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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.

Cameron Blake sets the singer/songwriter bar high in 2015

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Writing a whole album for single instrument and voice is a deceptively difficult task. No orchestration, no ornamentation, nothing but the melody, the rhythm, and whatever counterpoint you can get your fingers (or your looper) to do; what could go wrong?

Well, lots. I’ve heard a bunch of albums that consist of the same three songs over and over. I’ve discovered how important a backing band is to some musicians. I’ve heard a lot of grating flaws that were charming in a previous context. All this makes me appreciate even half-decent attempts at true solo records that much more. Cameron Blake‘s Alone on the World Stage is that rare album which showcases diverse songwriting skills and loads of memorable melodies within a very constricted medium. Alone impressively makes guitar and voice seem like an endless, expansive orchard with good songs ripe for the picking.

It’s not just that the songs are all there; they all sound so easy. The rolling fingerpicking of lead single “North Dakota Oil” seems to effortlessly buoy Blake’s baritone musings about the latest American oil rush. The insistent strumming that supports tales of hard-luck life in “Detroit” sounds no less assured. The pensive sway of “The Fisherman,” the bouncy “Piccadilly Circus,” and the precise-yet-gentle arpeggios of “Ultrasound” all show other facets of the diamond. “Fragile Glory” closes the record not by rehashing the sonic content, but by summing it up beautifully in a tender, expressive performance. Blake didn’t phone in a single song here: deft, purposeful work went into each of these twelve tracks. The result is an album that showcases his vast instrumental songwriting abilities without getting repetitive.

His lyrical songwriting is as adroit as the guitar work. Despite the implied political ends of the title, the album covers a wide range of topics. “Welfare Street” follows up on the promise of some politics, but primarily by focusing on the plight of the people involved in the situation–“Detroit” can be read in the same way. “Fragile Glory” expands the widescreen lens even more, taking a look at the whole human condition (“Hallelujah! We are human.”). On the other end of the spectrum, “Ultrasound” is a very personal song about becoming a father. But even if the scope is turned outward or inward, these are songs that are generous, even affectionate, toward their subjects. Instead of taking a calculated, sneering, ironic stance that can come out in pictures of people in culture, there’s a kind undercurrent to the lyrics that courses through the tunes almost as persistently as the bass note rhythms.

It’s peculiar that the most moving song on the album is one of two written for piano and voice: “Home Movie” is a soaring, passionate treatment of what the liner notes call “old silent film music” with new vocals and lyrics. Blake’s consistently evocative vocals are especially well done here, as his baritone lends the song a dynamism that fits with the deeply affecting lyrics. It’s the sort of song that doesn’t appear that often; everything comes together in that one performance to show the heart of the song and the songwriter. It’s the best of what an instrument and a voice can do; it’s the track that allures and calls so many people to try this sort of thing.

Cameron Blake’s Alone on the World Stage sees him standing out from the pack of singer/songwriters with powerful songwriting, passionate lyrics, and intimate performances. Blake sets the bar high for this year of albums.

Cameron Blake’s Kickstarter has me excited

I plan a lot of my blog posts ahead of time, but sometimes I don’t get to write much while I’m planning. I’ll occasionally stick placeholder text in the draft to remind myself; it’s usually “Band name, y’all.” (Oklahoma forever.) I always eventually change the text. But this time I feel like leaving it:

Cameron Blake, y’all.

That’s right. Cameron Blake is running a Kickstarter to fund an album of just him and a guitar. I’m a big fan of Cameron’s work, and so I’m really excited to see what he can do with the bare essentials. I have extremely high hopes for this record, based on the demo and the music from the Kickstarter video.

So if you’ve got some metaphorical pennies kicking about, consider pitching some Cameron Blake’s way. It’s gonna be a great album.

Wild Ones / Cameron Blake

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Portland’s Wild Ones kept me company for the last legs of my Kickstarter journey (notably the handmaking mixtapes part). Their album Keep It Safe is a perfect summer album, so if you don’t have one yet, you can pick this one up. It’s mid-tempo indie-pop with some electro vibes: chill, but with enough head-bobbing propulsiveness that it keeps the wheels rolling in the car. When I turn it off, it feels like I’m turning off the mood in the room. It’s that pervasive in my mind.

