Thursday, May 28, 2015

Michael Dean Damron -- When the Darkness Come

To judge by his songs, Michael Dean Damron's view on life is that it's vicious and short. To be honest, I haven't listened to this album too many times because I don't exactly need extra nudges to feel dark and miserable right now. But even with only a couple of spins, When the Darkness Come has burrowed into my psyche. I've found myself quoting song lyrics without even realizing where they come from and the solemn percussion on the lead track, "Butcher," drifts along the edge of my consciousness as I fall asleep.

Much like his (former?) band, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House's last release Mayberry, the album isn't completely bleak. The last song, "Row," is all about persevering through the pain. But the journey from point A to point B is pretty harrowing. And I guess that's life, after all.


Michael Dean Damron -- Facebook, Purchase from CDBaby

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nick Ferrio -- Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs

To call Nick Ferrio a country or folk artist minimizes the achievement of Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs. That's not to say there's anything wrong or less-than about country and folk -- obviously. But Ferrio brings a complexity and intention to his music that doesn't generally apply to cowboy music. It might be more accurate to say that this album is a an art-song cycle that's heavy on steel guitar.

Amongst the Coyotes is an album in the traditional sense. This is meant to be listened to uninterrupted from start to finish. Ferrio takes us through the arc of relationships -- all the way from the first tentative pangs of commitment to the inevitable, tragic end. Ferrio and his compatriots bring a gentle, psychedelic feel to the table that brings the '70s to mind. Ferrio is unquestionably in command here. His voice has the suppleness and confidence of a young Elvis Presley (not saying he sounds like him, just saying that he's got the same swagger) and the unflappable cool of Costello. Amongst the Coyotes and Birdsongs is no small feat, and it is definitely one of the better albums of 2015.

Nick Ferrior -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, May 25, 2015

frog -- Kind of Blah

Frog has a knack for writing catchy songs about tragic female American celebrities. It might even be their specialty. "Nancy Kerrigan" was the earworm from their first album. This time around, "Judy Garland" is probably the most accessible -- and certainly the most infectious -- song on the band's debut album.

Where frog introduced us to a pair of wistful slackers, Kind of Blah cranks the anxiety and regret up to 11, while somehow maintaining the detached, controlled "chill" of the first album. As always, the music's fun. But what impresses me most about Kind of Blah is that this album might be one of the best depictions of place (in this case, New York City) I've heard.

Another reviewer described the album as a "Peek through a smeared window at an innocent and imaginary New York" but I don't think that's true at all. frog does a pretty great job at depicting the desperation and isolation of living in a town that has become sanitized and gussied up and has left almost everyone who lives here behind.

I don't know what it's like to listen to songs about New York if you've never been here -- God knows there are enough of them. I've never been to a lot of the places in the South that get name-checked by the folks whose music I listen to. Paul Sanchez, Fred LeBlanc, and the Breton Sound litter their songs with places in New Orleans -- I can get a sense of the kind of place it is based on the song, I suppose, but they're all pretty well-traveled spots, which makes the whole business seem kind of generic.

frog, on the other hand, refers to places that a visitor is not likely to go: a forlorn teen watching life go by on a fire escape on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx; a drunk walking along the FDR drive, which runs along the East Side of Manhattan and is basically inaccessible to pedestrians (how'd he get there? I don't know -- there aren't so many places to drink within walking distance of it); the seemingly infinite stretch of 7th avenue, which is broad and flat, during a panic attack. This isn't an innocent New York City. Are these textures that a non-resident can pick up on? Not unless you're committed to Google Street View. It doesn't mean you won't enjoy the music, but it adds some flavor to the people who do know. Overall, frog doesn't try to romanticize the place, nor do they paint it to be an unspeakable shithole that feeds on broken dreams -- those tend to be the two most popular depictions of it, anyway. frog paints a picture of New York as a place that's lived in, despite all of the socio-economic forces that try to weed the living people out and reshape it into an idealized image. Whatever you think of the music, that alone is a triumph.

frog -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, May 22, 2015

James Burrows -- Paradise Cinema

I've been sitting on my hands for a good amount of time now, waiting until the general public can get James Burrows' debut album into their little paws.

