The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world. –F. Scott Fitzgerald
Well hey, New York. Here we are, about a month in. Winter Storm Jonas gave me an excuse to curl up in my 9:30 Club sweatshirt (miss you, DC) and go through photos from a series of dance-away-those-winter-blues shows. I’ll share these pics & tunes with you over the next few posts. Let’s start with some Alabama soul from St. Paul & The Broken Bones and rootsy rock from Banditos.
“For all y’all in the front row, I’m sorry. It’s gonna be like Sea World–” Paul Janeway warned on the second of two sold-out evenings in New York (the first at Carnegie Hall, the second at Bowery Ballroom). We loved every bit of it, sweat and all. Continue reading “Its First Wild Promise: January Roundup”
You could call his music punk or call it country, but you’d be better off forgetting the categories and just giving Cory Branan a listen.
My first encounter with Cory Branan‘s music was through browsing the Bloodshot Records catalog — the label that signed the Old 97s and Neko Case can do no wrong. Branan had just released his third album, Mutt, and I wound up listening to “Survivor Blues” on heavy, heavy rotation. The song is a combo punch to the heart and gut. It encapsulates Branan’s potent cocktail of fierceness and finesse — a touch of grit in his voice, rawness and urgency in delivery, and vulnerability beneath.
Music writers often describe songs as “evocative.” It’s a convenient shorthand – if a song doesn’t make your feel something, you probably won’t return to it. But it begs the question: evocative of what, exactly?
For River Whyless’s music, I could go on for pages in response. The Asheville quartet is astonishingly adept at drawing you in through images of home – a woodshed, an attic, the skyline – all while unraveling the duality of wistfulness and sorrow that animates much of our storytelling: a yearning for the simple certainties of the past, tempered by melancholia over days gone by and days yet to come. That dialectic is expressed both lyrically and in the layers of polyrhythmic instrumentation and interwoven harmonies. The effect is simultaneously familiar and fresh, comforting and haunting.
River Whyless is composed of Ryan O’Keefe (guitars, vocals), Halli Anderson (violin, vocals), Alex McWalters (drums, percussion) and Daniel Shearin (bass, vocals, harmonium, cello, banjo). If pressed to make comparisons, I’d say that their ethereal harmonies, delicately layered strings, and nimble, dynamic percussion remind me of Lord Huron, Fleet Foxes, and The Head and the Heart. And while their songs contain the appealing folk elements of those bands, River Whyless has found a musical identity that is wholly their own – baroque, folk, rock, global – shifting effortlessly from soft, shimmering ballads to spirited numbers built around handclaps and bass riffs. Listening to their eponymous new album, I am reminded of the first time I watched a campfire being built – glowing embers coaxed into dancing flames – alive, alight.
Take “Miles of Skyline,” for instance. It opens with crisp, syncopated percussion that displays a technician’s precision without feeling cold or studied – it sounds tight, yet feels liberating. (As an aside, I would be happy just listening to an evening of Alex doing drum solos.) The violin flits in and out like an eastern songbird, with choice chirps played pizzicato. Though Ryan and Halli usually alternate lead on vocals, here, Daniel takes over, evoking in a bright and earnest tone the vistas that lend their name to the song.
Days of rain. Not spring rain, the kind that nourishes new life, but late autumn rain. The kind that seeps into your bones and makes you weary, weary beyond your years, weary of waking up to headlines in which a city name is metonym for all that is fundamentally broken, weary of the emotional output demanded by the holidays, of tallying up mistakes and trying to outrun your own shadow.
The rain tapered to a drizzle mid-day and I laced up for a run. The Reflecting Pool was deserted, the Tidal Basin drew only a few brave tourists. I usually crave these moments of solitude, the grim satisfaction of pushing through the weariness. But that day, the wind whipping through the trees and the staccato of my shoes against wet gravel sounded more stark than soothing.
So I put on some music. Not my normal running playlist of pop and hip-hop, but the music of a singer-songwriter I started listening to a few weeks ago. His name is Jesse Terry. His music is filled with a simple grace, with lyrics that capture beautifully the eternal tug-of-war between head and heart. If you like Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams, or Jackson Browne, give Jesse’s music a try. His soothing voice paired with acoustic guitar is like a gentle sunbeam parting monochrome sky.
The sweet languor of summer days pairs perfectly with the mellowness of indie folk. This playlist features some of my favorite new albums from the first half of 2014. Hope you enjoy.
The sweet languor of summer days pairs perfectly with the mellowness of indie folk. And when the road beckons — when you roll down the window and taste the freedom in the air — those moments call for sunny, glossy indie rock. This playlist includes some of my favorite albums from the first half of 2014. It starts with shades of folk (Americana, folktronica, folk-pop), makes side a excursion into pop and neo-soul, and closes with ebullient, sunshiny rock. Hope you enjoy.
We Could Stay Gold — Summer 2014 Mix First Aid Kit • Damien Jurado • Sylvan Esso • PHOX • Vandaveer Lake Street Dive • Conor Oberst • South Rail • Mimicking Birds • Ha Ha Tonka Beck • The Rosebuds • Damon Albarn • Hamilton Leithauser
If you like this music, please support the artists by purchasing their albums. Just click on the track listing to go to the online store.
The Swedish folk duo’s charming, ambling song may be my theme for summer. It seems so fragile on first listen, but the lilting vocals convey lyrics of surprising heft. To borrow from my favorite Byronic hero: “I did not then know that it was no transitory blossom, but rather the radiant resemblance of one, cut in an indestructible gem.”
Sylvan Esso is the Durham, North Carolina folk-electro-pop project of Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn (Megafaun). Meath’s voice is warm and weary as she takes us on fast-forward through the seasons, sketching vignettes: Wild winters, warm coffee / mom’s gone, do you love me / Blazing summer, cold coffee / baby’s gone, do you love me? Sanborn provides the electronic texture — the skittering synths, the chimes between verses. There is something different about Sylvan Esso. Something delightful.