REVIEW: Darling Valley – “Crooked Orchards”

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Let’s get something out of the way. Darling Valley is, for all intents and purposes, Accents with a new name. That would make this LP3. Three of the four people in this band were present on the last Accents record, and there is a shared sensibility. But, let’s not dwell on the past. In fact, y’know, let’s just skip the comparisons to the older records they released as Accents. Let’s start fresh.

Darling Valley may be one of the only bands playing this kind of music that doesn’t bore me after more than a few songs. We live in a post-Decemberists world. There is no shortage of people throwing mandolins, banjos, and whatever else into their indie folk stew. It takes a lot to be engaging, and even more to be good. Crooked Orchards is as fine of a full length as any band could hope to make. The band is built around the quartet of TJ Foster, Lauren Foster, Jordan Stewart, and Ashleigh Whitfield. Like any good band, they are definitely more than a sum of their parts.

The sound of Darling Valley is rooted in folk and country. More than that, they are shining examples of Americana and roots music. They know how to work indie rock and pop influences without letting that overtake the rhythm. The songs are meticulously crafted, and exist in the little details. An example would be like how the little trumpet flourishes on “Who You Hold On To” play beautifully off the otherwise straight country vibe. The great depth the vocal melodies on “You’ll Go Far, Kid” add is another.

Crooked Orchards is a wonderfully written album with a ton a heart. The lyrical themes are what you might expect. There is love, both lost and found. There are references to literature and war. There is celebration, and there is mourning. Folk music is full of those themes. They are familiar and relatable. And, when done well, they are engaging and meaningful.

Darling Valley
Sounds And Tones Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Kill The Intellectuals – “All This Time I Was Writing An Album And I Thought I Was Just Living My Life”

ktiwritingI’ve written about Kill The Intellectuals before. Twice, actually. I’ve gone on about the prolific nature of Angela-Grace Foster as a songwriter. I’ve rambled on about genre tags and other music classification bullshit. I don’t really need to say too much more along those lines.

The thing that strikes me most about Kill The Intellectuals is that it’s an ongoing project made by someone who is basically still a kid. I know that sounds shitty and dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s actually one of Foster’s biggest strengths. They haven’t fallen into the trappings that older musicians have. The songs don’t have some jaded subtext. The lyrics are honest in a way that most musicians aren’t. It’s rare to find anyone who is so open in their songwriting. And it’s even rarer to find a musician with such a defined voice at such a young age.

Anyway, let’s talk about the record. All This Time I Was Writing An Album And I Thought I Was Just Living My Life fits very well in the overall oeuvre that is Kill The Intellectuals. Mixing the straight forward folk with the spoken word and experimental sounds, it is a really great representation of what they’ve been doing up to this point. It’s still a lo-fi, bedroom recording type record. It’s the little touches though. The overdubbed vocals on “Vacant Rooms” make for a really great sounding harmony. “Love Is The New Ibuprofen And I Am Hooked” is bookended with backmasking and spoken word. The two “Love vs Anxiety” songs show how a strong voice can carry otherwise simple and straightforward folk songs.

My opinion on Kill The Intellectuals is pretty simple. I’m always excited to hear something new things, and I hope to keep hearing more for a long time to come.

Kill The Intellectuals
Bandcamp

REVIEW: Kill The Intellectuals – “Something About A New Exciting Future Called Promising Untold Happiness”

ktiuntoldhappinessI wrote about Kill The Intellectuals back in October. That I’m doing so again already speaks to the prolific nature of Angela-Grace Foster as a songwriter. Foster’s output in 2014 averaged to about a song a week. 51 songs across four releases. It’s remarkable that anyone can have that much material in such a short span of time. It’s even more remarkable that the quality doesn’t waver.

Something About A New Exciting Future Called Promising Untold Happiness is a much different kind of release than I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes was. The main difference is in the overall aesthetic. It’s still lo-fi. It still has some echo and reverb in places. It just doesn’t have the same abrasive and aggressive tone. The electronic samples and sound collage influences don’t really appear either. It’s a much more straight forward type of record.

