What Am I Listening To? – January 2016

2016_BrookeWaggoner_SwevenBrooke Waggoner – Sweven
I love Brooke’s overall style – she’s got kind of a “mad composer” thing going on. But often times her songs can feel a bit ADD to me, like I’m getting a bunch of disjointed thoughts rather than a complete composition. There’s not as much aggressive material here as there was in the front half of Originator, and I miss the choral backing vocals, so to me this is a slight step down, but definitely still interesting. “Pennies and Youth”, “Fink”, and the offbeat, organ-driven “Widow Maker” are early favorites, and there’s some beauty to be found in the mellower second half of the record; we’ll see how deeply that all sinks in over time.

2016_EleanorFriedberger_NewViewEleanor Friedberger – New View
Hey, remember when The Fiery Furnaces were known for being weird and challenging? Eleanor’s solo work is getting more and more middle-of-the-road as time goes by – still the occasional bit of quirkiness in the music and lyrics, but for the most part this is mid-tempo indie pop that doesn’t really do anything instrumentally to grab my attention and make me appreciate the sometimes interesting stories being told in the lyrics, and that kind of bugs me.

2015_TheGrayHavens_FireandStoneThe Gray Havens – Fire & Stone
There’s a certain joy that I take in discovering (or well, having friends with their ears to the ground discover for me) a small-time band like this that still feels fresh out of the coffeehouse. This duo covers the folk/piano pop end of the indie music spectrum, and Andrew Peterson is a clear influence – the band may well be named after a song of Peterson’s, and his frequent collaborator Ben Shive produced the album. Out of the Grey also comes to mind due to the married couple dynamic and the imaginative lyrical approach (which at times borders on silly with its fairy tale metaphors, but it’s charming nonetheless), though it’s notable that the husband almost universally sings lead here. Some of the more complex musical passages also bring to mind The Reign of Kindo. It’s great company to be in.

2015_MarahintheMainsail_ThaumatropeMarah in the Mainsail – Thaumatrope
This rugged folk/rock act from Minnesota reminds me of The Last Bison with a perishing alt-rock voice up front, and lyrics that focus a lot more on sailing and piracy and other sorts of seedy, old-timey stuff. The Decemberists are probably an influence. The vocals were actually jarring to me at first (especially since the group has a female backing vocalist and the two sound like oil and water together), but I like the overall aesthetic, and some of these songs are just plain badass, so I’m sure my initial hangups will turn out to not be that big of a deal.

2015_LaurynPeacock_EuphoniaLauryn Peacock – Euphonia
I have no idea where Lauryn Peacock came from. No relation to Charlie Peacock, as far as I can tell, but she certainly has a knack for innovative baroque pop arrangements that the elder Peacock would probably admire. Vocally she reminds me a tad of Natalie Merchant, while musically she brings to mind songstresses like Vienna Teng, Kathryn Calder, or the aforementioned Brooke Waggoner. She can hook me with an upbeat tune like “All My Mind” or the ironically titled “Quiet Moments” just as easily as she can haunt me with a more ethereal/orchestral passage. Tricky stuff to categorize, for sure. My only complaint is that with two interludes, this album only really has 8 songs, but several of those are 5 or 6 minutes long, so it doesn’t feel like she skimped on quantity or quality here.

2015_Timbre_SunMoonTimbre – Sun & Moon
Going even deeper into the ethereal/orchestral department is this harpist who’s been hanging around with the likes of Jack White and mewithoutYou. Those names will give you exactly zero indication of her sound, which definitely isn’t rock, though it flirts quite liberally with pop on the summery first disc of this 110-minute monster before diving headlong into modern classical on the second, decidedly nocturnal second disc. Joanna Newsom comparisons will likely come to mind due to the complex structures and intimidating lengths of several songs, though personally I prefer my harp music without the squeaky old lady voice. Some of Björk’s more meditative passages may come to mind as well, but I’d probably need more of a working knowledge of classical music to come up with truly apt artists to compare Timbre to. This isn’t the kind of album I can see myself listening to with great frequency due to the patience and attention to detail required to truly appreciate it, but I can see it being a great soundtrack for a quiet night of reading or something similarly relaxing.

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