Thursday, July 31, 2014

Listen: Steve Gunn - "Milly's Garden"

Considering how populated the industry is these days, it's actually a pleasure when a musician pops up with a clear vision of both what they want to do and how they're influences can inspire that. In singer/songwriter Steve Gunn's case, he's had plenty of years playing music with a revolving cast of musicians and ensemble permutations to properly solidify his leanings for jazz and blues and imbue not only that technical precision but the shades of coloring into his dusty plain swept rambles.

While that alone makes for some interesting in its own right, Steve Gunn possess a narrative sweep that manages to parlay unaffected plainspeak with a curious knack for just the right kind of details. It's an entrancing simplicity that never actually insists upon its own simplicity. Gunn's songs are not unlike a casual conversation, a story told by two invested parties that feed off each other to enrich the details. The pair just so happens to be Gunn's lyricism and his band however. Equal weight is given not only to what Gunn sings but to the sounds he's able to draw out of his guitar and his collaborators; where even at their jammiest, their path is still firmly in sight and in no danger of being abandoned in favor of too much flash; of too much sizzle.

"Milly's Garden" offers up more of what Steve Gunn does best. On "Milly's Garden", Gunn conjures the feeling of unfettered expanses both musically and technically while continuing his new role of singing full band leader from Time Off , keeping everything firmly on the rails even as the song gives the impression of spreading out into the infinity.

Steve Gunn's Way Out Weather is out October 7th on Paradise of Bachelors.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Listen: The Wilderness of Manitoba - "Leave Someone"

If you weren't aware that Toronto based folkies The Wilderness of Manitoba were on album four well no one would really blame you. After their US debut (which was actually their sophomore record) When You Left The Fire back in 2011, they've pretty much kept things north of the border while venturing south for the odd show here or there. With the announcement of their upcoming record Between Colours however, hopefully another US release in on the horizon because first single "Leave Someone" is for lack of a better term such a jam.

For those that missed Island of Echoes, "Leave Someone" is an introduction not only to The Wilderness of Manitoba's new addition Amanda Balsys but also a distinctly less folk-oriented sound. In fact, Between Colours sees the band trimmed down from quintet to trio but rather than slowing them down, "Leave Someone" shows that the band has been galvanized by it's metaphorical new blood as they bypass folk pretty much altogether and land squarely at rollicking, fervent rock. Though the track isn't all aggressive forward momentum, leaning on the brakes at precisely the right time to offer a slight reprieve in the form of  Will Whitwham's tender vocal solo. From them on, it's back to the spirited gallop to the finish and right into the hearts of Wilderness of Manitoba fans old and new.

The Wilderness of Manitoba's third full length album Between Colours is out September 16th on Pheromone Records.

(via Exclaim!)

Watch: PHOX - "Kingfisher"

                                                         (photo by Jade Ehlers)

Wisconsin folk pop troupe PHOX are certainly a band of many talents. Such almost has to be the case when a band consists of a slightly atypical six members but PHOX's talents aren't confined to the purely musical. Each one of their members has a different skill to offer and PHOX just happens to have an in house music video director in banjoist Zach Johnson.

Their video for "Kingfisher" makes use of light instrumentation and whimsical fluttering flute ornaments to inspire a whole series of fantastical events. Beginning with Monica Martin dragging a bed through an open field, she and the viewer are suddenly transported to a dreamly landscape where everything is majestic and grand but most definitely nonsensical. It's Wonderland-esque without particularly engaging in that particularly tired trope. Even as the members of PHOX cart Martin around, freeing her from her Sisyphean duty of bed transport, you never get the sense that she particularly belongs in this dreamworld as magical and wondrous as it might appear and she's soon dropped right back where she last started in the field all alone in her task.  

Watch the video for PHOX's "Kingfisher" directed by their own Zach Johnson:

PHOX's self-titled debut album is out now on Partisan Records. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Listen: Gracie - "Spilt Milk"/"Hood Rich"

                                                         (photo by Brian Vu)

It's a bit of a marvel that Brooklyn based electro pop artist Gracie really hasn't taken a break. Not really. Releasing his Work It Out EP last year and his Bleeder EP the year before, and the Treehouse EP before that, Gracie's pretty much made sure to have a new release ready every year and it's mighty impressive. While Gracie mastermind Andrew Balasia has flushed out his band a bit since his Philly emigration from duo to trio to even sometimes a quartet, there's no doubt that Balasia himself is growing with each subsequent release.

