1. “Somethings” – Sariah Mae. This song sounds like it was blown out of a bubble wand: a round, gleaming, shimmery, light thing that lolls along in the wind. Indie pop at its shiny, bubbly best.
2. “Super Natural” – Turnover. Does the thing has emerged in my family as a term of high praise: you need to do something, you select a tool to do it, and the tool works perfectly. It does the thing. This dream-pop tune does the thing: it has reverby guitars, delicate vocals, loping bass, and enough energy from the drums to keep the “pop” part working. Just totally solid.
3. “Bright and Blue” – Tomo Nakayama. This indie-pop track feels like walking on clouds, what with the ethereal pad synths in the background, the walking-pace shuffle snare, and the friendly vocal approach. Very excited for this upcoming album.
4. “All My Faith” – The Last Dinosaur. An intimate-yet-sweeping acoustic indie track that calls to mind Michigan-era Sufjan and other lush-arrangement singer/songwriters.
5. “Altaïr” – Camel Power Club. Well, isn’t this a wild mix: synths, acoustic guitar, ’90s hip-hop beats, bongos, breathy vocals, theremin-esque sounds, and more are all wrapped up in a smooth, grooving electro-indie-pop tune. Whoa.
6. “Living in Fame” – Fever Kids. The feathery vocals that provide the lead hook for this tune fit perfectly with a slightly ominous, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass line and create a sort of post-disco indie-pop track. The vibe here is unusual and exciting.
7. “Duluoz Dream” – Sal Dulu. A bleary-eyed jazz trumpet provides the entry point into this low-key indie-electro instrumental, squiggly bits, mournful piano, and other sounds come together to create a chill, head-bobbin’ piece.
8. “July” – Ellie Ford. Some jaunty flamenco rhythms on a nylon-string guitar provide the base of this song, which then expands into a carefully-coordinated minor-key indie-rock tune led by Ford’s delicate voice.
9. “If You Saw Her” – Mark Bryan. The quirky, plunk-plunk lead melody in this folk/country tune is a weirdly infectious riff. The rest of the tune is a bright, clear, folk/country tune guided to its satisfying conclusion by an assured hand and a lithe voice.
11. “Watching From a Distance” – David Ramirez. Ramirez updates his country sound with burbling electronics, Simon and Garfunkel-esque percussion, and a large arrangement more reminiscent of indie-folk than stark country ventures. It’s a surprising, excellent turn. His voice is still amazing–nothing changed there.
12. “I Wanna Go Down to the Basement” – Wooden Wand. Loopy, chilled-out folk that asserts “I am no longer afraid”; despite these reassurances, James Jackson Toth’s voice has a jittery quality that gives the song energy.
13. “Take Over” – Tom Rosenthal. Fans of Greg Laswell and Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay will love this piano-driven tune, which pulses and pushes forward and yet still remains intimate.
14. “Killing Me” – Luke Sital-Singh. The emotional piano ballad is tough to pull off, but Sital-Singh here provides a master course on how to do it right. This song is emotionally devastating.
David Wimbish‘s lyrics are incredible, but with so much going on in his 7-to-18-piece indie-rock orchestra The Collection, the lyrics sometimes take a backseat to the enormous amount of things going on around them. His solo EP On Separation strips away some (some) of the musicians to put the focus squarely on his voice and lyrics. The tender, gentle acoustic tunes that result will please fans of the Collection and gather new fans of quiet music under his wing.
In a nod to the solo nature of the work, Wimbish takes the time to write out some explanatory liner notes in the first person. In explaining the title, he writes, “Each song on On Separation deals with different aspects of disconnection, whether it be marital divorce experienced by my friends lately, or self-imposed loss of close friendships from the past.” To whit, standout “Circles and Lines” begins with, “Today she dropped the glass and shattered many things / and you had not yet thought of where you’d set your ring.” Yet not all of the lyrics are so literal, as Wimbish prefers to plumb the interior spaces of the involved parties and observers of the events (“A Ghost and A Scale,” “Back and Forth”). They’re complex, multi-layered lyrics, full of personal musings, places, and religious allusions: Cain and Abel make appearances in their eponymous tune, and the prodigal son makes a reappearance (from the Collection’s “Broken Tether”) in “Lost and Found.” Wimbish’s ability to turn a phrase that both sounds great and has meaning is in top form here.
