Stay Gold – First Aid Kit

Indie Folk/Americana

I am really excited to be writing about First Aid Kit this week. I feel like they are a welcome addition to the modern music scene. For a band that rose to fame by covering a song from last week’s band Fleet Foxes on YouTube, First Aid Kit has successfully set themselves apart from the rest of the many folk musicians in today’s market. Yes, they are unique in that they are a female duo, sisters, and they are a Swedish band playing Americana but what really sets them apart is the overall quality of their music.

First Aid Kit’s music is reflective of true American folk music while still managing to sound modern and relevant. The songs on their 2014 album Stay Gold range from the big and bright Stay Gold to the peaceful, relaxing, and reflective Cedar Lane. For being only their third full-length release Stay Gold is a strong effort that will undoubtedly withstand the test of time.

To be honest, First Aid Kit’s music has a lot going for it. The first and most noticeable strength in their music is the vocal harmony between the two sisters. They are great singers individually but it’s not until they begin to harmonize with each other that you realize that their voices complement each other perfectly. Their individual vocal styles are very similar to one another but the subtle differences add something unique to the music.

The music itself is beautifully composed. First Aid Kit’s sound is very folk-country. You will find much of what you expect here including acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Regardless of nationality, they do Americana music justice. In reference to the band as a whole, the Swedish sisters have managed to put together quite the supporting cast. Because the music is influenced by both folk and country it should do well to appeal to both audiences.

The album’s songwriting is robust. Many of FAK’s songs also borrow lyrical themes from both folk and country music. You have your country style love (or heartbreak) songs like A Long Time Ago as well as your storytelling songs in the folk style such as Waitress Song (a personal favorite). The sisters never seem to forget what makes them so unique in this male dominated genre and Stay Gold is often spoken from the female perspective. I am pleased to see the emergence of female personalities in folk music such as FAK and Hurray for the Riff Raff, to name a couple.

First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold is a beautiful piece of Americana and should be given a listen by any fan of this type of music. I believe that we are once again witnessing a reemergence of folk music in America (and Sweden apparently!) and it is wonderful to witness acts like FAK experience success. I look forward to seeing these two live somewhere on a hot summertime field and highly recommend their album Stay Gold to those who are interested.

See you next week.

Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

Folk

It has been a long six years since Fleet Foxes released their last album Helplessness Blues. This was the last glance we had of Fleet Foxes before they decided to hang up their hats for more than half a decade. While many people initially questioned the future of Fleet Foxes, here we are in 2017 listening to a long-awaited follow-up to their beloved Helplessness Blues. For many it is a welcomed return of a band that occupies their own unique space in a crowded and convoluted era of music.

Six years is a long time. Think about your place in life six years ago; there’s a good chance that things were quite a bit different; I know they were for me. People change, lives change, people evolve and mature, and our external environment, the world in which we live in, changes to. Undoubtedly, the members of Fleet Foxes are no more immune to the effects of the passing of time then you or me. Evidence of this can be heard loud and clear on the latest Fleet Foxes effort Crack-Up.

On Crack-Up you will still hear much of what you love about the Fleet Foxes. The album is riddled with beautiful melodies and harmonies, complex instrumentals, and Pecknold’s vocal ability and range remain as good as ever. The folk-soul sound that Fleet Foxes fans have fallen in love with also remains stable. Long-time Fleet Foxes fans and newbies alike will find Crack-Up easily accessible thanks to the consistency of Pecknold and crew.

While Fleet Foxes manage to keep much of what people love about their original formula they not afraid to venture into new territory. In more than one aspect Crack-Up is a very different album then any of its predecessors. Crack-Up is much more of an emotional journey. Through its 55 minutes Crack-Up is tragic, enlightened, sad, beautiful, tranquil, expansive and so much more. This emotional progression reflects back upon the concept of the passing of time, a theme found often in folk music.

Crack-Up does some things very well. On Crack-Up Fleet Foxes master the concept of negative space. For each and every burst of music there exists a void. Much like Fleet Foxes own journey as a band. There are moments on Crack-Up that are tranquil, quiet, and serene and each one is filled with such beauty. This record is composed in such a way that makes it feel like one seamless piece of music rather than individual songs. Like a good painting, Crack-Up’s biggest accomplishment is in the way it forces you to interpret its various parts.

Crack-Up has its obvious stand-outs. The singles that were offered pre-release, Third of May/Odiagahara and Fool’s Errand, are good examples of this. These songs do well standing on their own two feet and are the closest thing to a White Winter Hymnal or Mykonos you will find on this album. They serve as pillars alongside the other songs that help bind the album together. –Naiads, Cassadies (one of my current favorites off this album) and Kept Woman do well to act as a harmonic bridge between the album’s opener and centerpiece. Crack-Up succeeds in making you feel that every song is in its right place. The album’s pace and flow are perfect. This is a credit to the album’s composition. It is constructed in a way that makes it feel whole.

