August 7, 2013

Saturday’s house concert: Small Houses & Tyler Lyle!

joepug-101-450x300

I almost can’t sleep, so great is my excitement about the upcoming house concert with Small Houses and Tyler Lyle on Saturday night at my place in Colorado Springs. You should come.

Small Houses definitely released one of my favorite records of the year so far, the incisive and beautiful Exactly Where You Wanted To Be (Yer Bird Records), and I have written about Tyler Lyle (one of my favorite albums of 2011, and a chapel session alum) so very many times because everything he does amazes, rivets, and pierces me.

Come, for this kind of goodness:



[videos by Kevin Ihle, house concert photo by Lindsay McWilliams]

February 19, 2013

for a moment i saw everything / hallelujah and god damn

Stormy Sea with Blazing Wreck circa 1835-40 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Tonight I’m grateful that songwriters like Tyler Lyle exist in this world, creating something that is unvarnished and open-hearted amidst the grey rows of quotidian obligations that can often feel overwhelming. Tyler released a new EP Expatriates out of the blue this weekend, and I have spent the last 72 hours listening to it over and over.

“Ithaca” is the final track on the 5-song EP, and it is pure and bittersweet, and it tells a wending story that feels like a dream.



And yeah, this is my second post in a row with a Turner painting at the top. Apparently Tyler and I think wonderfully alike.

Tagged with .
August 24, 2012

so, Blind Pilot played at my house

On August 7th, the night after they opened for My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses in Kansas City, Blind Pilot hauled ass across some state lines in their sweet blue schoolbus and arrived at my place just in time for dinner. That night they played a living room show for about fifty of us, and I am so pleased to find out that it was recorded so I can share such a special night with you.

Ever since I first heard the richly colorful music of Blind Pilot back in 2009, I’ve wanted to get them in to do an intimate Fuel/Friends show. That Tuesday, as you will hear, was totally worth the wait. The thing that really stands out in this entirely acoustic setting is their voices: the velvety, resplendent way they all knit together. At several points during the night you can hear us just hoot out our zenith of joy, like someone was poking us with a giant electric prod of musical fantasticness.

BLIND PILOT FUEL/FRIENDS HOUSE CONCERT
AUGUST 7, 2012
Oviedo
Go On Say It
Two Towns From Me
The Story I Heard
Just One
Keep You
Things I Cannot Recall
Paint or Pollen
Half Moon
I Buried A Bone
The Colored Night
One Red Thread
Three Rounds and a Sound

ZIP: FUEL/FRIENDS HOUSE CONCERT WITH BLIND PILOT



Here are also two videos from the night, including one of Tyler Lyle, who flew out from California to open the show. The song he performs (“Ditch Digger”) was partially written at my house back in March, so it was a deep treat to hear it performed there again.

And a final farewell on their bus (which is so very cool inside, Partridge Family-style):

[thanks so much to my neighbor Mike Kimlicko for recording!]

June 22, 2012

Blind Pilot’s playing at my house (my house)

You’re blinded by the dazzling attractiveness of this sextet, no? Wait until you hear them perform a stripped-down, all-acoustic set at my house on Tuesday, August 7! And then add to the mix that Tyler Lyle is flying out from California to open the show, and I think you got yourself the house concert of the summer.

Blind Pilot has been a favorite of mine ever since I heard this song in 2009, via my friend Dainon. Since then, Blind Pilot has continued to release amazing music, and most recently I just saw them wow a crowd of thousands at Red Rocks, opening for The Shins and The Head & The Heart. You also know that Tyler Lyle is one of my favorite new songwriting talents, and I am beyond thrilled to have him coming back.

TICKETS ARE HERE. This will probably fill up (please see the “HOW IT WORKS” segment on the EventBrite page). Whee!

