Singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski has been a shooting star for the fast few years, moving quickly from local roots to premiering his latest album Believer on Pandora to recording a three-song EP with the venerable Damien Jurado at the helm. Columbia City Theater Sessions is the outcome of that collaboration: three songs of stripped-down acoustic work with delicate touches that are indicative of Jurado’s ear.
The new version of “Believer” retains the heavy strum pattern of the original, but foregrounds the lead and backup vocals. It creates a more collective vibe to the tune, as opposed to the very individualistic vibe that runs through the lyrics and original full-band version. (You can check the full version of “Believer” as the bonus track on this EP.)
The revelation here is “Fighting the War,” which is transformed from an anthemic pop-rock song into a tender, delicate tune that incorporates distant piano, warm background vocals, and even flute. It feels very much like a Jurado tune, in its tension between spare vibes and lush aspirations. It’s a stand-out tune both ways Orlowksi has cut it so far, which is truly remarkable.
The new track, “Winter, Winter” is truly a solo effort, vocals and guitar only. I don’t know how much influence Jurado had on it, but the insistent strum pattern is similar to the work that Damien would put out. Jurado’s fingerprints are all over these three quiet re-interpretations, and it shows a side of Orlowski that he hasn’t flexed in a while. If you’re looking for a solid little EP to play on a snowy day (like today), this one would be a great choice.
The folk-grounded indie-pop of In Tall Buildings‘ Driver gets better as it gets weirder. Opener “Bawl Cry Wail” is a traditional modern folk tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a Elephant Micah record, and it’s by no means bad. But things start to sparkle on “All You Pine,” as Erik Hall introduces rubbery, staccato bass; complex drumming; and subtle synth undertones. Then a gritty, grungy guitar solo appears. It’s all very “other” to modern folk, and it’s intriguing. Lead single “Flare Gun” relies on arpeggiated synth and perky drumming to float his guitar picking and vocals; the overall effect is remarkable. “I’ll Be Up Soon” manages to create the separated, synthetic electronic vibe without any obvious electronics, which is an impressive feat.
Once you’ve heard the album once, go back and listen to it again; once you’ve listened through, the context of the whole thing becomes clear and even dramatically un-electronic songs like “Bawl Cry Wail” fit into the amalgam. Songs like “Aloft” could be electronic or organic–it doesn’t matter. They just sound right together. If you’re into adventurous, sonically experimental music (but not in an avant-garde sort of way), Driver is for you.
Usually when I get a music release from someone who’s already famous in another artistic medium, I ignore it. The space that I have is best used on people trying to work their way up from nothin’. However, Michael Malarkey is an exception because his music is really good. Feed the Flames EP shows Malarkey in optimistic fingerpicking troubadour mode, like some cross between Alexi Murdoch, Josh Ritter and Josh Radin.
The chorus vocal line of “Through the Night and Back Again” has been stuck in my head for days, as Malarkey’s gentle baritone lilts its way through a pastoral setting that includes lazy pedal steel. It’s an impressive, mature tune. “Lost and Sound” and “Bells Still Ring” keep that feel going, giving a sense of motion and lightness to the release that can’t be dragged down by two darker tunes. The title track is a minor key tune, still with strong melodicism and fingerpicking, that plays up a romantic feel. “Everything’s Burned” is a helter-skelter klezmer/gypsy tune that taxes Malarkey’s vocals in delivery speed. It’s a fun, quirky tune that never feels overly kitschy.
Acting (Vampire Diaries) first made Michael Malarkey famous, but his singer/songwriter chops are just as strong as any one-art artist could hope for. I really look forward to what Malarkey will do in the future, musically–his first offering is impressive.
1. “Flare Gun” – In Tall Buildings. Like a more perky Album Leaf + chillwave-y, lightly reverbed vocals. I’m totally digging this upbeat, pleasant work.
2. “Hey Blood” – Born Joy Dead. You won’t be able to figure out this wild, careening rock track by listening to a fragment: this one’s a whole experience.
3. “Sophie So” – Hippo Campus. Put everything we know about indie-rock in 2014 into a blender and put it on frappe: out comes Hippo Campus. This joyous, entertaining track is fun on its own, or as a game of “spot the influence.” The overall track has its own vibe, so this isn’t a knock: on the contrary, it shows good musical knowledge. IN OTHER WORDS: YES YES YES.
4. “Picture Picture” – Tall Tall Trees. Kishi Bashi is on this track, which means it’s a complex, giddy, post-everything pop track that is absolutely, totally fun.
5. “It’s Not the Same” – ET Anderson. Some psych is all up in your face with bright flashing colors. Anderson’s psych creeps in around the edges of your vision and makes things slowly more chill and weird.
6. “For the Sun” – Close Talker. Complexity is at its best when it’s present enough to impress but not so obvious that it’s ostentatious. Close Talker’s winding, moody, Bloc Party-esque indie-rock has the best sort of complexity going on.
7. “Chinese Trees” – Lake Malawi. Sometimes you just want a big, happy pop song.
8. “All I Really Want” – The Plastics. I don’t know where we acquired the sky-high male backing vocal as a style, but it’s here to stay. Some nice mid-tempo, mid-’00s indie-rock vibes goin’ on here.
9. “Left, Right, Left” – 12KO. Lake Street Dive is on the forefront of the upbeat neo-soul/jazz movement, and 12KO fits right in there. There’s a bit of funk influence, but generally, this one’s a upbeat, fun, head-bobbin’ tune.
10. “Anthem” – The Maytags. Who doesn’t need some chipper, enthusiastic neo-soul in their life? Boogie down on this.
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.