Occurrens – Falcon Arrow. My favorite bass guitar loops/drumming duo return with a new collection of nothing-else-like-it post-rock. This latest collection is less frantic and thunderous than previous furious work, emphasizing the melodic elements of their sound more. This results in surprisingly beautiful tracks full of space, light, and even joy. While they have by no means abandoned low-end roar (opener “Kryspoly” proves that), the focus on the pitched-up treble melodies of the bass creates a lovely, highly-unexpected experience. There’s still no one quite like Falcon Arrow; their constant reinvention proves that even Falcon Arrow isn’t like Falcon Arrow. All these tracks are awesome, but “X.F.B.P.” is particularly impressive. Highly recommended.
Phonotron – WE’VE GOT MUSCLES. THIS BAND IS ACCURATELY NAMED. Phonotron starts off with a torrential post-hardcore instrumental that goes 0-60 in 2.0 seconds and never lets up. Every track on this short record is a powerhouse; this is the sort of post-rock/post-hardcore/post-whatever that gets me excited about the dark’n’stormy genre again. Instead of going for huge cinematic buildups, this band throws down hard and fast. It’s not quite post-metal sludge; instead it’s got a lot of intricacy, complexity, and patterned work that keep the listener on edge. I know I said torrential once, but I’ll say it again: this work is torrential. Really, really impressive. Highly recommended.
New Jersey– Geographer. I love the stark, almost harsh minimalism of Geographer’s early electro/indie-pop/songwriter work. This album takes that framework and places more lushness on top of it, filling out the sound without losing the tension between Mike Deni’s delicate, soaring vocals and the staccato elements of the arrangement. My favorite track is “Stolen Liquor” which ostinato loops a piano/violin line in the verses (just as I would expect from Geographer) before exploding into a CHVRCHES-style irresistible dance chorus with maximum synth power. The whole record carefully balances artsy ideals, dance-able moves, and emotional power. A great record. Highly recommended.
Insilio – Isasa. Isasa hails from Spain, but there’s a song on this record that includes the name “John Fahey.” So you’re not dealing with a heavily Spanish guitar performance here (although Spanish influences sneak into the record anyway). Instead, it’s instrumental folk guitar that sounds like it could be found on some out-of-the-way porch in a nameless spot on the Appalachian byways.
Louis Alberry – Louis Alberry. Also instrumental folk music, but Alberry is from England. Beyond the bright British folk expansiveness (“On the Wheel”), there’s some Appalachian vibes (“Head Walk”), American blues (“Blues for”), and even some African-influenced experimental composition (“Knots, Pt. 1”). That’s just the first half of the record. Very interesting and adventurous outing on acoustic guitar here.
The Humors – Ryan Dugré. In contrast to the two densely-textured, folk-inspired records, Dugré’s record is a contemplative, even minimalist record. This is ironic that it feels less heavy than two solo-guitar records, as it’s got more instrumentation than the other two. But Dugré’s deft hand makes everything flow smoothly and in places even effortlessly. (It’s also ironic that some tracks like “Bali” have more Spanish overtones than Insilio’s work.) Tracks like “New June” and “Smoke From Above” carry the central idea of the record most clearly: a sort of weightless, abstract feeling that resists easy classification and resolution. This record feels very composed, in a composerly sort of way; there’s a lot of intention and development throughout the course of the record.
When You Take Off Your Shoes– Nathan Shubert. Mostly pensive, delicate piano solos that are perfect for thinking or late-night driving, there are some bigger sonic moments interspersed (“Muir,” “Langelandsbælt”). Found sounds like walking in the forest accompany several tracks, and these acoustic surroundings make the tracks even more intimate.
1. “Largo” – AKKU Quintet. Take the repetition of mid-century modern composition, the instruments of a jazz quintet, and the dark’n’moody aesthetics of a post-rock outfit, and you’ve got the general idea of the 14-minute “Largo.” Any piece of this length is de facto adventurous in scope, but this one is particularly fascinating.
