Posts tagged: folk

Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

By , May 28, 2013 12:00 pm


Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

Warp 2013

Rating: 9/10

The best time of my life was a summer in my teens. The house built for a family was for now just my dog and I and for a few weeks the only thing to worry about was getting to work and getting a tan. The heat was a furnace where the colors seemed at once sharper and more muted by a stillborn haze as thick as a blanket. Florida weather in the summertime is a wonderfully schizophrenic cycle that is nevertheless as predictable as mosquito bites: the mornings lurid and sweltering and the afternoons speckled by thunderstorms that would move in slowly and deceptively, then piss everything away for an hour or two and slouch out with the furtive backwards glance of a few squalls here and there as the sun set. I was in love, whether with the girl or the idea of it I never really figured out until much later, after it spoiled, but that summer was something special and deathless. I can remember the days by the few records I played over and over again, and that effortless recall is something I miss now, when I’m checking release schedules and streams and promotional singles and consuming, consuming, consuming. It’s the music that drags me back into nostalgia that stays with me the longest now, and either that’s just me getting old or getting cynical or both, but what I think it really is is just wanting to go back to a time when that old saw “soundtrack to your life” actually meant something. This is me diving into the pool every morning; that’s all stars and after-work cleanup; there’s the one from the backyard party, never again with the green apple Smirnoff. I’d like there to be a better reason for why I love Silver Wilkinson so much, but that’s really all there is to it – this is a record that doesn’t invite me back but pulls me along with it. It reminds me why I love summer (life).

Where 2011’s Mind Bokeh tried out its dancing shoes in a dozen different genres but never found one to go home with, Silver Wilkinson is a more streamlined yet enjoyably disparate record. It’s still difficult to classify Stephen Wilkinson’s work, but Silver Wilkinson and Bibio in general is less about genre spotting and more about the vibe, a corny way of saying listen to the goddamn tunes. That blurry mix of acoustic folk melodies and vaporous, analog synth work is still the trademark here, dreamy opener “The First Daffodils” as obvious an opening statement as you’ll see Bibio make. It’s a little bit Simon & Garfunkel and a little bit Boards of Canada, that eclecticism apparent in his influences and the song structures, which meander about on tendrils of glitchy keyboards and pastoral guitar, usually before returning to the sparse ambient beauty at the heart of all his work. There’s hints of the hip-hop lover in the choppy, thrusting “You” and it’s mood-perfect Commodores sample; of the pop culture curator on single “A Tout A L’Heure,” where retro synths rustle up against a psych-folk acoustic melody; of the experimentalist, on the shape-shifting “Look At Orion!,” which harkens back to Bibio’s earlier work before unleashing a far murkier electro beast. Even “Business Park,” the black sheep of the bunch, turns a ‘80s horror movie theme into something almost comforting by the end of its herky-jerky loops.

Mostly, though, I keep coming back to the moments, times when the space-age bedroom folk and clipped funk is just a vehicle to take me back where I want to go, when the somnolent beauty of “Dye the Water Green” decides to linger around the synths pooling around its melody or “Sycamore Silhouetting” kindly stretches out on the grass before getting up to groove to “You.” The ellipsis in “You Won’t Remember…” is almost superfluous on a track so beautifully, delicately pensive, the kind of faded photograph that is impossible to look at without bringing back a whole wealth of memories. “You won’t remember, but he wanted you,” Wilkinson sings on a track that is bare-bones Bibio, a lonely acoustic garnished with a faint brushstroke of a synth and an atmosphere that hangs heavy, foggy, enveloping without being oppressive. Like the rest of Silver Wilkinson, it reminds me of the past, the good and the bad, but that latter is strangely muted and the loss is not so much a dull ache but a familiar lesson: “This is you, more than you could know.” Whatever else I forget, at least Bibio was wrong on one point – the music I’ll always remember.

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Release date May 14, 2013.

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”

Andrew Bird – “Orpheo”

By , November 2, 2012 10:00 am

After March’s superb release Break It Yourself, one would have expected Chicago multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird to take it easy on the road for the remainder of the year, enjoying the success of the best album of his career. Instead, he just popped out another album, a so-called “companion piece” to Break It Yourself’s textured folk and fingerpicking goodness. Hands of Glory is more innately country, the rugged, sepia-tinged mirror image of Break It Yourself and one that is as effortlessly authentic as all of Bird’s discography. “Orpheo” is perhaps the best representation of Hands of Glory’s aim, a reworking of Break It Yourself’s majestic “Orpheo Looks Back” to a more rustic, contemplative acoustic shuffle. It’s lovely.

