I gushed over Filbert’s Chronographic earlier this year because of its humble attitude toward music and lyrics. Cold Country‘s Missing the Muse EP reminds me of Filbert, because band leader Sean McConnell’s high tenor sounds like Daniel Gutierrez’s and the folky arrangements have an earnest, plaintive feel. The chamber-folk on Missing the Muse has a ragged, woodsy edge that sets it apart from pristine soundscapes like Bon Iver and well-produced hoedowns like Babel, although the album doesn’t stray far enough to alienate fans of those works.
The climactic finish of opener “What It Takes” features a fuzzed-out electric guitar dueling with a smooth harmonica, rumbling drums, glockenspiel, and distorted bass. The cavernous rumbling of the percussion keeps it from turning into a garage-rock tune and instead places it as an expansive, dramatic folk track. Even with the tune played out on a large screen, the tune feels intimate. That’s the primary tension in each of Missing the Muse‘s five tracks: the titular tune features an excellent guitar solo but carries a very personal sense of sadness; “My Bird of Paradise” is built on Fleet Foxes’ gentle guitar and harmonized vocals and also features a bass riff. The big arrangements never give way to an impersonal front and protect against being too hopelessly introspective. It’s a pretty impressive feat.
If you’re a fan of chamber-folk arrangements, then Cold Country’s Missing the Muse is required listening. These aren’t Mumford and Sons stomp-alongs, and they aren’t trying to be. The tensions that McConnell plays with are perfectly enough for fascinating listening, thank you very much.
The great thing about EPs is that there’s no reason that all of the songs can’t be excellent. When working with 10-15 songs, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t appeal to someone, but three songs can be crafted to near-perfection. And so it goes with Matt Carter’s Daylight EP: the tunes are expertly written, arranged, performed and recorded. Carter applies to the Ray LaMontagne school of singer/songwriters: the more romance can be piled into one tune, the better. “For You” introduces Carter’s lithe voice, with just a touch of LaMontagne grit, over gentle acoustic guitar, delicate piano, upright bass, and swooning violins. It is as gorgeous as you might imagine.
Carter doesn’t let up with “From a Payphone Stall” or the title track: both frame Carter’s vocal melodies in arrangements that have as little to do with dissonance as possible. These are beautiful, carefully constructed tunes: instead of coming off smarmy or James Blunt-ish, they are delivered with assurance and confidence. Carter knows what his strengths are, and he plays to them perfectly here, creating memorably gorgeous songs. I’m looking forward to much more from Matt Carter, as he has put a lot of skill on display here in just over 10 minutes.
Monday night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching pop duo Matt & Kim perform at the University of Oklahoma. All I can say is this: I wish you all could have been there. It was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in recent memory.
I rather sheepishly admit to only having been vaguely familiar with Matt & Kim’s music before our fearless editor Stephen brought the performance to my attention. That being said, I rather quickly realized that they’re one of the more special acts out there.
Not only is their music great, with cheery sensibilities and beats that you can’t help but dance to, their concerts are incredible experiences. Matt & Kim have a certain infectious energy about them – they come on stage happy, make jokes, laugh and interact with the crowd, and don’t generally take anything they’re doing too seriously. They’re playing music because they enjoy it, and that comes through in their performance.
Travis had fun.
At the concert I attended, there was a pretty even mix of two groups. First, there were the kids who live for concerts and clearly didn’t care what anybody else thought of them as they ran around dancing and attempting crowd-surfs. Second, there were those who were there to enjoy the music, but didn’t necessarily intend to get involved physically. By the end of the show, there were none of the second group. Each and every person in the auditorium was jumping, dancing, clapping, and singing, regardless of whether or not they knew the lyrics or had any sense of rhythm. Case in point: I dragged my friend Travis along for the show. He was incredibly skeptical beforehand, as his taste in music tends more toward country than electro-pop. By the end, he was giggling like a little girl and moving to the music even more than me.
If that doesn’t require some serious talent from those on the stage, I don’t know what does.
Starting with songs like “Yea Yeah” and “Lessons Learned,” Matt & Kim kept the crowd entertained throughout. They interjected comments like, “this is the fastest song we’ve ever written, and now we’re going to play it twice as fast,” or, “this is the first time we’ve ever played in Norman, Oklahoma, so we’re going to dedicate this song to you. Every time we ever come back here, we’re playing it for you.” That might sound kinda cheesy, but they’re so genuinely friendly that you can’t help but eat it up.
In between two songs, one guy in the crowd asked if they were going to play the song “Cutdown.” It wasn’t in their set, but twenty minutes later they played it for him. At one point, they busted out an electronic version of the theme song from Rocky. It’s the little things, folks – small touches here and there that make a concert go from decent to amazing.
Their set ended with what is likely their best-known song – “Daylight.” If you don’t know it, you’ve probably at least heard it before without realizing it. Bacardi recently used it in one of their Mojito commercials; yeah, that one. Suffice to that they didn’t disappoint with it, going out with a massive bang that had all 400+ people in the room on their feet. The show ended fittingly, with a Matt-&-Kim-endorsed dance party in the front of the auditorium.
Obviously, words can’t really describe what went on last night, but I’ll try to do it justice. The concert was fun. It was exuberant. It was lighthearted, friendly, happy, energetic music by arguably one of the most entertaining bands I’ve ever seen. For the love of all that’s holy, if Matt & Kim are playing anywhere within a two hundred mile radius of where you live, go see them. Trust me, it’s worth it.
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.