Tracks like “Row” and “Golden Twin” let the female vocals dance breathily over a gently rolling keys-and-drums backbeat, augmenting every now and then with synths for flavor. The guitars flow in and out of the songs, never announcing their presence too hard or going unnoticed. It’s just beautifully executed indie-pop; the sort of album where every track works together and trying to pick singles is fruitless. You know, like how all the summer days run together? Jump on this.

withoutthesoundofviolence

In contrast, Cameron Blake‘s Without the Sound of Violence is surprisingly dark. The singer/songwriter has never shied away from heavy lyrical topics, but the music he couched those thoughts in was considerably buoyant (or at least hopeful). Without sees him match terse thoughts on social and political matters with similarly tense arrangements. Opener “Rugged Cross to Bear” sets the album in an ominous light, culminating in the mantra “hey, hey, hey, you better put your gun down/there ain’t nobody gonna hold you when the chips are down.” Choosing guitar as the lead instrument instead of his usual piano, Blake cultivates a heavy, tough feel to the tune. The sound continues directly into the title track, which includes a noise intended to mimic the sound of blades scraping as an interpretation of the lyrics. Even the fun, cheeky country hoedown “Cabin Fever” includes the love interest crying and being afraid. In short, this is not light summer reading.

So what is the end of all this heaviness? Blake uses the space to talk about hope, hopelessness, and steadfastness in the face of difficult times, whether that’s by singing from the perspective of Abraham traveling to sacrifice Isaac (“Abraham and Isaac”), channeling the perspective of a remorseful divorcee (the poignant, beautiful closer “Driftwood”), or getting Dylan-esque in lyrical structure for “Blood in Our Love.” That last track is my favorite of the album, as it ties the themes of the album to a piano-based sound that caused me to fall in love with Blake’s work in the first place. His performance is incredibly comfortable in “Blood in Our Love,” as he lets his voice loose to interpret the lyrics for him. It’s one of the only places that he gets unbridled in an album that’s marked by tight control over the arrangements; since the track doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the album musically (although it’s spot-on thematically), some may find it to be their least favorite. But I like it a lot.

Blake’s muse has taken him through some heavy places on Without the Sound of Violence, and he has come out with some memorable tunes for it. It’s definitely not dance music, but songs like “Driftwood” tap into deep, heavy emotions excellently. If you’d like to hear Josh Ritter do something darker, you may find your wish is granted in this album.

Cameron Blake's distinctive voice and lyrics set his songwriting apart from the pack

If you haven’t read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, you probably shouldn’t start unless you have a lot of time to kill. The series is currently 13 books long, with a fourteenth (and final, thankfully) coming; worse than that, the books range from 600-1000 pages each. The word “timesink” doesn’t do the phenomenon enough justice.

But since I read with music going, it’s given me plenty of time to listen to music. And as enveloping as the tale of three taveren has been, it’s been even better with Cameron Blake‘s musical accompaniment.

Blake’s two most recent albums show an unique songwriter who has the ability to be a staying power in folk music for years to come, based on his lyrical skill and vocals.

Blake’s guitar and piano skills are formidable, but that’s not what makes him so great. His voice is a finely-tuned instrument recalling the best elements of John Darnielle, Colin Meloy and indie hero Ben Gibbard without losing its distinctiveness.

His latest studio album Hide and Go Seek is a low-key but focused affair that features his voice over spare songwriting. Gospel arrangements permeate his best works, as in the standard “I’ll Fly Away” and the excellent, jaunty original “Down to the River.” Both are anchored by piano: the former church-inspired, and the latter almost in an almost honky-tonk style that fits his smooth vocals perfectly.

His lyrics are also a high point, as he shows in “Moonshiner,” the title track and opening track “Every Hundred Miles.” The spacious arrangements give his lyrics room to breathe, and when floated by his excellent vocals, the songs become much more than the sum of their parts.

In that way, Blake functions like a mellower, more user-friendly version of The Mountain Goats; Blake takes on less heady themes in a much more palatable voice, but he gives the same attention to each word that Darnielle does. He tells stories with the same panache and flair, making the quoting of lines relatively unhelpful in showing the reasons why his lyrics are great.

