Occasionally musicians meet in life, finding a common thread which begs to be explored deeper. Such is the case with talented songwriters and troubadours Charles Ellsworth and Matt C. White, whose solo talents have listeners ready to embrace their recent collaborative quartet of songs on the EP Rose Door via Burro Borracho Records.
The two skilled songwriters have come together on this collaborative release to create simple acoustic magic. Ellsworth and White, from the back countries of Northeastern Arizona and North Carolina respectively, found each other in New York City. Their combined folk rock energy is the foundation of this rustic indie folk-rock. It’s rough around the edges in all the ways that listeners love. Ellsworth and White are prolific songwriters and perform in various projects, but something really special happens when their two guitars come together in such an artful and honest way. Adding their talents are Chris Heinrich on the pedal steel guitar and Meg Webb on fiddle; the ears of Bob Hoag of Flying Blanket Studios helped define each note in the sonic landscape.
The EP opens with “Rose Door,” whose beauty is pure and simple; compositionally complex, this song begs for a warm place to call home beyond just the listeners who embrace instrumental music. Rustic and real, there is no hiding, nor any need for lyrical clutter. An authentic invitation, this is all listeners need to walk through the door. When I spoke with Ellsworth recently in Brooklyn, he commented on how the cut remained an instrumental: his friend Matt said it spoke, and it really did not really need lyrics. Quite true.
Sliding into White’s “Morning Glory Fool,” there is a shift in tone, a definite folk energy that brings to mind his debut release Wallow in the Hollow. This is music that demands attention: a deep vocal resonance surrounded by a rich instrumentation, earthy and real in the fiddle performance.
“Blossom in the Sun” from Ellsworth offers a contrast–or maybe it’s just a glimmer into the other side of both of these artists? The song has a rock vibe, held back with a tension that feels real like warmth from a sun we only hear about. This is songwriting that gives listeners the scent of flowers on a warm summer day, swaying in a mountain storm as the thunder rolls in.
Closing out the quartet is the bookend of “Foxglove in A Major” as the wraparound acoustic guitar instrumental. The authentic sound of fingers picking strings brings it back to the final downbeat. A classical guitar vibe creates a progressively elegant closing to an EP which defies being stuffed into a genre box. The whole of the EP sings eloquently in a voice which goes further than any single track could. Listeners can hear and feel the connection by opening up the Rose Door by Charles Ellsworth and Matt C. White. — Lisa Whealy
This year of Independent Clauses was a strange year, as it was firmly a transition year. My tastes were changing, my writing patterns were changing, and my listening habits were changing. Because I didn’t do a lot of the normal reviewing that I usually do, I’m not doing a regular best-of list. Instead, I’m listing my top 20 artists based on volume of listening as tracked by Last.FM. This isn’t a list of my favorite albums of the year, but it is a list of what I listened to most this year. Without further ado:
20. Jessica Curry – So Let Us Melt. A beautiful video game soundtrack that blends gentle electronica, orchestral work, and choral reveries.
19. pg.lost – Versus. A thunderous, pounding post-rock album, heavy on the rock. It’s great to work out to.
18. invention_ – Chillhop/trip-hop beats that are silky smooth and jazzy/stuttery in turns. Great to sit back and relax (or work) to.
17. Shingo Nakamura. Smooth, silky, occasionally haunting progressive trance. I listened to a lot more Nakamura than this spot on my list shows, as the primary thing I listened to of Nakamura’s was a two-hour best-of mix. If we were to look at an amount of time spent listening versus number of tracks, Nakamura would be very high on the list.
16. Walk the Moon. The major-key dance-rock of Walk the Moon gave me two power-songs this year: “Work This Body” and “One Foot.”
15. Armin Van Buuren. I learned a lot about many different genres this year, and so I ended up listening to a lot of Armin and Armin’s mixes (which are attributed to Armin) to learn about trance. All the trance fans groan
14. Olafur Arnalds – re:member. Composer Arnalds’ new album is a lovely, delicate experience that yet has depth of composition. Relies on piano, but expands into all sorts of directions, even toward post-rock.
