Listening to the latest album from Quiet Lion entitled Whatever You Say feels like an organic, experience to me. It’s filled with warm acoustic instruments like guitars, fiddles and upright bass that when they play together feels intrinsic and natural. The whole listening experience has a rustic quality to it that reminded me of a homey cabin in the woods, simple pleasures and getting back to the basics. Whatever You Say does a great job at eliciting some of the most essential and pure emotions from ourselves as melancholy, hope and beauty are sometimes simultaneously experienced.
Hailing from Burlington, Vermont, Quiet Lion is a folk duo consisting of Tommy Alexander and Alanna Grace Flynn. They both sing on this album and I have to say I loved both their voices and it seemed almost tailored for the pure, honest folk music they are producing. Alexander has such a good voice for folk. It feels pure, distinct and has a tinge of melancholy. Flynn sounds similar to how female country stars used to sound in the 70’s.
We are treated to hear both their voices on the first song called “Heart Don’t Mind” as they split vocals on the verse and create some gorgeous duos during the chorus. I'm usually a sucker for harmonizing of male and female vocals and this is no exception. This is one of the better songs on the album and in someway it epitomizes their biggest strengths. “100 Pictures” is a solid song that features only Flynn on vocals while “Whatever You Say” displays some fantastic fiddle and is probably the catchiest song on the album. It features sing-along type melodies that are abundant making to easy to fall in love with. Another highlight on the album was “Vermont” which reminded me of American Revival music (acoustic guitars and a homecoming type of feeling to it ). The album closes with “Special Folks” which is a rather subdued song and I was happy they decided to not have a grand departure. Overall, this album is as pleasant as the sunrise and as honest as the fields the farmers work in. Do yourself a favor and take a listen.
Dammit, Seconds Prior, do you know how difficult it is inventing new genre buzzwords to pigeonhole music whose influences are as wide as a shotgun blast? What do you want me to say? Melodramatic art-hop? Emotronica? Novelty core? This whole album, New Words for Water, feels like someone shredded up a bunch of records from the last three decades, mixed it in tar, and poured it on you. Seconds Prior call themselves digicore. I'm not even going to look that up, it would ruin the mystery. Also, they are two guys who call themselves Sunny (vocals) and Strawberry (keyboards and such). Seconds Prior is a two-piece from Boston, MA. They hail from a five-piece hardcore band, which explains a lot.
Lots of weird stuff going on here, like Xiu Xiu began a revolution using sentient soundboards, or if a bunch of synthesizers crashed an 80s prom. Time signatures are all over the place. Very few of the tracks sound anything close to a conventional pop song. Sunny's voice is awesome, melodramatic and approaching the grandeur of a Johnny Depp musical. The electronic rhythms are vibrant but not very friendly to listen to. The music invites you in the same way a gaunt butler would invite you inside a dark mansion. The music can also get very violent, especially the percussion.
There are lyrics that read like spoken words but the guys make them sound like songs. Like this: "We must plot the next points. No. Don’t relax. No. Don’t lay down. You won’t be here. You can’t afford to trust your kind, your planet or your mind to fix itself. It won’t be fine." That's from "If Dogs Looked Up", about standing up against the man-run reality and stuff.
I don't know man; this music is tough to define. It's confrontational, erratic, at times very challenging. Those looking for a sense of structure will be sorely disappointed. New Words For Water, however, bleeds with purpose. Seconds Prior is on to something here. It has next to no crossover potential, but it's inspiring to listen to and fun as hell.
First, put the music that is about to be reviewed on. Second, make sure you're wearing headphones. The Quiet Landscape is a study in subtlety and you will need to pay attention to what you're listening to. Third, make sure that you've got noise-cancelling headphones on because, otherwise, you're brother who is next to you listening to that Daft Punk single again is going to leak his music in and ruin what would otherwise be a nice experience. I don't own noise-cancelling headphones.
Brendan J Boyd (aka bjb) is a musician from Adelaide, Australia who splits his creative energy between illustration, cartoon work and music. He creates his sonic landscapes using a mix of software, hardware and found sounds. Using texture and sparseness to convey emotion, rather than melody, you're left with a soundtrack that would not be out of place in film. In fact, it would be serviced by some sort of sweeping visual, but more on that later. The music is very cinematic and reminds me of the work of Michel Gondry, even if that's probably wrong. I also find myself experiencing that same sense of wide-open space that accompanies the quiet moments of bands like Sigur Ros. Bjb does a great job of channeling his influences in a subtle way that doesn't sound like a derivative or pastiche.
