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Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison (George’s son) and Akron singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur joined together in February for somewhat of a supergroup called Fistful of Mercy. With the help of drummer Jim Keltner, who has recorded with Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Harrion’s father, among others, As I Call You Down makes a classic rock and folksy-sounding debut.
The three vocalists and guitarists make a smooth, relaxing combination. The upbeat, catchy “Father’s Son” might be the best example of the group’s blending talents, mixing Harper’s soul and blues roots with the kind of harmonies you might hear on an old Traveling Wilburys album. Lyrics like “Please lord now forgive me, even though I don't deserve. I never was too good in life, the devil's all I serve,” sound like they could’ve been written by Robert Johnson or Willie Dixon.
The pace evens out with the reserved instrumental jam “30 Bones,” which features violinist Jessy Green. However it’s mostly the easy mixture of the trio’s voices and acoustic guitars that makes As I Call You Down worth a listen.
Listen to the supergroup's "Father's Son":
Losing yourself is made easy with the latest installment from Small Black. New Chain is an album that's easy on your ears while still bringing a strong presence to the lo-fi chillwave scene.
“Panthers” starts you off with an outer-spacey feel that pulls you through the cosmos. On your ride strange synths mixed with the smooth voice of Josh Kolenik provides the perfect guide. “New Chain” is a more upbeat track that makes you feel like you may be in a dream sequence of a late-'80s movie.
Songs like “Hydra” take you through what feels like a jungle of sound; with every turn there stands a new beat. Small Black is setting new standards for the chillwave movement with New Chain.
Listen to the spacey sounds of the title track, "New Chain":
In her latest EP, Valusia, American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, defies the idea of traditional psychadelia. Her riveting, unapologetic vocals explode amidst the vibrant summersaulting of electronica.
Danilova’s originality is unmatched in the world of lo-fi, demonstrating her pure artistic talent as she intertwines piano, brass and strings with her guttural vocals. Though a synthesizer makes a brief appearance, auto-tune is nowhere to be found.
Overall, Valusia is a success, with the only complaint being the lack of songs on the EP. If Danilova can do this well with four songs, I’d like to see what she can do with a full album.
Check out the ethereal "Sea Talk":
Wilco bassist John Stirratt has been thumping for the alt-country megaband since 1994. Pat Sansone joined a decade later after the two had collaborated to form The Autumn Defense, a sweet highway companion to Wilco’s warm majesty.
Album opener “Back of My Mind” could be a Wilco remnant from 2004’s A Ghost is Born, with its chiming piano melody and George Harrison-esque choppy guitar. Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche even appears on the gentle sing-a-long “Tell Me What You Want.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare Sansone’s voice to Wilco’s smoky frontman Jeff Tweedy’s, but The Autumn Defense is a band all its own.
While Wilco’s quieter moments tend to favor the dark over the tender, The Autumn Defense are as sweet as their name. Circling their folky arrangements with rising strings and bright triangle clicks, Sansone and Stirratt hearken back to The Beatles in their sweetest moments. The ominous title track “Once Around” envelops with a pulsating drum beat laced under a Zeppelin-esque acoustic breakdown. Rustic strums coupled with limber arpeggios on “The Swallows of London Town” bring to mind the fun of standard country-folk acts.
All these qualities paint a portrait of a band that’s taken the best of what’s around them and tweaked it to their own liking. So, whether The Autumn Defense will leave a lasting imprint on the musical world is irrelevant—just take them at face value and enjoy the warmth of a brilliant pair of multi-instrumentalists.
Check out "Back of My Mind":
Hailing from Manchester, England, Working for a Nuclear Free City is back in the game with their first album since 2007.
Swirling, quasi-folk beats keep the listener’s eardrums dancing as they follow hushed vocals down a trail of contentment and childhood nostalgia. Interludes from almost every instrument thread their way through Jo Jo Burger Tempest, playing a special part in the majority of instrumental tracks on the first disc.
The second disc contains a single, half-hour track of wandering instrumentalism that takes the listener to each part of the musical spectrum.
WFANFC’s flair for psychedelic electronica is heavily apparent in tracks like “Burning Drums” and “Black Rivers."
