalist that provides lovely harmony. McCreary’s beautiful voice pairs up well with the album’s unembellished instrumentation.
The Lovely Days’ main form of accompaniment is the strumming of McCreary’s acoustic guitar, but there are other carefully picked additions to the overall instrumentation. “Heart Beats” opens with a brilliant cello/guitar combination that lays the foundation for the somber mood of the song. Similarly, “Trace of Your Life (ChristChurch Garage Demo)” opens with the ukulele–a perfect fit for the more cheerful song. Subtle percussion can also be heard throughout the album (“Heart Beats”, “The Lovely Days”, “Don’t You Worry,” “Kaikoura”). “Kaikoura” uniquely contains percussion that is less handheld drums or shakers and more of a full drum kit, while remaining unobtrusive. Overall, the instrumentation is rather soothing.
The relatable lyrics is probably what most ties The Lovely Days to the genre of folk. Many of the tracks tell adorable stories of love and life. “Best Friend” begins with “You are my best friend/ you’re the one I want to hold on to.” As the song continues, she explains how she was “hopeless at flirting” but then this person came and began looking at her as “perfect”; a situation many of us can relate to. “Kaikoura” contains another great story, opening with “Coronas in our pockets/ night falls on the beach.” The song continues to paint the great picture of “sitting on the beach/ while we watch the fire die.” “Kaikoura”’s calming storytelling is reminiscent of older quirky folk songs that tell unique stories.
The album closes with the tale of “Kath & Jim (Live @ Rockwood)”. It’s a really lovely story about two people who fall in love. The lyrics describe times getting tough, where they live on “pasta and tofu.” Yet, the repetition of the chorus, “This is love,” reminds the listener that love includes even the messy parts of life. Those are just a few of my favorite stories contained within the lyrics of The Lovely Days.
If you like music that tells charming stories backed by an acoustic guitar, then you will love Helen McCreary’s The Lovely Days.–Krisann Janowitz
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.