Of the six tracks here, the standout is definitely the title track, “The Quiet Landscape” which features waves and birds chirping amid the warm synth tones. But to be completely honest, I like it the most because it is the track that feels like something actually happens. It's like walking from the beach to a cove full of birds and then finding yourself back on the street and feeling refreshed.
While the EP is absolutely solid as a study in creating ambience and focusing on texture, at the end of the day, a lack of melody results in a listening experience that fails to capture one's attention and hold it. That isn't to say that it's bad, I just feel like I'm being led somewhere musically but I never get to arrive at the destination. The feeling of stasis would be relieved by the addition of a film - something that gives one the satisfaction of having experienced a journey.
I remember the first time I heard Sigur Ros and their masterpiece Ágætis Byrjun. I felt like they captured the tundra of the Arctic, the vastness of Iceland and it seemed as if they weren't the sound of a band but what the ice, the wind and the water would say if it could talk to me. If you replace the ice, water and tundra that made up Ágætis Byrjun with trees, forest and swamp you would be presented with Prana by East Forest.
East Forest is made up of but one man called Trevor Oswalt who combines field recordings, piano, ambient soundscapes and vocalizations that are in no particular language on his latest. The songs on Prana are basically ambient pieces that are perfectly content sitting in a state of homeostasis that slowly mutates and transforms over time. What you won’t find on this album are drum sets (besides the occasional bass drum) or much percussion of any kind for that matter. This in no way has an adverse effect on the eight songs and in fact in my opinion enhances it.
The first track on the album is called “Apana” and contains warm reverberating bells and Oswalt’s voice which sounds angelic, spiritual and comforting. Subtle synths, shakers and eventually piano make their presence known as the you hear the nuances of the field recording in the background. “Prana” was probably my least favorite among the batch of exceptional pieces. It was little more than a piano and field recording. “Samana” hits all the right notes as the piano slowly spreads notes on your ears as if they were beds of understanding and peace. The eastern strings are a nice touch but his vocal work is still the component that is his mantelpiece. A serene landscape is created on “Udana” that shifts and transforms in the subtlest of ways. The last and longest song on the album is called “Vyana.” This track felt the most substantial as we get to hear some wonderful vocal harmonies from Oswalt and some harmonica as well. After listening to this album I felt more at peace with myself and wondered if this was what Henry Thoreau felt like when he was writing Walden. This is the type of album that can create a spiritual catharsis if given the right environment. The trees, the plants, the life and spirit that come from nature can be felt when you take a step into the East Forest.
Here's a question for you. What do you get if you combine top hats, folk music, and an unbridled energy that could make a band like Arcade Fire jealous? If you already familiar with Driven Serious, you would say Driven Serious. If you aren't, you might say The Decemberists. Driven Serious is collaboration of Rob Jones (ringmaster, vocals, guitarist), Tim Packer (bass/piano), Cathy Geldard (fiddle/piano) and Johnnie Walker (drums). They recently released The Importance of Being Serious, which is a 12-song album that is engaging, unusually inventive and contains a surplus of energy you don’t usually find in folk music.
Let’s be clear here. The music mixes genres like folk, rock, and even hints of country to make something uniquely their own. One thing for certain with this band is that if you dig string music you should enjoy them. Violins, fiddles and acoustic guitars permeate the album which create warm inviting tones that might make you dance a little jig if you're not careful. Jones has a unique voice and I imagine that listeners will have an ambivalent relationship with it. At first I found his voice to have qualities I normally don't enjoy but with repeated listens I felt like his voice started to fit the song pretty well indeed. Kind of reminded of what it was like when I first listened to Joanna Newsome.
The album starts with "Living For The Day" which contains acoustic guitar, upright bass, and fiddle - almost sounding a bit eastern before the bongos enter and all of a sudden it starts to feel a bit like rusted root (that’s not meant to be a bad thing). It has a lot of energy for an acoustic song and reminded me of the feeling you get when you listen to bluegrass. “Venus Star” is the longest song and one of the highlights on the album. The song was very heartfelt and the tones of the strings further accentuated the sincerity in Jones’ voice. On the other end of the spectrum “World of Fear” is the shortest song and has a more standard rock vibe as they forgo the acoustic guitars and replace them with electric. “Dharma Streams” creates space for the strings to breath and if you close your eyes you can imagine these guys feeling unencumbered while playing in a room together. The album closes with “Buddha in the Emptiness II” which contains some nice harmonies and piano playing; a solid way to close the album. The Importance of Being Serious is melting pot of genres and influences that create a concoction of music that I would recommend,
Seth Elton is a four-piece band consisting of Seth Elton, Hugo Laing, Amos Schonfiled and Iggy Jeffery that hail from London. Seth Elton took it upon himself to turn his band recordings into something he could submit to his university (I'm guessing this is an audio engineering school) for his final project. While many other bands tend to leave the mixing and producing in the hands of professionals, Elton has done the opposite with good results, laboring the love of The Red Hot Chili Peppers with a clear abundance of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake tied in for good measure. Instead of sounding exactly like these other musicians, he has attributed the right attitude and somehow was able to tap into that atmosphere and created this album and a new pace of rhythm.