So where do the Fleet Foxes go from here? Crack-Up feels very much like the beginning of a new chapter for Pecknold and crew and already Robin is talking about the future. It sounds like the band is going to be a lot more active in making music in the coming years. Fleet Foxes have shown through Crack-Up that they are not afraid of progression and we will undoubtedly continue to see this in their future efforts.

Robin Pecknold has been busy the past six years with his work at Columbia University, staying active on social media, and most certainly soul-searching. His spiritual progression can be heard on Crack-Up; his most intellectual album to date. What’s even more evident is that Robin and crew seem more comfortable than ever before. Fleet Foxes really feel at home on Crack-Up and I know that I can speak for many when I say that we are happy to have them back. In a sense, Crack-Up represents the passing of time better than any album I have heard in the past. It remains retrospective while ushering in a new era for Fleet Foxes and masterfully embraces the present. I don’t think this album would have the same effect if it was not for the six years of negative space.

See you next week.

4th of July – Carl Broemel

Indie Folk/Indie Rock

If albums were seasons Carl Broemel’s 4th of July would be summer. This album is a great candidate for your sitting by the pool, relaxing, drinking a beer chill-out album of the summer this year. While the holiday weekend may be a bit off I thought this would be a great album to write about on this beautiful Memorial Day weekend. Carl Bromel’s 4th of July is a stunning album that you may have missed last year and should be added to your summer song playlist immediately.

When most people hear the name My Morning Jacket they may be reminded of frontman Jim James. This is for a good reason given Jim’s adept vocal and instrumental ability. This being said, lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel is easily one of the most talented people on MMJ’s roster and the rock scene as a whole nowadays. Upon listening to Carl’s solo work it is easy to hear his large influence and contribution to MMJ’s music. Carl’s solo work strays from MMJ’s and favors a laid back folk approach that features Carl’s instrumental abilities in a large way.

4th of July is the third solo release from the Indianapolis born, Louisville based musician. Unlike many musicians in today’s musical landscape Carl is classically trained and proficient not only on guitar but also saxophone and pedal steel among other instruments. Carl’s broad ranging instrumental skills can be heard loud and clear on 4th of July even if they are not the most excited renditions we are used to hearing on the MMJ records.

4th of July is reminiscent of a summertime daydream and can be that perfect album to help you detach from any stress in life that may be plaguing you. After all, the album does start with a track entitled Sleepy Lagoon. The album is fairly short with only eight tracks although two of which do exceed the seven minute mark.

The title track 4th of July is a main attraction on the album and is also the longest spanning over ten minutes in length. The track is dreamy and detached and is the one song on the album that highlights Carl’s instrumental approach the best. The track starts off as relaxed as most on the album but quickly transforms into something more engaging and eventually tapers off slowly with Carl’s mystifying guitar work. This track will remind you of Carl’s influence on MMJ’s sound with its similarly entrancing sound.

One of my personal favorites off 4th is Rockingchair Dancer a four minute drifting berceuse who’s lyrics discuss the realities of aging. Try not to fall asleep but if you do it will be a nice way to drift off. Lyrically the track Snowflake is the highlight off the record. The lyrics are innocent and features lines such as Every raindrop’s the same, you’re no snowflake. It’s a nice and simple song and sometimes that is welcome on a relaxing day.

I highly recommend giving Carl Broemel’s 4th of July a listen. For those of you who are looking for an unwinding album for the summer months look no further than 4th of July. Carl is a main contributor to the big sound of My Morning Jacket and that is easy to hear in his solo work. From exciting guitar solos to mystifying saxophone to country pedal steel melodies there is a lot to like about Carl Broemel’s musical ability. My only request is that on his next release we get a longer record. I could use another four tracks in addition to the existing eight on this record. Carl should take that as a compliment!

See you next week.

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Indie Folk

Last week Father John Misty released his newest LP entitled Pure Comedy. Father John Misty fans (including most of my friends and I) have been eagerly waiting for this release since 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. It should be noted that while I am eager to write about this album this week I have only listened to it a few times at this point. While the album is still settling in for me I have to say that I really like it so far. FJM continues to produce great work.

My initial impression is that this album as a whole is very much a continuation of the style we saw in the song Bored in the USA (track 9 of I Love You, Honeybear) almost as if that song was a primer for this album. We see a continuation of the slower pace ballads accompanied by piano, guitar, Tillman’s outstanding vocals and cynical and satirical personality. It’s this persona that FJM fans have watched develop over the past years that sets his music apart. It may sound drab but honestly it’s entertaining as hell.

This is FJM’s biggest project yet racking in at 13 songs and 1hr and 14min. The pace of this album is quite a bit slower than his past releases and, as my cousin pointed out, some of the songs tend to blend together upon first listen. This being said, don’t leave with the impression that the songs are not varied or unique, it’s just that there is an overall tempo to this album that holds firm. The one exception to this would be the track Total Entertainment Forever which is more upbeat.

