Throwback Thursday – “Dawn Escapes” by Falling Up

Dawn Escapes by Falling Up

As the oppressive heat of summer in the South shows no signs of relenting, I long for crisp and cool autumn nights.  This album takes me back not only to that glorious season, but also to a year in my life which began a personal renaissance.

I guess I can start by saying that this album isn’t actually among my favorites.  I would probably only rank it three out of five stars.  But as with much music, it’s about the memories and feelings it evokes, not necessarily the material itself.  Dawn Escapes was originally released on October 25, 2005.  This landed it squarely in the fall of my sophomore year of college, one of the first times I felt free to explore and express myself.  For various reasons, my freshman year of college was somewhat of a throw-away year, particularly when it came to personal growth.  So, freshly returned from summer break and unencumbered by the anchors of the past, I dove headlong into college life that semester.

I remember driving over to Rocketown with some friends to see Falling Up perform some of the new material.  This was perhaps a couple of weeks before the record dropped.  Upon hearing the new songs, the ethereal tones and guitar parts didn’t surprise me, but what did catch me off guard was the amount of piano and keys that were featured.  While their debut offering had scant keyboards and programming, this release leaned on them heavily.  Front-man Jesse Ribordy even mentioned from stage that they had tried to make a more pop-accessible record, which was disappointing to me as a blooming emo-kid.  To this day I wonder if label pressure was the reason for the shift.  Still, I enjoyed the show and looked forward to the album, even pre-ordering it, if my memory serves me correctly.

Despite the changes from its predecessor, Dawn Escapes is by no means a bad album.  It contains all the core elements from Crashings, and there is nothing simplistic about the songs or composition.  Despite the electronic base, there is also a bit of edge; it’s a far cry from The Postal Service.  Ribordy’s clear voice delivers cryptic lyrics over distorted guitars, synthesizers, and crashing cymbals, as well as pianos and percussion loops.  Best of all, they didn’t include any rap vocal cameos this time around.  Despite their young age, I still believe that Falling Up was writing mature music compared to their peers, even if they did borrow some elements from well-known mainstream acts.

Uncharacteristically, I don’t have a connection with many of the words on this album.  Instead, it is the spacey atmosphere that takes me back to driving around Nashville with the windows down, cool and crisp air flooding into the car to match the ethereal sounds.  I savor the memories of that season, which was in many ways a time of rebirth and renewal for me.

You can find the electronic and keyboard-infused rock of Dawn Escapes on Spotify or Amazon.

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Throwback Thursday – “()” by Sigur Ros

() by Sigur Ros

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  First I was off traveling for a couple of weeks, then getting back into the swing of things.  Finally, entries resume.

This week instead of reminiscing about summers past, I’m remembering an album that calls to mind freezing temperatures and short days.  It’s not that I’m ready for the dead of winter by any means, but a song from this album came up on shuffle for me recently, and I recalled that it was the album that first made me fall in love with epic, instrumental post-rock.

I’ve never talked to anyone who knows what the title of this album is.  Some pronounce () simpy as “Untitled.”  This makes it very hard to search for, but naming an album with empty parentheses is likely an artistic statement which Sigur Ros intended to make.  What that statement is, I’m not sure.  I do know that this is one of their darkest albums, sonically speaking.  Some have posited that it represents the emptiness felt by members of the band during that period of their lives, a hypothesis which I believe has merit.  All but a select few moments on the album are brooding, ethereal, and even ominous.

While the album was released in 2002, I first came across it as winter approached in late 2009.  Early nightfall was perfectly accompanied by the ambient, yet deeply emotional sounds of this album.  As with other seasons of my life, mistakes and relational situations weighed heavy on my heart.  The shortening days didn’t help my mood, but this album connected on a level deeper than words could describe.

