Category Archives: Folk/Americana

First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

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First Aid Kit: Stay Gold - The Swedish duo First Aid Kit, comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg ,  gained some recognition in 2008 after they uploaded their cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ onto YouTube. Two years later, the sisters released their debut album The Big Black and the Blue in 2010. Now, with the release of their third studio album Stay Gold , First Aid Kit is continuing to make music with sweet harmonies and great melodies . The duo’s honeyed vocals and  skilled songwriting help get through the hardships life throws our way by putting things into perspective with their enchanting and inspiring songs.

This 10-track album features many songs that are sure to awaken your spirits. The first track, ‘My Silver Lining,’ is like a beautiful daydream. The sounds of the violin and cello are so uplifting that listening to them practically makes my heart flutter. In addition, the song features encouraging lyrics such as, “Time races on/ And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on”. The tambourine on the song seems to represent the sound of feet moving forward despite what lies ahead; It helps to add more meaning to the song.

Another song, ‘Master Pretender’, is an interesting listen as well. Even though the song is inherently folk, it seems to have an island vibe which is likely to put you in a relaxed mood.

The track ‘Waitress Song’ is one filled with many scenarios. The title of the song comes from the first verse: “I could move to a small town/ And become a waitress/ Say my name was Stacy/And I was figuring things out”. The song is filled with a bunch of “I could be” scenarios which all allude to the idea that “anything is possible”.  It’s a song that lets you know that there is nothing wrong with reinventing yourself, just as long as you believe in yourself.

The song ‘Heaven Knows’ is more of an upbeat song that exemplifies the essence of the folk sound. With lyrics like, “You’ve lost yourself in others’/ Expectations of you/ Now you prefer this caricature before being true/ But you’re better than that/ You’re so much better than that/ I know you better than that”, the song explores the idea of how important it is to remain true to yourself.

Even though the album features songs that inspire others to be fulfilled, it also contains songs that are filled with hardships one must endure through life. The track ‘Stay Gold’ is a song that reinforces an important sentiment expressed in the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost – “All good things come to an end.” Some lyrics that help express these thoughts are: “All of my dreams/ they fall and form a bridge /Of memories where I can’t get back to you”.

Another track that expresses a similar idea is ‘Cedar Lane,’ a song that reminds us of how time goes by so quickly and how some things never remain the same. The melancholy of the album rolls on with ‘Shattered & Hollow,’ which includes lyrics such as “I’d rather be broken than empty.”

The song, ‘The Bell,’ is a compelling track about mustering up the courage to walk away from a particular situation when you know it would be detrimental if you stayed. When First Aid Kit sings “How could I turn around?/Face the sound of the bell that chimes?/Ringing out, shrill and loud/To drag me back down,” they reveal that in order to remain honest to yourself, sometimes you need to cancel out the unwanted noise in your life.

The last track, ‘A Long Time Ago’ is one that speaks to your heart .The piano is absolutely beautiful. “I was the one/ You counted on/ But I was never the one for you/ Now I know/ I lost you a long time ago” – this line in particular makes the song quite touching. It definitely finishes off the album in a lovely way.

Stay Gold is a reflective album that has a personal way of relating to the ups and downs of life. Each song is nestled with enchanting harmonies, delightful melodies, and great life- lessons woven in asl well. These components make the whole album an absolute gem. First Aid Kit is a duo whose music seems to come from a place of sincerity, exploring various themes about life; Time goes on, the world keeps turning and life moves on. And, all of those things should be more of a reason for you to remain loyal to yourself and keep moving forward. It’s music that emphasizes the importance of perseverance. It’s music with a positive message, which is quite refreshing…9.2/10

A Long Time Ago

 

Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real

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Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino RealCamper Van Beethoven‘s bassist Victor Krummenacher previously told Pop Matters “Young Camper is very different from old Camper,” and he’s certainly right. Mixing elements from styles ranging from pop to alternative country to ska, Camper has perpetually played with the boundaries between genres. Now, this year’s El Camino Real even differs from its thematically similar sister album, last year’s La Costa Perdida. Both reflect on the band’s home of California yet while La Costa Perdida celebrated the Northern part with a relatively upbeat, relaxed sound, El Camino Real focuses on the Southern part of the state with a significantly darker tone and tighter arrangements. Lead singer David Lowery’s recollections of shifting states between admiration and disillusionment for his old stomping grounds illustrate even further that Camper is a band looking at time through a looking glass, making their aesthetic alterations between albums understandable. As the men of Camper look back on the past, it’s only normal that their perspectives on events and places would change and this tonally and lyrically darker release marks another successful one for the band.

