Tag Archives: indie folk-rock

Fun of the Pier’s Debut “14:42” a Fun Listen — with Some Insights As Well

5 Sep

Fun of the Pier is a refreshingly different indie band from Nottingham in the U.K. The trio features Helen Luker on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar; Mark Luker on bass guitar, bass ukulele and wry observations; and Richard Snow Hattersley on guitar, vocal harmonies and all things technical.

Fun of the Pier’s debut album, 14:42, can best be described as jangle pop or Brit pop, with a leaning toward clean, crisp acoustic arrangements.

The songs’ subjects range from a musician’s lament (echoed by many music fans, myself included) about why people pay to go to a show — only to chit-chat and laugh with their friends through the entire set…..to esoteric observations about the time-space continuum, built around a comment that Mark once made, “In the past, it would have been the future, because it’s now.”

The point is: while your first impression of these tunes might be that they’re nice little musical ditties to nod your head to — there’s a depth of content for your brain to ponder as well. It’s jangle pop for thoughtful listeners — a lot like the music of local Bay Area band, The Corner Laughers, from which Karla Kane and Khoi Huynh provided guest vocals and ukulele accompaniment on one of 14:42’s tunes. In fact, Helen, Mark, Karla and Khoi are touring Northern California together for the next several weeks — catch them if you can! — and will play a number of shows in the UK and Germany next month.

Track highlights: 14:42 starts with “Inconsiderate,” a jangly Brit pop number with a 1960s British invasion vibe and a bouncy tempo. It’s such a happy tune that it’s easy to miss the biting commentary about certain elements of the club crowd. “Why do you do it?/What is the point?/Talk all through it/And roll your joint/Why don’t you go home?/Take your mates with you/And leave the rest of us/To enjoy a better view.”

“Lost and Lazy” is a gentle acoustic folk song with sweet lead vocals about the need for good friends in life. “Cavern Song” is bright and up-tempo with an energetic bass line, guitar and tambourine taps and shakes for rhythm. It’s short and fun with more wry observations about doing live shows.

“Stumble” is also happy and strummy, with a toe-tapping beat. “Summer Song” is one of my favorites — with a noisy start that leads into a dynamic arrangement that to me had a Moody Blues sensibility with rich harmonies, tambourine shakes and a keyboard part that sounds like a flute. There’s also a cool synthesizer lead break.

14:42 ends with a pensive closer, “I Love This Life (She Said).” It features a strummed guitar, shimmering synths and bells, plus delicate vocals about trying to find one’s way in life.

By the way, the 14:42 title Fun of the Pier chose for the album was due to the clock in the attic where they recorded always being stuck on 14:42.

Now you can impress your friends — not only with how you discovered this little-known, but excellent UK band, but also where the title of the album came from!

 

Advertisements

Mac DeMarco Delivers His Best Work Yet on “This Old Dog”

13 Jul

Mac DeMarco is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has lived in a number of different cities including Alberta, Vancouver and Montreal — the latter in which he began his career as a solo artist. He released his first album, 2, in 2012, and followed that with Salad Days before his current release, This Old Dog.

His music has been called “slacker rock,” a pretty decent description of his usual laid-back, breezy style with self-aware and frequently personal lyrics.

However, DeMarco is anything but a slacker. This Old Dog is a 13-song set on which DeMarco wrote and arranged the songs, played every instrument, sang the vocals, produced, and engineered every track. Musically, there’s a lot of strummed guitar and simple rhythms that are created with anything from a bongo or woodblock to an electronic drum kit.

Known for his outrageous sense of humor in his shows and interviews, in This Old Dog DeMarco has delivered a very professional, compelling album.

Track highlights: The album opens with “My Old Man,” a catchy, yet disarming, tune featuring a strummy guitar over a gentle drum machine track. The lyrics are intimate, commenting on how much DeMarco increasingly sees his father (whom he doesn’t have the greatest relationship with) in himself.

“Baby You’re Out,” is a bouncy and sunny folk number with a hint of Matt Nathanson.

The fifth track, “One Another,” is jangly with an easy skipping rhythm and a breezy chorus. On the lengthy “Moonlight on the River,” DeMarco transitions from a laid-back airy melody into jarring psychedelic effects after reflecting, “I’m home, with moonlight on the river/Saying my goodbyes/I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river/Everybody dies.”

On the final track, “Watching Him Fade Away,” DeMarco deftly sings a measured ballad a la Paul McCartney over a muted, processed keyboard of some sort.

Overall, This Old Dog is a very creative, intriguing album from a solid young talent.

 

Wesley Stace or John Wesley Harding — Either Way, New Album Is Fine Folk-Rock

24 May

UK-born Wesley Stace has released approximately 20 albums and a handful of EPs since the late 1980s. For much of that time he recorded as John Wesley Harding, a stage name taken from Bob Dylan’s 1967 album of the same name.

Today, Stace has also become a successful novelist using his given name. As a result, he has released several albums under the Wesley Stace name as well.

Which brings us to his latest release, which he calls, Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding. That’s the actual title. While it’s certainly a mouthful, it sounds like Stace wants to make sure that both long-time and new fans know that it’s his album. As well they should, because it’s quite nice.

Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding varies from folk to gentle rock with a touch of Americana or alt-country. Stace is backed throughout by an alt-country band from Minneapolis — the Jayhawks. Together, Stace and the Jayhawks offer a lot of catchy melodies and comfortable arrangements with a 70s mellow-rock vibe — to support Stace’s sharp, well-turned lyrics.

Track highlights: The second tune on the album, “You’re a Song,” is gentle, Americana-flavored folk-rock. It features a strummed acoustic guitar, player piano, a toe-tapping beat, and jangly guitar — with a bit of pedal steel in the background.

“Track 3, “Better Tell No One Your Dreams,” is more of a rock number with fuzzy guitars, piano and a simple backbeat.

The fifth track had me thinking Stace must be a fan of Big Star, a somewhat obscure rock group from the 1970s that recorded on the Stax label. The crunchy guitars on the song were almost identical to the sound that Big Star favored.

The ninth song veers more toward alt-country, with warm lead and backing vocals, and again, a “crying” pedal steel guitar in the distance.

The album wraps with, “Let’s Evaporate.” One of the official audio tracks released to support the album, it’s up-tempo rock with a plinking piano and “oooh-oooh” harmonies accompanying Stace’s lead vocals.

If you enjoy folk-rock with bit of a throwback sound, you’ll like Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding.

 

Henry Jamison Debuts with Little-Known, but Highly Worthy EP

29 Mar

Think of it as an appetizer — a tasty treat designed to tickle your ear lobes, as you wait for the satisfying main course to come, most likely later in 2017.

Henry Jamison is a young singer-songwriter based in Burlington, Vermont. His father, a classical composer, introduced Henry to music when he bought him his first guitar. He was on his own to learn how to play it, but it soon became clear that Jamison had a true gift, and his talents are on full display on his debut EP, The Rains.

Jamison’s style is what I’d call alternative folk-pop. It’s not your classic folk of the 1960s and 1970s, and definitely not freak folk. The songs are warm and melodic, featuring Jamison’s rich tenor, guitar and/or banjo, but also synth soundscapes and even some noise on a few tracks. The arrangements are simple, yet precise, and the poetic lyrics are honest and authentic to the emotions being expressed.

Track highlights: “Dallas Love Field” is wistful and wonderful. Jamison’s easygoing vocals tell the story of love found and lost, backed by an energetic drum track, guitar and a hint of pedal steel whining sorrowfully in the distance.

The second song on the five-song EP is “Real Peach,” a slightly slower ballad with an airy synth bed, strummed guitar and a touch of banjo in places. I believe this is the first single.

“The Rains” features fingerpicked guitar in a lilting melody with ghost-like backing vocals supported by an intriguing, circular rhythm.

The fourth track, “Through the Glass,” is a swaying, introspective tune that describes a bad breakup. Unfortunately, it’s got a word in it that we can’t play on the air, so you’ll have to get the EP to listen to it.

The EP wraps with “No One Told Me,” which finds Jamison harmonizing with a female vocalist over a steady timekeeping rhythm and swirling synths.

In short — this is an EP that identifies Jamison as a highly talented artist with a lot for listeners to look forward to.

 

Conor Oberst’s “Salutations” Updates and Expands 2016’s “Ruminations”

22 Mar

Salutations is a revelation. Last year, Conor Oberst recorded a ten-song album called Ruminations that captured Oberst at his lowest and most lonely — full of doubt, despair and despondence over the challenges we all face in life. Oberst’s lyrics were raw and revealing, and he performed the songs using just a piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica to accompany his vocals. But the plan had always been to take those tracks and layer them with full arrangements.

Salutations is the result. It’s alternative rock that veers from My Morning Jacket’s edginess and Dylan-esque folk-rock to crystalline Bright Eyes ballads. The 17-song set includes the ten songs from Ruminations, plus seven new tracks found only on this album.

To create Salutations, Oberst had a lot of help from many accomplished musicians including The Felice Brothers, Jim James, M. Ward, Maria Taylor, and more.

Track highlights: The album opens with a rolling, swaying, world-weary ode in three-quarter time called “Too Late to Fixate.” Oberst’s warbling vocals are accompanied by accordion and a bit of fiddle.

Track 5, “Next of Kin,” is a very Bright Eyes-sounding tune that didn’t change very much from Ruminations. The following track, which is new to Salutations, turns the heat up a notch. “Napalm” has an almost Southern Rock quality. A lightly tripping organ serves as a welcome counterpoint to an edgy guitar and Oberst’s almost shouted vocals.

Track 10, “Tachycardia,” recalls Oberst’s headline-grabbing courtroom travails and health insecurities in general. Again, he relies on accordion, organ and Dylan-style harmonica to accompany the 1960s-sounding number.

My final favorite from the album is “A Little Uncanny.” A raspy electric guitar underlies the biting, cynical spoken lyrics about famous people such as Jane Fonda and Ronald Reagan, and a verse that mentions tortured souls such as Robin Williams and Sylvia Plath and how they dealt with fame over time.

Overall, this is one of Oberst’s most ambitious and interesting works to-date.

 

Shane Leonard’s Kalispell Offers Highly Accessible Folk and Americana

10 Mar

Kalispell is the folk project of Wisconsin-based singer-songwriter, Shane Leonard. His latest album, Printer’s Son, ranges from very pleasant folk to Americana, with a touch of bluegrass at times. Leonard is a gifted multi-instrumentalist who plays the banjo, fiddle, keyboards, and a wide range of percussion instruments — in addition to singing and, of course, handling the songwriting.

Also onboard with this project was Brian Joseph, who’s best known as the producer for another big name in music based in Wisconsin — Bon Iver, led by Justin Vernon.

As is often the case with indie artists, finding financing for the album wasn’t easy. Leonard conducted a Kickstarter campaign and raised the additional $15,000 he needed to make it happen. Which is great because Printer’s Son is really an enjoyable listen.

Track highlights: After an instrumental opening to the album, the “Windfall” single is excellent. It’s mellow, melodic folk-rock, with an intricate interplay between bass and drums.

“Beautiful Doll” is next and it showcases Leonard’s virtuosity as a banjo player with a long, almost clocklike bluegrass intro that leads into vocals featuring Heather McIntire with Leonard on backing vocals. Incidentally, the cello solo is by noted indie artist, Ben Sollee.

Track 6, “Gary, In,” builds into a beautiful, rolling epic that’s reminiscent of some of Gordon Lightfoot’s catalog. Finally, Track 7, “Parting Ground,” is wistful and rambling, with both strummed and picked banjo, piano, and woodwinds — plus the occasional cry of a pedal steel guitar far off in the distance. A heartfelt ending to a very nice journey.

 

John K. Samson’s “Winter Wheat” Is Nothing Short of a Masterpiece

15 Feb

“That hashtag wants me dead, but I don’t mind.”

So begins the first song, “Select All Delete,” in extraordinary fashion on John K. Samson’s fabulous Winter Wheat album. Samson is a highly accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist who for many years was the frontman for Canada’s very popular punk band, The Weakerthans. As that group became more or less inactive in recent years and then officially disbanded, Samson launched his solo career. Winter Wheat is his second solo release, and it actually includes performances by a number of his former bandmates, as well as his wife, well- respected multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Christine Fellows.

Throughout the 15-song set, Samson’s keen intelligence, wit and insight are constantly on display. Topics include a former doctoral candidate trying to recover from a bad presentation, an apology to a loved one who’s already dead, a stay in a drug treatment center, an ode to a British double agent, and a sentimental farewell to a cat named Virtute, who had appeared in multiple Samson compositions over the years,

His ability to turn a phrase is second to none — not Dylan, not Lennon, not modern-day poets such as Conor Oberst. Samson sees a world where “bankers warble algorithmically,” “the vampire Alberta wipes an oily mouth along a sleeve of forest in the foothills,” and the birds “carry off the tiny seeds of better ways to be alive.”

His observations tug at the heartstrings: “I want you to write my name under your name/With the year I was born and you began to disappear.” And in the title track, he sings, “We know this world is good enough/Because it has to be.”

Track highlights: Most of the arrangements are guitar-based rock or folk-rock — sometimes with an understated punky beat or energy. My favorites include: “Select All Delete,” “Postdoc Blues,” “Winter Wheat,” “Oldest Oak at Broadside,” “Vampire Alberta Blues” (which pays homage to Neil Young), “Fellow Traveller,” and “Virtute at Rest.”

This is one of my absolute favorite albums over the past year. If you haven’t heard it yet, give it a listen or tune in my show on KZSU this Friday at 9 a.m. Pacific Time.