Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Melvin Sparks: Live at Nectar’s

June 23, 2017

A translation of the live music experience to a recorded format often loses the jazz that makes the listening audience jive, but this one keeps it going. Celebrating that incredible connection between us all, One Night Records has released Live at Nectar’s, capturing the work of jazz guitar genius Melvin Sparks just months before his passing. This performance from the sixty-four year old guitarist became his final legacy to his fans.

The idea of jazz guitar came about in the 1930s as a result of amplification helping guitars to be heard over the full sound of big bands. This humble birth blasted forward with a sound that electrified audiences. At twenty years old, Sparks had a career that began with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye; this connection to soul is apparent to new listeners and fans alike. The nine song album (including two tracks available here only) is a lifetime of jazz soul. Produced and mixed by Eddie Roberts with release curation by Simon Allen (both of The New Mastersounds), Live at Nectar’s is issued for the first time in limited edition vinyl.

At the venue’s recommendation, two variables were thrown into the mix: Dave Grippo on alto saxophone and Brian McCarthy on tenor saxophone (known as The Grippo Horns). This spark thrown into the musical amalgamate that  included organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone, creating a true vibe of unpredictability for the music ahead. This group of musicians spans generations, a beautiful fact that is lost in the translation to multi-track tape to all but the most diehard of jazz fans. But because of their huge amount of experience, the outfit’s loving attention to detail puts listeners in the room, every nuance soaring in twisting spirals of melody.

Jazz is fluid and builds off of each piece of the puzzle to create. Songs like “Miss Riverside” show a flair for the solo work that came later in the evolution of the genre. But the brilliant thing here is the fact that the set is sprinkled with covers of well known songs. The band breathes new life into “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).” Standards like “Breezin’” are here for listeners, as Sparks illustrates the life in each note of guitarwork, be it intricate or subtle. All the guitarwork is purposefully defying the definition of jazz as a free musical style with no set rules of performance.

“Whip! Whop!” is a bit of genius that effortlessly fuses together bits of funk, jazz, blues, and classical quips of music seamlessly. A bit of this treasure is the fact that Melvin Sparks and the audience interact here, a true live album. “Cranberry Sunshine” hits that cool vibe that makes the guitarist so great; subtle yet intricate it is the best of what jazz is.

Texas-born Melvin Sparks was brought up on rhythm & blues. Those influences infiltrate his guitar style on songs like “Fire Eater,” throwing in a toe tapping groove. “Hot Dog” and “Thank You” are only available on the album, songs that brilliantly fuse funk and soul into an uptempo party. These two are a fitting way to head out of an album, produced by artists in Allen and Roberts, who honor the talent that has gone before their own. —Lisa Whealy

The Pinkerton Raid’s fascinating, unique breakup album

June 16, 2017

Breakup songs are a inextricable part of the American id, and as such they are a dime a dozen. However, sometimes a collection of breakup songs can emerge from the pack by tweaking the formula of “introspective exploration of emotional brokenness” in ways that shine a new light on the situation. Josh Ritter’s The Beast in Its Tracks pulls this trick by focusing on all that happened after the marriage ended, while The Pinkerton Raid‘s Tolerance Ends, Love Begins joins the category by focusing on the specific history of the relationship instead of the narrator’s emotions. These solid lyrics are floated by great indie rock arrangements that call up comparisons to “serious music” like The National and Fleetwood Mac.

While the songs don’t seem to be in strict chronological order, the narrative of a whole relationship can be pieced together from the nine songs of the record. (I’ll leave the details to you, because that’s part what makes this record so engaging.) In that way, it shares some thematic and emotional connections with movies that are interested in the same thing, such as 500 Days of Summer. The most difficult emotional punch of the non-linear chronology comes from the back-to-back listing of the exuberant microcosm (“meet cute“-to-breakup) of “Deeper than Skin” and the tumultuous, angry argument of “Don’t”–it recalls the big leap from “Riches and Wonders” to “The Mess Inside” on The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas. The move seems calculated to show just how high the highs were and how low the lows were. That’s a rare thing from a breakup album.

