Sometimes when a person realizes their immense talent, they whip around like an untethered garden hose on full blast. Eliot Bronson’s self-titled record (but third solo release) sees the singer/songwriter jumping through different iterations of acoustic-based music, making good music in all of them. Some tracks have a Josh Ritter-esque brightness (“New Pain,” which could be a The Beast In Its Tracks b-side); others appeal to lovers Mojave 3-style slowcore alt-country (“You Wouldn’t Want Me If You Had Me,” “Time Ain’t Nothin”); and the bulk of the tracks work in a folk-inspired, dreamy alt-pop vein similar to Peter Bradley Adams’ work (closer “Baltimore” points this out most poignantly).
The highlight, though, is the song where Bronson pulls all those influences together into his own mix: “Comin’ For Ya North Georgia Blues” ties a perky guitar line with a hummable alt-pop chorus and a sense of gravitas. It’s a great song, and it points to current and future greatness. Eliot Bronson is a varied album that shows off how immensely interesting Bronson’s work can be, and how incredibly tight and polished it already is.
Greylag‘s self-titled album comes from the Led Zeppelin school of rock, which is predicated on the idea that folk and rock aren’t that far apart. Led Zep picked up on their native English and Scottish folk sounds, and Greylag picks up on modern folk-pop songwriting conventions to ground their rock epics. The gentle acoustic guitar, soaring vocals, spacious arrangement and lyrics at the onset of “Burn On” make Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues the most easy RIYL; the lonesome acoustic closer “Walk the Night” could also be any number of young, yearning folk singer/songwriters. “Arms Unknown” starts out with what sounds like a mandolin–whether it is or not, that’s the vibe they’re putting off.
But they also know how to rock. They’re not big into the “massive riffs pounded liberally” model of rock; they prefer the Rolling Stones’ style of ongoing, developing songs that have mood as a goal. “Mama” is a beautiful example of this, as it rocks without getting into stone-crushing distortion. The brooding “Kicking” has grumbling, biting guitars throughout. If the Kings of Leon hadn’t gone full arena rock after their Southern rock days, they may have hit on this midpoint between melodic engagement, rough-and-tumble production, and rock swagger. The culmination of their style is opening single “Another,” which has a rolling, pastoral acoustic base before expanding with tom-heavy percussion and keening, eerie “whoa-ohs.” It doesn’t rock as hard as the ominous, more stereotypically rock-ish “Yours to Shake,” but it’s a great indicator of what Greylag is trying to do here. If you regret that rock got heavier and heavier instead of splitting that difference between acoustic and electric, Greylag should cheer you up.
Classic-rock new kids Greylag, who have a single that you should listen to, put together a Spotify playlist of songs that influence them. The concept in itself is pretty cool, but their list is even cooler: aside from obvious influences Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, they’ve got Sonic Youth, Cocteau Twins and Kurt Vile. Get hip, y’all.
Singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg is doing a PledgeMusic campaign to fund a four-album cycle based on the four cardinal directions. I’m all for ambitious projects and crowdfunding, so go jump on it.
The diverse Mint 400 Records, home of the band I manage, just released a free tribute to Lou Reed. You can download the short EP by clicking on this link.
A deluxe edition of Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain is getting a Nov. 11 release from Secretly Canadian. As a fan of Jason Molina’s work, this is exciting to me. Even more exciting is the new song released in celebration of the event, “Ring the Bell – Working Title: Depression No. 42.”
Is Fleetwood Mac cool? U2 is uncool, and Led Zeppelin seems permanently cool (which is funny, because they were decidedly uncool radio rock in their heyday), but Fleetwood Mac is harder to pin down. Jesse DeConto, lead singer/songwriter of The Pinkerton Raid, thinks Fleetwood Mac is very cool (or at least very influential), as A Beautiful World draws on that swirling, vocals-heavy rock sound for its songwriting.
The title track/opener sets up their basic sound: reverb-laden guitars, dramatic vocals that burst into polyvocal harmonies, tom-heavy drums, dreamy keys, and an evening vibe. It’s not dark, but it’s not sunshine and clouds; perhaps it’s a stroll at dusk through a thick forest. It’s tough to capture the idea of expansiveness and intimacy at the same time, but the marriage of the wide-open arrangement and the tight harmonies gives off a very particular vibe. It’s a great track to name the album after and open the album with; it sets up what The Pinkerton Raid is about and lets you know what you’re going to get more of.
Other highlights include the staccato rhythms and thick guitars of “Just a Boy,” and the ominous, turbulent “Giving Tree.” The latter is a rumination on the beloved Shel Silverstein tale; I’ve always been encouraged by the little tale of sacrifice, but The Pinkerton Raid interpret it way differently. They throw one of their most mood-intensive, engaging arrangements at it, including evocative female lead vocals and strong instrumental performances all around. It’s pretty heavy emotionally, but it’s also a highlight of the record. If you’re into swirling indie rock that mines heavy situations for musical and lyrical inspiration, A Beautiful World will please you.
