As I sit here with the sun shining on my face, sipping my peppermint tea, Jeremy Bass’ latest release, The Greatest Fire, gently caresses my ears. The well-orchestrated indie-pop/ alternative masterpiece is comprised of many moving parts. Each track contains a unique combination of the guitar, bass, percussion, brilliant background vocals, and an occasional appearance from instruments suited for a symphony. The album mellows out as it goes along–each song moving further away from its indie-pop beginnings.
The album starts off on a very chipper note. Both “CA, Plz” and “The Greatest Fire” feel very happy-go-lucky, in the best kind of way. “CA, Plz” begins with delightful acoustic guitar plucking, paired with soothing male background vocals “bababa”ing us into the album. Jeremy Bass’ voice soon enters in and the ode to a state (California) lifts off with synth sounds drifting us into the “ocean blue”. Female background vocals also provide support in the chorus and transition us into the next track.
The album’s first single, “The Greatest Fire,” echoes the chipperness of the first track with the great addition of keys layered into the guitar/percussion combination. The message of the track also seems very optimistic, yet grounded. The lyric, “Don’t you ever feel there’s a truth deeper than your point of view?” shows off that mixture well.
Unlike what the title of the next track may lead you to think, “(So Glad) Everyone’s Happy” is seeping with irony, as the repeated lyric “so glad everyone’s happy” seems more sardonic than authentic. Instead, the lyrics “I’m not ready to go” and “Breathe, breathe, breathe” seem to get at the heart of the track. Unlike the other songs, the bass guitar leads us through a playful arrangement of percussion, a beachy guitar, and Jeremy Bass’ steady vocals filling out the track.
“1,000 Yrs” and “‘Till the Summer Ends” both contain softer sets of instrumentation. “1,000 Yrs” is the cutesie love song on the album, with lyrics like “I wanna be here for a 1,000 years with you”. The violin-heavy instrumentation ensures the track’s romantic sound. Meanwhile “‘Till the Summer Ends” shows off Bass’ talented acoustic guitar playing. In general, this track’s sound is softer than the previous ones. Similar to Fleet Foxes, the soothing background vocals and instrumentation take the listener drift to a peaceful place.
“Halfway Sane”, “Trees for the Forest”, and “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)” continue to steer away from the chipper indie-pop sound that kickstarted the album. “Halfway Sane” does this through a certain edginess in its arrangement, with the help of a heavy use of the electric guitar. “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)” is the only instrumental track off the album. The acoustic guitar serves as its anchor, as percussive elements enter and exit as they please. The cyclical sound of the track seems to echo the pattern of a lightning storm, as the title suggests. And before you know it, the storm has passed and the track is over. “We Will Be You” brings the album to an eerie close, as it begins with a slowly played banjo, progresses with an organ, and ends with creaking wood floor sounds.
Before I close out my review of this masterful album, I must draw attention to the creative way Bass titled his tracks. From “CA, Plz” to “1,000 Yrs” and “(theme music for a desert lightning storm)”, his use of parentheses and text-speech are brilliant. The Greatest Fire is an album created for those of us who are tired of the same old indie-pop productions playing over and over again.–Krisann Janowitz
The video is a collage of clips culled from 1000 hours of tour video. That herculean effort on the part of filmmaker Annie McCain Engman results in an impressionistic piece that evokes both the speed of moving cars and the warm brightness of Bass’ music. There’s a lot crammed in the video, and it works best as the whole it was intended to be (instead of me trying to explain it too much). If you’re thinking, “Ugh, collage, I hate collage, anyone can collage,” know that I’m with you. This one caught my attention anyway due to the deft handling of the work by Engman. Anyone can collage, but pros can collage better.
The tune that the video accompanies is a chipper tune that splits the difference between indie-pop (those handclaps! the keys riff!) and adult alternative (the smooth arrangement! the soaring vocals!) without being self-consciously part of either genre. Fans of old-school Death Cab for Cutie and fans of Sam Smith will each find things to love in this tune, and the marrying of those disparate groups (or are they disparate? I’d like to believe they aren’t) is a great credit to Bass.