Andrew Bird – “Orpheo”

A Fine Frenzy – Sailingsong

By , October 17, 2012 10:00 am

Alison Sudol aka A Fine Frenzy has changed in her red locks for blonde ones, and with that comes a third album that is far more ambitious than anything the singer-songwriter has ever attempted. Pines is an imposing record, coming in at over an hour and ostensibly an overarching story where each song leads into the other, like “chapter[s] that lead into the next,” as Sudol herself described it. It also comes with a companion book and a short animated film, and although I don’t know how Pines works with those, I can confirm that the album lives up to its grand concept, more contemplative and folky than her previous works. Whether its the strong thematic threads or just a greater focus, Pines is definitely her most engaging work. “Sailingsong” is the catchiest thing here, a welcome up tempo burst that pops up optimistically at the midpoint of the record.

A Fine Frenzy – “Sailingsong”

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

By , October 16, 2012 10:00 am

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Matador 2012

Rating: 7/10

At this point, it’s hard for Carl Newman to defy the expectations automatically placed upon any album bearing his name. There are the two albums with Zumpano, a ‘90s power-pop outfit (see: Sloan, also of the Great White North, who did it better). The five eerily consistent albums with the New Pornographers, a Canadian power-pop “supergroup” who reasonably could only fall under that term if you were a fervent follower of obscure ‘90s indie acts or in tune with mildly popular transplanted alt-country singers. Now, with Shut Down the Streets, three albums of sparkling solo work, releases that tend to weigh heavily on the side of (surprise!) power-pop, while leaning ever so slightly towards the ‘70s singer-songwriter tropes that Newman has long worshipped and bolstered by a seemingly endless bag of hooks and melodies that would make Costello and McCartney proud. It’s perhaps a tragedy of the digital age that for over the course of all these songs Newman has cultivated a distinct identity that, in a different time, may have made him one of a generation’s truly great songsmiths; as it stands now, this consistency has nevertheless marked him as “that guy from the New Pornographers.” He is the straitlaced pop scholar to Dan Bejar’s schizophrenic genre outlaw, the driving engine behind the success of one of indie’s biggest millennial bands but never the kind to pull on any heartstrings, to really stand up and beg to be noticed. Shut Down the Streets is an album that longs to defeat that perception, to go onward into some brave new territory – hell, Newman seems to already be there on the album cover – but it can’t help but keep one foot in the past.

Easy signposts to point to for the album are the much-reported death of his mother and birth of his son, two seismic life events for any person, much less in such close proximity to each other and in the midst of that person recording an album. It’s easy because Newman has never been so heart-on-his-sleeve with his songwriting as he is here, holding forth on grief and newborn love with equal, unusual candor. The gradual triumphant swell that bubbles to the surface in album centerpiece “Strings” is far less deliberate than past major-key jubilations like Get Guilty’s “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve,” utilizing this album’s wider palette of sounds and instruments to a pronounced, organic effect. With it, the song’s understated chorus of “we’ve been waiting for you” is a heartbreakingly simple depiction of a father’s love rather than a bombastic, orchestrated declaration.

The album has a more bucolic tone than anything in Newman’s past work, a pastoral hue that calls to mind John Wesley Harding-era Bob Dylan and the work of New Pornos associate Neko Case (who is on board for some typically lovely harmonic contributions). Mixing elements of misty blue-eyed folk with his more typical baroque pop arrangements, that Americana edge that Newman has always tended so carefully yet shown so sparingly bears some pleasantly surprising fruit in tracks like “You Could Get Lost Out Here” and the rural jig of “The Troubadour.” Indeed, it’s the tracks that call to mind the past that tend to distract from the album’s overall feel. “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns” is a prototypical New Pornographers single, right down to that rollicking backbeat, clink-your-PBRs-together chorus and Case’s howling backing vocals, while “There’s Money in New Wave” is just the kind of carefully enunciated twee ballad Newman can’t help but writing at least once an album. At other times, the album’s distinct style detracts from the song’s themselves: the woodwind that skips about merrily introducing “Hostages” is one such example, gone as abruptly as it is introduced until a brief reemergence in the second half, an outsized distraction in an otherwise unremarkable pop-rock tune.