The inflections that Blake employs on his higher vocal register recall those of Gibbard, although Blake’s range is much lower. The pleasing way that Meloy chops some of his vowels finds an analogue in Blake occasionally, as well.

Hide and Go Seek is the rare album that has layers to reward the serious listener. It’s entirely possible to listen and hear some lithe folky pop, but there is so much more here to get, lyrically and musically.

Blake develops another dimension of his sound in Cameron Blake with Strings: Live. Having already used tasteful string arrangements on his latest collection, this is not so much an exploration as an expansion of his sound. It also serves to introduce listeners to work from his previous album En Route. From that disc, “The Love Song Never Died” is the highlight of this album, as the complex song structure lends itself beautifully to the emotionally powerful crescendo that the strings afford it.

The depressing “Hudson Line” is made all the more poignant by the inclusion of strings, as well. Even more impressive than the arrangements is the success with which the recording is pulled off. Rarely do the strings get whiny, and Blake’s voice is steady as a rock. The only misstep is the 8-minute string piece “Hymn,” which is marked as “by Geoff Knorr.” It’s about 5 minutes too long and bears absolutely no connection to the rest of the work. Other than that, the album is a triumph.

Both albums show off Blake’s lyrical power and ease in his own skin. With his distinctive voice, memorable songwriting and that easy showman’s touch, Blake could go very far. I would love to see him support Josh Ritter or another songwriter of that caliber sometime soon. Highly recommended.

Cameron Blake is En Route to Greatness.

En Route, the second album from singer/songwriter Cameron Blake, is a refreshingly unique masterpiece.  Although the Baltimore musician has his master’s in violin performance, he is clearly a man of many talents.  With fantastic orchestrations from the young musician, the album will take you on a journey paved not only with violin, but beautiful vocals, piano, harmonica, cello, and acoustic guitar, to name a few.  In the beginning of your listening experience, you may find yourself struggling to pin him down under one genre.  The album is a smooth combination of acoustic, pop, blues, and largely folk sound.  It would do him an injustice to not give him credit for his wide range of appeal.  Let’s just label him as this: “talented.”

It’s hard to compare Blake to any one other artist, but fans of everyone from Dave Matthews to The Swell Season will surely enjoy this record.  The album opens with “This is All,” a track that instantly makes you feel like you are listening to a rebellious poet in the bottom of a dark jazz club.  Farther along on the record is “On the Way to Jordan,” which is more than suitable for a pub set in the heart of Dublin.  A favorite is “Interlude,” a slower-paced song that would be fantastic on the soundtrack of an indie flick.  The piano and delicate harmonies will chill you to the bone in the same way as the painfully beautiful songs written by Damien Rice.

Blake provides fascinating vocals through out the album, sometimes emanating a similar sound to Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie.  There is a pleasant clarity in his vocals that allows the listener to enjoy his unique lyrics.  In “Lonely Rooms” he writes, “I held her marigold smile-apple scent rain through slanting silver-lines/ I am the prince and the fool-survived by a breath, a thread, a single room.”  Pure poetry.

If you decide to check out one independent artist this year, make sure it’s Cameron Blake.  With excellent musicianship, thoughtful writing, and exceptional vocals, you won’t be disappointed.

Cameron James Henderson: Blues-folk following the greats

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With an honours degree in classical guitar, it is not difficult to hear the talent of Sydney, Australia’s Cameron James Henderson. “This definitely influences my composition,” he says. Influenced by the obvious–Bob Dylan and Tom Waits–it is refreshing to hear echoes of Jim Campilongo, Blake Mills, Ry Cooder, and Marc Ribot coming from his guitar. There is also a vibe that comes from down under. “Definitely John Butler and Ash Grunwald were guys I looked up to heaps during high school. Saw both of them a bunch of times etc and played their songs,” says Henderson.  

The twelve-song Storm Rollin’ In is a treat for blues-folk fans worldwide. The laid back shuffle of opener “Storm Blues” feels like the salt air and beaches of Sydney. Simple, elegant storytelling follows with “Across the Water,” whose guitar work shines. “Lifeboat” features satisfying slide guitar work, while classic guitar riffs blend Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Butler Trio beautifully. The metaphor-filled “Refugee” is a bit of brilliance. Channeling Bob Dylan in vocal style, the song is a powerful testament to humanity’s weaknesses. The mix is stellar, allowing the song to breathe out the message freely.

