Category Archives: groovemine

Album review: Luke Roberts – "The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport"

Luke Roberts’ “The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport” is, on its surface, a collection of heartfelt emotional explorations. Continued listening reveals a deeper folk and country influence. Roberts’ delicate and finely crafted arrangements are spare one track, fleshed out the next, always finding the perfect balance of instruments to accentuate his plain-spoken lyrics.

The first thing that struck me upon hearing the opening seconds of “I Don’t Want You Anymore” slow, droning violin’s delicate vibrato and spare guitar chords was the way that it reminded me of Jason Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia’s final album “The Magnolia Electric Company”. This track opens like a country ballad, heartache weighing heavy in Roberts’ voice. The violin comments on the emotive quality of the lyrics in its moaning bleat that contributes a deeper level of emotional interpretation. Like many of the songs throughout the album this is a sparse voice and guitar affair, though Roberts’ intricate picking can weave a complex harmonic fabric with a great deal of interestingly voiced chords on tracks like “Second Place Blues” and “Cartier Timepiece”.

There are only a few tracks assisted by a full rhythm section, moving the songs from the Nick Drake territory of “Spree Wheels” towards the aforementioned Magnolia Electric Co. sound. Luke’s voice is clear and low, similar to Bill Callahan, conjured from a very personal place as evidenced from the first person perspective of the lyrics. Though even without the aid of a full band Roberts has a skill in filling the spaces. The excitement in “Lost on Leaving” rolls forward with harmonica and piano in addition to broad guitar strumming and the most hopeful words sung on the album: “With everyone smiling at me”. It’s impossible not to see Luke Roberts himself singing through a smile as the words cross his lips.

Luke Roberts - "The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport"
Luke Roberts - "The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport"

“Will You Be Mine” is strummed brightly as Luke’s voice cracks. He follows the line “I need you to call” with an extended pause that puts us as listeners in his place, waiting and hoping in desperation for fulfillment. The track consists almost entirely of two chords, but he shows us what can be done with only two chords in this track and the next track that is equally minimal in its harmonic changes: “Spree Wheels”. In “Spree Wheels” the guitar sound morphs into a full ensemble with the lower strings sounding clear and round like an upright bass.

The way in which the songs are recorded brings the listener in closer. From the dry drum sound on “Old Fashioned Woman” to the sound of fingers brushing against the guitar strings as they are plucked, to the directness and clarity of the voice; this album is very present. It’s hard to hide mistakes in a mix like this, and that high-wire act of sorts is exciting to listen to. Luke Roberts is a confident performer who doesn’t disappoint on any of these songs.

Standing in sharp contrast to the laid back and stripped down nature of the majority of the songs is the arrangement of “Old Fashioned Woman” with its distorted lead guitar line that slices right through every other instrument in the ensemble with a slight amount of reverb and delay that comes off as an otherworldly sound amidst the repeated lulling finger picked steel string guitar. Adding to the colorful arrangement in this track is the simple 2-note piano line that gives a bit more depth, complexity and reinforcement to the guitar line.

With “The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport” the artistry and craftsmanship of Luke Roberts as a songwriter, and guitarist is truly on display. He successfully navigates a wide variety of sounds and textures to great effect throughout.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/08-Lost-on-Leaving.mp3|titles=Lost on Leaving] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/06-Spree-Wheels.mp3|titles=Spree Wheels] Head to Thrill Jockey right now to pre-order the album. It’s set for release on March 20. And if you are planning on purchasing the album in the vinyl format (as I wholeheartedly suggest), Thrill Jockey says:
 The vinyl version of Luke’s debut Big Bells and Dime Songs sold out upon release, so do not hesitate.

Album review: Terry Malts – "Killing Time"

Taking the garage punk aesthetic to unexpected places and mixing it with an early rock and roll sensibility for melodic pop hooks, Terry Malts succeeds in making fun, catchy noise with the occasional biting social commentary. It’s all apropos of punk rock.

The first thing that immediately struck me is how much the singer’s voice sounds like that of Joey Ramone’s, and I should apologize because once you start to hear it that way it will be impossible to hear it any other way. The comparison was something that my mind would not let go. Uncomplicated songs with straightforward structures are not something that the Ramones invented, but Terry Malts takes the form and sound — as an archetype — and runs with it. The songs on “Killing Time” not only have more lyrical depth, combined with variety in the tempo and rhythm department, but are also given room to breathe. The band allows each track to develop in its own way by either cutting back and building up the dynamic again or with the addition of a squealing, messy guitar solo. Perhaps a better idea of their sound would be to place it in terms of the noisy garage punk bands Male Bonding or Dum Dum Girls.

