I was reading the Paste magazine blogs today and four artists were recommended to me. So inspired was I, I would like to pass on the wealth. I know I’m not some prominent critic or anything, but I’m a huge music fan (as anyone who ever takes a look at my blog, or anyone who knows me might already know) and I discover people from time to time that drastically change my life and force me to re-evaluate my life in dreamy, awkward or saddening ways. These are some of the best ones I’ve heard so far this year (and there’s more to come, I’m sure).
1. The Wooden Birds. There is something of a tug-of-war going on with Magnolia, the Wooden Birds’ awesome record, between bitter anger and gentile sadness. The lyrics are often angry and agonizing, yet the melodies and arrangements are so simplistic, it’s easy to be carried away as though you were on a makeshift raft floating down a gentle current. This is a truly tragic record, and therefore, deeply affecting. “Choke” might be the most upsetting song on the record. So often when I review records, I go on and on about the song’s structure and/or build-up, or give away some of the lyrics. I’m not going to do that here; it’s worth discovering completely on your own.
2. Horse Feathers. There is SO much wonderful music to come out of Oregon. Elliott Smith, for example; though not FROM there, the rainy city (rumoured to be really quite a depressing place to live) was where Smith kick-started his too-short career. Also, some of my other current favourite bands and artists including Blind Pilot and Blitzen Trapper, are based out of Oregon. Anyway, Horse Feathers are another STELLAR band from the Western state. They are really straight straight folk that is even more ethereal than Matt Bauer or Iron & Wine in their spiritedness, but not so much in their arrangements. Horse Feathers reminds me of what a collaboration between Bon Iver, Cat Power and someone truly legendary like… Jeff Buckley, say… might sound like if they were locked in a roadside motel room together on a rainy night. “Curs in the Weeds” might be the prettiest song I’ve heard all year.
3. Slow Club. It seems with M. Ward’s project with the incredibly beautiful and talented Ms. Zooey Deschanel, She & Him, a few duos of similar musicality have become quite popular in the indie community; this includes of course, the wonderful and stunning Weepies, and the kooky, too-cute-to-handle Slow Club. Now, I’m not a big fan of “cute” music; most of the music I like is brooding and intense and involves a lot of talk about death, addiction and deep-rooted sadness. It’s just my thing, I guess – what can I say? But I make exceptions to all of my music rules, and Slow Club, with their sugar-sweet lyrics like “if I get to forty and I don’t have a spouse, I’ll fashion you a letter and I’ll send it to your house” (“When I Go” – adorable), are definitely an exception. They’ve had some songs floating around on some commercials (like the Ritz cracker commercials featuring lovelorn children and of course, crackers) and they did a Christmas time Black Cab Session (google this site if you like indie music and it will change your life, I swear!) but their full-length album is more than worth a listen. It’s almost TOO adorable and shamelessly precious and for those reasons, I love it.
4. Howard Elliott Payne. The first thing you’ll see if you look at Payne’s ‘album’ cover (in quotations because I don’t know if/where you can actually get a hard copy of Payne’s EP), you’ll notice it bares a remarkable resemblance to the cover art for Bob Dylan’s The Collection. It seems like only a pretentious little snot would be shameless enough to make this self-comparison. However, Payne proves that he’s certainly not this pretentious little snot. He’s in fact, very young, very (very, very, very) cute, and makes DAMN good Americana for a British kid. On his website, he states his influences and they range in media and style from F. Scott Fitzgerald, to Bessie Smith, to Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk (how has this kid even heard of that anthology?!), to Picasso, to ultimately, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. All this stuff shows in Payne’s solo work; it is great. It is down-to-earth, multi-faceted straight-edged country/folk with a touch of blue-eyed blues. And as an aside, I want to marry him. But his record is good too.