On No Story Is Over, Son of Laughter (Chris Slaten) stretches his wings way out and shows what he is capable of. Unshackled from his original genre as a light-hearted folk-pop singer/songwriter, this indie-pop album explores wide-ranging sonic interests and complex lyrical territory.
No Story Is Over opens with a giant Illinoise-style pileup in “Voting Day,” complete with a giant horn section, gospel choir, electric guitar, and more. Slaten conjures up marching-band levels of enthusiasm in the instrumentalists and the listener. The enthusiasm continues in a different vein on “Flesh and Bone,” where there’s a Middle-Eastern sound to the strings and percussion. There’s even a flamenco-esque vibe in the swift nylon-stringed guitar performance. Slaten is a more aggrieved than charmed (“Oh my brothear! Killing me with categories! Oh my sister! Killing me with categories!”) but the energy holds throughout. It is an interesting, unique song.
“Hurricanes” is a high-drama indie rock song that has (appropriately) some sea shanty vibes. It’s the most complex tune he’s yet attempted, featuring a six-minute runtime and multiple distinct sections. There’s more than a bit of Mumfordian, high-drama folk in it. Lyrically, it aims high as well; the whole thing is an extended metaphor over the stormy relationship between the narrator and God over the problem of evil. If your opinion of extended metaphors is good, you’ll like this solidly-executed effort quite a bit.
“Take Me Down” has some more Mumfordian drama in the lyrics. The torrential arrangement still manages to include a glockenspiel and jazzy clarinet, despite the ominous minor key vibe and the dark lyrics (“I’m a monster / I’ve been this way”). But the arrangement, even in its most dense and thick, has more levity than a Mumford tune due to its choice of instruments and Slaten’s voice being less howling than Marcus Mumford’s. (Almost everyone’s voice is less howling than Marcus Mumford’s, to be fair.)
“The Meal We Could Not Make” continues that drama with choir, horns, glockenspiel and pizzicatto strings. The swift fingerpicking points toward the light folk he was doing before (as do the title track and “The Gardener”), but everything else points in his new direction. The lyrics here are moving for those of the Christian persuasion. Closer “Make Me Captive” is a worship track of sorts—the lyrics are definitely worshipful, while the music is more along the lines of the slightly-off-kilter, The Welcome Wagon approach than a CCM jam. It is quiet and far less dramatic than that of the previous tunes, pointing back toward his earlier work.
No Story Is Over suggests in its title and in its tunes that Slaten’s work as Son of Laughter is an ongoing reinvention. Slaten’s ability to pack instruments into a tune but not turn out a heavy, thick sound is deeply admirable; it will serve him well no matter where his tunes may lie in the future. Yet those who loved the bright folk-pop of his earlier work won’t feel out in the cold. No Story Is Over bridges two sounds beautifully and points off into the future–it’s quite an accomplishment.
The Gray Havens are back with a new Kickstarter project! The folk-pop duo is creating a new EP with Ben Shive, who has worked with Andrew Peterson, Ellie Holcomb, and IC faves Colony House and Son of Laughter. Shive seems to always turn out earthy, “real”-sounding recordings; paired with the Gray Havens’ dramatic, tension-filled songwriting, the results should be impressive. Check their video below.
Independent Clauses is a wide-ranging blog, but it still comes home at night to folk and indie-pop. So those genres are very well-represented in the Top 10.
10. “Song for Zula” – Phosphorescent. Yup, I’m thoroughly on board with all the love this is getting. Just beautiful.
9. “Home Sweet Home” – Russell Howard. The sound of loss and longing rarely sounds so sweet as in this singer/songwriter tune.
8. “The Mantis and the Moon” – Son of Laughter. Clever lyrics, sprightly arrangement, poignant performance: I hummed this a lot in 2013.
7. “Aaron” – JD Eicher and the Goodnights. Sweeping, widescreen folk-pop that leveled me with a great melody and this line: “I don’t write sad songs/they just seem to write me.”
6. “Judah’s Gone” – M. Lockwood Porter. It’s a tough thing to pack nostalgia, disillusion, and rage into one folky tune without any yelling, but Porter navigates the wildly varying emotions deftly.
5. “American Summer” – Jared Foldy. Gentle fingerpicking and reverb create a strong atmosphere, as Foldy offers the sound of beloved summers that sadly have to end.
4. “The Riddle Song” – The Parmesans. Poignant yet flirtatious, this bluegrassy love song is wonderful.
3. “For the Sky” – Wolfcryer. The opening riff of this folk tune, optimistic and yearning, sets the stage for an inescapable tune.
2. “Creeping Around Your Face” – Novi Split. The most tender, gentle love song I heard all year, steeped in the reality of hard times but the hope of good to come.
1. “Everything Is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers. Wine glasses cascade and swoop through the quiet indie-pop arrangement, giving Rodgers a fascinating canvas on which to paint lovely vocal melodies and descriptive lyrics. I couldn’t stop listening to this for weeks.
In recorded form, Lord Buffalo has been quiet since I highly recommended their 2012 self-titled EP. They’ve been spending time playing mighty live shows and recording a full album (to be released in 2014). A self-titled 7″ has appeared to whet the appetites of those invested in their spacious sound, and whoa does it ever deliver.
The only Stephen King novel I’ve finished was The Stand, and the post-epidemic landscape that King sets his characters upon could use these two tunes as a soundtrack. Helter-skelter vocal roaring reminiscent of Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) ranges across the urgent, pounding “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin”; the heavily rhythmic arrangement hearkens towards stereotypical Native American chant, which only ups the tension. Evocative might be too soft a word for the visceral reaction I feel when hearing the recording; it helps that I saw this one performed live at SXSW 2013, and it was suitably earthshaking. B-side “Black Mesa” is a more expansive track, giving the band more room to breathe. It’s just as dramatic and fascinating, but in a different way. Lord Buffalo are making unique and thrilling music, and I can hardly wait for the full album in 2014. Highly recommended (again!).
At their best, Son of Laughter‘s singer/songwriter tunes blend Paul Simon’s precise fingerpicking and melodies with Josh Ritter’s thoughtful, storytelling lyrics. The result is the 5-song The Mantis and The Moon EP, which gives much to enjoy while pointing to a bright future for musician Chris Slaten.
Opener “Cricket in a Jar” and the title track jump off the page as the clear standouts. The former delivers the most poignant line of the EP (“This is a law of loveliness/we love what never lasts”), while the latter gives us the most memorable chorus of the bunch. Slaten’s voice is in fine form through the chorus and beyond, moving sprightly across the gentle arrangement while maintaining nuance in the pathos. The nice subtlety of the lyrics helps with Slaten’s vocal nuance, as well. It’s hard for me to hear “The Mantis” and resist pushing repeat; that’s high praise from over here. The other three tunes are a little less immediate in their charms, but they each show promising aspects to Slaten’s sound. I’m looking forward to how this project grows and develops, as Slaten’s talent seems like it has a lot of good songs in it that are just waiting to emerge.
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.