Despite the fact that their debut LP has been out since May, I’m only just now discovering Sylvan Esso thanks to a tip from a friend this morning. I was told “you need to hear this” and I did indeed need to hear it. So do you.
Sylvan Esso is an electro duo in the vein of Mates of State – albeit more subdued – comprised of two musicians with ties to two other acts. The vocalist, Amelia Meath, lends her honey-smooth vocals to Esso, coming from time spent with Mountain Man. The producer, Nick Sanborn, has a past with Megafaun (which is connected to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver in a 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of way.)
Together, this guy-girl indie pop project invokes the calmer sides of acts like Little Dragon, Chairlift or BANKS.
Fruition is a hybrid bluegrass band based out of Portland.
I say this upfront, because it gives you a chance to get out now. The thing is though, they’re much much better than what you’ve undoubtedly already assumed about them.
I mean, just on their album Just One Of Them Nights, they cast a wide net of musicianship. Wider than what I personally expected, and I already like this kind of music. After the first song comes on, you think you’re gonna be in for more of the same track after track. Turns out, though, the songs, styles and lead vocalists switch up every other song.
Grab your Pocketknife! Mr. Little Jeans – Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes in real life – blipped onto my radar a little over two years ago. They (she) released a cover of Arcade Fire’s title track from the album Suburbs.It is included on this album and while it may seem like she’s trying to build a career on that one cover, after giving the album a listen, I can assure you she’s not.
If you liked Mazzy Star, Chungking or Azure Ray when you were younger, I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll like Mr. Little Jeans. Pleasantly soft & affected female vocals overlaid on electronic beats. It’s the kind of stuff that shows up on indie movie soundtracks, and quite frankly there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.
She has acute pop sensibilities that seem to come standard with many of the Nordic musical exports. Swedes Lyyke Li & Robyn have been pop chart darlings for years (Robyn for far longer) and Nü-Folk sister duo First Aid Kit is one of my favorite bands of all time despite only having two albums under their collective belt.
Mr. Little Jeans’ debut album has been a long time coming, but it is here now, and ready for all to enjoy.
St. Vincent has a new self-titled album and it’s kind of amazing. She had been hitting the talk-show circuit before the album release performing lead single “Birth In Reverse” which is indeed catchy and as close to mainstream as any of the album’s songs are; but there are some real jewels on here which I’m convinced can convert people who haven’t heard her material.
If you are a fan of the avant garde nature of Björk’s performances or the pop-sensabilities of (golden age) Tori Amos or the alternative influence of her recent collaboration partner David Byrne, then you’ll most likely be a fan of St. Vincent’s newest material. Synth horn sections are always in.
Rattlesnake – Live:
(Pay attention to her guitar work later in this one.)
I just discovered Liza Anne via my preferred streaming music service, Rdio. Her first full-length album was just released last week and it sounds so polished, it’s surprising she doesn’t already have 2 or 3 under her belt. Yes, this is a singer/songwriter album about love, but I’ll be damned if it is not done up to perfection. There are a few love-gone-sour songs on here, sure, but do not make the mistake of dismissing them just because the topic has been so terribly overdone by Taylor Swift and her ilk.
Liza Anne’s voice immediately invokes the likes of contemporaries like Ingrid Michaelson & Amy McDonald, but I’d contend she sounds more like a combination of Jill Andrews, Priscilla Ahn and with a dash of an airier Shara Worden. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of any of those magnificent songstresses, go YouTube yourself into a music wormhole.) Certain inflections of hers also really remind me of a local artist I heard years ago named Erin Manning, albeit to a much lesser degree.
What I’m getting at is that Liza’s voice is a sweet, sweet instrument and I expect her to show up on the soundtrack of an episode of one of Shonda Rhymes’ shows at some point in the future.
Make no mistake though, she’s not just a pretty voice. Her songwriting is also something to be admired. “The Colder Months”, the title track, is the song where Liza flexes her music muscles. It’s full of restrained angst, a sparse yet driving drum beat, and some nice guitar reverb to set the mood. It’s also the track where her Shara Worden-lite vocality really shines through.
Here’s a small YouTube sampling of Liza:
The Colder Months – Official Video http://youtu.be/P1vAywm7Mcg
Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City begins on a solemn yet sweet-souding note with “Obvious Bicycle.” With a sparse percussive heartbeat driving the simple piano chords and not-quite-there strings, the chorus kicks into angelic overdrive asking you to just “listen, ohh.” For a song that lends itself to be interpreted as the Millenial Generation’s struggle to find work, it is so damn pretty.
