1. “Dancing” – Young Readers. This beautiful whisper-folk tune comes with a huge history: this song was originally written years ago, before a Kickstarter campaign, a cancer diagnosis, a cancer recovery, and a return to music. Jordan Herrera’s fragile voice and subtle determination are beautiful on their own, but they have a lot more gravitas when you know the story attached. As a long-time fan of Young Readers (and one of the funders of that cancer-battered Kickstarter), I’m thrilled to hear Young Readers back in the game.
2. “About” – Another Michael. Anyone who starts off their track with found sound and a blaring organ is going somewhere unusual. This Topshelf Records crew demonstrates that they leans toward the quiet end of that label’s spectrum with this artsy, clever, propulsive indie-pop tune. Fans of mid-era Death Cab for Cutie (Transatlanticism, especially), the Shins, and other early ’00s indie-pop will love this.
3. “Go With You” – Mike Edel. Absorbs the best vibes of ’80s synth pop and ’00s indie-pop to come up with a smooth, soft, charming, contemporary indie-pop jam. There’s a lot to love: Edel’s voice and vocal lines, the clanging ’80s guitar, the delicate piano, the wispy female echo/harmony, the punchy drums, just all of it.
4. “Prism” – Small Leaks Sink Ships. If you’re into high-drama pop of any era, you’ll be way into this. This track falls right in the chronology of The Moody Blues to Styx to Queen to all of ’80s synth-pop to My Chemical Romance and the like. Synths! Big drums! Dramatic, soaring vocals! Quiet/loud transitions! It’s all here for you.
5. “Synesthesia” – Polychrome. This electro-pop jam is full of twinkly synths, breathy vocals, triumphant piano, and charging guitar. Yet the breathy vocals are really the star–the rest of the mix is turned down for space, and the result is a dreamy track that could have been a blaster with a different mix. It’s a testament to the vision of the artist that this version won out when another one easily could have–this one is immensely satisfying.
6. “Morning is Made” – Hush Kids. Weepies fans, rejoice! This has a little more mature gravitas to it, but at its core this is a softly-fingerpicked acoustic-pop song with a heartwarming female/male duet. The softly rising horns in the arrangement seal the deal for me. There’s going to be a lot of fans of Hush Kids very soon.
7. “Hometown Honey” – The Herbert Bail Orchestra. If you manage to effectively use a theremin and a bevy of mournful trumpets in the same alt-country tune, you’re going to end up on Independent Clauses. Bail’s vocals are engaging and the songwriting is strong, but it’s the stuff around the main thrust of the tune that really sells the song.
8. “Poor Stuart” – Ben Somers. It takes a really compelling instrumental folk performance to snag my ear, because I’m not just looking for a solid traditional tune. I want to hear something that’s trad but also contemporary; something that sets the song apart. This tune has a lot of vintage in it, but there’s modern elements and approaches in the melodic lines that give it a fresh voice–Somers is not just recreating an era, he’s updating it for the modern ear. The touches and flourishes are subtle, but they’re there. Strong work.
9. “Through the Atmosphere” – Dusty Stray. Here’s a walking-speed, wide-eyed, low-key folk tune the likes of which Bonnie Prince Billy is great at. Stray settles some subtle instrumental touches around the edges of the calm vocals and fingerpicking–clunking bass hand on the piano, fluttering treble hand, delicate auxiliary keys, etc. But basically I imagine a guy walking by a river and serenading whoever he passes by.
10. “Eleanora” – baeilou. Adventurous, experimental, dramatic, ominous, and groove-heavy, this cello-and-voice excursion is a wild journey. baeilou has crooning, speak-singing, semi-beatboxing, and more in her diverse vocal performance; the cello is used as treble, bass and percussion. The moods swoop and shift and change without warning. It’s an experience. The sheer inventiveness of this track is worth a listen. Do not expect anything like “Eleanor Rigby.”
Alex Dugan, Mic Vredenburgh, and David Grayson have something to say, and the guys known collectively as Culture Wars are using a self-titled debut EP to do it. The Austin-based trio has been dropped into turbulent times, using that background to make a surrealist splash in five tracks coupled with cinematic visuals.