The Greatest Fire releases on January 19 via Jungle Strut Music. (Now there’s an evocative label name.)
Jeremy Bass and his many talents never cease to surprise me. In his first eight-song release of the year, Winter Bare, we witnessed poetic lyrics shine with simple, mainly acoustic accompaniment and a sound that echoes ‘60s folk music.This second collection (released two months later) strikes quite a different note. New York in Spring is a collection of eight equally poetic songs, yet with Spanish inspiration and an easy listening sound.
On first listen, the aspect that most catches my ear is Bass’ talent as a classically-trained guitarist. The guitars in Winter Bare had a much more relaxed folk sound, while the guitar parts get a little more complicated on New York in Spring. Although “Firefly” maintains more of the former’s folk sound, the rest of the album does not. Bass was trained in classical and flamenco guitar, and it shows. Particularly in the guitar-only tracks “Berimbau” and “Theme from El Decamaron Negro,” Bass shows off his classically trained roots. In fact, the latter is Bass’ version of a composition for classical guitar by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. From extensive finger picking to fast-paced Bossa Nova rhythms that make you want to do the samba, Bass shows off a side of himself that was modestly veiled in Winter Bare. Bass’ classical Spanish inspiration shines bright and clear in New York in Spring.
Bass’ combination of classical guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, accordion and percussive elements come together to create an album that easily falls under easy listening. By easy listening, I am by no means saying that the sound is boring–it’s simply relaxing. Bossa Nova can often be classified under easy listening, and this album is a clear example of that happening. The guitar and piano pair up beautifully in tracks like “Prayer” and “Julia.” When other instruments such as the trumpet (“Work”) and violin (“New York in Spring”) enter into the mix, the spanish flavor of the tracks that make you want to dance gets heightened. Yet, the flawless blending of instruments and the smooth way they are played serve to mitigate the flavor, making the album an easy listening treasure.
I knew I could never review a Jeremy Bass album without commenting on his poetic lyrics. Having actually won poetry awards and scholarships, Bass’ lyrics in both Winter Bare and New York in Spring ooze with depth and beauty. The title track is a poetic ode to New York City, with lyrics like, “But how could you not ever have lived here and ever said you’d truly been alive/ In New York in Spring.” One brilliant thing Bass does in New York in Spring is pair his heavy lyrics with light-hearted instrumentation that makes you not realize the lyrics’ exploration of the darker aspects of humanity. The best example of this is “Work.”
“Work” is one of the most brilliantly written set of lyrics I have ever heard. The song starts off with exuberant trumpets and continues with rapid Bossa Nova guitar rhythms. The instrumentation maintains a very fun and fast-paced sound that makes me want to dance the samba. The fun sound of the song masks the dark commentary Bass makes through the lyrics. The lyrics tell the narrative tale of hard-working farmers and constant-working businesspeople. He also has secondary characters such as himself (“Here I sit in my usual place”) and children (“In the city children play”). Through highlighting an array of human situations, Bass is able to universally draw attention to the one thing they all have in common: work. The lyrics have a slightly sardonic tone, since you can tell that all this work isn’t necessarily leading to good things: “A man tries to make his lover stay, hey they’re working.” (I could go on exploring more themes and figurative language, but I’ll spare you.) Looking past the vibrant sound of the track, “Work” has lyrics that point out one of humanity’s darkest struggles–our desire to rest overcome by our enslavement to work.
New York in Spring is certainly an album pleasing to the ear, but unlike Winter Bare, it is not for its simplicity. Instead, New York in Spring maintains a smooth easy listening sound accomplished through a complex arrangement of instruments and Brazilian-inspired rhythms. New York in Spring shows off a classically complex side of Bass that was hiding in Winter Bare. I do not discredit Winter Bare; in fact, I admire it for its more simple folk sound and equally poetic lyrics. Yet, there is no denying that New York in Spring is where Bass lets his talent truly roam free. And for that, we must thank him. —Krisann Janowitz
It’s always interesting when an artist releases one album directly after another–what Jeremy Bass did this year is no exception. Releasing Winter Bare in April and New York in Spring in June, Bass gave us two different eight-song releases that sound worlds apart from each other. Next week, I will be reviewing the more recent release New York in Spring. For now, let’s take a look at the poetic, more low-key, ‘60s folk-sounding Winter Bare.
