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Tag: Bon Iver

A Road to Damascus' pop-punk is highly enjoyable

Even though it’s been raining for the last few days, summer is indeed coming. And that means it’s time for summer music. It’s just hard to rock the Bon Iver with the sun shining and the windows down. Then again, I wouldn’t really consider Last Tuesday, Relient K or The Bee Team during the doldrums of December. Everything in its right place.

A Road to DamascusSo Damn Close EP is an excellent slice of summer music. Pop-punk with enough pop to roll the windows down but enough punk to keep the energy high, the three tracks here sport a sheen that could be construed as annoying if you weren’t taking it at face value. Don’t try to read anything in to these songs; they’re not made for it.

But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great tunes. The vocal melodies of “So Damn Close” are bright without being sugar-coated, perfect for singing along. The darker mood of “Sweetheart” evokes AFI in all the right ways, from the dour but catchy chorus to the breakdown in the bridge to the minor but not dissonant guitarwork. Equally as catchy as the first track, but in different ways. That’s what I want out of a band.

“Sang 3” yanks Yellowcard’s rhythmic and melodic shtick, but it does it with so much enthusiasm and candor that it’s entirely forgivable. While not the best track here, it’s certainly enjoyable and interesting. It features the only moment on this EP to give me shivers, at 2:40. I won’t ruin it for you.

A Road to Damascus’ So Damn Close EP is loads of fun. The tracks are fun to listen to, beg to be sung along with, and would almost certainly inspire fist-pumping at a concert. There’s not much more that I want out of a pop-punk band, and I don’t think that’s much more than the band wants to be. Highly recommended.

Vitamin D's indie-pop is scattershot, with hits and misses

Vitamin-DSome bands seem to have several bands crashing about inside of them. Vitamin-D is one of those bands. There is a power-pop band, a stately indie-pop band, and a goofy indie-pop band all running around in Vitamin-D’s album Bridge. The problem is that they don’t all succeed at the same level.

Let’s get the goofy out of the way first. The least explicable song here is “George Washington Bridge,” which is one of four songs that have the word “bridge” in the title. It plays like a weird Decemberists cast-off, with a group of people singing the words of the title over and over with an accompanying accordion and guitar. It’s not bad at all, but it’s completely out of context for the album. There would have to be significantly more weirdness on this album for me to get behind this track completely. But I certainly could, as I’m pro-accordion, the song has a nice melody, and the overall effect is one of swaying and happiness. There could be more of this and I’d be happy. But there’s really not.

Then they have a couple of electric-fronted power-pop tunes. “Upstaged,” “Findable” and “Astoria Bridge” play out somewhere between the morose musings of Counting Crows and poppy missives of Fountains of Wayne. They are pleasant, but there’s nothing too unique about them. I’d take “Upstaged” over most pop on the radio, but the power-pop still plays second fiddle to the meat of the album, which is the stately indie-pop.

The majority of the album lies firmly in stately indie-pop. The rhythms are precise, the melodies are calm, the arrangements are meticulous, and the mood is morose. Bon Iver would envy the gloom that is crafted in “Trumpet Moment 2,” as the repeated brass chord ushers in a sense of melancholy only augmented by the sparse picking and eventual trumpet solo.  “The Summer Crossing” is a little more upbeat, features strings, and feels somewhat like The Album Leaf, musically. “Bartlett Bridge” features the trumpet again, and has a very calm, pleasing atmosphere.

This bulk of the album is what I prefer to listen to, as it has the most fully developed moods, the best melodies, and the tightest arrangements. The vocals don’t strain or stress, they just fit into the song as they should. It feels quite effortless on tunes like “Bartlett Bridge” and “Beneficial Bridge.” The inclusion of the instrumental track “Hopscotch” is a highlight, as it shows off the songwriting skil of Vitamin D. I would prefer to see more work in this vein, actually, as the arrangement was excellent and the tune was beautiful. Even if it wasn’t exactly pop music, it was gorgeous and made me feel. And that’s what good music should do.

The schizophrenia of the album takes its toll when listened to in full; the album never settles into a real rhythm, dragging the listener through various moods. But when listened to in bits and snippets, it’s very good music. I enjoyed many of the tracks, but as a full album it just doesn’t make much sense. I hope Vitamin D can streamline their sound more effectively next go-round.

Happy First Day of ACL!

As a significant portion of the staff is at Austin City Limits, with the most of our other members pining to be there, a list is in order.

Bands Stephen Carradini is Most Excited to See at ACL

5. Daniel Johnston. I am not so much interested in his music as I am in actually witnessing him. Read my post here for more details. In fact, reading that essay again, I really recommend you do read it.

4. The Low Anthem. I really, really can’t wait to hear “Charlie Darwin” live. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful song. The fact that the Low Anthem will be the first band I see at ACL makes it all the more desirable.

3. K’Naan. I have never been to a rap show where I actually knew the material. This, paired with the fact that K’Naan seems effortlessly effervescent, should prove to make an out-of-this-world show.

2. Bon Iver. The only folk artist who has intrigued and excited me more in the past year is Joe Pug. And I listen to lots of folk. I hope there’s a full band, because “For Emma” without the trumpets would make me sad, and defeat some of the joy of that song. Maybe he can jack the brass section from Los Amigos Invisibles.?

1. The Avett Brothers. This is more of a pilgrimage than a dedication to their music. “Ballad of Love and Hate” and “Murder in the City” (neither of which will get played, I think) are two of my most favorite songs in the world, and because there’s a slim glimmer of a chance that one or both may be played, I’m hustling on over for the entirety of their set. Also, I hear they rip it up live, which will be fun.

Honorable Mentions: Flogging Molly, Andrew Bird, The Walkmen.

The End is Only the Beginning

Peasant’s single for “The End” is a compelling little teaser. The two unique folk tunes enclosed here (as well as an acoustic version of said single) are intimate yet not overly introspective. It feels like I’m getting a personal performance from Peasant, but it doesn’t feel like he’s moping about, regretting his life (as the work of Elliott Smith, et al, tends toward). The melodies contained in “The End” bring immediate comparisons to the work of Bon Iver, but these melodies are much more confident and much less rickety than Justin Vernon’s contributions. Peasant seems sure of himself on these songs, and that confidence is a rare thing in folk, a world where unsocialized white boys are the gold standard.

Leonard Mynx's Vesper gets a rave review.

I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.

Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.

It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.

The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.

Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.

Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.

This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.