May 25, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #16 :: Tyler Lyle

I’ve always had this metaphorical soft underbelly where the scales never grew, which feels far too vulnerable at times; I’m sensitive to the flicker of dark clouds across the eyes of those that I love, wanting to intuit out all the discord and weave it back together into something whole. With each year that passes, I realize more how the wounds and the brokenness and the bruises sometimes, most times, have to just be sat with while they knit themselves back together. Or they don’t. Often they don’t. This has been The One Thing I have been faced with learning in the past four years and, with heightened intensity, in the past six months or so. I am still trying to believe in hope and magic, as much as I can, with a flimsy protective coating. Some people are beetles that can survive an emotional nuclear attack. I’m more like a naked mole rat.

That oblique introduction is directly related to Tyler Lyle, because in meeting him and punctuating the last year of my life with his music and now his friendship, I’ve seen a fellow naked mole rat (sorrry Tyler, not my finest allegory). Tyler believes boldly in hope, choosing his eyes wide open and his heart half-broken every time, as he sings in one of his new songs. This chapel session is a sweet one, but the kind of sweetness that is rooted in sadness, and the smoldering under the ash.

Tyler’s self-released record The Golden Age and The Silver Girl was one of my favorite records of last year, and the night after this session was recorded, he performed at my house (a highlight of all my concerts thus far). I wrote a lot of words and feelings about it here; it still leaves me feeling radiant to remember.

Tyler indicated recently that he is working on 44 new songs (two of which you can hear over here, that I have not stopped listening to since March), and I want to hear the other 42. This kid leaves me with my jaw dropped with every song he writes, and I can’t stop telling people about him with a missionary fervor.

I have a feeling about this one.



FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: TYLER LYLE
MARCH 3, 2012

Free (I Am)
I was in NYC in March, and I spent one sunny Sunday afternoon walking loops through Prospect Park listening to this song on mega-repeat and singing along when no one was around (and sometimes, even when they were). This is a brave and beautiful new tune that cements Tyler’s standing in my mind as a potential major songwriter in my pantheon of great songwriters. There is no artifice in this folk song, only extraordinarily bold hope despite the entropy all around us.

Personally in my last few transformative months, I’ve claimed this song as an anthem of removing the fish-hooks of detrimental love from your heart and swimming off into the glittering water. “Not afraid of giving you all my love, and I’m not afraid to say goodbye.

When I Say That I Love You
This song’s probably the most perfect summation ever penned of looking back at that one hot, pure young love that grabbed you and shook you before you knew what to do with such a torrent. There is no other feeling like that, and it’s a feeling that dissipates so quickly as we get older and develop scar tissue around all the soft parts and spaces.

This song remembers. Another year, another ring around my bones.

(and: that violin? It’s like a river that’s almost too much to bear. Sitting on the edge of stage when this was recorded, I just perched there and cried. Because I remembered, too.)

For Love To Come…
There’s a strong thread of melancholy that weaves its way through all the songs on Tyler’s record last year (because it’s a breakup record, all the songs about one Silver Girl). This song traces a theme that he’s explored in a few different places: the fact that we have to unclench our tight, white-knuckled fists before we can move on, even though stepping into that neutral liminal zone of nothingness can be terrifying. I haven’t minded doing it this year as much, with this soundtrack. “Sometimes for love to come, love has to go.” Also, the harmonies on this one are really something.

Closer To Me
At the outset, this song sounds the cheeriest of the session — an effervescent strum, an exhortation to come closer. But then I notice near-sinister undertones to the song which reminds me of the subject matter of Josh Ritter’s “The Curse” – “Come closer, closer, closer to me / I am a loaded gun, you are a symphony / …past those warning signs, out into the sea.” I hear it as wanting to love someone and being worried that your love might be corrosive (“I got a heart with holes, it don’t keep much heat“). Maybe I’m just glum. In any case: I also love the very Paul-Simonesque whistling at the end.

These Days (Jackson Browne)
Whoa, this cover is the gut-shot: one of the most penetrating covers I have ever, ever heard. Where the version I first heard, recorded by Nico, is all German alienation and that oddly-endearing frigidity, Tyler’s version pulses pure and gold in all that sadness. The fatal, exquisite line in this recording is: “Oh I had a lover, I don’t think I’d risk another these days …it’s just that I’ve been losing / …for so long.” Blammo.

