Monday, July 14, 2014

Gone Japanning

I'll be going to Japan to see Guiguisuisui (and a few other things I guess.)

In the meantime, listen to and purchase the Proud comp album. Raise money for LGBT youth activists and fantastic artists!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter -- The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter

If you've been reading regularly for the past few weeks, The Feel b ad Hit of the Winter should be a familiar name to you. After all, they contributed a sublime track to the Proud compilation album (which you should really buy after you get these guys' EP.)

The Kansas City (MO)-based band excels at creating dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes. These kinds of bands always impress me. There's so much attention to detail -- a little drum fill there, a lingering bass note here -- that sounds so effortless. I'm sure it's the result of an obsessive amount of practicing and tinkering. But the end result pays off: The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter have released a gorgeous example of the literary direction a guitar, bass, and drum kit can take.

The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Cotton -- The Silver Thread

Cotton is the right album at the right time.

At least, it is for me. I've felt that I've been moving towards more mellow stuff, but Cotton has shattered that sense of calm.

"Lost" is an exuberant, punk-influenced country rock song and The Silver Thread only improves from there. Singer-songwriter J. Han displays a wide breadth -- some of these songs could be classic folk songs. Others, like the emphatically NSFW crooner "Sucker Punch" play with and shatter your expectations. This is exactly the kind of music I was searching for when I started this blog. You can download all of Cotton's music for free, but I think he deserves some of your hard-earned dinero.

Cotton -- Bandcamp

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Las Lanas -- The Blind Year

In continuing with today's ambient theme, meet Las Lanas (a.k.a. Lisa Liu.) The Brooklyn-based musician is a veteran of the indie seen and plays jazz with the best of 'em. As she states on her site, music has no boundaries. That's certainly true of the pleasing ambiance in Las Lanas' The Blind Year.

Though it was released in the spring, The Blind Year best brings to mind a hazy, late-summer afternoon. From the playful, folk-y "Over There" to the sudden drop of "Threshold," this is not simply a study in experimental music. This is an album meant to be experienced as a whole. Everything sounds half-familiar but entirely new. Liu has combined a number of unlikely genres into something original and pure.

Las Lanas -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Roof Beams -- Tectonics

The jangly guitars and harmonicas that lead off Tectonics will lull you into a sense of false security. They're warm and you've heard them before -- this is going to be another pleasant, young, urban folk band.

And then Nathan Robinson opens his mouth.

It's not hyperbole to say that Robinson is one of the finer lyricists writing today. These songs will sneak up on you. An intricate turn of phrase here or a standout couplet there will tickle your brain, and then you realize that your heart's been ripped wide open.

While there's some political commentary on the album (how could you not when you're a band in DC?), Roof Beams excels with its more personal material. These confessionals are (paradoxically) more relatable than any broad statement about society today. The band works tightly to wring honest emotion out of every note. My only complaint about Tectonics is that it's too short.

 Here's my favorite line from the album, on "American Alibi":

The universe wrapped her legs around me
I'm not trying to brag
She did it ecstatically

The universe wrapped her legs around me
I stood there
Taking a backseat
I always thought we were enemies

Roof Beams -- Facebook, Bandcamp, CDBaby

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

North by North -- Something Wicked

The album art pretty much says it all on this one.

North by North is really great at building that creepy, off-kilter atmosphere pioneered by the Pixies. But instead of minimalism, they go in quite the opposite direction. Fans of Panic at the Disco, Cold War Kids, and Muddy Waters: rejoice. You have something you all can like together.

Something Wicked, an epic double-album by this Chicago-based blues-goth band, is a tour de force of buzzing guitars, soaring keyboards, and impassioned vocals. This is one for the books: an impressive show of originality and derring-do.

North by North -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Lonesome Shack -- More Primitive

In my untutored opinion, the blues should punch you in the gut. It should make the little hairs on your arms and neck stand up. It should make you want to dance. It should make you want to booty call that certain someone.

Lonesome Shack's More Primitive will make you (want to) do all of those things.

Frontman Ben Todd knows what he's doing. He sequestered himself in the New Mexico desert "to study the music of American folk and blues lineage." (Man, wish I had the chutzpah to do something like that.) Todd's studies have paid off. These songs have the contemporary immediacy of the Black Keys without the studio gimmicks. But Lonesome Shack is infinitely more cool than the Black Keys have ever been. There's a slinky, slithery quality to this hypnotic album that will have you blasting it on repeat.

Lonesome Shack -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Alive Natural Sound Records, purchase older albums from Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Preview for Campfire Music Festival August 29 - 31 (Lakewood, PA)

If you're not me, you're probably not on summer vacation. So you're probably bummed that the long weekend is over. You're definitely bummed that the next one isn't until Labor Day and that feels forever away.

Well, here's something to make the wait a little quicker. I don't know about you, but I'm quite excited for the Campfire Music Festival (conveniently on Labor Day weekend!)

