REVIEW: Darling Valley – “Crooked Orchards”


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
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

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

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
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
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.

Deep Elm
BandCamp / Buy It

REVIEW: Lindsey Mills (with Handmade, Amigo) – "Stonefruit"

As a solo artist, Lindsey Mills has been pretty on top of things. With countless recordings available, she is certainly no slouch. On Stonefruit, she teams up with Handmade, Amigo. The collaboration works. This is a great record. A little: bit folksy, a little bit indie, and some really catchy pop. It’s tied together by a great voice. There is a lot to like. I had to go back and listen to some of her earlier thing for context. This is my first experience with her music. Most of it is just acoustic guitar and vocals. And, for the most part, it’s all quite good. Stonefruit is different in that it is a full band recording, and there is quite a bit going on.

Lindsey Mills is great as a songwriter and singer. Since she has been recording a lot as a solo artist, she is able to project a lot through her voice. It shines through as rich and in control. She sounds great singing low and calm, but can also belt out without missing a beat. Her songwriting is also great. She can write strong, personal song like “Hot Spot” or “Mango.” She is also able to write humorous parts to. Like how “Georgia” plays as a love song, but is clearly about a cat. Lyrically she can paint a picture.

Handmade, Amigo bring a lot to the record. As a full time band on their own, they obviously work well together. They feature guys who play multiple instruments. It adds a lot to the overall feel and landscape of the songs. There are glockenspiel, accordions, saxophone, and harmonica spread throughout the record. They also come in with some great harmonies. It really make the record sound big. Their addition really helps build Stonefruit as a folksy, Americana sounding record. There does remain edge though, and that is a great thing.

This is worth checking out. It’s a wonderful indie/folk type record. Everything about it is strong. The songwriting, the vocals, the music, and the production make it the total package. Make sure you don’t pass this up.

REVIEW: Infinity Crush / Abi Reimold – "Wish It Stopped" (split)

I’m totally in love with this record. I am a sucker for a sad song, and this split release has that in spades. Both Infinity Crush and Abi Reimold play a great bit of acoustic music. Indie folk, or whatever you want to call it. As such. it is very minimal.

There is really only one downside to Wish It Stopped. It is an uneven split. Infinity Crush has four songs on it, where Abi Reimold only has two. I would have loved to see an even split to it. Both are very adept at painting pictures lyrically.

Infinity Crush is the solo project by Caroline White (from Teen Suicide and also Julia Brown). She is very adept at making very good pop music from the start. Her side of this is full of very personal and cathartic songs. Her twist on indie folk is beautiful. There are some lines in her songs that hit hard. Notably, opener “Before We Disappear (Forever)” and “Sober + Showered.” There is a strong feeling of loneliness inherent in these songs. I know a sentence like that sounds dramatic, but it is best explained in listening,

For her side, Abi Reimold knocks it out of the park with her two songs. “Nuthin” and “Swift.” Her voice is beautiful, in a way that reminds me of an old jazz singer. Especially on “Swift.” There also seems to be a Chan Marshall delivery in there too.

I’m not really doing this justice. You really have to listen to it.

(1-4 Infinity Crush. 5 & 6 Abi Reimold)

Infinity Crush
Abi Reimold
Bandcamp (free digital or buy cassette)
Maggot House Records

REVIEW: Rocky Votolato – "True Devotion"

Man, this record sucks. I feel bad saying it. I like Rocky Votolato. I really do. “Suicide Medicine” was great. Fuck, “Makers” is, in my opinion, damn near perfect. His various EPs are great, his old band Waxwing was fucking awesome. So, what the fuck happened?

Maybe his stuff is just a time/place type thing for me. A friend of mine, Marissa, got me into this. The first song she showed me by Rocky Votolato was “A Discourse On Killing.” Something about a folk song having the phrase “I want to hit somebody with a baseball bat. Break his fucking knees, and take pleasure in it,” just struck me as totally great. This was spring 2006.

So, I had Marissa burn me his stuff and got to listening. She burned me the previously mentioned “Makers” and “Suicide Medicine.” In December 2006 I moved to my first punk house. I listened to those records a whole lot. It was good folk/country. But, some of the songs were dark. Perfect. 2007 came along, and he put out “The Brag And Cuss.” It was the turning point for him. That record, while still good, had a considerable amount of filler. Shit, almost the entire second half was filler. When I found out he had something new coming out this year, I was not very optimistic.

“True Devotion” came out in February. I finally got around to getting it in May. Then, finally got around to listening to it in June. Musically, it is pretty interchangable with “Makers.” Folky guitar, a little less country vibe than the last one. But, the lyrics fell flat. If I had to describe this album in one word, I would say “repetitious.” For example, the second track “Fragments,” has only one regular verse. The rest is basically the chorus, with a few words changed every now and then. This was not the only song where this happened. A good number of songs could be better, if not for the seeming ad nauseum repeating of the chorus.

For the good parts though, it was generally solid musically. The guitar sounded good. The vocals were mixed well. The opening song “Lucky Clover Coin” sounded good. But, still was dragged down by overly simple, and repetitive lyrics. I think that “Sparklers” is a great song too. It has a good guitar sound, and is using sparklers and firecrackers as a metaphor for a relationship. Anyone can relate to that, I suppose. It is a bit trite, but, I am grasping for straws here. I know that does not seem like there is very much good. But, I think my expectations were a little high.

So, I guess this record just disappointed me. I only see two out of ten songs ever getting played again. Maybe I am missing something. It just seems like his songwriting is falling down to cliched metaphors and simple rhymes. Even the music could not save most of these songs. I feel bad though, I really wanted to like this. I say, fuck it, go get a copy of “Makers” and a bottle of Makers and have a good night there. This record here is fine enough, but not that good. 2 out of 5.

Official site (features all lyrics for this release).
Official store