Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: October 2020

Quick Hit: Live at Petra’s by JPH

JPH is an experimental outfit that is basically a slowcore acoustic band (a la Songs:Ohia) played at half-speed influenced by minimalist composers fond of repetition and subtle changes over time. A slowest-core band, perhaps. To wit: Jordan Parker Hoban and co. offer two pieces over 26 minutes in Live at Petra’s.

“Catskills” and “Hardest of Seasons to Gather” consist of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonium, omnichord, banjo and mournful vocals. This collection of instruments allows for acoustic drones so long as to be eerie simply through their incredible expansiveness. The first five minutes or so of the sixteen-minute “Catskills” is simply ominous harmonium drones with delicate guitar thoughts atop them; this expands at the five-minute mark into a more multilayered piece, but not by much. The piece drops down into a melancholy electric guitar gloom before introducing the element that elevates the piece at 8:50: Hoban’s deeply melancholy, angst-ridden voice that repeats a refrain for the rest of the song (seven minutes) with minor variations. The whole effect is of mourning, which is fitting for this Halloween-dropped release that comes with a note encouraging listeners to have a “Happy Samhain, and remember the dead.”

The shorter “Hardest of Seasons to Gather” (which was seemingly not written about COVID, as this release was recorded February 15, 2020) is more warm, as the harmonium is not used to as eerie of ends. Harmonium is usually warm and cheery, and it supports a slightly more sprightly piece that gets up maybe to walking pace. Where “Catskills” leaned heavily into minimalist repetition with the trappings of acoustic work, this is primarily an acoustic work that has some trappings of minimalist. Hoban’s vocals are more hopeful and tuneful here (which still long, legato, and not traditionally cheery), giving the expansive song a bit of an acoustic Appleseed Cast vibe. Fans of post-rock will connect with this song more easily than the first, I think, as the song builds in a way that seems adjacent to post-rock work. The background vocals here are particular endearing to build that engaging atmosphere.

Live at Petra’s is a benefit release: “all proceeds from this album will go to support Petra’s during this time of pandemic.” So if you choose to buy this unique experimental record, you’ll be getting excellent music and helping a bar that supports local music in Charlotte, NC. If you’re up for some gloomy, long, thoughtful acoustic music (that is yet not without hope), Live at Petra’s will scratch that itch.

Trover Saves the Universe and creates some impressive soundtrack work along the way

Asy‘s Trover Saves the Universe Official Soundtrack – Deluxe Edition is a charming, eclectic, delirious mix of electro-indie-pop, techno-inspired blippy video game soundtrack drama, and boss fight songs. The album opens with the cheery, wubby electro-indie-pop cut “Track Star (Demo),” which I can fully imagine playing over the opening screen. It’s like a mash-up of Of Montreal, Odesza, and MIA. It is good. I am not sure what else would be in the not-demo version, but yo! Maybe some strings. It’s real good the way it is.

From there, the album goes into soundtrack mode. However, these are not ambient background sounds. These are bonafide electro compositions. “Hanging Out in the Sky” is a precise, staccato, bouncy track with ah-ah vocals that gives a weighty-yet-fun vibe to the proceedings. The more celestial “Young Stars” reprises the vocal intimations (reminiscent of Jonsi, here), but in a much more spacey electro vibe. “The Man on Whom It Depends” is a wacky bass-driven cut with atypical rhythms, choral-style vocal patterns, and big trumpet synths. I repeat: these are not just background tunes–there’s a lot going on in this collection.

There are some background tunes. The piano-led “Epic Sadness” portrays the titular feel and also feels like the intrepid hero may be wandering through a deserted castle or dungeon. (Even here, the wordless vocals are towering and mysterious.) The pizzicato strings and distant sounds of “Dream Cinema” evoke Austin Wintory’s Journey soundtrack, which is probably my favorite video game soundtrack. (So: High praise.) “Eating Swedish Candy on a Bus” is basically a Pokemon adventuring theme. (Also high praise.) “World’s Esophagus” sounds like a Sonic the Hedgehog tune with maximum bass. (Ah, perhaps less high of praise.) Still, many of these tunes are highly listenable and mesh together nicely.