Even within songs, the focus is shifted off a single narrator. While “we” is invoked in places (“Crazy”), the most intriguing turn lyrically is that both the man and the woman in the relationship get their own songs. This is facilitated by Jesse James DeConto and Katie DeConto sharing lead vocal work throughout the album; sometimes doing a duet (“Deeper than Skin”), but often exclusively in their own tunes (“Don’t,” “Tolerance Ends,” “Ghost in My Bed”). This fills out the album in a unique way, giving it that pop which pushes it beyond a standard breakup album. It’s the idea of the Postal Service’s “Nothing Better” extended over a whole record, which is cool.

The lyrics on their own are almost enough to recommend this record to you, but happily there’s even more to commend. The indie rock that The Pinkerton Raid plays draws on a deep well of minor-key indie rock forebears to form the basis of their work. The band layers dense, marching-band quality horns and the aforementioned excellent vocals of the DeConto siblings on top of these immediately recognizable forms to create whirling, intense tracks. Jesse DeConto is prone to roaring vocal lines (“Righteous Rain,” “Ghost in My Bed”) while Katie DeConto is more incisive and subtle in her delivery; their talents are paired with tunes that play up their strengths.

While “Deeper than Skin” and “Tolerance Ends” are both impressive tunes, it’s “Crazy” where this album really comes together. The DeContos’ vocal performances are intricately intertwined, and the volatile arrangement provides a complex framework that allows both of their vocal strengths to shine. Katie also gets a chance to roar in the chorus, too, which is a bold move. Lyrically the tune draws the listener into the narrators’ complex relationship, focusing on multiple meanings of the word crazy and the fact that we’re all a little crazy at times. The whole thing comes off as a thunderous turn, not dissimilar to Fleetwood Mac’s high-drama work.

The Pinkerton Raid’s Tolerance Ends, Love Begins is not your everyday breakup album. By approaching the lyrics and arrangements from unusual angles, they create a fascinating, unique record.

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EP: MAITA’s Waterbearer

June 15, 2017

Serious singer/songwriters have a tough row to hoe, as we’re largely past the point where a great lyric can propel you through bland instrumentation or vice versa. You’ve got to be on your game in both categories to make a dent, because there’s a lot of competition. MAITA is up for the challenge, as Waterbearer stands out in both categories. Her debut EP is a surprisingly complex, unusually assured five-song collection that draws similarities to Kathleen Edwards.

Maita’s assured alto makes the listener feel right at home from the first moment. The ease with which she handles lilting high notes and deft syllabic turns (e.g. the verses of “Geography”) are usually the province of artists with many more releases under their belts. It’s not just the vocals that show unusual maturity: the stark yet engaging arrangements are built around warm, clear acoustic guitar and subtle percussion. The bright, unadorned recording style highlights the vocals, guitar and percussion beautifully. It’s an impressive collection of songs from that angle.

The lyrics are another interesting angle. MAITA’s lyrical sense hews toward the Lady Lamb school of lyrics: there’s a clarity of thought that isn’t obscured by the complexity of language she uses. MAITA’s lyrics focus on relational complexity (“Kinder than Most,” “Too Tired to Love You”) but don’t fall neatly into the “love song” / “break up song” dichotomy that singer/songwriters can sometimes get trapped in when they write about relationships. Between the interesting topics and the precise wording, the lyrics are unusually attractive.

MAITA’s debut is an unusually sophisticated take on singer/songwriter work. The songs are interesting from multiple angles, making for multiple engaging listens. Highly recommended.