A sample of a Japanese  airline announcement introduces the album’s opener ‘The Ultimate Solution’ before Jonathan Segel’s violin cascades alongside Jonathan Lisher’s slide guitar. Singing of “violins and violence”, Lowery’s mannered and recently choice style of vocals recalls a Blur-era Damon Albarn and which can also be heard on the mischievous sounding ‘It Was Like That When We Got Here’. While violin weighs down a springing bass, Lowery sings in an unattached tone screaming of messiness and longing like a petulant child. Camper has previously paired disparate lyrics and music and this up-tempo track is another strong example of it for the group.

Though the more upbeat songs in the beginning of the album are definitely worth a listen, Camper seems most comfortable on more melancholy tracks like the dark dance number ‘Camp Pendleton’, where a downtrodden guitar moves slowly with sharp bass plucks and Michael Urbano’s steady drum rhythm. Here, the lamenting lyrics match the gloomier sound of Lowery’s calmed down vocals before a catchy lo-fi guitar introduces the ominous yet danceable chorus repeatedly chanting “Pump up the violence/Bring the lights on down.” And on the eeriest track ‘Out like a Lion’ where a baritone Lowery’s slow spoken lyrics about a baby born into it’s dead mother’s blood roll along soft and heavy drum thumps. The song is littered with Segel’s fiddle haunting the background and accents of bluesy guitar fluctuating in and out but the screaming battle between the two at the end of the track make this a praise-worthy piece of production on the album.

Faster songs on the album are equally satisfying like ‘Dockweiler Beach’ whose punk beat shadows over rushing instrumentals and Lowery’s serial-killer style vocals and when he stutters on lines like “they are never c-coming back” you almost shiver to the rhythm of the spookily low bass set against the ska-paced drums. ‘I Live in L.A.’ similarly pumps up the energy and although Lowery sings, or more appropriately yells, roughly out of range, the bluesy guitar, faint harmonica, and catchy chorus about the good-time that is L.A. nightlife save the song from its less impressive vocals.

Camper plays with its folk side on the ballad ‘Sugartown’ where Segel’s violin slow dances with the country twang of Lisher’s guitar but Lowery’s vocals sound far too guttural set against the smooth romanticism of the song. Also disappointing on the countrified ‘Darken Your Door’, Lowery’s sometimes rewarding stoicism turns into a uncaring drawl and although the song’s high and low pitched strings make one feel like they’re on a gondola in Louisiana, a lack of any climax makes this a forgettable moment on El Camino Real. The album’s end ‘Grasshopper’ keeps up the pleasantries with a slow rolling beat alongside Lowery’s most connected sounding vocals. The stream of harmony make this track a serene ending to a pretty frantic album. On El Camino Real, Camper plays with all (or most) of its favorite toys: punk, rock, alt-country, folk, and instrumental. And although Lowery may need to find a balance between his punky-dissaffectedness and a sense of connection with the listener in his vocals, the album is still a quality representation of the band’s technical and creative abilities and any longtime Camper fans should find it a good listen…7/10

Sea Wolf: Song Spells No.1: Cedarsmoke

Sea Wolf: Song Spells No. 1: Cedarsmoke- The first in a series, Sea Wolf‘s new album Song Spells No.1: Cedarsmoke proves a successful start for the sole singer/songwriter project. California native and singer Alex Church decided to forgo working with a record label with this last release and turned to his fans instead to fund a stripped-down album that recalls the close and familiar sounds of his earlier work. Free from the expectations of a label, Church moved in the opposite direction of previous album Old World Romance and its unexpected risks as he returns to his acoustic roots. Although the album may not be any thing experimental, Church sounds comfortable and confident in this truthful sounding stop on Sea Wolf’s musical journey.