The only conceit to “okay, this is obviously a video game soundtrack” are the boss fight scores. “A Chill Battle” is a nice bit of breakbeats plus layers of ethereal vocals, but “A Weird Battle,” “A Respectful Battle” and especially “Metal Cue” (which is exactly what it says it is: 74 seconds of thrashy, dissonant industrial/tech-metal) all break up the flow of the soundtrack significantly. I had “Metal Cue” on as my wife walked by and she said, “That’s what you listen to as working music?” Thankfully the brilliant, beautiful “The Way Life’s Moving” followed it up–I could say “no, it mostly sounds like this, not like ‘Metal Cue.'” So: not a huge fan of “Metal Cue.” The grumbly, squeaky “Swedish Bladerunner” is a bit better version of the same concept: breaks up the flow for some intense action, but not so intensely that the flow of the album is disrupted.

The whole album is 31 songs in 61 minutes, so these songs average just under two minutes long. That gives enough time for each song’s vibe to get established, variations to appear, and the song to float on without getting repetitive. Asy’s skill is in making big, complex spaces with a minimum of pieces; these are maximalist tunes that yet don’t have as many instruments/sounds per track as ODESZA; fans of ODESZA will still love this stuff, though. This is a wacky, wild, enigmatic, engaging album, and it’s definitely worth checking out for the adventurous and electronic-music-minded. You can also buy it on vinyl, which is awesome.

Cameron Blake gets mad and turns up the amps

Cameron Blake’s Censor the Silence is angry. The indie-rock record features songs about the Stoneman Douglas High Shooting (“Six Minutes Twenty Seconds”), the Syrian Civil War (“Chemical War Child”), people who change for the worse (“Kabuki Theater,” whose lyrics Blake notes are “relevant right now in the age of Trump”), and more. The apex of this rage is “How Dare You,” where Blake and a female vocalist literally howl the titular phrase over growling electric guitar and bass in a tune inspired by Greta Thunberg’s furious speech to the United Nations. If you’re mad about things, Blake is also mad about things, and you can be mad with him in these impressive songs.

If you weren’t convinced by “How Dare You,” there’s always the six-minute follow-up “Only Goya.” The suite starts with a spartan, delicate nearly-two-minute introduction before abruptly switching to a nearly-garage-rock electric guitar rumble with Blake spitting words like there will be no more left to sing after this one. It concludes with an arrangement even more torrential than “How Dare You”–the bassist is just pummeling his poor guitar into submission with massive bass slides, good gracious from hood space. The tune isn’t about a current event, as Blake says it’s inspired by three Francisco Goya works: Dutchess of Alba (1797), Yard with Lunatics (1794)Saturn Devouring His Son (1823). Yet if you’ve ever seen Saturn Devouring His Son (spoiler: it’s incredibly dark) or know the story behind it (Goya feared insanity at the end of his life and accordingly painted his fears directly onto the interior walls of his house), you know that this song is literally guaranteed to have a lot of turmoil in it.

This song, and the album as a whole, is approximately the inverse of Alone on the World StageBlake’s hushed and intimate 2015 work. Where Blake was literally writing and recording by himself in 2015, now he’s got a full band that is not afraid to get punishing. Even the different album covers display a shift: Alone has Blake looking dejectedly at the floor and away from the camera, while Censor sees Blake staring directly into the camera and reaching out to seemingly grab the listener. The sonics here do grab, in ways they have not before. Take “Pale Cloud Covering,” which is a piano/keys-driven work that is less emphatic than some of the works, but only by degree. It’s a song that in other contexts would be a singer/songwriter tune that instead gets that stomp on. What it lacks in guitar noise, it makes up for in large-scale gospel choir fury and (more) (well-deserved) Blake hollering. Funky, soulful opener “Henny Penny” also employs the band to great effect and big gospel choir vibes.

