Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Field Sleeper -- Stay Quiet, Stay Ahead

Let's veer away from pop to the decidedly esoteric.

Field Sleeper, an acoustic singer/songwriter based out of Ohio Wesleyan University, is intent on creating a sleepy, challenging ambiance. Not unlike Rosary Beard, Field Sleeper takes familiar elements of folk music and turns them into something wholly unique and challenging.

Field Sleeper's rugged vocals nicely complement his asymmetrical guitar melodies. Stay Quiet, Stay Ahead is an album you can leave on in the background, but expect to get sucked in by an unusual musical phrasing or finely-crafted lyric. This is music that's meant to be challenging, designed to push the envelope on our understanding of music. Field Sleeper does a good job, if I do say so myself: every note, every breath, every moment of silence, is intentional. Though it comes off as unassuming at first listen, Stay Quiet, Stay Asleep will demand your attention. Get your listening ears on.

Field Sleeper -- Bandcamp, Facebook

Monday, January 28, 2013

Todd Kessler and the New Folk - Sea Fever

It's no secret that bands like The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons have swung the mainstream spotlight towards our neo-Americana scene. Like so many music trends before this moment, there will have to be one artist who will be the first to translate this genre into something that's palatable for Clearchannel.

And for that task, Todd Kessler just may be our man.

Kessler brings us perfectly crafted folk-pop. Well-known in his native Chicago, he's already garnered attention via a stint on The Voice. His pipes are just a small part of the package, though. Kessler paints luscious soundscapes tempered by his own restraint and his bandmates' tasteful arrangements. Rather than sounding overproduced, Sea Fever is all of the good things about pop music.
If Kessler indeed represents the New Folk, we could do a whole lot worse. I'd gladly listen to mainstream radio if more of it sounded like this.
Todd Kessler and the New Folk -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dubl Handi -- Up Like the Clouds

There's beauty in simplicity. That's certainly the guiding principle in Dubl Handi's debut release, Up Like the Clouds.

Dubl Handi (named after a brand of washboards) is the latest project of Hilary Hawke, who seems to be a well-known personage of the Brooklyn old-timey music scene.

Is it fair to say that there's a "Brooklyn sound" by now? The delicate, spacious percussive rhythms that I (at least) hear from groups in the borough south of mine is in full force here. But not to worry -- it just gives a contemporary kick to some of the earthiest, folksiest contemporary tunes you'll hear this year.

Hawke and her musical partner, Brian Geltner, bring a deep respect for the old traditions to the table, but the compositions are sharp enough -- and the lyrics witty enough -- to be accessible to a modern ear. And that's the whole point of folk music, right?

Dubl Handi -- ReverbNation, Hilary Hawke, Bandcamp, Facebook

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nick and the Ovorols -- Telegraph Taboo

There's really only thing you can say after spinning Nick and the Ovorols' debut album, Telegraph Taboo.

And that thing is "damn."

Nick Peraino's red-hot blues guitar (yes, I wrote that, and no, I only feel a little badly about it) smokes through track after track on the band's debut album. Peraino's passion for blues guitar is matched only by his backing band's intensity. 

If you like your music down and dirty and filled with life, you'll enjoy Telegraph Taboo. Peraino's hooks are irresistible and his excitement about his music is infectious. You can practically feel the steam heat rising off the band.

(UPDATE): You can buy the album on Amazon

Nick and the Ovorols -- Official, Facebook, Buy Telegraph Taboo 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pots are the Potter is - Michael Cormier

We reviewed Michael Cormier's charming EP a little while ago. Now, the young multi-instrumentalist has released his first full-length album, Pots are. the Potter is. 

On his Bandcamp page, Cormier proudly declares that the album is "the inevitable product of twenty-one years of life." Now, since I've only got three years on him, I guess I shouldn't be jaded enough to find that amusing. That being said, I assure you that the album not in the least sophomoric.

This is music off the beaten path. It's a pleasure to hear a musician -- especially one so young -- take as many risks as Cormier. Sometimes it falls flat, but mostly Cormier and his partners and crime elevate us to new sonic heights. This is worth moving out of your comfort zone.

Michael Cormier -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Highballers -- Soft Music and Hard Liquor

If ever there was an album worthy of being described as a romp, it's Soft Music and Hard Liquor.

The Highballers embrace old-school country in their debut album. Lead singer Kendall Jackson's bourbon-smooth vocals and witty lyrics place The Highballers in good company with many of country's greats.

Ranging from humorous ("I Didn't Mean to Get Drunk Last Night") to wistful ("Live to Let You Down"), the Highballers are gifted storytellers.

There should be more words to do this album justice, but I've been awake since 2:30 AM. Let's just say that if Soft Music and Hard Liquor is indicative of the music coming down the pipeline this year, we've got a lot to look forward to in 2013. And I'm certainly hoping it'll be a big year for The Highballers. Don't sleep on this album.

The Highballers -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook, Amazon

Monday, January 14, 2013

Alex Culbreth & The Dead Country Stars -- Heart In A Mason Jar

Heart In a Mason Jar is a helluva way to start off the new year. Alex Culbreth, formerly of roots duet the Parlor Soldiers, demonstrates his versatility and virtuosity. Not a single note sounds false on this album.

