Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Lumineers - Carriers of Light, Stompers of Feet

the Denver-based trio is hand-clapping & foot-stomping
their way into hearts
Even though Cleveland can't seem to make up its mind, I truly believe summer is on its way. Sunshine can only be denied for so long before eventually winning the war against the oppressive unicloud.

With that in mind, I have a great summertime band for you this week. This band has literally kept me up at night with its goodness. I was laying in bed, already several hours past my bedtime, perusing the NPR music app (a must-have for any iPhone/smartphone user) trying to figure out what music I wanted for my dreamscapes when I came across a performance of The Lumineers at KEXP. The subtitle reads "Heartfelt Energy and Musical Grace." It seemed sincere enough, I had to check it out. Plus the photo is the band standing goofily between library stacks. I was hooked from the first note out of them. They're a little bit folk, a little bit rock, a little bit bluegrass, a whole lot of heart. If you know Mumford & Sons or The Head & The Heart, this band is what would result if the two had a child. The Lumineers feature prominent vocals, but driving drums with piano and guitar filling in the fairly sparse arrangements plus a healthy dose of cello & mandolin. The tunes are catchy and the lyrics are poetic and compelling.

The Lumineers' story is one of "stubborn hopefulness" as two of the members, leader Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, moved from New York/New Jersey to Denver, CO with a car full of instruments and hearts full of sorrow after losing a friend & brother to a drug overdose. Like any good story, hardship has bred victory and strength. Once in Denver, the boys put out a call for a cellist and the duo became a trio with the addition of classically-trained local Neyla Pekarek. Together the three create music characterized by vulnerability, heartfelt emotion and a commitment to honest optimism, which is pretty refreshing in a world filled with conflict and ever-lessening faith in humanity.

With lyrics like "you told me I was like the dead sea/you'll never sink when you are with me," they're more than just a foot-stomping, hand-clapping good time, too ... even if their intonation/pitch & balance leave a little to be desired.

If these kids continue in the trajectory they've currently set for themselves, we're talking second-star-to-the-right-and-straight-on-till-morning for them. And it seems that they're willing to take you with them. You want this album. Trust me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

a small lesson of the difficult type

So I made the mistake today of going back through my published reviews on RELEVANT. I didn't think it was a mistake when I made that choice. And I suppose it wasn't really a mistake until I decided to go all the way and read the responses to the albums. Turns out, I don't think the same things other people think. Lots of people got upset with my reviews and thoughts. Especially the one for Florence + the Machine. Whooee! And even though that one seems to garner the most negative feedback, I am pretty sure I still stand by my take on it. And I'm proud of that. I just hope I stand by it because I actually do and not just as a defense mechanism. I think it's because Florence fans tend to be pretty die hard, and the same for my most recent review of the new Miike Snow album.

The specifics aren't particularly important at this point though. What is important is the overall lesson I am learning here. You really can't please everyone. Sometimes you really can't even seem to please anyone. But if you (and when I say "you" what I am really trying to say is "me" or "I") do things with an intent to please people and not out of your own personal conviction, you open yourself up for all sorts of emotional attack - even when people aren't actually attacking you, but daring to disagree. Even if you do things with personal conviction, contrasting opinions can rock your conviction enough. I suppose this is why Shakespeare (it was him, right?) said "To thine own self be true." If you are true to your own self, even if no one else is on your side, at least you have yourself. But if even you betray yourself, you will find yourself quite alone ... even if other people do find themselves on your side. You are not even on your own side! Ack!

So as a lesson to myself I am telling myself that I am allowed to say whatever I want in my reviews - I can gush about its brilliance or lament its shortcomings - but the most important thing is that I believe what it is I am saying.

I'm hoping that's what I have done already, but I am now making a note to myself to be sure to do that intentionally every time from here on out.