Each song is topically relevant to the world today. The lyrical subject matter covers greed, dishonesty, vanity, narcissism, and the beat goes on. Tapping Alan Moulder (Arctic Monkeys, The Killers) as producer brings an edge to the music which gives the topics a sonic surge. Completed with mixing by Manny Marroquin (Imagine Dragons, Kanye West), Culture Wars has found a vibe. With Dugan on vocals and electronics, Vrendenburgh on guitar and cello, and Grayson covering drums, this minimalist approach defies the sonic depth produced here. Many of the music videos are directed by Jeremi Mattern and Alex Dugan in the the DIY spirit. Not to be overlooked is the surrealist cover art from Gary Dorsey at Pixel Peach Studios, twisting each lyrical concept into mind blowing graphics. The stage is set to let the music rip.
Culture Wars breathes haunting echoes that flash back to early sounds from The All American Rejects. AAR’s rock was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, less than twelve hours from Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, where Culture Wars tracked their debut. Great music comes out of unexpected places sometimes. Dugan seems to mirror the vocal delivery style of the Vans Warped Tour headliner and frontman Tyson Ritter from AAR.
“Lies” is a great kick-off to the EP. The song struts, inviting listeners unfamiliar with the boys in the band to join the party. The lyrics seems to fit the current world culture.Dugan, Vredenburgh, and Grayson deliver heavy pop vibes with “Bones” flowing into “Money (Gimme, Gimme)”; each track drives a gritty relevance with current cultural chaos. It’s an electro-music microscope on society–did bands like Talking Heads influence the refrain?
Each song of the EP has been represented in a video, so you can absorb the EP thru Youtube. Visuals play a big part in telling the story of songs like “Hideaway.” That tune peels another layer away of how communication has changed in today’s age of social media. Ending the EP with “Delilah (Tear Me Away)” Culture Wars hits a dance club groove that would make Bowie proud; fun, easy groove flows out here, making a statement with skilled musicianship.
Great music is often born in Austin, Texas, because of the influences of music born nearby. Such is the case with Culture Wars, whose debut self-titled EP was produced by the man who helped give an extra edge to The Killers and Arctic Monkeys. That’s a big deal, but more important is the fact that this trio has talent to match the opportunities that are coming their way. This trio delivers some fresh new pop-rock crackling with echoes of past greats like Bowie blurred in a blender with the best of Warped Tour greats. Poised and ready, Culture Wars has earned a unique spot as an indie pop rock voice today.–Lisa Whealy
On Red Sammy’s new album Neon Motel, songwriter Adam Trice explores a collection of barroom ballads that sound like an invitation to the barren frontier, one frosty brew, or a hot buttered rum on a frostier Baltimore night. Bruce Elliott (electric and electric slide guitar), Greg Humphreys (bass, mandolin, electric guitar), Ryan Bowen (drums), Anjili Babbar (backing vocals), and mastermind Trice (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tambourine, mandolin) have opened for national acts like Deer Tick, Mike Watt and The Missingmen, Phosphorescent, and Dirty River Boys.
Some facts are certain here. The eleven songs are a deep dive into the land of angst-driven guitar. The video clip of mask-wearing school kids playing at life lets listeners get the vibe of “Ernie the Lizard”. With Trice crafting songs like the perky “You That I Refuse,” listeners may feel that they are in the hands of a master craftsman, because each note punctuates the message lyrically.
Laying in to rest of the album with the easy tempo of the title track, “Neon Motel” is sung with vocal gruffness that makes Red Sammy one of the best folk-rock singers around today. With an identifiable quality like Bob Dylan, Adam Trice has a style that is alive with nuanced emotion. Carving ideas out of each experience, a great songwriter takes each and uses it to his advantage. The slide guitar lover’s dream that is “Bad Ideas” pulls lyrics back in from the title cut. This tune shows a songwriter at home with his bandmates, creating a dank, dark frontier where listeners are invited to come. Exceptional guitar work rounds out the sound into something deeper, a pit of places that always end badly, eyes open at the end of a drunk night.
