Friday, May 29, 2015

Balto -- "Saints and Crows"

I wanted to briefly call your attention to Balto's latest single "Saints and Crows." I like the interplay between the song's brooding bassline and playful guitars. I also enjoy Dan Sheron's vivid writing, which make the song into something special.

The rest of the album is due out this summer. For now, you can download the single for any price you want from Bandcamp!

Balto -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Michael Dean Damron -- When the Darkness Come

To judge by his songs, Michael Dean Damron's view on life is that it's vicious and short. To be honest, I haven't listened to this album too many times because I don't exactly need extra nudges to feel dark and miserable right now. But even with only a couple of spins, When the Darkness Come has burrowed into my psyche. I've found myself quoting song lyrics without even realizing where they come from and the solemn percussion on the lead track, "Butcher," drifts along the edge of my consciousness as I fall asleep.

Much like his (former?) band, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House's last release Mayberry, the album isn't completely bleak. The last song, "Row," is all about persevering through the pain. But the journey from point A to point B is pretty harrowing. And I guess that's life, after all.


Michael Dean Damron -- Facebook, Purchase from CDBaby

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nick Ferrio -- Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs

To call Nick Ferrio a country or folk artist minimizes the achievement of Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs. That's not to say there's anything wrong or less-than about country and folk -- obviously. But Ferrio brings a complexity and intention to his music that doesn't generally apply to cowboy music. It might be more accurate to say that this album is a an art-song cycle that's heavy on steel guitar.

Amongst the Coyotes is an album in the traditional sense. This is meant to be listened to uninterrupted from start to finish. Ferrio takes us through the arc of relationships -- all the way from the first tentative pangs of commitment to the inevitable, tragic end. Ferrio and his compatriots bring a gentle, psychedelic feel to the table that brings the '70s to mind. Ferrio is unquestionably in command here. His voice has the suppleness and confidence of a young Elvis Presley (not saying he sounds like him, just saying that he's got the same swagger) and the unflappable cool of Costello. Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs is no small feat, and it is definitely one of the better albums of 2015.

Nick Ferrior -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, May 25, 2015

frog -- Kind of Blah

Frog has a knack for writing catchy songs about tragic female American celebrities. It might even be their specialty. "Nancy Kerrigan" was the earworm from their first album. This time around, "Judy Garland" is probably the most accessible -- and certainly the most infectious -- song on the band's debut album.

Where frog introduced us to a pair of wistful slackers, Kind of Blah cranks the anxiety and regret up to 11, while somehow maintaining the detached, controlled "chill" of the first album. As always, the music's fun. But what impresses me most about Kind of Blah is that this album might be one of the best depictions of place (in this case, New York City) I've heard.

Another reviewer described the album as a "Peek through a smeared window at an innocent and imaginary New York" but I don't think that's true at all. frog does a pretty great job at depicting the desperation and isolation of living in a town that has become sanitized and gussied up and has left almost everyone who lives here behind.

I don't know what it's like to listen to songs about New York if you've never been here -- God knows there are enough of them. I've never been to a lot of the places in the South that get name-checked by the folks whose music I listen to. Paul Sanchez, Fred LeBlanc, and the Breton Sound litter their songs with places in New Orleans -- I can get a sense of the kind of place it is based on the song, I suppose, but they're all pretty well-traveled spots, which makes the whole business seem kind of generic.

frog, on the other hand, refers to places that a visitor is not likely to go: a forlorn teen watching life go by on a fire escape on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx; a drunk walking along the FDR drive, which runs along the East Side of Manhattan and is basically inaccessible to pedestrians (how'd he get there? I don't know -- there aren't so many places to drink within walking distance of it); the seemingly infinite stretch of 7th avenue, which is broad and flat, during a panic attack. This isn't an innocent New York City. Are these textures that a non-resident can pick up on? Not unless you're committed to Google Street View. It doesn't mean you won't enjoy the music, but it adds some flavor to the people who do know. Overall, frog doesn't try to romanticize the place, nor do they paint it to be an unspeakable shithole that feeds on broken dreams -- those tend to be the two most popular depictions of it, anyway. frog paints a picture of New York as a place that's lived in, despite all of the socio-economic forces that try to weed the living people out and reshape it into an idealized image. Whatever you think of the music, that alone is a triumph.

frog -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, May 22, 2015

James Burrows -- Paradise Cinema

I've been sitting on my hands for a good amount of time now, waiting until the general public can get James Burrows' debut album into their little paws.