2. “Rise” – William Steffey. The notes on this track state, “This piece features an 5-note scale constructed from the 1200 cent octave using the Golden Ratio.” Whoa. Even though this track is very high-concept, the implementation is approachable: a flute or flute-like synth, hand percussion, rain-stick, bass, and triangle (?) create a warm, evocative piece that carries overtones of indigenous music of various varieties. Ultimately, a very intriguing and interesting (short) piece.
3. “Capocollo” – fuzzy luv. Here, have 65 seconds of downtempo, funky, trip-hop-inspired, vaguely Beck-ian instrumental goodness. Shout-out to all the random sounds collaged on top of the main line tracks that give this great atmosphere.
4. “Castor MacDavid” – L’Eclair. At its core, this is a funky, instrumental neo-disco nugget. But there’s a significant, slow-burn lead-up to the moment that it reveals itself as a disco tune that makes this tune more than just a fun dance track; there’s some deep thought put into the ways of developing and manipulating the elements of the song for maximum dance effect.
5. “Alasya and the Train Tracks” – Nate Kohrs. Starts out as an expansive, pensive soundtrack piece, but snaps into focus with a punchy, staccato, airplane-propeller beat. The rest of the track reads like some weird combination of punk-rock drums and bass, ghostly atmospheric noises, and electro flourishes. A truly unique and fascinating instrumental composition that defies genres.
6. “Atlantic Oscillations” – Quantic. Dancy, funky, quirky, and tight, this dance track is full of surprises, layers, and moments that shine. Never loses the focus on being danceable, though. Very cool, smooth track.
7. “Hard Conversation” – Class Photo. It’s difficult to sell me on a novel lyrical concept, but Class Photo has found one: in talking about the death of a parent, Patrick Morris explains all of the different conversations and activities that occur as a result of a death. It’s unique and clever, making the ineffable abyss that is the loss of a parent both pedestrian and deeply affecting. Also, it’s a really fun indie-dance-pop track a la MGMT and STRFKR (of which Morris is a former member). So you can get happy without the lyrics or get dancing-sad with them. I’m in on either count. Good work, Class Photo.
8. “Periscope” – The Bergamot. A straight-up fusion of folk-pop and indie-rock whose Venn diagram overlaps at the points of “majorly anthemic melodies” and “builds to a giant conclusion.” The vocal performances and the instrumental arrangement are both stellar, making the most of their ideas. If you like Band of Horses or any folk-pop outfit, you’ll love this.
9. “Stampede” – Caustic Casanova. This is a power-trio instrumental rock track that delivers a convincing approximation of large animals all rushing violently in the same direction over some poor, now-destroyed piece of earth. If you’re into heavy rock but have been burned rock that’s overproduced, underdeveloped or just generally boring, this song will not disappoint: it avoids all the pitfalls of rock and just actually rocks.
1. “Wiwasharnine” – Mdou Moctar. A jangly, enthusiastic, fully engaging performance of Tuareg guitar and vocals. If you like any African-inspired indie music, here’s an excellent example of the real deal.
2. “Marjorie” – Reddening West. A haunting, immersive folk track that yet manages to keep the endearing folk-pop melodies in the instrumentals and the vocals. There’s a lot of space here, as if it were recorded in a very tall building such as a church; that sort of grandeur gives the track a blend of the intimate haunting melodies of Blind Pilot and the sweeping expanses of the Barr Brothers.
3. “Down by the Water” – Abigail Lapell. Here’s a beautiful, pure, clear-as-a-bell Americana track reminiscent of Gillian Welch. The lead and harmony vocal performances are breathtaking.
4. “Even in the Tremor” – Lady Lamb. My favorite proggy, ambitious singer-songwriter streamlines her sound a bit but still emerges with a uniquely contoured song that fits somewhere between punk rock, singer/songwriter, and artsy indie.The song bobs and weaves and dances and pounds and wavers through all sorts of moods. Fascinating.
5. “Live to Love” – Further North. If you have ever been a Relient K fan, especially of the first four records, you’ll love this straight-up-and-down early ’00s pop-punk track. It punches all my pop-punk buttons.
6. “If Only” – Streets of Roya. I’m all about slow-burn dance-rock tracks. This one features a deeply emotional vocal performance, a sweet bass line, and a solid dance-rock drumbeat (when it comes in). That the guitars never move out of U2 dreaminess makes this song even more dope.
