Posts tagged: Americana

Widowspeak – Almanac

By , February 12, 2013 12:00 pm


Widowspeak – Almanac

Captured Tracks 2013

Rating: 8/10

Widowspeak specializes in a sort of burnt-hued Americana, a nostalgic blend of singer Molly Hamilton’s ethereal heroin-chic aesthetic and the dusty, widescreen guitar-rock courtesy of bandmate Robert Earl Thomas she delicately navigates. For two people, Widowspeak makes an awful lot of noise: guitars whip-cracking smartly along skeletal melodic lines, robust, rattling percussion, a cloud of reverb that seems to have been transplanted straight from Jim James’ silo. Their old homes in Washington never seem too far away, licks and harmonics obscured by the damp and the foggy, a sense of green filling everything up with crackling vitality. It’s curiously obscured provincial music, whether that’s by Hamilton’s melancholy vocals, always seeming to sigh along rather than push forward, or Thomas’s hazy instrumental work, muscular riffs, dyed-in-the-wool rock and chunky blues filtered through a Jesus and Mary Chain-worthy level of fuzz. “I’m afraid that nothing lasts, nothing lasts long enough,” Hamilton moans on opener “Perennials,” a song that belies that sentiment with buildup that seems to revel in its own deathless sounds, the hints of Fleetwood Mac and that thunderous roar that Thomas builds up carefully, cacophonously. Almanac is a more appropriate title than it first appears.

The classic rock influence is more obvious on certain tracks – “Dyed in the Wool,” “The Dark Age,” and “Devil’s Know” all revolve around particularly striking riffs, bluesy and appropriately country-fried – but where Almanac distinguishes Widowspeak not only from its influences but from its own fairly rote past is how it comes across as uncommonly of its own time. Not 2013, really, but something lost and remembered, like how the sinister accordion and echoed halls of “Thick as Thieves” may have you relieving an old Ray Bradbury story. It’s a unique feeling that is achieved through how authentic everything sounds – that aforementioned accordion, the AM fade of campfire sing-along “Minnewaska,” the paranoid psychedelic dissonance and threatening Deerhunter-esque hum of “Storm King” – as well as how Widowspeak distinguishes itself with the attention to detail, to mood and tone, to managing a sound so beautifully out of focus as Almanac is. It’s a wonderful trick that culminates in album centerpiece “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” a runaway train of a track that escalates from an insistent acoustic strum into a watercolor of intertwining steel guitar and Hamilton’s wistful vocals. It’s a lovely, urgent representation of rustic Americana before the chorus, which then proceeds to turn that deceptive guitar motif into something dark and dangerous and desperately urgent, transforming Hamilton’s smoky declaration of “we can never, stay forever” from a lovesick entreaty to a forlorn warning. It’s a song that has its tracks in many different eras and sounds, each as timeless as the next, but never fails to leave an impact that is indelibly its own. Widowspeak’s greatest accomplishment is maintaining that same sense of simmering, uncertain wonder over the course of one wonderfully blurry album.

Widowspeak is an American band comprised of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, known for its dreamy, western-tinged take on rock and roll. Their self-titled debut was praised for its reverential spaciousness, Hamilton's haunting voice, and Thomas's sinister Morricone-esque guitar lines. On their second album, Almanac, the duo explores denser arrangements and new sonic territory, from Saharan rhythms to Appalachian-inspired melodies, all delivered with stoic, wistful restraint.
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Two Gallants – Ride Away

By , November 8, 2012 10:00 am

San Francisco lo-fi duo Two Gallants have been cruising along just fine with their brand of punk-tinged folk-rock, releasing three excellent albums on indie mainstay Saddle Creek before relocating to ATO Records for album number 4, the recently-released The Bloom and the Blight. A track like “Ride Away” is a fine example of the pair’s overall aesthetic, running Adam Stephen’s guitar ragged and highlighting his throaty, powerful vocals and Tyson Vogel’s pounding drums. The apocalyptic imagery and general dusty, campfire tone imbue everything here, planting Two Gallants and The Bloom and the Blight firmly in Americana territory with an outlaw bite. 

Two Gallants – “Ride Away”

Band of Horses – Knock Knock

By , September 19, 2012 10:00 am

South Carolina by-way-of Seattle indie rockers Band of Horses released their fourth album yesterday on Columbia. Mirage Rock is a continuation of the more alt-country the band hinted at on 2010′s Infinite Arms (which I liked more than most). While I appreciate the twangier tendencies settling themselves into the band’s work, Mirage Rock doesn’t have the same kind of tautness, or songwriting discipline that made Infinite Arms so good. Things seem much looser and many of the songs may delve perhaps a bit too deeply into alt-country for some old fans (the influence of lead guitarist and folk singer-songwriter Tyler Ramsey is definitely growing). On “Knock Knock,” though, old Band of Horses is still very much in evidence, grooving along to a vintage melody and Ben Bridwell’s typically smooth vocals.

Band of Horses – “Knock Knock”

The Gaslight Anthem – Too Much Blood

By , July 30, 2012 10:00 am

New Jersey punk band/Bruce Springsteen worshippers (contractually obligated to refer to the Boss re: the Gaslight Anthem) just released their fourth album, Handwritten, last week. That classic bar band attitude is still well in evidence here, but it’s tinged with stronger, more confident songwriting than 2010′s lackluster American Slang. An anthem like album centerpiece “Too Much Blood” would have fit nicely on high-water mark The ’59 Sound, and frontman Brian Fallon has rarely sounded so good, so in control as he does throughout most of this album. RIYL: America.

The Gaslight Anthem – “Too Much Blood”

HANDWRITTEN, The Gaslight Anthem s first album on Mercury Records, was produced by two-time Grammy Award winner Brendan O Brien, known for his work with Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Incubus, and many others. Prior to HANDWRITTEN, The Gaslight Anthem released three full-length indie albums to date, Sink Or Swim, The 59 Sound and American Slang. With tons of critical raves, The Gaslight Anthem has won strong and loyal followings across the U.S., Japan, and especially in the UK. In the U.S., hundreds of thousands of festival goers have seen The Gaslight Anthem on the stages of Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella.
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Jack White – Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy

By , April 18, 2012 10:00 am

The much anticipated debut solo album from prolific auteur Jack White (the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, countless production credits…you get the idea) is now streaming via the iTunes store. Blunderbuss, officially out April 24, is arguably as good as advertised; just the kind of diverse, genre-hopping rock music White has made his name in, with firm roots in the blues and his distinctive guitar playing. “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” is a bit of an out-of-left-field surprise, all jangling pianos and one of the poppier melodies White has committed to record – in a way, it reminds me of the work of his partner in the Raconteurs, Brendan Benson (who has a new album coming out as well!).

Jack White – “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”

Produced by Jack White and recorded at his own Third Man Studio in Nashville, Blunderbuss has been described by White as "an album I couldn't have released until now. I've put off making records under my own name for a long time but these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs were written from scratch, had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colors on my own canvas."
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PAPA – Ain’t It So

By , March 14, 2012 10:00 am

My affinity for drummer-vocalists knows no genre bounds (see: Death from Above 1979, Telekinesis, et al), so when I recently saw Los Angeles natives PAPA provide a killer opening set for the Handsome Furs, I was immediately drawn in by Darren Weiss‘ stellar double-duty work as both drummer and singer. It helps that the band plays killer roots rock firmly rooted in Weiss’ soulful vox and a golden ear for melody, as this highlight from their A Good Woman Is Hard To Find EP demonstrates. Americana fans, check it out immediately.

PAPA – “Ain’t It So”

Delta Spirit – Empty House

By , March 13, 2012 10:00 am

One of my favorite Americana bands of the past few years, San Diego natives Delta Spirit are releasing their third album today on Rounder Records. The self-titled album brings a more exploratory sound to the band’s dyed-in-the-woold rock traditionalism, but the focus remains, as always, on singer Matthew Vasquez’s distinctive croon. “Empty House” is vintage Delta Spirit, opening up the record with a galloping beat and a confident performance by Vasquez.