This album is great. I love it. I know I love almost everything I post on here but, seriously, I'm so excited you get to listen to whole thing now.

Burrows' tired vocals and jaded depiction of working-class CanAmerica (he lives in Toronto) draw easy comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. While Burrows generally revels in a classic rock vibe, he avoids the temptation of drawing too many connections to Bruce (with the exception of "Factories Made of Steel.") Burrows' songs manage manage to romanticize working class life while vividly painting the hardships therein.

Though Burrows has spent most of his professional life writing about poverty and gentrification (and "Factories Made of Steel" and "Disco" certainly take neoliberalism to task), I have to wonder if Burrows has become the kind of person his songs implicitly critique. Just like conservatives singing along to "Born in the USA," isn't it a little suspect for a 20-something living in a "bohemian" (read: gentrifying) neighborhood to wax poetic about the working life? Or maybe I'm just bringing my own One Percenter baggage into this. Either way, this is a great album and it'll make you feel the things that matter.

James Burrows -- Official (and I guess the purchase link is on his site?), Facebook

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Milk Carton Kids -- Monterey

You guys, I haven't eaten anything but rice in the last 72 hours. Well, that's not entirely true. I tried to eat human food last night and this morning, but my stomach was very definitively like "NOPE" and I actually thought I was going to either die during class or throw up right there in front of my students, which would basically be like dying.

On the plus side, I've eaten like a Zen Buddhist monk for the better part of a while, and I think that austerity has helped me better appreciate The Milk Carton Kids' Monterey.

The duo are gifted singers and instrumentalists. As they relate in their fascinating interview over on No Depression, the pair focused more on their instrumentation -- rather than a particular theme. It's this emphasis on the music itself that makes Monterey feel downright unearthly. Some of you will enjoy that. The Milk Carton Kids are the type of artist to elevate folk music into Art. But let's be honest -- some of you won't, possibly because you're the type who believes that folk music should be grounded in a powerful message.

Nonetheless, listening to these two bounce off each other is a transcendent experience in its own right. When done well, this is the sacred experience that music can offer us: individuals joining together to create something much greater than they could have on their own.


The Milk Carton Kids -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Last Tycoon -- Death by Dixie

The title track on the Last Tycoon's new EP, Death By Dixie, is a sleeper. With the climbing banjos, mandolins, and John Gladwin's delicate voice, at first I thought the guy was just another pretty-boy hipster with nothing to say. Suddenly, Gladwin's anger kicks in and you realize that Gladwin actually has a whole mess of things to tell you.

After the recession hit, Gladwin relocated to Sweden (which is...drastic...but sure), in which he spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to not only be American, but to be from the South. Death By Dixie is a collection of sharply written, meditative, and haunting songs. It celebrates the urbanization and industrialization of the modern South while refusing to forget the liberties and lives sacrificed to get it there. If you think Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires are brilliant but too fucking loud, The Last Tycoon will be right up your alley. If you love Lee Bains, then you'll love the Last Tycoon.

The Last Tycoon -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Feral Conservatives -- The Feeling Noise Becomes

I don't know what it says about me but I'm not sure if I believe in love at first site when it comes to people. At least, it hasn't happened for me. But love at first listen is very much a thing, and I am deeply in love with the Feral Conservatives.

I think Feral Conservatives and I were made for each other. They're steeped in '90s post-punk, millenial irony, and a little bit of folky twang. Rashie Rosenfarb's playful, lonely vocals call to mind such indie stalwarts as Letters to Cleo, but the dry lyrics and powerful melodies remind me of Tracy Bonham (particularly "Lies.") Make no mistake, though -- this little EP is not a throwaway piece of cotton candy. The Feral Conservatives are committed to their music, and that excitement is transferred to the listener. If you like your music catchy but earnest, you'll fall for the Feral Conservatives as deeply as I did. Maybe we can have an open relationship.

