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Month: June 2022

Single: Brown Calvin’s “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4”

Brown Calvin’s “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” is a mellow, exploratory, subtly mysterious slice of life that brightens the room. It’s heavy on the “slice”: the two-minute piece starts without preamble and ends without warning, ambling magnificently through my ears between those times.

Brown Calvin (aka Andre Burgos) deftly brings many ideas together: hand percussion and an approximation of a snare form a loose backline for the piece, while ambient synth whorls, jazzy keys, and other unidentifiable instrument sounds warp and wander into each other over the walking-pace rhythm. The piece’s mood is “good vibes” on the surface, with mysterious ones underneath. The track is warm and friendly, and yet there’s some ennui hanging out in the background of some of the chord changes.

It’s hard to pin down “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” to any particular genre or space. It’s mellow, for sure, but not lo-fi; it’s jazzy, but not trying to make traditional jazz moves. It matches ambient approaches with steady percussion. It’s unique, interesting instrumental music that makes me excited for the full record d i m e n s i o n // p e r s p e c t i v e, which arrives August 26 via AKP Recordings.

Premiere: “Dogwood Tree” by The Deer’s Cry

Dogwood Tree” by The Deer’s Cry is a folky yet distinctive blend of sounds from throughout the world. Traditionally Irish vocal rhythms and tones, spiky Americana banjo, and shuffling rhythms from the African calabash (see interview below!) form the core of a speedy tune that moves in interesting and unexpected directions.

Just when it feels like the song is going to go fully in one direction for a while, it clambers down a different path via the addition or subtraction of instruments. First it opens with indie-folk vibes from Patrick Atwater’s prominent upright bass and Bryan Brock’s assured percussion. Brock and Atwater’s seamless performances ground the song, encouraging the complexity that follows. The entrance of Karen Ballew’s vocals pulls it into an Irish folk vein. The aforementioned banjo (from Will MacLean) introduces the Americana feel strongly. But suddenly, the whole tune pulls back into a wordless aria supported by subtle instrumentation. And from there it’s off to the races again, in another direction; there are a ton of musical ideas crammed into this 4:26.

The lyrics speak to hope, through renewal of life in the dogwood tree of the title (in verse one) and through spirituality (prayer and grace) in verse two. These lyrics tie together renewal of the land and soul with traditional spiritual themes like “living water.” The words form an elegant clutch of lyrics to set to a speedy, complex folk track, but The Deer’s Cry–along with Nick Bullock (Producer, Engineer) and Ethan Howard (Assistant Engineer)–makes it all work together seamlessly.

Band members Karen Ballew (vocalist, harpist) and Will MacLean (banjo) spoke in detail about the song:

The four members of The Deer's Cry in a room with sheet metal walls, similar to old sheds. A slim woman is sitting on the left on the ground. Behind her, a tall standing man holds an upright bass. To his right, a slightly less tall man holds a banjo. To his right, a man holding an African calabash sits in a chair.
Photo: Barbara Potter Photography

What prompted you to write this song? What was the inspiration behind it?

Karen Ballew: The seed for this song was planted in 2018 when my husband and I moved from a house we had been renting into our new home. We moved from Dallas to Nashville in 2017 to explore new opportunities, but we weren’t sure if we’d end up staying here. Purchasing a home was a sign that we were going to stay here and continue the next chapter of our lives in this place. My mom flew out to help us move, and as she and I were taking the last load to the car, she suddenly stopped underneath the dogwood tree in the front yard. There was a moment of awe as we remarked at the beauty of the sun shining through the white blossoms, and it felt as though the tree was sending us a farewell blessing, a message of hope as we embarked on our new journey. Three years later, amidst all the uncertainty in the world, I remembered this moment and began to write “Dogwood Tree.”

How did this song come together when you wrote it? What was the songwriting process like?

