“Where the Humans Eat”
Sounds Like: A young Dylan with a younger vocabulary.
Folk is fast becoming the “next big thing” in indie rock. Standing valiantly above a sea of synth-punk dance bands, these new heroes of rock music are still indebted, and far less sincere, than the Folkies of days gone by. So it goes for Willy Mason, the young singer/songwriter who has already been compared to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, despite his age.
Mason, a startling 19 years old when “Where the Humans Eat” first dropped in 2004, is older but not much wiser for the album’s 2006 re-release. Picked up by an associate of Conor Oberst, Mason got a chance to tour with Bright Eyes and a gig at South by Southwest. Though he may be indie rock’s favorite youngin’, his music just isn’t at the point where he can play with the big kids.
The twangy country rock on this album is great, but there’s something a little more substantial dragging this album below the charts. Mason’s lyrics are terrible. And I don’t mean terrible in a good way like The Moldy Peaches’ “Who’s Got the Crack?” I just mean terrible. For example, “Oxygen,” the song that exploded Mason into the indie rock stratosphere, is a struggle to get through: “Then look around to all the people you see/How many of them are happy?/And free?”
It’s unclear what Oberst and the rest saw in Mason’s songwriting. Even more perplexing is why Astralwerks felt the need to re-release this album a mere two years after Team Love put it out. If Mason grows up, both lyrically and literally, in the next few years, he may be as good as Dylan. But for now, he’s just a young imitator.
Band of Horses
“Everything All the Time”
Sounds like: Sweeping, graceful indie rock not unlike Built to Spill or the Flaming Lips.
There is nothing more satisfying than stumbling upon a really solid, well-made rock album. Albums like these are all-purpose and evergreen, something to hold dear when whatever fleeting trend falls short on the third listen. Coming from Seattle (naturally), Band of Horses is just one more to add to the arsenal.
“Everything All the Time” is damn near perfect. It is positively laden with unflinching, heartfelt songs of love and loss and the likeness between those two seemingly polar emotions. Their single, “The Funeral,” has been receiving some much-deserved hype, showing up as the pick of the week on several different music Web sites. Rightly so, as Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke hammer out such lines as, “At every occasion I’m ready for the funeral.” This is a song upon which people can come together on a very universal, similar sentiment of longing and anxiety.
Bridwell is the ideal front man. Neither cocky nor obnoxious, he and Brooke make this sweet guitar-and-drums pair that revel in their simplicity. The melodies are driven and straightforward, affording serious poignancy at the same time. “Our Swords” is genius in less than two minutes and thirty seconds. It’s a call-and-response haunting that resonates with its pulsating rhythm that achieves something quiet transcendent, tastefully hiding behind the weight of “The Funeral.”
That is pretty much the score of the entire album. “Everything All the Time” is not original or unique, but Bridwell and Brooke are so completely aware of the magnitude of their songs that they are crafted to balance each other. And they are crafted beautifully.
“This Is Where Our Hearts Collide”
Sounds Like: Country music Iceland style that definitely does not need a singer.
Lately, it seems that artists from Iceland have been getting more notoriety. It started with Bjork and now, since the acclaim of Sigur Ros, it seems as if there has been a new breath in the life of indie rock and rock music in general. Each band coming out of Iceland is doing something original. Even those rap guys Quarashi did something semi-original, rapping in Icelandic. Amandine is another band that seems as if it wants to capitalize off the current “Iceland” craze. Their efforts, however, come off more forced and insincere as opposed to something as heartfelt as Sigur Ros.
Musically, there is nothing wrong with this album. Speaking in terms of instruments, the album is beautifully crafted, and if they were an instrumental band it would make for a great record. The problem of this band lies in everything else: the lyrics, the vocals and the false emotion that is portrayed every time the lead singer, Olaf Geldoff, opens his mouth. It’s enough to put the listener to sleep, and not in that good Zero 7 type of way.
The album is not without its standout moments, but the problem is all of the standout moments come when no one is singing and the musicians are playing their instruments. Songs like “For All the Marbles,” “Stitches” and “Heart Tremor” are great but suffer from a lack of lyrical credibility. The string quartet is nothing short of amazing and the accordion is a nice touch as well. Unfortunately, once Geldoff spews out the generic lovelorn, messed-up-because-my-father-didn’t-hug-me lyrics, it completely ruins the music.
It really is disturbing to see such a good band be fronted by someone who doesn’t do it justice. Amandine is, for the most part, a band of original musicians playing their own brand of Icelandic country music, and this is where the true beauty of the group lies. If possible, the album should be listened to with the vocals in the album turned off. Otherwise, it’s another typical depressed indie rocker with nothing to say and even less of a voice to try and say it.
Sounds like: Dreamy pop-rock that gives prog a good name.
It’s both a wonder and a blessing that Aloha has eluded the all-powerful indie rock hype machine. With a sound that features three keyboards, a roster that includes a former member of Joan of Arc and intense live shows alongside the likes of Ted Leo and Q and Not U, Aloha’s relative anonymity in the indie scene is peculiar.
On top of all the name dropping and purported musical prowess, Aloha also has a cute story in which its members meet sporadically in random secret locations up and down the eastern seaboard to record their songs. It’s almost as adorable as The Postal Service, and with Aloha, the musical rewards are far richer.
On “Some Echoes,” the foursome build upon the precedents of their last release, combining unpretentious prog rock, ‘60s pop and hints of jazz. This combination produces a sound that holds similarities to Rufus Wainwright and The Beach Boys. The real standout on the album is Aloha’s skillful arrangement of keyboards, drums and marimba, which creates a hazy musical atmosphere held together by precise rhythms.
Apparent passion and ability are the backbone of this band, which is perhaps why their music has remained so bizarrely undercover. As front man Tony Cavallario sings on closing track, “Mountain,” “We’re on the outside/Growing bright in the moonlight, alright/Go with us into the night.” With so much indie rock collapsing into a pile of discarded hype, the prospect of following Aloha into the shadows is more than appealing.