Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.
The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.
The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).
Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.
I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.
The warm, enfolding acoustic folk of Fireships is in full flower on this clip for “Words Escape Me.” The sort of sweet, yearning melodies and gentle arrangements found in Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, and more modern acoustic outfits like The End of America create a calming, refreshing sound. I can imagine this pouring out of a radio in 1973 or today, so carefully does Fireships bridge the gap between past and current trends.
The video itself only helps with the mood-building: the band plays in the leaves of a forest outside a cabin in what looks like late afternoon light. I’m usually not into live videos, but this one becomes an excellent companion to the song.
“Without A Care” – Turn to Crime. The insistent arpeggiator, the squawking guitar, pushing drums, and repetitive nature of the song make this perfect road rock’n’roll. Also the topical matter, now that you mention it.
“Killer Flamingo Báy” – Flamingo Bay. Manages to be raw and snarling while still also conveying droll boredom with the subject matter. In essence, the most rock’n’roll stance you could take, according to the Vines and Cage the Elephant.
“Loose People” – Sans Parents. This feels like a garage rock song jammed together with a melancholy Beach Boys track, but as if those two things have been waiting to be put together forever.
“Get It Out” – Two Sheds. Lumbering, towering, yet oddly good-natured rock that seems to be trying to engulf its lead singer entirely.
“Struck Matches” – Bop English. It says “English” on the tin, but this cross between roots-rock and Styx is about as American as classic rock stylings can get.
“The Devil Got to Go” – The Through & Through Gospel Review. If Of Montreal ever got conscripted for a prison chain gang work crew…
“All the Time” – Nai Harvest. You look like you need some good, straight-ahead power-pop in your life.
“City Livin’” – Round Eye. Frantic, zinging, careening punk from China. What’s not interesting about that?
“One More Life” – Shy For Shore. I suppose if you hate electro-pop, it’s this sort of thing that you rail against. But I don’t know what’s wrong with high drama, big synths, and yearning vocals–if you’re looking for subtlety, just turn away. If you’re looking for that big moment: feast on, friends.
“Holy Fire (Radio Edit)” – Many Things. Due to its hypnotic ostinato piano line, U2-level bombastic production, and demands to “throw up your hands now,” this thumping-beat pop anthem is contractually obligated to be played only in stadiums and at least 10 feet above the heads of the floor audience.
“Build a Sun” – Wartime Blues. This outfit is trying to cram gleeful abandon into a tastefully restrained orchestral folk-pop band. The results are like Josh Ritter with old-school Arcade Fire creeping out from around the edges.
When I was in an art-rock band in high school, we managed to agree on only three cover songs in our four-year history: Coldplay’s “Parachutes,” Fall Out Boy’s “Dance Dance,” and “Hotel California.” (If you can figure out what those have in common, let me know.) My latest endeavor with the cover song was much more coherent, as I got 22 bands to contribute to a Postal Service covers album. I’m still incredibly thrilled with the final product, although I certainly do not want to run a similar project any time soon.
Folk-pop duo Jenny & Tyler, who were featured on Never Give Up, have put together their own covers album in For Freedom. As the title would suggest, the 7-song album is a project that benefits International Justice Mission‘s work to end slavery. Not only do you get their excellent arrangement skills, songs you love, and guest musicians (Sara Groves! JJ Heller! A virtual choir of hundreds of J&T fans!), you get to support justice in the world. What are you waiting for?
“We Will Become Silhouettes” is included here in remastered form, sounding even more gorgeous than before. It would easily be my favorite (and not just for sentimental value; the crescendo from beginning to end is heart-pounding) except for the absolutely stunning “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Jenny & Tyler temper Bono’s original desperation with their warm, gentle arrangement skills, using oboe, clarinet, and cello to create an alternate vision of what that place we’re all looking for sounds like. If that wasn’t enough, they enlist the excellent Sara Groves and a choir of fans to guest vocal, creating a simply masterful take on the song. I could listen to this one all day.
They turn Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from an angsty rager into a twee-pop tune, complete with glockenspiel. “The Sound of Silence” is suitably haunting, with their voices and clarinet (aside: I just love that they give the clarinet good press) giving a new tension to Simon & Garfunkel’s original. “The Scientist” includes a harpsichord/autoharp sound, but no piano; it’s an ambitious move that pays off.
Overall, Jenny & Tyler have set their unique and particular vision on these tracks, and that’s all that I ask from covers. The fact that the tunes are alternately heartbreaking and heart-pounding is a testament to the skill with which they can realize that vision. Highly recommended.
I’ve been getting into electronic music a little bit more recently, but I still have the deepest part of my musical heart reserved for singer/songwriters armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Scott Fant fits that description perfectly, as he employs his careworn tenor over a six-string for the five tunes of Pig Iron. Fant balances precise, melodic guitarwork with a careworn voice that includes weariness but isn’t defined by it. It’s not a gruff or rough tone, but one that has nicks around the edges, as in the excellent “Worse for the Wear.” The memorable vocals are framed well by both chord strumming and fingerpicking. Fant likes to remain in folk-singer mode, but there are some worthy blues inclusions (“8 Lb. Sledge”) and even a bit of classical influence (“Restless Wind”). Fans of Joe Pug, Joe Purdy and maybe even Ray LaMontagne (although without the romantic overtones) will eat this up. Fant is a strong songwriter that should be watched closely: as they say in the draft, he’s got a lot of upside and a really high ceiling.
Christian martyrs Quirinus, Sadoth, and Ri may not be household names, but Martyr’s Prayers by The Project moves them out of the Fox’s Book of Martyrs and into the musical sphere. The album’s best moments come when the band focuses on acoustic folk treatments like lead single “Romero,” the cello-led “Becket,” and the melodically memorable “Clement.” Most of the album leans this way, but there are some louder moments in the stories of the martyrs. The dramatic “Carpus” opens with arch piano arrangement before unveiling some wailing guitar work over the despondent chords. While “Bonhoeffer” has unexpected alt-rock guitar that disrupts the flow of the album, “Sadoth” is a straight-up classic rocker that fits the character of the album much more. It fits because the “classic” tag leans into some of the folk work too, as “Ignatius” and “Ravensbruck” recall the arrangements of older folk heroes like America and Simon & Garfunkel. Martyr’s Prayers is a unique album that’s worth a listen for fans of folk and/or church history, as long as some unexpected turns don’t bother you.
Killing Kuddles was introduced to me as a rockabilly band, but some of the “abilly” edges have worn off between then and now. Odd Man Out is a five-song release that leans heavily on old-school rock’n’roll sounds for its sonic and lyrical material (“Rock & Roll Is Dead”). The guitars clang admirably, the cymbals thrash mightily, and the bass wallops. The element that most signifies any sort of country-ish vibe is Elwood Kuddles’ raspy throat, which lands between a punk sneer and a Tom Waits growl. It leans toward the former on the rapid-fire opener “Not Coming Back” and more toward the latter in the folk-punk “Dropped the Pop.”
Killing Kuddles’ old-school rock sound has some connection to modern punk rock bands like The Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus: bands that adhere to an old-school idea that rock should be loud and fast and unadorned by labels. Those bands might be right; it could be that I’m doing these songs a disservice trying to categorize them. If you like rock with the amps turned up and a rebellious sneer, Odd Man Out is going to be in your wheelhouse.
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.