This five-song EP could easily be a full album, as the songs provided a good, sturdy rounded sound that seemed to be effortless for the band. Haven't you ever just listened to an album that you know the band tried to find the right energy and instead it just seemed dull? Maybe it was the lack of enthusiasm that the artist seemed to present in the music or the nuances of his or her voice. This is not the case with this collection of songs. The EP starts off jammy with "Gotta Be Good" which has a funky yet subdued energy. By the time “Stubborn Man” starts to play, you feel at home with Elton's voice as it provides the needed energy and emotional center of the band. The band decides to slow things down a bit with "G-A.” They tone down the funky chord structures and rely on more traditional acoustic strumming. “Mr Holland” comes in blazing with a bit more fire, interrupting the more easy going flow of the previous song.
They strike a good balance with “Mr Holland.” making this song feel like it was the strongest track on the album. If the sincere nature that comes forth with this first EP persists, I would be pleased if they continued to pop out an album every year or so – maybe even more, as the songs seem to be natural for the band. Anyone out there that has been looking to listen to a new band that creates light, easy songs that could make your summer a bit more enjoyable look no further then Seth Elton and the Band. I’m looking forward to how these guys progress and see how their song writing matures.
There's a scene in the little-known film Forrest Gump where the eponymous protagonist states, and in such a way that you'd think everybody was born with the knowledge, "My mama always said, 'life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get'." The same goes for Forrest James, and while my mama would probably be more turned off by his experimental approach to electronic music, it still has something most people can enjoy.
James styles himself an American Dream-Wave recording artist. Dream-Wave, for those in the don't know, is a genre that channels ‘80s new wave and ‘90s rap sounds through the mind of a modern stoner. It's cooler than what I'm describing. It's also cool because James is a co-founder of the anything-goes group Machine 475, who owes more to Sun City Girls than they do to Section 25. He himself admits his sound is comfortable in genres like ambient electronica, chill wave, experimental dub, and R&B.
Anyway, we have two albums from James to review. We'll start with his debut album Under the Chrome Sea because of chronology. The album features a bunch of instruments used to create blissed-out, sun kissed musical textures, including Moog synthesizers, drum machines, fender amps, but it also has acoustic guitar, tambourines, shakers and bass guitar to give it a bit more of an organic feel. James refers to this as a concept album but I'm guessing the concept is downing a bunch of cough syrup during a Stanley Kubrick marathon.
It's a damn impressive debut though; with some songs so crammed with ideas they risk being paralyzed by James' creativity. "Chrome" excites with its triumphant synth lines that make you think of cruising the coast side highway at sunset. Meanwhile the beats on "Waves" fade in and out far too quickly, like knowing you’re drunk and then realizing you are getting drunker in small but sharp increments. "Floating" does just that and lets flattened drones create a shallow pool of ambience while a ghostly, crystal voice claims, "She didn't know she was ready to fly." The didactic beat structures, thoughtful and meaningful, on "Understand That This Is A Dream" is a far more dynamic cut and forces you to understand otherwise.
Under the Chrome Sea is rarely content to stay in one mood. Whatever atmosphere one song sets, the other slowly deconstructs. The opener "1985" is a weird but fun little synthesized surf number that gives way to the stilted sound of "Waves." It's less confident, less assured than its predecessor, but then the album reasserts itself with "Chrome." It's this discontent that makes Under the Chrome Sea a rewarding listen. Traumatic only to the most delicate ears, the album is a carefully constructed block of smooth rhythms, thoughtful layers of sound and quiet jubilance.
So how does Autopilot, released less than a year later, stack up?
The Nanoloop, a real-time Gameboy sound editor, is to be thanked for the seven tracks on this album. James used recorded, mixed and mastered the entire thing on his laptop during a trip between Salem and Boston, MA with the Nanoloop as his main tool and inspiration. Despite the narrow time frame, the tracks don't feel rushed. They don't even feel lazily put together because there are some interesting beat patterns and song structures going on here given the constricting medium. Just, none of it sounds engaging.
The album has a fair share of cool moments, like the disco throwback of "Record Repeat" and the musical change-ups of "Dub Star", but Autopilot runs into the problem every 8-bit-inspired/styled record runs into: a lack of sonic depth. The songs run into each other. Gone is the adventurous spirit heard in Under the Chrome Sea and instead it's replaced by an almost robotic need to please the listener. The issue here is there is little to be pleased with. The music isn't bad but it doesn't have a lot going on for it.