The album leads us in with cello and keyboard notes settling over shaking maracas and samples of a thunderstorm in ‘Intro’ until we’re met by Church’s gravelly voice in ‘Rams Head.’ Sweet lyrics about love’s warmth crackling in front of a fire place float along the melody Church tailors with his emotive voice until the shakers come on again in this almost entirely acoustic track and a cuteness fumes off like smoke.

The fourth song on the album ‘Bavarian Porcelain’ achieves a Broken Bells quality with “ooh”s strung through gypsy-folk guitar and a building rhythm that crashes into a catchy chorus before settling on a stream of instrumentals. ‘Cedarsmoke’ begins with a sound like bouncing wood chips as eerie strings and storm sounds cloud into ‘Young Bodies’ where Church’s voice comes on so clearly you can almost see the furrow of his brow and quiver of his lip as he sings so plain and effectively.

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The album picks up in energy with ‘The Water’s Wide’ where Church echoes the album’s essence singing “I don’t wanna leave here now/Now that I’ve found my legs somehow,” channeling the comfort we hear in his effortless crone as it skips along the jumble of punk-inspired screeches, instrumentals, and quick percussion. The folk vibe of ‘White Woods’ recall Sea Wolf’s Leaves in the River while the baritone and soprano backing vocals plus the jambalaya of instruments make this track sound like a cleaner Arcade Fire song but the fun stops in the next ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ where Church’s vocals sound pungently sad, like those of an inexplicably more depressed Elliot Smith, with only rain sounds and soft guitar to enhance it. However, the last song “Visions” makes up for the loss of production value in the previous song. With a flow of string led instrumentals to lead us out as they led us in, a beat breaks out of melancholy and hopeful sounds that results in a thrash of finale-fitting grooves.

Sea Wolf’s regression towards a simpler acoustic sound should appeal to the crafted tastes of his longtime listeners while inviting new ones to discover him in folky glory. Song Spells No.1: Cedarsmoke is available on streaming sites like Spotify as well as the project’s site for a “pay-what-you-want” digital download. So get the first of this album series and follow Sea Wolf as the artist attempts to entrance you with more of his song spells…7.5/10

‘The Water’s Wide’

Andrew Bird: Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…

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Andrew Bird: Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of… — Andrew Bird’s new album is hard to write about, like trying to describe a dream. Coming after his 2012 album Hands of Glory, where he previously covered folk-tunes from longtime collaborators and muses The Handsome Family, his new album Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of… goes even further with Bird paying homage to the Alt-country duo with an entire album’s worth of covers. With his signature violin and wistful whistle, Bird imbibes their Gothic Americana-rock with his endearing lightness.

It’s an album rife with contrasts. Like the favorite ‘Tin Foiled’ where Bird sings, in a chorus you’ll hear for days, “what is moving will be still/what is gathered will disperse/what is built up will collapse.” Hardly recognizable from the baritone bleeding original, Bird’s high pitched hum and charming violin, alongside backing band Hands of Glory, help bring these songs into the eclectic, classical territory expected out of the somewhat unpredictable Bird.

With Tift Merritt on guitar lending a cushioned base for Bird’s jumping vocals to fall on, those of a female balance his boyish pitch on songs like ‘Don’t Be Scared’ where the thrashing percussion is delicately woven through by soft guitar strums, streams of instrumentals, and the poeticism of the lyrics themselves. While the narratives of the original tracks are slightly obscured by the distracting depth of Brett Sparks’ baritone, Bird exalts them. In ‘Frogs Singing,’ pretty little plucks circle Bird’s fluctuating wail while on ‘Drunk By Noon’ delightful lyrics like “there once was a poodle who thought he was a cowboy,” are accompanied by the flutter of his shaking vocals while a perfect whistle breezes over the breath of sound The Hands of Glory create.