Even more proof of transformation: there’s a rocked-out version of formerly-piano-ballad “Kabuki Theater” from Alone on the World Stage here. (It’s good, surprisingly good.) Even if you’ve been following Blake for as long as I have, there’s not really anything in the last 11 or so years that would really have pointed toward “indie-rock fury” as the next step in his evolution. (Not even a protest song in favor of Edward Snowden, which he definitely did once.)

Not all is pound: there are two quiet, beautiful singer/songwriter tunes here. “Honey Step Out of the Rain” and “Gillian” are both tender love songs. “Gillian” is a brilliant tune that is the most melodically memorable of the songs here and the most connected to his previous work, making it a great choice for the lead single in a vacuum. Outside of the vacuum, anyone who loves this song as the first single should be extremely forewarned that this is not what the rest of the album sounds like at all (except the relaxed “Honey Step of the Rain”). “How Dare You” really should have been the single, but I think he would have flattened all of his previous listenership with it, so maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t go there. Indeed, opener “Henny Penny” is a nice intro to ease people in before the second-track-blast that is “How Dare You.”

Blake’s work is always meticulously crafted, and Censor the Silence is no exception. The pounding arrangements are spot-on, the lyrics (which I have only scratched the surface of) are poetic and engaging, and even the sequencing is carefully done. It’s just in a very, very different vein than previous listeners will be used to. If you’re not familiar with Blake, now is the time to jump in: Blake’s songwriting voice is finely pointed after years of work, and this is his finest, most engaging work yet. Get mad. Highly recommended.

Alfred Howard Writes, Week 3: “Knew Clear Winter”

It’s week three of our four-week premiere series of songs from Alfred Howard‘s truly ambitious project Alfred Howard Writes. Alfred Howard Writes is an herculean effort by Alfred Howard and a humongous cast of contributors to independently release 100 songs in 50 weeks. For more info on the project, see the first week’s premiere. The second premiere is also available.

This week we quiet things down a bit. In contrast to the full-band efforts of the last two songs in this four-premiere series, “Knew Clear Winter” is just Ellis Bryant on vocals and acoustic guitar and Alfred Howard handling lyrics. It’s a straight-up country song, with Bryant’s traditional country baritone (with a bit of swingin’ twang) casually working its way over sturdy, workman-like chords. The musical vibe is spot-on. The country approach gives a melancholy-but-hopeful tone to the dire-yet-hopeful lyrics: “Life is silence / met with violence/ Life is short” leads into “and it finally / makes sense / when I reach your door.” As with “Something to Believe,” the Howard finds that the trouble of this world is countered by the security of steady romantic love.

Alfred has given us some comments about the song and his lyrics, which I’m honored to reproduce here:

I remember writing the lyrics to this song while walking my girlfriend’s dog. This was the greatest challenge ever, because her dog is a wriggly puppy who twists and turns and mocks the concept of a straight line. If I look down at my phone to type a lyric, he will dart in front of me and throw me to the ground. I had this idea in mind, and, for me, once I get the first lyric, the whole song is there to harvest if I can make the time and not fall down. We were walking along the bay, and it was in the fall, and I had recently gotten back from an East Coast drive where I buried my father. I was back East too early for fall colors. And as I looked at the green palm trees in October, it came to me. And the rest was just a flood as I played jump rope with the dog’s leash. One of the other lines that always got me in this song was :

There’s a war

On every shore

And we all are on tour

And the right side is losing for now

That’s what it feels like. Life has been very cinematic of late. Not even a good movie, a big-budget film with terrible writing. And I’ve just been impatiently waiting for the tide to turn on the bad guys, but I guess the movie ain’t over yet. When I finished the lyrics, I sent it over to Ellis Bryant. Not reluctantly, but it was outside of our usual, more straight-ahead country efforts. But he ran with it and came up with this idea quickly, and it was perfect.