EP: Mike Llerena’s Absence & the Heart

June 13, 2017

Mike Llerena‘s five-song EP Absence & the Heart is a blast of punk-folk adrenaline that fans of The Menzingers will latch onto immediately. I put “punk” in front of “folk” instead of the more common reverse (folk-punk) because Llerena can play folk, but it takes less than thirty seconds into the first song for Llerena to roar “my life’s a wreck” in a throat-shredding yell over punk-rock guitar distortion and tone. “End of the Line” kicks off with a wiry punk-rock guitar melody before dropping into the standard punk-rock guitar chug that has served so well for so many years. “Lady Rock & Roll” is a bit more old-school rock at the beginning, but again, Llerena lurches into full-on punk rock blitz before thirty seconds are up.

These punk rock blasts (complete with the occasional “whoa-oh”) are anchored by Llerena’s insistent tenor, which is in the same vein as The Menzingers’ vocal tone. The melodies share similarities as well. But Llerena is no knock-off; where The Menzingers can ratchet up to snarling tunes, Llerena ratchets down to ballads. Lead single “Rosanna” has an old-school country/rock’n’roll fusion vibe, while “Dear Lonely” is an acoustic ballad that draws equally on the melodic aesthetics of “acoustic songs by punk rockers” and lonesome country tunes.

If you’re looking for some punk rock to get your summer going, Mike Llerena can help you out. But he can also get you a sad song or two, if that’s what you need. Overall, this is a strong demonstration of varied songwriting from Llerena.

 

Quick Hit: Magic Giant’s In the Wind

June 12, 2017

I’ve been a big fan of Magic Giant over the past few years as they’ve been releasing singles and online EPs. They’ve finally released a full-length collecting that work and adding in new tunes. In the Wind is a fun, bouncy, catchy album of pop-rock, showing how Magic Giant has expanded from a folk-pop outfit heavily reliant on banjo to being a diverse group that can wear many hats.

Magic Giant was always had a bit of dance-rock in them, as the giddy dance-ability of the folk-dance-pop tune “Glass Heart” was what drew me to them. “Glass Heart” is reproduced in a shorter version (no drum circle outro, sadly), but it’s still a blast. Other tunes like “Hideaway” and “Celebrate the Reckless” show off their enthusiastic folk-dance-pop skills that put them in league with Judah and the Lion. But other tunes show off their straight-ahead pop skills, like the thrilling trumpet playing and “na-nas” of “Eyes Wide” and the new-school-Coldplay-esque opener “Jade.” These songs have more in common with Bastille than Mumford and Sons. To round out their abilities, “Nothin’ Left” is a breakup tune that’s straight down the folk-pop pike: it’s all fingerpicked guitar, plucked banjo, three-part harmonies, group vocals, tom percussion, and harmonica (!).

In the Wind is a fun album that would be great on the stereo on a summer road trip. It shows off a wide array of the trio’s skills and sets up a wide-open trajectory for them in the future. At the moment, though, it’s certainly a big collection of summer jams.

Charles Ellsworth’s Cesaréa: A journey reflecting journeys

May 22, 2017

Cesaréa is a ten song journey, a blend of western influences and the tales of a true road dog told with a mature lyricism. From the scent of pine trees and small town life in the opening track “The Town Where I’m From” to the simple “In My Thoughts,” listeners are invited into authentic and vulnerable world of Charles Ellsworth via his third full-length release as a solo artist.

There are no mistakes in who crosses someone’s path in life. “Right around the time I turned 22, I was in Las Vegas with a group of some of my oldest friends. On one particularly hungover/still drunk afternoon, I was talking with a friend about how neither of us knew exactly what we wanted to do with our lives. He was about to head to the Peace Corps for a couple years, and I had just gone through a bad band breakup and had decided to go back to Utah to finish my Bachelor’s degree,” said Charles Ellsworth, when asked about the origins of his latest album set to drop May 26th, 2017. It was prior to his emotional musical breakup that this listener first crossed paths with Ellsworth and heard his story. Swearing off music to focus on film, this wandering man was was truly born, more open to the possibilities of life.