This album is great. I love it. I know I love almost everything I post on here but, seriously, I'm so excited you get to listen to whole thing now.

Burrows' tired vocals and jaded depiction of working-class CanAmerica (he lives in Toronto) draw easy comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. While Burrows generally revels in a classic rock vibe, he avoids the temptation of drawing too many connections to Bruce (with the exception of "Factories Made of Steel.") Burrows' songs manage manage to romanticize working class life while vividly painting the hardships therein.

Though Burrows has spent most of his professional life writing about poverty and gentrification (and "Factories Made of Steel" and "Disco" certainly take neoliberalism to task), I have to wonder if Burrows has become the kind of person his songs implicitly critique. Just like conservatives singing along to "Born in the USA," isn't it a little suspect for a 20-something living in a "bohemian" (read: gentrifying) neighborhood to wax poetic about the working life? Or maybe I'm just bringing my own One Percenter baggage into this. Either way, this is a great album and it'll make you feel the things that matter.

James Burrows -- Official (and I guess the purchase link is on his site?), Facebook

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Milk Carton Kids -- Monterey

You guys, I haven't eaten anything but rice in the last 72 hours. Well, that's not entirely true. I tried to eat human food last night and this morning, but my stomach was very definitively like "NOPE" and I actually thought I was going to either die during class or throw up right there in front of my students, which would basically be like dying.

On the plus side, I've eaten like a Zen Buddhist monk for the better part of a while, and I think that austerity has helped me better appreciate The Milk Carton Kids' Monterey.

The duo are gifted singers and instrumentalists. As they relate in their fascinating interview over on No Depression, the pair focused more on their instrumentation -- rather than a particular theme. It's this emphasis on the music itself that makes Monterey feel downright unearthly. Some of you will enjoy that. The Milk Carton Kids are the type of artist to elevate folk music into Art. But let's be honest -- some of you won't, possibly because you're the type who believes that folk music should be grounded in a powerful message.

Nonetheless, listening to these two bounce off each other is a transcendent experience in its own right. When done well, this is the sacred experience that music can offer us: individuals joining together to create something much greater than they could have on their own.


The Milk Carton Kids -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Last Tycoon -- Death by Dixie

The title track on the Last Tycoon's new EP, Death By Dixie, is a sleeper. With the climbing banjos, mandolins, and John Gladwin's delicate voice, at first I thought the guy was just another pretty-boy hipster with nothing to say. Suddenly, Gladwin's anger kicks in and you realize that Gladwin actually has a whole mess of things to tell you.

After the recession hit, Gladwin relocated to Sweden (which is...drastic...but sure), in which he spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to not only be American, but to be from the South. Death By Dixie is a collection of sharply written, meditative, and haunting songs. It celebrates the urbanization and industrialization of the modern South while refusing to forget the liberties and lives sacrificed to get it there. If you think Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires are brilliant but too fucking loud, The Last Tycoon will be right up your alley. If you love Lee Bains, then you'll love the Last Tycoon.

The Last Tycoon -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Feral Conservatives -- The Feeling Noise Becomes

I don't know what it says about me but I'm not sure if I believe in love at first site when it comes to people. At least, it hasn't happened for me. But love at first listen is very much a thing, and I am deeply in love with the Feral Conservatives.

I think Feral Conservatives and I were made for each other. They're steeped in '90s post-punk, millenial irony, and a little bit of folky twang. Rashie Rosenfarb's playful, lonely vocals call to mind such indie stalwarts as Letters to Cleo, but the dry lyrics and powerful melodies remind me of Tracy Bonham (particularly "Lies.") Make no mistake, though -- this little EP is not a throwaway piece of cotton candy. The Feral Conservatives are committed to their music, and that excitement is transferred to the listener. If you like your music catchy but earnest, you'll fall for the Feral Conservatives as deeply as I did. Maybe we can have an open relationship.

Feral Conservatives -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp