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Tag: The Album Leaf

TRICKED OUT mixtape

Another mixtape! This one’s predominantly dark indie rock, instrumental hip-hop, and lush indie.

TRICKED OUT

0. “Need Parmesan” – Pjaro. From the surrealistically named Why Is No One Here I Can Make You Alt comes a crazy instrumental indie-rock piece that’s like a post-rock piece if Two Gallants were trying to play the genre and out of frustration they gave up and played really loud. This one’s surprising and intriguing.
1. “Waiting” – Program. Remember the mid ’00s, when everything was super-epic because The Arcade Fire ruled and everyone wanted to be like them? I loved that time. Program remember that time well, with synths and toms and all the right stops’n’starts.
2. “Liar Liar” – Vienna Ditto. Someday, all genres will be one genre, and I’ll be out of a job. Until then, it’s my job to tell you that tribal drums, Portishead-style vocals and swaggering guitar riffs come together for some crazy, gripping music here.
3. “View of My Sanity” – Anna Lena and the Orchids. Another singer/songwriter indebted to the icy soundscapes and incisive vocals of Portishead, another beautiful tune.
4. “Endless Possibilities” – The Boxing Lesson. Space rock that consumed an orchestra? Sign me up.
5. “Proto” – Ryan Hemsworth. This one comes from Mitsuda, the hip-hop tribute to video game soundtrack creator Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger). YES TO THE YES.
6. “I Still Think of You From Time to Time” – Louville. Trombones, pulsing beats, and wiry synths come together to form … euphoric electronica? Whatever, just roll with its beauty.
7. “Nothing Left to Say” – Poldoore. Super cool heist movies, take notice: here’s a candidate for your next soundtrack inclusion.
8. “Staying In” – Ola Podrida. Mysterious tune that kinda sounds like a dungeon level soundtrack, until the beautiful chorus kicks in.
9. “Chinese Paper Cuts” – Own Goal. The sparse instrumentation creates a unique indie-soul atmosphere that will appeal to fans of The Antlers.
10. “Blue Elvis” – Peals. It sounds like two guys sitting on the porch making beautiful, low-key, beautiful instrumental music because they can. I dig it.
11. “Seven” – Qualia. Loose, chill, moving post-rock that evokes The Album Leaf, lazy Saturday afternoons and/or epic realizations. Wonderful stuff.

Oh Three, Experimentalists

Avant-garde music generally doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t cover it much on IC. But there are exceptions, such as Kai Straw‘s To Pearl Whitney, From Howland Grouse In Loathing. The album was pitched to me as “experimental poetry”; that might make you think of rap, but lead track “sexlovesoul” is an intense a capella piece that blurs the lines between rap and spoken word. The story it tells is one of a relationship found and lost and found, spread over an entire life. It was deeply moving, inspiring me to check out the rest of the 21-song album. What proceeds is a highly idiosyncratic mix of poetry, rapping, electronica, jazz and even some acoustic guitar. The lead is always Straw’s voice, which he has fine-tuned to be precise and highly tonal (even when speaking). The lyrics he sings and speaks are varied, from songs of death and destruction (“The Champion,” “2,000”) to elaborate daydreams (the near-parody “Vanity Fair,” “Boogie Nights”) to relationship troubles (“Drunk,” “sexlovesoul”).

The best tunes are the ones that don’t invest the most in the arrangement; while tunes like “Yakuza 21” and “Dionysius” have well-developed backing beats (squelching electronica and traditional R&B, respectively), taking the focus off the vocals is not the best move for Straw. That’s not because the beats aren’t strong; it’s that his voice is so engaging and intriguing that I want to hear it unfiltered. If you’re into hip-hop for the lyrical prowess, you should check out Kai Straw’s work. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Me and My Ribcage by The Widest Smiling Faces doesn’t sound that experimental on first blush. The wistful title track opens the album and introduces the listener to a sound somewhere between the moving soundscapes of The Album Leaf and the minimalist slowcore of Jason Molina and Red House Painters. The high, tentative, child-like vocals tip this off as slightly out of the ordinary, however. The album unfolds as a collection of beautiful, relaxing tunes, not so far off from bands like Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) or Pedro the Lion at its quietest. None of the elements in the album are particularly virtuosic in their performance, but the arrangements of piano, guitar and voice are arresting. If you’re looking for a quiet, melodic, gorgeous album, you should look the way of The Widest Smiling Faces.