Feral Conservatives -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, May 18, 2015

Anna & Elizabeth -- Anna & Elizabeth

We don't have time machines (yet) -- but we do have Anna & Elizabeth. On their second album, the duet offer us 16 traditional Appalachian songs that range from hymns to dance songs. Whatever recording magic happened, these songs sound like they're coming to us from a long way off -- and I don't mean that they were standing too far from the mic. Anna and Elizabeth's bewitching harmonies are intimate but seem to fill the cavernous space that is, in reality, the space between our eardrums and cochlea, but since I'm feeling poetic I'd like to think they're coming to us from another time.

Anna & Elizabeth

Listening to these songs, I can imagine them sung in a lonely clapboard church, with rain whispering on the eaves, as the all-to-near shadow of death hovers over the congregation. But Anna and Elizabeth seem like they could be equally at home on the porch, calling out reels. All of this is to say that this album is not just about the music -- some of these songs have been recorded many times by many people. Anna and Elizabeth lend a gravity to the songs that force you to think about the place they held in people's lives once upon a time.

Anna & Elizabeth -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Free Dirt Records

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Breton Sound AND Karen and the Sorrows AND Michael Leonard Witham!

I'm super excited to have all of these names in the same title! First of all, if you are in either of my two favorite cities (New Orleans or New York -- and yes, you read that order correctly), I have your weekend planned for you. This is a full-service blog!

But I'm even more excited to tell you about how much I love the Breton Sound's newest EP, Don't Be Afraid of Rock'n'Roll Vol. 1.

The band's third EP is much more ambitious sonically than anything else they've produced to this date. By all rights, "Rivers Cuomo" should be blasting from a stadium sound system. That being said, my favorite song is "Love You More," which hits just the right balance between sweet and meaningful. Overall, the EP's 5 songs pack a punch that's a little bit pop punk, a little bit metal, and all energy and infectious joy. While I found the guitars to be a little busy on the album (no offense, guys -- I just don't really love '80s rock), the mix worked better when I saw them live on Lundi Gras.

Speaking of their live show -- let me tell you, it was the most fun I've had at a show in a while. They will make you deliriously happy and appreciate all of your life choices. And if that sounds enticing, you can see the band cover Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American at Gasa Gasa tomorrow! Show info below here.

And for New Yorkers, Karen and the Sorrows will be hosting a singer-songwriter night at Branded featuring Adobe & Teardrops favorite Michael Leonard Witham. (It's almost as if someone introduced them...) Here's the info:

WHEN: Sunday, May 17th, from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm (The Sorrows are on first, so come early if you want to catch us)
WHERE: Branded Saloon, 603 Vanderbilt Ave, at the corner of Bergen St, Brooklyn
DOOR: Free but please bring money for the tip jar so we can help Michael with travel expenses

The Breton Sound -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Karen and the Sorrows -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Michael Leonard Witham -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great Peacock AND Quiet Hollers

Great Peacock wowed me about two years ago with their first EP. It takes a lot for a song to sear itself into my psyche for that long, but "Take Me to the Mountain" and "Desert Lark" have done just that. If that's not a mark of greatness, I don't know what is.

Those two are still easily the strongest in their repertoire, but the duet's Making Ghosts is a strong follow-up to the EP. If the songs haven't wormed their way into my subconscious yet, it's because I haven't been given enough time with the music. Unlike the Alabama Shakes' first album, the new songs on here aren't filler -- instead they're an expansion of Great Peacock's tight, soaring harmonies and wistful lyrics. I think Great Peacock's greatest achievement is making otherwise humble country songs sound like epic ballads without laying it on too thick. Making Ghosts certainly hints at greater things to come and I can't wait to see what's around the corner. Hopefully we won't have to wait another two years.

Great Peacock -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp

ALSO, the Quiet Hollers wrote another song that's been stuck in my head for two years and change. I Am the Morning is still one of the best albums I've reviewed since starting this blog. The band is getting funds together for their followup and needs our help. Join me in contributing to their Indiegogo campaign!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Deer Run Drifters -- Restless Youth

The Deer Run Drifters's sophomore album opens with the lines

Young and dumb...
Not good at much 
But fucking up

It could be another album about crying in your cups (it is) but it's not the usual gravely sad-sack guy we're used to. Instead of self-pity, the Deer Run Drifters brings us a rueful remorse that's...sweet, somehow. They remind me of the Refreshments but without any punchlines.