“You Don’t Gotta Convince Me” is magic, featuring beautiful harmonies in duet with backing vocalist Anjili Babbar; one of the magic moments on this album, this standout is crazy good. Tripping into “Firetrail” with its almost in-your-face blues rock, one thing is certain: evolution has occurred. Seven albums later this man does not sound tired of doing what he loves, despite the name “Tired and Free.” “Tired” eases in patiently, with Trice phrasing each vocal delivery purposefully. This comfortable, purposeful work is a mirror of greats like Dylan, come to life again for another generation in new rock star. “Rock Star” is that self-proclaimed anthem, coming in with a growl, a shout, stellar guitar work, and lyrics laden with sarcasm. The band takes that guitar work into ‘Roofbeam.” This cut also feels like a car sing-along, with Ryan Bowen keeping a noticeably steady beat on drums with Greg Humphreys on bass. Often restraint is a challenge to accomplish successfully, but there’s no problem here for these seasoned musicians. They mesh together seemingly without effort.
Conscious of sequencing on this piece of music, “I Stay in Bed” and “The Current” close out the record. The first has a Harry Nilsson, “pull the covers over the head” vibe. It’s a brilliant acoustic window into a horror show, a bookend to Childish Gambino’s mind-blowing “This Is America.” Red Sammy closes out with “The Current,” subtle and soft. The acoustic guitar is the voice that rings true, along with a wordsmith that has made his thoughts heard with a rock, folk, and Americana beat.
Singing the song of everyman, Red Sammy does something really special on his seventh release Neon Motel. Any listener has met the cast of characters that inhabit the world of Adam Trice and Red Sammy. Whether is is the businessman drinking his lunch, the booze hound lurking in the shadows, or the guy grateful to have made a fast getaway, we have met these folks before. Sometimes it is nice to know we all have the same dark places we can go visit. Sometimes hanging out in the shadows with your friends is the best place to be.–Lisa Whealy
Howlin Rain has literally been around since their 2006 debut. The Oakland, California-based band has toured the world with their west coast rock flavor. More impressive is that the band is set to drop its fifth full length album, The Alligator Bride, via Silver Current Records this June. What a long, strange trip it’s been!
It can be tough to have comparisons tossed about to iconic bands like The Grateful Dead, getting hippie culture vibrating with expectations. Especially after the band had worked with famous producers that carried with it major labels.
Ethan Miller claims the role of lead howler and guitarist. Taking on the world in true DIY spirit, Miller makes Silver Current Records an artist-owned and artist-run endeavor. With their future in their own hands, this bunch of mischief makers is focused on some serious music making business, as The Alligator Bride can attest.
Joining Ethan Miller on guitar is Daniel Cervantes. Two guitars make for a wicked rich mix of sound. Jeff McElroy on bass and Justin Smith on drums create a foundation for this rock trip to happen. The seven songs of this album feature an authentic connection to a swampy groove–Mountain comes to mind, best known for their performance from 1969’s Woodstock.
From the opening of “Rainbow Trout,” one thing is apparent: listeners are on a road trip to parts unknown, and happily so. This track is magic: striking vocals and great guitar work with riff layered on riff. It’s a celebration of life in song, this kind of rock has been left to the Phish fans and Dead heads since 1969. Howlin Rain picks up that vibe, and this track is like the best of what started in 1967 at Monterey Pop.
“Missouri” follows with an easy feel, a down-home, road-trippin, blasting-out-of-the-radio-of-a-Volkswagen-bus song. Listeners can almost feel the wind in their faces. It’s a summer day in a song; there is no doubt why this was the first video to drop from the record. Musically, this is a masterclass in joyful noise: exceptional guitar work embraces Miller’s vocals with riffs all over.
The band follows that up with a contrast. “Speed” is a soft-spoken acoustic guitar with an easy, soothing voice. But “Speed” is also a story of contrasts: being high can take effort, as anyone that has ever had too much of anything will relate. This is songwriting brilliance. Following up with a track like “The Wild Boys” is a bit of sequencing genius. A song reminiscent of Grateful Dead, this is softly executed. Of all the songs so far this has the most Dead vibes; enough essence of what is past, but enough of what is Howlin Rain this is elevated beyond what may have helped create the music. Long jams and stellar drum work make this a stand out. However, it is apparent why “ Alligator Bride” is the title track. Lush harmonies tell the tale of simpler times that have moved on, good old days gone, never to return. Catch hold of your breath–this is a stunner that wraps in a squeal of guitars.