I also, detrimentally, never realized this song was written by Jackson Browne. That just goes to show, yet again, that all the best stuff is probably by Brownes.



ZIP: TYLER LYLE CHAPEL SESSION







[Audio, as usual, by the fantastic guys at Blank Tape Records. Church interior photo by Kevin Ihle]

March 7, 2012

winter is for Kierkegaard and mapping out these shining stars

Holy mackerel, world, get ready: Tyler Lyle is coming in a huge way.

Winter is for Kierkegaard (live in Manitou Springs) – Tyler Lyle

Tyler is a 26 year-old songwriter originally from Carrollton, Georgia — although he has successfully expunged his accent (regrettably, says the Georgia blood in my veins). He was in town this weekend for a richly satisfying Fuel/Friends house show & chapel session, leaving the air in my neighborhood radiant with his songs.

“Winter Is For Kierkegaard” is a new one that we recorded Sunday morning while we were waiting outside Adam’s Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs for brunch — because, you know — why not. I’ve probably watched this twenty+ times already, and am so in love with the phrasing, the intricate melody, the way his voice defiantly rises on the line, “and why not?!

And yes, he was carrying a timeworn copy of Kierkegaard this weekend; I also believe the mandolin here from Thomas Lockwood might kill us all.

I have been raving about Tyler’s album The Golden Age and The Silver Girl since the very first moment I clicked play and heard the opening track. Tyler’s record was one of my favorites of 2011, and I was delighted to spin him on NPR’s World Cafe. But I am here to tell you that he is just getting even better, by leaps and bounds.

I don’t think he’ll be anonymous for long. He recently finished helping write songs for the new Court Yard Hounds record (2/3 of the Dixie Chicks) and he talked about what it was like for him to be in the presence of such talented musical greatness, how he once stopped everyone in the middle of a song just to shake his head and marvel a bit. Despite his nascent presence and clear-eyed youth, I often felt the same way this weekend — having to pinch myself at all this magnificent music that Tyler kept infusing our air with.



On Saturday night at my house concert, I was excited to realize that I didn’t know half the crowd, which is rare in Colorado Springs. There was an infusion of new people in our cozy little domestic music scene, which I interpreted as evidence that there is a buzz growing around Tyler Lyle through word-of-mouth. Even more incredible was when Tyler stumbled over the words to a fan-requested song that he hasn’t played live in a while, and a surge of voices from the crowd picked up right where he faltered. A good dozen of us sang along the rest of the words with him. I did not expect that.

Saturday afternoon I had left Tyler in my house for a few hours to enjoy some solitude, and he was working on writing songs. The crown jewel of the show that night was the first live performance of that same song: the only time it has been played all the way through, and before the ink was hardly even dry from the penning. With the marching cadence and the lyrics brimming with hope, this feels like a folk anthem already.

Right!?

Over and over again this weekend, people who heard the songs Tyler was singing turned to me in a quiet amazement: “This kid is going somewhere.” “Wow.” Yesterday I asked my friend Conor (who records all our chapel sessions) what he thought makes Tyler so special; Conor paused and with a hilarious glint in his eye, remarked: “I don’t know, man …it’s like he can rhyme ‘ramble’ with ‘gamble’ and somehow make you feel like he’s the first person who’s ever done that.”

I found Tyler to be thoughtful, deliberate and well-read, traits that seep out all throughout his music — in the lyrics, in the questions he raises, in the bold statements of hope. There isn’t any artifice in Tyler, and I am sure there are dozens of ways we could prod at him with our collective cynicism, for his lack of a defensive coating. But see, I’m built the same way. His music is imbued with the fiery-hearted purity and optimism of ’60s folk songwriters who see a better world and aren’t afraid to tell you that, unblinkingly. Anyone who can sing this purely, “But I have only love, and I’m convinced it is enough,” as Tyler does, is enough for me indeed.

Oh, and yeah — they ended the night like this, with some help from our engaging openers John Heart Jackie. Yep. What you can’t see is our sea of wide-smiley faces crowded around them, just beaming.

