Showing posts with label folk rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label folk rock. Show all posts

Friday, August 30, 2019

video review: 'no man's land' by frank turner

And here we go - honestly, I was preparing to bucket this with another review in a vacation review structure, but I honestly just had way too much to say - enjoy!

Anyway, next up... frankly, I've got no idea - stay tuned!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

album review: 'no man's land' by frank turner

Am I the only one who feels like Frank Turner can't really win these days to save his life?

And yes, I'm fully aware that a chunk of that statement comes from me being a fan of the guy - hell, I was actually kinder to his 2018 album Be More Kind than pretty much everyone, a project balanced on the precipice of hopepunk and existential emptiness that sadly didn't have nearly as much of an edge as it really needs to secure that balance - there was a wonky stiffness and cleanness to his production and delivery that really hampered that project as a whole. But throughout the majority of the 2010s it's been hard for me to shake the feeling that for as much as Turner is trying desperately to do the right thing artistically, he's either stuck chasing past glories or is facing an increasingly unpleasable audience with sky-high expectations - most of the time both. And while I've been feeling this to some extent since at least Tape Deck Heart, it really came to bear with the backlash to Be More Kind, where Turner was trying to provide hope both to his audience and himself and it didn't seem like he pleased either... mostly because with the exception of the furious and potent '1933', the songs themselves were not his strongest by a long shot.

So I had to hope that No Man's Land would click this time - but again, it did seem like Turner was setting himself up to fail. A folk rock project full of songs celebrating the famous and forgotten women of history on the surface seemed like a winning idea, especially in this climate with his recruitment of plenty of women behind the scenes, but a more cynical 'progressive' audience already seemed to have their pitchforks on standby for his audacity to tell those stories - hell, from what I can tell the backlash to this was even stronger than to Be More Kind, it's his worst-reviewed project to date! So yeah, I was expecting the worst with this... and yet how was No Man's Land?

Monday, May 7, 2018

video review: 'be more kind' by frank turner

I really do admire how damn hard this record is trying - really, I do - but man, I wish I liked this so much more...

Still, I'll savor what I've got here in comparison to this next episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned...

album review: 'be more kind' by frank turner

At this point, I literally have no idea what to expect from Frank Turner.

Well okay, that's not quite true, but from his departure from post-hardcore towards indie folk and indie rock - and given that I didn't hear any of his singles going in - I literally had no expectations where this was going to go. Granted, there is a certain earnest sonic palette in his music that's familiar - surging guitars, big hooks, generally in the realms of indie folk rock - but beyond that, they were shades of a recognizable formula. So, even while I consider Love, Ire & Song his best work - and one of the best albums of the 2000s - it's not even that far removed from his last record Positive Songs For Negative People, arguably his biggest play for mainstream-adjacent attention courtesy of production from Butch Walker and even rumors of a Taylor Swift collaboration that didn't materialize - and while given what has happened to her in the past few years we'd probably consider that a blessing, there is a part of me that wishes that maybe some of Frank Turner could have rubbed off on her, that could have been really cool.

Instead, I started hearing odd things about this release, with influences spanning from Gang Of Four and Wire to mid-period records from The Cure, maybe even a pivot into 80s pop. This would unquestionably be a departure for him, and this has led to some of the most polarized reviews I've seen surrounding this project, especially when you hear there's a pretty stark political element to it. Now here's the thing: Frank Turner's political writing has always been complicated - go back to the title track of Love, Ire & Song and you'll realize he's never been some hard-line punk or leftist. And while my own tendencies have pushed me more in that direction, I'm up for the nuanced, difficult conversation, especially when you remember that Frank Turner is not American and even if a stylistic departure like this might wind up being an outlier for him long-term. So alright, what did we get on Be More Kind?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

video review: 'johnny nocash & the celtic outlaws' by johnny nocash & the celtic outlaws

Again, pretty local act, but I'm happy I got a chance to talk about it all the same.

