But his seventh solo album, Break It Yourselffits those dreaded descriptors, from the titles onward. There are references to Greek mythology, to horrible international tragedies. There is, per usual, quite a bit of whistling.
It is, however, a bit more reserved than the earlier Birds. Break It Yourself greets its listener like a friend-turned-lover making the first move: sitting on opposite ends of the couch, inching closer and putting its arm around you.
The Civil Wars seems like the moniker for a band exploring overt, loud disagreement. They have no problem transitioning from tempered introspections to fiery declarations, at times within a single song. War has never been so pleasant. His voice—a pinched, warbly, nasal thing—simultaneously strikes as hyper-affected and unselfconscious and might turn a listener off instantly if heard as the former. His songs glide on an ever-shifting bed of gentle fingerpicked cross-rhythms. Cripple Crow is stacked—22 tracks across 80 minutes.
Banhart seems the kind of prodigious songwriter who effortlessly breathes material. Cripple Crow resembles a dream journal of half-remembered morningtime fragments.
With mostly acoustic instruments—ukulele, banjo, accordion, violin, cello and trumpet—and soaring choruses, this Denton, Texas, quintet builds nearly every song into a joyful crescendo adding voices—and urgency—as it progresses. The band went on indefinite hiatus in after moving to Nashville, but left behind this near-perfect snapshot of a time when anything was possible: three multi-instrumentalist buddies living together in a college town, playing house shows, and figuring out what was possible in the studio.
Their optimism lives on in every vinyl groove. Scruffily handsome folkies are a dime a dozen in Seattle. Violin and piano help elevate the songs beyond their earthy origins, and three-part harmonies—anchored by co-frontmen Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, and boosted by the Cat-Power-gone-Appalachian crooning of violinist Charity Rose Thielen—sweeten the deal.
Big Thief has amassed a large and devoted fanbase the old-fashioned way: by releasing four astonishingly good albums in just three-and-a-half years, by touring relentlessly and seemingly without rest, by Instagramming a lot of photos of themselves grinning and embracing each other in various bucolic settings.
Two Hands does not dramatically depart from the mesmerizing folk-rock fusion of U. Both records stand as outstanding and individual statements from a band operating at some rare creative peak.
Few albums truly exhibit the inscrutable mystery and inescapable desperation of the world as Folklore. Somehow, David Eugene Edwards and his band explored the edges of those vanished territories of the American folk-music tradition, channeling the fear of now lost pastorals. Stripping away most of the electric guitars and rhythmic drive of their previous work, the album rarely breaks from the dirge-like ruminations on God, judgment, love and murder.
Folklore speaks with the earthward metaphors of those who lived in the shadow of unseen pursuers and confronted their worst suspicions with music as their weapon. While his early releases were more a collage of loose ideas organized around a singular, murky sound, Daze presents 11 carefully composed tracks with beginnings, middles and ends. Vile was always a contemplative songwriter, but here his lyrics became more ponderous and worldly rather than navel-gazing.
Themes of movement and escape are the bedrock, providing a calming balance—lyrically, thematically, sonically. It closes exactly as it begins, with a long, winding, peaceful melody—one of the prettiest Vile has ever penned.
In lesser hands, the American Graffiti -styled themes of star-crossed lovers and summer nights would drown in their own sincerity. Here, they provide a pleasant escape to a mythical America of endless horizons and youthful resilience—not such a bad place to be.
The title track is an apocalyptic love song submerged in waltzing, Spector-styled orchestrations—with Tillman embracing his wife, at peace as they drown. Sonically, Honeybear finds Tillman in a ruminative mood, favoring lavish strings, sweeping layers of voices and acoustic guitars. But the less he strains, the more his songs resonate.
For Julie Miller, salvation is always peeking through the cracks of songs. But the songwriter with a dexterous voice that does many things—howl, coo, caress and throttle—remains her own best interpreter.
After spending opening for Radiohead and appearing on late-night TV shows, Grizzly Bear was suddenly ubiquitous—even without a new album to promote. But while they were on stage they perfected the material that would comprise their third full-length release, and Veckatimest sounds like the final product of a meticulous and exacting evolutionary process—one that adds depth and color to their swooning chamber pop arrangements, crispness to their intricate rhythms and intensity to their careful performances.