Songs about drunkenness and cheap whiskey bubble throughout the album like the refurbished True Detective theme song ‘Far From Any Road (Be My Hand)’ where Bird’s tantalizing use of instrumentals and choir ready crone float upwards and then fall down with the beautiful melancholy of the track. ‘So Much Wine, Merry Christmas’ makes one feel like they’re driving down a dark country road after wiping whiskey tears off a worn down bar until Bird sings “listen to me Butterfly, there’s only so much wine” and the sweetness of that country cordiality tints this dark brown lullaby with a glimmer of gold.

This album goes down like red wine, sweet and dreamy, a bedtime story for adults. Bird’s dense streaks of instrumentals and warm accents fill The Handsome Family tunes with new blood and birth a blushing future for the genre-bending artist, hopefully one that expands on the country character he’s dreamt up for us here…9.0/10

Tin Foiled

Rodrigo Amarante: Cavalo

Rodrigo Amarante: Cavalo  This is the sort of homelessness I’ve feared since I was small. I had nightmares of being entrapped under miles of pipe, of being stuck in coaches that moved of their own accord and took me too far away to ever return. Apparently, Rodrigo Amarante doesn’t have these childish fears; he takes them in his hands, whittles them and blows his notes through. On Cavalo, astride his own lyrical cavalo, he thrusts himself into the beds of dead seas and trawls deserts on the moon, an alternately peaceful and burdensome isolation, much as he described in his press release:

When I finally arrived back in Rio no longer a child and with an accent three times tampered, I realized that my home town was mine only because I had invented it, its memory a dream of smells and hope that didn’t exist in space, maybe in time. I discovered myself a stranger…

If you’d ever felt Devendra Banhart was a bit too disingenuous with his ironic freak folk, perhaps Amarante’s muted melodies and stunted notes are more your thing. Here is a map carved with the sincerity of one man’s wandering mind.

Cavalo is a gorgeous Latin-folk record, just as concise and sparse as Amarante intended and with just the right amount of accent, never taking focus away from his leathery drifter’s voice. The tracks are mostly sombre odes to blue moons, girls in villages untouched by time and other such G. G. Marquez melancholics, but throughout, even when it isn’t there, is the clop-clop of Amarante’s little cavalo topping the hills. The second half of the record settles into this traveler’s mindset, while the first half is a bit more playful with its timbres. On the whole, though, I could listen to his voice for hours. It’s got the kind of wrinkles that just seethe story and gravitas, like an old ambassador’s face.

The liveliness of Cavalo‘s first half is the initial elation at leaving home: he supplements his spidery acoustic plucks on ‘Mom Nom’ with tuba drones that paint the rising sun to the dawn created by his guitar and croonings, and ‘Hourglass’ is a surprise funk-pop number where he channels Julian Casablancas amidst the hornet twang of electric organ and a mischievous bass. ‘Mana’ follows with similar festivity, spry basslines and hoof-on-cobblestone percussion  you can just see him lowing to the maids tending fields of banana, though not to any one particular girl, but with the elation of simply being incensed.

Track six, ‘Fall Asleep’, inaugurates the deeply pensive second half in which he leaves the familiar haunts behind, and attempts to sustain himself on memories in increasingly strange and provoking mental spaces, like the wall of sea evoked by piano in this track. The title track, ‘Cavalo’, is a near-wordless trudge through landscapes bearing Dali’s sodden timepieces and made suffocatingly humid with the reverberating effects and production. If I haven’t communicated it already, this half gets emotionally harrowing, though always with a sense of freedom, and the ability to move on and out from these howling moors.

Cavalo is Amarante’s first solo record, and feels as such. It’s exactly what you’d expect to get by extracting his influence from Little Joy and Los Hermanos, and placing that essence in its own habitat to put down roots and shoots — and I’m glad he took the time to extricate himself, because this record is a half-hour odyssey, a success of sparse textures and intent…8.6/10

 

‘Mom Nom’