Ellsworth grew up in logging country of Arizona’s White Mountains where families are generationally embedded into the land. This simple life instilled in Ellsworth the value of hard work and sacrifice. These values show in songs like “California,” an uptempo Americana folk trip about moving on. Long a favorite at live shows, this mix has created a beast with soaring guitar work from Jon Rauhouse. The beautifully arranged waltz of “Hold On to Me” shows the trust that Ellsworth has in producer Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Recording (Courtney Marie Andrews, The Format, Gin Blossoms) in Mesa, Arizona. Another song first heard live, this song has been brilliantly transformed into a lush ballad with an elegant tempo and instrumentation: a barn dance for two with the rest of the world listening.

Every path in life comes full circle, allowing the traveler opportunities to get lost along the way. Originally meeting and working with the producer Bob Hoag, the intentional life was born without any realization of the destination at that point. Ellsworth’s friend that joined the Peace Corps gave him a parting gift. “At some point I told him I just wanted to write, play music, and travel the world. I didn’t care about money, I cared about a life spent creating from outside my comfort zone. He suggested that I read The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. I read it in the final week of the summer before starting school again. It immediately became one of my favorite books, and without realizing it at the time, influenced most of my decisions that have led me to now.”

Being on the road of life is the only way to find new experiences outside one’s comfort zone, in true Tom Waits fashion. “50 Cent Smile” is the first single off Cesaréa. The song is a connection to the man that was and the man that moved to Brooklyn, New York, after years of touring with a guitar. Ellsworth toured with and without his friend Tres Wilson (AKA Shadow Puppet), wandering from Salt Lake City north, west, east, and south to all parts in between. “50 Cent Smile” is a song mirroring the western freewheeling mentality that was inspired by John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden. Lyrically the song taps into the questions that are posed in the classic American novel, exceptionally relevant in the world today.

“I re-read The Savage Detectives while in the studio last year and was blown away by the fact that I was still doing what I wanted to all those years ago. I decided to name the album Cesaréa after one of the characters in the book. While the album isn’t necessarily about the book, the album wouldn’t exist without it,” says Charles Ellsworth when asked recently about his upcoming album.

“Growing Up Ain’t Easy” and “Dyre Straitz” have a totally different feel for the singer. Giving voice to a more mature musician coming from a place outside of his comfort zone, it’s like the first time you ride the A Train from north Manhattan to south Brooklyn: the thirty-one mile stretch is a lifetime of change. Solid instrumentally, the resonance in Ellsworth’s vocal delivery has matured as well.

Some tracks on Cesaréa have been years in the making, having appeared in other incarnations on previous releases. “Always Looking Twice” is one of those uptempo moments of greatness that happens on this album. A new instrumentation that includes piano, movement and familiar images flickers like a crooked smile at long time fans. With its sprinkling of the road, this song sets up at the entrance to the American songbook.

Heading full circle and out of the album, “Sunday Shoes” is the connective tissue for the lyrics. The arrangement and vocal delivery gives a western strength to a song that has been evolving for years on the road, with roots in the logging country of the Arizona White Mountains where Ellsworth is from. Sprinkled with piano, the city is part of the landscape and the mountains part of the foundation in the music of Charles Ellsworth. There is a strength and confidence in his lyrical craftsmanship, an undeniable thing that cannot really be taught. Like Jason Isbell‘s highly anticipated The Nashville Sound and The American West’s The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again, this album comes out of experience that shape artistic sensibilities.

Now on the third section of his quest, like The Savage Detectives, musician and songwriter Charles Ellsworth is narrator of this story. He combines solo, acoustic, live, and collaborative releases that have culminated in the masterwork of Cesaréa. Ellsworth is destined to join the collection of folk country troubadours that are part of the American songbook.–Lisa Whealy

Grover Anderson: From the Pink Room

April 25, 2017

Love can be a fickle mistress, filled with hope and expectation, fear and anticipation. Grover Anderson has found a way to tap into the journey almost everyone experiences in his new album From the Pink Room. This new acoustic album, released March 3, 2017, is a simple, sweet expression of how a skilled songwriter shares his perceptions acoustically with incredible ease.