As with most of Sigur Ros’s work, the vocals are not the feature.  Or they are, but no one can understand them.  In fact, on this album, they’re mostly indiscernible noise, but in a beautiful way.  Some have said that front-man Jonsi is singing in a made-up language.  While that may be, track after track, his haunting falsetto captures as much emotion as could be expected from words which can’t be understood.  In this regard, it’s odd that I love this album as much as I do.  Typically, lyrics are a huge part of what makes a song click for me.  In this case, the music is so good that it happens not to matter.  Discernible or not, the intent is clearly conveyed in the vocals.  Part of me wishes there were profound lines to accompany the instrumentation, but I realize that in this case, that isn’t necessary.

As is common in the genre, tracks routinely reach the ten-minute mark.  In fact, not a single song is under six minutes.  This is music that needs to be mulled and digested, not tossed on the radio for a quick hit and a few bucks.  Still, this particular album is dynamic enough that I wouldn’t consider it background music.  The final track (affectionately labeled as “Untitled 8”) builds from somber vocals punctuated with toms to a furious, aggressive finish, including the most powerful drumming of the album.  I remember lying on the floor at my duplex on Battery Lane, listening to the track through the 1970s stereo my dad gave me as the darkness outside quietly fell around the house.

The album would go on to typify that freezing and lonely winter with its somber and atmospheric sounds.  Today it reminds me of the power of music in and of itself, apart from lyrical content.

You can find the layered and emotional post-rock of () on Spotify and Amazon.

Throwback Thursday – “In Shallow Seas We Sail” by Emery

In Shallow Seas We Sail by Emery

Seeing as today is July the 4th, I thought I would reminisce on an album that reminds me of summer.  There are a few, to be sure, but this one reminds me of one of my favorite summers, the summer of 2009.  Though it was my first summer having a full-time job, it was epically fun, and this album provided much of the windows-down headbanging soundtrack.

I don’t exaggerate when I say this album is in my top ten favorites.  Each song is a veritable masterpiece in its own right, but the best ones are simply breathtaking.  After experimenting a bit with their sound in 2007, Emery returned to their roots with the artful juxtaposition they were known for.  Intricate dueling vocals, fascinating drum backing, and dynamic guitar playing all anchor the album, no pun intended.  I was impressed enough to write a full review right after its release.  My opinions still hold up years later.

Lyrically, the songs speak much of broken hearts and the perpetrators which have caused them.  Still healing from a break-up around the beginning of that year, it was quite cathartic to sing along at the top of my lungs while driving down the interstate.  There’s nothing quite like the delicate harmonies of Toby Morrell and Devin Shelton transitioning into a full-on screamo breakdown.  The style may have seen its day come and go, but the creativity behind it is undeniable, in my opinion.  Songs such as “Curbside Goodbye” and “In Shallow Seas We Sail” capture the full gamut of emotion, from sullen reflection to aggressive release, in a way that doesn’t seem possible with other genres.

The album carried me through the hot summer months before eventually waning in my rotation.  I now pull it out every now and then when I need to be reminded of what is possible when musicianship and raw passion collide.

You can find the complex, dynamic masterpiece that is In Shallow Seas We Sail on Spotify or Amazon.

News – posting reviews for IndieVisionMusic.com

Indie Vision Music

 

There’s a bit of news.  I’ve been accepted as a contributor over at Indie Vision Music, a site that just happens to cover many of the bands I dearly love.  There I will be posting album reviews, news, and potentially interviews covering a variety of alternative Christian artists.  I’ve been following closely since early 2010, and I have discovered a ton of great music that I otherwise never would have heard of.  It’s an honor to  have the opportunity to give back something to a community that has enriched my life so much.

That being said, most of my future album reviews will appear there, though I will still continue to do Throwback Thursdays, book reviews, deep thoughts, and other typical fare for the blog.  I may occasionally post links to reviews I’ve done there, but I’ll keep that to a minimum.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the news.  I’ve been out of the country on a mission trip, but regular posts will continue soon.