“No One’s Here/Cares” has a Ray Wylie Hubbard vibe, throwing down a groove that rocks. Sprinkled with harmonica and songwriting nimbly mirroring songwriter Chris Gillespie (AU), this song is an incredibly fun romp. Sequencing on this album works together to create an experience; without “Stand Amazed” (the intro), “Floating” would lose the power of imagery. Stark and haunting acoustic guitarwork slides into the song gracefully. Vocals are layered in with classical guitar composition–simply beautiful musically and lyrically. “Wisest Man” is a shout in the dark, back in the folk singer-songwriter style with an essence of The Milk Carton Kids.

Things shift adeptly to “Old Man Stomp,” then abruptly jump to “Shelter,” as if one could not be there without the other. B.B. King makes his voice heard, here. There is a familiarity with the easy rolling songwriting, hearkening back to the beginning tracks of Storm Rollin’ In. “She’s Not There” brings in what sounds to be the ocean, a continuous pull of life that gives a fluid foundation to the pain of love. “Don’t Go Drifting” closes out the album in style. Soaring, J.J. Cale-style electric guitar and vocal phrasing give an extra punch to the message of the song. This follow-up to Cameron James Henderson’s 2014 debut album is a step up in songwriting dexterity and composition, showing a new depth in vocal delivery. Get yours at www.cameronjameshenderson.com/. —Lisa Whealy

Stephen’s Songs of the Year

This year was an expansive one for me, as I spent a lot of time expanding my musical boundaries but also circled back to some genres that are old friends. This playlist of songs of the year is set up like a mixtape: calm and warm at the beginning, a short upbeat period, dark and stormy in the middle, then cheery and upbeat at the end. These are thus not in a “best to least” order. Without further adieu:

  1. “The Becalming” – Veldhans.
  2. “Already Am” – Will Samson & Message to Bears
  3. “This Land Is Your Land” – Kris Orlowski
  4. “The Seminar” – Stables
  5. “The Earth Is Flat” – Alexander Wren
  6. “Song for Nick Drake” – Grace Gillespie
  7. “San Francisco” – Racoon Racoon
  8. “Book of Witches” – Jake Aaron
  9. “Give Thanks” – Black Violin
  10. “Roger Ebert” – Clem Snide
  11. “Of a Million” – Thunder Dreamer
  12. “Heliotrope” – Runnner
  13. “Cribbage Champs” – Jake McKelvie and the Countertops
  14. “Pull Apart” – Summerooms & Samantha Eason
  15. “Nobody Knows” – Ellen Andrea Wang
  16. “All Will Be Well” – Blue Water Highway
  17. “Getaway Car” – Ezekiel Songs
  18. “Rest” – The Gray Havens
  19. “Let’s Leap” – Mesadorm
  20. “Inhale Exhale” – Anna Meredith
  21. “How Dare You” – Cameron Blake
  22. “Vista” – Escaper
  23. “First to the Feast” – Stagbriar
  24. “Mile” – Wisdom Water
  25. “210” – Matt Karmil
  26. “Tony Sendo” – Underground Canopy
  27. “Black Sorbet” – Closet Disco Queen
  28. “Kora” – GoGo Penguin
  29. “For Victor” – Joshua Crumbly
  30. “Palms Up” – Ezra Feinberg
  31. “QUO” – Martin Kohlstedt
  32. “The Actor” – Brief Candle
  33. “Crow” – Sam Carand
  34. “Saw You Through the Trees” – Eerie Gaits
  35. “Another One for Slug” – Dougie Stu
  36. “Mission Plan” – Matthew Shaw
  37. “Dis kô Dis kô” -YĪN YĪN
  38. “Nap” – Standards

June Singles 2: Less Whiplash, Mostly Indie Pop and Folk

1. “Muanapoto” – Tshegue. Dense, groove-heavy African rhythms power this unclassifiable tune, which falls somewhere between LCD Soundsystem electro, Afropunk, and The Very Best. May I repeat: those grooves. You’ll get moving on this one.