As the story goes, the musician holed up in the back room of his house that is covered with pink striped walls. The concept of this album was born out of a meeting with a woman. She had been in a relationship for seven years; the house’s previous owner had painted the room with the vibrant color. It is also known as the healing color for the heart chakra, making this album all the more special.

Anderson opens the album with “Evergreen” as an intentional hope for the future. The growth of something special is like the organic path of life. With exceptional talent, Anderson’s fingerpicking guitar fits the content. When telling a story like this, it could be easy to get lost, but Anderson paints a masterpiece landscape with the songs. Harry Nilsson comes to mind in “Parallel,” challenging listeners to come along for the ride, soulful and real. The lyrical landscape here is full of imagery, and the sensory exploration of “Natural Bridges” is no exception. Raw and unapologetic, it is a challenge to get real. It is also a tribute to the landmark that graces Calaveras County, where Anderson grew up–undoubtedly a hangout for the locals.

The great thing about music that fits into the Great American Songbook is that there is depth and substance in telling the American experience. This album is no exception, painting a picture through the color spectrum. “Holes” hits the dark places between relationships, often painful and uncertain. Part of the experience with this auditory picture book is the cover art design and artwork by Alexis Wagner; the color spectrum is the left to right vision that parallels the album. “Little Spoon” is the uptempo romp that square dances its way through the middle of the album–a heartbeat of hope and joy.

It is not strange how art is shaped by real life. “Willie Nelson” and “For Goose” both touch on grief and the power it has over a life left to live. Haunting and hopeful, the two songs contrast each other like complimentary colors in a garden of flowers. What lessons are learned is the message, but the memory is the real foundation. “Boulder” is one of the absolute standouts on an exceptional indie acoustic guitar release. In covering The Smiths’ classic “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” Anderson shows off a stellar mix of simplicity and power. Haunting and painful, the song resonates with every and any broken heart. Emotions bleed through the vocal delivery from Anderson.

A full fourteen songs includes “Old Songs” as a mash-up of other music, creative and fresh. Taking it back into the breakup of love, “Ember” is a rip-to-shreds appraisal of a she-devil mankiller. A lyrical masterclass, it is a joy to feel the burn. “The Best You Can” has also found its way onto From The Pink Room, taking everything full circle. Its acoustic elegance is wrapped in a neat package. A fourteen-song journey through the spectrum of emotions as well as color, this album is Americana Country at its finest.–Lisa Whealy

Prana Crafter’s psychedelic guitar bliss

April 18, 2017

Prana Crafter’s psychedelic bliss always leaves me wanting more. After reviewing last year’s album, Rupture of Planes, I could not wait to get my hands on what William Sol had brewing next. And MindStreamBlessing was worth the anticipation. Just as the album’s title suggests, the tracks take me on a matchless journey, with no vocals and quite the range of instruments. Each instrument used brings its own flavor to the collection of six songs.

Released last month, MindStreamBlessing is an entrance to a world I wish I knew more intimately. The tracks feel playful yet seductive, as they show us a peek into the Washington woodlands. The first song, “At Agartha’s Gate,” is the most inviting, as the acoustic and electric guitar sweetly set the mood. As the album progresses, I notice that since this collection contains no vocals, the instruments are left to tell the stories, akin to orchestral works. Each time a particular instrument–like the electric guitar, drums, or synth–appears, they are like actors on a stage. For example, the intricate electric guitar work that is sprinkled in this first song fully grows into its soulful skin by the last track.

