Laura Veirs ‘The Lookout’: warm, opulent folk

I have to admit, after falling head over heels in love with Veirs’ “July Flame“, she somehow dropped off my radar (with the exception of the otherworldly “Sun Song“). But I might have to dive deep into the last 8 years of Veirs and peers (sorry, I had to).

“The Lookout” is such a gorgeous album, starting with “Margaret Sands”, already steeped in a production that sounds out of this time (quite often, taken from the 60s that themselves got inspired by baroque music). There’s a generosity in this album that’s hard to describe. From the use of a buttload of instruments, arrangements and references to Veirs’ beautiful lyrics full of rich imagery:

Now she’s married to the swell
She’s swaying in the shells
Whispering in the waves

(Margaret Sands)

I especially love how quite a few songs will leave ample room for beautiful instrumental solos that go from deep rooted country folk to psychedelic Beach Boy aesthetics to Fleet Foxes-territory.

There is apparently a theme for the album which is – I quote: “The fragility of precious things.” This reminds me of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”. It is also about protecting these fragile things and in this regard it’s maybe a very contemporary album because if you look at the political landscape, it does feel as if the things we hold dear might need protection from whatever can happen to them at any time. Given that Laura is not a young Tween anymore, this focus on fragility might also be the realization that which age you realize how fragile relationships, worldviews and even people can be.

The Lookout, therefore, is not just the place which allows you to oversee all those things but also the responsibility to care for them.

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Decemberists ‘I’ll be your girl’ – Stranger Songs and a Prog of seagulls

I am quite glad that the album starts with the beautiful, The Decemberists-typical “Once in my life” and not with their single “Severed”. Since the sound of The Decemberists as well as Meloy’s songwriting always had an air of nostalgia and out-of-time-ideas, it’s weird to suddenly hear them being all synth-band. And even if “Once in my life” has a subtle Smiths-guitar and equally subtle synths, it is not as much in your face as “Severed” which is a hit to your head (it doesn’t hurt much, because true to the time period, you’re wearing tons of hairspray and your hair is a mile high on all sides).

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Hurray for the Riff Raff: whatever you like, they got it

For some reason, Spotify’s algorithms decided to present all the great albums from last year to me and not give me any new album releases, so I forever will be stuck in that time bubble from yesteryear. But then again: who cares?

Hurray for the Riff Raff released their probably seventh studio album (their discography is complicated) “The Navigator” and it’s a beautiful folk/Americana album with a pinch of pop for the occasional flirt on the dance floor. The band is fronted by Alynda Segarra who is the kind of amazeballs style icon I’d like to befriend but are too afraid approaching because she oozes cool and nerdy kids like me don’t mesh well with cool.

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Tim Darcy ‘Saturday Night’: energetic, spunky, garage punk songwriting beauty

Yes, so I basically don’t have to write the review now because I put everything in the title.

Tim Darcy popped up in my music suggestions with his song “Still waking up” which is such a beautiful ode to Roy Orbison that my constant yearning for nostalgic and melancholic music was immediately satisfied.

However, his album “Saturday Night” is actually a lot spunkier than that one (gorgeous) song. It starts off with a punk ditty called “Tall Glass of Water” which is probably about Darcy himself who, yes, is a tall glass of water. I’ve read comparisons with Lou Reed and I guess that’s fair (even though I don’t like Lou Reed all that much and very much like Tim Darcy). Songs like “Saturday Night” are pretty much experimental Lou Reed and there’s no way around it. Continue reading

On the Spot: This is the kit – lovely, warm, soft

These are hard times, people. They are rewarding times but it’s still stressful wondering what kind of horrible news will pile up on your timeline this week. Who of your faves is only slightly problematic and who is outright horrible? And everyone is having their list of good guys they hope will not turn into turds. It’s a hell of a time to live in.

Add daylight savings time to that and seasonal rain and grey skies and we all need something lovely to pick us up.

This is the Kit – an indie outfit from Bristol, helmed by Kate Stables and their new album “Moonshine Freeze” is exactly that. This album is beyond gorgeous. Apparently, Guy Garvey once dedicated a radio hour on This is the Kit and that makes all the sense because this band has this lovely attention to detail, soft flowing rhythm and genre-defying symbiosis of musical influences, use of instruments and Stables’ lovely voice. I also want to add, that this album has some absolutely amazing guitar/banjo work by Stables. Very subtle, nothing shredding through the air but just intricate picking that lightly taps at your window. That’s some expert playing, I tell you that.

Listening to the opener “Bullet Proof” is like entering a secret, magical garden. It’s the kind of warmth and beauty that we might need if we want to escape the harsh reality for a while. It’s an embrace, it’s a light.