Something About A New Exciting Future Called Promising Untold Happiness lives and dies as a lo-fi, folk record. It, like it’s predecessor, is a great example of the bedroom/home recording thing. The songs are very raw sounding. They’re built around vocals and guitars. That doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it’s really important. The simpler the structure, the more strengths and weaknesses stand out. Songwriting deficiencies are easier to spot, and a concept can wear thin.

Foster doesn’t fall into these holes though. The songwriting is engaging. Every song plays a part in the overall story, and everything feels personal and open. It’s a style of writing that doesn’t work for everyone. This level of honesty and bluntness could come across as cheesy if done wrong. What I’m saying is that delivery matters, and everything is delivered perfectly. These songs are all specific to certain situations, but they manage to transcend that. “Anoxemia” is a song that, while being about a specific person doing a specific thing, comes across as a universal. To me it feels like a song about growing and trying to reconcile the past. That is a theme that gets covered a lot. It’s there in “Future Letter To My Past Present Self.” It’s there in “Another Needle Stuck In The Carpet.”

The experimental aspects that showed up on I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes might have fallen by the wayside on this release, but the honesty and openness remain. And that is the kind of shit that matters.

Kill The Intellectuals
Tyburn Woods Collective
Buy It
Bandcamp

REVIEW: Lake Michigan / Hopelesstown – “Split”

lakemichiganhopelesstownSinger/songwriter is a term that has really strange connotations to it. You can kind of blame the 1970s for that. In the US, for example, it’s a term that kind of reminds people of all that schmaltzy bullshit that came out after the folk scene died out. What it really means is embodied by both Lake Michigan (Chris Marks) and Hopelesstown (Will Canning). Simply, music written and performed by the songwriter. Lake Michigan and Hopelesstown are both acoustic solo projects. They both feature a strong influence from indie folk music. They execute is a little differently though. Those differences make for an engaging split.

Lake Michigan is, comparatively, more simple and somber. Being built mostly around lightly strummed acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. His three songs on the split are very calms, reflective, and personal in nature. In short, his music embodies a lot of what the whole bedroom music culture is all about.

Hopelesstown is similar, but with a bit of a different spin. The instrumentation, while still simple guitar at heart, has a more ambient and distorted sound to it. He adds a bit more fuzz to his three songs. There is a bit more vibrancy to these songs than the Lake MIchigan songs. A little more pop, as it were.

Both Lake Michigan and Hopelesstown have a lot of heart. Both show that a lot can be done with a little. Both document how great minimalism can sounds. And, ultimately, both show that very personal music can connect to anyone.

Lake Michigan (Band Camp)
Hopelesstown (Band Camp)
Ruined Smile Records
Lacklustre Records

REVIEW: Kill The Intellectuals – “I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes”

ktiKill The Intellectuals is a project that lives in the margins. It would easily to classify as lo-fi folk music. It’s would also be easy to classify as bedroom music. Indie, folk punk, whatever. It’s not important. I don’t want to spend a lot of time classifying. Because, like any other piece of art, it should be about substance over style. It’s about how genuine it is. Sincerity goes a long way. Genre, production costs, and any other bullshit trappings don’t. What matters most is the heart and soul. Angela-Grace Foster, as Kill The Intellectuals, has made a record that is entirely heart and soul.

I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes is a record that defies classification. It can be delicate and frail, it can be loud and abrasive. The vocals can range anywhere from singing to yelling to spoken word. The music can go from voice and acoustic guitar to voice over electronic samples and sound collage aesthetics. Songs like “Car Collisions” are built around acoustic guitar and electronic samples. “Fucking Up Yur Spine For Fun” is just static and speech. It’s a record that is emotional and disjointed in a lot of ways.