Terry Malts buzzes with a guitar tone that seems to have been taken directly from Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade and it’s that haze from which the entire album takes its tone – bass heavy, and at times overridden with feedback and echoed vocals. The buzzed out “Not Far From It” is a perfect example of this sound. With “I’m Neurotic,” the droning, repetitive and spacious grinding guitar riff pervades, though the simple, pared down lyrics are more the focus on this track. Repeated statements of “I’m neurotic, that’s what she says, I won’t let it go to my head. Maybe she’s right” not only works to highlight the fact that he is, in fact, neurotic, but therefore that “she” is right. Efforts specifically directed towards preventing it from going to his head are only doing the opposite. The music reflects the neurosis that commandeers all attention and focus.

“Nauseous” picks up the pace significantly. It’s far more catchy with a quick tempo, and perhaps even borders on “sing-along” inspiring with the hook “na-na-na-na-nauseous”. This is all combined with an ability for capturing the aura of early hard-core punk like Black Flag, mixed with a bit of the early rock and roll-influenced fun. Those two characteristics seem, on the surface, to be diametrically opposed, and I can’t think of how they could be working together — but according to Terry Malts they can, and do on this track. By placing the lighthearted melody of the vocals against support from heavy, bass-driven, guitar noise that is thrashing about in the background they manage to make work something that would seem like an option in the first place.

Terry Malts - "Killing Time"
Terry Malts - "Killing Time"

A doo-wop, early rock and roll sound also pervades “No Good For You”. If you could imagine the guitars being a little cleaner, and putting the vocals up front more, then I think this song would easily find a place for itself on the Top 40 back in the late 1950s. Not to beat the Ramones references into the ground, but it seems like this is what they were trying to conjure from themselves when they worked with Phil Spector. Instead, they more or less ended up turning out the same music that they had been all along, which is certainly not a bad thing.

Some of the lyrics on “Killing Time” push the boundaries with plainspoken, forthright social commentaries. The track “Not a Christian” is at once a slam to Christianity with lyrics such as “A prayer is empty air and no one’s listening” and a statement of personal beliefs with “There is life and there is death, I live my life, I do my best”. It’s over almost as fast as it began with no room left for ruminations or arguments.  Similarly, in the biting social commentary category, is “Mall Dreams”, a diatribe against modern consumerist culture. When the line “Who are you when all you do is consume?” is sung the conviction of the statement isn’t made any less contemptuous by the bouncing rhythm and uptempo character of the song. It happens to be a happy track on the surface but the lyrics beg for deeper inspection.

“No Big Deal” lyrically lands more on the personal side of things, sarcastically trying to cope with a break up. “No big deal, that was just my heart you ripped out” – sings a sullen voice that seems to be accepting of his fate while still managing to put his full pain on display. The squeal of uncontrollable feedback also permeates this track, the guitarist seemingly unable to hold it back, and unwilling to turn it down.

Squarely in-line with punk ethos is “Can’t Tell No One”, a straightforward rocker with rapid fire vocals. “People try to tell me what they think is right for me….but I won’t listen to them, won’t take their advice, I really wouldn’t have it any other fuckin’ way” is the most punk-rock line on the album. The rigid, uncompromising raising of the middle finger directly into the face of everyone within shouting distance serves as a very nice contrast to a lot of the other songs on “Killing Time” that are more obviously making use of the old school rock and roll influence.

The album really is about balancing those two extremes: the birth of rock with the noise and attitude of various strands of punk — from the garages, basements and dingy clubs across the country.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/03-Where-Is-The-Weekend.mp3|titles=Where Is The Weekend] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/10-No-Good-For-You.mp3|titles=No Good For You]

Favorites albums of 2011

(Originally posted on Tympanogram.com on December 22, 2011)

It’s hard to tell whether this was a really great year for music or if I was just paying attention more than last year. That sums up my feelings at the end of every year. I don’t want to do too much of an introduction because I have quite a bit to say. I’m not putting these releases in any particular order, they are just my favorites. Some I listened to more than others, but putting them in order just seems too subjective and a pointless waste of time.