Similarly, the acoustic guitar that starts off the album returns in the title song “MindStreamBlessing” to show off more of its sassy personality. With each track, the first guitar or bass lays the rhythmic foundation so that a second, often electric, guitar can enter in and take the lead. That second guitar usually comes in and sings a soulful, jazzy tune. Similar to Jimi Hendrix, you never know when the lead electric guitar plans on ending its rant.

Percussion is also a great addition to this album. In “As the Weather Commands,” the beating of the drums tells a story of movement. Picture someone playing wooden drums for a show, perhaps snakes coming out of baskets. Then, my favorite track off the album: “Luminous Clouds” opens up with what sounds like a recording of the night woodland wind and slowly builds until about halfway in, where a tambourine, guitar, and drum circle combination immediately thrust my thoughts to the middle of the woods, dancing around a bonfire. And since that’s one of my favorite places to be, I certainly don’t mind that.

At large, there’s a cyclical nature to MindStreamBlessing. Each track feels orchestrated by jazz musicians. Even when the lead electric guitar does go off on soulful displays of its power, it always seems to cycle back to an established rhythm, giving the album an effect of falling slowly down a concentric helical spring. Finally, the organ-like synth sounds which make a continual appearance throughout the collection add just the right amount of eeriness to complete the album’s wall of sound.

Prana Crafter’s MindStreamBlessing proves itself as another magical journey, clearly constructed by an adventurous soul.–Krisann Janowitz

Quick Hit: Lights & Motion / Jake McKelvie / Tim Carr

February 13, 2017

Lights & Motion‘s Dear Avalanche delivers more of the high-drama, major-key post-rock that composer Christoffer Franzen has come to be known for. Fans of this style of post-rock already know what to expect from a Lights & Motion album, and Franzen does not disappoint: there are a lot of delicate melodies that grow into giant codas, big explosions of sound, and pounding percussion.

There are a few new touches (or old touches with new emphasis): Vocals appear in standout “Silver Lining,” which will appeal to fans of Sigur Ros; “Perfect Symmetry” includes some intriguing patterned piano playing; “DNA” is a stomping, aggressive minor-key piece. Beyond these small changes, Franzen sticks to what works: closer “We Only Have Forever” opens with a celebratory guitar melody underpinned by punchy drums and big pad synths, then grows to a giant, revelatory conclusion. Fans of enthusiastic, cinematic post-rock will find much to love in Dear Avalanche. 

Deep Elm, in celebration of the release, has given me ten free Download Codes to give away to IC readers! The codes can be redeemed at their website! They are first-come, first-serve, so get ’em while they’re hot: 9375-xvkd , nd5f-v8th , wq6v-gruv , cg37-ulj9 , e2da-ej8t , 8lq8-ugb7 , tc83-eu4v , vj9y-wvyp , 792n-x82n , v2lv-jrxj . If you find a code is taken, try another one, till they’re all gone.

Jake McKelvie‘s The Rhinestone Busboy EP is an alt-country record mostly because of the tone in which he sings and the lyrics he pairs with his traditional, spartan country arrangements. If McKelvie had a baritone drawl, this would be pretty close to vintage country. Instead, McKelvie’s voice is a wobbly tenor, and his lyrics include lines like “‘Cause I flat-out can’t kiss you with food in my mouth” and “I’m a brutal believer, you’re a tongue-tied late teether.” There’s a tension between these two elements, with neither the “alt” or the “country” winning out.

Instead of sounding goofy or unrealistic, McKelvie’s slightly warped delivery and alternately quirky/incisive lyrics are lent gravitas by the precise guitar strum and subtle arrangements. The results are a set of tunes that sound like a usually-cheery person trying to cope with a broken heart, trying to be mature about things but really just not wanting to. Like this set of lines from standout “Fantasy Team”: “And it’s time for me to leave / To practice my cursive and eat lots of ice cream  / And buy a new weight set to leave / In the box that it comes in and draft my new fantasy team.” Pretty real, man. If you’re not into stark alt-country, these six tunes may all sound similar; but if you’re a card-carrying sad-song-person, this one will be a great friend in your next sad-song-binge.

