Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Jeff German -- 12 Day Weeks and 12 Fret Nights

Jeff German presents us with a choose-your-own adventure of sorts. While the above would make for a rad album title on its own, German actually produced two different EPs this year. The first, 12 Fret Nights, is the finished project and it's a pastiche illustration of heartland rock. However, Slothrop Records decided it could be good to release the demos that would create the EP -- hence 12 Day Weeks was born. There's an overlap of 4 out of 5 songs, with "Someday" being the only song that has an electric version.

I've found that I don't have a preference. "Death Row" nails it as a pedal-to-the-metal rocker a la John Moreland's Everything the Hard Way, but the acoustic version's forlorn steel guitar makes the song less defiant and more hopeless. While "It Don't Matter" works as a bluesy meditation on depression, the acoustic version has a little more depth emotionally.

"Inside My Dreams" is a story song about an old man remembering his wife (I think?) and there's an obvious pathos to the acoustic version, of course, though the electric version feels more like a breakup song if that's your thing. "House on the Sand" feels a bit like a prequel to the previous song, as a it relates a shaky relationship. "Someday" rounds out the original EP with a down-home takedown of a frustrating partner.

Jeff German -- Official, Facebook, Purchase 12 Day Weeks, Purchase 12 Fret Nights

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Mark Blacknell -- Mystery City Pretenders

If you're in the market for some old-school, no-pretensions rock'n'roll about hard times and recovery, look no further than Mark Blacknell's Mystery City Pretenders. The film-maker/conservationist/veteran has lived a lot of life, and these story songs prove that Blacknell has lived every second of it. The songs are folk-tinged but more clearly owe a debt to 70s psych rock.

Blacknell bounces between Lower East Side freneticism in the leader "Take Me," blue-eyed soul in "How to Land," bluesy trips in "Mystery City Pretenders," and REM-esque expansiveness in "Love Saves." (The latter makes a lot of sense -- the album was produced by Adam Kasper.) For me, "Albuquerque Rain Dance" is the kicker of the album. (It also made it onto one of my previous playlists.) While there are fantastical elements to the story, the song takes a measured approach to relating the raw emotions that inspired the song. Blacknell's lyrics are on the nose -- often bleak as Blacknell revisits depressive moments -- but are buoyed by the airy music. Ultimately, the album is an intimate look into Blacknell's struggles to heal. It's not a linear progression, though of course healing never is.

Mark Blacknell -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nervous Breakthroughs Split EP

Another day, another fantastic split EP from Catbath and their pals. This EP features singles from Wetter, the exquisitely named Lunch Duchess (and I strongly encourage you check out their other songs) and The Chambermaids. All four bands are lady-fronted, which is, as always, vital in punk music and beyond.

Catbath's "Jellyfish" is a surf-rock inflected saga chronicling the dangers of a rainy 3 AM pizza run. Wetter's "Big Disappointment" combines anti-folk whimsy and driving drums to capture that moment when one is overwhelmed by a thousand different emotions at once. "Intent" by Lunch Duchess confronts an awkward situation we've all been on both sides of: when the impact of one's action is far worse (or even the opposite of) one's intent. The Chambermaids' "Pale Blue Line" is a dreamy, synth-laden confection.

You can download the EP and find out more about all four bands on Bandcamp.

Music Roundup!

1. Clouds and Thorns bring us lush, dreamy harmonies that combine beautiful picking and ambient synths -- the best of both worlds.

2. I'm always a sucker for good songs about New Orleans. Tony Manard's "Walking Down Magazine" is one of those songs that honors the beauty of the city without fetishizing it. It also features the talents of a certain Stephen Chopek, who is no stranger to these parts.

3. Them Jones bring a late 60s jangle to this banger of a songer. "Grow" proves that rock isn't dead.

4. William the Conqueror bring folk sensibilities to wall-of-sound indie rock with "Tend To the Thorns." It's a song that's both comforting and inspiring in the face of pain.

5. Carol Kay's "The Most Beautiful Thing" feels like it's out of a fairytale. After leaving her jobs and a boyfriend behind in Toronto to seek fame and/or fortune in Nashville, Kay lost both only to win the grand prize for the John Lennon songwriting contest. The song is dedicated to the first person who bought the subsequent EP, with whom she quickly fell in love with.