KB: I had been listening to Dick Gaughan’s recording of “Now Westlin Winds” by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96) and was so enamored with the cadence and rhyme scheme of the verses. When I decided to write “Dogwood Tree,” my first instinct was to revisit “Now Westlin Winds” for inspiration. The melody for “Dogwood Tree” was very much informed by Irish sean-nós (old style) singing. I’ve taken some classes with Irish singer Éilís Kennedy, and I remember listening to her album “Gan Tionlacan / Unaccompanied” to help me get into a good headspace to brainstorm melodic ideas. Éilís’s singing is so beautiful, and I love the songs on this album!

When you recorded this song, what kind of vibe were you going for? Did it end up sounding like you expected it to or did it come out different from what you thought it would be?

KB: It’s always a joy and adventure arranging songs with my bandmates! Because of our diverse range of interests, you never know what’s going to bubble to the surface when we collaborate. In general, we were going for a roots vibe, a meeting of Irish and American roots. Once we got into the studio, the song went from what the four of us could produce in real time and morphed into a wider soundscape. Our producer, Nick Bullock, encouraged us to record multiple tracks of melodic and rhythmic ideas. We ended up with several bass lines, auxiliary percussion textures, accordion, and backing vocals. To me, these additions helped elevate the mystical experience of the song!

Will MacLean: From my perspective, I was shooting for a bluegrass type but with the minimal amount of bounce or swing in the beat. I tried to bring in a Ron Block influence to the banjo solo with the bends and blues ideas.

Any great stories from the studio when you recorded this one?

KB: This song kicked off the rehearsal sessions for the new album and was also the first song we recorded in the studio. We recorded a scratch vocal with bass, African calabash, and banjo all at the same time to capture that energy and communication we have when we play live! That’s the core of the track. I’ll always remember how special it was to listen back to our different takes in the control room as everything was coming to life. It was so exciting and a bit surreal!

What do you hope listeners get from the song?

KB: There is so much uncertainty in the world, and many people are going through stressful times. I hope this song encourages listeners to take a moment to breathe, dance, and be in awe of the beauty of our earth and the mystery of life itself.

WM: I hope they get some sort of energetic charge from this tune. It’s got a dance type of groove and a lot of intensity, so I hope it’s something people could use during a workout or something like that.

“Dogwood Tree” is a rare tune that combines elegance, enthusiasm, and expertise, resulting in a nuanced, multifaceted gem. The tune releases Friday. It lives on Heal the Heart, which lands September 30. You can find the band at their website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

June Singles 2

1. “Night Bunny” – Alister Fawnwoda, Suzanne Ciani, Greg Leisz. Pedal steel, synths, and what sounds like ocean noises come together to create a space of ambient bliss. Highly recommended.

2. “Training Montage” – the Mountain Goats. This indie-pop/indie-rock track is a return to Beat the Champ-era guitar grandiosity mixed with Transcendental Youth-era paranoiac lyrics and Heretic Pride-style melodic arrangements in the chorus. I haven’t been this excited for a tMG album off its first track since I heard “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” blast out of my speakers. My wife and I danced around the kitchen to it.  Highly recommended.

3. “Sunrise (Rumble) ft. Yonatan Gat” – Medicine Singers. A spacious, windswept track that merges slowcore/low-slung rock electric guitar with Pow Wow vocals and insistent drums to create an interplay of varied traditions. Very exciting work. Highly recommended.

4. “Prep Cook in the Weeds” – Fresh Pepper. Ooooh, the vibes here are impeccable: there’s some Windows 95 vaporwave, some ’80s-NYC-style downtown funk, smooth jazz, and casual sing-spoken lyrics that land somewhere between Paul Simon and CAKE in vibe (not in tone). This is a unique experience, y’all. I love it. Highly recommended.

5. “Birthday” – JoJo Worthington. Songs about friends are always going to get me because there are so few of them in comparison to songs about lovers. This one is a delicate indie-folk track that would make Seven Swans-era Sufjan jealous. Worthington’s breathy vocals fit the proceedings beautifully.