[fabulous videos via the talented Kevin Ihle]

March 6, 2012

my chapel runneth over

In the last few days, we’ve gotten to record devastatingly rich Chapel Sessions with both The Head and The Heart (our first encore session) and Tyler Lyle. I have felt exceedingly blessed, and can’t wait to share them with you.

Josiah from The Head and The Heart stopped in the Louisville studios today of my friends at WFPK, and revealed a little more about our wonderful Friday afternoon together:

Josiah (THATH) talks Chapel Sessions – 3/6/12



We have a backlog of great sessions in the hopper (four total), all in store for the coming weeks and months. I’m excited.

February 20, 2012

Some pretty rad Fuel/Friends concerts coming up

The wild, celestial scale of musical largesse has tipped off its fulcrum in my favor, and we are currently splashing around in a sparkly, melodic deluge of fantastic upcoming Fuel/Friends concerts that I am hosting in the coming weeks. I feel truly awed and thrilled; all four of these special headliners have been listed in my year-end tops lists before.

You’re invited to all four warm wonderful nights, or if you have friends in Colorado, please let them know. Whoever comes from the farthest will get a song dedication and a hug.



Next Wed., Feb 29 (LEAP DAY!): CATALDO HOUSE CONCERT

On their way to open for some Blind Pilot tour dates, Cataldo is stopping by my house to fill an evening with music. Eric Anderson crafts plaintive, thoughtful, catchy pop that I have been head-over-heels for since I first heard it. His bio tells you all you need to know, I think: “I want to make beautiful things using people and tools around me. I believe in circuitous, round-about methods, trying as hard as you can, and fucking up as much as is necessary before you get things right. I believe in counter-melodies, gang vocals, and the banjo. Most of all I believe in singing things that are important to me and might be important to you.”

My Heart Is Calling/Following – Cataldo



Next Friday, March 2: DREW GROW AND THE PASTORS’ WIVES
(@ Moe’s BBQ, Fuel/Friends presents)

Drew Grow is a name you’ve heard me talk a lot about, because I believe in their brand of potent musical gospel. DGPW performed at the very first house concert I did, and the four of them have become my good friends, because they have beautiful hearts that create impassioned music. Their songs are soulful, varied, and incendiary live.

I’m presenting their Friday night show at Moe’s BBQ, before they head out for the month of March with The Head and The Heart; come stand underneath their torrent, feel and believe things, oh — and we can bowl and get BBQ. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.

SNAG THEIR CHAPEL SESSION

Bootstraps – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives



Next Saturday, March 3:
TYLER LYLE HOUSE CONCERT
(with John Heart Jackie)

From the first time I clicked play on a Tyler Lyle song, it was musical exhilaration, and I’ve only gotten deeper and deeper into this wonderful record. His debut album was all recorded in one day, just before he moved away from Atlanta for good. Because of that, more than anything this album feels like one exceedingly honest and humble snapshot of a moment of change and loss, without artifice, in the best possible way.

After he plays San Francisco’s Noise Pop this weekend, and after his Daytrotter session recording, Tyler is stopping by to spend the evening with us (joined by Portland’s John Heart Jackie). I can’t wait to see this fresh new voice for myself.

The Golden Age & The Silver Girl – Tyler Lyle
When U Were Mine (Prince cover) – John Heart Jackie



Tuesday, March 20:
TYPHOON GALLERY CONCERT
(with Motopony)

This is a huge one, folks. Typhoon wowed everyone at SXSW last year, with their approximately three hundred members (okay, thirteen) and their heads-thrown-back jubilance and shimmery, multicolored songs.

After their Letterman appearance and before they head out to play some big summer festivals in 2012, I’ve set them up to play a cool art gallery in town for us, all bedecked in twinkly white lights and with a sound system that can do them justice. I am co-presenting this show with our local NPR affiliate/college radio station, KRCC, and we both love Typhoon’s cavalcade of instruments and voices, and the way it feels truly overwhelming. There’s some of the redemptive waves of orchestral joy and colossal thumping force that we find to love in Fanfarlo. When they all throw their heads back and sing “alleluia, it will be gone soon,” I get chills, every time.

