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Month: March 2022

Jesper Lindell’s borderless Americana shines brilliantly

Jesper Lindell’s Twilights proves music is a borderless universal language that makes us feel connected to the limitless human experience. That’s what makes an Americana songwriter like Lindell being from Sweden so special. Tapping into a gritty authenticity few artists achieve over a lifetime, this young man has found his groove.

The album features a connection to one of the quintessential American rock sonic legacies via Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm. For those of us less familiar with international artists, Swedish singer Klara Söderberg (one half of sister-duo First Aid Kit) and French rocker Theo Lawrence round out the sound and the lush sonic textures. The ten-song album was written during the lockdown periods of our past two years and recorded by Lindell and Björn Pettersson in Brunnsvik, Sweden.

Influences as diverse as Savoy Brown, The Creeps, and Grand Funk Railroad show in the genius oozing from each note, starting from the downbeat of opener “Western Rain” and strutting on into the tunes ahead. Warm and funky to the core, the bass line grooves wrap lusciously around Lindell’s warm vocal tones. The brilliant “There Comes a Tie” is a love song of heartbreak that is one of the most beautiful expressions of these feelings I’ve ever heard. The production choices here are sheer perfection: a taste of strings and French café transforms this collection of notes into a time capsule. Amazing!

Lindell’s rich vocal timbre resonates with each lyric of “Leave a Light On,” with its flashbacks that bring the great Glen Campbell to mind. Longing and hope peppered with horns fail to distract from the incredible vocal range here. It’s a masterclass in narrative songwriting delivered to perfection. “Twilight” follows, featuring Amy Helm. Embracing the connection to The Band’s classic work, this song’s re-imagination honors the original like a warm fire of familiarity on a cold winter’s night.

“Dance” taps into an uptempo New Orleans vibe with guest Lawrence. The album next wanders into “White Lines” with its introspective darkness. Sonically, the track is rich in instrumentation, contrasting most of the record. Much like Grand Funk Railroad, slide guitar and synthesizers create a new depth. “Christmas Card” is that real lament that we have all been hesitant to write, the gut wrenching truth about what’s really going on.

With “Nights Like These,” a connection to songwriters like John Paul White comes to mind. Connecting the simple parts, navigating life in a relatable way that feels right? Well, that is an art. Closing out the record with songs like “Living Easy” seems the best way to say goodbye to a new best friend, one step at a time. Hearing Lindell’s falsetto opening “Into the Blue” feels like nothing I have ever heard, words seem to defile its beauty.

Jesper Lindell’s Twilights sits firmly at the top of 2022’s best. In hindsight, this album is one of the greatest gifts the pandemic brought me. —Lisa Whealy

Charming Disaster’s Our Lady of Radium

How do you explain what Charming Disaster’s Our Lady Of Radium does to your senses with an auditory experience? Like Thomas Dolby, the Brooklyn duo’s just-dropped release blinds us with sheer brilliance.

The nine songs weave a tale of Madame Curie as told through the imagination of songwriters Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris. The tales of the radium girls hang from the opening refrain of “Bad Luck Hard Rock” to “Forces of “Nature.” This is Gothic folk finery at its minimalist best. This is a post-pandemic force! 

For many of us, Charming Disaster’s Quarantine Livestream was a refuge against evil. “Elemental” may be the greatest nod to that state of escape, simple and sweet. The album’s homage to Curie and medium Pierre becomes palpable, like the partnership between Bisker and Morris: Authentic angst and rich harmonic theatrics. “Eat Drink Sleep” defies all reason, a waltz of frenzied moments and sonic magic with frogs. It’s perfect, and certainly my new springtime favorite. “Darkened Room” whirls its way towards the end of the record. Surreal sonic textures paint “Radium Girls” with the vibrancy of the Mona Lisa.

To say “Glow About Her” feels dark highlights the skilled juxtaposition that the songwriters of Charming Disaster are capable of. Arranged in a lyrical give and take of circular truths, Bisker’s soaring soprano and Morris’ steady alto/tenor ground the tune. Closing out with the title track, “Our Lady Of Radium” shows how important restraint is in storytelling. Now, please invite me to the Off-Broadway opening! Charming Disaster’s Our Lady of Radium is out now. — Lisa Whealy

Premiere: JPH’s “Everything’s O.K.”

“Everything’s O.K.” by JPH is a look into one of the most intimate processes of a person’s life: going to sleep. While JPH (Jordan Hoban and associates) usually creates minimalist-inspired folk and outsider music, this piece pushes the boundaries of what JPH is and can be. This beautiful, intimate sonic collage is a curated collection of calming noises: lots of shh-ing, gentle murmurs of “it’s okay,” and other delicate noises. (There are some elements of ASMR in here, even if that’s not the direct intent.) This sonic collage has no beats to insist, nor instruments to guide the listener–only the subtlest of rhythms delivered through the many sounds of the human voice.

The highlight of the sonic collage is a sung lullaby (by Hoban’s mother!) layered on top of this gentle assortment of noises: “It’s time to settle down / while Jesus watches over you / and Mom sings lullabies.” The overall effect is one of being comforted, calmed, and sent off to peaceful dreams. Amid the chaos of our lives, this sort of sonic space–expressly about peace, expressly about maternal comfort, expressly about going to sleep–is a rare respite, an almost reverent interlude. It’s an unusual, nontraditional form of sonic beauty. I have definitely never covered anything like it. But it struck me, and I wanted you, dear listener, to hear it too.

Jordan Hoban was kind enough to share some thoughts about the song with me:

“Everything’s O.K.” is special to me. It features my mother singing a song she had written for me when I was a baby. It’s a melody that has always held great significance for me, and in sharing it with others I am inviting them to experience something intimate. The entire album is a journey from tradition to presence, from trauma to hope, and in sharing this melody I am trying to connect the smallness of my experience with the broadness of the world’s story.

A Holy Hour comes out March 25th. JPH will be releasing a limited run of handmade cassettes for the album. Each order will come with exclusive hand-printed art. JPH also plans to release videos corresponding to songs from the album.

Shows:March 24 – Charlotte, N.C., Petra’s

More shows to be announced soon

The Cast Before the Break goes forward and backwards with Where We Are Now

I was in high school from 2002-2006, so one could make some educated guesses at what records defined those seminal years for me. (The Postal Service: Check. Transatlanticism: check. Deja Entendu by Brand New: check.) But Deep Elm: Too Young to Die stuck with me even more than those. The anti-suicide effort / sampler combo was my first introduction to the diverse (and often raucous) emo of Deep Elm Records. Those almost-all-now-obscure bands (Settlefish! The White Octave! Pop Unknown!) contributed strongly to altering my life trajectory from “whatever it was before” to “independent music.” I owe a lot to Deep Elm.

The Cast Before the Break showed up on Deep Elm in 2011, just after Independent Clauses switched its focus from punk/emo/hardcore to folk/indie-pop/indie-rock, so I didn’t catch them the first time. But wow, I am here for them the second time. Where We Are Now is a tour de force of post-00s emo; a record that capitalizes on the virtues of an iconic sound without being defined by them.

Led by the near-mythical three-guitar attack that many emo bands aspired to, Where We Are Now filters emo tendencies through a variety of concepts. The raw, pounding fury is there, such as on the Before Braille-esque charge of “Minutemen” and the howling “Seaward.” But beyond that, acoustic bits foreshadow lead singer TJ Foster’s later Deep Elm band Accents (…also “Seaward,” actually!). The 7-minute “Friends of Mine” features a Jimmy Eat World-esque late-song slow section amid a post-rock song structure. The Appleseed Cast would have been happy to write the patterned/mathy riffs and rhythms of “From a Pedestal.”

All of these impulses come together on standout “Slice of Life.” The song starts off as a delicate ballad, then builds from there into an atypical barn-burner by adding layer on top of layer of guitars and bass. Foster’s falsetto rides the waves of sound beautifully, then nails the landing with the evocative repeated phrase “waiting for your light to show.” Right at its peak, it crashes, closing with a beautiful thumb-piano/kalimba outro. It’s everything they wanted to achieve in the record, compressed into 3:55.

While not as triumphant in tone, closer “Hindsight” is a fitting cap on a record that took 10 years to complete. The piece rolls through acoustic-driven sections and pounding rock sections, never letting the listener’s attention drop. Kicked off by a truly rousing shout, the last 1:30 is a masterpiece of emo songwriting, regardless of era. The lyrics are fittingly expansive and pensive: “I thought I knew it all / who really does?” This is the sort of piece that goes beyond the titles and stereotypes of genres to be an outstanding song, regardless of your priors.

Where We Are Now is a big, ambitious, successful record. The quintet’s songwriting is top-notch, the performances are evocative, and the collection works together as a whole excellently. If you’ve ever been a fan of Deep Elm, from Red Animal War to Athletics to Montear, you need to check this record out. It’s a time machine that goes into the past and into the future. Where We Are Now is out on Mint 400 Records, another label close to my (and IC’s) heart.