I just spent the better part of two weeks going through a house move and a computer crash. (Why do these things so often tag team?) As a result, I’ve got a very eclectic mix of tracks that I’m into right now. Usually I try to put some sort of theme together, but this one has it all. Good luck!
The New House Highs and Lows
1. “Icarus” – Silver Firs. If Grizzly Bear and Givers joined forces, I still don’t know if they could pull off this track. It’s like a more woodsy version of Architecture in Helsinki, which is my way of saying, “A+ LISTEN IMMEDIATELY.”
2. “Dean & Me” – jj. If you want to know what the world has come up with in 70 years of pop music, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example track than this one that incorporates vintage songwriting skills (even with a throwback reference!), traditional lyrics (with some existential twists) and sounds that are completely now. Just brilliant stuff.
3. “Blue Eyes” – The Rosebuds. You probably need some giddy, jangly, ooo-filled guitar pop in your life. The Rosebuds provide.
4. “You’ve Already Won” – Slow Buildings. Classic garage rock bass line, tambourine, and half-speed/mopey chorus make for a way fun tune.
5. “Scott Get the Van, I’m Moving” – Cayetana. If you’re not on the Cayetana train, that’s because it’s quickly becoming a bullet train and it’s hard to jump on those. But seriously. Cayetana’s female-fronted punk is blowing up just about as fast as they can get their sound into ears, so you should be on that.
6. “Hold Me Like the Water” – The Radio Reds. You want some churning, claustrophobic punk rock? You got it, chief. The Radio Reds’ latest track makes me feel like I’m in a cramped basement getting my younger self’s demons out through moshing and yelling all the words that the Radio Reds actually are singing. You know what I’m saying.
7. “Valkyrie” – CURXES. If the brittle tones of Sleigh Bells got somehow danceable, CURXES would show up at that party fashionably late and with a slightly higher-end alcohol than was expected of the soiree.
8. “All I Want” – SW/MM/NG. Remember in the ’90s, when one version of indie-rock was rock’n’roll music made with no pretenses of being radio-friendly or traditionally poppy? SW/MM/NG’s earnest, endearing, yelpy slacker psych is a band that escaped the Pavement vortex and made it forward in time 20 years.
9. “Another” – Greylag. Led Zeppelin had that way of sounding wild and adventurous in their acoustic tracks, and Greylag has that same feel. This exciting acoustic-fronted tune has that rolling, ongoing feel of travel.
10. “Rise Up For Love” – Sister Speak. I love dance-pop and EDM in moderation. I would love to see more classic pop songcraft on the radio, starting with Sister Speak’s beautiful, mature, classy, catchy tune right here. It just feels right in my ears, and it would sound so right on my radio.
11. “Pop Ur Heart Out” – Salme Dahlstrom. Have you ever wanted a female Fatboy Slim? Doesn’t matter, Dahlstrom fills the role with aplomb. Seriously, try to not think about “Praise You” during this tune. It’s impossible. I love it.
12. “Everlasting Arms” – Luke Winslow-King. Southern gospel is kind of like Western swing: distinct sound, not that many adherents. Luke Winslow-King is makin’ that traditional sound cool again, and I’m fully on board with this.
13. “Together Alone” – Hollie April. You ever have that moment where you hear a voice for the first time, and it knocks you back a little bit? Hollie April has one of those amazing voices that make me sit up and take notice. Keep watch.
Phosphenes by DC’s Imperial China just might be the next big thing! I cannot stop listening to this album! It comes out Valentine’s Day, 2010, as a split release between DC labels Sockets Records and Ruffian Records.
On first listen, I hear this kick-ass, big beat, Battles-type stuff woven through tight, Gang of Four-type post-punk. I am pleased with the release’s total lack of DC-ness (you know… discordant guitars and super-slick, phrase-perfect drumming). The only ring of DC is track three, “Bananamite,” which sounds like a Regulator Watts or Hoover dub jam. Except, this song takes a more Animal Collective, swirly direction toward the hypnotic and repetitive… which serves the album well.
Let me stress that the album is not all instrumental. I would say Imperial China’s vocals sound like Richard Thompson singing for PIL (which – totally an aside – takes me back to my original what if/where is… the band that sounds like Curtis Mayfield singing for Led Zeppelin?).
IC’s artiness is not pretentious. The production of the album has something to do with that. It sounds like a well-mixed, live performance… like a band doing exactly what they do. Imperial China could be huge really soon! They are making intense music, simply, with just three members. Nothing sounds forced; it sounds like they’re having fun. That’s all of the battle!