I am also thrilled to get to see Seattle’s Motopony, who I hear off-kilter great things about.

TICKETS: on-sale now at the KRCC studios, and at Venue 515 in Manitou Springs for $10.

The Honest Truth – Typhoon
Seer – Motopony



Let’s listen to some good music, drink a good beer, and revel together.

December 30, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2011

Note: Hear me talk about these on NPR’s World Cafe with David Dye!



2011 has turned out to be the year in music where I found myself resting, and drinking deeply. If you look at the three major music festivals I went to in 2011 (other than SXSW, which is always a debaucherous 1000-mph wonderful mess) they were all of the scenic, restorative type: camping at Sasquatch at Washington’s Columbia River Gorge, Telluride Bluegrass where I pitched my tent right by a rushing river, and Doe Bay Fest on isolated Orcas Island in the San Juans. The ethos of these music festivals, more than anything, is a sturdy summation of the music I enjoyed this year – music that sounds good by rivers, with friends, or under the stars.

Speaking of rivers, I kept finding myself near them this year, and being drawn to songs that either spoke explicitly of them (ref: autumn mix) or artists whose overall sound evoked that for me over and over (see: Vandaveer, below). Not only just rivers; this year I dreamt of swimming pools. Two years ago I remember a dream where I was forcing my way through choking growth, gnarled and thick in a jungle, somewhere unrelentingly humid. I broke through into a clearing where there was an abandoned swimming pool, which, really, if you think about it, is one of the saddest spaces imaginable. It sat there, cracked and empty, dirty in the middle of the place you need it most. A swim would have felt so good. And it wasn’t able to hold any water. It would have run out the cracks in the bottom.

And then one night not too long ago, after I returned from a fairly transformative trip back through Europe, I dreamt I was with the best kind of old friend, again on foreign shores; we slipped down clean white subway tiles into the sparkling water of that gigantic pool. My hair was getting wet, I remember I kept thinking about that. The tiles were so flawless. The water was so perfect. Refreshment. Saturation.

Reconstitution. This was a year for that kind of music.



2011 was also the year we got the Fuel/Friends Chapel Sessions rolling, after years of wanting to try something like it. The pieces all fell into place with the generous help of Conor and Ian from Blank Tape Records, and the somewhat fleeting discussion we had one night over beers: “you know, how about, like — in Shove Chapel? It’s so gorgeous in there.” We’ve now captured the acoustic songs of over a dozen magnificent bands and solo artists as they made their way through this gorgeous Rocky Mountain State, and each hour spent recording was humming with magic. We hope to welcome as many next year. The very first session we did, with The Head and The Heart, was even released this year as the UK bonus tracks on their self-titled debut album (via Heavenly Recordings). Yep, that felt pretty good, to share that sparkly sort of magic afternoon with so many people.

 

So: favorite albums that soundtracked my year? Here are the ten that I’ve listened to the most during the journey this year with deep enjoyment, from musicians that I am excited about. These are all bands that shimmered and exploded for me this year. All are worth some of your Christmas (or Hanukkah) money that’s burning a hole in your pocket. I continue to be grateful for albums like this.

 

FUEL/FRIENDS 10 FAVORITES OF 2011
(alphabetical, by band)


THE DECEMBERISTS - THE KING IS DEAD
(Capitol Records)

I’ve long had a thing for Colin Meloy’s mellifluous and flawlessly incisive vocabulary (it’s the way to my heart, you know) but haven’t really dove deeply into being a comprehensive fan of The Decemberists’ uber-literate chamber-rock for geeks. This year’s The King Is Dead bust down the last of my resistances and made me a full-fledged fan, blending rootsy gorgeousness and bluegrass twang throughout (recorded on Pendarvis Farm in Oregon) on this big and bursting album.