The next track, “Unbelievers”, lifts your spirits into a more chipper mood in the way that Vampire Weekend so often can: thumping drumbeats accompanied by some spiffy guitar strumming. Fans of previous albums will certainly enjoy this tune. The same can be said for “Step”.
“Diane Young” was the lead single from the album, debuting a few months beforehand. Some fun vocal-modifying tricks lent this song some George Michael-inspired chorus breakdowns. The title is an obvious play on the words “dying young” and the lyrics are full of some metaphors to that effect. Certainly the most outright pop song on the album, and made the better for it.
A fantastic extended performance on “Later with Jools Holland” featuring many of the songs mentioned:
Moving ahead to “Everlasting Arms”, another sweet-sounding song dealing with seemingly inner turmoil. A struggle of faith seems to be the culprit this time. “Worship You” & “Ya Hey” come a few tracks later, and while all of these songs are clearly playing on some religious verbiage, the latter two don’t seem to be quite as on the nose about their respective subjects.
The album ends with an almost elegiac coda in “Young Lion.” Only 1:45 in length, only one verse is repeated fourfold: “You take your time, young lion.” There were plenty of religious words and titles thrown about throughout the album, despite it not being overtly about religious faith, but this track cements the album as the best collection of hymnals that aren’t hymnals in a distinctly Vampire Weekend style.
Some months ago I was testing out a new app on my iPhone. I’m an avid listener if podcasts and prior to those, I would listen to NPR talk radio on occasion. Call me Old Man Media, but it helps take the edge off of some mundane tasks. The app is called Swell, and it’s essentially the Pandora equivalent of talk radio/media. Select a few interests to get started, and I t’ll play a few streams of assorted broadcasts. The longer you listen to a stream, more like it will load up in the queue. It tailors itself to how long you stay interested. LONG STORY SHORT: it was on this app I heard one of NPR’s condensed Radiolab music showcases. During a summer music festival in Connecticut, the Radiolab team discovered a band called Lucius. (Yep, pronounced like the elder Malfoy.) They’re a well-composed quintet based out of New York.
The song that caught me off guard was a live version of “How Loud Your Heart Gets”, a track from their recently released debut album. I know some of you others out there can relate to the moment when you’ve heard a song that catches you completely off guard and cements itself as a touchstone tune — a touchtune? — for the rest of your music-listening days. This particular live version is really a marvel among live recordings, and the song itself is a great piece of songwriting.
That version can be found by listening to the June 27th episode of RadioLab. Here they are performing it elsewhere at WFUV’s CMJ music showcase:
The debut, “Wildewoman”, is a particularly strong one for the Brooklyn-based band. [Click here to buy the debut album Wildewoman on iTunes.] At first listen, you’ll notice some if the songs seem to stand out from the others stylistically, but after you cycle the album on repeat a few times, you begin to hear how all of the difference plays so well together, like a finely crafted recipe. Each ingredient brings something sweet, then savory, then bitter into one fine gazpacho of an album: It’s a lot cooler than what you’d expect.
Standout tracks include “Tempest”, “Two Of Us On The Run” and the title track, “Wildewoman.”
“Wildewoman” can be heard in this promotional tour video they compiled from their travels this fall:
And also in this Honey I’m Home live session: (particularly enjoy the instrument sharing in this one)
The official video for “Tempest” is coming soon, but for now enjoy this simple, monochromatic-into-technicolor stream:
“Two Of Us On The Run” (Honey I’m Home live session)
There are only 8 full weeks left in the year. Isn’t that disgusting and ridiculous? I was hoping to have so much more accomplished by now. For #nerdjizz, in life. Ah well. With there only being so few Music Mondays left to concoct, I decided I’d start doing my “Best Of 2013” bullshit now. That way, by the time the year is actually almost over, these posts will be wrapped up and we can kick off 2014 so fresh and so clean!