While decidedly uneven and lacking in the sheer number of hooks a regular dose of Newman provides, Shut Down the Streets does have two of the best songs of his long career in opener “I’m Not Talking” and closer “They Should Have Shut Down the Streets.” The former is a master class in songwriting, something that sounds like it was lifted wholesale from some glen in the ‘60s, and the subtle percussion and even the damn woodwind build to something truly magical, that affecting assurance, “No, I’ve never been close, but I’ve never been far away.” The latter is a slow burning recollection of his mother’s death, as quiet and contemplative as “I’m Not Talking” is soaring and rhapsodic. Both are fundamentally melancholy but at opposite ends of the spectrum in tone and the feelings they engender. With two bookends like these, it’s perhaps too easy to write off everything in between as not up to snuff, and while that may be unfair, it’s also inevitable – it’s these scattered moments of brilliance that make everything else seem so inconsequential. Shut Down the Streets is no doubt a flawed record, but the more I listen to it the more I see not just A.C. Newman the preternaturally gifted power-pop auteur in its failures and its successes but also Carl Newman the person, more relatable than he has ever been before.

A.C. Newman may best be known as the leader of The New Pornographers, but he has also made much-loved solo albums. These show a more personal and intimate side to Carl's songwriting, and on Shut Down The Streets, recorded in Woodstock in Upstate New York, he is joined by longtime colleague Neko Case to make one of his most gorgeous, wide-ranging records yet.
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A.C. Newman – Strings

By , October 9, 2012 10:00 am

My favorite ginger is releasing his third solo album today, entitled Shut Down the Streets on Matador Records. A.C. Newman has always been the driving force behind the New Pornographers‘, the more straitlaced pop scholar to Dan Bejar’s crazy, off-kilter firebrand, and his solo work has always polished those pop instincts, oftentimes more contemplative and bucolic than his work with the New Pornos. Shut Down the Streets is probably his most mellow work yet, working in a wider palette of sounds and instruments than usual and keeping things at a steady, pastoral midtempo for much of the record. “Strings” is a perfect example, weaving slowly up through that plucked melody and booming percussion and some always welcome harmonies from fellow New Porno Neko Case, all accompanying a melody that keeps rising to a fulfilling, horn-drenched apex.

A.C. Newman – “Strings”

Taken By Trees – Highest High

By , September 20, 2012 10:00 am

From east to west – Swedish songwriter Victoria Bergsman aka Taken By Trees has had a hankering for international travels the past few years which resulted in 2009′s lovely, underrated East of Eden. That enchanting album took Eastern music (particularly Pakistani) and welded it to Bergsman’s twee, melodically airtight indie-pop. New album (and third under this moniker) Other Worlds continues the trend, this time inspired from Bergsman’s trip to Hawaii. The album is more clearly in the pop arena than East of Eden was; Bergsman’s talents as seen with Peter Bjorn & John and her time as frontwoman of the Concretes have clearly not deserted her. The island elements are omnipresent, though, although here it is less directly implicated in the instruments and tones than East of Eden. As the album’s press release says, it’s less a representation of the state’s music and more an evocation of “sandy toes, hidden waterfalls, the dreams you have after a long day at the beach.” “Highest High” is a good taste of what you’re going to get from Other Worlds, and it sounds about right.

Taken By Trees – “Highest High”

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”

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

By , September 12, 2012 10:00 am

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

Secretly Canadian 2012

Rating: 8/10

I’m probably not quite with it to give Jens Lekman his dues, and for that I thank you, future run-ins with spellchecker, but anyway: of love songs, Lekman pointed I Know What Love Isn’t to break-ups, and speaking to Pitchfork claimed that a record centred around one is made by accepting, hand in hand with its listener, the pain of it all. Up until now, this is hardly the man we’ve known; the You’re So Silent Jens laughed, played maudlin piano trilogies about Rocky Dennis, and then dedicated retro dance songs to himself; the love-song aspect was there, but driving backseat to the witticisms and showy moments. Until now, Lekman has been the perfect performer and the ideal entertainer, to the point where he even pronounced “father” as “fadduh,” as if he was bringing up Camp Granada’s easy-humour on the indie spectrum. What makes I Know What Love Isn’t feel different is that the laughs reveal the romantic twangs a little after, like the joke that dies out to sad sighs; instead of standing by his Stephin Merritt, eye-rolling shtick, Lekman has made an album of sad love prophecies, focusing on the story of two people rather than the remarks of one. “The World Moves On,” his six minute dance anthem- given all its fun rock conventions- isn’t all that fun when you realise it’s genuinely about the world moving on.