2. “Like the Night” – Moonbeau. This electro-pop jam played for roughly three seconds before I thought, “Oh yes. Ohhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhhh.” The airy arpeggiator lead hook is awesome, the verses are perfectly done to build tension, and the chorus brings that hook back in excellently. The vocals nail it, too. If you love JR JR, Hot Chip, and the like, you’ll be absolutely all over this track.

3. “Happy Unhappy” – The Beths. The Beths are jumping in with Alex Lahey and Marsicans as purveyors of incredible, indelible guitar-pop in big batches. This second single I’ve heard from then is just everything I’m looking for in power-pop: thick guitars that yet don’t cover up the vocals, blast-off drums, big low end, and giddy enthusiasm. The fact that the giddy enthusiasm (check the “oh-ah” section) is deployed in a lyrical set complaining about being happy (ha!) is just rollicking fun.

4. “Forever” – The Gray Havens. TGH has moved from piano pop through expansive folk-pop to full-on indie-pop in this latest track. This jubilant track grows from a peaceful opening to include enthusiastic horns, a soaring vocal line, and punchy percussion. Fans of Graceland will hear some resonances there. It’s a blast.

5. “When I Look Back” – Lev Snowe. This track has some psych guitar touches toward the end, but for the majority of the piece it’s a hazy, dreamy, friendly indie-pop effort. Snowe’s fusion of fuzzed out bass (or guitar masquerading as bass), glittery synths, and even-keeled vocals creates a fun but not unserious atmosphere.

6. “I’m the Wolves” – St. Jude the Obscure. Turns a Band of Horses-esque dusky rumination into a full-on dance party–it’s sort of like when The Arcade Fire busts out “Sprawl II” in the middle of The Suburbs. It’s thoughtful, but also got a lot of kinetic energy going on.

7. “Setting In” – Ditches. Starts off with layers of squalling feedback, but quickly abandons this intro for a loping, scuffling, laidback indie-pop song. Fans of formal songwriting, Cut Worms, Grandaddy, The Shins, and more will love this delicate, melancholy, lovely tune.

8. “Ask Me Now” – Wes Allen. I love melodic percussion–xylophones, marimbas, and vibraphones create such a warm, enveloping mood for songs. Allen includes some melodic percussion in his reflective, somber pop song that calls up elements of Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, and other peaceful singer-songwriters of the era. It’s a rumination on a breakup, like so many others, but Allen’s well-turned vocal performance sells it.

9. “Our Conversation on July 7th” – God Bless Relative. World-weary folk-pop that yet retains a sweetness in the arrangement. The electronic drums give this a unique vibe before opening up into a full-band jam (including some of the best handclaps ever used in the service of sadness). One of those tunes that feels like it’s always been around and you’re just hearing it again–it’s that mature and well-developed.

10. “Tiananmen Square” – Cameron Blake. The ever-excellent Cameron Blake’s video for his moving tune “Tiananmen Square” is powerful. The clip shows a lot of historical footage of China ostensibly surrounding the 1989 student protests held in the titular location. The most intriguing part of the video is that, while I’ve seen the iconic tank man picture, I’d never seen video of the ensuing moments: tank man keeps moving in front of the tank, then climbs up on the tank (!!) and attempts to talk to people inside the the tank (!!!) before getting down off the tank and resuming his protest. It adds even more gravitas to an already incredible moment. Blake’s huge crescendoes only help with this feeling.

Top Releases of the Year

This year I’m just going to have one list of releases that encompasses both full releases and EPs. Without further ado, here it is:

1. Twigs – townsppl. (Review) The most infectious indie-pop I heard all year. I couldn’t stop listening to it from the first time I heard it.

2. A Lovely Wait – Nathan Partain. (Review) Easily balances being a folk album and a worship album, subsequently transcends both genre labels.

3. Thinking about Thursdays – Lullatone. (Review) The scope of this project is massive, but the quality never suffers. Charming, endearing, thoughtful instrumental twee work here.

4. Fear Not – Cameron Blake. (Review) This album spans an impressive range of emotions, moods, genres, and lyrical places. Blake shows off his distinctiveness throughout.

5. Oversleepers International – Emperor X. (Review) Starts off as a acoustic-punk album, then sprawls outward in all directions. The one-two punch of “Wasted on the Senate Floor” and “Schopenhauer in Berlin” is the best album-opening blast of the year.