Those thoughts went through my head until I got to the closer, "Autopilot" – six minutes of Gameboy-processed grace, affecting piano sounds act as the foundation to striking chords and squeaky harmonies gently play in the background. I wish James modeled the entire album after this one song. It reveals a level of creativity not shown in the previous tracks. What's more, it displays an emotional range rarely observed in this sort of music. It is on point with Nobuo Uematsu's early Final Fantasy compositions. I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate Autopilot more upon multiple listens, but my ears don't lie either: it's a textbook case of sophomore slump.
So, what's James' next move? He hit a home run on his first release and bunted the second. He can bring home the goods, and both albums of his are enough to pique the interest of all the electro buffs out there. Plus Dreamwave is one of the few offshoot genres I think that deserves a bigger audience. Get on it, bandwagoners!
Hailing from Vancouver, Heard in the Mountains is a relatively new band that formed in 2011 but they sound like they have been at this for quite some time. On their latest effort entitled Will To Well we are greeted with four songs that explode with emotion, are technically advanced yet accessible for the average listener and don't rest on any laurels. The songs themselves are diverse as they fit in a whole lot of complexity within their three - five minute ranges. Not unlike other contemporaries like Grizzly Bear and Local Natives they have a knack for attenuating unique rhythms and chord structures that add to the visceral experience of the songs.
The album starts off incredibly strong with “Sills.” As a somewhat hypnotic, reverb laced piano melody is played we are soothed by the calming, almost tranquil vocals of the lead singer. As the piano becomes more intense and the cymbals are hit harder we finally arrive at the moment of impact. The whole band plays in conjunction as arpeggiated synths swirl and distorted guitars make their presence known. With almost no forewarning we return to the stillness of piano and vocals. The vocals reinforce the ambience as the line “I don’t deserve your grace” is delivered in a heartfelt almost apologetic manner. “Raccoon Hands” crawling guitar scales and inventive drum work start the song off before delving into a powerful chorus. The song rocks out pretty hard at the end — just fine by me. “Major Change” displays their ability to not only go from soft to loud well but also the places in between. There are a lot of changes in the song that happen quickly. One moment we are treated with a sparse ambience and the singer’s falsetto and before you know it you are listening to a grand section with the band in full force that can barely contain all the frequencies coming out of your speaker.
We close the album with the serene “In The Meadow’ which contains intricate guitar picking on electric, reverb laced guitar. The song picks up as it progresses evoking shades of post-rock not unlike that of Explosions in the Sky. This song has more in common with some plays rather than a standard song. There are multiple parts that the band chooses not to revisit instead they are like acts which progress the story. It ends powerfully with crashing drums and soaring guitars.I for one after listening to this brief album am anxiously anticipating what is in store next for these guys.
Flint & Steel is a well-named first album from musician Carey Scott. The album is rough and raw; it presents songs that seem they once permeated over and through a large bonfire on a warm autumn night. There are songs on this album that are about trials and tribulations and personal shortcomings from the author. They often resonate with an honesty, melancholy, initimacy that is not unlike that of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. To often I I found myself reaching for a bottle of Jack for solace as the album progressed.
We start things off with "Bow & Arrow" which is no more than a delicate, softly picked guitar melody and his voice. The song is haunting yet beautiful and can leave you in a pondering state gazing towards the west wondering where the time has gone. "When you Fly (Bird)" is just as sad and beautiful as the first one but even more infectious. The lyrics of the album are simple and come right out of a misty wind from a mountain range. On the song “I Didn’t Know,” he sings “I was chopping wood…” before detailing a struggle about mis-timing an important situation. The songs are definitely styled from country western life; “Dangerous Dan” is an interesting tune about a run-away fugitive that is reminiscent of the plots of western classics. The song “Walk About” is even accentuated with some good ol’ fashioned whistling. We leave with "Bones In My Way" which is another haunting song where Scott seems his most relaxed. The melodies of all of the tracks are really gentle, perhaps too much at times. The one thing that took away from the record was the varied quality of the recordings. You can hear a substantial difference in the recording quality from "Bow & Arrow" to "Bones in my way". I would have loved to hear a version of "Bones in my Way" that was recorded as well as "Bow & Arrow".
While listening to the album, all of the songs begin to meld together and it becomes one big country-folk campfire song. This is a genuine pure approach to producing music. Carey Scott is basically a solo project and the result of Flint & Steel is a directive acoustic compilation. This being his first effort I'm looking forward to hear some more melancholy inspired songs soon to pass the time.
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