The drums are smart, block-rockin’, dancey without being disco. The electronics are well-chosen, and very ear-pleasing… intelligent ambiance. The bass is big-bottom dub-dance pump-thump. The guitar lines are based in Metal yet not all slathered in high-gain blubber. The guitars are also quite indie/punk not unlike Minutemen or something from, say, “A Place Called Today” by Hurl. Sorry to use so many “sounds likes” in this review, but Phosphenes took me to a good place!
The band: http://www.myspace.com/imperialchina
RIYL: Gang Of Four, June of ’44, Tortoise, Nice Nice, Trans Am —Gary Lee Barrett
There’s something about the blues that speaks to everyone. Maybe it’s just part of being human to value a guitar’s raw power, or to feel something from the earthy, no-fuss qualities of blues. But whatever the reason, blues is an important American music genre, and The Teague Stefan Band’s recent release, Game of Life, is a great blues album.
There are also elements of rock and funk on Game of Life, but blues is still the most prevalent style by far. The three-piece group, with Teague Stefan on guitars and vocals, David Marder on drums, and Todd Warsing on bass, consistently delivers tight, guitar-heavy head-nodders. (Of course “head-nodders” is a word, don’t be silly!) And the best part? The scorching, uptempo momentum never falters. All throughout Game of Life, the aim is clear – The Teague Stefan Band wants you to rock with them. And I say – mission accomplished.
Game of Life opens with “The Leavin’ Blues,” an angry, bass-thumping song with a very catchy guitar riff. There’s also a guitar solo in the middle that might just melt your face if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s obvious throughout the album that Teague Stefan is a very talented guitar player.
The title track is a bit mellower, but still fits with the rest of the album’s high energy songs. Other standout tracks are the aggressive and forcefully funky “No Matter What” and the really bluesy, sexy closer “Dues.” (No, it’s not weird to call a song “sexy.”)
Fans of The Black Keys will love the minimalism of the instrumentation and fans of Led Zeppelin will appreciate the emphasis on guitar. But The Teague Stefan Band’s Game of Life would also be perfect for anyone who needs a little more tell-it-like-it-is, good old-fashioned rockin’ blues in their life. (That’s everyone.)
Citizen 5, out of Norman, OK, is a band of many roots, musically and geographically. Musically, they range from pop country of the lead singer Jimmilea Manley to the Latin influences of keyboardist Ricardo Sasaki to the heavy rock of guitarist Scott Sunderman to the indie influences of bassist Jason Long.
They come from many places, from Bolivia to Mexico to just local homegrown Oklahomans. Citizen 5 is unique in that they are a globalized band, which ties into their name, connected with the fact that they are five citizens of the world. This is where they are talented, and even the title of the album plays on the interconnection of everyone.
Definitely Citizen 5’s melding of genres and styles helps make them unique an indie market where being unique is a prerequisite for success. The intro and outro, for example, are Latin-influenced,with a talented trumpeter from the premier mariachi band in Oklahoma playing a Latin dirge. New wave influences can be heard in much of the music, notably in “Make it Real,” where singer Jimmilea Manley’s strong and soaring vocals add a womanly, southern twang, strangely complimenting the indie and psychedelic influences already at play. Add to that their retro eighties-like chord progressions, you’d think these guys would be going overboard. But the band manages to make solid pop songs that tie all these influences together without really jumping off the experimental cliff.
I had the chance to sit down keyboardist and producer Ricardo Sasaki, who said Citizen 5 has been influenced by acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie to Oklahoma’s greatest recent psychedelic success story, the Flaming Lips. Produced by very indie label Ares Recording (which has only been in business for about three weeks), right next door to a Starlight Mints-owned Opolis, a live act club, Citizen 5 definitely has the indie cred to make a footprint on the music world outside the local scene.
But more important than the connections that Sasaki has from his eighteen years of producing and world tromping is just the talent I heard when listening to Circles. Sometimes its buried, but I can still hear it – this is a band that has yet to realize its potential. Things I was impressed with include the way the band manages to craft very familiar lyrics and chord progressions without sounding cliché. Perhaps the influence of all the aforementioned backgrounds of the members of Citizen 5 keep things fresh, like a mango from South America or a homegrown tomato from an Oklahoma backyard.
Sasaki himself said that their next LP, currently untitled and due for release in a few months, is better than the first. I am eagerly awaiting that release, hoping that in it that the band’s voice rings stronger than the first. If I had to guess, I would say the band’s voice can be found from the melding of their different backgrounds, musical and geographical. I think that if they just somehow amplified all these influences and dared to experiment a little more, they could be scary good.
But for what it’s worth, I recommend Citizen 5 and Circles heartily. It’s a fun indie/retro listen.
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.