Joining the band on this effort was the marvelous propulsion by Peter Buck (R.E.M.) on jangly guitar, and Gillian Welch also makes her first of two appearances here on my year-end list with the flawless combination of her voice and Colin’s voices twining together throughout. In addition to the bright and jaunty jangle, there are moments of quiet, introspective beauty as well on songs like “June Hymn” and the closer “Dear Avery,” which I just love. This album has so many elements that pierce through perfectly: the wheezing of harmonica, a little banjo and the pierce of the fiddle, but also the acoustic fingerpicking on guitar and whiz-bang wordplay. Seeing The Decemberists at Telluride was one of the highlights this year, a simply perfect setting in which to experience this gem of an album.

Down By The Water – The Decemberists






DOLOREAN - THE UNFAZED

(Partisan Records)

Not to be confused with the danceable Spanish band from Ibiza named after 1985′s most bitchin time machine, Dolorean is from Portland, has at times served as Damien Jurado’s backing band, and released four records in their own right. I keep track of which band is which by remembering the Spanish word for sadness, dolor, and then listening to the record — and all things flow accordingly. The Unfazed is not a sad record, per se, but it is deeply wistful and bittersweet, and in that richness there is a healthy wash of beauty.

This is a complex, richly gorgeous album of melancholy and ache. Al James’s voice soars with this vulnerable, incisive timbre that cuts right into me. I’ve played it on the stereo for friends when they come over, and the comments I get are often equal parts Ryan Adams/Heartbreaker and Blind Pilot’s smoky, multi-hued, string-laden beauty. This is a marvelous record, front to back. Like the album cover marries “high art” with the impassioned graffiti scrawls of our most base desires, this album sings to me about knowing better, but doing anyways.

Country Clutter – Dolorean






FRANK TURNER - ENGLAND KEEP MY BONES
(Epitaph Records)

Frank Turner came blazing into my ears this summer through the persistent rallying cry from my friends at The Ruckus. From the first listen in the heat of this summer, I was knocked flat on my musical ass by several of my favorite things in music coming together in his anthemic, thoughtful, urgent bar rock that makes me feel alive. Above all, Frank sings like he’s staying hungry, with an undiluted joy in his music for me and unvarnished exuberance, even when he is singing of more heady subject matter.

The Springsteen comparisons are incontrovertible, and he crafts some whoppers of lyrics: “Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings / about fire in our bellies and  about furtive little feelings, and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering…”  YES. Or this rallying cry: ”And who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock and roll would save us all?” A humble sentiment, but listening to Frank Turner, much like when I first heard Gaslight Anthem or Lucero, yes – it seems obvious that something as simple as that, well — it just might.

I Am Disappeared – Frank Turner






FEIST - METALS
(Arts & Crafts)

I continue to appreciate Leslie Feist’s bottomless reservoirs of imaginative musical creativity, led by that voice steeped in a warm, classical throaty beauty that magnetizes every song that it is a part of. Feist is an artist of brilliant imagination, and I think we need more imagination in our lives, more of those unclassifiable moments and unclassifiable records like this one. We need the ability to look at one person standing in a warehouse and picture dozens of rainbow-clad dancers falling out in an arc of motion, or picture that just maybe this morning our toast will fly out the window on tiny pink wings.

That imagination also soaks Metals, her fourth album, and I really appreciate how no two Feist albums or even two songs on the same album are similar. You can have orchestral jazziness one moment, trip-hop the next, playful pop classics with stomping and snapping, and finally these mournful sparse melodies to round it all out. On this album I hear a darker weight to the songs, a level of maturity in the music. The record was recorded partly in Big Sur, California, which is near where I’m from, and if you’ve been there you know that the two things which might leave a lingering impression are the immense redwood trees and the blanketing fog. It’s an atmosphere you can see in her video for “How Come You Never Go There,” and that spirit pervades a lot of this record. A gorgeous record, this one — Metals shows the continuing regenesis and reinvention of Feist.