Side projects can be confusing whims, cross-genre experimentations, or weird one-off collaborations. They can also be unhurried, easygoing works that reveal new facets of musicians.

Tim Carr‘s The Last Day of Fighting has that unhurried ease in spades. His indie-pop/folk album has overtones of French pop in the meandering vocal melodies, airy guitars, and lazy rhythms; these together create a short album that’s relaxing to listen to.  “Easy for Me” is not just a fitting title to add on such a flowing album, it’s a standout tune that sees Carr’s room-echo vocal performance mesh beautifully with a rolling, tumbling acoustic guitar performance. Carr’s sleepy-around-the-edges tenor recalls Paul Simon’s at times in this Simon and Garfunkel-esque tune. “Beyond You” and “The Last Day of Fighting” also show off his folky bonafides, while “Kindred One” has some rhythmic alterations that give the tune a different, slightly African feel.

No matter what track you’re listening to on The Last Day of Fighting, you’re sure to hear some relaxing, enjoyable acoustic music. Lots to love here.

Matthew Squires: A Unique Indie-pop Vision

February 9, 2017

Some artists are so idiosyncratic that they become required listening despite whether you like that style or not. Depending on their popular success, these people are the greats or the “songwriter’s songwriter.” I’m talking Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston, The Gorillaz: people who are doing their own thing with a very specific, easily identifiable creative vision. Matthew Squires has been developing a very distinct creative vision for a while now, and Tambaleo brings his fractured, angular, skeptically-but-knowledgably-religious indie-pop to new heights.

The main focus of these songs is Squires’ weary, slightly off-kilter tenor. It’s not your standard voice, even for that particular region of the indie-pop map which celebrates the atypical and imperfect. Squires’ voice rotates between being a spot-on melody maker (“Welcome”), a speak/sing drawl (“Sex & Tragedy”), a slurry dartboard (“Unwholesome Health”), and an onomatopoeic sound machine (“Grace’s Drum”). Sometimes it’s all of these in the space of a single song or even the space of a few lines. For some, the singing will be the reason for attendance; for others, it will be the price of admission. Whichever end of the spectrum you land on, it’s a distinct voice.

The arrangements here are also excellent. Packed full of instruments that seem to be taking their own path through the track at loping tempos, these individual performances come together to fill out Squires’ unique songwriting sensibility. Squires is endlessly inventive and not afraid to experiment with tones, textures, rhythms, and instrument pairings. This makes for songs that clang (“Dead or Dying”), skip along in a twee fashion [“Hosanna (Devotional #3)”], push along in a recognizably indie-pop manner (“Welcome”), and even get their pop-rock on … sort of (“Shape of Your Heart”). All of them have a left turn about every 20 seconds. Some albums keep you on your toes; this one will have you en pointe.

One of the most interesting things about Squires is his continued relationship with religion in his lyrics. Squires is well versed: like any honest religious person, there are moments of certitude, moments of doubt, and moments of skepticism in his relationship to religion. “Unwholesome Health” opens with “Judas was all alone / when he called me on the telephone / and told me about the pain he had caused / about Mary’s face when her Son was torn apart,” while “Welcome” closes with Squires speaking to himself: “You were named after a friend of the son of God / now bracket for a moment whether God exists or not / Have you been kind? / Have you been kind? / Have you been kind?” “Hosanna (Devotional #3)” wears the references on its titular sleeve, while other songs weave religious characters, terms and ideas through the lyrics more subtly. It treats religion as not something to be partitioned away from life, but woven all through it. I dig it.

Not every song on Tambaleo is independently majestic (“Debt Song” isn’t my favorite), but the whole collection is a deeply thoughtful, incredibly well-crafted album from a musician who is hitting his stride. This is the sort of album that not very many people could have made; a wild array of influences mesh into a idiosyncratic, deeply interesting album. Recommended.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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