Next up, let's go bigger - stay tuned!

album review: 'johnny nocash & the celtic outlaws' by johnny nocash & the celtic outlaws

I don't normally do full reviews for EPs... but I'm making an exception for this one. 

And yes, in this case I'm very much going to be talking about a relatively unknown band that I'm most familiar with from my local scene just like I did with Sex Master about a month ago, but this group actually falls in line with territory that deserves some scrutiny: the cross-section between country and metal. Now there's been southern rock on the heavy side for years, but fusing outright metal elements like growled or screamed vocals or much more distorted tunings... it's not exactly common. That's not saying it doesn't exist - I've reviewed Panopticon's introduction of bluegrass, folk, and country elements on their black metal records, and of course you get the groove metal bands that interject rockabilly elements like Hellyeah or Volbeat, and towering over most of the conversation you have the punk and metal elements embraced by Hank Williams III... but let's be honest, most of these are outliers.

...except not as much anymore. More often than not you're seeing metal artists taking a renewed interest in country and they tend to treat the genre's legacy with more respect than huge chunks of Nashville - which makes a lot of sense, given that metal is also obsessed with its own historical legacy. And thus you get acts like Devin Townsend making Casualties of Cool, or Cody Jinks coming from thrash, or the deep outlaw country appreciation you hear from a lot of metalheads... which takes us to Johnny Nocash. He's been around for a while - go to his YouTube channel and you'll find songs recorded going back over a decade ago - but in recent years his material has taken more shape, infusing elements of folk and metal to refine and expand his country sound, which leads to his backing band the Celtic Outlaws and this EP. Five songs, probably a quick enough listen, how did it turn out?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

video review: 'between the walls & the window' by ché aimee dorval

So glad I got to cover this... actually, I'm more glad there was an interest in me reviewing this record, that's rare for stuff this underground (she doesn't have a label at all, seriously).

But unfortunately, after the cream must come the crap, so stay tuned!

album review: 'between the walls and the window' by ché aimee dorval

So, about three years ago around this time, I reviewed the self-titled debut from Casualties of Cool, yet another side project of extreme metal artist Devin Townsend. And while I could talk a fair bit about metal artists making a shift towards country, to this day Casualties of Cool remains unlike anything I've ever covered. The sinuous melodic grooves rooted in old-fashioned progressions yet decidedly new, paired with a mix as atmospheric and textured as any Devin Townsend Project record beforehand. A record playing more with subtle abstractions and ghostly metaphor than its direct narrative - which involves space travel and a sentient moon because of course it does - it was near-impossible to properly classify. Post-country, atmospheric country, it was a sound that confounded most indie country fans and metalheads alike - and yet I would posit that anybody who has actually heard the record would testify it is one of the best albums of the decade.

So why mention any of this? Well, for as much as Devin Townsend shaped the sound and production, he did have one other major collaborator: fellow Canadian Ché Aimee Dorval. She's been active in the underground for the past decade, her sound pulling on similar country atmospherics to Casualties of Cool, but also drawing on soul, blues, and rock to anchor her hypnotic and sultry melodic grooves and sharp writing. She put out a record in 2009 and an EP in late 2014, and thanks to PledgeMusic, she was able to put together another full-length record for this year that's bound to go slept on by pretty much everyone. Well, I'm not going to stand for that, so I wanted to cover Between The Walls And The Window - what did I find?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

video review: 'what we live for' by american authors

Well, this happened. Overall a decent record, but I can't help feeling they could have done a fair bit more. Eh, it happens.

Next up... well, Billboard BREAKDOWN for one, but then I want to get to this Weval record, as well as Grace and maybe Bat For Lashes too... stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

album review: 'what we live for' by american authors

So let's talk about surprises.

It's a sad fact of being a critic is that it's rare that you get surprised by an album. Sure, sometimes you'll get something insane coming out of the woodwork that blows your mind - which is why critics tend to shower praise on oddball records that are unlike anything they've ever heard before, and I'll admit I can succumb to this as well. But more often than not, it can be tough to go into every single record with the expectation that every album is someone's first, to try and capture that emotion of genuine awe.