6. “So Close” – Aviva Jaye. A subtle, evocative indie-folk track that wisely lets Jaye’s low vocals contrast against the treble of the guitar. The production is spacious and smooth.

7. “For a Chisos Bluebonnet” – Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter. Knowler and Winter know their way around an instrumental folk cut, and this one is an exemplar take: the interplay of guitars is perfectly done that it points it sounds like one impossibly fleet single-guitar effort. The melodicism is impeccable, and the subtle sensitivities in volume and tone make the piece shine.

8. “When You See It” – Pill Super. Slowly unfolding low-key techno that moves from drones to structure to flourishes on the structure. It’s a headbobbing experience.

9. “The Ecstatic Dance” – MISZCZYK feat. Bile Sister. This one explodes borders: it’s a mix of trip-hop, gothy/culty vibes, ’80s electro, VHS visuals, modern dance, and more. It’s not what I’m usually into, but I kept listening to it too often to not include it here.

10. “Dynamo” – Benny Bock. An ambient-adjacent piece that operates in the space between pressing forward and lagging back, with subtly insistent beats competing against languid synths. The song opens up into a full-on instrumental downtempo indie-pop track midway through, complete with piano work, bass, and rhythm.

11. “Heat Haze” – SUSS. The ambient country outfit leans much more toward ambient than country here, convincingly squeezing their usual Western soundscapes into a form that convincingly represents the too-bright, fatigued, liminal space that is a high heat day. (Source: I live in Phoenix.)

June Singles 1

1. “I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)” – Gold Panda. The cheerful, quirky sounds of Gold Panda are back! This one has a subtle disco beat feel, the chopped vocals that are his trademark (and evoke similar artist Pogo), and a patience that puts it in line with Teen Daze. Just a lovely piece of chipper dance music. Highly recommended.

2. “Brookside Hybrid 23” – Ott. Chillout electro with world music vibes thrown into the mix. It’s like Ulrich Schnauss on an around-the-world cruise.

3. “For Now” – Lutalo. Low-key indie rock filling in the spaces between Damian Jurado and Make Sure; easy shuffle and real talk.

4. “Look Outside” – Dylan Gilbert. “It’s my choice what I think about / so why am I torturing / myself?” Gilbert sings against a solid guitar strum and dissonant background guitars. I feel that message; I feel that message a lot.

5. “I Will Be Glad” – Jess Jocoy. Jocoy’s vocally patient and instrumentally relaxed approach to folk turns out a beautiful rumination on family and death.

6. “what’s the use, the real use?” – phoneswithchords. An Elliott Smith-style rumination that is both feathery and gloomy. Hope is out there in the distance, just beyond the intimate vocals and calm guitars. Touches of Sufjan’s quietest moments hover in there as well.

7. “We Are The Creatures This Desert Makes Us” – droneroom. Maybe living in the Phoenix desert has gotten to me, but I can’t stop listening to ambient country. droneroom’s latest is a spacious rumination that depends on guitar tone, space between notes, and subtle drone to create an ominous-and-inviting mood. The vast, unforgiving desert has its own charms, and this track depicts some of the emotions that come along with them excellently.

8. “Wide Corners” – Space Between Clouds. Truly ambient and truly jazzy, this piece seeks to layer the elements on top of each other instead of mix them. The result is a ten-minute piece that has quite a lot going on for being a drone.

9. “Kings (Orchestra vers.)” – Jose Pavli. A much more formal choir-and-orchestra soundtrack piece than I usually cover, but it caught my ear with its consistent energy and strong melodic lines.

10. “Elegant Demise” – Once Upon a Winter. The post-metal here makes equally good use of double-pedal kick and violin. Fans of pg.lost will find much to like in the heavy rock approaches, while fans of more moody post-metal will find the soaring lead lines and the classy breakdown section to their liking. A powerful post-metal piece.