There should be at least a few names on this lineup that'll make you want to go. A lot of these artists are people who I've loved but have, for whatever reason, flaked on actually writing about them here. Here are mine:

Spirit Family Reunion -- I feel like I've written about them somewhere, but perhaps I didn't tag the post. This Brooklyn quartet is phenomenal -- I dare you to find another folk band that can get random passers-by in Bryant Park (tired from a long day of work) to stop, clap, dance, and sing. They're the real deal and their love for what they do is obvious.

Langhorne Slim -- I absolutely adore The Way We Move. I'm pretty sure at least a tenth of the Spotify royalties for this album are from my repeated listens. I keep passing up opportunities to see Langhorne Slim play live. I'm excited that it'll be at a venue like this.

Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers -- If the name "Helm" tickles something in the back of your brain, it's because Amy is Levon Helm's daughter. She was one of the co-conpsirators behind Ollabelle, the band that brought folk and bluegrass to Brooklyn.

Delta Spirit -- I think these guys might have sent me a demo once upon a time and I was like "ugh. Hipsters." But I caught the tail end of one of their sets at Rockwood Music Hall and realized they're not playing strident blues rock because it's a fad.

Oh, and did I mention that the festival is basically supposed to be like camp, but awesome? In between sets, you can play laser tag (which is where you'll find me), go swimming, play pick-up basketball or soccer, or play on the adult-sized water obstacle course out on the lake.

For more information about the Campfire Outdoor Festival, click here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cory Branan and Jason Isbell -- You Make Me

I started this blog in grad school because I got tired of having to choose between food and going to concerts (concerts usually won.) In case your bank account hasn't already taken a heavy hit from the incredible music coming out this year, Cory Branan's released the lead single from his upcoming album, The No-Hit Wonder. He brought Jason Isbell on board for this country rock romp of a love song.

You can purchase the single on iTunes now and preorder the album from Bloodshot Records. I'd definitely buy this album over groceries.

Cory Branan --  Official Site, Facebook, Spotify, Buy Mutt

Arsene DeLay -- Comin' Home

Arséne DeLay is scary talented. The clarity, warmth, and soulfulness of her voice will stop you dead in your tracks. You'll wonder why you haven't been an avid fan this whole time. But you can be forgiven -- Comin' Home is her first album.

DeLay showcases her formidable talent on her debut album: she glides from rock to pop to jazz and then a little gospel like it's not a big deal to excel in all of these genres. But she's not just an incredible singer. Most of the songs on this album are covers from fellow New Orleans singer-songwriters, but the arrangements are hers. When I pointed out that her covers of songs I know well are incredible, all she said was she picked musicians who seemed right for the job. So not only is she a talented songwriter in her own right, she's a damn fine producer as well. And as a contributor to the Proud compilation CD, I can speak from experience of her friendliness and consummate professionalism during what was at times a confusing process.

If for some reason the music itself isn't enough to make you excited about Comin' Home, here's another reason you should care. New Orleans is poppin'. I mean, we all knew that. But for this little corner of the music world, it's quickly becoming the cradle of Americana music. American Songwriter recently devoted an entire issue to the New Orleans Americana scene. Songwriters like Caleb Caudle, who was recently featured here, are gravitating towards the Crescent City in droves. Artists like Alynda Lee Segarra (Hurray For the Riff Raff) are bringing national attention to the city's incubation of roots and rock music. (Both Segarra and de Lay performed on the recording for Paul Sanchez's Nine Lives musical. Sanchez was instrumental in putting Comin' Home together and served as the album's "Studio Producer." If you ask me, he's the guy to blame for New Orleans' ascendancy.)

American Songwriter focused on (white) folk singers picking up the jazzy heritage of the city, but this cross-pollination flows both ways. Two of the songs on the album are covers of Sonia Tetlow's songs. Tetlow is often compared favorably to Patti Smith, but DeLay's addition of a horn section to "Anti" was an inspired move that transformed a defiant punk rock song into something else entirely. I almost didn't recognize her interpretation of Mary Lasseigne's "Apollo." DeLay is absorbing the myriad sounds of New Orleans and creating something quite her own. But unlike the rockers celebrated in the music press, DeLay's actually from New Orleans and is contributing to her city's tradition. DeLay and musicians like her are doing nothing less than shaping the Americana of the future. What she's doing is important. That's why you should care.

Here's the original version of Anti:

Here's Arséne's:

Comin' Home (an original song)

St. Judas

ArséneDeLay -- Official, Purchase from CDBaby, Threadhead Records

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sacred City -- Sacred City

You gotta check out Alyson Rogers' pipes. She's the sisterly half of the Atlanta-based duo, Sacred City. Her brother Phil plays a pretty mean guitar, too.

