Folk

VIDEO PREMIERE

Mood Tattooed - No Compromise

Gerard Marcus

Brooklyn-based Mood Tattooed is a musical project which balances elements of electronic synthesis, American folk tendencies, and fluid song structure to create music that sounds free of constraints. Written by singer-songwriter and composer Hagan Knauth, his music is generally melancholic, dealing with themes of both internal and external fear and anxiety. His new music video for “No Compromise” explores these themes visually. Made in collaboration with videographer Matthew Sullivan and artist Margaret Pinto, the video follows an alien being as it explores the forest and small towns of rural upstate New York. The creature is immediately odd juxtaposed against its surroundings. In a statement from the artist, he says he “wanted the creature to appear inefficient and out of place in the landscape,” which gives the character an enjoyable sense of absurdity. As you watch it move through the wilderness of rural upstate New York, it just seems odd, less of an immediate threat than just a confused being clearly in the wrong place. It’s almost funny, until you realize the creature’s mission, which is to collect various objects and eventually abduct a human for a bizarre ritual of unknown purpose (except to the creature performing it). Who or what is this creature? What is it doing here? Should we judge it based off of its absurdity or its actions? There are all good questions with no definite answer, other than to pull it back to themes found in the music. In the words of the artist himself, “perhaps the fact that the creature is simultaneously threatening and laughably absurd is all a metaphor for the little monsters we make in our heads.”

REVIEW: Wilder Maker - Zion

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Phillipe Roberts

Nestled in the sprawling intensity of New York City is a proud tradition of bands, from the hallowed Television to modern wiz Kevin Morby, who use their music as a portal to transcend the urban clamor for calmer pastures. After all, not everyone can be bothered to emulate the never-ending screeches and howls of city life with scuzzy alternate tunings and insistent, throbbing rhythms. Brooklyn supercrew Wilder Maker get their kicks painting rambling living portraits closer to the folk tradition, but the expansiveness of their instrumental ambitions and the clarity of their confessional, at times brooding, lyricism puts them in direct lineage with the giants that came before them. And with Gabriel Birnbaum as songwriter, that tradition is in some dangerously capable hands.

In full acknowledgement of the utter collapse of genre today, the term post-folk comes to mind when describing Wilder Maker’s swirling vortex of airy-textured, extended jam-rock music. However, the four-piece is careful to center vocals and guitar in all of these compositions. One of their greatest strengths is that any of the songs on their latest masterpiece, Zion, would sound phenomenal stripped down to just those elements. Indeed, when they bring the lights all the way down for penultimate track “Multiplied,” with Birnbaum and longtime collaborator Katie Von Schleicher’s voices twirling around delicate finger-picked guitar and minimal shaker-and-bass-drum percussion, their flawless precision is awe-inspiring. They know how to tear your head off with a saxophone solo, like they do on the electrified country of “Gonna Get My Money,” or throw caution to the wind with the hallelujah crescendos on “Women Dancing Immortal,” but this is a band of marvelous and mysterious restraint.

For the most part however, Wilder Maker focus on taking private crises and blowing them up to tremendous proportions. They aren’t about punchy statements, preferring gaping expanses that allow them to spin lyrical yarns packed with vivid imagery. Opener “Closer to God” recounts ditching a scummy landlord for Mexico in no fewer than five verses. The narrative is packed with details like “The new place was a canvas / And we were a brush heavy with paint,” and couches them between the dual guitar harmonies and maximalist, All Things Must Pass thunder of its six-minute runtime.

Von Schleicher’s turns on lead vocals contrast with Birnbaum’s bluesy twang—the soaring highs of “Impossible Summer” spark off the driving instrumentation like lightning. “Like a dreamer who's still dreaming / I just can’t stop fucking up,” she yelps, before being swallowed by a crashing, metallic breakdown, the whole band slowing to a stop as she repeats “I tried so hard” until she disappears into the ether. When she owns the mic again on “Drunk Driver,” she wears a post-traumatic grimace. The story unfolds gently, tumbling through drowned feelings at a bar into another chanted, theatrical climax: howls of “The band plays on” collapse into a single piano note as the drunk driver turns the key. The combination of her stately, stage-perfected prowess and Birnbaum’s rousing but casually introspective warmth makes for an inviting listen at every turn.

