Posts Tagged ‘Alt-Country’

A. Savage

Here’s the thing, as a band Parquet Courts lost me a while back. I championed Light Up Gold because it captured a certain moment in the slide of Brooklyn from youthful intrusion to full on infestation of wealth. It was a feeling in time mimeographed and cut to groove, but as the band continued they became more wrapped up in their own lineage and legacy than seemed necessary. The deadpan dynamics and new wave plundering fell too antiseptic on my shores. That’s not to discount Andrew Savage as a songwriter, he’s proven he’s got an angle that sells and a poet’s heart that lends itself well to the Jonathan Richman patter that he’s able to slip into seamlessly.

So it winds up that he’s gone back home to his roots in Texas and a brand of lonesome country pining for his latest, and here he finds his second wind. The album boasts no shortage of talent, swapping out his usual backing band for a bevy of friends and compatriots from Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, and Psychic TV. The assembled masses take his drip dry delivery on a tour of the Southwest, grasping hands with slide guitar and an amiable amble without ever affecting any hackneyed country croon. Instead he staples his best Calvin Johnson talking blues to the tumbleweeds of alt-country and, at times, a starker strain that boils the noise out of his boots and lets an acerbic twinge show through the relaxed demeanor of Thawing Dawn.

This is actually where the album shines brightest, when the noise overwhelms the swagger (see: “What Do I Do”). The moment that the veneer is broken and the brain starts to boil compliments the easy going country ambivalence. There are some choice ballads here that showcase Savage’s handle on being the lonesome foal among a herd that might not love him back, but when he lets fly a brand of noise-country I’m fully invested in what he’s selling. There are those that will brand this a solo outing unmoored from his Parquet work, adrift and looking for purchase, but for me that’s where Savage excels. By balancing ennui painted in sunset hues and itching uncertainty, he’s found an explanation of what drifting into your thirties in the city feels like.




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Mapache

L.A. duo Mapache are probably a bit late on their particular sound a couple of times over, but that’s kind of the charm of it. The band is evoking the vibes that ran through the country-tinged revival that pushed bands Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde into the modern lexicon – their own sound itself just a reflection of The Flying Burritos, solo Gram, Gene Clark and The Byrds before them. The connection to those ’90s psych stalwarts is no chance happening, though. The band’s Clay Finch is a cousin to Beachwood’s Chris Gunst, who has championed the youngbloods along with The Tyde’s Brent Rademaker. Both have stepped up to push the young duo to their place among L.A.’s live set.

With that kind of endorsement and lineage you’re either coasting on the fumes of nepotism or you had better be able to back it up. The eponymous debut from the duo boasts more of the latter thankfully. It breaks with the widescreen, panoramic production of their mentors, instead opting for spare arrangements that focus on the pairs’ voices, often all tangled up in one another. Their simple country-folk songs evoke evening light and the feel of sunburn tightening on the skin. Often boasting simple setups that put slide and strum in sway with an amber-hued croon, their songs aren’t overwrought, but it’s easy to see how they could sink a crown into the bliss of permanent summer.

There’s an eternal quality to the songs, a feeling that they’ve just been around bouncing from bar band to bar band in the neighborhoods of L.A. for the last 50-odd years and Mapache has just now put these public domain yarns to wax. That’s certainly what they’re stretching for and more often than not, they hit that vibe effortlessly on the head. Some bands try damn hard to feel like they just showed up and strummed out a weary, road-dusted classic. Seems like Mapache have found a way to breezily harness eleven of them, each one sinking into the horizon with a deeper orange, kicking up the crickets as they fade away.




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Mapache – “Chico River”

Picking up the West Coast psych rock tradition and peppering a liberal dose of country swoons n’ American croons, Mapache are heirs apparent to the Rademaker brothers’ crown of Alt-country warblin’. The first cut from their upcoming eponymous LP on Spiritual Pajamas is sweltering in the afternoon heat of slide guitar and rambling plucks, but its the honeyed twining of their voices that seals the deal. The duo work their way around harmonies with the grace of artists twice their age. It seems that they’ve caught on to the old soul early and are making it work well to their advantage. Keep this one in your sights when the album hits next month.