"Spilt Milk" and "Hood Rich" are the spoils of what Balasia's been working on since collaborating with Wilmington DE duo Thunderhank on last year's Work It Out EP and one of the takeaways at least in the form of "Spilt Milk" is a predilection for angular guitar melodies. Although there's certainly more to "Spilt Milk" than that, actually. The guitar is rarely the focus and instead the multitude of samples and breezy keyboard melodies. One of Balasia's trademarks from as far back as the Treehouse EP is that of the idée fixe whose altering tends to form the sum of Gracie's song structure. Where the guitar, bass, and drum bits are merely a part of the track's textural build up, Balasia's own keyboard playing and samples usage forms the backbone of "Spilt Milk" with the vocals often doubling the pre-established melodies. It's an interesting way to form a song and one that is quite easy to escape notice without a whole lot of analysis. 

"Hood Rich", functions as a decent foil to "Spilt Milk" not only because of it's much more supportive stance on relationship tumult but where "Spilt Milk" sought to include organic elements, "Hood Rich" revels much more in Balasia's effects. It's much more electronic leaning while also toeing the line of the recent indie R&B incorporation but manages to stay firmly on the right line of city-living inspired electro pop.  

Listen: Blake Mills - "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me"/"If I'm Unworthy"

I was introduced to Los Angeles singer/songwriter Blake Mills by a stray link from Sondre Lerche praising his guitar skills. Considering Lerche's a talented guitarist in his own right, I was intrigued to say the least. What I found was Mills' carefully worded but effortless lyrical tableaus and a new favorite track in "It'll All Work Out". It was the kind of attention to detail that both made the fact that Mills only possessed a single album released in 2010 both mindboggling and totally logical. Mills makes the kind of music that's a once familiar but all together his own; that no doubt requires a lengthy creative process to achieve such spectacular results.   
When news broke that this year would finally see the release of Blake Mills sophomore record I was elated and Mills certainly didn't disappoint, premiering two songs from the album Heigh Ho on the same day. Fitting of their split attentions, Mills two tracks are dramatically different approaches to his natural narrative flair. "Don't Tell Your Friends About Me", which features former tour mate and collaborator Fiona Apple on harmonies and drive-by verses, is the most straightforward and poppy of the Heigh Ho twofer. Mills' narrative bread and butter seems to be relationship strife and Mills' spins an engaging yarn that's at times charmingly saccharine, borderline comedic, but also delightfully sincere.

"If I'm Unworthy" however gets far more mileage out of Mills' guitar prowess than the occasional solo/flourish. A soulful blues-tinged ramble built upon much more experimental guitar techniques. "If I'm Unworthy" is a brilliant counterpoint to the agile popcraft of "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me" both in terms of emotional resonance and by making Mills' years of musicianship (gained as a session musician and member of bands) the song's actual star.      

Blake Mills' follow up to 2010's Break Mirrors, Heigh Ho is out September 16th on Verve. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Watch: Dry the River - "Everlasting Light"

It's expected that sometime in the space between a band's debut and sophomore record the idea will be entertained to tweak, perhaps even completely reinvent their sound and British indie rock quartet Dry the River are perhaps no exception. While the departure of violinist/multi-instrumentalist Will Harvey might've played some part, it turns out (or at least in the case of the past two singles) that Dry the River are forgoing the folkier aspects of their humble folk rock beginnings in favor of much more rock edged pop approach. The positive here being that they are freed a bit from the sense of pervasive melancholy that seemed to ensnare Peter Liddle's poignant but often morose songwriting. 
"Everlasting Light", the second single from the upcoming sophomore effort Alarms in the Heart, proves that Liddle is capable of effective lyricism at a quicker pace and that the band are a lot more fun than their material might otherwise suggest. Taking a rather different approach and having the source of Liddle and company's pain be the external rather than the emotional or spiritual, the video for "Everlasting Light" sees Dry the River lads paired with a group of fearsome women with black belts in karate. An expected amount of carnage ensues as the band find themselves way over their head but bruised pride aside, the quartet find themselves virtually unscathed from the floor-mopping bout.