6. Grover Anderson and his pal Jimbo Scott spent a night writing a song that's perfect for back porch sing-alongs. If you only listen to one song on here, it's this one. The album is linked to on Spotify there, but I'll have a review up for the album in the fall.

7. Similarly, I can't resist a good song about Philly. Dillon Tucker's "Franklin Ave" captures the bar band feel of one of my favorite bands writing this blog, The Sparklers (also of Philly.) Tucker illustrates what makes Philly the overlooked but more deserving younger sibling of I-95, even as it draws more attention from the kinds of people who shouldn't be there.

8. Rathbone's confessional "This Heart of Mine" addresses the complexity of wanting to be vulnerable but being afraid to open up. It's a Catch-22 that I know most of us can relate to.

9. Evan Moynihan brings a wistful, Dylan-esque performance to his "Rolling Mill Hill."

10. "Everything Right But Timing" is Ava Suppelsa's gentle, witty observations of a breakup. This is the kind of breakup song I've been looking for -- that frustration with knowing that sometimes two people just aren't in the same place at the same time, no matter how well they seem to match. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Parker's Back -- Tied To You

I wish Tied To You was about two or three times as long as it is. Four songs is just not long enough to fully dig in to Parker's Back('s???) dense, melodic pop punk. When I say "pop punk," I mean more on the Weezer end than the Blink-182. These are emotionally complex songs with driving beats that'll stay with you for a while.

The four songs on Tied To You span youthful regret, heartbreak, crushes. You know how it goes. But what makes Parker's Back stand out is there sense of control: the songs are complex enough to be tasty but they don't wander off in strange directions. And I can only imagine how great they are to dance to in a sweaty DIY show.

Parker's Back -- Facebook, Bandcamp 

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DeRobert and the Half-Truths -- I'm Tryin'

Nashville is known for country, of course, but Nashville is home to a wide diversity of people from all walks of life. It might surprise you that not all of them are into country music. A few months ago Bandcamp ran an amazing rundown of soul artists in Nashville, though I unfortunately can't find it. DeRobert and the Half-Truths was just one of many fantastic acts proving that there's more to the Nashville Sound than what most of us have come to expect.

I'm Tryin' comes at the listener from all sides. The first few songs on the album are tour de forces in asserting one's identity and leaning on family and friends to get through the hard times, making sure you don't give up on your dreams.

You know, the mature shit.

The rest of the album is the world's best breakup album. It's not the moment you realize it's not going to work. It's not the moment you've broken up with the person. It's the moment you realize that that person was holding you back and you're better off now. All set to a blazing brass band and DeRobert's not-quite-androgynous tenor lifting the lyrics above petty and into self-righteousness. You can hear the band's raucous joy as they play their hearts out. I'm Tryin' is not an album to be missed.

DeRobert and the Half-Truths -- Facebook, Bandcamp

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Michael Lyon -- Pictures

I've been churning out two reviews a day to keep abreast of my to-do list and I'm still barely caught up. (There's now only a 2-month wait time between when I get a song and when I write about it here!) My point us, what makes it up here is a fraction of a percentage of all of the music I actually listen to. So when I came across Michael Lyon, I was immediately struck by the music's...purity.

In Roxane Gay's essay "The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll" she writes:

Happiness is not a popular subject in literary fiction. We struggle, as writers, to make happiness, contentment, and satisfaction interesting. Perfection often lacks texture. What do we say about that smooth surface of idyll? How do we find something for narrative to hold on to? Or, perhaps, we fail to see how happiness can have texture and complexity so we write about unhappiness.
Michael Lyon does not have that problem. Pictures is whimsical and practically vibrating with contentment.  Unlike a lot of other similar music that crosses my Inbox, Pictures is simplistic in its emotional impact but not because the songs are. A lot of "happy" music I find tends to be a bit manic, almost certainly drug-induced, or childish. In Pictures, Lyon shows us that happiness just isn't that complicated.

Sonically, Pictures feels a bit like a throwback -- essentially, if Peter, Paul, and Mary had a jam session with Neil Diamond, here's what you'd get. Clear-eyed but with a sprinkling of kooky sound effects and interludes just to keep things interesting. Especially these days, Pictures allows us to put our burdens down for a moment and let life be uncomplicated and, even, enjoyable.

Michael Lyon -- Official (but not working as of 7/21), Purchase on CDBaby

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