When it comes to storytelling, Courtney Barnett is as clever they come. She finds ways to loop guitar solos into poppy verses, yet she avoids extremes. But his album Rocket comes with a significant bump in interest and attention thanks to Frank Ocean, who recruited Giannascoli to play on his two albums, Endless and Blonde.
Elsewhere, however, Giannascoli is in exploratory mode. He wants more. He wants to try it all. Most of the truly great ones have that quality. Sigh No More flutters to life with an apology. More than anything else, this is an album bursting at the seams with gorgeous remorse. With their Smiths-inspired melodies, chiming guitar lines and the magnetic vocals of Harriet Wheeler, the Sundays created enough buzz from their first club shows to become quickly involved in a bidding war among labels, with Rough Trade earning the honors for their debut, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.
Nearly three decades later, it remains one of the defining British albums of its era. He croons like a soul singer, his voice occasionally cracking under the weight of emotion, with each of his heavy admissions punctuated with a clashing guitar.
Burst Apart is a record of big songs from a Brooklyn band good at generating big songs, but it was just as notable that they could be impressive without an overarching concept behind them. For their artistic breakthrough, these future arena-fillers from North Carolina polished their scruffy Americana sound until it gleamed. The result: Album) overpowering acoustic album brimming with sadness and soul. The title track—a meditation on three little words—is a three-hanky affair unto itself.
It is urgent and spontaneous, featuring songs written in a rush of cathartic emotion on whatever instrument happened to be laying around. No three-minute orchestral intros to be written or historical facts to be researched here.
It stares straight into the hospital rooms, regrets, cloudy memories and empty bedrooms—and dares to sing a quiet, beautiful song about them all.
More than anything, Cease to Begin represents the sound of a talented writer growing more comfortable in his skin and unafraid to name a song after ex-Seattle Supersonic Detlef Schrempf despite its elegiac, unrelated subject matter.
Chesnutt was a rolling contradiction. Elegant and ungainly, impish and morbidly depressed, flat-assed drunk and piercingly sober, his salient obsessions circled around private peculiarities and public personae, scrawled like graffiti on the wall of a gas station, glimpsed through the Spanish moss.
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MVGroup [1. Out came lyrics about wrapping a car around a streetlamp, having more whiskey than blood in her veins, time spent in ambulances, of an unbearable break-up with her girlfriend, and facing mortality. These songs were more personal than her earlier efforts, and rather than take a poetic look at her misgivings, Baker is brutally honest about the ugliness she faced.
Her lyrical battles are not only with herself, but also with God, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Complex dynamics keep the tracks from blending together into a Album) collage, like the colorful travel-magazine cutouts that make up the cover art.
Dry Food bleeds with emotional truth through a thorny lineage to Kurt Cobain-esque dissociation and mental anguish—which is why it was written in isolation, with Kempner playing all the parts except for drums. Dry Food seems possessed by the ghost of Elliott Smith—there are painful reminders all over this record of what it feels like to be tortured, lonely, abused and directionless—which can be exhausting through eight sugar-free songs.
She is that light. Just like people. All the artifice both musical and emotional has been carefully dismantled, traditional instruments—upright piano, pedal steel, acoustic guitars—have been dusted off, arrangements have been simplified, windows into souls have been propped open a bit wider.
This process is partly masochistic, partly exhibitionist, entirely self-consuming, but such is true art. Ward indie-folk boom. Any romantic could accept it as the soundtrack of their lives.
There are echoes of Trad stalwarts throughout—Martin Carthy and Mike Waterson in the singing, Bert Jansch in the supple guitar work—but Flynn is no retro iconoclast, and his biting social commentary owes more to Billy Bragg than Billy Billington.
Alarum a Shakespearian term for general mayhem is a fitting title for an impressive debut. But this is how Angel Olsen deserves to be absorbed, with empathy—knowing her pain and resolve and bravery, and using it for your own strength.