You wouldn't have guessed that the entire EP had been recorded in Phil's living room. Nor would you have realized that the only cover on this EP is their sultry version of "Amazing Grace." The rest of the songs have a timeless, bluesy quality that seems to have been punched up by Phil's driving guitar riffs. This is the kind of blistering swagger that makes you love rock'n'roll, matched only by the attention to craft that makes you love music.

Sacred City -- Official, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Bandcamp

Wicklow Atwater and the Fallen Flame -- The Mayhem EP

I think Wicklow Atwater and the Fallen Flame is a little like Newton and Leibniz inventing calculus simultaneously and without knowledge of each other. Wicklow Atwater reminds me a heckuvalot of Greenland is Melting -- raggedy vocals, crazy amounts of harmonizing, and bluegrass music with a seriously punk ethos.

But if the title of the EP wasn't a tip-off, Wicklow Atwater -- comprised of five childhood friends -- is way more interested in partying than Greenland is Melting's increasingly introspective (nay, brooding) approach to music.

So let's focus on the party. Mayhem is too short. I can't imagine how the band sustains this level of energy for a full concert. But this isn't throwaway music -- there's the seed of something greater here. This album isn't about fucking shit up; the lyrics are too smart for that. Wicklow Atwater is certainly a band to watch: even if they remain a band-for-the-good-times, they'll still ask you to use your noggin'. But if they complicate their worldview, we'll all benefit.

Wickow Atwater -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ryan Joseph Anderson -- The Weaver's Broom

If you check out one track on Ryan Joseph Anderson's new album, listen to "When the Bees Went Mad." It's truly the standout of an accomplished album: it's the kind of tune that makes you sit up and listen -- first for its musical distinction, and second for its inventive lyrics.

Anderson's voice belongs to the consummate folk singer: warm, mellow, and inviting. You can't resist letting it take you where it will. And this album takes you lots of places. The title track begins its life as a simple song but sweeps you down the Rhine and into the sea. You'd have to be a monster not to be moved by "Crooked Heart, my personal favorite on the album. The Weaver's Broom is a truly well-crafted album and is a strong contender for best album of the year thus far.

When The Bee's Went Mad by Ryan Joseph Anderson from Chicago Acoustic Underground on Vimeo.

The Weavers Broom by Ryan Joseph Anderson from Chicago Acoustic Underground on Vimeo.

Ryan Joseph Anderson -- Official, Stream and Purchase, Facebook

The Singles -- Look How Fast a Heart Can Break

Man, I wish I'd had the Singles around during my last breakup. Sure, there were a couple of weeks of emotional paralysis. But it didn't take long for me to look at myself moping and say "C'mon. She wasn't good for me and I have to get myself together. I'm being ridiculous...on the other hand, moping is pretty fun."

The Singles' jaunty garage rock embodies that ethos. From the aggressive one-two punch of "Inamorata"'s opening riff on to the final buzz of "I Don't Want to Fall In Love Again," Look How Fast is a fun ride through rock'n'roll history: with pop, punk, and blues in equal measure, there's a song for every occasion. The duet successfully straddles the line between being too earnest and being too cooly detached. I'm hoping I don't have to keep this album handy, but it'll be useful when it's needed.  

The Singles -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, iTunes, Purchase hard copies from The Singles' website

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tattletale Saints -- How Red Is the Blood

"Kathleen," the lead track off of the Tattletale Saints' debut album, is love at first listen.

The duo have an uncanny chemistry, not unlike the Civil Wars (though hopefully with much more longevity.) The New Zealander duo actually met in London and now call Nashville home. The album was helmed by bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien, though it has an overall jazzy feel.

Bassist and vocalist Vanessa McGowan is nothing less than sublime, though Cy Wynstanley's warm, gritty voice brings her closer to the mortal realm. Their unhurried arrangements will immediately win you over. This isn't just music you sit and listen to -- it's meant to be listened to on a porch in the corner of your local watering hole (not the divey one, the one you'd take your family to.)

For me, the standout song is "Molly" -- a song about a once-in-a-lifetime love, Wynstanley's poetic bent shines. It's easily the best song of the year.

Tattletale Saints -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, iTunes, CD Baby, Amplifier

Teenager -- The Magic of True Love

Just in time for the summer, Bevan Herbekian (nee Teenager) has delivered us an ice cream sundae of a power pop album. You've actually heard Teenager's work on here before -- he plays bass for M. Lockwood Porter. However, Teenager's own work is quite distinct from the kind of stuff usually found here.

That's actually the story of this album. Herbekian's spent his share of time in other bands, but this is his first solo effort, recorded entirely by himself, in his house, on his terms. The exuberance behind the songs can't be denied and is infectious. There's also a good deal of skillful layering in Herbekian's songwriting. While the songs could be taken as impassioned (teenaged?) declarations of feeling, there's a wry undercurrent that suggests the magic of true love might not be all that magical after all. Fortunately, an album like this reminds us of the magic of great music.

Teenager -- Download mp3s for free on Soundcloud or name your price for multiple formats on Bandcamp