Showing posts with label indie folk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indie folk. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

video review: 'i, i' by bon iver

Okay, here we go - this is one of those reviews I can imagine will be controversial... but eh, we'll see.

Next up is a really meaty episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN and then I'm venturing off on vacation - stay tuned!

Monday, August 12, 2019

album review: 'i, i' by bon iver

Alright, let's try this again.

So, Bon Iver, the primary venture for singer-songwriter-producer Justin Vernon and a rotating cast of players, and one of the critical darling acts that has never quite won me over. Don't get me wrong, for the most part I like this project, especially the more propulsive, windswept indie folk side that was instrumental in partially jumpstarting that movement in the late 2000s, but the more Bon Iver has ventured towards synthesized electronic music, the more I've been torn on them, respectful of the ambition but rarely satisfied with the results. I do think it's unfortunate that the first time I was talking about Bon Iver I was covering the project's worst album thus far by a considerable margin - that being 2016's 22, A Million, a project that wrapped itself in a lyrical tangle trying to parse the larger divisive world before scolding the audience for trying to understand it, along with some of the most scattershot, fragmented production yet - because I think it may have given off a more negative impression... but that doesn't mean I'm going to mince words here either. Hell, I was probably too nice to 22, A Million in retrospect.

And yet seemingly out of nowhere we had a new Bon Iver project, released three weeks early online and with Justin Vernon describing it as his most 'honest' and 'adult' album to date. What caught my attention was not only more producers allowed in the room, but also collaborators like James Blake and Aaron Dessner and even Bruce Hornsby - the latter shouldn't be that much of a surprise, given that he has worked with Vernon in the past, but still! And you know what, I really was hoping this would turn into something special, so what did Bon Iver deliver this time?

Monday, June 17, 2019

video review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

Okay, so this was promising... long-winded both in the album and me talking about it, but I think this turned out alright enough.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN for the week and then... hmm, not sure. Stay tuned!

album review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

So I'd like to continue off of something I brought up in the Weyes Blood review and it does come with a bit of self-awareness on my part. I opened up that conversation with the discussion surrounding the sudden critical convergence that can happen around indie acts for a single project that can leave just as quickly, but there's another category of acts in an adjacent lane: the indie acts who do get consistent critical acclaim, but never seem to reach the larger conversation. A lot of singer-songwriters and smaller-scale acts wind up in this group, the folks who will reliably make critics' year-end lists, but rarely at the top, and while they will have a persistent cult following, they tend to be artists that even critics forget to revisit - until, out of the blue, they decide on a lark to give the album a spin and are stuck wondering why they don't put it on more often. Which is not quite as bad of a situation as what happens to the one-album-critical-darling, but can be deflating for an artist who would probably wish their name came up in the conversation a bit more.

And for me, I can't think of many acts that fit the bill more than Bill Callahan, previously known as Smog for a string of good-to-spectacular albums throughout the 90s and 2000s - until he switched to using his own name in 2007 and the quality never seemed to stop. And I'll admit I was late to the party - I first heard some of his work with Apocalypse in 2011, but it was Dream River in 2013 that really sealed the deal, a stunningly subtle and potent album that featured one of my favourite songs of that year in 'Summer Painter' and brought a level of cohesion and laconic focus to his brand of writing and production. It's rare to confront a singer-songwriter who can say and imply so much with so few words - in the 2010s the only singer-songwriter who comes close to what Callahan delivers is Courtney Marie Andrews, and even then stylistically they're in different phases of their career and very different lanes, but there is a similar road-weary, textured atmosphere both can command that gives their words so much more. But it's been a while since we've heard from Callahan - he put out a dub album covering Dream River in 2014 and a live album in 2018, but it's been a while since we've gotten new material... and he's got a lot of it, a full double album with a renewed focus on his current domestic life. Now I'll admit I've had mixed results with these sorts of projects, just because of the phase of life I'm in - it was one of the reasons Lori McKenna's The Tree didn't quite hit as strongly for me last year, and there's someone else who deserves to be in this conversation - and twenty songs of Bill Callahan's style and cadence is a lot, but I figured I'd let this sink in, so what did we get out of Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

video review: 'wiaca' by SUNDAYS

Yeah, I'm not sure if this just hit my joy receptors on melody alone, but hell, when the writing is this good too, I have to believe I hit gold with this debut. DEFINITELY give this release more attention, it's a beauty.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then I'm back into a Bandcamp dive - stay tuned!

Monday, February 4, 2019

album review: 'wiaca' by SUNDAYS

So one thing I've started doing far more in 2019 is at least once a day, I do a dive into whatever random acts crop up on the front page of Bandcamp, which has allowed me to build up a hefty list of albums I'll cover that are a bit off the beaten path but could attract real attention all the same. And while I'm most focused on metal and underground hip-hop - more on that in the coming weeks - something you find a song from an act that surprises you out of nowhere, with the sort of structure and refinement to suggest a band with compositional chops that can sometimes feel rare or at least underrated on Bandcamp.

So, enter SUNDAYS. They're a Danish band on a pretty small indie label, Wiaca is their debut project - an acronym for 'Where It All Comes Alive' - and what immediately grabbed me was their lead-off song 'Shade Of The Pines', which in bring the harmonized vocals and a real hook really caught my attention. And I figured if they could deliver another half-dozen of those across ten songs, we could have something really pleasant and special, so what did we get with Wiaca?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

video review: 'delta' by mumford & songs (ft. ARTV!)

So yeah, this was pretty interesting - I think the review might have wound up a bit clipped at points for time, but I think we still got our points across.

Next up, Muse and Anderson .Paak - stay tuned!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

video review: 'bottle it in' by kurt vile

So this was... honestly, kind of tiring to review, but I'm happy I got it out anyway. Enjoy!

Next up... hmm, let's see if I can kill two birds with one stone and cover both Open Mike Eagle and Cloud Nothings soon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'bottle it in' by kurt vile

It's hard not to feel like Kurt Vile is going in the exact opposite direction I hoped he would.

Or at the very least it's hard to say if he's playing to his strengths, because I've always been of the opinion that when the man feels fit to string his ideas together he can craft some fascinating songs with great hooks that I'll recommend to this day. Hell, I put one of his biggest singles 'Pretty Pimpin' on my year-end list of the best songs of 2015, and I stand by that - yeah, the songs might coil and meander but so long as the hook stabilizes it's some great indie rock. It's also why I tend to like his earlier, garage-inspired records more than his newer stuff - less complex and psychedelic, sure, but there's a visceral catchiness and core of tension to his best work I really do appreciate.

And yet that seems like the last thing on his mind, which can get frustrating for me because while the shaggy song construction and perpetually stoned demeanour might give some the impression of laziness, I've never bought that. I've read interviews with Kurt Vile and the impression I've got is closer to the guy in the room who is so smart he might operate on a different detached plane of existence, where you cling to moments with a hook or stable progression because it's a clue of what level he's on. But over the past two projects I've heard increasingly less desire to get there: b'lieve i'm goin down felt increasingly lethargic and his project with Courtney Barnett Lotta Sea Lice felt more like an extended jam session than a fully composed piece, and with buzz suggesting this record was even more obtuse... well, I wouldn't say I was thrilled, but I was curious. So okay, what did we get on Bottle It In?

Monday, June 4, 2018

video review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

And here's the first review of the night... but it's not over yet, stay tuned!

album review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

So there comes two distinctive times in every singer-songwriter's life, especially if they've got a theatrical slant and even more especially if they've had any degree of crossover success. The first is the concept record: the overblown, overwrought 'statement of the human condition' record that often proves to be the point where even diehard fans start looking for the exits. These are the records that end careers, full stop... but if they don't, you get the second case: the inevitable comedown release, the one that might try to win back the fanbase but crystallizes more on the wide-eyed, panicked feeling that you have nothing else to say and thus are going to collapse inwards in spectacular fashion. They're often just as pretentious but considerably more uncomfortable, the artist ripping away any veneer in grotesque, self-destructive fashion to expose the humanity within, when the artist holes up in a mansion or hotel and truly starts to fly off the rails - and sometimes more rails than you might realize.

And I'm not remotely surprised that Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty took both of these steps, especially considering the narrow line he walks between biting self-aware satire and genuine earnestness which manifested most strongly on the breakthrough record I Love You Honeybear in 2015. And thus with Pure Comedy we got the overblown concept record and now... look, the seeds have been planted for years, Tillman knew he'd have to go down this rabbit hole in the same way Dylan and Beck and Berninger and Cave have, for as much as he has deconstructed his ego and artistic persona, it's still one he has yet to truly set on fire, and God's Favorite Customer looked like it would be that moment. And I'll admit records with these themes really get under my skin in a great way - beyond just the artistic deconstruction and raw humanity exposed, for an artist with such intense self-awareness of the artifice of his image and the crowd that has embraced it, ironically or otherwise, as Josh Tillman, he would know exactly what buttons to push, a You're The Worst-episode made flesh. In other words, this could be a total trainwreck and I'd be here for it, so what did we get on God's Favorite Customer?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

video review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

And man alive, this took a ton to finish. Next up, Kali Uchis - stay tuned!

album review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

I'm not sure without Panopticon I'd have gotten into black metal.

Oh, it was a genre I was exploring, but it was mostly at arm's length, tentatively probing into alien walls of screaming guitars, hammering drums and howled vocals, and while the huge melodies were appealing in the more atmospheric material, I was waiting for that special record to really click. And then came Panopticon, blending in elements of bluegrass and folk and country, genres I knew well, and with records like Kentucky served as my bridge into a genre that captured the primal character of Appalachians, both at its most abandoned and wild to the mountains ravaged by the coal industry and desperate poverty. Yeah, even though I've always found the lyrics from Panopticon nearly impossible to make out - and project mastermind Austin Lunn has no interest in making them easy - there was something to his guttural roars that painted a stark picture to pull me back again and again, culminating when he released Autumn Eternal and it made my year-end list for the best records of 2015.

So, three years later... and we have a two-hour double album, half of which was atmospheric black metal, the other half country folk with an ambitious breadth of instrumentation that almost seemed to imply a more progressive side coming through with this band. And with that album title, it was hard to avoid the thought that Austin Lunn might be returning to the more stark political subtext that hammered through Kentucky. And while I knew this was going to be a LOT to fully take in... hell, I was on-board, so what did I find on The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)?

Friday, March 30, 2018

video review: 'may your kindness remain' by courtney marie andrews

Yeah, it took a little longer than I was expecting to put this together, but I really wanted to be sure... and now I am, easily one of the best of 2018, hands down.

Next up... well, I have Resonators, the Trailing Edge and this A.A.L. record, plus whatever's coming up on the schedule plus this Patreon update - lots going on, so stay tuned!

album review: 'may your kindness remain' by courtney marie andrews

I got to reviewing Courtney Marie Andrews way too late in 2016 - and honestly, for as critical as I was of it, I may have been a little too hard on it as a whole. Part of this is that she was facing some really stiff competition in 2016 that made for apt comparisons - the list of women in country who dropped literate, intensely emotive records that year is considerable and she had an uphill battle. But the truth was that some of my criticisms of her last record Honest Life did feel a tad forced, as it was certainly a record intended to grow through the understated details and subtext, rely more on gorgeous vocal delivery and production to carry the deeper message - and I'll admit that in my headlong rush towards the end of the year, I probably didn't take it in as deeply as I'd prefer - and yet even with that her absolutely stunning track 'Only In My Mind' notched a well-deserved spot among my best songs of 2016, a late entry that was very well-deserved.

Well, there are no such excuses for me this time around, and given how much critical acclaim this follow-up is receiving for fleshing out more of the lyrical details against arrangements I know are bound to sound terrific, I was really looking forward to giving this my full attention before both Linda Ortega and Kacey Musgraves sweep in to grab the spotlight in a few days. So what did I find on May Your Kindness Remain?

Monday, January 22, 2018

video review: 'ruins' by first aid kit

So it looks like I'm going to be in the minority big time with this one just being lukewarm on it instead of more excited... eh, I wish I liked it more, I'll be very honest about that!

Anyway, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and who knows what sort of wackiness is to come after, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ruins' by first aid kit

Can you believe it's been four years since the last First Aid Kit album? Can you believe it's been a decade since they first gained a bit of virality with that Fleet Foxes cover on YouTube before becoming the sort of folk act that can move a truly surprising amount of units - seriously, the fact that Stay Gold moved around two hundred thousand copies in 2014 kind of blows my mind. And part of it is that First Aid Kit don't really seem to attract huge buzz, not quite blowing your mind but building real groundswell as they expand their sound.

And to be fair, it's not like the sisters duo went away - throughout the past several years they've been releasing covers and tributes and singles and touring extensively, bringing on another new drummer and even a keyboardist/trombone player for their backing band last year. Now this didn't surprise me much - given the sounds that are becoming more prevalent in the modern folk and alternative country scene, this could well be an interesting expansion, especially if they played more in country tones. What definitely caught more of my interest was a change in producers, swapping out Mike Mogis for Tucker Martine, who has worked with everyone from The Decemberists to Modest Mouse to Spoon to R.E.M. to even that case/lang/veirs project that was underrated by entirely too many people! So with a veteran further guiding the sound, coming off of Stay Gold - which going back to it now is really just as great as it was four years ago - I had high hopes for this - did Ruins live up to it?

Monday, October 23, 2017

video review: 'lotta sea lice' by courtney barnett & kurt vile

So this was a pretty chill listen. Not much more than that, and the sloppiness did wear a little thin on me, but overall, not bad.

Friday, October 20, 2017

album review: 'lotta sea lice' by courtney barnett & kurt vile

So I think I've said this in the past, but sometimes there are collaborations that just make too much sense, almost to the point where when you hear about them you wonder how on earth you didn't think of it first. These are artists that might have a very similar style or attitude or type of production, it's just an artistic choice that fits. And right from the start, when a lot of critics heard that Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were teaming up, the collective response was, 'well, duh, of course they are'. 

But I was a little more reticent. I'll be the first to admit I haven't quite fallen head over heels for Kurt Vile the way a lot of critics have over the past few years, mostly due to a naturalistic style of songwriting and composition that was right on the borderline of sloppy. And if possible I was even harder on Courtney Barnett's debut in 2015, easily one of my most contentious reviews where I just was not able to buy into the self-contained millennial angst that seemed to add up to a fair bit less than the sum of its parts, all of Vile's detachment but none of the bemusement or wry humor that could temper an edge that was not matched in her production. But I understood how Barnett and Vile could compliment each other, with songwriting that would likely prove as tangled and meandering as ever - especially if they were looking to explore their own artistic process - but my curiosity was more on the sound of the album, because while Kurt Vile started off near lo-fi and garage rock, his material has gotten a fair bit more sedate over the past couple of years. So where were they going to take this sound?

Monday, September 25, 2017

video review: 'hiss spun' by chelsea wolfe

Well, this was haunting... really, the more I listen to this the more it gets under my skin, especially with this subject matter... chilling stuff.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN... and then I have no idea, the next vote on Patreon is bound to be pretty crazy. Stay tuned!