Have any of you had to learn this lesson yet? How have you dealt with it? Thought about it? Approached it? Effectively implemented it into your life? What other hard lessons have you had to learn?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Loud Old-School Rock from Indiana to Nashville

*Obligtory sincere apology: It’s embarrassing, really, how many times I’ve intended to write this post about this band. Sometimes, for whatever reason or array of reasons, your greatest intentions don’t quite come to fruition and this is one of those cases. Until right now. My apologies for the delay – to you, readers, and to Kyle and Modoc.*

I only associate myself with cool people. Maybe that’s not entirely true, but I really like to think it is. Isn’t that sort of the tendency of all of us? To align ourselves with the people who are doing things we respect? This post is about a gutsy adventure one of my oldest friends has been on for several years now.

My old buddy, Kyle (the dapper gelled fellow in the photo), is an outstanding musician. Although he is of a very different vent than myself, I respect, admire and am insanely jealous of what he does. Back in high school, he used to be in a band of other friends of mine called Father Blue Eyes. I was maybe their biggest non-related, non-dating fan. I went to every show imaginable (distance notwithstanding) and brought brownies with me. They were great guys, a good band and wicked fun times. After FBE, Kyle joined a group called Modoc – so named for a small town in East Central Indiana. This is his current adventure. The four boys that make up Modoc and their families made a bold move, picked up their comfortable lives in Indiana and moved down to the bustling music center that is Nashville, TN. It’s my impression that they’re doing very well – at least that’s the vibe I get from their latest album.

Last September, the quartet released a second serious album called Fortune & Fame. I could hardly be more proud of them. And that’s not even just because I know the guys – I’m oftentimes harder on my friends than strangers. Fortune & Fame is a solid old-school rock and roll album. My first thought when I put this album in my car was “They still make music like this? It still exists?” It’s an aggressive album with loud, distorted guitar, serious bass, edgy vocals and lots of cymbals.

The opening track is the ballsiest for sure, with an acappela quartet chorus – and it probably falls the shortest for me. Tough to start an album with the weakest track – and that’s the sort of decision that I think comes with experience – but to attempt it is a move I respect. It moves seamlessly into “Giving In” – a solid, loud, garage band tune with a great back-of-the-beat groove.

The third track on an album is almost always my favorite track. It’s uncanny how often this happens and “Mother Mary” is indeed the track that strikes my ear the most every time. It opens up with a Red Hot Chili Peppers darkness and guitar sound, but has a great feel to the chorus, almost late-Beatles-esque in its feel. It’s a tune I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in my head, or being caught singing walking down the sidewalk.

Several of the tracks have that dual identity – they begin with one feel and have a point where they switch or break in the middle. The band does it well and quite convincingly – it shows a lot of ability and repertoire for different styles and sounds. “Coward” is another one that stands out in this respect. It’s got a little Charlie Daniels Band to it, but then breaks into something a little softer, too. I would caution the group against doing this for every track. It will eventually lose its charm. Part of why it works is because they go to some pretty unexpected places.

The title track is another serious rock tune. Great guitar licks that builds well. Almost formulaic, but it works. Really well, too. The lyrics are hard and reflect the life of the normal musician – hours spent on the road, away from family, toiling for something that seems to give so little back, one has to take joy in the labor of one’s sunk. The album's closer, "Penance" is a beautiful anthem to a broken relationship.

Overall the sound and songwriting is still young, but the band shows a lot of potential – they have all the basics down solid, the style is great, the balance on Fortune & Fame is brilliant and as individual musicians they have it all together. What lacks is a little bit of solidity and sense of settling into their identity that comes with age, experience and time. Modoc has a smart respect for solid musical influences. What they need to find now is the balance between creating their own sound and stealing what works from other artists. It’s going to take time and a lot of experimentation trial-and-error style. But I’m going to tell you this – I won’t be surprised if you hear about them from somewhere other than me. Rumor has it they just recorded a track for Twilight soundtrack consideration.

Their website is: Check it out, spin some of their tunes and keep up with these guys. If you can see them live, DO IT. I remember when they were a baby group, they put on one of the most enjoyable, high energy shows I’ve been to. Live, loud performance is where they excel. And they’ve got families, so support them.

*Photo taken from band's website.*