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: Lake Michigan – “Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing”

lakemichiganpylonsLake Michigan is a project that really embodies the whole “bedroom recording” thing. It’s a genre that, by it’s very nature, allows for musicians to release a lot of material in a very short time. It’s a genre that seems to be built on simplicity and aesthetics. Since 2012, Christopher Marks has released about eight EPs (and one split with Hopelesstown).

Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing is different from most of his older releases though. It stay true to past recordings musically, as the songs are still lo-fi and acoustic. The vocals that are what really struck me as different on this one. There isn’t a lot of signing on Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing. Most songs are delivered with a deadpan, spoken word type approach. Even when there is singing, like in “Sober,” it’s still very flat in delivery.

These four songs made think of two things immediately. The first being old Bright Eyes songs. The second being old Kind Of Like Spitting songs. I hear a lot of “It’s Cool, We Can Still Be Friends” and “We Got As Far As Minnesota” (respectively) in these songs. Not in a shitty, derivative way. More in a shared experience way. I like Lake Michigan for the same reason I like those bands. They are projects built around strong songwriters who aren’t afraid to write honest, personal songs.

I’ve said it a million times before, but honesty counts. Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing is an honest record. Marks doesn’t shy away from expressing vulnerability, nostalgia, or desire. Call it bedroom music, call it folk, or whatever else. It’s just good. Ok?

Lake Michigan
Ruined Smile Records
Wolf Town DIY
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: 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

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: Moon Bandits – "Straight Thinking Means Plain Speaking"

Punk rockers, no matter who they are, constantly love to talk about how self reliant and DIY they are. Post-1982 punk rock still maintains a certain level of the old hardcore ethics, and this isn’t necessarily a band thing. It does get troubling when things get real dogmatic real fast.

Like anything else, if you have to constantly try to convince people you are something, the smart money says you probably aren’t. This is what makes Moon Bandits as good as they are. This is a band that actually stands behind what they are talking about. As such, Straight Thinking Means Plain Speaking is a sincere and enjoyable record.

As a two piece centered around a banjo and a violin, this is a folk punk record through and through. The lyrics cover various topics, mainly sticking to a political bent, but also heavy on community. It is certainly accessible. While it is overtly political in places, it never gets hamfisted about the meaning.

As far as “folk punk” goes, it has a lot in common with bands like Rosa. However, it remains a two piece, and there is not a “full band” feel to it. Once again  this is basically banjo, violin, and vocals throughout.

As it is musically very simple (banjo, violin, and vocals), the lyrics are really the show here. There is a positive vibe about it. This is especially noticable in songs like “Community Love Song” and “It Starts Here.

The former having lyrics like this:

“We will learn from each other
As we build something pure
We’ll teach each other to live
Learn the meaning of secure
This is the end of servitude
We will learn to sweep our own floors
Teach each other to love
We need no less, no more”


The latter featuring the following lyrics:

“Cause it’s more than fuck the system man
It’s holding out your god damn hand
Cause it’s not pushing each other down
It’s pulling each other up”

Honestly, it is just a good record from start to finish. While Moon Bandits might suffer because of the bias against the genre in the overall punk world, they are certainly strong enough to make some waves. Folk punk may have lost some popularity, but bands like this are proof that there is still blood flowing.

Moon Bandits
Stream It/Buy It (BandCamp)**

**Download is pay what you want, but you can also buy a physical version directly from the band (link to that on the BandCamp)

REVIEW: Among Giants – "Truth Hurts"

So, folk punk is still a thing. It is a pretty fucking expansive genre, which probably explains the longevity and continued popularity. You have everything from the anarcho-punk rooted stuff on Plan-It-X to the more personal, emotional stuff. Like any other punk related subgenre, folk punk is both loved and derided by people depending on which part they hear. Among Giants fall into the latter variant, it is pure emotion that is devoid of the sloganeering bullshit. In short, Truth Hurts is a great record that has a lot of heart.

Among Giants play a great mix of indie, folk punk, and pop punk. The record flows at a pretty consistent pace, and it hits way the fuck more than it misses. It encapsulates the general angst of post-college aged kids, which is a much harder thing than it seems. From around 1994-2000 music for this age group was primarily disaffected and wallowing in some post-modern idea of “irony.” The music geared to that age range these days is similar in it’s jadedness, but remains optimistic. This is the strength of Among Giants as a band and Truth Hurts as a record.

“Late Nights” is one of the best album openers in recent memory. As it should, it almost perfectly sets the emotional tone for the remainder of the record. “Get Your Shit Straight” and “What’s The Point?” are able to paint optimism and frustration in a way that avoids getting preachy. The whole record plays to this narrative, and it is much to the strength of the overall thing.

While some points can get a little samey, Among Giants are able to keep things interesting by mixing the acoustic guitar and a guy stuff with the great full band stuff. This split occurs sometimes within single songs. It makes for an engaging listen. It might not reinvent the wheel, but it sure is good. This shit rules, ok?

Among Giants
Stream/Buy It (BandCamp)

*I’m still unsure if this is a proper full band, just a single dude, or some variation thereof. So, I just defaulted to a full band. So, yeah.

REVIEW: Accents – "Growth And Squalor"

There is something familiar about Accents. I don’t mean that in a shitty way. Actually quite the opposite. Growth And Squalor is a very inviting record in that sense. For a debut release to be that inviting is actually pretty rare. The general downside to that is, of course, it is hard to be super descriptive about something that doesn’t really make a huge impression. That is the catch 22 in this scenario.

Accents play a pretty solid indie rock/folk style. There instrumentation is great, especially considering they are a duo rather than a full band. They have a pretty solid, laid back kind of sound. However, let is not be said that there aren’t some rockers on here. The opening song, “Divide”, kicks the album off in a great fashion. It has some great vocal harmonies and a catchy guitar line. The following two songs “Way Out” and “The Fog” are great follow ups. The first three songs set a great tone. Unfortunately, those are three of the strongest songs. Of the remaining seven songs (or eight if you include the bonus track), there are only three that really stand out to be. “Alright With Me” and “Routine Movements” break it up a little bit. The album closer “Sorrow” starts off as a kind of middling track, but totally builds towards the end. It is a great way to end.

Now, that is not to say the remaining songs are bad. They aren’t bad at all, really. They just fall in the trap that often springs up with this type of music. There just isn’t enough diversity to really keep my attention. They are enjoyable songs, but get lost in the mix a little for me. I don’t know.

There is a lot to like here. As I said earlier, there is a familiarity with these song. If I had to make a comparison, I would say there is a little Kind Of Like Spitting, Sleeping At Last, Kevin Devine, and Death Cab For Cutie floating around in here. Certainly a bit of 90’s alternative in spots as well. While the record doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it never gets derivative either. All in all, it is a solid release for the indie rock set.

Accents
Deep Elm
Buy It / Stream It (Deep Elm BandCamp)