Pre-order “Knew Clear Winter” here. You can catch Alfred on his websiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube. We’ll be back in two weeks with our fourth and final Alfred Howard premiere from this series!

Ellen Andrea Wang’s bass and vocals shine in melancholy jazz frames

As a bassist, I am drawn to work with strong bass aspects. This means that in the process of getting into jazz, I have naturally been drawn to bassist/composers of jazz/jazz+ music: particularly Joshua Crumbly and now Ellen Andrea Wang. Wang’s third album Closeness not only displays her bass and composing work, but showcases her smooth, easygoing vocals in several tunes.

Wang’s trio of bass, drums (Jon Fa̎lt), and guitar (Rob Luft) is an impressive outfit. In the early tracks of the record, Wang tends to stay in the background and let Luft lead the way with his (mostly) delicate, inventive guitar work. “Erasmus,” “Waiting for Ellinor,” and “Closeness” each feature Luft’s beautiful work over tastefully sparse contributions from Wang. Falt is a drummer who prefers to stay in the pocket and lean back on the groove, and thus the overall approach of this album is quiet, intricate, and intimate. “Recognise” is so minimalist as to be ambient in places. Yet the album never becomes flat or staid; the trio handles quiet work without losing intensity.

Another prominent approach is for Luft and Fa̎lt to create spaces for Wang’s gentle, smooth vocals. Wang’s versions of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (here styled as “Nobody Knows”) and “Wayfaring Stranger” reimagine American spirituals/hymns in a melancholy, deeply-felt way. The trio’s haunting, deliberate, soulful version of Pat Metheny’s “This Is Not America” is remarkably relevant for our time lyrically and musically.

A couple tracks expand the trio’s approach. Wang & co. ratchet up the intensity and really get going on fast-paced jam session “Strange Flower.” Wang takes the first crack at the melody before the trio launches into a full-on workout. All three of them go at it with great gusto over the 5:29, with Luft breaking out the electric guitar heroics in places. Wang’s version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” starts with a two-minute solo bass performance from Wang; she accompanies herself on vocals. The back half of the piece is way more free than the rest of the mostly-structured release, with the drums, guitar, and bass all seemingly going in different directions.

This is a powerful release that shows off Wang’s vocal and composition skill. Closeness is an album that I can (and will) live with for a long time. Highly recommended.

Quick Hits: Runnner / Stables

One of One by Runnner (three n’s) is a melancholy folk-pop/indie-pop project for fans of Sufjan’s Michigan, Freelance Whales, and emo-punk lyrics. Opener “Heliotrope” is a multi-layered song that’s built on banjo, low-key synths, gloomy vocals, and introspective lyrics; it has all sorts of great pop hooks and memorable lyrical lines packed into 3:07. “Cause it’s nice outside/ and that makes me feel stupid / for letting myself get so low / am I wasting the weekend now / freaking out under the heliotrope” is a great passage, and the concluding “is this the conversation you want to have?” is haunting.

“New Sublet” is an incredibly sad song that will yet make fans of Darlingside happy. “Captain Stupido” is a Thundercat cover, which is definitely not what I expected out of a mopey acoustic-folk release, but it works really well–the vocalist inhabits the vibe of the narrator well, while the arrangement is dense and compelling. “Ur Name on a Grain of Rice” gets positively M83, introducing prominent saxophone to the towering mix. This is the big statement of the record, and it works, even though  “Heliotrope” is still the standout. “Skewed” takes the short collection home with an intimate, gloomy (yet hopeful) piece. (Shoutout to autotune in folk/indie music, let all your Bon Iver fan friends know!) One of One is Runnner’s sophomore EP,  so keep your ears out for more from the outfit. Overall: if you’re up for gloomy yet homey alt-folk/indie-folk stuff, this should be your jam.