The Bad In Each Other – Feist






GILLIAN WELCH - THE HARROW & THE HARVEST

(Acony Records)
Together with her longtime musical partner David Rawlings, this is the first Gillian Welch record since 2003, and it’s a moody, often-dark, languid album of subtle beauty that was totally worth the wait. These two have an incredible songwriting partnership, with their intricate guitar and banjo work, their harmonies that sound birthed from the very same celestial vein. This one also feels like a chronicle of a journey, with the triplet of songs “The Way It Will Be,” “The Way It Goes,” and “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” arcing a tense thread throughout their sparse Americana, and punctuated by stunners like “Dark Turn of Mind.”

This is a smart record, loaded with lines that whap you across the face in their sly perfection. “Now I’ve tried drinking rye and gamblin, dancing with damnation is a ball / but of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself, well you might be my favorite one of all,” Gillian sings in a drawl, but with the precision of a scalpel. There is a spacious pensiveness in this record, and I keep listening over and over, going deeper and my toes haven’t scraped the rocky bottom yet.

Tennessee – Gillian Welch






PICKWICK - MYTHS
 EP
(self-released)

Pickwick is a band out of Seattle of six white guys who sound, when they make music, quite convincingly like a soul & blues band from a generation ago, but in a refreshing way, without any posturing. This was the year that Pickwick quite literally found their voice and have shot off into my stratosphere with what they’ve hit upon together. They used to be an ambient folk band, but shockingly found it hard to rise above the din in Seattle with that sound. So one day, frontman Galen Disston was in a cubicle at work and heard “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke “jump out of the speakers” — it hit him powerfully, as Sam is wont to do, and totally changed his perspective about what kind of effect he wanted his music to strive for. So, at the next band practice, they tried something completely new, and oh my does it absolutely work.

Galen seems an unlikely frontman, with his wild curly brown hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and hands that knead each other while he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. One of my favorite observations about him this year was the person who commented on a friend’s Facebook how unexpected Galen’s voice was, writing: “In a million years you wouldn’t pin that voice coming from him. He’s like, ‘Hello, I’m here to fix your Internet,’ then, BOOM. Voice.” Precisely.

There’s that ambush acapella performance in the gorgeous gothic-style reading room at the University of Washington library. Watching it, Galen is absolutely, without a doubt, is in his element when he sings — he nearly vibrates an easy tidal wave of vocal power, inhabiting and swimming free inside the song. You can see the confidence and the difference, even from the recorded songs on the album, or their KEXP performance from earlier this year, and it is electrifying. They are recording their full-length debut album right now, and will be touring in the Spring (including SXSW). I predict pretty massive and wonderful things for these fellows, and for everyone who hears them in 2012.

Hacienda Motel (live on KEXP) – Pickwick






RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE - DEPARTING

(Saddle Creek Records)

Rural Alberta Advantage is an elemental band of just three people, with a chemistry that has produced this potent record of push and pull and tension —  both in the juxtaposition of the prominent percussion and the distinctive melodies, and also in the vocals of Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole. I went through a phase this summer where I was falling asleep to this record on a regular basis, which is completely weird because it’s heavily drum-based and rough, with almost a punk-rock feel, but to me the percussion literally works with a narcotic effect, helping shut down my brain. Drummer Paul Banwatt is my hero on this record, the star of every single song.

RAA is another band I crossed paths with at SXSW this past March, for a midnight show in a church. The echo and clang were riveting, but they simply took my breath away with the final song of their set, and converted me immediately to this entire record. Like the feeling of the fog-blanketed desolation in the cover art, this is a record chronicling the holding tight and the letting go in nearly every song, every line. Departing is their sophomore album, and is out on Saddle Creek Records (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Two Gallants), a label I tend to associate with urgent, percussive, melodic music.

Muscle Relaxants – Rural Alberta Advantage





TYLER LYLE – THE GOLDEN AGE & THE SILVER GIRL
(self-released)

This is a record from a young songwriter originally from Atlanta, a dozen songs about the ending of one relationship, told with honesty and effervescence. Tyler recorded it in one day, just two days before he moved away from Atlanta and off to the golden coasts of Southern California. He told me he spent $250 total mastering this record, and enlisted some friends to fill in the wonderful instrumentation on this record, the flutes and the cello and the banjo, to technicolor effect. Because it all came pouring out in one day, more than anything this album feels like one exceedingly honest and humble snapshot to me, without artifice, in the best possible way.