And that's probably why I've got a fond spot in my heart for American Authors, something that'll probably surprise most of you if you only remember them for their sort-of hit 'Best Day Of My Life' that rapidly became a commercial product more than an actual song. And from that single it was widely thought that they were just another soulless rip-off of Imagine Dragons before that band fell off the deep end. Hell, that's what I expected when I covered their debut album Oh, What A Life - and it wasn't anything close to what I got. They were far closer to the power pop of acts like Semisonic or Fountains Of Wayne, just pressed through modern genre sounds of the time. It all lead to a weirdly likable record that didn't quite manage to work all the way through, mostly courtesy of some by-the-numbers songwriting and a frustrating inability for anyone to know what they were doing behind the production boards, but was still better than most would expect. And thus I had an interest in digging into their sophomore follow-up, which promised to continue and expand upon many of the same sounds - and hell, it's been a while since anyone cared about Imagine Dragons, so maybe American Authors might sound more fresh. So how did What We Live For turn out?

Monday, December 14, 2015

video review: 'chaos and the calm' by james bay

Ugh, man, I wanted this to be a lot better - and yet writing it took so much that I couldn't get out the second review I wanted to today. We'll see if I cover - only a decent album there too...

Regardless, next up is a new episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'chaos and the calm' by james bay

So while we're on the subject of Grammy nominations, let's discuss a record that I'm certain some of you are baffled that I didn't tackle nine months ago - because on the surface, the pitch for it would be right up my alley. And frankly, the more I think about it, the more I'm surprised I didn't discuss the debut album from James Bay, English singer-songwriter who drenched his recordings in a blend of Nashville Americana and soul and English folk. He didn't exactly make a critical splash, but he quickly established himself as a charting success, especially in the U.K.

And believe it or not, but I've actually talked about this liquid-voiced singer before, on Billboard BREAKDOWN. More specifically, on the list of acts who were charting hits in Canada, but hadn't yet broken through in the U.S., and in this case it was easy to see why. Up here, we never really lost a workable rock scene, and that meant that indie folk developed a sizeable foothold up here. But really, James Bay's appeal is much simpler than even that: if you were looking for an acoustic singer-songwriter that played to a similar sound as Ed Sheeran but pushed the folk, country and rock sides more than pop, hip-hop, or R&B, James Bay was the artist you wanted. And yet for as much as he was very listenable, he's never really been an artist I've been inclined to explore in detail. Maybe I wasn't wild about how polished his sound seemed, maybe I wasn't as moved by his songwriting as so many others were, but until now, I hadn't really cared to dig deeper.

But apparently the Grammys disagreed, because James Bay is now up for three awards, mostly in the rock category plus Best New Artist. And frankly, I'd hesitate to say he's the frontrunner for any of the categories, either by popular consensus or my own preferences. But to be fair, he's also nominated for Best Rock Album and I haven't covered this record in detail yet - and at the very least, he should be better than Muse or Slipknot, right?

Monday, August 17, 2015

video review: 'positive songs for negative people' by frank turner

Fairly solid release, fairly solid review, no complaints there. Honestly hope my throat feels a bit better, Billboard BREAKDOWN is always crazy.

And speaking of that... whoo boy, get to talk about Lana Del Rey tomorrow, joy...

album review: 'positive songs for negative people' by frank turner

On some level, punk is always going to be a young person's genre. The raw anger, the focus on passion and energy over meticulous craftsmanship, the vitriolic power with maybe the nuance coming later, all of this shows up most in the heady rush of youth. So what happens when a punk grows up and encounters the crushing weight of adulthood?

Well, any number of things happen. Some will keep the faith, some will fade out of the scene naturally, some will even double down and rage all the harder, and some will opt to refine their simple songs into something with a little more weight or maturity or complexity. As such, it's not all that surprising that some punks will drift towards folk rock or rock operas or even alternative country, trading explosive energy for tighter songwriting or more grandiose presentation.