Stables‘ Silhouettes is a straight-up folk-pop record, which is the sort of thing I haven’t reviewed in a couple years now. But the cream rises to the top, friends, and Silhouettes is very much the cream. This is like if the strummy goodness of old-school Fleet Foxes met the cheery vibes of Lord Huron and Vampire Weekend (“When I’m With You,” absolute hit “The Seminar,” “Red Wine & Birthday Cake”) with occasional dalliances in Jon and Roy fingerpicking (“Curtain Call,” “Unwind”) and even Jack Johnson chill (the title track). This is just absolutely fun. Even the sad songs are fun (“Marathon”). If you need some respite from this unfriendly and difficult year, you need to take Silhouettes for a spin. It’s brilliant. You can’t tell me that “The Seminar” doesn’t cheer you. Highly recommended.

Singles, October, 3

1. “Sins We Made (Acoustic)” – Harrow Fair. This acoustic version of the title track from the duo’s 2020 album on Roaring Girl Records shines, balancing its edgy lyrical simplicity with lush roots gospel vibe. Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Penner generate an electricity fitting for the soundtrack of a horror film about the seemingly voluntary extinction movement swirling in the internet’s cesspools. Capturing the enchantment of Brown Bird’s Morgan Eve Swain and David Lamb,  Harrow Fair is more than a conjuring of folk’s finest. Each carefully nuanced instrument captured authentically with Penner and Mulholland’s vocal dance makes Sins We Made” towards the top cuts of the year.–Lisa Whealy

2. “Blessed” – Charles Ellsworth’s starkly pragmatic Brooklyn country song feels like a battle-weary soldier calling out the death of his beloved republic. Producer Joe Reinhart defines the troubadour’s battlefield with Jared Schapker’s bass and Blake Suben’s drums. Mike Brenner’s pedal slides with Ellsworth’s lyrical imagery. Is it only in America that a Catholic mother nominated to the Supreme Court could generate so much fear from the opposing presidential party, whose candidate is the first Catholic to earn his party’s nomination since John F. Kennedy?–Lisa Whealy

3. “Galaxie” – Dominique Charpentier. Big arpeggiators, starry string sounds, and gentle piano make for a space-opera sounding piece from this pianist/composer.

4. “Run” – YutaY. A fantastic dark electro-indie-pop jam with glitchy/distorted synths and incredibly catchy vocals is not even the best thing about “Run.” The song comes packaged with a sidescrolling video game that critiques the personal and political effects of our hyperactive social media space. The critique is brilliant, and the game is actually fun! Watch for more from YutaY–he’s got a good thing going here. Highly recommended.

5. “It Goes On” – Sun Tailor. As the world keeps spinning through this year, Tel Aviv-based singer-songwriter and producer Sun Tailor wrote and recorded during Israel’s first COVID-19 wave. Featuring Shahar Haziza (drums) and Hila Cohen (backing vocals), there’s a spiritual rock edge to Taylor’s message that feels like one of hope and love.–Lisa Whealy

6. “Rivers” – Trevor Ransom. Ransom’s delicate ambient work is augmented in two ways here. First, vocals play a more prominent role than in most of his work, although they are mostly abstracted to wordlessness or the word “rivers.” They give a mournful, almost ghostly feel the front part of the work. The back half is anchored by a more aggressive electronic beat and synthesizer heft than Ransom has gone for before, making this more like a sad Teen Daze track than a truly ambient work. It’s a new corner turned for Ransom, and I look forward to hearing more in this vein. Highly recommended.

7. “Don’t Forget” – Isaac Monts. This interesting and exciting track comes from a short EP called Vocoder Music, and that description is right on the money. The only instrument here is layers of heavily vocals heavily processed through a vocoder. Heavy gospel vibes run through the melodies, harmonies, and lyrics; “Don’t Forget” comes off successfully like a gospel music as imagined by Imogen Heap for a male vocalist.

8. “Traversal” – Josh Werner. Bass guitar and minimal synths are the prominent features here, as Werner uses his electric bass to sculpt a barren landscape on a distant planet. The subtle high melody (either a guitar or a pitched-up bass) adds drama to the already evocative scene.