Delta Spirit – “Empty House”

2012 release, the third album from the San Diego-based band. When it came time to record this album, the band members knew one thing: It was time to shake off the stylistic labels that have shadowed them since they formed in San Diego, CA, in 2005. The band were perplexed at being called rootsy Americana or twangy folk. In their eyes, Delta Spirit has always been a thoroughly modern rock band, and, with their self-titled new album, they set out to prove it. This project finds the quintet firing on all cylinders -- road-tested and armed with the breakthrough album of their career. Years of non-stop touring has been distilled into a sound this band can truly call their own, and with the help of producer Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), tracks like the lead single, California, and the infectious Otherside will help to bring Delta Spirit the wider audience they so clearly deserve.
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Andrew Bird – Danse Carribe

By , March 6, 2012 10:00 am

It’s usually easy for me to pick one song from a new album – highlight the obvious standout, pick one with the innately catchy melody, choose something that means something to me, etc. – so it says something when, after listening to Andrew Bird’s seventh proper solo album (tenth altogether) Break It Yourself, the only thing I wanted to post was all fourteen tracks. The good part about this problem is I could have picked any song at random and it would have been a fine representation of Bird’s Americana-tinged, baroque folk approach. Seriously, if you like what you hear, do yourself a favor and buy the whole of Break It Yourself, which comes out today. “Hole In The Ocean Floor” would have been the optimal choice, but the eight-minute-plus song length doesn’t really do itself any favors in a blog format. “Danse Carribe,” with its violin breakdown and pastoral melody, is about as good a snapshot as any of what Bird does so well.

Andrew Bird – “Danse Carribe”

2012 release, the sixth album from the Chicago-based singer/songwriter. Break It Yourself is the follow-up to his critically successful albums Noble Beast and Armchair Apocrypha. Features the single 'Eyeoneye'.
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Wilco – The Whole Love

By , September 29, 2011 10:00 am

Wilco – The Whole Love

ANTI 2011

Rating: 9/10

It would have been so easy for Wilco to just fade away. No one would have begrudged them any; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot still engenders enough goodwill in the music community ten years after its release that if Jeff Tweedy decided to spend the rest of his years writing paeans to fatherhood and singing sweet, insubstantial love songs with Feist, everyone would simply nod their heads and go along with it. But what Wilco has always done best is growth, from Being There’s epic expansion of classic Americana to the unapologetic power pop of Summerteeth to A Ghost Is Born’s startling abrasive rock classicism. Through it all the constant was Tweedy, suffering through a recurring painkiller medication and the woes of growing old, his biting lyricism continually well tempered with fine melodies culled from the best folk tradition, from Cash to Young to Bragg. That’s why it was so weird to see the band settle into such a droll tedium starting with 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, like the band had decided writing about midlife crises wasn’t enough and that maybe they should start living one as well. Wilco (The Album) showed that all the cries of putting this aging band out to pasture were a bit premature, but even that album was more a celebration of past successes, a victory lap of the things Wilco did best, like their updated “Via Chicago” rendition in “Bull Black Nova.” It was all well and good, but for a band as continually predicated on evolution as Wilco, it now feels depressingly stagnant.

As a first single, “I Might” was disturbingly coy; for all the lyrics about parental discord and setting children on fire, it was fairly rote late-period Wilco. That is to say, boring and not particularly memorable. In the context of The Whole Love, however, it’s one hell of a red herring. It’s the most conventional song on here, an old-fashioned rock ‘n roll respite cleverly placed after the delightfully unconventional opener “Art of Almost.” That is the song that sets out the mission statement of The Whole Love – an unassumingly complicated drumbeat propelling a foggy atmosphere of discordant electronics and haunting strings, Tweedy himself practically a ghost in the background, all the elements swirling around each other without falling apart. It’s a harkening back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot territory, at least until Nels Cline rips in with a guitar solo that stretches the song to nearly seven and a half minutes and serves notice that this is not the same Wilco that made that seminal 2001 release. It’s the biggest mark Cline has made since joining the band, and the only tragedy is it’s taken them three albums to finally realize this incarnation of Wilco’s potential.