Chad VanGaalen – “Diaper Island”

Chad Vangaalen - "Diaper Island"
Chad Vangaalen - "Diaper Island"

Listening to this album filled the void left by Women not releasing anything this year. This was my gateway into listening to more of VanGaalen’s stuff and it remains my favorite album of his. With it’s haunting and warm sound, psychedelic imagery and noisy guitars Diaper Island hit all the right  notes. Standout tracks “Peace on the Rise,” “Heavy Stones” and “Do Not Fear” would be a good fit on any year end mix. (review here.)

 

Fucked Up  – “David Comes to Life”

Fucked Up - "David Comes to Life"
Fucked Up - "David Comes to Life"

Simply put, this is one epic album. It may seems like a chore to listen to this nearly 78 minute hardcore opera about love and loss, but when it comes down to it the album still relies on catchy hooks, pure unbridled emotion and more guitars than have ever appeared on any album ever. The complexity of the arrangements may be overshadowed by the brash vocals but take another 10 or 20 listens and you’ll undoubtedly start to appreciate how truly brilliant this album is from it’s structure and lyrics right on down to the execution. This continues Fucked Up in their clear evolution of a hardcore band that is always searching for new ways to expand the medium.

Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”

Radiohead - "The King of Limbs"
Radiohead - "The King of Limbs"

Radiohead will never be able to catch a break ever again. They are caught in the terrible, yet still enviable, position of people expecting great innovations from album to album and then fans and critics regularly misunderstanding their music and heaping faint praise onto them. Make no mistake The King of Limbs is a fantastic album. Sure, it is short, and there isn’t much in the way of guitar on it, and it’s really percussion heavy. It’s still a Radiohead album though and in my mind they are nearly at the level where they can do nothing wrong. There are definite gems on here and it should not be simply cast aside. (review)

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/07-Give-Up-The-Ghost.mp3|titles=Give Up The Ghost]

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l”

tUnE-yArDs - "w h o k i l l"
tUnE-yArDs - "w h o k i l l"

Probably the most divisive album of the year. I have yet to come across anyone that could say, “Yeah I heard the tune-yards album, it was ok”. The reactions were always hard to one side. If I recall correctly even those of us in the Tympanogram camp were at odds over how we felt about it. My take on it is that it’s a wholly new sound that is interesting rhythmically to a very high degree, orchestrationally it also makes great use of everything available but never tries to go too far, or do too much. This album manages to do all of those things while continuing to keep it interesting and different from song to song covering a variety of moods. (review)

Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”

Wild Flag - "Wild Flag"
Wild Flag - "Wild Flag"

This is a straight up rock record. I had been looking forward to its release ever since Carrie Brownstein left NPR to pursue music in a touring band once again. They manage to easily sidestep any of the normal pitfalls of a debut album because all of the members of Wild Flag are seasoned pros. Each track is exciting and energetic and simply rocks. They captured the energy of a live show and released it simultaneously as they toured across the country garnering acclaim for their exciting, energetic show. (review)

Colin Stetson – “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”

Colin Stetson - "New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges"
Colin Stetson - "New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges"

This album is the only thing I have listened to that has left me absolutely speechless and astounded upon its conclusion. It’s flashy, arty and walks that line between art-music and jazz. It’s another album that stands in a category of its own, which is exactly the kind of thing that I’m attracted to. What’s even more amazing is that it’s almost all solo saxophone music, except for one track that Stetson performs on French Horn. On the surface it is not exactly the kind of thing that I would be drawn to, and maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you’d be drawn to either. To you I would say this is definitely worth a listen or ten. It’s damn near revolutionary and will leave you spellbound. (review)

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/12-The-righteous-wrath-of-an-honorable-man.mp3|titles=The righteous wrath of an honorable man] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/07-Home.mp3|titles=Home] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/05-From-no-part-of-me-could-I-summon-a-voice.mp3|titles=From no part of me could I summon a voice]

 

Starfucker – “Reptilians”

Starfucker - "Reptilians"
Starfucker - "Reptilians"

Catchy as hell, synth-laden, danceable pop tunes about life and death, though mostly about death. This was definitely an album that I had cast aside earlier in the year, but when I came back to it I found that I was surely missing out. There’s something satisfying about a thick, buzzing synth sound.

