Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends‘ Beating Off the Loneliness is an indie pop album with vocals that skew toward the speak/sing of Say Anything or MeWithoutYou. The arrangements are deeply layered, compiled from acoustic and electronic instruments: some songs pile up found sounds and synths and drums and all sorts of stuff into a wistful, rueful amalgam that yet retains energy (“Purge-atory,” “The Patron Saint of Lost Causes”). Songs like “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You” are indie-folk ramblers instead of collages. These latter songs have occasional vocal melodies (“Say It…”), but the gold moments appear when lead singer Justin Robbins expertly controls the mood and tone of his spoken word–he can pack a lot of emotional power into individual lines.
Lyrically, this one is very much a breakup album, but it’s more in the mold of Spiritualized’s punchy Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space and Josh Ritter’s “everything that happened after the breakup” lyrical approach to The Beast in Its Tracks than a mopefest. (Not that I don’t love a good mopefest.) As is often the case with speak/sing work, the lyrics are dense and carefully constructed, despite sounding off-the-cuff; there are pop culture references (“Sleepy Hollow,” for example), emotional monologues, and word games to be had (like the title of “Hail, Mary”). The sum of all these parts is a fully-realized statement of an album that clearly shows Tim De Vil’s songwriting and lyrical skills. Fans of collage artists, spoken word ramblers, or experimental indie-pop will find much to enjoy here.
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.
The deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and more have inspired the myth that 27 is the age past which no musical youth icon can live. M. Lockwood Porter, also aged 27 but definitely alive, thoughtfully grabbed the number for the title of his sophomore alt-country/country-rock/just plain rock album. His debut Judah’s Gone focused on the past (just look at that title); 27 is a coming-of-age rumination that turns his gaze from youthful aches to the troubles of living in the adult world.
27 does not contain fluffy or stereotypical lyrics: while there are a couple jilted-lover tunes, they fit into a larger paradigm of the difficult questions Porter is asking about life. Thoughts about mortality (“Chris Bell,” about another lost 27-year-old musician), the possibility of not achieving dreams (“Restless”), religion (“Couer D’Alene”), and leaving behind a legacy (“Mountains”) paint a picture of a person standing at the edge of adulthood and grappling with what he’s found so far. I may not agree with every conclusion, but I’m deeply glad that the sentiments are expressed with enough depth and clarity that I can actually agree or disagree with them. That’s a pretty rare accomplishment in the rock world.
The album’s centerpiece is the ballad “Mountains,” which pulls all of these thoughts about life together. It starts with tom hits that sound like a heartbeat before Porter wearily sings, “When I was young my father said / that faith could move a mountain / now there’s mountains as far as I can see.” Striking piano, tasteful percussion, and an earnest guitar line fill out the raw, earnest tune. I wish I could write out all the lyrics for you, but Porter distills it all into one sweeping statement to close the tune: “And as I stare across the vast expanse / I can hear my father shouting / but mountains are all that I can see.”
Porter serves up these musings in expertly crafted alt-country/country-rock tunes. Porter’s been in a bunch of bands of various genres over the past dozen years, and he’s learned things from all of them. Opener “I Know You’re Going to Leave Me” crescendoes to a pounding, ragged, desperate, shiver-inducing rock ending; he follows it up with “Chris Bell,” which is about as perfect an alt-country song as Gram Parsons could hope to hear. “You Only Talk About Your Band” is a rollicking, impassioned ’50s rock’n’roll tune that sounds like it fell out of a time machine somewhere, while Bruce Springsteen would approve of the insistent piano and urgent vocals in “Restless.” “Secrets” sounds like a San Francisco indie-pop mosey, an influence holdover from his time in The 21st Century. “Couer D’Alene” is a delicate acoustic-and-voice tune to close out the record. All of these songs are impressive in their own right, and yet none feel out of place on the record.
Porter keeps these disparate sounds and ideas held together through a consistent vocal presence on the record. No matter what genre Porter writes, he works to make his voice inhabit the song. There are no bad vehicles here: Porter sounds completely at home in each of these tunes. Instead of sounding pristine, the opposite is true: by feeling comfortable throughout, he’s able to allow his voice some fluctuations and character without needing to edit it out. It gives the whole album a careworn, comfortable feel, similar to a Justin Townes Earle song or Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks.
27 has the sort of musical and lyrical depth that causes me to come up with more things to say than I have space for. (Two things that got cut: 1. comparing the lyrics of “Mountains” with my favorite Ryan Adams track “Rock and Roll,” which you should do on your own time; 2. The production job is excellent.) Personally Porter is in transition, but lyrically Porter is hitting his stride to be able to describe the struggles so compellingly. Musically he’s creating work that shines as a whole and as individual tracks, which shows a rare maturity. You need to hear this one.
Fri, 10/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick and Mortar w/ Victor Krummenacher
Fri, 10/17 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Blue Note
Sat, 10/18 – Tulsa, OK @ Mercury Lounge
Sun, 10/19 – Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Music Hall
Mon, 10/20 – Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s
Tues, 10/21 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
Wed, 10/22 – Eaton, OH @ Taffy’s
Thurs, 10/23 – Philadelphia @ The Grape Room
Sat, 10/25 – NYC @ Wicked Willy’s at 6:30 pm (Official CMJ Showcase)
Sun, 10/26 – NYC @ Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1
Mon, 10/27 – Charlotte @ Thomas Street Tavern
Tues, 10/28 – Chapel Hill @ The Cave (I’ll be at this one)
Wed, 10/29 – Nashville, TN @ The 5 Spot
Thurs, 10/30 – Huntsville, AL @ Maggie Meyer’s Irish Pub
Fri, 10/31 – Clarksdale, MS @ Shack Up Inn
Sat, 11/1 – Lafayette, LA @ Artmosphere
Sun, 11/2 – Austin, TX @ Sahara Lounge
Mon, 11/3 – Dallas @ Opening Bell
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.