Rock Ridge Music
Sounds like: Ryan Adams meets Willie Nelson
Joe Firstman was just a teenager when he started performing locally around North Carolina. In his fifth album, Firstman focuses on bluegrass as he twangs on his acoustic guitar with harmonic vocals and keyboard in tow. The album matches a previous sonic appeal that is characteristic of Firstman. Each track on the album tells a quaint story. “Mr. Winston” and “Marlene and Her Sisters” sound like direct tributes to people Firstman may have known from childhood. In slower, moodier songs, Firstman channels early Ryan Adams through a strained voice as he pines over unattainable love. These particular songs, such as “The One That Makes You Happy” and “Only For a While,” invoke a departure from his earlier style, when he was bold enough to sprinkle bits of exuberance into just about anything. Instead he plays straight into the schmaltz, as if he’s matured or settled down.
The appeal to Firstman’s music is how idiosyncratic it makes itself out to be, when it’s actually more of an amalgam of the influential musicians that preceded him. In these short mini-tributes, he’s able to pack real heart and depth into a truly charming effort after all these years. If you’re looking for a feel-good album, give this one a shot.
“Pretending We’re Not Animals”
Sounds like: A futuristic Hellogoodbye
It’s difficult to peg Shaw into a single genre. In his new five-track album, he can be equal parts experimental noise, electro-pop and ambient. While he falls under what many would consider an acquired taste, his ethereal sound is interesting in its execution, and the songs start to grow on you rather quickly the moment you really start to listen and stop trying to understand.
“Lion in a Cage” is the most noteworthy track of the album, as well as its shortest. Through a confluence of synthesized vocals, crooning background noise and strange lyrics, it’s a track that epitomizes the sound he tries to achieve. This characteristic reaches some level of normalcy in later songs like “The Flood” and “Sometimes,” where melodies are more readily identifiable and there’s less focus on noise build-up. There’s an indistinct graininess to the songs that sounds as if it was almost intentional on Shaw’s part. It creates this tension where you are not sure where it will go next.
The phrase “it grows on you” has certainly stepped into the trite and overused, but Shaw stands as a prime example. It can be said that he isn’t trying to win fans over, he just wants to make the kind of music he enjoys — a true work of love.
Comedy Central Records
Sounds Like: A Michael Cera-esque narrative
It’s quite telling that comedian Nick Thune had roles in the Judd Apatow films “Funny People” and “Knocked Up.” In his debut CD/DVD release by Comedy Central, the Seattle native boasts a comedic style that is much like the awkward jokes that are featured in those very movies. He’s raunchy yet endearing, gross yet relatable. And while his tasteless humor doesn’t always work, it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Thune starts with a stint of disjointed one-liners that alternate between disgusting and embarrassing as he strums melodiously on his guitar. He then segues into his regular act, offering commentary on things as commonplace as talking online with his middle-aged neighbor or following his pothead friend for an entire day. What makes these jokes work is their natural execution and delivery that completely belie how outrageous and seemingly unlikely they are. Thune is able to make you believe all of his wacky antics simply because his demeanor makes him convincing. It could also be that everyone’s willing to suspend disbelief because they’re laughing so hard.
While this release is a clear indication that Thune’s humor isn’t for everyone, it is sure to keep his career afloat with chuckles abound.