Throwback Thursday – “Hey, I’m a Ghost” by Sullivan

Hey I'm a Ghost by Sullivan

It’s summer, so I felt like reminiscing about an album that reminds me of the best summer ever, summer 2006.  That summer featured some epically long hair, playing shows with Joe and Kyle, and Hey, I’m a Ghost by Sullivan.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to go out to Best Buy and pick up the compact disc that June.  Because the band was on Tooth and Nail records, I had listened to some of their singles when the album originally came out in January of that year.  At that time, I just found it weird.  I seriously thought a girl was singing at the beginning of one song because Brooks Paschal’s falsetto was so breathy.  But for some reason, the music connected with me over that hot, lively summer break.

Sullivan’s music is an interesting mix of pop-punk, emo, and even some post-hardcore elements.  There is no screaming, but the high-pitched, strained vocals emit passion.  Guitar parts aren’t necessarily complex, but they’re not mind-numbingly simple, either.  Sections feature clean picking leading up to rock-style breakdowns, while yet others judiciously use effects and an e-bow to create atmosphere.  Every so often, lead licks will surface to remind the listener that this is not just a bunch of kids rocking out in a garage.  The drums are mixed up-front and aggressively, but not unpolished.  It really is a fascinating balance of raw youthfulness and professional musicianship.

Brooks’s vocals deserve a write-up all to themselves.  While the music is interesting, the singing is even more so.  He spans from delicate falsetto to emotional singing to passionate yelling, often within a minute of performance.  He stays on key enough to exhibit talent, but pushes the line enough to stay edgy and raw.  It’s intriguing to hear the different shades of vocals as the songs flow, and I’m probably still a fan of his voice to this day if only for the diversity he can deliver.

Song structures are not unpredictable, but they are often dynamic.  Again, it “feels” like pop-punk, but at the same time it doesn’t.  I think that’s one of the things that attracted me to Sullivan.  They are unabashedly young and energetic, but not simplistic.  That’s exactly what I felt like I needed that summer in the midst of my college years as I, too, clung to youth and became more of a complex individual.  At the same time, the production on this album is absolutely stellar thanks to Matt Goldman.  Every drop of potential is squeezed out of these songs, and it makes for a very enjoyable listen.

Lyrically, the album doesn’t cover anything too deep.  The typical fare from relationships to loneliness makes appearances, though rare songs like “The Charity of Saint Elizabeth” approach deeper topics, such as the death of a sick child, at a distance.  There are also several references to abusive relationships, primarily from the perspective of the good guy who lost the girl to an abusive jerk.  These, too, lend a different weight to the album than something like Dashboard Confessional of the same era might have.  My favorite passages are those that are dramatically emo.  Everyone needs some music to express feelings like those in the mantra of the opening track:

I can’t be a better boy
Than the one you had before
For that I apologize
For that I apologize

At least I needed such words during that season of my life.  There’s still something about the raw yet polished juxtaposition of this album that allows me to enjoy it on warm summer nights, reflecting on the turns my life has taken.  I may even hum along with some passages that still resonate within deep chambers of my heart.  Unfortunately, the band released another less-than-stellar album, then broke up, but perhaps they were together for such a time as my quintessential summer of 2006.

You can find the passionate yet refined emo of Hey, I’m a Ghost on Spotify and Amazon.

Review – “The Hurry and the Harm” by City and Colour

The Hurry and The Harm by City and Colour

City and Colour is definitely a band I use to find common ground with others.  Few can complain about the delicate vocals of Dallas Green, and the more recent efforts have tinged toward more of a classic sound.  The Hurry and the Harm is no exception.  Coming almost two years to the date after the release of Little Hell, the new release picks up right where it left off.

I’ll start by saying that there’s really nothing to complain about in this album.  There were no huge surprises stylistically, and everything from the performance to the production quality is excellent.  At the same time, I didn’t really find anything that connected with me or got me excited.  There are good songs, to be sure, but there are also songs that don’t stand out to me in any way because they sound like music that’s all been made before.  It’s still distinctively City and Colour, but traces remind me of bygone eras.  Fans of artists that gravitate toward sounds of the past will find lots to like on this album, while those hoping for something more modern or innovative may only find other aspects to appreciate.