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Premiere: Joseph Childress – “Footsteps”

Joseph Childress’ debut has been a long time coming, building out of the bones of his sorely overlooked demo collection, The Rebirths, and inspired by a move to ranching in Wyoming. He embeds plenty of the wide-skied country charm on his eponymous debut, moving from Townes Van Zandt weary-eyed yarns to fingerpicked folk that showcases his technical side. However, there are few songs like “Footsteps” on this album. Building from a slow, plaintive pluck, the song is hushed and practically bumping against the quiet calm of summer cicadas when Childress lets us in. One minute on, a powerful piano chord transitions the tone from wistful to mournful.

Each consecutive moment takes Childress closer to the edge of breaking. The song works through emotions that have no boxes built to contain them. The end of the track sees Childress pleading with the listener, howling to the wind while it overtakes him – a storm of sound that’s on the precipice and teetering. As I mentioned, there are big skies on this album, but none bigger than here. Cracked with lightning, it is proof that Childress can sling songs with the best of them. The entirety of his self-titled album is engrossing, but this is a true high water mark.



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Cool Ghouls

Not all EP’s are created equal, and often when connected with a tour, the word ‘asset’ gets tossed around more than the word release. So, it’s comforting to know that even on a stopgap tape they created for tour, the band still maintains a high caliber of songwriting. Not that I’d call most Cool Ghouls releases regimented, but this has a looser feel than most of their work – delving into instrumental psychedelics to stretch out their stage muscles a bit, but more often, crafting breezy West Coast country psych ramblers that swell with jangles and amber hues.

On the tape’s title track, they’re at their faded AM best, flipping through the kind of private press psych that burns the mind and warms the insides. They’re cycling through their Byrds lineage well, picking from the band’s permutations while hinting at great imitators like The Wizards From Kansas or Sapphire Thinkers and even a bit of Moby Grape as well. The EP isn’t as coalesced as they’ve been on record, but it feels like a way to indulge some influences in a great way. To be honest the loose production suits them so well, it makes me hope that they carry over the general vibe of this into their next proper album. Hard to get a bad bump from the ghouls, and this paints them as ardent ’60 psych fans with deep shelves.


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A.M. Son

There’s been a glut of power pop with an emphasis on the power half of the equation, but lately it seems that a few artists are starting to find the sweet spot between country ramble, Rundgrenesque ’70s AM sheen and the kind of power pop that befit The Flaming Groovies in their later Beatles obsession. Throw in an affinity for Muswell-era Kinks and Adam Paulson’s debut as A.M. Son checks all the boxes. Floating in on a sweet breeze of strums, twang, fiddle, and thick ’70s organ licks, this stands as a solid outlier in 2017’s indie field. The timbre of Paulson’s straw-scratched croon made me at once think that somehow Nobunny’s Justin Champlin had gone softly into the arms of country pop. And while Paulson doesn’t hold over in that circle, he’s not without his own garage and indie roots.

Paulson’s last stint saw him co-leading the short-lived but always intriguing Rainbow Gun Show, who had a few tracks out on HoZac. He’s also a touring member of Mild High Club, and though their psych-soul doesn’t really bleed in here, he does pick up psych in the form of a nod or two to the Elephant 6’s lush, strum-heavy variety (“You’ve Got Me”.) The record’s brief nine tracks are solid and endearing pop from start to finish, putting him squarely on the radar alongside some up and comers like New Rose or L.A.’s Mikah Wilson, who’s finding his way to similarly breezy territory. A pitch perfect offering from Throne Age, who, themselves are building up a nice little reputation as a label as well.




