It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster (Water Liars) and Will Johnson (Centro-Matic et al) named their new project after a rural road sign that marks an intersection near two Arkansas towns (Marie and Lepanto). Tenkiller exudes a sense of wanderlust, the combination of vivid lyrics and generally sparse arrangements conjuring up images of a back roads landscape at dusk. Generous reverb gives the album a ramshackle quality that adds to the musical richness.
Yet a close listen reveals the eloquence of their writing. Those familiar with the duo’s previous individual work will undoubtedly recognize the heavy air of melancholy that overhangs these songs. Among the standouts is “Simple Scenes,” which chronicles the end of a relationship with a profound resignation. “Now I see there’s nothing left for you and me but complicated lines and simple scenes,” they sing.
This is one of those special albums that will gently grab you and not let go. It’s best to just surrender yourself to the music and savor in the rewards to be found within.
Truth be told, I may like Matthew Ryan’s just-released Starlings Unadorned a bit better than last year’s outstanding Hustle Up Starlings. It’s not that the earlier full studio versions of the songs aren’t electrifyingly beautiful. Rather, it’s just that these solo takes unleash the raw emotion in a moving way. In the opening “Battle Born”, for example, Ryan attacks his electric guitar further punctuating the punk rock ethos that it celebrates. He takes the opposite approach with “Summer Never Ends,” sharing a gentle acoustic rendering that leans into the grace of the song’s lyrics.
The collection also includes three previously unreleased songs. Although Ryan describes them as demos, the rough hewn edges fit perfectly with the restlessness of his writing. “Peace Love and Murder” and “Oh Despair”, both with minimalist arrangements that fit with the “unadorned” ethic, showcase the vividness of Ryan’s lyrics. “Oh despair, my trusted friend, it’s you and me once again,” he laments on the former before declaring on the latter, “the punks have sold us out again, they’re all pop stars now.”
The third unreleased song is presented with a full band arrangement. Ringing guitars and a pounding drum lead the charge as Ryan proclaims, “The world is cruel but it’s beautiful too.” That sentiment is an apt description of Ryan’s writing as well, a testament to the powerful emotion that he brilliantly conveys in song.
Ruby Boots doesn’t pull her punches on Don’t Talk About It. In fact, she throws quite a few. The bruising guitars of album opener “It’s So Cruel” set the stage quite nicely. “We got a spark but it’s not quite a fire,” Boots declares as the band wails behind her, “Let’s get it burning with a touch of desire.” Even when she shows some vulnerability, as on the percussive ballad “Don’t Break My Heart Twice,” she still carries an air of confidence. “Don’t mess it up this time, don’t break my heart twice,” she sings.
The album encompasses a range of styles, from punkish swagger of “It’s So Cruel” to the Little Feat-esque rambling of “Don’t Give a Damn” to the 1950’s doo-wop fringe on the title track. The musical diversity no doubt benefited from the uber-talented Texas Gentlemen, who back Boots here, but let’s not kid ourselves – it’s Boots whose personality and brashness propel Don’t Talk About It.
Every time I hear the new Darlingside album I think of Brian Wilson. It’s really hard to escape the thought. Although the Massachusetts-based quartet traffic more in the folk realm than in Wilson’s pop universe, they share a commitment to songs that have pristine melodies and intricate arrangements. Extralife is filled with rapturous harmonies set against delicate acoustic backdrops. The group’s lyrics have an ethereal quality and a visual vividness. It all comes together in the form of aural vignettes, rich in imagery that projects both simplicity and depth. I’ve no doubt that Wilson would be impressed.
Music is a brutal business so one has to admire an artist who has stayed true to himself for more than 20 years, all the more so when he launched his career while just a teenager. Chicago-born Jonny Polonsky embodies the spirit of indie rock, unleashing another in a long career of raw guitar-driven releases. From the wailing “Is It so Wrong for Me to Be so in Love with Myself and Everything I See” to the soaring “Not One and the Same” to the brooding “So Far Away”, Polonsky serves up an album that bristles with intensity. That said, I’m particularly taken with this album-closing ballad that features vocals from band members Jennie Batter and Katie Burden.
Although she is only in her mid-20s, LA singer-songwriter Pearl Charles has already worked her through both country and garage rock bands as a prelude to her solo career. While one can hear echoes of those influences on her full-length debut, the sound here is relaxed and often breezy pop.
Album opener “All the Boys” is pure sugary pop while there’s a bit of twang in “Blue-Eyed Angel.” Overall Sleepless Dreamer recalls classic Linda Rondstadt or even Debbie Harry and Blondie, albeit with a slightly more modern sheen. Certainly two good touchstones to have and all the better when it takes the form of a bright new talent.
The title of Brett Newski’s latest ep should give a hint to the wit and wisdom to be found within. Newski takes on life’s foibles with an insightful and sometimes self-deprecating point-of-view. He then packages it in sharp pop songs that marry folk sing-alongs with a 1980’s indie veneer.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.