Greg Hughes’ Among Giants songwriting vehicle took him from a folk-punk solo act to a full-distortion punk outfit pretty rapidly. Since Among Giants now doesn’t function as a folk-punk outfit, he took things back to his roots with a new album and a new name. The diverse acoustic-based songwriting of Weeds In Your Garden by Bobby’s Oar will satisfy folk-punk purists and adventurous folk fans.
The standout cut here is opener “In the Woods,” which marries a rapid-fire folk-punk strumming pattern to a meandering vocal line that’s heavy on pathos and melody. Hughes grows the song from that intimate opening to a blown-out full-band chorus that includes horns and a shout-it-out punk choir. I couldn’t avoid humming the “whoah-oh” line for days. Hughes’ lyrics have always been deeply introspective without getting cloying, and he fits a fresh set of similar concerns to the work here: The mid-tempo folk explosion of “I Find Comfort” details the difficulties of moving cross-country; the back-porch picking of “That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man” is a exposition of optimistic existentialism (which has philosophical forebears that don’t include Camus). At the other end of the spectrum, Hughes screams his voice ragged on the aggressive crumbling-relationship tableau “Heart.”
Thoughful lyrics, heart-on-sleeve narratives, sonic rage, and melodic charm are the recombinant building blocks of Weeds in Your Garden–“It’s a Vice” is a lovely acoustic indie-pop song that Hughes screams over most of. If you’re into Andrew Jackson Jihad, Attica! Attica!, or Nana Grizol, you’ll love Bobby’s Oar.
What we listen to says less about us than it used to, given the Internet’s ability to erode consistent listening patterns. But if what we listen to still says something about a person, then it should be noted that I am all about helter-skelter acoustic strumming with the most possible amount of words sung or spoken over it. If you throw down some la-la-las for a chorus, it’s all over. In other words, I’m all about literate folk-punk/indie-pop-rock like Jake McKelvie and the Countertops‘ Solid Chunks of Energy because so much is going on all the time.
McKelvie opens the appropriately titled 10-song salvo with “Mini Monster,” which sees the frontman singing as many words as possible over a pretty clean electric guitar, bass, and drum kit running at breakneck speed. Spitting everything from non-sequitur to Dylan-esque metaphor to puns to self-deprecating truth before bursting into a passionately jubilant “la” section for the chorus, McKelvie is either the motor or the sail. He’s the motor if you’re a fan of the “auteur with a backing band” theory, but he’s the one being pushed along if you’re of the “bands with band names are bands” school of thought. Doesn’t really matter which school you’re in, though–everyone can dance along to “Mini Monster” and feel good about themselves.
Elsewhere, McKelvie and co. get their Bright Eyes on, treating audiences to a quieter version of melodic machine gun vocal delivery. “Aside From Your Hair” is impressive not only for the number of words that are included, but for the fact that the band manages to wring a melody out of the delivery. The rhythm is possessing of its own, but the fact that you can sing along to certain parts is even more fun. “Woke Awake” has similar RIYLs, and is one of the most tender-sounding of the tunes. “Flock Hard, Lockhart” is a power-pop tune that relies more on gone-wild bass work and guitar riffing; “Time Is a Chew Toy” is beachy and kinda ’50s-ish, while still maintaining a brain-bending set of lyrics. “Lots and Lots and Lots of Money” is a straight-up punk song, ’cause why not close out the album that way?
Solid Chunks of Energy is a wildly entertaining album for lyric nerds and pop fans. McKelvie very clearly knows how to write a pop song and has decided to fill his with all sorts of unexpected magic. It just so happens that the magic happens with a very small set of instruments. Guy’s gotta tour somehow, you know? Fans of The Mountain Goats, Attica! Attica!, Bright Eyes, or other “wordy” singers of the indie-pop/alt-folk/folk-punk persuasion will have a new band to watch in Jake McKelvie and the Countertops.
Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.
I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among Giants‘ Truth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.
Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.
Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.
They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”
For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.
It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
Folksy pop with great instrumentation and powerful lyrics.
Despite an early dislike for this album, I would have to give Dead Skin Dried Blood a pretty glowing review in the end. Originally, I had the feeling that Attica! Attica! would be a lot more appealing with a different sound. It felt as though the voice of singer Aaron Scott didn’t match the music he was making.
Scott’s voice seems too heavy and serious for such a light-sounding album. Although his vocals turned me off at first because of their blunt, shouting, deep nature, many people would find it beautiful.
Dead Skin Dried Blood combines a variety of instruments and elements on every track. Scott has entailed the help of Chris Antal, Annie Barley and Kevin Dossinger on instruments such as piano, cello, guitar, drums, accordion and various other percussions. This keeps the music very interesting. Each song is very forward-moving, but sometimes it just sounds overdone, vocally. One song really stands out as being near-perfect, however, and that is “The Play’s the Thing.” It could be very commercial, and is enjoyable to listen to, consider its upbeat, powerful attitude.
This album is a journey. Each song is respectfully different, but it is fair to say it is a cohesive album. It’s amazing how Aaron Scott can absolutely change his sound 180 degrees from “Frostbite” to the next track, “Tires and Mint.”
The brightest spots on Dead Skin Dried Blood are not only certain tracks (“A Dirge for Underground” being one of the best), but the musical integrity. Each sound comes across as so intensely bright and clear (his voice, the strumming of the guitar, the piano). The lyrics are also insanely interesting and reverent to a lot of what is going on in the world today. Everything is so pertinent; there is no flimsy filler here at all. Scott is a skillful writer, and the only times the lyrics get cheesy and are weirdly rhymed are in the first track, “Motion Sickness.” But just move on from that and enjoy the rest of the album….
Thought has gone into every song, most noticeably the lyrics. A lot of them are politically charged such as “Way Down in Gitmo.” Suddenly the sound goes country folk, and Scott plows on through the song with lyrics such as, “Way down in Gitmo/That’s Guantanamo Bay/ that’s where bad guys belong even if they’ve done no wrong/’cause we need someone to blame.” Scott’s vocals are actually most refreshing and likeable in this song. The thing about his singing style, is that you hear each and every word, and there is no guessing as to what certain lyrics might be. Some like that, some don’t you be the judge.
Where his voice irritates me, I can indulge in the masterfully played instruments. If you’re not in this for the lyrics, the music is poppy and uplifting to anyone.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.