7. “Let Go” – Saxsyndrum. There’s a saxophone, synthesizers, and drums in this track (get it?). These are blended into a low-key, dusky dance groove that ratchets up to a club-ready chorus that contains a solidly chantable vocal mantra. The post-dub wub that burst in around four minutes creates a highlight moment.
8. “Hard of Hearing” – Radical Face. As a card-carrying Postal Service lifer, I love electro indie-pop in all its forms. This one splits the difference between indie-pop, synth-pop, and whisper-folk to create a deeply hummable, very melancholic sorta-dance tune (and the video proves it!).
9. “Memories of Nanzenji” – Mark de Clive Lowe. Some jazzy saxophone noodles over some classy Rhodes work to form the basis of this song, but this isn’t just a jazziest. There’s a dense gravitas to this work that transcends the experimental, adventurous vibes trying to break out and ties it to an introspective vibe. There’s a lot going on here, but Clive Lowe corrals it all together into a thoughtful, carefully constructed, at times even mellow experience.
10. “Schluss” – Bunkr. Math-rock technicality fused with post-rock emotion and post-hardcore intensity creates a remarkable track. That so much sound comes out of two people is massively impressive: the band uses looping and layering to maximum effect here.
11. “Something Out of Nothing” – Urchin. Kit-based breakbeats, modulated vocals, burbling guitar, and some soul vibes all get cooking to make something that sounds like a ’90s funk track sped up and time-travelled to the future. Very neat.
12. “Prince William Sound” – Mark Vickness. Smooth, soothing solo acoustic guitar work with tons of variations and developments on the sound throughout the five-minute run-time.
13. “New June” – Ryan Dugre. In contrast to Vickness’ long, flowing work, Dugre’s efforts here are short, mysterious, unsettled solo guitar work. The conclusion is ambivalent–it feels like a conclusion, but it also carries the uncertainty of the piece with it. A very interesting piece of work.
14. “Circle” – mouse on the keys. A delicate, airy, even jazzy piece of full-band instrumental music explodes into a full-on post-rock onslaught of distorted guitars. The conclusion of the song brings these two ideas together, mashing jazzy rhythms and melodies with the texture and tone of distorted post-rock for a novel, innovative experience.
15. “Ody at Sea” – Erik Wøllo. Wafting, wavering, gently pulsing ambient with no percussion whatsoever – just the dreamy, gentle, subtle variations of wispy synth layers. Truly ethereal.
16. “Feel the Love” – Prins Thomas. Mellow disco revivalism at its finest, but with an modern, airy quality to the synths and vocals that anchor it in the now.
My list of April findings is smaller than my last few months. However, there are some big hits (and some long pieces) amid the small number of works. Here’s where you can hear the whole playlist! I’ll be back sometime in May to go over the rest of the April list.
The Appearance of Colour – John Metcalfe. Can you be minimalist and maximalist at the same time? Metcalfe’s compositions here are packed full of instruments, genres, textures, acoustic sounds, electronic sounds, and effects while simultaneously being full of space, not afraid to go (very) long, and very patient in the composition techniques. The incredible opener “Sun” is 20 minutes long and worth every second. This sort of composition takes the mindset of classical composition and then draws on all the modern music available to Metcalfe to result in some of the most fantastically interesting contemporary instrumental work I’ve heard in a long time. Highly recommended. Hat tip to Chris Krycho for the recommendation.
From Tomorrow, With Love & UPC – EP – Beta to the Max. I’ve had a thing for chiptune for a long time (having played lots of NES and SNES games), but I really fell in love with it when I ran into Anamanaguchi. This chiptune outfit isn’t quite as adrenalized as Anamanaguchi but uses that more relaxed pace to its advantage.