Although labeled “alt-country,” Winter Bare has a pretty distinct ‘60s folk feel. Bass’ voice takes on a blues feel in the first track, but it maintains much more of a Bob Dylan flavor in the rest of the album. More modern-day vocal comparisons would be Fleet Foxes and Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, both of which seem to stem from this tradition. Take Bass’ “Lift Me Up,” for example: the guitar strumming gives off a very 60s folk vibe. The vocal harmonies of the track are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, whose sound stems from artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel. The lyrics of “Lift Me Up” are also very nature-focused, something which also links it to the forefathers and foremothers of modern folk. The more I examined the track and the whole album, the more the inspiration becomes evident, whether Bass meant it or not.
The low-key vibe of Winter Bare makes the album a relaxing one to listen to. The vocals are clear, and it honestly sounds as if Bass is just telling us story after story. The instrumentation is fairly simple: mainly accomplished through acoustic guitar, but occasionally switched out with a banjo (“Winterlude (Banjo for Annie)”) or mandolin (“Coming Back Home”). There are also subtle appearances from other instruments like trumpets (“Lift Me Up”) and the pump organ (“One More Cigarette”). Even with the added instruments, the songs remain generally relaxing and easy to listen to. You can certainly categorize Winter Bare as a “feel good” album, sonically.
Jeremy Bass is not only a brilliant musician and lyricist, but he is a poet as well–it certainly shows in the poetic nature of his lyrics. One theme that Bass focuses on in many of his songs is love. Yet, Bass doesn’t tackle the subject in an overly cheesy manner as many artists in the past have. Instead, Bass uses a more realistic approach in his lyrics. With lyrics like, “I can’t pretend that love’s not the sweetest salt in the wound/ that the heart gives,” Bass expresses the experience of true love with all of its flaws. That lyric found in “One More Cigarette” is followed up by the chorus ending in “We make our choices and we live with what we choose/That’s why I choose you.” So although in his lyrics, there is certainly a level of honesty about the messiness of love, Bass still maintains an overall optimistic view of love.
Bass also uses nature in his lyrics to express the deeper meaning of life and love. In “Red Tailed Hawk,” Bass uses an extended metaphor to depict an animal that is “white-winged and free.” He continues to describe the peaceful image of this “Red Tailed Hawk.” Finally, in the last lyric, Bass then asks, “Won’t you teach me what it means to be/ White-winged and free?” “Red Tailed Hawk” is but one example where Bass poetically uses nature as a mode to describe his emotional reality.
Winter Bare shows off Bass’ skills in a subtle way. His lyrics appear seamlessly written. The instrumentation is simple, yet more complex once examined. One may even wonder if the title relates to simple bareness of the album. Nevertheless, Winter Bare is a truly beautiful folk album, reaching back to the ‘60s. Stay tuned for next week, when you’ll find that New York in Spring shows off quite a different side of the talented Jeremy Bass. —Krisann Janowitz
I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year writing reviews for Independent Clauses and discovering new music. The following is a list of my top five releases from what I have reviewed this year, including both full length albums and EPs. It was difficult to choose a top five since I have loved every artist I wrote about, but here are a few of my favorites.
Paul Doffing – Songs from the (quaking) Heart(Review) Paul Doffing’s heartfelt release is, simply put, beautiful. As soon as I turn the album on, I feel so deeply that it almost brings me to tears every time. Not only the lyrics but the very instrumentation of Songs from the (quaking) heart exude raw emotion. Every time I listen, the album inspires me to go out to nature and write or paint.