Jo Jo Burger Tempest is a success for WFANFC, keeping the listener twirling around whatever musical corner they choose to turn next.
Experience Working for a Nuclear Free City's atmospheric finesse on "Black Rivers":
Major Organ and the Adding Machine is a supergroup of indie experi-mentation at its most experimental. Most of its members - who double in bands like Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal and Olivia Tremor Control - are only believed to be involved in the project, as none of them have actually confirmed that they’re part of the group. This level of mystery concerning who Major Organ and the Adding Machine makes the listening experience that much more perplexing.
This is an album that requires persistence, if nothing else. “Different” is a major understatement when trying to describe it. It’s easy to be put off by its unconventionality and ugliness, for lack of a better word. However, once your ear becomes accustomed to the dissonance and auditory quirks this album is filled to the brim with, you will see it for what it is: a beautiful, if unconventional, piece of art.
Overall, Major Organ and the Adding Machine is an album that becomes more rewarding with each listen. Where’s the fun in instant gratification anyway?
Check out the bizzare "Madame Truffle":
These days, it seems like an overwhelming number of indie acts gravitate toward the fuzzy warmth of lo-fi production and vocals that rise and dissipate like smoke. When an artist is as proficient at perfecting this sound as Tamaryn, however, it’s something to pay attention to.
Tamaryn is from New Zealand, and if the Lord of the Rings films are any indication of that country’s majestic natural beauty, it’s easy to see why her music is so striking.
Songs like “Mild Confusion” begin with a distant guitar jangle and build up with steady distortions and an unsure drum beat, like the soundtrack to climbing a mountain. Tamaryn’s heavy, breathy voice swoons over cymbal swirls and crumbling-rock guitar riffs as the sound gradually builds upon itself.
Other songs, like the sultry “Love Fade,” swell on a continuous melody of guitars that sound miles away. Tamaryn breathes her words like deep sighs, never hitting an upper register or straining for those high notes. Her collaborator, Rex John Shelverton, paints the spinning sunset portraits behind her with a mist of fuzzy and windy instrumentation.
Sure, the noisy “Sandstone” sounds like it could be the victory song of the Tuskan Raiders on Tatooine until about a minute and a half in. That’s when Tamaryn slides into view with her whispery echoes piled atop the rumbles of a rusty, fuzzy riff. And once she does, you’re not likely to want her to stop.
Listen to "Love Fade":
Winterpills is an indie-folk band from Northampton, Mass. Tuxedo of Ashes, their latest EP, was completely recorded in a bedroom. The band consists of Philip Price, Flora Reed, Dennis Crommett, Dave Hower and Brian Akey, but other friends make guest appearances to add to the unique sound. They describe themselves as sounding like “four weeks of rain, two days of sun, and the voice of someone you thought you had lost forever.”
Winterpills is definitely a must listen. It is calm and relaxing with music catchy enough to keep you listening. But the music doesn’t drown out the lyrics. It is a fairly short CD, so there is plenty of time to listen over and over again. It is a very calming album, and in this day and age where in-your-face music seems to be the norm, Winterpills is quite refreshing.
Listen to the calm indie folk of "Are You Sleeping":
Fake Problems have battled comparisons to fellow Naples, Florida punk rockers Against Me! since the first time lead singer Chris Farren belted out his first gravely, strained chorus. But on the band’s third full length album, titled Real Ghosts Caught On Tape, it’s safe to say Fake Problems kicked those comparisons all the way back to Florida.
Ghosts shows a significant change from 2009’s It’s Great To Be Alive, but it still hits the mark. Farren’s voice is much more controlled, which Fake Problems purists might take issue with. The album’s first single “Soulless” is an upbeat, pop-infused song that sounds more like mid-20th century pop than the folk punk sound the band is known for.
Fake Problems called in Gaslight Anthem’s go-to producer Ted Hutt for Ghosts, and it isn’t hard to hear a little ’59 Sound sprinkled throughout. Ghosts may not be a rowdy folk punk romp, but it is still an extremely fun, ambitious album.
Listen to the upbeat pop number "Soulless":