Thursday, December 18, 2014

Listen: Wilder Maker - "Hope Springs"

When I was introduced to the work of Gabriel Birnbaum and his compatriots in Wilder Maker's Year of Endless Light I was instantly taken not only by the ability to create brilliant, engaging longform compositions but also the way their musicians talents playing other styles of music managed to color what could easily be a simply folk rock endeavor. It spoke volumes not only of each individual's musicianship but also Birnbaum's innovative songwriting ideas.

"Hope Springs", a taste from Wilder Maker's recently released four song Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire Vol. 1 sees Birnbaum tackling Americana with aid from a much less robust but equally talented arsenal of musicians than Year of Endless Light that form Wilder Maker's core. Sharing vocals with Katie Von Schleicher, Birnbaum manages to spin gold from the age-old tale of breakup-induced introspection. Despite it's shorter length, "Hope Springs" is equally as intricately well-traversed as any of Wilder Maker's longer cuts - in fact it's seems to stretch on far longer than its rather radio-friendly running time would lead you to expect. While "Hope Springs" manages to follow folk pop songwriting conventions, Birnbaum still manages to subvert them a bit as is his way while offering up some gold star lyricism like the "hope springs with your back against the wall" from which the track gains its name.

While "Hope Springs" doesn't offer up nearly the display of technical prowess that "Song for the Singer" or Year of Endless Light did as a whole, there's no denying the band are just as cohesive as ever offering understated musical moments in lieu of solos and instrumental interludes. Birnbaum and Von Schleicher's vocals are wonderfully complimentary driving home much of the track's emotive power during the duet choruses.

Wilder Maker's Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire Vol. 1 is out now. You can stream/download via their Bandcamp here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Listen/Watch: Laura Marling - "Short Movie"

Considering her recent relocation to Los Angeles and the fact that she's more or less continued to tour behind last year's Once I Was An Eagle, I thought it'd be a bit before we got any thing new from British songstress Laura Marling. Yet, surprisingly enough, Marling's prepped an album that's pretty much all ready for release next year. "Short Movie", the titular track from the upcoming album is our first taste of the new album and it shows Marling's not only back to her old tricks but some new ones as well .

"Short Movie" is bucolic and sparse - relying far more on its arrangements and melodies to the set the tone than Marling's own lyrics. Marling, whose lyrical strength has always lied in her simplicity, spends the majority of the song pushing and pulling at her own feelings in a way that's almost conversational. It takes almost the entirety of the song's duration before her "they know but they never know why" transforms into the much more revealing "they know why I loved you but they'll never know why". It's a sort of narrative minimalism that's sure to confound and frustrate those who gleam personal details about Marling's life from her song lyrics because "Short Movie" reveals little in its triumphant grandeur. Marling's chief concern is more about provoking some sort of reaction than in concise storytelling and manages to, through climactic surges do quite a bit of both.

"Short Movie" is the first single from Laura Marling's forthcoming album of the same name out March 24th on Ribbon. Pre-order is available now from iTunes and/or on deluxe double LP via Ribbon.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Voluntary Butler Scheme - A Million Ways To Make Gold (2014)

When UK multi-instrumentalist/producer Rob Jones first started making music under the moniker The Voluntary Butler Scheme he had just come off a stint as the drummer for retro pop outfit The School to the point that his continued dalliance with the genre on debut album At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea seemed almost a given. And yet even while using music from bygone eras as a guide no one could deny that Jones brought a sense of originality to the table - expanding the sound with an impressive lushness and imbuing in them a delightfully ear-catching nature without the risk of a saccharine turn.

However it wasn't until his sophomore record The Grandad Galaxy when Jones opened up his precise, layered compositions to show the nuts and bolts of the operation in a much less easily digestible fashion that the real scope of Jones' musicianship could be gleaned. While bringing in outside parties to play the instruments he could not (namely and exclusive brass), it's the record that most solidified Jones' one-man band status to those that could not see the man in action.  Jones experimented not only with the 60's/70s styles he obviously still drew inspiration from but also the multitude of electronics Jones relies on in bringing his vibrant seamless pop songs to life.

So it makes a sort of logical sense that on A Million Ways To Make Gold, Jones' third album as The Voluntary Butler Scheme, that he'd marry the ideas behind his two previous albums together. Album opener "The Q Word" is Jones' longest track to date is perhaps the most apt introduction to the album as repetitive high pitched beeps give way to synthetic keyboard melodies that despite their smoothness are punchily inorganic that's almost completely odds with Jones' vocals. But as the track progresses the rough-hewn edges round out as they're subbed out for more man-made sounds like bass and brass. In "The Q Word", Jones segues from one album to the next, centering the new release on the more human elements he wants to focus on.

In a sense The Voluntary Scheme has always been about the balance between inspiration and experimentation but A Million Ways To Make Gold finds Jones at his most centered able to create his most catchy pop tunes while not totally shelving his desire for pop experimentation. A Million Ways To Make Gold works as brilliant return to form for The Voluntary Butler Scheme. While Jones' continues his to expand his both his textural and timbral palette, the best songs on the album happen when Jones allows himself to revel to in the funky grooves that gave At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea much of its momentum. But Jones also takes what worked so well on The Grandad Galaxy and refines it to work not only on a smaller scale but in tandem with his more nostalgic tendencies throwing his more adventurous efforts right into the mix.

Far less electronic than the previous album, A Million Ways To Make Gold obscures a bit of the Rob Jones' song construction in favor of these moments of rapid, pop metamorphism. It's a veritable smorgasbord of genres - from the doo-wop/gospel-flavor of "Believe" to the old school rhythm and blues of "So Tired (So Tired)", Jones manages to run through them without making a big show of it. The unsung quality of The Voluntary Butler Scheme has always been Jones' inventive lyricism from
his clever turns of phrases to his beguiling metaphors, and that's no different here. Ultimately A Million Ways To Make Gold is a treat for Voluntary Butler Scheme fans old and new, building on an rich established history while remaining an easily accessible and delightfully engaging album.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme's third album A Million Ways To Make Gold is out now on Split Records.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Listen: Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - "Billions of Eyes"

While Maine export Lady Lamb the Beekeeper has been a welcome addition to the New York music scene for years, I hadn't had the pleasure of even sampling her music until she opened up a very special early show at Webster Hall for Typhoon earlier this year along with Wild Ones. It was impressive enough to make me instantaneously regret having slept on her 2013 full length debut Ripely Pine despite her set consisting of a number of new songs.

Thankfully now that I am in the know, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's upcoming sophomore record After is already on my release calendar. One of the things that struck me the most about Lady Lamb the Beekeeper was Aly Spaltro's songwriting chops - her knack for visceral, highly sensory lyricism. Songs like "Aubergine" and "You Are the Apple" get so much of their punch from Spaltro's visual-invoking lyrics. While "Billions of Eyes", the first single from Spaltro's sophomore record and Mom + Pop debut, finds her leaning more into her pop conventions than her folk rock growl, Spaltro's words still contain that same bite despite it's smoother delivery.

"When gravity's a palm pushing down on your head/like the devil's got a paw dug in your shoulder and the other is rubbing your back" Spaltro begins and you're already along for the rest of her tale regardless of where it's going. And it goes a lot of different places - part tour travelogue, part post-tour sentiments, "Billions of Eyes" zigs when you expect it to zag and Spaltro only briefly lingers on the most interesting parts of her song - the billions of eyes from which the track gets it's title is presented as an almost throwaway line despite it having the most narrative potential and an off-the-cuff reference to a saintly great grandmother is a fleeting drive-by. Instead of focusing on any of these Spaltro instead turns her attentions to the sort of camaraderie from shared experience before offering the briefest hint of a love song. It's not a totally new lyrical direction for Spaltro - she's transitioned songwriting subjects before but where the transitions were handled with lyrical sleight-of-hand before, Spaltro aims for a more anxious delivery - like the twist in an action movie.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's sophomore record After is out March 3rd on Mom + Pop Records.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Listen: Night Beds - "Me, Liquor & God"

It seems like Nashville based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen aka Night Beds is ending this year very similarly to the way he began it - with a single. While "Head For the Hills" was entrenched in the similar sounds and delivery of Night Beds' 2013 Dead Oceans full length debut Country Sleep, "Me, Liquor & God" sees Yellen returning to the electronic-infused tapestries of his Colorado Springs roots with an updated twist.

Rather than the soft-focus dream pop of the Every Fire; Every Joy EP, "Me, Liquor & God" is hard-hitting pop. Yellen has been no stranger to pop music but where the pop previously diluted/supported by other elements like folk rock on Country Sleep standout "Ramona", "Me, Liquor & God" is a radical step for Yellen's more subdued delivery. Make no mistake - the Night Beds' frontman is hopping on the R&B inspired bandwagon but the trendiness of the tune is subverted by the strength of Yellen's songwriting. It's easy to miss it given how catchy and cool the track is but Yellen's voice is not unlike that of his more folk rooted efforts - despite the obvious vocal processing.

It's a surprising step for Night Beds but one in which the effects can't be seen - in stepping out of his comfort zone, Yellen continues to flex his songwriting chops in a  remarkably effective way. It remains to be seen if Yellen will continue in this vein, that of earlier release "Head For the Hills", or if he's pursuing a sound all together different but it a treat to hear something new from the Night Beds camp especially when it demonstrates Yellen's desire to play around with his sound. If nothing else, that'll serve to make sure the next Night Beds record is different than the last.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Incan Abraham - Tolerance (2014)

Sometimes a band's greatest strength is time. Some bands utilize this instinctually, some make a conscious effort to give themselves as much as necessary to let the ideas really gestate. It's not always a surefire option for crafting a masterpiece of an album but it's an excellent start and it certainly doesn't hurt. Los Angeles quartet Incan Abraham are one of those rare bands that seemed to realize early in their career that time would be their greatest ally. Maybe it's due to the fact that the core trio of Guiliano Pizzulo,Teddy Cafaro, and Spencer Mandel have known each other for virtually forever or at least since kindergarten which seems like forever ago when you're twentysomething but since putting their first ever EP out in the very beginning of 2011, the band hasn't been in any particular rush to record their debut full length, settling for small but strong releases.

Coming into their own on their Ancient Vacation EP, each subsequent release - namely their "Springhouse" 10" seemed to expand on the world pop infusion cemented in earnest on Ancient Vacation. So it was certainly unexpected when "Concorde" the first single from Incan Abraham's much anticipated full length debut Tolerance arrived anthemic and energetic as ever but a much more straightforward rock pop jam. While it didn't herald quite the shift in sound that it might've led one to expect, it did at least demonstrate that the foursome were equally comfortable with much more standard instrumentation - that what truly made the band unique wasn't their fondness for tropical percussion but their talented songcraft and musicianship. That's essentially what's on display on Tolerance. Incan Abraham are at peak performance - Pizzulo and Cafaro's vocals dexterous with a fullness that's impressive for the oft-high registers they inhabit while the band as a whole displays the type of interconnectedness earned from their five years of existence. The complex rhythms are still a prevalent force on Tolerance but used in a way that doesn't just echo the band's past releases. The album builds on the band's previously established strengths - namely their pristine vocal harmonies and knack of radiant melodies and tight-knit grooves by providing them a new context. 

I'll admit when I first listened to Tolerance, I didn't immediately jive with the album as a whole - a lingering adoration for the balanced intricacies of Ancient Vacation making the full length's subtler music moments not really register but Tolerance is an album that much like the band who made it - grows with time. Each subsequent listen reveals not only an additional layer of awe-inspiring but a new moment to fawn over - from the sparse majesty of "Desert Hold" to the a capella harmonies in  the finale of "Springhouse". Tolerance may have been a long time coming but it offers more than the occasional peek at Incan Abraham's potential. It's a solid album from a band more than capable of surpassing the benchmark. 

Listen to/buy Incan Abraham's full length debut Tolerance via White Iris Records.