Tim Hecker – “Ravedeath 1972”

Tim Hecker - "Ravedeath 1972"
Tim Hecker - "Ravedeath 1972"

I definitely don’t fashion myself an expert on ambient music, but there is just something so moving about this album the way that it uses masses of sound to create an atmosphere that is ethereal and familiar all at once. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what I love about this album. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep coming back to it, that it keeps forcing me to come back to it. It’s just so damned intriguing.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – “Mirror Traffic”

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - "Mirror Traffic"
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - "Mirror Traffic"

The Pavement nepotism is obvious. I became absolutely obsessed with Pavement when I finally started paying attention to their albums around 2006. Come to find out I was wasting all sorts of time missing Pavement because Malkmus has been putting out fantastic albums since right after Pavement’s last album came out in 1999. “Mirror Traffic” is full of songs with interesting harmonies, sudden shifts, catchy melodies and Malkmus’ literate and sometimes cryptic lyrics.

The Two Koreas – “Science Island”

The Two Koreas - "Science Island"
The Two Koreas - "Science Island"

I know that hardly anyone is going to agree with me on this album. I also know that not too many people have heard this album and that is a shame. That is also partially the reason why I am making it a point to mention it on my year end list. The music is sloppy to a certain degree, totally embodying a garage rock aesthetic. Every track is a barn-burner sung with a sneer with plenty of jangly, noisy guitars adding to the overall experience. If you listen to anything on this list, or are inspired to listen to anything new I would suggest most highly this album. (review)

Album review: We Were Promised Jetpacks – "In the Pit of the Stomach"

Sometimes it just feels great to have some loud music blasting into your ears. It’s better if the sonic assault isn’t something that is relentless, rather persistent but giving and taking in all the right places. The band has a knack for knowing how to take things back a bit, build up the momentum and charge ahead again at full speed. This album is appropriately titled in that the loudness and sheer power of the guitars only seems to get progressively louder, leaving the listener feeling like they were punched squarely in the gut.

I mean that in the best way possible.

Take opening track “Circles and Squares”. It begins with the guitars creating a loud barrage of sound through to the beginning of the verse, where they back down a bit. But they can’t seem to hold themselves back for very long. Everything returns to full volume save for the voice, which retains its calm in the eye of the storm. In that way the voice creates a point of balance. The entire latter half of the song consists of a steady buildup. The amount of energy that is created seems unbearable for a while, yet continues to accumulate, exploding into the conclusion of the track . Before we are given the chance to catch our breath, the next track, “Medicine”, is already building itself up with maniacally pounded guitars in a thick, clear tone.

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "In the Pit of the Stomach"
We Were Promised Jetpacks - "In the Pit of the Stomach"

The name of the band even manages to capture some of the barely restrained energy of the anger or disbelief at unfulfilled promises.  Track after track the album unfolds in a roar. “Through the Dirt and the Gravel” benefits from layers of rhythmic complexity courtesy of the bass shifting the established pulse. Layers of melodic guitar lines weave throughout the bridge while the vocals are recorded to sound a bit more distant and cold. The frantic, tremolando strumming of the guitars form an active backdrop as singer Adam Thompson belts “I have soared higher than eagles…” which is followed by the song really building up a big head of steam. The same distant treatment of the vocals is used to great affect in “Sore Thumb” and “Pear Tree”, where the instruments nearly completely fade out, the voice calls out from an apparent distance, immediately after which the wall of guitars slams into us full throttle.

But, as mentioned before, the band knows exactly when to pull back, which is exactly the purpose that the entire song “Act on Impulse” seems to be fulfilling. Of course it only begins subdued. The entire track reveals itself to be a slow burning constant crescendo building up one element at a time, adding more vocal harmonies, cross rhythms, drums and other various instruments and effects in the background.

This certainly isn’t to say that the entire album is comprised of loud guitars and swirls of cacophonous distortion. Jetpacks has the enviable talent of being able to balance those elements with sweet melodies in the vocals, or sometimes hidden in understated guitar lines. Both of these can be found in “Picture of Health”. They also aren’t afraid to repeat things several times in order to give elements the proper amount of space to grow. If that means having an instrumental introduction that clocks in at over 2 minutes then so be it. We Were Promised Jetpacks aren’t bound by structure and aren’t afraid to break from it.

A great line from “Boy in the Backseat” states “If there’s breath in my lungs, then there’s wars to be won”. That line displays the fight contained in the songs. Strength without aggression, pride and power controlled but not held back.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/01-Circles-And-Squares.mp3|titles=Circles And Squares] [audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/07-Sore-Thumb.mp3|titles=Sore Thumb]

Album review: Wooden Shjips – "West"

Wooden Shjips’ drone of ultra fuzzed out guitars aligns them with the trend of retro sounding new-music that seems to have exploded in the past couple of years. They are taking the psychedelic/early hard-rock sound and very much running with it. The band seems to be more than happy to sit on one chord for minutes at a time in the minimalist style, rhythmically chugging through a cloud of distortion a la Queens of the Stone Age. Wooden Shjips actually shows up Queens in their dark heavy sound being that much more darker and heavier.

