Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chris Bartels - Myths and Mold (2017)

Myths and Mold / Album Video Teaser #1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8y-LCoVbAE

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Minnesota native, songwriter, husband and father Chris Bartels’ second release under his own name, Myths and Mold, is a five song EP with the same unique sound and approach to songwriting defining his other work with projects like Bora York, yet displaying a flexibility that should be a surprise to no one. Despite the EP’s incremental sound, Myths and Mold has a surprising immediacy derived from the confidence of its presentation and the strong vocal arrangements. The latter quality is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this collection. Bartels, more often than not, pursues a widescreen vocal approach multi-tracking his voice, but he varies it enough to provide some needed diversity. If he opted for this style, song in song out, the EP would likely suffer from too much uniformity and sound too repetitive. Myths and Mold is consistently creative from the first and challenges listeners preconceptions about the limits and potential of modern popular music.

There are some obvious influences on Bartels’ music, but he never belabors them. “Blind” sports the same sort of vocal arrangements popularized by mainstream acts like Bon Iver and others, but Bartels’ has a distinctive twist on these devices that differentiates him from such contemporaries. “Missoula” creates a definite mood from its opening sounds and continues elaborating on that throughout the song’s duration. This is a much more direct arrangement and performance than the first number, but the song retains the same individualistic flair that distinguishes this album from the pack. “Stay” has an unusual and slightly mechanical sounding percussion part and the rhythmic pulse it provides helps give the song a sharper, clearer shape. Piano plays a far more prominent role here as the chief melodic instrument, but the wash of synths and keyboards introduced during the performance make an enormous impact on the final product.

The title song is the EP’s shortest performance, coming in a little less than three minutes in length, and certainly its most self-consciously artful. Piano, once again, seems to be the focal point, but it has a more diffuse and spectral quality with this song than the earlier performances. Other electronic sounds are tastefully interspersed around the piano work and the song gradually coalesces into some sort of being. Bartels’ vocals are treated with noticeable effects, but they are emotive and memorable. The choral style we’ve heard on earlier tracks is in effect here as well and closes the song on a nicely melancholic note. The EP’s last song “Counting Hands” has a marching tempo, never strident, and brings guitar back more strongly in the mix. There’s some of the same multi-tracked vocal harmonies here as we’ve heard earlier on the album, but they are intelligently arranged around the much straighter vocal passages. His guitar work has an unique sound as well that gives the song an added signature element. Myths and Mold has just enough mysteriousness to linger like a question mark with a few listens, but Bartels’ artistry and intentions become clearer and more uniform with each additional hearing.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jerad Finck - New Kids (2017)

Photo by Michael Sparks Keegan

Written by David Collins

Jerad Finck’s upbringing in the Spokane, Washington area proved fortuitous as he was exposed to a particular set of experiences and opportunities for musical education he may not have received elsewhere in the world. Finck’s first love, jazz, morphed into a fascination with popular music and found this young singer/songwriter/performer joining his first rock band in college. Finck naturally displayed an easy aptitude for the form, no doubt aided by his knowledge of more complex forms like jazz and the aesthetic that governs them, and it has quickly propelled him to a place among the most promising newcomers working today. This isn’t his debut, mind you, but every new release from Finck sparkles with the energy of someone announcing their arrival. “New Kids”, his latest single, is no exception.

This is the sort of single that unites opinion rather than dividing it. It is difficult to dislike or find fault with his nearly seamless mix of lightly employed studio atmospherics, evocatively recorded guitar, and well phrased vocals. There’s a pop edge to this song impossible to deny, but there’s credible substance here that goes beyond what we normally hear from performers working in this vein. Finck isn’t trying to have some overnight success, make a little bank, and just plod on uncreatively. Instead, you get the sense listening to this that Finck wants to make important personal statements while still entertaining the widest possible audience. He certainly succeeds here.

It is all built around the songwriting. There is a natural and seemingly effortless progression to “new Kids” that means one section flowing into another without any sense of awkwardness. Finck, likewise, has his voice set perfectly within and against the musical arrangement. His vocal melody lands in all the right places and has a strong sense of purpose without ever overpowering the song. The musical talents working for the success of this song are exemplary. The guitar playing, in particular, strikes a compelling and almost melancholy note without ever overplaying its hand. It is important to mark your mark on a song as a musician, but it is even more important to know when to pull back and how to best embody the song’s subject in musical content. Jerad Finck and the musicians he worked with to help realize “New Kids” have a vivid sense of what to do here and they pull it off with all the aplomb you might expect.

Sometimes the cream still rises to the top. Jerad Finck has the unique combination of skills and intangibles to make his presence felt on the contemporary music scene for many years to come and his songwriting powers only continue to grow. He is aided, as well, by a top flight collaborators who work in nearly perfectly sympathy with his talents. “New Kids” is, simply, one of 2017’s best singles and bodes well for Finck’s future work.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Humphrey/McKeown - Tapestry of Shadows (2017)

OFFICIAL: www.hm-music.com
FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/HumphreyMcKeown

Written by David Shouse
Email: davshouse@gmail.com

There aren’t as many active songwriting duos consistently working today. Scanning the major genres reveals that the last lingering bastion of such an approach, a remnant of the Brill Building’s influence on popular song, exists in various forms of Americana songwriting. One of the best songwriting partnerships working in the Americana style today is, without question, Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown’s longstanding collaboration. The two began working together in the early years of this young century and soon realized that, rather than peddling their collaborative efforts to various performers, they would better serve their own dreams and desires by recording and performing their material together. The duo, five albums later, have conclusively proven their instinct to be correct. Their latest release Tapestry of Shadows continues the ongoing process for the duo and finds them now evolving into a full band sound that sounds completely organic rather than seeming more like a mere vehicle for their songwriting. These are songs and arrangements that stand up nicely on their respective feet.

“Beautiful” brings things off with a memorable start. It has a solidly Americana base, but there are a number of structural points in the song that are pure pop. These moments, however, are never handled cheaply. Humphrey/McKeown do an excellent job of weaving the traditional elements of their sound in with this more modern feel. There’s a bit of a bluesy downcast to the second song “Better Day” but, like the opener, it embraces the sound of adult oriented popular song in a way that makes its traditional sound unusually fresh. The slinky, slightly behind the beat tempo of the song gives it an additional allure. McKeown’s vocals come out much more on the song “You Don’t Know Me”. They are name-checking, perhaps indirectly, a pop standard with their own stylish track, a dark jazzy glide with a fluid bass line and seamless changes that might seem a little predictable, but in the most pleasing and inevitable of ways. “Sasha on the Carousel” is another of the album’s more memorable tunes thanks, in no small part, to its melodic strengths – particularly the chorus. The songwriters’ voices come together very nicely on this song and there’s a reflective quality in the lyrics that matches the arrangement quite well.

The violin playing adds a third voice to the mix on “Our Beautiful Sad Dance” and it is the chief melodic vehicle in an otherwise lean musical narrative whose simplicity works beautifully. “You and I” has an almost hypnotic intensity centered on some rather simple melodic phrases and an intense vocal duet between McKeown and Humphrey.  “Madness” and “Sunshine Today” end the album with a distinctive character. The former is a lyrically inventive and has the steady stride listeners might associate with folk rock rather than outright Americana. “Sunshine Today” is bright and buoyant in a way few songs on Tapestry of Shadows can match, but it’s comparatively upbeat demeanor doesn’t sound out of place and brings the twelve song album to a close on a thankfully upbeat note.  

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars