Thursday, April 30, 2015

Listen: Hop Along - "Powerful Man"

Well this is somewhat embarassing. After falling in love with Philly rockers Hop Along through their fervent and powerful Shaking Through single "Sister Cities", I was eagerly anticipating their new record and yet somehow I completely missed that the quartet were all prepped to loose that record into the world. Painted Shut, the follow up to their debut record Get Disowned, is out in a mere couple days and I almost missed it completely. In fact it was an offhanded remark from a friend that made me realized I had essentially let Hop Along's current PR cycle pass me by.

 Better late than never they say though as in addition to "Sister Cities", Hop Along have offered up three other songs from their upcoming sophomore records in "Waitress", "Powerful Man", and "Texas Funeral". Hop Along are still built around singer/songwriter Frances Quinlan's distinctive scratchy vocals but there's a dexterity in its use that wasn't all that present on Get Disowned. Well not to the level it is in a song like "Powerful Man". Quinlan's lyrics have always been rooted in narrative with a slight surreal streak but on "Powerful Man", there's a softenness and restraint in Quinlan's delivery that rewards the eager listener. It's benches Hop Along's characteristic fervor for understated but unmistakably ear-catching pop rock moments that bely the song's darker lyric florishes. True to form - Quinlan's lyrics are just the right amount of sparse, emphasizing less what is being said but rather what isn't and just how Quinlan's singing it. Her "I just thought he looked like a powerful man" becomes less a statement of admiration and more of one of sardonic observation the more she repeats it.

Hop Along's sophomore album Painted Shut is out May 5th on Saddle Creek Records.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Listen: Heather Woods Broderick -"A Call For Distance"

photo by Dusdin Condren
"Wait a minute. Who is that woman doing these beautiful harmonies?" was my first thought when I first saw an acoustic session Sharon Van Etten shot for Tramp standout "Leonard" featuring Heather Woods Broderick. I was enchanted and the fact that I had apparently encountered her before - as an inaugural member of the Portland chamber folk trio Horse Feathers a long with her brother Peter only added to my interest. Since her debut record From Ground, Heather Woods Broderick has mostly taken up the mantle of multi-instrumentalist/touring member in bands from Efterklang to more recently finding herself in the ranks of Sharon Van Etten's backing band where she plays everything from keys/synths, bass/guitar, to cello (though not so much of this recently). "A Call For Distance", the first single from her upcoming record Glider, however marks the first preview of new music from Heather Woods Broderick in nearly 7 years and finds her teaming up once again with her brother violinist/multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick.

"A Call For Distance" with it's gentle lilt and harmony-laden sprawl encapsulates just what drew my attention in the first place. It's nearly two minutes before the first words are even uttered but the production/arrangement is so diverse, so textural complex that you hardly even notice. The track builds not only off a trembling bassline but off of Heather Woods Broderick's own words "to live, to learn, to live"; repeated for effect, refracted in its harmonic doubling and atmospheric texturing. Considering how many elements she pulls into it, the track is surprisingly sparse - balancing the variety of instruments Heather Woods Broderick has at her disposal with her subtle sense of utility and propriety in its narrative buildup.

Heather Woods Broderick's follow up to 2009's From Ground, Glider is out July 10th on Western Vinyl. Pre-order is available now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Listen: Verdensrommet - "Skien" (ft. Chris Holm)

Apparently clues for music discovery comes in threes. After they were namedropped as an influence for a song by Pearl and the Beard on their new album and provided an amazing remix of Sondre Lerche's "Bad Law", it took Norwegian singer/songwriter and member of Norwegian orchestral pop collective Young Dreams Chris Holm's mentioning his involvement in their latest single "Skien" to finally get to me check out Norwegian pop rock sextet Verdensrommet.

After years of releasing single after single Verdensrommet are gearing up to release their self-titled debut full length and it's looking to inhabit a similar but not congruent musical realm as Young Dreams. Where previous efforts "Nytt" and "Sidelengs" fused The Smiths with tropicalia-infused stylings of Matias Tellez or Sondre Lerche at their most Brazilpop-invoking, Verdensrommet's new single "Skien" merely recalls them in the warmly colored melodies. Chris Holm joins Verdensrommet's vocalist Andreas Høvset to trade verses in their native Norwegian to provide a counterpoint to the experience of growing up in Verdensrommet's hometown from which the song takes its title. Holm - the older, wiser voice; Høvset filled with youthful inexperience and wide-eyed carelessness.

"Skien" goes down fairly smooth, it's easy listening vibe felt even if you don't necessarily understand Norwegian. It's melodies are simple but memorable, and it's production interesting in both its steadily increasing drum use and its casual glide into a full on chamber pop jam to make the language barrier pretty much nonexistent.

Considering the seamless nature of Holm's involvement in "Skien", the rest of Verdensrommet's debut seems poised to follow in that regard - enlisting collaborators in rapper Lars Vaular and VERK. Verdensrommet's self-titled debut album is out August 21st on Nabovarsel.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Listen: Waterstrider - "Arrive and Leave"

photo by Cara Robbins
Now is a pretty excellent time to be a Waterstrider fan it seems. After the release of their debut full length Nowhere Now earlier this week, the band recently revealed a non-album track written and recorded by the band's frontman and chief singer/songwriter Nate Salman. "Arrive And Leave" features on a installment of Bandcamp City Guides focusing on Oakland based artists. Unlike the bulk of Waterstrider's tunes that act as more of a collective effort, "Arrive and Leave" is solely the work of Salman who plays everything from the scarcely deployed twinkling synths to the shaker. Where Waterstrider as a whole largely relies on references to their world pop inspiration, "Arrive and Leave" functions as a much more atmospheric folk tune that's aided by the lack of complex percussion.

"Arrive and Leave" is a simpler, younger Waterstrider or more aptly put hearkens back to the days where Waterstrider was solely defined by whatever Salman wanted to do with the moniker but even if this earlier recorded track doesn't reflect the band in its currently incarnation - it's a snapshot of Salman's songwriting chops and musicianship at an earlier point in his career and notably his ability to invoke emotion with solely the power of his voice

You can grab both the digital and a physical 12" versions of the Oakland Bandcamp City Guide as well as stream and discover the other Oakland artists feature on the guide here.

Laura Marling - Short Movie (2015)

I've found myself engaged in a lot of discussions about British singer/songwriter Laura Marling as of late. Considering her status as a critically acclaimed creative darling that's hardly surprised but during the build up to her most recently released album Short Movie - her fifth and most distinctively experimental I've found myself both defending her creative choices and agreeing in part with her detractors in equal measure. One of my favorite qualities of Marling's songwriter is her penchant for wistful fully formed narratives and with each subsequent release and with Short Movie in particular she positions herself further and further away from that particularly character.

Marling has established herself from her earliest days as an album artist. True during her tours she breaks out tracks that might later find themselves on future works or might never find themselves to be released at all but she releases album with a startling amount of consistency - two years time generally with the exception of A Creature I Don't Know which was actually meant to come out the same year as I Speak Because I Can but was delayed until a year later. As I listened to "Short Movie", the title track from her latest album it occurred to me exactly what Marling's game is here: while there's no telling how many songs Marling works on/out between album cycles, Marling appears to be working the creative kinks out of her system/songwriting through her albums. I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don't Know had very solid overarching ideas - themes and subjects that reoccurred throughout and a definitive narrative you could essentially watch play out over the course of an album. Short Movie continues and perhaps the much more elastic qualities of Once I Was An Eagle. The album as a vehicle for creative exploration is a quality truer to the old school folkies Marling styles herself after and people often compare her to but ultimately fail to actually realize.

The narrative of "Short Movie" is tenuous - the rush of coalescing insecurities given musical form. "Who the hell do you think you are? Just a girl who can play guitar" Marling offers in a moment of fiery clarity. It's a prevalent device Marling draws from multiple times like "False Hope". While such moments are sure to be polarizing, there's moments where Marling's experimentations rewardly largely - in album opener "Warrior" the subtle application of vocal effects grants Marling a dreamy Scheherazade place setting, the spoken word pitter-patter of "Strange", to the bluesy "Don't Let Me Bring You Down". Marling revisits her lovesick well on tracks like "I Feel Your Love" and "Walk Alone" in a one-two punch of emotional tug of war. From mysterious vagueness to borderline confessional, Marling offers different tastes of contorting visions of love - a purifying force, a uncomfortable tether, an all-consuming ache, a distant nagging feeling. On Short Movie, Laura Marling has changed a lot - her musical collaborators, the place she calls home, but what ultimately endures is Marling's fascination with love. It's through its examination that Marling glimpses the strongest and most fallible parts of herself; the rebellious spirit and the nay-saying doubter.

While there's a tendency to cherry pick favorites from every album Laura Marling's released thus far (like the exceptional, stellar four song suite that opens Once I Was An Eagle) Short Movie might very well be the first album Marling's released that really relies of the album structure. It's in the context of the album that tracks like "Short Movie" and "False Hope" gleam like diamonds where they previously only seemed to provided glimpses of potential. Ultimately Short Movie is a lot less experimental than the stream of consciousness-esque lyricism of "Short Movie" hinted at. And yet there's no doubt that there's a refreshing quality to the album and much more willingness openness. Marling has shied away from being defined by her relationships to the point that Once I Was An Eagle was an exercise in torturous vagueness but on Short Movie, she balances emotional with narrative honest. Her songs might not all be about her (she's been known to do that before) but they could be or they could be anyone and therein lies the key. Short Movie relies far less on heavily dressed up metaphors and instead offers up echoes of emotion. Even with an urge to depart from the status quo - that's where Marling's lyrical prowess is at peak effectiveness and the words appear to come easiest. So even as Marling continues to explore her narrative and compositional potential, universality is her anchor to pitch-perfect songcraft.

Laura Marling's fifth studio album Short Movie is out now and available to purchase from Ribbon Music.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Listen: Night Beds - "Tide Teeth"

Late last year when Nashville based outfit Night Beds released "Me, Liquor & God" I was cautiously optimistic about the new direction singer/songwriter Winston Yellen appeared to be taking. The shift in style is subtler if you followed Night Beds' every action and not just their own major releases - namely Yellen featuring on Tomas Barfod's "Sell You".  While Yellen's flirted with electronic music before in the guise of the swirling dream pop that pillowed his soft, doleful tenor, he never outright committed to the electronic influence entirely - instead tapering it with the jammy folk pop stylings of Country Sleep and "Head For The Hills". "Tide Teeth", the latest single from Night Beds, however asserts that the heavy electronic lean of "Me, Liquor & God" might very well be here to stay.

"Tide Teeth" places Yellen much more aggressively in the R&B camp that "Me, Liquor & God" could be plausibly denied being apart of. There's no mistaking the influence and the sound here for better or worse. The songwriting on "Me, Liquor & God" was reminiscent enough to Country Sleep/Every Fire, Every Joy that it was easy to find solace that the even in the shuffle, the soul of Night Beds would endure. "Tide Teeth" however, you're not so sure but Yellen's voice is a rather charming fit for this new direction and the use of autotune/processed vocal effects is tastefully deployed. The new direction is sure to be a jarring realization for those of the barely there electronic-tinged dream pop of Night Beds' earlier days but there's a much more subtler level of musicianship being cultivated as Night Beds try to distinguish themselves from the pack of other electronic leaning bands. Luckily for Night Beds Winston Yellen's voice (both aurally and lyrically) has always been it's key ingredient and as long as the band don't lose sight of that in even their most exploratory, experimental pop-embracing moments, they'll be a band worth listening to.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pitstop: AURORA

My discovery of Norwegian singer/songwriter Aurora Aksnes aka AURORA is essentially the reason CMJ continues to be favorite music festival. I had never heard of her but lured to Brooklyn Bowl with the promise of one of Adult Jazz's few stateside shows, I was charmed and intrigued by the fresh eighteen year old's charmingly awkward stage banter and pure appreciation to be there.

AURORA's presence at CMJ is precisely the reason why I fell in love with CMJ in the first place. With only her (massively successful) first single "Awakening" released and nothing really to promote but herself, she was invited as an official artist based on pure potential, the strength of that debut, and word of mouth from those lucky enough to see Aksnes in her native Norway. It was a gamble well paid however as Aksnes and band were a refreshing treat and definite festival standout. 

And while right after that successful run of shows stateside would've been just the right time to release another track, it wasn't until some months later at the very tale end that we were gifted with the delightful "Under Stars" - a track that delicately splices a more overt electronic element into Asknes' precocious folk pop narratives. If the winsome quality alone of her music alone wasn't enough, the patience deployed in the release of her music seems designed to curtail hype and establish AURORA as an artist that's more than just the buzz surrounding her.   

With the release of the debut EP Running With The Wolves planned for May 4th on Glassnote Records, it luckily won't be too long before AURORA proves that to a wider collection of ears.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Listen: Waterstrider - "Nowhere Now"

For all their declarations of being a world pop/afrobeat band, Oakland CA outfit Waterstrider have been surprisingly subtle with overt references on the singles they've released thus far. On "Nowhere Now", the fourth single from debut full length of the same name, Waterstrider let the floodgate open and deviate from the more conventional pop stylings in favor of an outright jam. It's a percussion-smorgasboard so much so that the fivesome enlist some outside help for added cacophony and yet, even achieving max-percussiveness Nate Salman's vocals as a laser focused as ever - shifting and contorting as the see fit just above the clamor.

It's the most immediate of the tracks we've heard thus far - sure to galvanize and incited a dance party in all lucky enough to hear the title track. It's no wonder they quintet saved "Nowhere Now" until right before the release of their album, it's a definite standout and sure to be a strong contender for any listener's favorite album track. Luckily for Waterstrider, it's no fluke. "Nowhere Now" comes after a full album of world music referencing but not reliant tracks and the full on frenetic energy feels well and truly earned. Apart from album context, "Nowhere Now" exists as an infectious dance-y number that continues to display just what's so great about the Oakland band: namely their familiarity-bred cohesiveness.

Waterstrider's debut full length album Nowhere Now is out now and available to purchase digitally directly from the band via Bandcamp.