Wind in your hair, sun in your eyes. Olsen shares graciously in her music, and if you are willing, Burn a Fire for No Witness will change your world—or, rather, it will change how you see your world. Two years after releasing their debut, North Hillsthe men of Dawes hit the road for a long tour. Album) to write in the free time they were afforded, the songs on Nothing Is Wrong are marked by the qualities of a band in motion.
The songwriting and emotion are just as impressive on Nothing is Wrong as they were on North Hills. But it is the sum of all these parts that makes Nothing is Wrong something truly special. They serve to allow Thao to breathe and flex before embarking on a number of knee-buckling lyrical trips. And each time she releases a full-length album, her destination comes a little more into focus. For someone with a documented predilection for idiosyncrasy and experimentation, she sounds completely at ease in these songs, and ready for bigger things ahead.
How have these young women had the sorts of life experiences to write the stories they do? Their songs are filled with wisdom gained from memories that seem to stretch back a thousand years or more. These are the words of truly old souls. Neko Case has always had a strong voice and a knack for giving gritty stories an ethereal bent.
On Blacklistedher third album, she handled more songwriting on her own and put a finer point on both her narratives and her presence as a performer. Her persona and her music remained dark, mysterious, and a little distant with her voice wrapped in reverb as if she were calling out from a vast, empty space. If Tom Waits is the drunken dreamer caught in the gutter, Case is the woman who put him there.
And unlike some of her contemporaries, she never gave up on twang as she developed her own voice. Zaino III. Bill Callahan has an uncanny ability to make you think about life.
The images are vivid, the language simple, and the metaphors open to interpretation. His records seem to be made up of a million vivid scenes that combine for a compelling portrait of the human condition. And the music matches the dreamlike state of the lyrics. Guitars intertwine softly with slinky bass lines. Callahan has used his art to make sense of the world, and in turn helps us make some sense of it, too.
By romanticizing his experiences of love and loss, of remembrance and regret, of functioning in the world or feeling paralyzed by it, Sheff produced a standout collection of sordid and stinging stories. The songs on The Silver Gymnasium are packed full of forbidden love, controlling parents, fizzling friendships, premature death, prostitutes and drug addicts, broken-hearted bartenders, car crashes, self-medication, loss of innocence and clinging to the promise of youth as if your life depended on it.
The album grows on you, and sooner or later its nostalgia becomes your own—only the names and places are different. For 47 minutes on her breakout third album, Sharon Van Etten is right there with you, whispering her tortured lullabies into your ear in the most intimate manner.
It feels like an artful exchange, a private conversation between artist and listener. Though there are dense instrumental textures rumbling in the distance, Tramp is built mostly on sparse acoustic guitar.
Its revelations are fixed in that intimacy, that private conversation Van Etten has designed to share with you, May It Last - The Avett Brothers - True Sadness (CD you alone. Wolfe and fellow frontwoman Holly Laessig sing in unison or in close tonal harmony throughout the record, bringing an extra dose of force to an album already fortified by strong song structures, substantive lyrics and precise playing.
The album offers empathy for the heartbroken and sultry fun for partiers, all backed by fuzzy guitars and polyrhythmic percussion. May It Last - The Avett Brothers - True Sadness (CD string-soaked introduction.
That syrupy baritone. A sense of drama and a sense of humor. But it suits the talented Swede. The rustic trio marries uplifting jubilee and poetic earnestness with ease. May It Last - The Avett Brothers - True Sadness (CD album is overflowing with upbeat Americana gems, but the real power here is found in the more somber tunes.
The pair picked up the pieces and later found Pekarek and the formula for The Lumineers. On their debut, they channel those dark and vulnerable moments in heartfelt highlights throughout.
Her SubPop debut was a quiet, sublime album of intimate and earnest songs, but her simple arrangements of piano and strings received airplay on college radio next to Sleater-Kinney and Blackalicious.
Songs For a Blue Guitar is a standout, comprising acoustic-led ballads that run the gamut from somber to upbeat and always contemplative. But his seventh solo album, Break It Yourselffits those dreaded descriptors, from the titles onward.
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