The musicianship on the album is top-knotch. Not necessarily because of any musical pyrotechnics, but because each musician complements each other so well. When was the last time you thought to yourself, "Damn, that's a great bassline"? Right? Every so often one of the instruments will float out of the background and tickle your ear, only to recede as innocuously as it arrived. Overall, the Deer Run Drifters cover ground that is well-trodden and well-loved here, but they bring with it a delicacy that is fresh. We're almost halfway through 2015 and this is easily one of my favorite albums so far.

The Deer Run Drifters -- Official, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

VIDEO: Freddy Jones Band -- "Those Diamonds"

If you're ready for a break from the typical sad bastard song club fare, the Freddy Jones Band has a nice spring song for you.

If "Those Diamonds" made you dance in your seat a little bit and you live in the Midwest then you're in luck because you might be able to dance to it in the coming weeks. Here are the dates for their upcoming tour:

May 12 - Taste of The Lions | Ford Field | Detroit, MI

May 13 - The Intersection | Grand Rapids, MI

May 14 - Limelight Eventplex | Peoria, IL - Buy Tickets!

May 15 - Majestic Theatre | Madison, WI - Buy Tickets!

May 16 - Canopy Club | Urbana, IL - Buy Tickets!

May 17 - Wooly’s | Des Moines, IA - Buy Tickets!

May 20 - Cedar Cultural Center | Minneapolis, MN - Buy Tickets!

May 22 - Shank Hall | Milwaukee, WI - Buy Tickets!

 For the rest of us...we'll have to find spring in other places.

 Freddy Jones Band -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Eric Peter Schwartz AND Campfest!

You may remember Eric Peter Schwartz as the guy with the delightful love song centered around Dungeons & Dragons. I was expecting more of the same on Schwartz's latest release, Casual Ghosts. While Schwartz offers humble, humorous ditties like "Hot Liquor" and "Soft Maracas," Casual Ghosts is anything but a casual affair.

 On the contrary, Casual Ghosts is filled with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. Starting with the deceptively simple lullaby "When Will the Sun?," the album plumbs the depths of loss, regret, and what-could-have beens. In this sense, the album is actually a little uncomfortable to listen to. But these songs are also where Schwartz shines on the album: "Bill Bixby," "Screaming at Love," and "When It's Time to Go" will tug at you long after you've walked away from your music listening device. Kudos to Schwartz for taking such a huge risk with Casual Ghosts -- it paid off.

Eric Peter Schwartz -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

And lastly, it's almost summer, which means music festivals are happening all over the damn place. I had an amazing time at the Campfire Music Festival. This year, it'll be bigger, better, and later, and in Georgia...but it'll still have a great lineup!

Click here for tickets!

Krom -- Mama Blue

Metal Postcard Records brings us another bizarrely tasty treat from the rock'n'roll underbelly of Southeast Asia. Krom's trance-like blues brings us the seedy underbelly of a developing city (or is that my orientalist imagination?) Either way, the song is well worth the $2.50 price of admission.

Krom -- Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube

Monday, May 4, 2015

Speaker of the Dead -- The Ballad of the Undercrust

God damn it. I'm in love with Gregory McKillop. But I already told you that. Speaker of the Dead was Greg's punk rock brass band. Don't worry, it works. The backing band gives a sense of monumental urgency to the album's crushing opener, "Sounds Like a Protest." While I'm not necessarily a scene kid, the song's enough to make my blood boil and want to kick down some shit. I mean, make some signs for a peaceful rally.

Overall, Ballad of the Undercrust is a fun album. Just skirting this side of ska (because, well, the songs are actually about something) and jazz, Speaker for the Dead lurches between gentle self-mockery ("Punk Rock Did Not Save My Life") to parables about self-pity ("And the Ghost Said! (don't say ableist things!)") and sobering reflections ("Always Ask Consent Before (Anything)...and the wyrm imperceptibly nods."). Through it all, McKillop throws his body, heart, and soul into these performances, calling to mind opera or (sorry to call to mind a certain stereotype) musical theater. The backing band throws themselves into the music with wild abandon. These guys' concerts must have been something to see. For posterity, though, we've got this album, which you can download for whatever you want. But honor the DIY scene and throw a few Washingtongs (or Benjamins -- it must be a bitch to split $5 among twenty people) their way.

Speaker of the Dead -- Tumblr, Facebook, Bandcamp