As far as folk records go, Zion is as empowering as they come, with two riveting storytellers at the helm armed to the teeth with inventive tunes. Don’t let those thick runtimes stand in your way—Wilder Maker have a knack for generously elevating the smallest of bitter details to grand scales and inviting you in as they process them. Catharsis is better when it’s shared.

PREMIERE: Relatives - Give It A Try

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Will Shenton

By way of announcing their new LP, Strange We Fall (out August 31 on Figure & Ground), Relatives have released a truly lush track. "Give It A Try" showcases the group's signature smoky duets and softly cascading instrumentals, while capturing their approach to the record as a whole: dive in and don't overthink it.

Building off the songwriting duo's diverse backgrounds—Ian McLellan Davis' as a composer and string arranger for acts like Feist and Grizzly Bear, and Katie Vogel's as a self-taught bluegrass singer—"Give It A Try" feels effortless in its composition. Sultry double bass snakes along to form the backbone as it gradually builds from near-minimalism to a wall of shimmering guitars. The vocals are gorgeous throughout, simple yet mesmerizing, floating along like they're singing at your bedside.

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Relatives, and their experience shows at every turn. To hear them tell it, writing Strange We Fall was an exercise in spontaneity, characterized by quick turnarounds and attempts to pare down the band's grandiose ideas. But even in this somewhat less deliberate environment, the final recordings feel eminently complete.

"Give It A Try," and Strange We Fall as a whole, sees Relatives "paring down and turning inwards, exploring what can be done with less." Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Pre-order Strange We Fall on Figure & Ground Records

REVIEW: Isaac Vallentin - Amateur

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Will Shenton

There's a timelessness to Isaac Vallentin's new LP, Amateur, that gives its melodies, narratives, and vignettes a sense of hard-to-place familiarity. At times this is because it draws from recognizable influences, but largely it's a result of Vallentin's own stylistic touches. From the psudeo-'70s aesthetic of "Loudest In The Universe" to the more modern folk-rock of a song like "Carol," each is replete with intricacies that give a new impression on every listen.

Vallentin's distinctive baritone and knack for folksy storytelling are occasionally reminiscent of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf ("Flying Pigeon" would feel right at home on The Bearer of Bad News). But Vallentin's eclectic background seems to imply greater depth to his artistic goals. How does one go from the minimal, experimental synths of 2015's Hedera to the rich, cozy folk-pop of Amateur without some sort of intricate conceptual map?

Maybe it's because he lists "anti-folk" among his genre tags on Bandcamp, but it's hard not to hear a hint of parody in Vallentin's occasionally over-the-top sincerity. "They said you shouldn’t be a dancer / You’ll be eaten by the dog," he sings on the penultimate track. "I wish I’d gone to college / And forgotten dreams of dancing / As the dog is lacking appetite / For those holding accreditation." It's an invitation to laugh, and it's unclear whether this is just Vallentin letting his sense of humor shine through or whether it's meant to be a broader dig at the tropes of sad-sack narrative folk.

Regardless, Amateur's only obvious irony comes in the form of its title. Vallentin is clearly an accomplished songwriter, and each layer of instrumentation feels effortlessly refined. Lush but never overwrought (except perhaps where it wants to be), this album is truly a joy to listen to, as it must have been to create.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Gillian Grogan - Home for Supper

Raquel Dalarossa

Gillian Grogan defines her music as "full-bodied folk." On paper, one might wonder at that label, given the singer-songwriter often performs with just a guitar (as she did in our own Blue Room), but listening to just a few seconds of any one of her songs makes the depth and richness of her work immediately clear. Her vocals are full of life like fresh soil and thickly sweet like molasses, infusing her Appalachian Americana with both spirit and soul.

In a new song and video, "Home for Supper," those same vocals take the spotlight completely as Grogan ditches her guitar for an a cappella piece of traditional folk. Shot in New Hampshire by filmmaker Alex Morelli, the video is all muted tones and wide expanses, a perfect backdrop for the haunting song, though the melody itself would just as easily be at home in the Scottish Highlands. In the video, we watch a wistful but still whimsical Grogan, in a bright red coat like some kind of Little Red Riding Hood, recalling a lonesome walk through snowy, pitch pine forests; the whispers of a storm are the only accompaniment to her resonant voice. The song seems to slow down time just enough to allow us a moment for our own grainy memories to surface.