Showing posts with label bluegrass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bluegrass. Show all posts

Sunday, August 12, 2018

video review: 'i travel on' by jason eady

So yeah, not quite blown away by this one, but it's still genuinely great all the same. Definitely check it out!

album review: 'i travel on' by jason eady

I've said this a number of times before, but it bears repeating: if you're looking for about the purest expression of indie country being produced in modern times, you pick up a Jason Eady record. The man has the uncanny ability to write songs where you're struck by how the hell nobody would have composed them before as they seem so elemental and straightforward, with the sort of layered nuance and eye for detail that pushes his material into damn near transcendent territory. There's nothing gratuitous or indulgent or wasted and with records like 2014's Daylight & Dark and 2017's self-titled release, he's released country that rises to the apex of the genre...

But there has been two criticisms of his work, both of which I get but neither of which bother me all that much, the first being that his songs can be a little too heavy and melancholy, which often leads to the follow-up that his work as a whole can feel a bit sedate and sleepy at points. I disagree with both points - the writing and compositions are tight and emotionally gripping enough that it's never bothered me, and it's not like his records run long - but Eady has taken those notes to heart and it led to a shift in the creation of this surprisingly quick follow-up project... which if possible stripped things down even further. No overdubs, primarily acoustic, recruiting two ringers from bluegrass of all things - although Eady has made it very clear that he'd never call this a pure bluegrass album, showing the sort of respect and consideration for the art you rarely ever see anymore for any genre - but with a focus on quicker tempos and a feel as if everyone was in the same room for the recording. Now on the one hand I had no idea how much Eady might be able to emphasize that even more - his records have always sounded incredibly intimate in their production - and while I was a little shocked how quickly these songs emerged, I definitely wanted to hear them as soon as possible, so what did we get from I Travel On?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

video review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

And man alive, this took a ton to finish. Next up, Kali Uchis - stay tuned!

album review: 'the scars of man on the once nameless wilderness (i and ii)' by panopticon

I'm not sure without Panopticon I'd have gotten into black metal.

Oh, it was a genre I was exploring, but it was mostly at arm's length, tentatively probing into alien walls of screaming guitars, hammering drums and howled vocals, and while the huge melodies were appealing in the more atmospheric material, I was waiting for that special record to really click. And then came Panopticon, blending in elements of bluegrass and folk and country, genres I knew well, and with records like Kentucky served as my bridge into a genre that captured the primal character of Appalachians, both at its most abandoned and wild to the mountains ravaged by the coal industry and desperate poverty. Yeah, even though I've always found the lyrics from Panopticon nearly impossible to make out - and project mastermind Austin Lunn has no interest in making them easy - there was something to his guttural roars that painted a stark picture to pull me back again and again, culminating when he released Autumn Eternal and it made my year-end list for the best records of 2015.

So, three years later... and we have a two-hour double album, half of which was atmospheric black metal, the other half country folk with an ambitious breadth of instrumentation that almost seemed to imply a more progressive side coming through with this band. And with that album title, it was hard to avoid the thought that Austin Lunn might be returning to the more stark political subtext that hammered through Kentucky. And while I knew this was going to be a LOT to fully take in... hell, I was on-board, so what did I find on The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)?

Friday, December 9, 2016

video review: 'dear life' by high valley

And this record was a ton of fun. Man, it's not smart at all, but at some point it doesn't need to be to kick ass, and this is a prime example.

Next up... probably Courtney Marie Andrews if my schedule holds, so we'll see here. Stay tuned!

album review: 'dear life' by high valley

So it's been a while since I've talked about Canadian country music - which yes, is a thing and I'm still a little bewildered why people act so surprised when I mention that. Folks, we have open plains, the Boots N' Hearts festival and the Calgary stampede - it might be a very regional thing up here, but we do have a big market for country music.

But just like the rest of Canadian music, Canadian country is a little different. It's probably best to see it as a similar ecosystem to Texas country in comparison with Nashville - we might import a fair bit, but there are some unique traditions and sounds that we've cultivated up here. For one, there's more of a balance, as Canadian country didn't just embrace bro-country outside of a few artists. We kept something of our neotraditional scene alive, the country rock scene flourishes about as much as the rest of rock in Canada - in other words, better than you'd expect - and of course we've got our own indie country material. Hell, I reviewed Lucette back in 2014, and her last album was a prime example of that sort of folk-touched sound that we also saw with the excellent case/lang/veirs project this year - in comparison with more American folk it's a little more atmospheric and spacious and rough-edged.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, and that takes us to High Valley, a duo of brothers from Blumenort, Alberta, and I've actually talked about them before when I discussed their breakout single 'Make You Mine' in my roundup of the Canadian Hot 100 last year. Now they've actually been active since the late 2000s on independent labels, but the success of that single - featuring Ricky Skaggs and which has been tacked onto the American release of this album, which I'll be covering - was enough to land them on Atlantic, with the majority of the songs cowritten by the duo themselves. And look, it's hard not to see labels preparing to pitch them as an earthier, less-polished version of Florida Georgia Line, but I had hope these guys could clean up with some great harmonies to boot, especially given how good 'Make You Mine' is. So was I right?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

video review: 'autumn eternal' by panopticon

Man, I'm so thrilled I was able to finally cover this. Such a great record, definitely has me enthused to check out more black metal in the future, that's for damn sure.

Next up, Arca and Freddie Gibbs, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

album review: 'autumn eternal' by panopticon

So one of the things I've discovered in my expanding exploration of atmospheric black metal is that while there's a pitch-black core of explosive tremolo picking and blast beat drumming to complement the the howled vocals, there have always been efforts to mutate or expand the sound. By now most people know how Deafheaven drew on shoegaze and emo, but they weren't the first to draw forth more atmospheric textures, like the ambient sounds of Wolves In The Throne Room or the more blatantly pagan and progressive touches of In The Woods... So what if I were to tell you about an American black metal project that didn't just blend in folk, but bluegrass as well?

Because in theory it's not as far removed as you might think. After all, the fast-picked tremolo melodies aren't that far from the quick picks of a banjo - the key would be finding the right subject matter. And like most, when I heard about the one-man black metal project of American musician Austin Lunn called Panopticon, I decided to dive in at the 2012 album Kentucky... and wow, I was glad I did, because this is something special. What immediately struck me about Kentucky was on a conceptual and lyrical level how much it worked - a ramshackle presentation delving into the desperate poverty and bleak devastation of backwater rural Appalachia, ravaged by a flailing and heartless coal industry, damn near perfect themes for a black metal project. Now in execution it didn't quite land as well - as much as I dug the bluegrass and country touches, especially with the vocal snippets, the transitions always felt a little clumsy and I found myself underwhelmed by some of the black metal compositions themselves. Thankfully, much of this was cleaned up two years later for the frigid and excellent Roads To The North, which brought in some symphonic touches with strings, great drumwork, and great atmosphere. What was also interesting was the shift in mood - where Kentucky was more immediately abrasive and confrontational, Roads To The North was more contemplative and wild, finding a certain tranquillity in the frozen heart of the wild. Where bands like Immortal and Satyricon wrote about Scandinavia, Austin Lunn was writing about the rugged American wilderness, with the more eclectic instrumentation only adding to the authenticity. I'll be straight with you - if I had covered Roads To The North last year when it was released - it might have had a very real shot at making my year end list.

So you can bet I was going to be checking out his newest record Autumn Eternal, apparently intended as the conclusion of a trilogy with Kentucky and Roads To The North and with more straightforward black metal - what did we get?

Monday, March 17, 2014

video review: 'bring up the sun' by sundy best

Guess there can be a benefit to reading the comments after all. :)

Next up... oh yikes, Enrique Iglesias and Foster The People. Hold on, folks, this probably won't be pretty.

album review: 'bring up the sun' by sundy best

It's been almost six months since I made my Special Comment surrounding the evolving climate in country music, and where I made a plea to mainstream critics, on YouTube and otherwise, that country music should be afforded more coverage.

And for the most part, this has happened to some extent. Rolling Stone, The AV Club, and even Pitchfork have broadened their horizons slightly and have covered more country music - typically when it brushes either the pop or alternative spectra, but it's better than nothing. And yet at this current time, I'm still the only guy reviewing country music on YouTube, and honestly, I don't get it. Sure, it's a format that tends to cater to an older audience that might not be as web-savvy, and sure, it might have limited cultural force outside of the US, and sure, the people my age who are listening to country now probably haven't gotten all that invested in the genre - but still, it's a little jarring and a little lonely to see all the coverage that hip-hop, indie rock, pop, or even metal gets, and seemingly just me covering country. 

But then again, if it's just me talking, I've got a certain obligation to deliver not just quality reviews, but information and news about country acts of which you probably haven't heard - most of which I discover thanks to tips and accidents. I get annoyed with the lack of country music's web presence in comparison with other genres frequently, but the biggest contributing factor is that there isn't an aggregate. The coverage of alternative or indie country is so thin in comparison with other genres that it can be a real challenge to track down new acts, especially if they don't get mainstream radio airplay, and with the increased conglomeration of radio stations beneath single banners, a lot of local scenes end up getting lost in the shuffle.

This takes us to Sundy Best, a Kentucky-based act I would never have known existed if it wasn't for a tip in one of the comments. Primarily an acoustic country duo that called back to the days of singer-songwriters, they released their first album Door Without A Screen in 2012 that turned out surprisingly strong, with a lot of folk-inspired exuberance fused with fast-picked banjo and pretty clever songwriting. I won't say the album is without its flaws - the production has a strange lack of homegrown grit and texture that was a little perplexing, and I didn't think all of the lyrics were stellar - but they had a a melodic focus and a ton of energy, so I was interested in their sophomore album Bring Up The Sun, which came out a few weeks ago. How did it turn out?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

video review: 'the bluegrass album' by alan jackson

Holy crap, this one came together fast. I don't know what it was, but I didn't really have a huge amount to say and this review came out surprisingly quick. Better for me - brevity is good - but still...

Next review is HAIM's 'Days Are Gone', and then maybe I might get a chance to tackle a few indie acts before Miley. And yes, I'm working on the Dream Theater review. Give it time, people.

album review: 'the bluegrass album' by alan jackson

When people ask me why I listen to country music, or how they can get into country music, I point at Alan Jackson.

It's kind of hard for me to fully articulate why Alan Jackson stands out for me in terms of country singers from the 90s in a way that few of his peers do. He's a superb musician with a gift for catchy, memorable melodies and lyrics with a superb flow. He is completely unafraid to write political songs and he's intelligent enough to work to capture many layers of nuance in those songs (signified in 'Where Were You', one of only two songs that managed to properly memorialize September 11 by any artist). He's not a man who actively seems to get angry in his material, but you can tell he is the kind of man you do not screw with, as evidenced by his legendary performance at the 1999 Country Music Awards, where he switched song mid-solo from one of his own to George Jones' 'Choices', in protest of how one of the legends of country music had been pressured to trim his performance for commercials and had bowed out of the ceremony. 

And as a neotraditionalist country singer - one of the most successful at that - Alan Jackson has been fighting for decades to preserve the historical spirit and culture of the medium. Besides releasing a ton of amazing music in this vein, he also recorded with George Strait a song called 'Murder On Music Row', where he directly criticized the slide of country music towards the mainstream courtesy of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. It was a controversial song on country radio in 2000, and arguably contributed in a big way for country receding from the mainsteam in the early years of that decade (besides just being a goddamn great song that nails commentary on the genre without getting preachy). 

So really, it was only a matter of time before the lead crusader of traditional country music came back, with the slide of country, yet again, towards the mainstream. And while Chris Young has accumulated some fame and critical success, he doesn't quite have the same pull within Nashville that Alan Jackson has. And thus, I wasn't surprised in the slightest when Alan Jackson announced his new album would be titled The Bluegrass Album, one that he has been 'threatening' the country music industry that he would make for years now. 

Now, I must confess, I'm not the most familiar with bluegrass as a genre, but I know enough to get by and if I'm looking for a way into the genre, I can't think of a better introduction than that of a country legend who has been preparing for this album for nearly a decade. And thus, I chose to take a listen to Alan Jackson's The Bluegrass Album - how did it turn out?

Friday, April 5, 2013

album review: 'pioneer' by the band perry

It's hard talking about acts that can be considered 'good'.

And I know that's the sort of comment you only ever hear from critics, but as someone who has reached their fiftieth review on this blog, it's kind of true. But the reason you typically only hear the criticism from critics is because we experience so much material that our frame of reference becomes a bit too expansive. It's a bit of a strange conundrum, but it's always a little odd when I realize that I'll probably listen to around a hundred different albums this year and ten times that many songs. I'm going to hear things I'll both like and despise - but for the average consumer who gets maybe two to five albums a year and listens to the radio, they aren't going to have that frame of reference. They'll hear something that's good and like it without question - and while I'd really prefer that more people seek out the great, there's nothing wrong with liking things, particularly when those things arguably succeed in what they set out to do. 

However, speaking as a critic, the hardest reviews to write and articulate are of the albums that are just 'good'. Everyone can go on for hours at length about something that's bad - there's a whole swarm of internet critics that have made their fame on that premise alone. And those reviews are easy to write too (the difficult part is often experiencing the awful). It takes a lot more courage of convictions to say something is great, because there will always be people who'll challenge it. I know there are people who probably find my love of Avril Lavigne and Panic At The Disco and the Backstreet Boys and Ke$ha completely baffling, but if you're a good critic, you should be able to stand by what you like.

Now most professional critics typically say that the hardest things to criticize are those in the middle: the mediocre, the 3/5, the passing grade. And that particularly becomes a problem with reviewing albums, because you tend to find filler tracks that aren't precisely bad, but they aren't going to stand out. To say something meaningful about them often requires deeper analysis, but sometimes there just isn't anything there, nothing to say.

But when I dug a little deeper, I realized that those songs can be criticized or discussed, simply by pinpointing the purpose of what those songs are intending to do and seeing whether or not they complete those goals. More often than not, mediocrity comes with more failures than weak successes. In fact, I'd argue the hardest songs to discuss and criticize aren't the ones that are mediocre or middle-of-the-road, but the ones that are good, but not great. Just above album filler in that they accomplish what they set out to do, but otherwise provide nothing interesting to talk about. Nothing that blows your mind, the average consumer will be fine with it, but it's not going to set their worlds on fire either. And speaking as someone who has spent far too much time poring over Billboard charts, there is a lot of this material.

In fact, the more I've delved into the country charts, the more I've found a significant heap of this material performing well on the charts. Sure, there's plenty of mediocre and more bad and awful than I'd like, but there's a lot of good stuff there too, music that won't ever change someone's life or be emotionally evocative or a big smash hit, but passes the time in a way that won't frustrate or disappoint anyone. 

And I remember reading a discussion regarding criticisms of Pitchfork a while ago, which made the claim that critics tend to like the imperfect and incomplete, often raising them above that of the competent and good. And while that is a problem with Pitchfork (among another things), it's not just a problem with that site. Hell, I'd argue that as a critic, I fall into the exact same trap far too often - most of the time because the flawed and incomplete often present a more complete picture of what the artist is like, providing more nuance between the lines. Critics find that more interesting and ultimately more compelling that the works of artists that are good, but nothing all that incredible or special.

But I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, so with that, let's talk about The Band Perry.