Culbreth's earthy voice carries us through raucous foot-stompers about jilted lovers and plaintive ballads about breaking into the biz. I find that the album truly gathers steam with "I'm Going to Nashville," the aforementioned song about the music industry. 

Culbreth's depth as a writer is on full display in "Daisy," a twisted tale of a disturbed narrator and his relationship with Daisy. Is it a coincidence that his chimeric lover shares her name with Gatsby's true love? I wouldn't put it past Culbreth. There's too much love in this album for anything to be left to chance.

"Mercy Me" is also a notable song. A roots-rap piece, Culbreth avoids veering into kitsch, not an easy thing to do when resurrecting an abortive genre from the '90s (file under The Getaway People.)

Alex Culbreth & The Dead Country Stars Bandcamp, Alex Culbreth Bandcamp, The Parlor Soldiers Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nick 13 -- Nick 13

This album sure isn't new, but since it predates Adobe and Teardrops, it's worth a review here.

Released in 2011, the Tiger Army guitarist's solo effort takes a statelier approach to music than the psychobilly band. And since June 2011, these songs have haunted me, popping into my mind unbidden. Considering how much we have going on in our heads at any given time, the fact that these songs are repeat earworms years after the fact should tell you something. In fact, I'm almost positive I downloaded Spotify just to listen to this album in full.

The soft, contemplative ballads featured here are enough to lull a weary heart to rest. Nostalgic, bittersweet, and hopeful, this is a collection of songs that will stay with you for some time to come.

Nick 13 -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bill Mallonee -- Amber Waves

Bill Mallonee is one of my favorite songwriters, even though (strange to say) I don't own a single piece of his music. It's not that I pirate it -- it's just that there's a lot of material available on And even with that, I only have one concert. But still, he's one of my faves.

That's because Mallonee's lyrics are so rich and emotionally devastating that you will always experience the songs a little differently each time. I'm sure I've clocked in over a thousand plays of my one bootleg recording.

Mallonee is a product of the '90s Athens college rock scene, and his experience shows in Amber Waves, his fiftieth album.

But unlike most artists who fizzle out after four or five albums, Amber Waves is as fresh and forceful as Mallonee's material for Vigilantes of Love. Sure, his voice is a little reedier with age, but otherwise, nothing's changed. The same high and lonesome lyrics, the plaintive chord progressions.

I have no hope of catching up with the rest of Mallonee's output -- especially if he keeps putting a new EP out every four months (as has been the case.) But I imagine it's more of the same: consistently hard-hitting rock and roll.

I'll be very happy to add Amber Waves to my CD shelf. And maybe I'll just work my way backwards through the other 49.

Bill Mallonee -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, January 4, 2013

Adam Hill -- Banjo Moon

For those of you who don't follow my Twitter feed, I retracted Wednesday's post within hours of the update. "Some Nights" just won't get out of my head and if I hear anything in the key of C Major again it will be too soon. Ugh.

But we're back to our regularly-scheduled programming, and I can't think of a better way to start off the new year than with Adam Hill's Banjo Moon.

The hook-driven songs are tasty enough to drive fun.'s drivel straight out of my ear drums, but they're gritty enough to leave a lasting impression.

Hill gives us a tour through the best of roots rock, opening the album with the raucous "True Blue Yodel #1" and "Snake Bitten (Like A Charm)". The album hits a more somber tone with "Deliverance" and "Fairlane" before ratcheting it up again with "Leona Barnett," which I consider to be the showstealer of the album.

Hill recently wrote a rather frustrated post on his site. Do the man a favor and tell him you love the album. And it wouldn't hurt to pay for it, too, since it's available as a "name your own price" record on Bandcamp.

Adam Hill -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

3 Pop Songs of 2012 Without Shame

For some reason I've been on a pop music kick lately. Don't worry -- this'll be the only entry on A&T that includes (heavily) Autotuned music.

Last night my friends and I watched DJ Earworm's 2012 Top 40 mashup on YouTube. I'm sure his job is pretty easy, considering it's been scientifically proven that there is little musical variation in pop music these days.

Granted, between working in a school and commuting via subway, my days are radio-free. I wake up to the local public radio station. And I live my days in synth-free bliss. In other words, my view of these songs is not tainted by fatigue and annoyance from having to listen to it 83 times a day. Without further ado...

3. One Direction -- "What Makes You Beautiful"

I'd heard the song around and enjoyed it. On a whim, I listened to it in full on Spotify. Then I ended up listening to it consecutively for an hour as I taught myself to play the guitar part. No shame. No regrets. The song is surprisingly complex (musically) once you try to dig into it.

2. fun. -- "Some Nights"

I really don't like fun. or things related to the band. I downloaded one of Andrew Dost's albums from Paper + Plastik Records. It was a concept album about Christopher Columbus. Or something. It was self-indulgent and awful. I think "We Are Young," their lead single, is noise pollution.

But there's something about the way "Some Nights" captures the joy and angst and ambiguity of being in one's 20s that makes me appreciate it, at least.

The music video, on the other hand, is obnoxious.

1. Carly Rae Jepsen -- "Call Me Maybe" 

Pretend that this song didn't invade every musical venue ever. Then ask yourself: what kind of monster doesn't want to sing along with "Call Me Maybe"?

 It's interesting to note that there weren't any rock hits this year (unless Maroon 5 counts? Let's not and say we did.)

Are there any other pop songs that you listen to without shame? Comment below.