Jeremy Bass – New York in Spring (Review) This EP is quite a unique cup of tea, and I love it. Bass’ New York in Spring oozes the kind of whimsy that can brighten any day. My favorite track from the EP, “Work,” showcases the album’s bossa nova flair while containing a string of brilliantly crafted lyrics that sardonically comment on our relationship with the inevitable: work.
The Lowest Pair- The Sacred Heart Sessions(Review) I remember the days when anything close to country music was something I did not listen to. Now, I find myself giddy over minimalist bluegrass album The Sacred Heart Sessions. Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee might be one of the best vocal pairings I have ever heard.
Tidelands- Old Mill Park(Review) This EP also effortlessly interweaves both male and female vocals throughout. Yet, the unique mix of classical and rock instrumentation is really what makes this collection stand out. Every song has a distinctly different sound from the next. I shared a few of these tracks with my picky husband, and he loved them all.
Thayer Sarrano- Shaky(Review) Hauntingly beautiful really is the best phrase to describe this album. This is yet another album that makes me feel deeply just from the instrumentation. Sarrano’s vocals and lyrics leave me truly awed. Shaky’s southern gothic sound makes me a little bit uncomfortable in the best way; in my opinion, the best art does.–Krisann Janowitz
1. “Goldface” – Tussilago. This indie-pop tune just feels effortless: Tussilago slides along with a bass groove, a low-key dance vibe, and a great melody. It’s the sort of song that you forget when you heard it the first time: it seems timeless, like it’s always been there.
2. “Break the Chain” – Ultimate Painting. Classic popcraft here, hearkening back to songsmiths like McCartney, Lennon, and Nilsson.
3. “No More Hits” – The ZZips. Do you miss slacker acoustic/funk/groove Beck? Hit up the ZZips, who clearly do as well: the clattering beats and gentle acoustic guitar come together via the funky bass and chiming electric guitar.
4. “Firefly” – Jeremy Bass. The press for this says bossa nova, but all I hear is smooth, gentle acoustic pop with a genuine, earnest vocal performance. It sounds like the sun was shining when he wrote this one.
5. “A Weaker One” – The Henrys. Sometimes I just like a song, and don’t want to kill it with definition. Chill out to this calm, excellent acoustic tune.
6. “Mountain” – Crooked House Road. I know Mumford & Sons kinda killed the market on indie-rock/folk fusions, but I’m surprised that more people haven’t taken Nickel Creek’s bluegrass/indie-rock fusion route. Crooked House Road goes that direction, adding in some klezmer flair and dramatic female lead vocals as well.
7. “Austin” – Tyler Boone. There’s some sweet pedal steel action on this modern country tune, featuring (who else?) a down-and-out narrator.
8. “Eastern Time” – Runner of the Woods. Here’s a tune that appeals to all the old-school country vibes that it can: weeping pedal steel, plain vocals, and bouncy piano (with some John Denver twinkles thrown in). It comes together into a swaying, smile-inducing whole.
9. “Our Garden” by Fox Street. If Ray LaMontagne got a little more Needtobreathe Southern rock in his blood, he could have written this tune. Passionate, raspy vocals meet wailing organ in a mid-tempo ballad.
10. “Too Little Too Late” – Mi’das. I’ve been getting a ton of soulful songs thrown my way recently. Mi’das stands above the pack by delivering not just his vocals but his expressive guitar playing.
11. “Money in the Evenings” – Hermit’s Victory. This white-boy slow jam has a Iron & Wine rustic feel (just the vibe, not the arrangement), while maintaining its own flavor through the accents and Tyler Bertges’ unusual, carefree vocals.
12. “Tz, Ka” – Inner Tongue. More soulful slow jams, but with some major synth contributions that give this also a bit of a dance vibe. It’s, at least, super re-mix ready. The head-bobbing vibe is hard to beat on this one.
13. “Sadie” – Gold Star. Slurry, emotional, and passionate, this vocals-led tune dances around the genres of country, slow-core, and singer/songwriter. Whatever you call it, it grabbed my attention immediately.
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.