The album opens with the self-titled Pure Comedy and this song is a great intro to the album. The song exemplifies FJM’s persona perfectly by delivering a twisted view of humanity over piano and drums. Total Entertainment Forever is next and is the very song that was the subject of scrutiny after FJM’s appearance on SNL. The song opens with the controversial lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” of course referring to having virtual sex with Taylor Swift using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift. This song is upbeat, features great instrumentals including saxophone and is currently my favorite song off the album.

One song that I did not hear until release was A Bigger Paper Bag. This song has been growing on me and is creeping towards the top of the ranks for my favorite songs off the album. Ballad of a Dying Man is maybe the most interesting song here. This song tells the story of an old dying man that remains analytical and critical of people up until his very last breath. We also have Leaving LA which is a mammoth thirteen minute and twelve second song that critiques “LA hipsters and their bullshit bands” (lyrics changed from Pitchfork bands on the album release for some reason) among many other entertaining points.

I feel that this FJM album was worth the wait. Sure the album is a bit different than his prior releases (mainly in the consistent downtempo pace and critical tone) but I really feel that through his lyrics and music Tillman is giving us his most honest FJM yet. How do I think this album stacks up against his other releases? Ask me in a few months and I’ll tell you. Is this album worth your time? Yes it is.

See you next week.

The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Progressive Bluegrass

This week I would like to highlight one of the most recent additions to my list of favorite albums. This band also happens to include of my most respected musicians of all time Chris Thile. The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers is an amazing achievement in the modern Progressive Bluegrass scene and should not be overlooked. Seriously, I am not exaggerating.

I would assume that most people reading this right now are thinking what the hell is progressive bluegrass? Well, the answer is that there is no real set-in-stone definition. The best way to describe progressive bluegrass is as a modern subgroup or subgenre of traditional bluegrass music that has the liberty of adding instruments and incorporating styles that traditional bluegrass would not. Please don’t be intimidated by the bluegrass designation; many people who are fans of folk or rock music will find this music easy to approach.

Most of you who are familiar with the traditional bluegrass format would expect to see an acoustic banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle (violin), upright bass, and sometimes a dobro. What is interesting about modern variations of bluegrass music is that you will often hear electric instruments, drums, and incorporated style elements of folk and rock music. This allows the musicians a little more creative freedom and flexibility. In addition to Punch Brothers you may already know some other progressive bluegrass groups such as Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, and Yonder Mountain Sting Band to name a few.

Now that the lecture is over I will try and get back on topic! The Phosphorescent Blues is an admirably complex and beautiful addition to the modern bluegrass catalog. It is easy to hear that each musician in Punch Brothers is a master of their respective instruments. This is certainly true of Chris Thile who is known as one of the best (many feel the best) mandolin players alive (see Chris Thile Plays Bach: Sonata No, 1 in G Minor on Youtube). As an amateur mandolin player I not only have a tremendous amount of respect for his approach to the mandolin but also his success in bringing notoriety to the instrument in modern times. Chris also plays the part of lead vocals and does so very well.

I feel like I have already said a lot so I will avoid a track-by-track here. This being said I encourage you to give this album a shot. As I mentioned, this album is one of my current favorites and may become one of yours as well. Some of my favorite tracks include: My Oh My, Julep, Magnet, Little Lights, and the ten minute and twenty three second opener Familiarity. I should also note that the video that I posted for My Oh My (my favorite song off the album) is not the record version but instead the version with Chris Thile from The Late Show. I feel that it is an excellent live rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

See you next week.

From Scotland With Love – King Creosote

Folk

I’ll start with an album that I have been listening to a lot recently. From Scotland With Love is a remarkable addition to the collection of music by Scottish based King Creosote. From Scotland With Love was composed as a soundtrack to the documentary by Virginia Heath of the same title. The film features historic footage from the National Library of Scotland and Scottish Screen Archive backtracked by the Creosote album and absent of any actual commentary. Think of it as one long music video. I am happy to admit that both the film and the album are masterfully done.

Like its film counterpart, From Scotland With Love is both retrospective and sincere. The album opens with Something to Believe In, a heartfelt introduction to the 39 minute collection that highlights Creosote’s fascinating vocals over a short set of meaningful lyrics. From the slow and somber tone of Something to Believe In the album eventually evolves into upbeat and exciting songs such as Largs and For One Night Only that do well to vary the mood of the album.

Perhaps one of the most interesting songs on the album is Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123 featuring a children’s rhyme encapsulating lyrics by Creosote that include “Bury me in the old churchyard, Beside my only brother, My coffin shall be black, Six white angels at my back.” This song is a pleasure to listen to and is a highlight of the album.

The instrumentals on the album are just as complex and beautiful as the lyrics. From the accordion work on Something to Believe In to the acoustic guitar work on Bluebell to the rhythmic percussion of One Floor Down to the inspiring violin on A Prairie Tale there is something to excite your interest in every song.

From Scotland With Love continues to impress me every time I listen to it. It is one of those albums that sounds better and better with each listen. The only thing that makes this album more enjoyable is by listening to it while watching its corresponding documentary; I highly suggest it. This album is here to stay in my music library and I hope you will enjoy it as well. Please feel free to post your thoughts.

Until next week, farewell.