These lyrics are paired with some of the most beautiful music Wimbish has yet written. “Circles and Lines” pairs the heavy lyrics against a beautiful, fingerpicked, cascading acoustic guitar line. The song builds to the loudest moment on the EP with the inclusion of strings and slapped cello for percussion, but it returns to its delicate roots for the conclusion of the tune. That underscores the approach here: while these are songs that deal with dramatic events, the overall tone and timbre of this EP is quiet and even understated at times (at least in comparison to the weightiness of the lyrics). The rhythms and string arrangement of “Back and Forth” seem a little like a Collection song with the bombast removed–the chiming autoharp of “A Ghost and a Scale” recalls his band as well. But other than those occasional flourishes, these songs do feel like a statement by Wimbish instead of stripped-out versions of full-band work. They’re elegant, not empty.
Part of the understatedness of the release is realized in the sharp focus that Wimbish puts on his voice delivering the lyrics, to the exclusion of complexity elsewhere. This is particularly true in “Cain and Abel,” which uses Wimbish’s voice as both lead and background vocals. Gentle marimba and cello occasionally show up, but this one’s about the voice. Wimbish’s tenor, so often used for roaring in The Collection’s work, is gorgeous in this quieter setting, as his range, tone, and nuances of delivery stand out. (All those are present in The Collection’s work, but as previously noted, there’s a lot more elements going on there.) His voice is soft, clear, and comforting–if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, these tunes would be the sort of thing to lull you peacefully to sleep.
David Wimbish’s On Separation is a beautiful EP that showcases a singer/songwriter with a clear sonic and lyrical vision. Fans of Damien Jurado, Josh Ritter, or Gregory Alan Isakov will find much to love in the music, while fans of the dense, thoughtful lyrics of The Mountain Goats or Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan/Illinois work will celebrate this one. Highly recommended.
1. “I Touch My Face in Hyperspace Oh Yeah” – Devin James Fry. You shouldn’t need my encouragement to listen to a song with a title so enigmatic and intriguing, but if you do, the fiery, wild-eyed psych-folk-rock is just as immediately engaging and mind-expanding as the title.
2. “Cheap Shades” – Chris Staples. Staples tosses off lyrics in this gentle, walking-speed acoustic tune as if they were easy to come by, as if they weren’t complex and unique and deeply thoughtful. This doesn’t sound like the Mountain Goats at all, but fans of John Darnielle will hear the lyrical kinship (even if the music is closer to Sufjan’s Michigan than anything TMG has put out, except maybe Get Lonely). If you’re of the age and vintage that 238’s “Modern Day Prayer” is tattooed on your consciousness, get prepared to have your mind blown: this is that Chris Staples.
3. “Can’t Undo This” – Heather Bond. It’s tough to do a dramatic, introspective ballad without getting formalist or maudlin. Bond balances gravitas and vulnerability to come up with a searing, poignant, piano-driven tune.
4. “Take You Away” – The National Parks. Handclaps, pizzicato violin, punchy horns, and bright-eyed guy/girl vocals buoy this cross between orchestral-folk-pop, party-friendly indie-pop-rock, and even some disco vibes (!). Weighty genre labels aside, this is a cheery, thoughtful tune that does more than bash out chords on a well-trod road.
5. “Ida” – El Tryptophan. Was Pet Sounds an orchestral explosion of the Phil Spector sound? If so, “Ida” could fit in the chronological and sonic space right between ’60s girl-pop arrangements and Brian Wilson’s masterpiece (with some Velvet Underground thrown in for good measure). [Editor’s note: El Tryptophan is now known as Gryphon Rue.]
6. “Pink Lemonade” – Monogold. Sometimes the title is all you need to know.
8. “Kids” – Dara Sisterhen. Somehow manages to blend country, ’50s pop, and folk-pop into one breezy, carefree tune perfect for your next road trip.