And one of the best examples of that is Frank Turner, who initially started in post-hardcore before going solo and making highly lyrical and yet no less passionate folk rock drenched in the grubby pub tradition that drew upon Celtic folk, disillusioned punk, and even hints of alternative country and piano rock. And there's a lot to really like about his brand of abrasive yet confessional songwriting, his clever knack for a great hook, and his eclectic hodgepodge of influences that are half tongue-in-cheek and yet often completely sincere. For me, my favourite album of Turner's is easily his second Love Ire & Song, as it felt like it brought the most instrumental flavour and excellently crafted songs to the table while still maintaining that punk edge. If I can find areas where Turner can stumble, it'd be some of his material can get a little sleepy and lacking in momentum, which would probably be the biggest criticism I'd have of his third album, or that his newest albums can occasionally feel a tad too polished, especially in his vocals. But none of that was going to stop me from reviewing his newest album Positive Songs For Negative People - does it live up to its title?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

video review: 'short movie' by laura marling

Dear god, it took me WAY too long to get to this. Hopefully, the wait time for Sufjan Stevens will be less, but again, not quite ready for that yet.

On the other hand, this Shawn Mendes album or Passion Pit? Yeah, those coming soon, plus the new Zac Brown Band record! Stay tuned!

album review: 'short movie' by laura marling

Man, this record took way too long for me to talk about.

Now some of this I can blame on a turbulent month and a hefty back catalog, but I'd argue it's more than that in the case, so I think some explanation about my schedule is required. Before I review an album, I go back and listen through their entire back catalog. Not just the singles, not just the hits, the entire list of records - and I also endeavour to be an active listener. I'm the sort who if there are oblique or confusing lyrics, I'm going to digging through them line by line to truly parse them out, and that tends to require multiple listens. Coupled with the fact that I still try to get out multiple reviews in a week plus Billboard BREAKDOWN plus work a full time job... well, yeah, you get the picture.

And a lot of this comes down to the singer-songwriter we're going to be talking about today, a critically-acclaimed artist whose knack for intricate and mature lyricism meant her work didn't just merit additional listens, it demanded it. Yep, we're going to be talking about Laura Marling today, the sort of folk singer-songwriter that I have a hard time not liking, not just for her literary sensibility but for the fact she brought a level of maturity and songwriting craft that seemed beyond her years. And as her songwriter ventured more towards abstraction and layers, her material got trickier to process. Her first creative peak for me came on her second album I Speak Because I Can, which recruited Marcus Mumford to contribute to a record that not only easily outstripped anything he did with Mumford & Sons, but also had strong enough melodic grooves and writing to stand as one of the best of 2010. Her 2011 album A Creature I Don't Know was a little trickier to gauge given its slightly more abstract writing, but it was still incredibly solid if only because the writing was so damn good and it wasn't afraid to get noisier and nastier deeper into the record for cuts like 'The Beast' which kicks all amounts of ass. Then came Once I Was An Eagle in 2013, a record that dipped into even greater abstraction with even less instrumental accompaniment and one that took so many listens to really understand - and yet I'd still argue that as a songwriter Marling had never sounded better, an album that felt transitional only in that she was stepping towards something new and dropping an air of finality on what came before.

So when I heard she was releasing a new album that apparently featured electric guitar - a first for her - I was excited. After Once I Was An Eagle, a new beginning felt inevitable... so what did we get with her newest record Short Movie?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

video review: 'the diary' by the gentle storm

Man, I wish this had been better. I mean, it's good, but it should have been awesome, and it's still a bit of a letdown. It happens even from the best.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then I have about four or five albums lined up in the queue I could easily cover. What to pick, what to pick... oh hell, I know what I'm covering, and you all should too. Stay tuned!

album review: 'the diary' by the gentle storm

I've been looking forward to this project since the beginning of the year.