What strikes boldest, then, is that there’s nothing particularly weird about Lekman’s music when it’s at its sincerest; these songs are those of a storyteller truly documenting, as well as he can, what has happened; “I Know What Love Isn’t,” the fullest, most conventional Lekman song to date, is based on his experiences of almost proposing to his friend for citizenship and completely non-romantic ideals. And it sums up exactly what I Know What Love Isn’t- I’m talking album, here- amounts to; the serious perspective of Lekman channelled, as per usual, through funny conversations (“do you wanna go see a band? / no I hate bands, it’s always full of men spooning their girlfriends?”) and musical arrangements that sound as funny. Here comes the flute solo! And so Lekman continues to borrow from his own long tradition- that it’s easy to laugh a problem off- but on what he considers to be his first real “album,” he also decides to examine it.

I Know What Love Isn’t is focused on what’s quixotic in the process of elimination- what makes Lekman tick, at this point, is writing big, romantic arrangements and having lines that demarcate: “let’s get married for the citizenship / I’ve always liked the idea of a relationship that doesn’t lie about it’s intentions,” he sings on the title track while it flourishes- the bravado of guitar smacking around verses and choruses, the violin swells and, yes, the flute solos, all celebrating little more than Lekman’s rational peace of mind. Or maybe I Know What Love Isn’t mourns the death of Jens Lekman the romanticist? Apparently, it’s the exact same guy, but using the same tools- marriage, violin swells- as sombre facts of life.

The album is the result of its own thought process, and ultimately becomes the most revealing thing Lekman has written, even if it is his most succinct record. Lines seem less about the big laugh, even in similar arrangements- “Erica America,” for instance, feels sad more than anything, and so a quiet line like “Sinatra had his shit figured out, I guess” is genuinely a quiet line. That’s something- I Know What Love Isn’t doesn’t try to be funny, because at times it really isn’t (a line from the same song: “Erica America, I wish I’d never met you / like I wish I’d never tasted this cheap wine”), and because, ultimately, the album isn’t constructed that way. Lekman isn’t necessarily an entertainer here: he’s a man of music blooming in corners, with the littlest of piano performances on “Become Someone Else’s” or an honest-to-god singer-songwriter acoustic song elsewhere on “I Want a Pair of Cowboy’s Boots.” You can say what you want- it’s the same old Lekman, but only ten songs- but I know different.

And ultimately, a lot of I Know What Love Isn’t is flawed. “The End Of The World is Bigger Than Love” can be dull, and a slight feint at that; it suggests that the end of the world even factors in to Lekman’s mind on album entirely dedicated to love and the loss of love. “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” is a conversation first and a song later, so dedicated is it to Lekman’s newfound love of craft. But there’s something in this clunky, structural record that suggests a musician uncaring of where his career peak was or what even defines him anymore. At some point, there’s a musician writing what he believes to be an honest, appropriate break-up album. One that sticks with you quite morosely, that doesn’t look for the upside, particularly, but doesn’t shy away from the serious hilarity of the woman who doesn’t want to be with you but doesn’t actually have anyone else in mind. By peeling away all of love’s non-events, I Know What Love Isn’t is a tragicomedy, not particularly in one mind about what it is, but knowing it’s sort of awful. And so I’m probably in no state to understand Lekman’s album, and probably in the perfect state to overrate it, but as a conventional rock record, and an attempt at the immaculate indie Lekman has been striving to make, this feels right for him: finally, a record he made even in sad and happy. Sinatra may have had his shit worked out, but Jens doesn’t. Or, maybe that, again, is the point. He does, and it turns out his shit isn’t at all romantic.

The album came out of a break up which isn't a new story. He fell in love and it didn't work out. It borrows sparingly from the vast and colorful palette of sounds he created on Kortedala. I Know What Love Isn't has strings but not a string section, an upright piano not grand, a single saxophone, gracenotes from a flute, a lot of tambourine. Combined in exact proportions with Lekman's melancholy abstract lyrics, the songs evoke the classic sound of the Brill Building in it's heyday.
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The Helio Sequence – Negotiations