The vocals, though certainly not the focus of any of the tracks, remain downplayed and monotonous. They definitely do their part to make the songs sound all the more sinister. It’s like the singer is speaking of bad omens, or summoning spirits and the like. When you get down to it, his singing style is downright eerie.

Extended instrumental sections, like in opening track “Black Smoke Rise”, do their best to mimic the wandering, seemingly one-take guitar solos of the first wave of psychedelic music of the late-60s. These sections seem to serve the songs in capturing a certain vibe, and places that as a higher priority than “saying something”. That shouldn’t be taken in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that a guitar solo, or keyboard solo, that is flashy and driven by technique with flourishes of 32nd notes and technical melodic bravado would truly just not work against the backdrop they are laying down. They seem to be sticking to a very strict stylistic theme and mood here and something showy would stick out far too much. They do a great job throughout the album of establishing and maintaining a consistent sound.

Wooden Shjips - "West"
Wooden Shjips - "West"

After the mid-tempo minimalism of the first two tracks there is a burst of energy in the form of a catchy vocal melody in an upbeat tune that is (perhaps ironically) titled “Lazy Bones”. This tune, along with the heavy riffage displayed in “Home”, create a nice dynamic across the album. Wooden Shjips remains true to their sound but show that there is always room to move and create something new, and possibly contrary, without abandoning the aesthetic they have been developing.

The album forms and arc with droning tunes “Black Smoke Rise” and “Rising” as bookends. The latter of those tunes is a backwards track that casts a knowing wink to their already “evil” sound. But the more upbeat riff-based tunes happen towards the middle of the record with “Looking Out” creating a connection by being both upbeat and still droning it its persistent rhythm and complete unwillingness to change chords. Meanwhile “Flight” takes a page out of the Tony Iommi book of devilish sounding riffs, replete with a delay ridden keyboard solo straight out of “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. In a way a lot of these songs ride the line right between those two worlds.

With “West” Wooden Shjips creates droning minimalist music in the context of the heavy, psychedelic rock genre. The attention to consistency of sound most certainly pays off in the end.

 

Album review: White Hills – "H-p1"

Heavy, unrelenting drones of guitar riffage that are spread out over an extended jam. That is how I would sum up the sound of White Hills’ “H-p1” in one sentence. It isn’t totally fair to sum things up in one nice little phrase though as the songs on the album actually cover quite a bit more ground and honestly can’t be summed up succinctly.

The same way that Queens of the Stone Age’s early material would take one riff and pound it into the ground with unrelenting repetition, so do the tracks here. I’m reminded more of two bands that aren’t Queens of the Stone Age while listening to this album, both of them based in Chicago: CAVE and Vee Dee. CAVE’s basis in heavy sounding kraut-rock that sounds like it is going to crush you beneath its weight combined with Vee Dee’s garage rock goodness.

The opening track “The Condition of Nothing” is basically the same fuzzed out guitar riff that shifts between 2 chords throughout. There are some vocals that bring the track into a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers territory with the sound of guitar based industrial music that is sinister and sneering with tinny production placed up against an absolute wall of guitars.

“No Other Way”, which clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, takes the same formula, minus the vocals. A heavy riff is repeated throughout while an echoed melody provides a bit of variety. In the course of eleven minutes the track is developed subtly with a background hum that slowly creeps up eventually taking center stage as everything else begins to fade. These shifts and changes that occur over the extended jams contrast with the sheer repetitiveness that the listener is sure to be focusing on and drawn towards. Admittedly the riffage does lock in to a hypnotic groove, allowing the listener significant time to focus on different aspects of the track.

White Hills - "H-p1"
White Hills - "H-p1"

Following “No Other Way” is “Paradise”, another lengthy track that functions in quite a different way. This time the drums are the primary focus while scattered, spacey sounds pop up at various times creating a much more varied fabric that spasms and percolates to the end.

Out of the extended jams and the stoner-rock minimalist development comes the garage-rock sound of “Upon Arrival” that gets to the point straight away. Psychedelic garage rock with vocals that sound like Alice Cooper and simultaneously provide White Hills with the best opportunity for radio play. There is an honest to goodness verse/chorus/verse structure with a real guitar solo that pulls us back out of kraut-rock groove of repetition.

As a testament to the truly varied nature of the album the latter half moves even further away from riff based rock and into more ambient, free form electronic free form improv with a trilogy of tracks that seem to develop and bleed into one another. “A Need to Know”, “Hand in Hand” and “Monument” could form one giant song, just as the band seems to be doing earlier in the album.

Pulling things apart and putting them back together, exploring different sounds and themes while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of heavy psychedelic music seems to be what this album is all about. They take ideas presented and flesh them out on other tracks, they run them into each other and play them on top of each other, helping to make sense out of their seemingly disparate interests. This all makes total sense with the truly epic titular track that closes the album at an astonishing 17+ minutes with a truly evil sounding riff that seems to tie together all of the ideas presented in the album. I’ll even give them bonus points for sporting a few extended guitar solos in one song and throughout the album.

Album review: Priestbird – "Beachcombers"

Priestbird is the new moniker of former instrumental indie-prog outfit Tarantula A.D. It seems that tensions within the band came to a breaking point such that they didn’t feel they would be able to continue making music together. They split and went their separate ways, only to ultimately end up creating music together again.

It seems as though they can’t avoid their creative tendencies and perhaps the time away allowed each of them to re-evaluate the music that they wanted to make. This change of gears seems to be exactly what each of the trio wanted; reconvening to see if anything would click. The result, “Beachcombers”, shows that things did, in fact, click. The album is thoughtful and, on the surface, laid back. Looking deeper one will discover that Priestbird have not completely let go of their prog leanings. Much less pronounced, for sure, but  they most certainly have far from completely disappeared.

Priestbirds musicianship stands at the forefront throughout the album, such as with the complex and tight vocal harmonies that appear on the Souther front porch vibe of “Gone”, with its touch of bouncy acoustic fingerstyle technique. Interesting harmonic shifts exist throughout the album for those that are paying close enough attention. There are some subtle metric shifts as well. But Priestbird is more heart than head, eschewing the truly prog tendency to prove to the audience how much tricky stuff they can squeeze into a song. (see: Tool).

The tracks on “Beachcombers” still only run in the 3 to 4 minute range and focus more on gentle melodies and lilting vocals with a very laid back groove. There aren’t any songs that seem to be trying too hard to do something that the music doesn’t want to do. Songs, in my opinion, when done right have a way of naturally evolving into what they need to become. Prog sometimes pushes back against this idea a little bit too much and that tension can take a lot away form a song.

Priestbird - "Beachcombers"
Priestbird - "Beachcombers"

“Who Will Lead Us” is definitely a stand out track, with a defining sound. Its lush chorus of “Who will lead us from here?” brings to mind the sound and production values of maybe Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or some of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s earlier, slightly less pretentious (and portentous) material. The little guitar break that appears just before each chorus is perfectly placed. I can imagine it as easily having a million places to go. Instead Priestbird practices restraint and only later develops this seemingly little aberration into a bridge section, bringing it back to the chorus. They never go too far astray.

The string arrangements I’m sure will have some reviewers using the word “orchestrated” to describe the tunes, but I think that the words “lush” and “expansive” are much more apt. These descriptors also do not come with any additional classical music concert hall connotations. Priestbird uses the strings so well as part of the ensemble. It never seems like they are just “something extra” that needs to be used. They really become a part of the songs and help to lift everything to a higher level during the blissful choruses.

“All That’s Lost” delves into Bossa Nova territory adding another layer to their sound that is already difficult to pin down. I really can’t think of another band that is able to use world music influences as seamlessly intertwined with their own psychedelic sound as Priestbird has in this track.

Album closer “Yellow Noon” sums up the ideas of “Beachcombers” pretty well; a delicate and subtly complex verse is plucked out on the guitar with gentle vocals followed by an expansive chorus that revels in more dense atmospherics. Some lead guitar work comes to the fore, but just as they have showcased their tasteful restraint elsewhere on the album, it never gets too invasive.

This seems to be a great new beginning for a band that already has the experience of being a touring band. They are using their more cerebral creative side not as the basis for their songs but instead holding it at arms length and casting sidelong glances at their former musical direction while letting their hearts lead them, not their head.

///

The album is available for download from Priestbird’s site, here. Name your own price.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/06-Who-Will-Lead-Us.mp3|titles=Priestbird – “Who Will Lead Us”]