Overall, it seems to be a general portrait of the artist. Reflections on death and god. It is a record where you are completely exposed to someones entire psyche. It’s not an easy record. It’s not a background noise record. It is a record that demands your attention.

The guitar clips, there is a sustained tape hiss throughout, the vocals turn around on you at the drop of a hat. It’s so fucking hard to explain, but it’s also one of the purest records I’ve heard in a long time. Please, do yourself a favor, give it a listen. This is one of the most engaging 35 minutes of music I’ve heard this year.

Kill The Intellectuals
Bandcamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Russell And The Wolf Choir – “The Ivy Leaf Agreement”

ivyleafI always think that indie rock gets a bad rap. In both underground music and mainstream culture. So much of it has been designated as music for hipsters in wayfarers who dress like they live in the dust bowl with ironic moustaches. It does a disservice to the bands who make the music. There is still a lot of genuineness in the genre. No matter what the jaded music fans say. There is also still a lot of life in the genre. There are countless bands and records to prove it. Russell And The Wolf Choir represent that. The Ivy Leaf Agreement is an EP that, while hitting a lot of the genre’s touchpoints, has a lot to like.

The Ivy Leaf Agreement is an EP that falls under the umbrella of indie rock, but there are also twinges of other influences. There is some country, there is some pop, and it generally hits all the right spots when it comes to existing in that style. It might not be terribly groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable. The biggest “sounds like” I can think of would be Kevin Devine or On A Wire era Get Up Kids. Especially on a song like “This Fall I Think That You’re Riding For.” It has a driving rhythm behind it, but a very distinct country vibe to it as well. That same kind of indie/country shows up on most of the songs. The inclusion of lap steel really makes everything stand out to me.

It’s really an EP that presents the total package. The songwriting is genuine and earnest. It’s down to earth, it simple. There are no shortage of bands writing obtuse bullshit, and it’s great to see something else. These are great songs about love and loss. Like, “The Evening Wore On Part 1” tells a very concise story of a changing relationship. One of drifting apart from someone you were close to, but still desperately wanting them. All filtered through getting drunk at a party.

Everything builds perfectly to the closing song, “Ivy Leaf Agreement.” At almost eight and a half minutes, it captures everything that is great about this EP. Delicate guitars, excellent songwriting, and a general sense of purpose. It’s finding something meaningful in everyday minutiae that makes this record comfortable and engaging. Russell And The Wolf Choir have crafted a great record from front to back.

Russell And The Wolf Choir
Hearts & Stars Records
BandCamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Accents – “Tall Tales”

accentstalltalesFuck a sophomore slump, folks. This new Accents full length is better than the last. Accents have gone from a duo to a quintet. The addition of members really expanded what they are capable of doing. Having three additional full members has added more depth and color to what the band is doing. It’s a remarkable growth in a short span of time. Tall Tales is really a stronger record for it.

While the three new members did appear on the previous full length in one capacity or another, it’s a whole different thing here. Mainly because they are expanding the overall feeling of the whole record, versus a few songs. The addition on Lauren Alexander is the most noticeable change to me. She and TJ Foster work well with each others voices, and having more of her is not a bad thing.

Beyond the new additions, there is a lot to like. The band still writes great hooks and big choruses. They have maintained their indie rock / indie folk sound that worked so well on the previous full length. This record has taken the things they did well, and just refined it. The production is spot on again. The record is sequenced almost perfectly this time. All the rises and falls hit right where they should. Each part of the record is strong, versus being front heavy.

There is a lot more diversity to the record as well. “Los Angeles” is the closest to a straight up folk song the band has made yet. “I Wasn’t Looking For You” is a driving, uptempo rock song. “Sore Eyes,” the closer, builds to a great conclusion for the record. There are great mellow, folk influenced songs. There are high energy indie rock songs. Most noticeably, there are great vocal harmonies throughout.

Long story short, Tall Tales is a document of how great a band can get in a relatively short span of time. This record is a keeper.

Accents
Deep Elm
BandCamp / Buy It