Now long time followers of my reviews probably aren't surprised by this, but everyone else is probably perplexed by where this album came from, who this duo is, and why anyone should care. For those who don't know, The Gentle Storm is a project under the direction of Arjen Lucassen, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and creator of the Ayreon project, an ongoing progressive metal act that pulls in vocalists from dozens of the most critically acclaimed acts in symphonic, progressive, folk, and even extreme metal. One of his long-time collaborators is Anneke Van Giersbergen, frontwoman of The Gathering and who has worked with acts as varied as Devin Townsend, Within Temptation, and Napalm Death. Together, the duo decided in 2014 to collaborate on a new project, a double album under the name The Gentle Storm. Both discs would contain the same compositions, but one would be played entirely with folk and acoustic instrumentation and other was all-out symphonic and progressive metal - and both discs would tell the same story, an epic historical romance, one of the few times Arjen Lucassen has ventured away from the sci-fi epics that have been his purview.

Now on some level, I was skeptical of this. With the exception of Guilt Machine, I've had mixed results with Arjen's side projects and solo albums, having never been a big fan of Ambeon and Star One rarely hitting as strongly as I've hoped. Plus, the double disc format struck me as the duo hedging their bets - were the compositions really so strong that they'd be able to be transferred to entirely different instrumentation and maintain their impact? Granted, this isn't the first time Arjen has done this - the first Ayreon release The Final Experiment had an acoustic version as well - but I couldn't help but feel the record might be better if they had just selected the more poignant version of each track and interweaved metal and acoustic together.

But this was the format they chose, and I knew that Arjen Lucassen was a songwriter who had never made an outright bad album. This was a team of veterans in writing and instrumentation, and it certainly wasn't shying away from being an ambitious project, so I gave the double album my full attention - was it worth it?

Monday, February 9, 2015

video review: 'then came the morning' by the lone bellow

Man, I wish this had been better. Really, at the end of the day it's just unremarkable.

Next up, Kid Ink and then finally Bjork - stay tuned!

album review: 'then came the morning' by the lone bellow

You know, for as much as I advertise myself as one of the few critics on YouTube who bothers to cover country music, I really haven't been doing that good of a job on that lately. Let's change that a bit, shall we? Now to be fair to myself, there's not a lot that's really out right now - January tends to be a bit of a fallow period for mainstream country - and oh god, the country charts reflect that, as we're getting third and fourth singles from various artists landing traction where in most worlds they would never reach the charts. It's gotten so bad that Sam Hunt's bad pop disguised as worse country and Cole Swindell's flavourless mush is still rising up the charts, and that's just wrong on so many levels.

So in the mean time, let's talk about the indie scene, and let's start with The Lone Bellow, a Brooklyn-based trio that I probably should have covered in 2013 but that just slipped the net. And while I'm not usually one to point fingers and say that country should only come from Nashville or Texas, if you were to imagine a group that sounds like Brooklyn indie folk dabbling in a bit of snarled country rock and soul-inspired vocals, The Lone Bellow should jump to mind - a lot of plucky guitars and banjos that call to mind your standard Mumford & Sons wannabe, slightly softer distortion than the Drive-By Truckers or Sundy Best, and a male/female dichotomy that reminds me more than a bit of Little Big Town before that band went crazy on Pain Killer. But how do I feel about them? Well, they were pretty good and they tended to avoid the pretentious nonsense that puts me off a fair chunk of that brand of folk rock, but that first album always seemed to lack the textures, grit, or songwriting edge and nuance that would characterize other Americana-inspired acts like Doug Paisley or Bill Callahan. In fact, the group they reminded me most of was The Civil Wars, a group I mostly respected who wrote very pretty songs that occasionally had some moments of wit, but for the most part made very tasteful, pretty, safe music that never moved or interested me as much as I wanted. 

But I figured, 'Hey, it's their debut, originally driven off of songs frontman Zach Williams put together on his own. Give them a little time and a producer who can push their choral vocals into some harmonies and their instrumentation into more grit, and we could have something special here.' And when I heard they were working Aaron Dessner of The National, I thought it was a perfect match and definitely sought out their sophomore record Then Came The Morning - how is it?