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.
Sabers has the rare ability to rock without stomping the fuzzbox too hard or too often. It’s a trait they share with indie legends Spoon: rock is in the attitude, not the delivery. They rely on groove, tone, and mood to do the work for them, instead of speedy tempos, massive walls of sound, or crashing drums. I mean, Sic Semper Sabers starts out with a walking pace tune called “Armchair Warriors” and follows it up a track punnily called “Money Eddie.” This is a band that knows what it is about.
Don’t confuse: Sabers has chops galore. It’s just that they approach those chops from a casual perspective, preferring a bleary-eyed, Velvet Underground take on things as opposed to a Rolling Stones style. There are some who may not even call this rock, and quote the chill “Ever Eyeing” to say it’s indie-pop or something. I rebut with the surf-rock riff and distorted vocals of follow-up “Puppet.” The production job here softens edges, to be sure, but I’m betting you that Sabers gets plenty loud live. I also bet their hooks (instrumental and vocal) are just as good live as they are on tape.
I’m a big fan of bands that have energy, songwriting skills, and restraint. It shows good taste to know you can blow the doors off and yet don’t. It leaves the listener with some mystery. Sic Semper Sabers is an impressive album that establishes Sabers as an intriguing band to watch.
Candysound also rocks in an unusual way, combining the instrumental setup of garage rock, the raw energy of folk-rock, and the production values of dream-pop. Candysound’s intricate arrangements feature staccato rhythms that never become brittle, complimented by passion that never translates to general heaviness. The songs feel light and engaging, even though they’re all going at it full force.
This is nowhere as present as in the title track of Now and Then, a 1:43 slice of exuberant Candysound style. The song opens with a humble throat clearing before gentle but swift fingerpicking and whispered vocals come in. After 30 seconds, the band arrives: thumping toms and cymbal (no cymbals), intriguing walking bass, female BGVs. After 30 more seconds, the band ratchets up: the cymbals start to blow up, the vocals turn into hollers, and the guitar distorts (but without chord mashing). After 30 more seconds, it ends with a bang and interludes to the next tune. It’s a fascinating, exciting track that establishes a solid instrumental style for the band.
Throughout the rest of the album, elements that appeared in “Now and Then” show up. Single-note riffs and toms make for great fun in “Anything”; things get positively mathy in “Turned In.” But the band never loses touch with relatable hooks and melodies: when the post-rockish “Instrumental” gets heady, there’s a companion for it in the smooth mood and charming vocals of “Keep Up.” “11:11” gets heavy; its follow-up “Beacons” has a chill vibe.
Candysound has a sophisticated, mature sound: they know what they want to accomplish, and they’re very good at it. I haven’t stated any RIYL bands, because Candysound makes it easy to explain what the songs sound like. Each element of the sound is developed and clear. It’s a really fun album to listen to, and an commendable achievement. Here’s to more from Candysound!
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.