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Tag: Dawes

Embleton’s Laurel Canyon alt-country strikes an emotional chord

embleton

I’m always listening to music. I listen to so much music that I have two strands of listening going at any one time–the stuff I’m reviewing and the stuff I’m listening to for fun. It’s been this way since I was in high school: I once spent six months listening to nothing but CAKE in my spare time. (It’s a good thing I have two arms of this project.) In short, my love for CAKE is deep and abiding. If you’ve read this blog recently, you know that my love for alt-country is just as deep (although categorically not as abiding, as it hasn’t been around for a decade yet.) So if there’s a band that combines CAKE and alt-country, it’s a sure bet that I’m going to be all over that.

Embleton‘s It Did Me Well does just that, including a re-contextualized cover* of “Sad Songs and Waltzes” amid a set of tight, lush, upbeat alt-country songs reminiscent of Dawes and Ryan Adams. The nine songs here form a cohesive whole that shows refined songwriting and arranging skills on the part of bandleader Kevin Embleton.

The opening quartet of tunes says a lot about the record: Opener and title track “It Did Me Well” introduces a crunchy electric guitar riff before settling down into an easy-going acoustic strum. That pattern is soon filled out by wavering pedal steel, distant drums, and Embleton’s impassioned high baritone/low tenor voice. It’s a walking-speed jam that instrumentally reminds me of the Jayhawks and vocally calls up comparisons to the controlled drama of Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith. “You’re Not Ready” introduces a harmonica to the mix, taking a lighter tack than the electrified previous tune. Embleton goes for the pop melody in the chorus, showing off some chops there.

The third track is that CAKE cover. Sonically, it’s not that much different than the original, but it’s pulled from its ironic context (CAKE is not an alt-country band) and placed into an earnest one. Surrounded by other country tunes, it takes on a poignant air that was hard to find in the midst of the irony-laced original. It’s a very clever move on Embleton’s part. The fourth track is lead single “Leaving for Good” (IC premiered it), which slots the pedal steel in the lead spot and creates a gentle tune around that keening, mournful sound. The drums still give the song pep and punch, but the emotional qualities of the lyrics and vocals come front and center. It shows off a different angle of the Embleton sound.

The rest of the album continues to develop the balance between crunchy riffs (“Punches”) and gentle arrangements (“Her Name Was Grace”) while displaying an emotional quality through the vocal lines and the melodies (“Only Begun,” “Mountain Time”). Fans of harder edges on their alt-country (Drive-by Truckers, et al) might find that not to their liking, but fans of Dawes’ ruminations on life and love will love it. If you’re into the past or present Laurel Canyon sound, you’ll be all up in this. It Did Me Well drops March 10–you can pre-order it at Embleton’s site.

*Post-publication, I was informed that “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is originally a Willie Nelson tune, which means that Embleton re-re-contextualized it. As I only knew about the CAKE version when I wrote the review, I’m leaving the text the same. Sorry, Willie. Sorry, Trigger.

Premiere: Embleton’s “Leaving for Good”

It’s been a wild and chaotic 2015 so far, as I’ve already logged two interstate trips. Amid the travel commitments, I’ve had the good pleasure of coming across the alt-country of Embleton. Kevin Embleton’s songwriting vehicle combines the poignant pedal steel of Mojave 3, the soaring arrangements of Dawes, and the ragged charm of Bright Eyes in the sentimental barn-burner “Leaving for Good.” The living eulogy for a close friend leaving the area floats along on a river of flaring horns and Embleton’s low, passionate vocals.

“Leaving for Good” comes from Embleton’s debut LP It Did Me Well, which drops March 10. You can pre-order the self-released record here.

Quick Hits: Leanids / Robert Francis and the Night Tide

leanids

Airy, bright, anthemic indie-rock is having a heyday right now: with folk-inspired musicians leaning ever more on the “inspired” and less on the “folk,” tons of bands are embracing big, bright, organic-feeling indie-rock.

Leanids is one of them. The Swedish outfit’s debut album A Wildly mines complex fingerpicking folk territory that fellow countryman The Tallest Man on Earth has done some work in (“Candid & Frank,” “All I Wanted,” the title track), while also nodding toward more power-pop inclinations (“And Then”).