Miller greets listeners with crystal clear vocals on “In The Evening,” authentic and full of emotion. It is easy to be transported on this journey, simple and uncluttered musically. Three guitars and yet there is restraint–damn. Impressive. Easing out of the record with the final track, “Coming Down” is perfect. Anthemic yet subtle, with a festival-at-sunset feel, the road tripping is over with Howlin Rain and The Alligator Bride. Its beautiful crescendo of soaring guitars spiraling out with the vocal strength of Ethan Miller, say goodbye. Those guitar riffs that will keep fans smiling long after the music fades. Keep up with their tour dates at their website. –Lisa Whealy
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.
I have been piled under by work recently, so I’m making a good faith effort over the next few days to get out from under a ton of great singles. I’ll be posting singles in roughly the order they were sent to me, which means that these posts will be more eccentric than I like them to be–this one goes from instrumental post-metal to acoustic singer/songwriter back-to-back. Whoops. Enjoy the tunes, regardless.
1. “Ruthless” – Terra Lightfoot. Sounds like a mashup of the vocals of the Alabama Shakes and the Southern-infused alt-country of Jason Isbell. That is high praise, y’all.
2. “Get On Board” – Pirra. This is a pop song that just would not leave my head. The tune sneaks up on you, with a subtle arrangement leading into a big, lovely chorus. There are shades of San Fran indie-pop, ’50s pop, and contemporary folk-pop throughout.
3. “The American Dream” – Crooked Teeth. The reconsideration of the American dream continues, this time in an invigorating, punchy post-LCD Soundsystem soundscape. The tension between the distorted guitar and the frantic arpeggiator is the greatest part of this song–there’s tons of space to mine there, more than LCD can take. The melodic vocal line sets Crooked Teeth apart from their forebears as well.
4. “There Is a Ledger” – Wild Pink. John Ross traded in his solo synth-pop project Challenger for art-punks Wild Pink, but this track circles back to his synth-pop beginnings. “There Is a Ledger” is a stroll through the park, with chirpy, charming bits dancing over a low-slung chassis of a song. Ross’s boyish, floaty vocals finish creating the happy mood.
5. “Cómo Me Quieres” – Khruangbin. Khruangbin is creating some of the most interesting non-neo-classical instrumental music in the world right now. And I say world because that is the scope of their music–they throw in Middle Eastern vibes, some funky aspects, vaguely surf-y moments, and a solid grounding in indie rock to create their unique, fascinating stew. Wild stuff.
6. “G.O.A.T.” – Polyphia. What if you could perform dubstep live with real instruments? What if you could mash it up with a math-rock-influenced metal band? What if you could throw some prog drumming in there for kicks? Well, if you’re somehow that inventive, you’d be Polyphia. Just wow.
7. “Crooked Lines” – Lost Like Alice. A soft, unassuming tune that sidles on in, catches your attention, and never lets it go. Ben Parker’s voice is confident but vulnerable; his low range plays like a higher Alexi Murdoch, while his higher register is more along the lines of Passenger’s dramatic performances. The guitar slots in to the mix beautifully. Solid all around.
8. “Life Comes at You Fast” – Jacob Furr. Furr’s been honing his country/folk for a long time now, and he’s earned a hard-won gravitas to his songwriting. He controls space in his vocal lines and guitar lines expertly, allowing the song to have breathing room. His vocal performance is smooth and strong.
9. “Bored in College” – James Quick. I’m not really into white-dude soul, but this tune got me. The vocal performance is carefully done, the low-key groove is impressive, the arrangement is tidy, and the overall vibe is strong. The crowdsourced video only makes it more fun.
10. “Us” – Jamison Isaak. Isaak’s EP2 has songs more atmospheric and more enthusiastic than his first outing. This is one of the latter, as a humble piano chord progression becomes the base for burbling synths, rattling lead treble lines, and other ostinato key patterns. It’s an upbeat, sun-dappled piece that takes minimalism as a starting point to build something beautiful.