"Everlasting Light" also dismantles a bit of Dry the River's characteristic climactic surges perhaps for the best. While the way they've done so has never seemed particularly rote, there's no denying that it proved to be an oft used part of the band's formula and "Everlasting Light" quickly establishes that the band can do without it to advance the song forward. There's clearly climactic highs reached in "Everlasting Light" but rather than the whole band rallying forward in a trademark swell, it's achieved simply through Liddle's own natural cadence - his vocals rising without the need for a band's tumultuous deluge. 


Dry the River's sophomore album Alarms in the Heart is out August 26th on Trangressive Records.

The Dø - "Miracles (Back In Time)"

After the release of their new single "Keep Your Lips Sealed" two short months ago, Finnish/French experimental pop duo The Dø have pretty much hit the ground running with album details while also keeping those details to the bare minimum. While their influences/inspirations range pretty from all over (but mostly rap/r&b), the duo's new single "Miracles (Back in Time)" is still very much a part of their expectation-defying, genre-trouncing style.

"Miracles", manages to rely on many of the conventions of electronic music without allowing itself to be defined by them. In "Miracles" there's a deft but minimal use of samples that grant the tune an elevated sense of grandeur all the while the vocal lines are smooth and fluid rather unlike the glitchy and clipped pacing of "Keep Your Lips Sealed" all the while the drum beats rebound cavernously with the notable lack of accompaniment. There's no gallop toward a climax, rather the tune revels in its own simplicity, building up and breaking apart its layers before they become too complex in different combination and configurations. Unlike other tracks by The Dø that pit Olivia Merilahti' vocals firmly on par with whatever the band's cooked up, there's a notable stripping back, Merilahti (though more than competent to) doesn't need to exert a whole lot of effort to maintain focus. It's an interesting turn for a band that's skilled at making beauty out of the clamor but one that's ultimately successful as the twosome make a surprisingly catchy pop jam from only a handful of elements.

The Dø's upcoming third album Shake Shook Shaken will be out September of this year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Listen: Husky - "I'm Not Coming Back"

About two years ago, Aussie quartet Husky arrived toting their debut Forever So on Sub Pop. What was contained within was an oddly atmospheric and yet driving brand of folk pop. The most notable thing about them was the subtle way in which singer/songwriter Husky Gawenda's doleful tenor seemed to caress his carefully chosen phrases. On new track "I'm Not Coming Back",  Husky essentially offer up a souped up version of more of the same defining characteristics. "I'm Not Coming Back" is the most fast paced the band have allowed themselves but even as the track speeds along there's no denying the regard for space and care that's downright refreshing. It's good to know that even as the band grows there's still an element of their discerning nature that'll no doubt aid what might be a far poppier direction of their yet to be announced follow up record by grounding it in sincerity.

Listen to Husky's latest single "I'm Not Coming Back:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Watch: Little Tybee - "Don't Quit Your Day Job" (Live at Doppler Studios)

While any news of a brand new record from Atlanta jazz-inflected folk pop outfit Little Tybee has either been suppressed or is virtually non-existent, that certainly isn't stopping them. Considering we only got the dazzlingly rich For Distant Viewing after Little Tybee postponed it's release for about a year and a half, they don't seem in any particular rush to hurry their process along and that's probably for the best.

"Don't Quit Your Day Job" (which is filmed at the same studio that brought us the updated version of Building A Bomb's "Hearing Blue" that eventually found its way onto For Distant Viewing) places both the band and its frontman in a rather curious place. For starters, its clear from the get go that "Don't Quit Your Day Job" is a complete and total jam. Despite its studio setting, it features the band in absolutely rare form that's pretty much equivalent to the band's live set - there's an awe-inspiring amount of technical pyrotechnics that don't really pull you out of the song itself. Brock Scott spends the majority of the track in his high register, which might actually be the most impressive performance in the sea of the band's impressive performances. Instead of piercing, Brock Scott's falsetto is pillowy and agile, graceful in its extended execution.

Brock Scott's lyricism has always been a wonderful draw but in a rare, unexpected turn, seems not secondary but tertiary to the rest of the band's performance and Scott's vocals in general. That's not to say that the lyrics are weak here but rather they band is operating on a level that the lyrics just stand no chance of matching. "Don't Quit Your Day Job" is a pretty necessary reminder that Little Tybee are a consummate live band, luckily released just ahead of a summer tour. You can see if they're coming to your neck of the woods here.