1. “Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle. There are few things that get me more than a earnest tenor singing way too many words over a folky arrangement. Lyle plays somewhere between Josh Ritter, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Gregory Alan Isakov.
2. “Resolution” – Young Legs. The world always needs more quirky, delightful indie-pop on a strummed banjo.
3. “The Fall” – Reina del Cid. Warm, fingerpicked acoustic guitar; brushed snare; stand-up bass; contented alto vocals–it sounds like all the bits and bobs of a country song, but del Cid turns it into a charming folky ballad.
4. “Forever for Sure” – Laura & Greg. The gentle, easy-going guitar and male/female vocals create an intimate vibe, while a mournful instrument in the distance creates a sense of spaciousness. The strings glue them together–the whole thing comes off beautifully. I’ve likened them to the Weepies before, but this one also has a Mates of State vibe.
5. “Touch the Ground” – The Chordaes. Dour Brit-pop verses, sky-high falsetto in the sunshiny, hooky chorus–the band’s covering all their bases on the pop spectrum. That chorus is one to hum.
6. “Inside Out” – Avalanche City. My favorite Kiwis return not with an Antlers-esque, downtempo, white-boy-soul song. It’s not exactly the chipper acoustic pop of previous, but it’s still infectiously catchy.
7. “Bad Timing” – The Phatapillars. If Jack Johnson’s muse was outdoor camping and music festivals instead of surfing, he could have ended up like this. For fans of Dispatch and old-school Guster.
8. “Tapes” – The Weather Station. Sometimes trying to describe beauty diminishes it. Let this song just drift you away.
9. “ Forest of Dreams” – Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. The Decemberists have largely gone standard with their arrangements, but there are still people holding it down for klezmer arrangements of gypsy-influenced melodies mashed up with the occasional operatic vocal performance. It’s like a madcap Beirut or a female-fronted Gogol Bordello.
10. “Heavy Star Movin’ – The Silver Lake Chorus. Written by the Flaming Lips for the choir (which operates in a very Polyphonic Spree-like manner), it’s appropriately cosmic and trippy. Strings accompany, but nothing else–the vocals are the focus here.
11. “Emma Jean” – WolfCryer. Here’s Matt Baumann doing what he’s great at: playing the storytelling troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a world-weary baritone.
IC fave Kickstarter had a humongous third year, and you can see all their stats and stuff from it here. Cool information design for an even cooler site. They are literally changing the way the world does art.
Super Visas, James Hicken’s ambient folk project, has a new video for “The Hum That Keeps Us Cool.” It’s incredibly disorienting and fascinating:
1. Sever Your Roots — The Felix Culpa. Hands down the best album of the year; nothing else even came close to approaching its masterful take on post-hardcore. The brilliant lyrics pushed it over the top.
Sometimes when I meet someone, I get this feeling that I’m going to know them for a really long time. It’s rare, but it’s also rarely wrong. I experience this feeling with music as well; it’s incredibly unusual, but it does happen. I had one of those moments of intense clarity upon first listen to Avalanche City‘s Our New Life Above the Ground. From the first few seconds of the first song, I was hooked.
And by hooked, I mean I couldn’t go to sleep that night until I had posted it to my girlfriend’s Facebook wall. I literally couldn’t rest until I had told someone about the magnificence of this album. Let the gushing begin.
The album is a debut, first of all. It falls neatly between Guster’s latest and Mumford and Sons’ only, in that it’s chock full of classic pop songwriting arranged beautifully as well as stuffed full of swooning romanticism that teeters on the edge of saccharine but never goes over. These songs have the epic bent from M&S removed, as well as the seriousness that Guster can fall into pulled out. These twelve humble songs were conceived and performed with barely-contained glee that boils over in all sorts of ways.
Whether it’s stomping and clapping, group singalongs, perky guitar strum (oh so much of that going on), cheery mandolin, tom-heavy drumbeats (you know the type) or any other number of upbeat maneuvers, Avalanche City makes sure that you know he’s having a blast. But it’s not a sugar rush; on the contrary, it’s the type of revelatory happiness that accompanies a soul a peace, bursting at the seams with its fullness.
And the soul is something discussed often here. AC sticks to generally universal language; terms like soul, freedom, love, sadness, adventure, dream, you and me appear frequently. “So long captivity, for me,” he declares at the end of “Ends in the Ocean,” and the whole rest of the album (save for “Love Don’t Leave”) proves that, indeed, that’s what he did.
“Oh Life” is a wide-eyed wonder of a track, marveling at everything in just over a minute. “You and I” is the most charming love song I’ve heard this year, claiming, “If you found your toothpaste empty, I would squeeze out just a little more/if you had the sweetest victory, I’d high-five you till our hands were sore.” He goes on, and each line is better than the last. There’s also copious amounts of clapping and tom rolls, which are totally wonderful. “Love Love Love,” which is not a cover of the Mountain Goats tune, is the anthem that kicks the whole shebang off, and it’s a heck of a way to do it.
Each and every song here is memorable; each and every one is worth noting. As a full album, it’s nigh on perfect. There are fast songs, slow songs, midtempo songs, anthems, musings, pop songs, and everything else. There’s even instrumental solos, if you’re into that. I mean, this has it all. And, best of all, you will leave wanting to go hug someone (preferably a significant other) with a huge smile on your face.
Avalanche City’s Our New Life Above the Ground is an album that transcends genre boundaries and appeals directly to souls that love living (or want to). The songs are affectionately written, perfectly arranged and brilliantly performed. This was released in ’10, and it’s the last album of 2010 that I’m reviewing. It’s best to end on a high note, after all.
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.