Tiphanie Doucet‘s “Under My Sun” is a warm, peaceful track that draws its easygoing vibes from a simple, sturdy arrangement. This track falls somewhere between indie-pop and folk: it has the acoustic instruments and acoustic-guitar focus of a folk tune, but the swaying vibe and vocal melodies point toward indie-pop.
Either way you want to slice it, it’s the careful, uncomplicated arrangement that sells this track: a simple guitar pattern is supported by deep stringed bass, restrained drumming, and sun-dappled piano keys. The pieces come together into a track that is both confident and relaxed–there’s nothing slackery about this track, but you can definitely bob your head to it. It’s much more of a pastoral track than an urban one; this is made for big fields instead of skyscrapers.
Doucet’s hushed invitation to come and be comforted only adds to the feeling of comfort and peace. Her vocal performance is compelling in its attention to detail–the ends of lines and the wordless sighs that close the song contain a lot of emotion without going for the big move. If you’re looking for a relaxing summer tune, this is what you’re looking for. Highly recommended.
“Under My Sun” is the title track of Doucet’s upcoming album, which was produced by Simone Felice and David Baron. Under My Sun will be released August 3. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you’re on the New York/New Jersey area, you can catch Doucet live before the record drops:
June 21st Fox and Crow, Jersey City , NJ 8pm
July 2nd Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3, NY 8pm (Tickets)
Salim Nourallah‘s “Relief” is a tense song about seeking peace. Nourallah is looking for relational harmony, striving for goodwill between people in relationship and throughout society.
The problem is that he’s not finding any of that peace he’s looking for; he’s offered no relief. The resolution comes when he chooses to give relief to people instead of only seeking it. Lyrically, this is a strong offering–Nourallah’s words keep the song moving, even amid the slow tempo and atmospheric arrangement.
The arrangement is a deft, careful one. The song was written on piano, but the final version of this track doesn’t bring in the piano until midway through the song. The first, piano-less half of the song relies on ’90s lead guitar sounds, stark percussion, grumbling bass, and distant atmospheric melodies to create the atmosphere he’s looking for: it’s an arrangement that could be peaceful, but has tough edges instead. The entrance of the piano mellows out the tune for a while, but the gritty bits remain throughout. If peace is elusive and difficult lyrically, so it is musically.
Fans of ’90s Brit-pop, ’00s Grandaddy-style alt-pop, and ’10s singer/songwriters (Peter Bradley Adams comes to mind) will enjoy this tune quite a bit. “Relief” appears on both the EP North (out June 1) and the full album Somewhere South of Sane (out sometime in Fall). Both releases are on Palo Santo Records. You can catch Nourallah on Twitter and Facebook.
1. “New Moon” – Daniel Bachman. There’s not a much more relaxing instrument than the Bontempi Organ Bachman plays here. Similarly, there’s almost nothing more relaxing that listening to someone play acoustic guitar in the woods while relaxing. This track gives you 13 minutes of both of those things. It does build to a less-than-chill climax, but this is ultimately a long, expansive, exploratory guitar ramble by someone who’s really good at it. (It doesn’t sound like a bad jam band, is what I mean.)
2. “Quebec (Climber)” – Bing & Ruth. A swirling, whirling, propulsive piece that straddles the line between ambient and neo-classical. There are elements of the great, cloudy mountains of sound that John Luther Adams created on Become Ocean, grounded by piano and what sounds like clarinet. Very unique and interesting.
3. “Render Arcane” – Cruel Diagonals. Elements of drone, ambient, and soundtrack music are to be found in this unique instrumental track. There’s some sonic elements that set the scene of a forest, as well as the pitter-patter of melodic percussion (marimba) and ghostly manipulated vocals to further the feel of deep woods. Some industrial-style clanks and bonks are introduced, making me think that perhaps a machine is chasing our protagonist. Under all that, there’s a subtle but real groove that marks this as fascinating work.
4. “Loop 019” – J Foley. This track is from Drone Loops EP 1, which is a pretty descriptive title. This track is a bunch of distorted guitar, looped, chopped, layered, transformed, and droned. The tape hiss and tape chops create a bit of percussion, but mostly the internal inertia of the guitar recording keeps this thing humming along. It’s a bit doomy, but it’s actually way more zen than I expected. It’s sort of like a more minor-key School of Seven Bells with no vocals, maybe. Either way, it’s good. If you like heavy, dark post-rock, conceptual work, or weird drone/ambient stuff, you’ll be into this.
