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.
I love alliteration, so here’s some of that in this mix of MP3s.
Acoustic April Mix
1. “Honeycomb Heart” – True Gents. A magnificent chorus powers this indie-folk tune from a unique Scottish outfit.
2. “Leave Me Where I Want to Be” – Safe Haven. Front-porch intimacy flows through this combination of New Orleans jazz and Appalachian Americana.
3. “Grew Up Here” – The End of America. Appalachian harmony and a rootsy instrumental arrangement make this an irresistible nugget.
4. “Maybe It’s Best” – Justin Heron. Shuffle snare, bright guitar tone, and whispery vocals? Yup, I’m in.
5. “Sharks!” – Common Shiner. This band’s website is SayNoToBadPop.com. That’s awesome. Their acoustic-fronted power-pop echoes Something Corporate and Motion City Soundtrack.
6. “Pretty Face” – Among Giants. I love the vocals here: raw, passionate, and real.
7. “Playing Pretend” – Joshua Steven Ling. The deeply saddening passing of Jason Molina has gotten me back into slow-moving, quiet, morose recordings and their particular type of beauty.
8. “The Lionness” – OfeliaDorme. On that note, here’s a beautiful cover of my favorite Jason Molina song.
9. “Myopic” – Jura. Transcendent beauty that invokes The Album Leaf’s sense of patience.
The End of America‘s Steep Bay is nine songs and twenty-one minutes long. It is a very intimate affair, as it features live performances and found sound among its tracks. It’s the latest in a string of folk albums to come out of self-imposed banishments to rural areas to write (as popularized by Bon Iver). But For Emma, Forever Ago worked because of Justin Vernon’s slavish attention to mood and detail. Even though the guys in The End of America have the details down, they don’t have the mood hammered out on Steep Bay.
It’s a bummer, because the best moments of Steep Bay show that The End of America has something great to offer. The effortless calm of Novi Split’s intimate bedroom pop applied to the folk revival’s rustic songwriting ideals is a beautiful thing. Imagine if Mumford and Sons could be every bit as powerful without having to go for the jugular in every coda, and you’ve got a good approximation of “Fiona Grace” and “Oh Mousey.” But “These Things Are Mine” is an upbeat bluegrass meditation of sorts, and “Running” is a step removed from an old-school Dashboard Confessional acoustic emo song in strum pattern, melody and lyric. “Are You Lonely” is a meandering, morose tune. It all just doesn’t mesh at all.
The best moments here are the found sounds of “Diving Rock” and “Steep Bay.” “Diving Rock” is a recording of the members jumping off a rock into the bay, which leads directly into “Fiona Grace.” “Steep Bay” is a banjo rumination with the sound of pouring rain providing percussion, which is the single most beautiful moment on the album.
The End of America can write a great album if they spent more time at it, I think. They’re just not the “collective goes to cottage, produces masterpiece” type of band. There are flashes of brilliance on Steep Bay, but the overall product is a bit muddled by the lack of a coherent mood.
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.