Virðulegu Forsetar – Jóhann Jóhannsson. Essentially one incredibly long piece of music broken up into many small pieces, this minimalist composition develops one majestic theme in bunches of different ways. The overall idea is delivered most often by a rich horn ensemble; as you may recall, I professed my love for brass ensembles last month and unsurprisingly have not been swayed in my affection since then. But where Hyde Park Brass was blasting off into the pop realm at times, Jóhannsson is experimenting with the bounds of form and structure, pursuing a richly melodic form of minimalism that rejects atonalism and repetition for its own sake. (It must be noted that I like minimalist repetition for its own sake such as “Canto Ostinato” but am unconvinced by atonalism.) Extra hat tip to Chris Krycho for the referral, once again.
Spindash 3 – GameChops, et al. GameChops was listed as a collaborator on Mikel’s Zelda and Chill that I loved so much last month, so I looked into some more of what GameChops is doing. This is the third collection of electro/techno/chiptune created out of Sonic the Hedgehog music. If you’ve ever listened to a Sonic the Hedgehog song, you know that it was stereotypically manic and sonically blown-out chiptune glory. This takes that base and spins out new works. So much fun.
The best music transports listeners to a place in our memories; virtual time machines in three-quarter time. The Hurting Kind from John Paul White on Single Lock Records is that type of subtle brilliance.
The Civil Wars (of which John Paul White was half) have impacted Indie Americana and folk music worldwide. White’s follow-up to his 2016 solo record Beulah is not a break from that talent, but another incarnation of that talent. White’s record is grounded in the man as an artist, yet the work is as unclassifiable and uncategorizable as music released from his Grammy-award winning duo. The choice of recording at Sun Drop Studios, a converted barn home studio in Alabama, gives this record palpable authenticity. White really lets the magic fly with co-producer Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) shaping the tunes on this ten-song gem.
White draws on a deep well of collaborators for this album. He is joined on the record by Pat Bergeson (Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris) on electric guitar, Jon Estes (Robyn Hitchcock, Kesha) and David Hood (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) on bass Jon Radford (Leigh Nash, Odessa) and Reed Watson on drums, and Lillie Mae (Jack White) on fiddle. Guest vocals from Lee Ann Womack and background vocals from Erin Rae and The Secret Sisters add a lush texture stunning songwriting deserves. Songwriting collaborations with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock make that connection to Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins and Roy Orbison real.
This huge number of collaborators results in a large amount of musical styles on the record. With such a cross-section of genres, only one thread is consistent throughout: this troubadour crafts the sounds of America from the streets of Nashville to now. Opening with “The Good Old Days,” we can all wonder where those went; divisiveness, chaos and uncertainty may be signs of our times driving us back toward thoughts of the good old days (whenever those were). Dark lyricism juxtaposed against upbeat guitar and fiddle-driven composition foreshadow the brilliance ahead.
The genres get moving on the second song: “Yesterday’s Love” is an old Nashville country song that Patsy Cline would be proud to sing. Shifting gears into indie rock vocals, White throws down with “The Long Way Home.” This cut is crafted brilliantly: heavy-handed bass balances out with piano punctuation. Sometimes the artist channels greatness, as “I Wish I Could Write You Could Write You A Song” oozes an essence of Roy Orbison. It feels like an intentional compositional connection to one of pop’s greatest songwriters. Orchestral production choices, great guitar work, and haunting vocals create a John Paul White experience, not just simply a song.
Lyrically, The Hurting Kind is a flashback to a time when Nashville produced music that felt real. This is music circa 1960, but transformed, with the essence of old Nashville gracing each song. The ten tracks range from the title track’s female perspective on love to the achingly subtle “This Isn’t Gonna End Well (feat. Lee Ann Womack)”. White and Womack work well together, creating some of the best imagery and harmonies on the record, wrapped in a lush soundscape of instrumentation. “You Found Me” weaves a tapestry of fiddle through the lyricism, oozing aching heartbreak. This is country like your grandparents loved.
Inspired by Glen Campbell, “James” says goodbye with love and guitar to one who is stolen away moment to moment due to a disease like Alzheimer’s. Closing out the record with “My Dreams Have All Come True” as the night cap, White makes a statement to listeners. The simple melody seems the perfect ending to a record whose songs were tied to greats like Roy Orbison and Chet Atkins with a songwriting thread. John Paul White’s The Hurting Kind is that record you may have been missing but didn’t even know it yet.–Lisa Whealy
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.