Tag Archives: Folk Rock

Album of the Day: Mutual Benefit, “Thunder Follows the Light”

Lightning and thunder are so common that it’s easy to take for granted their dramatic majesty—the way the former crackles against a purple sky, or how the latter can sound like the house is coming down around you. On Thunder Follows the Light, Brooklyn’s Jordan Lee, aka Mutual Benefit, takes a decidedly softer turn, using those elements of weather as bookends for songs about reaching for love and comfort. Rather than offering flash-bang pyrotechnics, Lee and his band deliver an earthy, slow-burning LP with a cozy, comforting terroir all its own.  Continue reading

Album of the Day: Neko Case, “Hell-On”

On Hell-On, her seventh full-length, Neko Case offers up another serving of the irreverent and bittersweet folk rock that has defined her career. As expansive as it is exuberant, Hell-On imbues tales of loneliness, passion, and despair with a healthy dose of hilarity, resulting in songs that are both immediately recognizable as her own, and also mirror the complex world we all inhabit.

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Guitarist Nick Millevoi Takes Jamming Cues From Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Nick Millevoi

Like Wilco’s Nels Cline, Philadelphia-based guitar maestro Nick Millevoi is a jack of all trades who shreds with both scientific precision and brutal abandon. Over the course of his fruitful decade-long career, Millevoi has led the deafeningly loud and über-complex math-jazzhead trio Many Arms, joined forces with Cleric’s Matt Hollenberg in the John Zorn-conducted technical metal outfit Hollenberg-Millevoi Quartet, and, alongside metalhead trombonist Dan Blacksberg, has dabbled in bludgeoning “Hasidic doom metal” with Deveykus, noodling and clattering chamber-drone hellscapes in Archer Spade, and rollicking Klezmer music on the recent Radiant Others. If that wasn’t enough, Millevoi is also a former member of the Television-influenced Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band.

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Album of the Day: Shakey Graves, “Can’t Wake Up”

Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the driving force behind Shakey Graves, has a knack for throwing a monkey wrench into the conventions of contemporary folk music. Menacing distortion on his guitar, false starts and unexpected hiccups in his compositions, a touring drummer that often sounds like he’s just strolled in from an audition for Slayer—all of these surprises add an edge to his songs that steer him clear of the tropes of standard indie-folk fare. Continue reading

Album of the Day: Imarhan, “Temet”

The fuzzed-out, trance-inducing psychedelia of Tuareg guitar has become one of the more celebrated sounds in African music over the past few years. Performers like Tinariwen and Songhoy Blues, from Mali, and Bombino, from Niger, have combined the traditional music of Berber peoples in the Sahara with blues rock influences and amplification to create a unique, immediately recognizable, and hugely appealing hybrid—Jimi Hendrix and Oum Kalthoum blissed out together. Continue reading

Album of the Day: Typhoon, “Offerings”

It’s been over four years since Portland-based Typhoon released White Lighter, and in that time singer-songwriter Kyle Morton has been grappling with the idea of “losing it”—the struggles a person endures when battling a deteriorating brain. On the band’s fourth full-length, Offerings, Morton funnels his own fears through a fictional character who is losing both his mind and sense of self. Continue reading

Artist Reflections: Tica Douglas on Using Music to Rediscover Our Humanity in 2017

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How music can help us process the world around us.

The day after the election, I was scheduled for a shift at Mary House, the Catholic Worker house where I was volunteering. Catholic Worker was started by Dorothy Day in the 1940s, with a dual purpose: political resistance to empire, in a very lefty way, through voluntary poverty, distributism, and hospitality—serving those right around you. New York’s Mary House is a kind of ramshackle building on the Lower East Side, where some people live and others volunteer. They provide lunch, clothing, and showers to women in the area who need them. So on the train downtown the morning after the election, many people were crying, outright—everyone was understandably visibly upset. I got to Mary House feeling the weight of the world crashing down. I was imagining how much this would affect everyone there. But when I arrived, it was business as usual—”We’ve got to make lunch, we’re serving in an hour.” And the idea was, “Yeah, this is terrible. But things have been terrible. Our neighbors are hungry. We’ve got work to do.”

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Joan Shelley’s Music Cuts Through the Chaos of Daily Life

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Joan Shelley. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

When Joan Shelley performed with Wilco at New York’s Beacon Theatre this March, she stood huddled on the corner of the massive stage alongside collaborator Nathan Salsburg. Beneath Wilco’s elaborate backdrop of trees and foliage, the pair might have even appeared, from certain angles, as one body, their instruments (Salsburg on guitar, Shelley alternating between guitar and banjo), overlapping both physically and sonically. And if their tightknit music and cozy positioning on stage didn’t already indicate a sense of intimacy, Shelley closed the set—which highlighted tracks from her extraordinary new self-titled album—with a traditional folk song, sans accompaniment and sans microphone. As Shelley stepped to the front of the stage to sing “Darling Don’t You Know That’s Wrong,” the audience became a part of her small circle.

It was a fitting gesture from an artist who describes her music as “the quickest way from me to another person,” whose every word seems to be chosen as a way to cut through the chaos of daily life. “It’s coming to the people instead of people coming to you,” she says of the a capella performance: “As a singer, it’s asking more from my body in order to physically do it—to turn up what you’re doing, and step outside the barrier of technology.” It makes sense that Shelley sees technology as a hurdle and not a tool. As she’s evolved as a songwriter, her songs have become more unadorned and powerful. Her two previous records on Philadelphia label No Quarter—2014’s Electric Ursa and the following year’s Over and Even—each represented massive steps forward through the deeper refinement of her craft. If you carve out a place to listen, her music fills the space around you.

Shelley’s latest record is no different. Produced by Jeff Tweedy at his Loft Studio in Chicago, Joan Shelley widens her scope, focusing on more spacious songcraft. The first single, “Wild Indifference,” is built on a series of sustained, open chords that sound like sighs of relief. But the album also marks Shelley’s starkest, simplest work to date. Early in the writing process, she found herself inspired by the most primitive of folk tunes: recordings in which performers simply sang in unison with their instrument. “I started trying to be a more playful guitarist,” she says, citing the jokey songs of cult favorite folk artist Michael Hurley as a guiding light.

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