6. Two Sets of Eyes – Two Sets of Eyes. (Review) A mind-bending amalgam of indie-rock, jazz, hip-hop, and emo that has more twists than a rollercoaster. Whoa now.

7. Bright Hopes! – Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings. (Review) Another album of massive scope, Crawford’s double album of melodic indie-rock is punchy, clever, and unforgettable.

8. Listen to the River – The Collection. (Review) It’s an emotionally heavy piece of work, which is par for the course with the Collection. The orchestral-folk outfit’s songwriting vision is as clear and strong as ever.

9. II – Alex Dezen. (Review) A veritable jukebox of ’70s and ’80s pop styles matched with Dezen’s eye for lyrical detail and ear for inescapable melodies.

10. Tambaleo – Matthew Squires. (Review) Squires’ left-of-center, idiosyncratic vision of indie-pop is on full display here. I didn’t hear anything else like Tambaleo all year.

11. Wives’ Tales – Illustrated Manual. (Review) A moving, carefully-crafted set of acoustic singer-songwriter/folk tunes.–Stephen Carradini

Winding on out of each year, the reflection of great music begins. Here are my picks. That being said, I do hope that you find a bit of something new that brings you cheer heading into the 2018!

10. Jenny ScheinmanHere on Earth. It’s a rare feat to bring true roots Americana to life. Jenny Scheinman does just that in her album Here On Earth. History brought to life musically, this is an experience not to be missed.

9. This Pale FireAlchemy. Singer/songwriter Corban Koschak performs as This Pale Fire from Auckland, New Zealand. His subtle, nuanced acoustic music is finding wings around the globe with soulful melody and emotive vocal delivery, bringing to mind early years of Michael David Rosenberg.

8. Cyclope EspionFriday Night Epitaph. The best music tells a story. Finding a voice in America, French-born Cyclope Espion’s Friday Night Epitaph is the story of New York City. With every raw, Dylan-esque moment, this album is “Indélébile” from start to finish.

7. DoubleVeeThe Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider. This is trippy indie at its finest. With shimmers reminiscent of Oingo Boingo, this is musical deliciousness not to be missed. Jack the Rider emerges out of Norman, Oklahoma–not normally known as a spot for a concept album. But to say any more about the album might take away from an initial listener experience with Alan and Barb Vest.

6. Charles Ellsworth Cesaréa. Ellsworth’s 2017 record found him back at Flying Blanket Studios working with producer Bob Hoag. This partnership helped shaped the evolution of many tracks that populate Cesaréa. Travels and journeys forge this singer/songwriter’s journey through life. This is the third full-length album by the artist who left the wilds of northeastern Arizona to finish film school in Utah, only to uproot and end up in Brooklyn. It will be great to hear what the next five years in his life sounds like.

5. The American WestThe Soot Will Bring Us Back Again. Matthew Zeltzer (guitar/vocals) and Maria Maita-Keppeler (vocals, violin) are The American West from Portland, Oregon. Their “post-Americana” sound envelops each track off their debut album The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again.

4. Trevor James Tillery Together, Alone. With some of the most stunning artwork of the year representing an album of pure social analysis, this Nashville-based singer/songwriter proves that each carefully-chosen lyric can paint a picture in music. Undeniably outstanding.

3. Jason Van WykAttachment and Opacity. These two albums of piano is the storyteller for a look at relationships. This two-part masterwork is composition at its finest.

2. Grover AndersonFrom the Pink Room. All listeners gravitate toward great songwriting. From The Pink Room is the third album from the folk singer/songwriter from historic Murphys, California. The album blends great storytelling in a true troubadour fashion with country flair. Anderson is a man to watch.

1. Polyrhythmics Caldera. Genius takes all forms, but rarely does that put nine musicians of incredible caliber into a creative space–the album is named Caldera after the form left behind from a volcanic eruption. On their fourth studio album, the Seattle-based band is all about that jazz. But that foundation allows the band to stretch into rock, funk, blues, and R&B forms. Their sound expands like the caldera that is the album’s namesake.

I hope to hear your favorites from this year’s IC. Have a prosperous 2018! –Lisa Whealy

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