By , September 11, 2012 10:00 am

The Helio Sequence – Negotiations

Sub Pop 2012

Rating: 6/10

The Helio Sequence would no doubt say creativity makes for a fine crucible; few bands have had such bad (yet strangely fortuitous) luck in the course of their career since they debuted with 2000’s dreamy, ambient Com Plex. Yet it’s just that difficult road that led to the Portland two piece’s artistic high water mark, 2008’s lovely, deceptively anguished Keep Your Eyes Ahead. It was recorded mere months after vocalist Brandon Summers tore up his vocal cords and had to re-learn how to sing, leading the band onto the more organic folk route Negotiations now broadens into a wide open expanse. Negotiations comes with a bit of an expected delay: the duo’s practice area/studio was lost to a flood while they were on tour, forcing the band to relocate to a vacant industrial warehouse to record. The unfamiliar surroundings pop up in the minor chord anxiety and haunting atmospherics that permeate every corner of Negotiations, a record that drowns in its own reverb as often as it coasts along top of it, bubbling here and there with Benjamin Weikel’s pounding drumset.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead found solace in the black-and-blue rasp of Summers’ sympathetic voice and those wonderfully ambivalent guitar lines, meandering among layers of fuzz and effects but wounding so tightly through each song’s melodies. Negotiations spreads itself out a bit more, a likely result of the band’s reported decision to write each song as a sketch and then build around it. First single “October” wraps itself up around a hypnotically repetitive chorus and a crashing drum pattern, Summers’ rumpled voice warning “so you go where you wanna be / they say it will set you free / you know it’s never so.” “The Downward Spiral” takes things in the opposite direction, spinning along a descending scale and a disquieting pallor hanging over everything, making a song that sounds so open feel so claustrophobic. Space is a major component to everything here; for just two guys, the Helio Sequence make a serious amount of navel-gazing noise, simultaneously spilling over the speakers while sounding hushed, fragile. A lot of this has to do with Summers’ plaintive, wistful emoting contrasting so nicely with Weikel’s titanic drumming, which makes every tom sound like a thudding heartbeat, every crash a crystalline warning (see: the wonderful tension in album centerpiece “Open Letter”). Liberal synths and swells of bass fill up the edges nicely, turning every song here into something to get lost in, a mid-tempo paean to studio layering.

That is, unfortunately, the album’s curse as well as it’s gift. Those few tracks where Summers and Weikel take a step out of their comfort zone are just where you realize how numbing everything else becomes over the course of eleven songs. The mostly improvised “Harvester of Souls” is a heartbreaking folk exercise, the rumor of an acoustic finding its way through a morose fog of effects hanging loosely over Summers’ ghostly, broken vocals. It’s a wonderful callback to the more solemn parts of Keep Your Eyes Ahead, and while Negotiations does a wonderful job maintaining that record’s overarching feel, it too often gets lost in its own rote role, the waves and mounds of reverb blurring melodies together into one big cloud bank. When a spot of sunlight does filters through, as on the triumphant “When The Shadows Fall” or the quickened pace of “Hall of Mirrors,” it’s a revelation, seemingly the work of an entirely different band. The synth work on “Silence on Silence” is nice, the gradually soaring climax in “The Measure” is appropriately bombastic, but as a whole Negotiations does little to distinguish the individual songs from the album’s greater artistic statement. This, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would be nice to see the Helio Sequence be a little less ethereal and a little more intimate the next time around. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another biblical calamity to get there.

Negotiations is the fifth full-length album written, recorded, and produced by Portland-based band The Helio Sequence. Negotiations grew out of improvisations and abstract sketches influenced by minimalist ambience, and tempered by singer-guitarist Brandon Summers's and drummer-keyboardist Benjamin Weikel's meticulous attention to production and arrangement. This collection of shimmering, reverb-heavy songs is a meditation on those inner dialogues (hence, Negotiations) with solitude, memory, misgivings, loss, atonement, acceptance and hope.
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Dirty Projectors – Impregnable Question

By , July 17, 2012 10:00 am

I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of Brooklyn-based indie weirdos Dirty Projectors, even after 2009′s critically acclaimed Bitte Orca brought David Longstreth’s group out of relative obscurity. Their newest release (and sixth studio album) Swing Lo Magellan pars down some of their more frustrating tendencies and, as a result, is probably my favorite record from them. It’s faint praise, as I feel that the group still has a tendency to let their more out-of-left-field impulses dominate their music to an unhealthy degree, leaving things unfocused and inconsistent. “Impregnable Question,” however, is simply gorgeous, a folky, retro ballad that is lovely in its simplicity – it almost sounds like something Peter Bjorn & John would release.

Dirty Projectors – “Impregnable Question”

On Dirty Projectors sixth album, Swing Lo Magellan, songwriter and leader David Longstreth shows he really doesn't know how to do the same thing twice. Where prior Dirty Projectors albums investigated 20th-century orchestration, west African guitar music and complex contrapuntal techniques in human voices, Swing Lo Magellan is a leap forward again. It's an album of songs, an album of songwriting. Swing Lo Magellan has both the handmade intimacy of a love letter and the widescreen grandeur of a blockbuster, and if that sounds like a paradox -- it's because it was until now.
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