9. “Emerge (Message to Bears Reinterpretation)” – Liam J Hennessy. I covered this one when it first came out, but now it’s been developed further by new-favorite Message to Bears. The re-imagining amps up the bass and some of the skittering electronics while minimizing/transforming some of the soaring lead melody; it doesn’t feel so much like a rework as a true remixing of the original elements. The warmth is upped, overall, which makes a good track even more warm and engaging.

10. “Platano Superior” – Los Twangueros. A party-friendly, kit-drum-rockin’, electric-guitar-heavy take on the balearic sound, like as if Fatboy Slim got lost in Ibiza.

11. “QUO (live from a garden cottage)” – Martin Kohlstedt. Watching Kohlstedt play a gentle, pleasant reverie in an absolutely magnificent garden overlooking a beautiful forest would be enough to commend this to you. However, he also has a brass quartet hanging out on his patio, because who doesn’t? The arrangement is soaring and lovely, an overall wonderful take of a melancholy yet hopeful piece.

12. “Hollow Bones” – Nimrawd. Nimrawd’s debut focused in on ’90s sounds and field recordings; this first music since then is much more heavily digital. Big, squelchy synths lead throwback ’80s video game vibes, what with the clanking keys and the marching, Casio-esque beat. There’s still a hip-hop mindset in the track, but this is a very different approach. I like it a lot.

13. “Highly Likely” – Dex Wolfe. A quirky, melancholy, experimental pop song that meshes the intimate emotions of indie-pop in its lyrics and vocals with vocals the abstract emotionlessness of prog in its complex, icy arrangement. The concluding guitar attack feels like a melancholy “Paranoid Android” breakdown. It’s a wild, interesting song.

Quick Hit: YĪN YĪN

YĪN YĪN‘s The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers is a treasure trove of engaging Thai funk a la Khruangbin. But where Khruangbin loves to chill things out, this Dutch four-piece likes to keep things peppy and speedy. “Pingpxng” takes a spaghetti western vibe and elevates it with searing electric guitar, Thai rhythms, and gusto. Follow-on “One Inch Punch” rides a funky, groovy bassline that is equal parts LCD Soundsystem and Khruangbin. “Thom Ki Ki” is twangy, bouncy, smooth (yes, bouncy and smooth), and deeply influenced by a variety of Southeast Asian sounds. The title track opens with guitar experimentation, then drops into a full-on adventure soundtrack. The bass again plays a vital role, creating a rolling vibe that is met by the rattling percussion. It’s got surf-punk vibes, on top of everything else going on. Very rad.

Closer “Dis Ko Dis Ko” is the most obviously electronic of the pieces, with an arpeggiator-esque speedy bass blast pushing the song forward before a dance-rock percussion line drops in to meet it. A vocal hook appears on this track, giving the song even more punch and panache. Overall, this album is absolutely wonderful; every track is enjoyable and has mysteries to explore. If you’re a fan of Southeastern Asian music, Khruangbin, or atypical dance music, you need to check out this record. Highly recommended.

A.M.R goes long on deep house

Shingo Nakamura’s deep house was the music that really got me into electronica, so I have a soft spot in my heart for the genre. A.M.R‘s A Place For Everything is absolutely excellent deep house. It’s a record that takes everything that makes deep house great and implements it perfectly. He doesn’t mess with the formula, but adds his own melodies and sounds to the mix to make it his own.

After a neat intro, “Crystal Fountain” really kicks in the record; the rubbery bass, the driving (yet not harsh) beats, the chilled-out atmosphere contrasted with the punchy tempos–it’s all there. The vocals float above the locked-in mix, admitting a mysterious, elegant vibe. A.M.R is not afraid to drop out the beat for effect, and in the middle of the song, it’s just vocals, piano, strings and light background static. It’s a gentle, hypnotic breakdown before the beat comes back in big and bold for the finale.