But it’s on tunes like “Trust” that Leanids shine best, mixing complex rhythms, varying tempos, pop melodies, and art-school sentiments into warm, shifting, bursting tracks. The vocalist’s high, occasionally nasal voice is a perfect foil for the sound, as it has a jubilant, celebratory aspect about it. It’s easy to imagine this band as a less-mopey version of Copeland, or a alternate future in which Bright Eyes had turned the treble way up on his guitar. But in this reality, this talented folk-inspired indie-rock act is writing beautiful and interesting tunes. Highly recommended.

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I think that Dawes has some pretty outstanding songwriting, even though most of their songs are way depressing. Their country-rock sound is fresh-faced and tight, making it the perfect sort of alt-country to put forward into the indie-rock world. Robert Francis and the Night Tide‘s Heaven has a similar vibe, combining the tightly compacted sound of power-pop, the rhythms of alt-country, and vocal melodies of modern indie rock. Standout “Baby Was the Devil” also includes a passing resemblance to the synth-powered jams of M83, and that’s no coincidence either. Francis is making the most of the sounds he’s hearing and crafting them into his own tunes.

He’s a bit of a chameleon; lead single “Love is a Chemical” is a straightforward country-rocker, while the title track is a soul-inspired crooner. “Pain” is reminiscent of full-band folk like Fleet Foxes, while “Wasted on You” is an acoustic-and-voice track that is a solid-gold lonely troubadour tune reminiscent of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes. (Standout “I’ve Been Meaning to Call” is also voice-and-guitar; he’s damn good at that, and he should do more of it.) The Josh Ritter-esque rhythms of “Take You to the Water” explode into a synth-pop song (!). But if he circles alt-country, he always comes back to it–nothing ever sounds completely out of that sphere. In the same way that it’s hard to describe Dawes without saying, “It just sounds really good,” it’s hard to describe Francis without it. Heaven is a strong collection of alt-country/folk tunes that never repeat themselves. Sounds pretty great to me.

Edward David Anderson: Taking the best of what was, making the most of what is

edwarddavidanderson

If you didn’t hear about Backyard Tire Fire while they were alive, that’s pretty sad but I won’t blame you. My favorite song of theirs was called “The Daze,” which was a song about a band that seemed suspiciously like Backyard Tire Fire. Their brand of perky indie-pop-rock was a ton of fun. But all good things go solo, and now Edward David Anderson has released a solo album. Lies and Wishes is a folk album (because most solo albums these days are, I suppose), and it’s pretty great (because of course it would be).

My favorite BTF song was roughly autobiographical, so it’s fitting that my favorite EDA song off Lies & Wishes is also (probably?) autobiographical. “Son of a Plumber” abandons some of the folky, rolling acoustic strum in favor of a slightly toned-down version of the perky indie-pop that BTF was so good at. When Anderson yawps, “hey!” and lets an accordion solo take over, it sounds just perfect. It’s a song that seems like it always has been and always should be. Even if it doesn’t sound folk, isn’t that the definition of folk?

But the rest of the album holds a little tighter to the folk sound. The opener/title track has cascading fingerpicking reminiscent of early Iron & Wine, framing Anderson’s evocative, occasionally creaky tenor well. “I Missed You” has some downtrodden country strum and sway; “Taking It Out on You” adds some Dawes-esque guitar crunch. “Fires” is a conflicted love song that leans in towards romantic, adult alternative territory (which is not a complaint from this blogger). Closer “The Final Melody” is a perky fingerpicked number that recalls Justin Townes Earl, New Orleans blues, and a cheery chorus fitting of BTF. It’s a perfect mix of the old and new. (Check that whistling!)

If you’re not obsessed with purism in your folk and instead mostly see it as a lens from which to see a variety of melodies and lyrics, Edward David Anderson will charm your socks off. Lies and Wishes is a laidback, enjoyable set of folk/indie-pop tunes that takes itself realistically: not over-serious, but not undervaluing, either. Anderson knows what he’s about, and it shows here. Very enjoyable.