5. “Chasing the Path” – Grej. Music for modern dance is almost always interesting, as the structure and style of the piece are driven by and intertwined with the contours of the dance. Grej’s Chasing the Path is a long work created for dance; this 13-minute opening track is a piece primarily for piano and cello with some of the melodic percussion that is Grej’s specialty woven in. The lines and long and legato, flowing peacefully until about eight and a half minutes, when the pace picks up and the mood switches to a more ominous, foreboding one. Fans of composed music will find this to be a compelling work.
Occasionally music transcends place, born from the essence of a musician and his roots to become something greater almost effortlessly. Matt C. White does that with his debut album wallow in the hollow., available via Burro Borrocho Records. Infused with a Carolina youth, the man who calls Brooklyn home packs a punch with this first effort.
White is a city man who has country oozing from his soul. Embracing Americana that emerges from deep woods country, his authentic connection to the land undoubtedly shaped production choices. He paints a landscape with instrumentation, creating rustic, back-porch ambiance. The simple instrumentation consists of guitar, mandolin, bass, and slide. Vocals are layered with claps and stomps. The occasional studio wizardry digs deep into a bag of tricks to make all this come to life on the record.
Matt C. White is a constant music-making machine, involved in projects from Charles Ellsworth and The C.O.O. to Grandpa Jack to Dead Seconds. After wallowing in the music, it is easy to hear why Alex Saltz was interested in this project. Saltz (Bruce Springsteen, Deer Tick, The Raconteurs) contributes analog mastering, which fits White’s style perfectly.
It’s apparent from the start is that this record has been a lifetime in gestation, as it is lyrically dense and sonically intelligent. Reminiscent of Australian blues musician Ash Grunwald, this is Deer Tick with a twang; strut in the best way. From the dark opener “Lie With Me” and its equally ominous sister “Can’t Get Away,” it almost feels like someone is looking over their shoulder, whistling down the street in the middle of the night. It is brilliant!
Each cut takes listener to a different space, mixing up the pace of the album. White connects people with his emotional reality by utilizing sequencing and pacing; tempo is punctuation, a memo for listeners to perk up and pay attention. “Now And Then” has an over-the-top happy feel that balances the dark of the previous track. Think Disney’s Snow White: the balance of dwarves whistling to keep from thinking about the queen. White lands a suckerpunch on “Year Of Dogs.” The darkly brilliant tune shows off the best vocal performance from White on the record.
Nearly halfway through, “Black Spiral” is a lyrical masterpiece that plumbs the depths of darkness amid an unusual mix that focuses on the background vocals. Resting points are huge, and “Intermission” feels like a special place to rise to the surface. It takes a moment to remember that this a trip into the Carolina woods, and “Have It” is that reminder. Taking a slide into “Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder,” it’s easy to slip back in front of the campfire. Raw, rustic, and real, this is the best of what makes American music great; mixed with restraint and mastered with a light hand, the analog feel is perfect. With heart and soul, grit and guts, this is the track of the record here, no question.
In the home stretch, “Words To Make You Stay” is a melancholy bookend to any Muddy Waters proclamation; the joy at the end of this record comes from feeling the roots of the artist that is Matt C. White. Somehow, the revival is at the river, and “Lost On the Way” proves that there is always a way back to one’s roots. Celebrating that place where he grew up, “Nightsky” is a flashback written by a man in the city; upbeat, with a celebratory vibe, it is also a songwriter looking forward, not back. “Fare Thee Well” is a fond adieu to listeners who wallow in the hollow. with Matt C. White. A flash of a song, does it really count, or is it really a wave that suggests “until we meet again”?
Occasionally a musician releases a debut album that seems effortless, honest, and authentic with a distinct voice as a songwriter and a vivid soundscape. This is that record, oozing inspiration and life experience. Streamers, do yourself a favor: listen to wallow in the hollow. by Matt. C. White vinyl-style, start to finish. Highly recommended.–Lisa Whealy
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.