This year I have 14 albums of the year. Numbers 14-8 are covered here, while numbers 7-1 will be covered in a few days. Enjoy!
14. State Center – The Hasslers. “An impressively smooth fusion of country, indie-pop and folk; they’re so adept at handling the genre mashing that it’s hard to pick out exactly where one stops and the other starts.” (full review)
12. Songs of Loss – JPH. “Songs of Loss would be hard to explain even if it weren’t so openly dealing with the loss of the artist’s father. … Imagine if LCD Soundsystem had committed to only using acoustic instruments but still wanted to make the same sort of rhythms, or if Jandek had become dancier. These are strange things to try to imagine, I am aware.” (full review)
11. Gardens – Ryan Dugre. “The solo guitar record has a zen-like focus and a clarity that make the music incredibly soothing to a harried mind. … It sounds like audio origami–complex and angular, but only when looked at up close: from afar it seems beautiful, unified, and peaceful.” (full review)
10. The Road – John John Brown. “Brilliant, drawing heavily from traditional Appalachian sounds and modern folk revivalists to create 10 songs of back-porch folk that are fully realized in scope and yet casual in mood. Brown’s dusky voice, an immaculate production job, and a deft arranging hand makes this duality possible.” (full review)
9. Crooked Orchards – Darling Valley. “Stuffed full of tunes with vocal melodies that I can’t say no to, elite instrumental performances, and enough lyrical poignancy to knock the socks off a skeptic or two. It’s the sort of album that makes you remember why folk-pop was fun in the first place.” (full review)
8. S/t – Moda Spira. “A beautiful, intriguing work that combines pensive indie-pop, thoughtful electro-pop, R&B and more into a distinctive sound. The lyrics are just as impressive, tackling the little-discussed topic of marital commitment with candor, verve, and impact.” (full review)
My life has been very noisy on the academic, professional, and personal fronts for a few months. Amid the clatter and bustle of changes and projects and decisions and concerns, I’ve come across Ryan Dugre‘s Gardens. Gardens is a haven of calm and respite amid the modern hustle. The solo guitar record has a zen-like focus and a clarity that make the music incredibly soothing to a harried mind.
Opener “Parade” shows off his electric guitar’s round low-end tone and precise, delicate treble tone; the two distinct voices create a conversation, even though they’re both coming from the same guitar. The songwriting here is very subtle and calm; there’s no clutter, no erratic motions, and very little chaos. “Mute Swan” continues this theme, adding reverb to the treble to create an even clearer distinction. It sounds like audio origami–complex and angular, but only when looked at up close: from afar it seems beautiful, unified, and peaceful. “Only to Leave, Only to Please” is a ballad of sorts, as it employs this bass/treble distinction to create a melodic structure that is almost lyrical.
Other textures appear on the record as well. “Down By Old River I Lie” has more of a pastoral cast, while “Pindrip” does sound very much like pins dripping from a tall height onto a hard surface. (“Pindrip” is played on acoustic guitar instead of electric; Dugre’s work clearly points out how different the two types of guitar can sound.) “Elliot” employs the bass / treble interplay on the acoustic guitar to great effect–it isn’t as calming as the positively serene “Parade,” but it’s definitely close.
Gardens is a lovely record that is a beacon of peace in a storm of chaos. Instead of showing off how fast or how complex he can be, Dugre employs his guitar skills in such a way that they can be enjoyed in a peaceful setting. It’s very hard to make complexity sound elegant and simple, which is what Dugre has done here. Do your ears a favor and check this 10-song album out.
If you’re in NYC, you should check out his Gardens release show at Manhattan Inn with IC faves Jonah-Parzen Johnson and Dave Miller, which happens tonight at 10 PM. He’ll also be touring and gigging after that around the Northeast and NYC, so you’ll have chances to hear this if you can’t get there tonight. —Stephen Carradini
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.