Quick Hits: Chloë Sunshine / Akron Engine / Matt Ryd / Wakeup Starlight

chloesunshine

Chloë Sunshine‘s new album is called Indian Summer, and the sound matches both names perfectly: perky, bright indie-pop with influences from surf-rock (“I Try,” “Modern House”) and chill beach-pop (“Love Love Love”). Sunshine’s earnest, unaffected voice sells the whole production with a cute-but-not-smarmy air. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a summer road trip, as you’ll be bobbing your head, singing along, and smiling with your hair flowing in the wind. It’s just a lovely album.

akronenginesilhouettes

Folk, country, and rock have been chillin’ together since ever, and yet it’s still always a delight to me when someone comes along with a new take on the idea. Akron Engine is latest contender, taking (or at least sharing) the honor from SXSW darling Dawes. Where Dawes traffics in smooth rhythms and tones, Akron Engine’s Silhouettes keeps things endearingly scruffy. Strummy guitars, up-front rhythms and swooping pedal steel contrast against Davis Jones’ sweet tenor voice, allowing for tunes like ominous “Silhouettes” and the weary “Hold On to It” to succeed. The band can lay down a beautiful tune, as the shuffling waltz “Believe in You” and solitary closer “All We Ever Had” show. Those into country-rock/folk should check this out this fine collection of tunes.

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Matt Ryd combines country with pop, but not in the schmaltzy, Rascal Flatts sort of way. Imagine if a power-pop band also had a pedal steel in it, and there you are. At least, there you are as far as “Nobody But Me” is concerned, the infectious, energetic opening to track to Ryd’s 3-song EP Ryd ‘Em Cowboy. The follow-up “Long, Long Time” is a ballad that does head in that direction, but Ryd’s earnest vocals make sure that the love song stays firmly in realm of “pleasantly familiar” instead of “cloyingly obvious.” Closer “Marianne [Country Remix]” leans even more toward ballad-style country, with the inclusion of a female back-up vocalist. It’s not what I usually cover, but Ryd’s earnest voice and spot-on production make this a fun listen.

wakeupstarlight

Wakeup Starlight‘s awesomely-titled The White Flags of Alderaan rounds out this collection of bands that are easy to listen to. The acoustic-heavy band sounds like Jack Johnson jamming on “Hey There Delilah” with a dash of Dispatch thrown in. If that sounds like the most cheery thing ever, you wouldn’t be wrong in your assessment. It’s hilarious, then, that they have songs titled “The Earth is Dying,” “Loco Train (A Canadian Tragedy)” and “The Ghost of Myself Facing You.” To be fair, that last one tries to be ominous until it breaks into a “hey-o” section. For real. They’re smart to put that one last, because the happier this band is, the more entertaining their songs are. So if you want a few rays of sunshine in your life, you should go for “The Earth is Dying” and “Loco Train (A Canadian Tragedy).” Trust me, they’re actually smile-inducing.

SXSW Wednesday: Dawes / The Black Angels

The literate story-songs of Dawes were high on my list to see at SXSW, so I took my chance to see them kick it at HGTV/Paste stage. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith kicked off the set by noting that they did not have all of their gear with them because of the multiple shows they had to play during the day, so I braced myself for a song or two that I would otherwise expect to go missing. (And it was “When My Time Comes”! Tragedy!) But other than that disclaimer, the band threw down their conversational, easy-going sound with panache and little adieu.

Listening to Dawes is like standing next to Goldsmith and having a conversation: the well-delivered lyrics are intended to be heard, and the songwriting doesn’t get in the way of the dry yet emotive delivery to the punchlines. The songs can easily be sung along to, and the sound will just wash over and around you as you do so. The band closed with “A Little Bit of Everything,” which has some of my favorite lines in all of songwriting in the first and third verses. It was an excellent set, with the band hitting on all cylinders. If you’re a fan of country-rock, folky lyrics, or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, you’ll be all up in Dawes. A highlight of SXSW so far.

Later in the evening, I accidentally ended up in a set by The Black Angels. They made their brand of rock look easy: the incredible heaviness, the starts and stops, the roaring vocals, and the instantaneous jumps from quiet to loud all seemed to be effortless. It was a blast, and if you’re into rock you probably already know about The Black Angels. If you haven’t, though…