It’s hard to pinpoint just what The Whole Love does best. There’s hints of Summerteeth-esque pop bliss on crunchy guitar numbers like “Dawned On Me,” where Tweedy’s charmingly imperfect voice gives the chorus all the pizazz it needs. The countrified ballad “Open Mind” finds Tweedy at his most confessional, the campfire vibe recalling Uncle Tupelo and the lyrics Tweedy’s most unashamedly direct. “Capitol City” is a bit more ill advised, a disposable little vaudeville exercise that sounds like a Beatles outtake circa Sgt. Pepper’s, but what still captivates is just how damn well crafted it is. Mikael Jorgensen’s jaunty keyboard, Cline’s lilting pedal steel, Glenn Kotche’s waste-not/want-not drumming (the man is brilliant in giving even the wispiest rhythm a very real substance and gravity): it’s all greater than the sum of its parts. That is perhaps the enduring lesson of The Whole Love; for all of Tweedy’s evocative songwriting and pained, autobiographical stories, Wilco is a band, first and foremost. More so than perhaps any other album in Wilco’s catalog, The Whole Love succeeds because the band isn’t evolving exponentially or diving headfirst into musical waters unknown. For all its weirdness, “Art of Almost” isn’t exactly indicative of what’s to come, per se. It’s how the band members interact on “Art of Almost” and “Capitol City” and the deceptively simple title track that makes The Whole Love such an improvement over lackluster previous outings. There’s so much going on here that even the most straightforward of tracks has a subversive flair about them that an initial listen might not catch. The buzz saw lower-end distortion in the otherwise sunny “I Might” and the understated bass rhythm from “Rising Red Lung” are just two examples, and the fact that they both involve John Stirratt is no coincidence – he is the unsung hero of The Whole Love. But it’s more than any one man’s contribution, more than Tweedy’s forlorn vocals, more than Cline’s elegant guitar licks, more than Kotche’s economical drumming. It’s Wilco the whole band, a unification of talents so seamless you wonder why every Wilco album doesn’t come out so brilliantly (and so effortlessly) put together.

Perhaps nothing encapsulates what makes Wilco such a special band at this stage of their career than closer “One Sunday Morning (A Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend).” It’s not a song that reinvents the wheel; stylistically it would feel just as home on 1995 debut A.M. as it does here. It picks a destination and it sets out for it, riding the back of an irresistibly simple fingerpicked motif and a syncopated hi-hat. “This is how I’ll tell it / Oh, but it’s long,” Tweedy sings, and he isn’t kidding; at just a hair over twelve minutes, it’s one of the longest in Wilco’s catalog. But it never feels that way, despite the song’s unerring consistency. Embellished by strings and piano, it stays its course and gradually dissipates over a long outro, but the experience is timeless. For twelve minutes Wilco isn’t some institutional rock group, testing the outer boundaries of pop and creating something new and exciting. This is a song in the great American tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, painting a picture of old dust roads and melancholy sunsets, Tweedy bemoaning at the end “bless my mind, I miss being told how to love / what I learned without knowing / how much more I owe than I can give.” It’s a celebration of the art of storytelling, a tradition and a template that Wilco have always been deeply indebted to. That’s what The Whole Love is all about, telling a story and sticking to it, crafting a mix of sound and lyrics that best symbolizes the music that beats under American highways and floats around American campfires. Wilco have had their peaks and valleys, but they have never sounded as confident as they do on The Whole Love. For a band with eight studio albums and coming up on eighteen years running, I can’t think of anything more impressive.

Wilco – “Whole Love”

Mister Heavenly – Bronx Sniper

By , September 14, 2011 10:00 am

“Supergroup” might be a bit of a misnomer, but Mister Heavenly does have an impressive pedigree – Nick Diamonds (Islands, the Unicorns), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, the Shins) and Honus Honus (Man Man) teaming up to lay down an album of what they call “doom wop” sounds pretty cool. And unlike so many vanity projects, Mister Heavenly actually works, a fascinating twisting of indie rock into R&B-inflected pop shades. Out of Love was released this past August – check it out ASAP

Mister Heavenly – “Bronx Sniper”

The War on Drugs – Baby Missiles

By , August 23, 2011 10:00 am

If you haven’t yet read Robin Smith’s review of the fantastic new The War on Drugs record, do yourself a favor and check it out here. It’s truly one of the best records of the year, particularly if you like Americana and Bob Dylan-esque vocals (think bands like the National, Bruce Springsteen, Eels).

The War on Drugs – “Baby Missiles”

Fruit Bats – You’re Too Weird

By , August 8, 2011 12:00 pm

Eric Johnson’s perpetually underrated and under-the-radar orchestral rock group Fruit Bats released their fifth album Tripper last week on Sub Pop, and I gotta say every release finds the band capitalizing on their strengths, namely Johnson’s stellar songwriting and the group’s relaxed vibe. “You’re Too Weird” is just one fantastic example, but the rest of the album is golden as well. RIYL the Shins, the Apples in Stereo, Built to Spill.

Fruit Bats – “You’re Too Weird”

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