I remember when David Gray’s first record came out, the one he wrote and recorded all in his bedroom and arrived out of nowhere, there was a little sticker on the front of that record from Dave Matthews that said something like “…David Gray is beautiful in the purest and most honest way.”  No one really knew of David Gray at that time, but the same way that record pierced me reminds me a lot of why I can’t stop listening to Tyler Lyle also, especially on songs like “Sorrow” or “When I Say That I Love You.” People haven’t heard of Tyler, but they will. He’s a young wordsmith who says precisely what he means, with immense talent and a beautifully open heart. The first song muses, ”I think it’s enough to feel the fire” — and this album makes me do that.

The Golden Age & The Silver Girl – Tyler Lyle






TYPHOON - A NEW KIND OF HOUSE EP
(Tender Loving Empire Records)

I first saw this band in a live video performance from SXSW, where eleven of them crammed into an elegant ballroom in the classy Driskill Hotel and launched into a song medley together that just simmered and exploded cathartically, with all their instruments and their heads thrown back and the voices raising together. Every time I watch that video, even now, it makes me wonder where the hell else nearby I was and why I hadn’t seen them for this.

With a name that suggests a warm wet tropical cyclone, you better deliver something worthy of the moniker, and this band of early-20-somethings from Portland certainly does that, in spades, with their dozen-ish members on stage. There’s an innocence to their music, this brilliant shimmering springtime feel — but also the weight of experience with some of the more difficult parts of life, also. Kyle Morton, the lead singer and primary songwriter, was bitten by a tick when he was young and struggled for years with an initially undiagnosed Lyme disease infection, which stunted his growth some, and isolated him with health issues throughout childhood. A lot of his songs wrestle with themes of that lost innocence — the threat of death — God and suffering. But it’s not maudlin; it’s authentic, and it’s beautiful.

I love the cavalcade of sound and voices that is truly overwhelming. There’s some of the shimmering, redemptive waves of orchestral joy and colossal thumping force that we find to love in Fanfarlo. When they all throw their heads back and sing “alleluia, it will be gone soon,” I get chills, every time.

The Honest Truth – Typhoon






VANDAVEER - DIG DOWN DEEP

(Supply & Demand Records)

So I’ve been magnetically drawn to rivers for some reason this year, as I mentioned earlier, and they’ve played an important part in several pivotal memories in 2011. This record reminds me entirely and completely of a powerful river, and I’ve been stupid in-love with it from first listen in late July.

Vandaveer’s music has all kinds of wonderful nods in it to old, rich music: spirituals, dirges, and songs of rejoicing. It often feels primal and organic in the percussion (lots of handclaps), elegant in the wending warmth of the cello. The lyrics are also dang smart; one just needs to listen to a rich allegory on songs like “Spite” to know that. But the real currents that pull me throughout this record comes from the vocal pairings of Rose Guerin’s icy deep low harmonies and Mark Charles Heidinger’s wending ripples and currents that tug us around the rocks. Heidinger’s voice has this vinegar of sadness around it that actually reminds me of Nina Simone (something I would never expect); they both have that slight metallic tang and bitter aftertaste that sounds regretful all the way through. Absolutely terrific, this one.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer

 

So, there you have it — my personal ten favorites from this year, although I could have of course rambled on with twenty or thirty. Let’s do it again in 2012?

 

[header image by the wonderful Ryan Hollingsworth]

September 1, 2011

the golden age & the silver girl

Well, this was visceral love at first listen this morning. Tyler Lyle is from Georgia (like my people) and now lives by the ocean in California. I clicked on this song simply because of my affinity for the title and the cover art, and as soon as the music cued up, wow it’s perfect for this Indian summer we’re having. I am completely smitten with the entire album: $6, happily gone.



[via my favorite Some Velvet Blog; if you visit Tyler's bandcamp site, read those liner notes y'all]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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