Archive for Folk
On a long drive back to Portland from a northern Maine seacoast town I decided to relive some musical favorites from past years at Bates – I played some Tallest Man on Earth, some Langhorne Slim, some Deer Tick and even some Elvis Perkins. It’s been almost two years since these bands were basically my go-to music and I’ve struggled to find anything since then along the same genre of these pseudo-folk-indie-pop stars that I’ve been as excited to listen to on repeat for three moths. So I’ve looked to other genres to fulfill my obsessive personal music interests.
At last, I can return. Boston natives You Won’t rock. They display the same vim of other-year favorites with reflections of recent musical trends – the more soulful-rock oriented influence of popular Mumford and Sons and the less formulaic electronics of Passion Pit’s diminishing popularity. The group’s first album, Skeptic Goodbye, is available for download on bandcamp.
A couple of years ago, WRBC seemed to be a promotional organization solely for new Icelandic music. It was all pretty good and this past year I started to miss new Nordic sounds. Just in time (before I spent all of my money and flew to Scandinavia), Danish band The Great Dictators appeared. With a vocal mixture of Matt Berninger (The National) and Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello, although I like to think of his voice more in the context of Wristcutters: A Love Story) and incomparable lyrics the singing drives the band. Instrumentals, however, don’t fall short in making the band another Nordic hit. An EP is coming out soon, but for now check out Coffee & Cigarettes. More music is available here.
In honor of their show tonight (9 PM at the Benjamin Mays Center, Bates College), we’d like to point you in the direction of the Time Travelers’ self-released EP, Bed of Roses, which you can pick up over at Bandcamp. The Time Travelers are a 4-piece band comprised of Bates College seniors, reunited after a one-year break during which members were scattered across the globe. If you’re not too busy, you might also find the time to like them on Facebook.
I investigated the music of tUnE-yArDs (the moniker of Oakland-based Merrill Garbus) the way I always look at new music that’s been getting a lot of rAvE rEvIeWs: with caution. Obscure bands getting rave reviews are even worse…and I don’t want to be that person who’s touting the next up-and-coming band-you’ve-never-heard-of. But tUnE-yArDs was a pleasant surprise.
Let’s start with the basics. tUnE-yArDs isn’t that obscure. Pitchfork, for what it’s worth, ranked Garbus’ debut effort, BiRd-BrAiNs, as the 44th-best album of 2009, which is no small honor. BiRd-BrAiNs was released on the Marriage label, shared by notable acts such as Dirty Projectors and YACHT. She’s now signed on to the UK independent label 4AD, which she shares with the likes of The Big Pink, TV on the Radio, and Bon Iver.
Bon Iver forms a particularly relevant comparison. Like Bon Iver, tUnE-yArDs’ first album was recorded in a makeshift home-studio with whatever was at hand…which was comprised mostly of Garbus’ ukulele. Interviews with Garbus suggest that she owned significantly less gear at the time of BiRd-BrAiNs‘ recording than she tours with now, meaning that what she’s got onstage is more than what she recorded the album with. The album was mixed with free-for-download software on her home computer. This makes the album super-lo-fi, most likely with one mic for just about everything. This style is important in terms of Garbus’ expression, insofar as the album was more a catalog of her life, a journal of how she felt, than a studio album. Garbus herself calls it a ‘living history.’ Live, tUnE-yArDs reminds me more of Professor Murder, with the live band’s sparse melody section and prolific drumming. Like Professor Murder, tUnE-yArDs has multiple drumkits on stage, and often as many as three people banging on them at once, forming a very rhythm-oriented sound. Also like PM, the bass guitar sits pretty far forward in the mix (it’s half the melody section), and the mildly-distorted bass sound really fills a lot of space. Garbus’ voice sails over it all, with an unabashed, sustain-filled tone.
Bottom line? If you love the ukulele, and can take some real lo-fi, please grab BiRd-BrAiNs for a listen this summer. At least a couple of songs should speak to you. If you hated Bon Iver and can’t stand Professor Murder, a police officer who stopped me recently gave me a rave review of a recent Staind show he was at, so you could probably check that out.
I recently had the opportunity to watch Grace Potter perform live. Each time is a treat. She shakes and drops, teasing the crowd with her rockin’ legs and “candy ass.” Abandoning her trademark soul, Gracie has gone rocker-girl with her new partner-in-crime Catharine Popper, formerly of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Popper’s smart, up-beat baselines and sexed-up style bump the Nocturnals to a new level. But on the new album, and to some extent in concert, our Gracie has gone missing. The soulful organ-grinding girl from Burlington has gone Hollywood, literally. While This is Something certainly marked a shift Potter’s style, she maintained her seductively bluesy sound. However, signing with Hollywood Records seems to have finally hijacked the bands studio sound, turning our Gracie into a magnate for 15-year-old high school girls, alienating the old-guard hippie crowd that gravitated to her during tours with Gov’t Mule.
It isn’t simply the turn towards hard-core rock that has me rattled. It’s that she abandoned what made her special, and worth listening to: The Organ. Without it, she looses the soulfulness that makes her hard-core rockin’ so damn sexy, its distinctiveness in a world of blonde country stars with cookie-cutter verse chorus repeat bridge banality. With Grace Potter and the Nocternals, the band’s latest effort, the B-3 largely fades into the back. Its sound varies. Alternating from choir accompanist to circus master, the Hammond has lost is soul in Ms. Potter’s latest album. For all those who crave the unnerving, reverb-saturated, rock grind that drove tracks such as “Treat Me Right”, “Ragged Company”, and “Sweet Hands” on Nothing but the Water, the reality will soon set in that Gracie likes to shake it, and the B-3 hides what all the men in the 9:30 club want to see.
Ms. Potter played many of her new songs, returning briefly to NBTW for brilliant renditions of “Sweet hands” and “2:22”. She remains a force to be reckoned with on-stage, even if her voice sounds constrained at times. Slipping her shoes back on after a raunchy opening set she remarks, “ I don’t care what anybody thinks, I’m putting then back on ‘cuz they make my butt look like candy. See?” turning her back to the audience and accentuating what could never be even intentionally obscured. Just as her new songs feature a smart lyrical compactness, her on-stage banter maintains a sharp and witty character. Popper eggs her on. “Take it off,” she taunts. Potter retorts, “talk about womanizing ourselves” as the band plunges into “Ah Mary”, the crowd-pleasing political scorcher about America.
Her new songs however, offer little of the sound that first attracted me to Potter’s music. They are marred by backup vocal tracks that dilute the sheer power of her voice. She rarely lets loose, with outtros comprising loud guitar rock and the occasional Potter shriek instead of the heart melting blues notes she used to hold for miles. Electrifying guitar solos replace jazzy organ jams. “Tiny Light” showcases her vocal talents at moments, but they become lost in the country-pop choruses. The organ finally breaks through in earnest in “Only Love” a Bonnie Raitt styled throwback about heartbreak and love. It’s truly one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album; the chorus has a jazzy fullness, delivered with a guttural emotion missing from many of the country-tinged offerings.
The single “Medicine” represents some of the best elements of Ms. Potters revamped sound, most notably her songwriting and thumping classic rock guitar lines. The song describes a seductive “policy woman” who pulls the narrator’s lover away. The seductive intruder has “the medicine”, but our storyteller steals “her bag of rattling bones” and “magic stones” en route to securing “the medicine”. Our storyteller gets herself a pair of “mojo hands”, ending the song proclaiming, “I got the medicine that everybody wants.” The phrases are bright and sexy, there’s a sense of achievement in Potter’s voice that mimics the song’s lyrical theme. Missing from the album is the bands one-of a kind rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” as featured in Tim Burton’s Almost Alice. I’m not sure what prompted this decision, but I regard it as a significant oversight that reeks of big-label money-sucking tactics. The band’s cover is magnificent. Live, it’s spectacular. Popper bangs out the iconic baseline with an addictive coolness and suave that sets the tone for Ms. Potters picture-perfect vocals.
The album is overall quite good. Ms. Potter’s vocals soar on several of the tracks, revealing how truly talented she is. The album seems to be an attempt to channel the electricity and vibrancy of the band’s live work into a studio album. On this level, they have succeeded spectacularly; the album simply rocks from start to finish. But I can’t help longing for the soulful organ rock that first attracted me to Gracie. It’s there; It’s just in the background now. Just like her concerts, the album is chocked full of erotic grunts, ohhs and ahhs, sensual reminders of watching Ms. Potter perform live.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals leaves me asking one question. Where has Gracie gone? I know she’s still there somewhere, waiting to break loose live in the nation’s most prominent music clubs. The new album however seems to pander to a different crowed. In front of me was a group of high school girls. “They don’t get it,” my concert neighbor, a long time Potter fan remarked about the bands music and the girls. They may not get the old stuff, the music that first seduced me; music that made Grace a tiny light on the otherwise marginal roots-rock throwback scene. However, they do get the new Grace, the Hollywood Records Grace with harmonized back up vocals and mainstream normalcy. They get it because they are used to it, and GPN puts it right in their laps, no work needed.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: B
Live Concert: A
When I met Kyle Swartzwelder, he was hosting open mic night at the Burlap and Bean, a coffee shop outside of Philadelphia that knows its coffee and knows its music. That evening, Kyle informed me that he was going to have to find a real job. Music simply isn’t enough to support him. Anyone who heard Swartzwelder play his folk ballads that night, however, might disagree with that assessment. Though music might not pay the bills at the moment, Swartzwelder is certainly a promising young craftsman and songwriter. His self-titled 2008 debut album deserves further investigation.
Swartzwelder performs an uncomplicated country tinged folk. His ballad Julianne, a song expressing the joys of new love, best exemplifies the songwriter’s genius. He does not mess around with complicated lyrics or deep metaphors. Rather, his beautiful voice expresses his longing. Ever repeat the name of the girl you love to yourself to hear the sound of it on your own lips? That’s the chorus of this song—longing repetition that instantly touches the listen. The song ends with a usual and welcome flourish for the album. In the only true guitar solo of the project, Kyle plugs in the electric and rips out an Allman Brothers sounding guitar solo. Read more »
As far as I am concerned, Bates is fortunate to be located in the state of Maine for a variety of reasons. Among these are easy access to the mountains and the ocean, really fantastic sushi, friendly people and ample Poland Spring Water. Of course, Maine has long been a bastion of great folk music as well, and, emblematic of this scene, which has produced, among others, Ray LaMontagne, is a new band out of Maine’s city of ships, Bath.
Yellow Roman Candles is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Aaron Morse, and based on their first release, If It’s Right, there is a sense that this band could really make a run at achieving a certain level of national notoriety. The album certainly has shades of LaMontagne’s earlier work. Its gritty and working-class sensibilities leave the listener transported to perhaps a greater understanding of the plight of much of middle America. Read more »
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, the city that has spawned numerous great performers of the so-called anti-folk/alt-country genre such as Blitzen Trapper and The Shins, comes She & Him, a collaboration between guitarist M. Ward and singer Zooey Deschanel. Their most recent album, titled Volume Two, was released in the middle of March and has since attracted much interest, and for good reason.
Of course people are intrigued by Deschanel after having made a breakout performance in one of the summer’s hottest indie films, (500) Days of Summer, but this album is more than the average young Hollywood actress trying to horizontally integrate her entertainment brand in the same way of Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Duff and Paris Hilton.
Volume Two is certainly not a pop album. The instrumentation floats within the territory of traditional American folk, which contrasts comfortably with the lyrics and vocals which are reminiscent of the early days of Rock and Roll. Read more »
WRBC and Bates College were really fortunate to have world-class Icelandic indie-folk-rockers Seabear to drop by campus on March 29, 2010 for a little concert. With our new flipcam, The Monkey recorded the concert for those of you that were maybe too tied up with thesis or abroad to come. Here are a few of the highlights:
Sindri talks about performing at Bates
Arms from “The Ghost that Carried Us Away”
Cat Piano from “The Ghost that Carried Us Away”
Stay tuned for more videos as they become available. To those of you that came out on a rainy Monday, WRBC, Seabear, and all involved are really thankful. Read more »
Let’s make one thing clear here, Iceland’s Seabear is without a doubt one of my favorite bands of all time. Their succinct anti-folk sensibility is unique even within the confines of the seemingly overcrowded world of the folk revival that is currently still in its indie infancy.
From the time that I first played their 2007 debut, The Ghost that Carried Us Away, my love of Seabear, as my friends might tell you had bordered on insanity and irrationality, but its all in good fun.
Alongside their recent full-length release (a very good album, by the way), We Built a Fire, the band chose to also put together a brief EP called The Fire Dies Out. The two records seem similar at the core, obviously the instrumentation is basically the same, but the EP is, truthfully an experience unto itself. Read more »