That model holds throughout the rest of the album: strong driving beats, strings (“Light-Years From Here”), impressive melodies, and clever arrangement moments. “Fireflies” has a short, syncopated percussion clip that serves as a hook; “Sailor’s Cry” and “We Fell Out of Love” make impressive use of female and male vocal melodies (respectively) throughout. “Hidden Sun” amps up the drama with chant/sung choral work as the vocal element.  “In the Mornin'” is a highlight, with the melodic keys and the sampled vocal giving the piece a friendly, fun vibe without leaving the orbit of the deep house planet.

Each of the tracks (except the intro) are fairly long pieces, and yet the album closes with three extended mixes that amp up the club-friendly nature of the work. So in addition to being really solid, it’s really long–you get a lot of A.M.R work on this release. This strong, engaging deep house collection is one that I will be coming back to for a long time.

Jacob Faurholt’s Wake Me Up speaks to our year

Jacob Faurholt’s Wake Me Up screams out loud what many of us sleepwalking through 2020 may be thinking. The twelve-song album via Raw Onion Records from one of Denmark’s contemporary lyrical masters drops a symphony of sonic brilliance in its minimalist folk. 

Simply stating that Faurholt’s latest work was recorded and engineered in his bedroom studio could seem like jumping on the pandemic bandwagon. Yet working remotely has been part of this troubadour’s approach for quite some time. Calling on friends in California and Switzerland, Wake Me Up reaches inward during a time of forced isolation, ripping slowly at the artist’s internal dis-ease one discomfort at a time. Calling out eclectic lo-fi heroes like Phil Elverum as musical influences, each beat this musical poet shares is influenced by this time warp of our current circumstances. The uncomfortable yet joyfully relatable inner journey into personal reflection depicts our virtual coexistence at its best.

Unleashing the nightmares, opener “All My Heroes Are Dead” is the perfect freefall into Faurholt’s universe. Both plucky and matter-of-fact musically, his lyrical imagery feels maniacal in its calm. Hollow vocals shape this synth-driven song. The grief-stricken follow-up “Don’t Go” with seems to fade into nothing. The sequencing on this record is excellent, with each track advancing the songwriter’s ideas seamlessly.

“Don’t Waste Your Soul” throws the notion of time in the eternal sense into this record. The rich, lush layers of Faurholt’s crystal clear vocals have no competition on the record; this is a standout. Abstract familiarity wraps around us all in “I Love You,” which then trips into the best of the record with “Hi How Are You?” The rambling, matter of fact, whistling-in-the-dark acoustic guitar of “Hi” embraces the notion of emotional support, revealing cracks in the psychological armor through tonal composition. (Behind that psychological armor: the only way this year has been bearable is that we’ve been in it together.) Built with discordant chord structures balanced against an aura of hope, I am grateful other people bear witness to the insanity that we have so far survived, no matter where we live on the planet. 

The title track in Jacob Faurholt’s reality is all of ours. Like Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness that gave birth to Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocolypse Now, this year of death, horror, and fear has changed us. Wandering on near the end of a genius creation, “Pitch-Black” takes a quick hit into technology’s alien world. 

Revisiting the notion that each human being is alone in this, “Don’t Worry About Me” is that quarantine anthem we all know too well. Truth be told, fear is the common thread throughout this year, from Italy’s crisis leading to jellyfish in the Venice Canals to New York City’s terrible experience of COVID-19 in the United States. This song points back to our fears. 

Cara Engel’s “Circus Horses” comes to mind while listening to “Tiny Unicorn,” with its childlike vision of reality. Shifting into the upbeat “Boys & Girls” is perfect, like throwing the doors open after a deep winter storm. Authentic, simple guitar with a sprinkling of piano suggests that somehow we all know we are not alone, right? Closer “We All Need Someone” seems the perfect reminder of humanity’s frailty in the face of isolation for the common good. Plaintive, aching, and soulful, right now is the perfect time to start Jacob Faurholt ‘s Wake Me Up from the beginning.--Lisa Whealy

Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp