Some Chaos First: A Summer Playlist

This playlist is born of hazy treks under desert sun and misty climbs to mountaintops. Hope you enjoy.

DC playlistSummer — oh, summer. I am gripped in your sweaty, sordid embrace and seek escape in travels and tunes. This playlist is born of hazy treks under desert sun and misty climbs to mountaintops. Hope you enjoy.

Lord Huron ✦ Horse Feathers ✦ Joe Pug ✦ Elephant Revival ✦ River Whyless
The Mynabirds ✦ Belle and Sebastian ✦ Glass Animals ✦ Hannah Peel
Vetiver ✦ The Airborne Toxic Event ✦ Jay Troop ✦ Jesse Terry ✦ Ben Howard

1.  Lord Huron — World Ender

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Lord Huron’s second album, Strange Trails. The band is alternately labeled folk and rock. It’s both, and more — with reverb-laden vocals and swingy, hard-charging rhythms, we alternately meander and ride at an urgent canter through moonlit landscapes filled with ghosts, lovers, and fellow travelers.LH1

Lord Huron, 9:30 Club (May 3, 2015)
Lord Huron, 9:30 Club (May 3, 2015)

Frontman Ben Schneider’s time in Indonesia lends an eastern vibe to some of the songs (though it’s more apparent in debut album Lonesome Dreams, with its gamelan-esque chimes). Lord Huron’s live shows are cinematic, with moody lights and transitions narrated via a voice that seems to emerge through an old wireless that sits on stage. The band’s show attire seems to be an extension of the “movie trailer” teasers for the album (a sort of Tarantino aesthetic, with pulp-novel-jagged typeface and Japanese subtitles) — tastes of spaghetti western in bolo ties, of ’50s greasers in leather jackets and slicked-back hair.

The lyrics here feel tailor-made for the adventuring spirit (I borrowed a phrase for the title of this mix): Lord knows I should be pushing daisies /  I was 6 feet down, but something raised me up /  Sent back for to lift my curse /  Gonna get me a taste of some chaos first.ghostbook

Lord Huron started as a solo visual and musical project inspired by the adventure novels of George Ranger Johnson (b. 1946). The thing is, George Ranger Johnson doesn’t exist, except in the imaginings of Ben Schneider — and what a richly and meticulously imagined world it is.Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 12.03.09 PM

In the video for “Fool for Love,” our protagonist convinces a motorcycle gang to take on a musclehead who is his rival in love. In the ensuing bar brawl and chase scene, the characters run past a billboard that reads: “Feeling Lost? 1-800-774-1372.” Dial that number and you’ll enter a choose-your-own-adventure story.

The alternate reality created by Lord Huron is alluring because of the sense of disorientation that it fosters. If we take apart the word “sublime” and look at the root, limens — lintel, threshold — it becomes so very appropriate here. Lord Huron evokes the in-between territory of dreams and memories, dislocation and discovery. It’s a strange trail that you should follow.

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River Whyless: In mid-winter, music to thaw your soul

RW4Music 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 at Gypsy Sally's (Washington DC)
River Whyless at Gypsy Sally’s (Washington DC)

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.

Continue reading “River Whyless: In mid-winter, music to thaw your soul”