13. Makana. I was really into Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar over the spring and summer, so I listened to a lot of Makana. For those unfamiliar, this is not the sort of traditional luau ukulele music associated with Hawaii. Instead, this is a uniquely Hawaiian, rolling, pastoral folk music with its own sort of tension and release. It’s really interesting stuff. “Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest” is the place to start.
12. Jack de Quidt. The soundtrack to a podcast that I’ve never heard, this album blends clarinet-heavy klezmer stylings with adventurous, major key acoustic composition work. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard–one of my favorites of the year.
11. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. A fascinating mix of modular synthesizer tones and indie-rock melodies, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s music is reminiscent of Juliana Barwick’s experimental work, but perhaps even weirder.
10. TrackLab. Throwing another genre in the mix, I stumbled across the chill instrumental hip-hop beats of TrackLab on Spotify. Very chill.
9. Oliver Davis. Composer Davis is one of my favorite discoveries this year. Chris Krycho tipped me off to the energetic, bouncy, whirligig sound of Davis’ orchestral work. Anyone who likes the light, enthusiastic tones of Aaron Copland (instead of the heavy, rich tones of European orchestral work) will immediately find an interest here. Also, fans of math-rock may find Davis appealing, as there’s a lovely staccato patterning to the melodies that is reminiscent of that spiky, patterned genre. It all comes together with a lot of heart.
8. r beny. While Ann Annie introduced me to modular synthesizers this year, it was r beny that made me fall in love with the sound. cascade symmetry was my favorite of the works I listened to from my-newly-discovered r beny this year, as it is just huge, sweeping, and mysterious in its scope.
7. Balmorhea – Clear Language.The acoustic post-rock of Balmorhea is both comforting and challenging–you can let it wash over you or really concentrate on it. Both ways have their own joys.
6. Odesza. The artsy post-dub of Odesza was one of my first entrees into the (mostly) instrumental electronic world, along with Teen Daze. I’ve been listening to Odesza for years, and this is representative of my long-term interest in them more so than my discovery of them this year.
5. Max Richter. Movie/television composer Richter has seen the culmination of what must have been a remarkably busy past few years in 2018, as no fewer than six soundtracks of his came out this year. Mary Queen of Scots is my favorite (and White Boy Rick was probably my least favorite, but hey, there are five others to choosefrom); all of them are textured, contoured works that seem to aptly but not overly reflect the tone and content of the movies they score. (Okay, you’re going to hear a lot of Scottish sounds in Mary Queen of Scots, but what did you expect? A Knight’s Tale?)
4. Sufjan Stevens. I listened to a lot of The Avalanche, Michigan, Illinois, and Songs for Christmas. This has little to do with IC’s new focus and a lot to do with my continuing love of Sufjan.
3. Lymbyc Systym – Split Stones. Combines The Album Leaf’s loosely-unspooling acoustic post-rock with MGMT’s groove and melody to create instrumental electronic indie-pop that’s dancy and thoughtful.
2. Lucho Ripley. Near-perfect ambient dreamwave. Sounds like floating in outer space, but perhaps a warm, lush, friendly version of outer space. Not nearly enough people know about Lucho Ripley. Highly Recommended.
1. The Album Leaf – All but The Endless Soundtrack. I’ve always liked the Album Leaf’s acoustic post-rock and occasional electronic bits, but this year I really fell in love with their gentle melodicism, flowing vibe, careful texturing, and consistent development of their sound over time. Their deep discography allowed me to click once and listen to several hours of excellent music that helped me lock in to the zone for writing. They’re the standard-bearers for me in the realm of instrumental acoustic post-rock. By track volume, I listened to them almost twice as much as I did the next artist.
Bonus: here’s my Spotify Wrapped. The top five songs are a Walk the Moon song and four Lucho Ripley tunes. I have no idea how “Rock” ended up as my top genre.
So Let Us Melt by Jessica Curry. Great instrumental music: it’s a video game soundtrack that blends the sort of eerie electronic music you’d expect with full choirs, orchestral instrumentation and strong melodic development. I have no idea what the lyrics are, so warning on that. But otherwise it’s really intriguing.
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.