Wednesday, March 21, 2012

M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion

The timeless quality always inherent in M. Ward’s music abounds here on the songwriter’s sixth solo album, and rather than submitting listeners to a wasteland, this feels more like slices of a dreamscape. Reflective, calculated, and ultimately seductive, A Wasteland Companion drives one’s senses through a quiet maelstrom of compressed energy. Sunny songs abutting thoughtful ruminations, it’s not a fluid collection. Many of the Portland-based artist’s friends contribute to his journey through seemingly endless sunsets; She & Him partner Zooey Deschanel and Monsters of Folk bandmate Mike Mogis share their musical talents along with more than a dozen others. Yet what stands out is still M. Ward’s gorgeous fingerpickings.

“There’s a key on my piano that I play for you,” he croons in “There’s a Key,” yet we don’t hear a bit of piano on this intimate acoustic love song, where licks of serene guitar stretch out for miles. It’s not until the subsequent song, “Crawl After You,” where the piano melds with a growing buzz of violins and feedback-stained guitar. Thrashing forward in a rare fit of rage, “Me & My Shadow” takes an old folk tale and layers it with vigorous shredding.

After years of sharing the stage with Deschanel, it’s a true revelation to hear M. Ward take back the full spotlight. He’s once again stepping forward with his world-weary voice and lyrical dexterity. But “Sweetheart,” where she duets with him, is undeniably charming. It starts with the chorus “you have a sweet heart, sweetheart/you have a nice smile, baby/you drove me crazy down lover’s lane,” and only gets better from there.

Thematically and musically, A Wasteland Companion often sounds like it represents a more innocent time in America’s history. And that’s the beauty. This is music that could apply to any age or era, a pure soundtrack for a long road ahead or a journey back in time. Either way, this dreamscape is one worth riding into the sunset.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bowerbirds' Way of Life

About "The Clearing" by Bowerbirds from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

I really enjoyed this emotional video about the making of Bowerbirds' The Clearing. Incredible musicians and intriguing people, Phil Moore and Beth Tacular give us a real love story - one where everything doesn't always work out well, but in the end, where love triumphs.

I interviewed Phil about the making of this album for Under the Radar, and I'm excited to share my feature with you once it's published. This video is a really nice companion piece to what I gathered from my chat with Phil. They are true, genuine people, and their music rings beautifully as a result. Definitely pick up this album.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dent May - Fun

This is simply the only song in my gmail inbox that is going to get me going this morning. It's a far cry from Dent May's older material, which I found to be funny and charming (lyrics from "College Town Boy" -- "he's smoking reefer every day now/his tastes are awfully high-brown/college town boy/get off your ass and do something" -- are perfection paired with a ukulele). This first taste from his new album has a electro groove that makes you wanna shake your booty something fierce, but loses none of the playful charm of his ukulele days. Get this.

Ben Kweller - Go Fly a Kite

The title says it well. Ben Kweller seems to have boundless energy, constant kid-like charm… and no interest in growing up. It’s all fun and games, snappy choruses and insistent, chipper guitar melodies. Bouncy and inexhaustible, Go Fly a Kite is relentless to a fault.

Rocky Votolato - Television of Saints

Each song on Television of Saints sounds fairly simple in construction – almost standard singer-songwriter fare with strummed and picked guitar lines with an occasional country twinge. Where they differ is their flowery language, each an intricate poem casting doubt,fear, and an unmistakable questioning of what’s real life and what’s one of Rocky Votolato’s nightmares. His sincerity and vulnerability flow seamlessly through gentle guitar ballads and chugging upbeat numbers. A literature lover, Votolato is a master of words, fancying phrases like “just let the pressure turn your charcoal heart into a diamond reflecting the light/don’t let it get crushed into dust.” It’s a beautiful, if somewhat predictable affair.