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Premiere: New Rose – “Going North”

New Rose captured the spirit of comedown country on their recent album, Morning Haze, for Brooklyn label Broken Circles. Steeped in the kind of spectral light that peeks over the mountains, threading through the marine layer gauze of daybreak, no song sums up their album’s title better than “Going North.” Paired with an equally ephemeral video courtesy of Rat Columns’ David West, the band penetrates a musical purgatory that hangs thick with fog. It’s inviting, enveloping and comforting like the smell of old bar wood and whiskey. You can practically inhale the dankness of the room in this clip and the band wears the ghost town vibes well. If you haven’t already locked onto Morning Haze yet, then its about time to check it out. The band will also be taking the Haze on the road for some tour dates. Check those after the jump.

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New Rose

Brooklyn’s New Rose sprang out of a history flirting with country-bent punk to embrace County (without the alt) proper on their LP for Broken Circles. Morning Haze paints portraits of bittersweet nuance that take quite a few lessons from the Gram Parsons / Guy Clark school. Aided in no small part by the veteran steel work of JayDee Maness (The Byrds, International Submarine Band, Eric Clapton) Daniel Wagner’s songs are steeped in the same heart-sunk delivery that drove “Brass Buttons” and “Streets of Baltimore”. It’s hangdog country that belies their city roots, the kind that screams “get these bright lights out of my eyes,” and feels much more comfortable in the back corner of the bar, channeling the beer-soak off of the bar rags.

To add another asset in the corner, the band hooked up with Rusty Santos to produce, and despite his indie rock heart, Santos slips on a pair of boots comfortably for the record. Fleshing out the sound with the aforementioned steel guitar secret weapon, among other hallmarks of twang, Morning Haze emulates its ’70s predecessors with a keen eye for detail. Wagner knows the marks he’s trying to hit, but more than just looking to divine the the aesthetics, he hits the tone and that makes all the difference. Flinging that heart on his sleeve, finding the sigh that heaves heavy at the heart of the best country, Wagner and New Rose are a nailing the fragile line between heartbreak and healing.


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Earth Girl Helen Brown – “Earth Elevator”

An excellent bout of cosmic country from the always mercurial Earth Girl Helen Brown. The album this time around features quite a few familiar names – Emmett Kelley, Sonny Smith, Ty Segall, John Dwyer, Tim Cohen, and more. Simple and straightforward, “Earth Elevator” is a bittersweet romp with vocals of Heidi Alexander ringing sweet and low in your ears, a bit of twang and the barroom shuffle of drums her only companion. Better yet, proceeds from this and Alexander’s forthcoming seasonal installments will all benefit organizations of worth (this one goes towards 350.org, NDRC, Stand-LA). An all around charming start to the week to be sure.



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The Total Bettys

San Francisco’s Total Betty’s are a country-tinged rock band masquerading in the skin of a garage-pop combo. Though they’ve picked up ranks at the always lovely Lauren Records, they’re skewing more grown up than many of their roster-mates and even their own name checked influences (Bully or Charly Bliss). In actuality the band lands closer to the catalog of Rilo Kiley, finding solace in Jenny Lewis’ wink laden pop docket, before she truly embraced her wandering country soul. The Total Bettys dig into the faded comfort and driving heart of Rilo’s indie past. More so, singer Maggie Grabmeier has a knack for hooking her thumbs into self-deprecation delivered with a touch of honey that can’t help but dredge up comparisons to Lewis.

Repeated listens open this up, not into the jangled garage nugget that it’s perhaps intended to be, but as a bittersweet summer road trip companion that pines for loves imagined and lost. Grabmeier acts as wing-woman and shoulder to lean on, delivering lyrics with a wry humor that’s handily packed into hooks that aren’t outsized, but rather sneakily subtle and seeping into your consciousness through the slight crackle of production that comes on like AM static. As a debut this feels like its just a peek at what Grabmeier and the band have at their disposal. With a larger scale production they could completely shake that garage tag (not that there’s anything wrong with it) and reach for lush hills that give her songwriting a bit more gravitas and still keep feet moving. Certainly a band to keep an eye on as the years click by, but this is lovely on its own merits.




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