I was aware that The Miami had some experimental in them when I reviewed their album “I’ll Be Who You Want Me to Be”, but they ratchet that mode up in their exciting EP “Ring Shouts”. The Miami is a duo that recreates old spirituals, hymns and folk tunes in often-mournful style, stretching the source material in unusual and unexpected ways. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” has a grating noise butting up against the plain, acoustic accompaniment; this juxtaposition seems to inspire fear in the vocalist/narrator and uneasiness in this listener. The 78 seconds of “Barbed Wire” are an a capella tune with only one person clapping and stomping to back it up, while the swirling, mysterious synths of “Motherless Child” combine with the acoustic guitar and vocals for a heartwrenchingly sad piece.

Then, they throw all that sad stuff overboard and close out the EP with “Kneebone,” a call-and-response tune that is easily the catchiest and happiest tune they’ve ever put out. It’s still got a long introduction that abruptly quits before the vocals come in and a drowsy coda to connect it with the rest of the tunes, but it’s a fun song to hear and to sing along with. Because even the most experimental of us enjoy a good singalong every now and then.

Quick Hits Quartet

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 AutresSun 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.

Wallscenery Demos' new incarnation is a bit of a baffler

There’s a difference between lo-fi fuzz and garage rock reverb. The former uses tape hiss to evoke unassuming intimacy, either through necessity or appropriation.  The latter is intentionally designed to obscure distinct parts, creating space between the listener and the art.  This is the difference between Wallscenery Demosprevious album Check This! and new album Half Asleep. Half Awake.

Check This! is a pastiche of lo-fi ruminations and found sounds. There was tape hiss in and through it, but it was first and foremost and intensely personal experience. I could tell what was happening the entire time.

Half Asleep. Half Awake. is much less of a collage, as only the highlight “Money Lebowski” includes found sound. Instead, the album sees WD mastermind James Hicken trying to transition to more solid songwriting.  The songs are longer than his previous work, and they are more fleshed out. He spells it out in the short but insightful liner notes, stating “The album is a departure … ”

The 2:34 “Wrote,” one of the shorter tunes here, pushes the upward bounds of what Hicken felt comfortable committing to tape before. It is a calm, acoustic-led indie-pop tune, still vaguely reminiscent of Pedro the Lion. The vocals have some light reverb on them, and it’s fine, because the rest of the song (keys, drums, background vocals) is audible.

The mumbly acoustic ditty “And Falling” is reminiscent of the charms from Check This!. The beautiful “Money Lebowski” calls up comparisons to folktronic producers and the Album Leaf, as it pairs a droning background synth and heavily modified snares with a gentle acoustic melody and found movie clips. A whole album of this would be a glorious experience.

But Hicken is still not completely confident in his songwriting ability, as he covers several of his works in the aforementioned oppressive reverb.  Almost without exception, the longer a song gets, the more of it is caked in great washes of ghostly sound. The 4:28 of “Gotta Watch Out For a Year” would be a great song if it weren’t so hard to find inside itself (except for a surprisingly clear bass line).

This reaches its zenith in the instrumental six-minute closer “The Club Is Open,” which reverbs literally every part of the song (drums, guitars, beats, heck, even the synths sound doubled). As a song, “The Club Is Open” is not bad; as the conclusion of this album, it keeps the idioms but not the songwriting structures, resulting in listener confusion.

Half Asleep. Half Awake. sounds like a transitional document, which is fitting: Hicken describes its main topic as “relocation.” It feels less solid than Check This!, due in part to the recording style and the songs contained therein. There are flashes of brilliance and markers that hopefully point in a good direction:  “Money Lebowski” next to “The Club Is Open” is a surprisingly effective pairing, and that’s almost a third of the album’s 33-minute running time.

James Hicken’s got skills, but this incarnation isn’t the best use of them. He can write good songs; he doesn’t have to hide or obscure his work in cavernous reverb.