Today’s feature should come as no surprise, since this band has essentially been the subject 60% of my #musicmonday musings in the past; Ivan & Alyosha. The Seattle-based group is one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, and with their debut album All The Times We Had finally releasing in early 2013, I’m more than happy to showcase them once again. I think I might’ve mentioned that there is one song on the debut that, while I love the song itself, ended up being too polished. The song is “The Fold” and an earlier cut that can be found on the 2012 EP The Cabin Sessions is actually my favorite version. In this nerd’s humble opinion, the extra studio polish really dimmed the acoustic brightness from the pre-All The Times We Had era. Why am I even bothering to mention such a trifling detail in a post wherein I am supposed to be lauding the top 2013 music offerings? Because even their second best is better than the rest! #poetanddidntknowit
Sorry for the terrible rhyming and jokes. Now: Compare & Contrast songs!
First up, three takes on “The Fold”
“The Fold” live on the Marty Riemer Show
“The Fold” from the Cabin Sessions EP
“The Fold” live, All The Times We Had arrangement
The following song was only featured on an EP from 2011, but it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It’s the one that I heard and knew I’d be following these guys for years to come. It’s called “Everything Is Burning” and it’s wonderful. Seriously, these harmonies will bring fucking tears to your eyes and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
“Everything Is Burning” acoustic
“Everything Is Burning” from the Fathers Be Kind EP
I know I’ve discussed the members of the band before – two brothers, two non-related members, one touring drummer – but the lead singer Tim Wilson is sort of a dead ringer for Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul.) So if you have some residual love for everyone’s favorite TV meth cooker, you can project that love onto Tim! For beautiful harmonious reasons, and not the meth reasons, of course.
Sorry, I’ve been busy and *blah blah blah* you don’t wanna hear it, I know. BUT, I want to return to your good graces by introducing (or hopefully for some of you, RE-introducing) you to Ivan & Alyosha. I’ve posted about them once or twice or thrice before, so if you’d like to catch up, feel free to check out each of those links. They have been one of my top ten favorite bands for just under three years now, but the good news for you is that they released their first full length album almost two months ago. Based in Portland, OR, they’ve already released a handful of EPs and they had success financing the LP release via Kickstarter, which they’d previously used to finance a North American tour. There’s a very honest grassroots feel about these guys, and they have the raw talent to merit that kind of attention.
Jumping into the first feature album, titled All The Times We Had, you’re immediately struck with the level of professional recording time these guys managed to squeeze in at the studio between their live gigs. Right off the bat you’re introduced to “Be Your Man,” an infectious rouser with some pretty keen harmonies. As a matter of fact, keen harmonies are one of the things these guys do best. If you did take the time to check out the links above, you probably already gathered that much.
On the flip side, “The Fold” which they featured heavily on 2012’s Cabin Sessions EP also received some pretty heavy-handed studio bells and whistles, and quite frankly that new version is the only part of the album that feels out of place. So much so, that I can’t give the album a perfect rating because of its inclusion. I know I probably only feel that way because of how deeply I connected to the song when I first heard it, but you know how it feels when a lesser talented artist covers one of your favorite songs by a band? I feel like that happened here. Only it’s the same band, covering their own song, only the magic harmonies and raw musicianship either got left out or drowned out by an overzealous recording mixer. It’s still a damn fine song, and I won’t be the least bit surprised to see it show up on network television as a soundtrack song, but the first recording imprinted on me in a big way.
Friend of the band Aimee Mann can be heard on the title track of the album. It’s a melancholy ode to the glory days gone by of the protagonist characters’ relationship. The song is truly very earnest, but it sounds so uniquely Portland, that for some reason I have a scene in my head featuring the cast of “Portlandia” (on which Mann has appeared, so maybe she’s the cause?) in various vignettes pantomiming the lyrics while getting drenched in the northwestern rain and so forth. I think it helps me make what could be a wrist-cutting song a joy to listen to. That’s what I’ll tell myself, anyway.
The live version below has lead singer Tim Wilson’s brother, Pete, filling in for Amy’s vocal parts. I’ve mentioned it before – most especially when talking about First Aid Kit – but sibling harmonies > all other harmonies.
I don’t know if it’s the string section that opens this song, or if it’s simply that I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, but I feel like Joshua Radin wrote this song about waiting on a chance to go traveling with the Doctor. A The-Boy-Who-Waited kind of thing. He even throws the word ‘eleven’ into the lyrics. I mean, c’mon! Surely I’m not grasping at straws here.
To be honest, it doesn’t matter, because this is a great song in and of itself. Whether it’s a nod to the longing one might feel to travel in the TARDIS is moot, because it’s a very soothing pop song that flies through the heavens, even if it never soars very high.