9. “The Script” – The Treacherous French. Almost any accordion-laden acoustic tune is going to come off like a sea shanty; the washboard percussion, enthusiastic high-tenor vocal performance, and “whoa-ohs” solidify the notion.
10. “Willingham” – Echo Bloom. Somehow combines the murky sounds of a forest, high-drama noir vocals, indie-rock slinkiness, and ghostly aura. Wildly inventive.
11. “Little Dreamer” – Charlotte & Magon. Delicate electric guitar, gently dramatic vocals, and an overall sense of lazy Saturday mornings.
12. “Gotta Wanna” – Gun Outfit. I turn the key and the engine hums. I turn out of the gas station and back onto an empty Arizona highway, headed back toward California. The insistent drumming underscores my sense of motion, but the vocals and guitar lean back to make sure that everyone knows it’s not all that urgent. We’re gonna hang out and enjoy ourselves when we get there; we’ll enjoy it on the way, too.
13. “Hold Hands for Dry Land” – Oryx and Crake. The gleeful community feel of Funeral was part of what made it so engaging: Oryx and Crake develop that same sort of group vibe in this punchy-yet-thoughtful melodic indie-rock track. Anyone named after a Margaret Atwood novel is asking for your full attention–they reward, both musically and lyrically.
I love doing long reviews, but SXSW has thrown me off my game. To catch up, here’s a rare quartet of quick hits.
Dana Falconberry‘s four-song Though I Didn’t Call It Came is a beautiful, immersing release. The thirteen minutes pass rapidly, as Falconberry’s uniquely interesting voice plays over intricate yet intimate acoustic arrangements. Highlights include the complex and beautiful songwriting structure of “Petoskey Stone,” the Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens fragility of “Muskegon,” and the casual wonder of whistling-led closer “Maple Leaf Red (Acoustic).” It’s a rare songwriter that has tight control over both individual songwriting elements and overall feel, marking Falconberry as one to enjoy now and watch in the future.
England in 1819‘s Alma will quickly remind listeners of British piano-rock bands: Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay is checked on “Air That We Once Breathed,” Muse gets its nod in the title track, and the melodic focus of Keane is familiar throughout. But 2/3rds of the band is conservatory-trained, and those influences show. “Littil Battur” is a chiming, gently swelling post-rock piece with reminiscent of The Album Leaf; “Emily Jane” is another beautiful, wordless, free-flowing piece. There’s enjoyment in their emotive piano-pop, but there’s magic in their instrumental aspirations. That tension shows promise past this sophomore release.
The bouncy garage-pop of Eux Autres‘ Sun is Sunk EP has been honed for almost a decade to a tight mix of modern sensibilities and historic glee. “Right Again” and “Home Tonight” call up ’60s girl-pop groups but don’t overdo it; “Ring Out” features male lead vocals in a perky, jumpy, infectious tune that includes bells and tambourine. The 1:23 of “Call It Off” is thoroughly modern songwriting, though—the band is no one trick pony. There’s just no resisting the charms of Sun is Sunk, and since its six songs only ask for 15 minutes of your time, why would you?
After seeing part of a breathtaking set by Sharon Van Etten at SXSW 2011, I jumped at the chance to give some press for her new album Tramp. Turns out all the big hitters (NPR, Pitchfork, Paste) are already on it. The tunes powered by Van Etten’s emotive croon are in full form, developed from her sparse beginnings into complete arrangements. At 46 minutes, this mature version of Van Etten is a complete vision; still, the haunting, delicate closer “Joke or a Lie” is what sticks with me.
“Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)” has got to be one of the all-time strangest band names I have ever encountered. First of all, it’s seven words long. Seven. Secondly, not only does it incorporate punctuation, the name includes different kinds – both exclamation points and parenthesis. It makes me wonder what their fans call them. Maybe just “Empire! Empire!”? (But then do you have to say it with a raised voice?) Or what about “E.E.I.W.A.L.E.”? Continue readingBand with crazy name releases 7 inch vinyl…
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.