Pop Goes: Miley Cyrus ‘younger now’ album review – oh, what could have been …

Ok, so I felt like I should do this because I made such a big whoopy about “Younger Now” the single. So I listened to Miley Cyrus’ new album and I like it but I also have to say that it’s no “Lemonade”. But then again, there’s hardly any pop album by a major artist out there that had such an impressive tracklist and concept like “Lemonade”. I am talking about the big names like Lady Gaga, Adele, Katy Perry, etc. I own a few of their albums but I listened to pretty much all of them and there’s just something different to albums like Jamila Wood’s “HEAVN” and, in comparison, “21” (which I own and love, don’t get me wrong). I don’t know why but somehow the tracklisting usually contains some songs that just aren’t that strong or redundant and put the singles on a pedestal. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s lesser known singer/songwriters out there whose albums don’t require any skip-button at all. But with pop albums, there’s always a few songs I can live without.

Lemonade“, for me, was one of the first really big pop albums that managed to be an amazing listen without the need to skip a song (even though “Sandcastles” comes close).

(the voice is a little shaky at the beginning but I am constantly surprised how well Miley Cyrus does live – no backing singers trying to cover up her weak voice … I also really want that romper)

Ok, back to “Younger Now”. I think the first half of the album is stronger than the second. That might be because it’s all the singles plus the duet with Cyrus’ godmother and queen of country Dolly Parton. It also might be because the first songs all have an individual vibe whereas the latter tend to blend into each other now and then, interrupted by the occasional gem.

That’s a bummer because Miley has a voice that is unique and fantastic and can sing circles around some other dames, on record AND live. But somehow, the songwriting doesn’t always make use of it. With the exception of “Younger Now” and “Week without you” (which I love, even though it’s not necessarily fresh sounding), the country songs are better than the pop songs because you gotta have a voice to sing good country and Miley has it. She has a twang and personality and that translates well with heartbreak and yearning (staples of the good ole music of country).

(This song actually grew on me. I was a little disappointed because it felt like such a flashback to her Montana-days but it’s actually a lovely little road song)

“Miss you so much” is lovely, as is “She’s not him”. Along the way, though, I feel like the love songs overtake the album and somehow betray the album title and titular song. I really wanted other themes than the whole “Love you boo”-shtick because “Younger Now” is a great concept if it would have led to more songs in the like.

As a former child star and Disney darling turned femme fatale chaotic turned songwriter Miley has more to talk about than her relationship. “Younger Now” (the song) does exactly that. I wonder what would have happened, had the album tried to get more into the theme of change, reinvention and trying to come to terms with who you were and who you are now (and who you might be in the future). That’s such a rich well to draw from and it feels like a lost opportunity that in the end it’s just not as prominent a theme. Especially, since “Younger Now” (the single) also uses this theme musically (and in the music video). Gosh, I get a little sad thinking about the Miley Cyrus album that could have been.

I still like the album and might even buy it as the one big pop album I buy each year (2016 – Lemonade; 2015 – 21) but damn, I expect more because I know that there is more. Maybe next time.

The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney get folksy with Offa Rex

I got super emotional when the first tunes of “The Queen of Hearts” started. The Decemberists have been a band that led me through many ups and downs and also managed to really drew me into their prosaic world full of heroes and heroines, tragedy and murder. They are lovely despite the murder.

Their new album is a collaboration with singer Olivia Chaney and goes under the moniker Offa Rex. They covered British folk tales and given the Decemberists’ track record with folk material, this is absolutely no surprise.

(And despite NPR writer Jason Heller pretending as if this is the first time that The Decemberists have “dipped their toes” into folk, they did so approximately a thousand times before and they did well.)

I have to admit, not every song hits as hard as “The Queen of Hearts”. I am generally a fan of folk music with a few prog elements, a bit more story telling in the melodies. I am aware that the typical folk aficionado will not find any faults with songs like “The Gardener” and “Flash Company” but for me, they were a little tame (they are really beautiful, though, so this might be just my current mood speaking).

However, this is mainly because The Decemberists have an incredible talent of creating really catchy and engaging melodies (including dramatic arcs), so I am just used a little bit more drama to my folk music. Something to tag me along, grab my hand. I am not really the sit in the grass and let it softly roll over me type of folk listener.

Also, Chaney’s voice tends to sound a little too close to singers like Joni Mitchell or basically every country singer ever when she’s not given much to do with the melody. But when she really goes out, her timbre is quite something and she suddenly becomes her own.

All in all, this is a mighty fine album and it’s something to get people into folk music (or get people who already love it something more modern than the usual “Songs of the Irish”-compilations you get for 3 quid at the rest stop).