Most of the songs implement a full-band sound similar to something one might hear in the mid-seventies.  Relatively simple acoustic guitar foundations support bass, electric guitar, and less-than-tight-sounding drums, all while the breathy vocals of Dallas float on top.  As stated, the performances are nearly flawless, but that comes as no surprise.  I believe Green is one of the premier male vocalists of our generation.  Some songs feature a simpler sound with only acoustic guitars and vocals, which come as a welcome break, in my opinion.  Finger-picking sections make up for the somewhat simple-sounding chords that are used elsewhere.  I miss the rich, even dissonant guitar work that characterized City and Colour’s earlier work, but the full-band composition adds complexity and dynamics in a different way.

If I had to choose one thing that I truly enjoyed about the album, it would be the lyrics.  Dallas Green has always had a knack for exploring serious topics.  I’ve always appreciated his ponderings even though I’m relatively certain we hold different world views.  Words like those from the title track exemplify his style of reflective songwriting:

But why are we so worried
More about the hurry
And less about the harm?

Always trying to conquer
That which does not offer
Anything more than a broken heart
Oh, what a cost for love

Other songs similarly explore questions of the human condition.  Personally, I didn’t find as much of a balance between concrete, heart-rending lyrics and deep questioning as in previous records, but I’m an emo-kid at heart; it will be hard to top Sometimes in my eyes.  Still, I applaud them for exploring their artistry and making the music they want to.  I always admire that more than a band that repeatedly churns out whatever sells.

In conclusion, I give The Hurry and the Harm three out of five stars.  It’s certainly a well-executed album, but I didn’t find anything to particularly love.  It will be a nice addition to a mix of City and Colour songs, and some standout tracks such as “The Lonely Life” and “The Golden State” could grow on me over time.  For anyone who is a fan of Dallas Green, it’s an easy decision to go ahead and pick it up.

You can find The Hurry and the Harm on Spotify and Amazon.

Review – “Seasons” by Nate Hale

Seasons by Nate Hale

Last year, local Nashville artist and acquaintance Nate Hale posted a Kickstarter to record a new full-length.  Because I enjoyed some of his former work, and I know him to be a talented, humble musician, I contributed to get the digital download when the album was complete.  Seasons was released on April 10th, and I promptly got my copy via Bandcamp.

I’ll be the first to admit that the music on Seasons isn’t quite my normal fare, at least stylistically.  The instrumentation ranges from acoustic guitar to ukulele and beyond, and the tracks span several genres, all while remaining distinctly Hale.  There are even some acapella-inspired vocal harmonies.  Perhaps because of the genres I frequent, I wasn’t used to hearing such a diversity of instrumentation and styles all in one place, but it works well.  The best way I can describe the music is this:  imagine if Jon Foreman and Jack Johnson had a baby, or at least collaborated on an album.  The folk sensibilities and deeper perspective of Foreman would meld with the laid-back feel and subtle vocals of Johnson to create something like Seasons.

Thematically, the album takes on a few topics, though it largely focuses on relationships.  Don’t let that description fool you; this is far from a collection of emo tunes or sappy love songs.  The thing I most enjoy about Nate is that he manages to put a more profound twist into songs which the typical songwriter may leave at surface level.  In many cases, he begins exploring familiar topics, for example drawing the listener in with poetic lines about love, before turning to ponder the true meaning of the word.  Most of the songs stay relatively upbeat and happy, meaning there is ample opportunity to gain listeners who enjoy accessible music, but also want something deeper.  At the same time, tracks like “Dear Alcohol” and “Lullaby” take a more down-tempo approach.

The production is nothing short of professional, and as one who funded the Kickstarter, it’s very satisfying to hear how well it turned out.  Hale and co-producer Cheyenne Medders definitely took their time with these songs, paying attention to the smallest detail to get everything just right.  I’m sure Nate is very proud of what he was able to release, and it surely captures the visions he had for these songs.

Overall, this is a great album for summertime with a mix of upbeat and reflective songs.  Fans of Jon Foreman, Jack Johnson, and the like will find lots of things to love in these eleven tracks.

You can find the meticulously-crafted independent songs of Seasons on Bandcamp or Amazon.