ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
It’s tempting to describe Escondido as cosmic country. Sure, that’s a core part of the duo’s sound. There’s a rock undercurrent and a musical tension, however, that pushes beyond the genre’s typical boundaries.
Primary vocalist Jessica Maros has an ethereal voice but a healthy dose of reverb gives the songs a noir feel. The result is rather intoxicating.
Tyler James, the other band principal, plays up the rock element of the band’s sound. His electric guitar is certainly core to this, as are his weathered harmonies not to mention the occasional trumpet interlude.
The songs are a whirl of emotions with a tendency towards relationship conflict. The title of the bruising rocker “Heart Is Black” certainly sets that tone, not to mention the more musically subdued but no less lyrically defiant “Idiot.” “I’m not your idiot now,” sings Maros.
The seductively beautiful “Try” explores the sense of longing and loss that comes with heartache while the haunting “Midnight Train” finds the duo pining to at least find contentment even if they can’t find true happiness.
The anthemic “Uh Huh” rings out as both an ode to young love and the need for perseverance. “When you’re feeling heartless, you gotta fight right through this darkness don’t you know that it’s all in your mind,” they duo sing, “resurrect the fire inside you, nobody else can find it for you, just give it some time.”
Ragan’s latest album has a fascinating back story. The singer-songwriter was approached by a Cambridge, MA-based game company to create a soundtrack to their video game The Flame in the Flood, a post-apocalyptic survival game centered around a character floating down a river on a raft after a massive flood.
Ragan, a noted outdoorsman, was an inspired choice to create a soundtrack and clearly relished the opportunity. The resulting work is true not only to the game but to Ragan himself. The same sense of longing and occasional desperation that is a hallmark of his solo work is well represented here. His solo band the Camaraderie, as well as guest like Cory Branan and Jon Snodgrass, ensure that the acoustic sound remains true as well.
While the lyrical songs are impressive, it’s the instrumentals that are truly remarkable. They maintain a delicate tension, as evocative as they are melodic.
There are artists who look to impress with language or complex lyrical conceits. Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws takes a different approach, using clear language and focused topics while still conveying incredible depth and meaning.
It is perhaps ironic that so many of the songs here, many of which are explorations of break-ups and heartache, ring out with an exhilarating radiance. Pristine guitars and shimmering harmonies often lead the charge and build towards exuberant sing-along choruses.
This gem serves to prove the point. A break-up song ripe for my kiss-off playlist, it sounds downright buoyant as Caws sings, “I can redo and I’ll do it without you; I can rebuild, I can make something real.”
The in-demand producer and side man took some time for himself and punched out one mighty fine rock album. While the lead track let’s loose with both a banjo and fiddle solo (as Whelan sings “there’s nothing wrong with Americana”), it’s the electric guitars that speak the loudest. That, of course, is never a bad thing.
This track is a great example of what one will find on Sugarland. I mean what’s not to like about a song with lyrics that are as catchy as the accompanying hook. “I called the doctor and I called the priest,” he declares, “the one that I need is the one that I see the least.”
Durham, NC-based Harris is a pop classicist of the finest order. Up in the Air is filled with sugared melodies, even when they ring out in minor keys.
Beyond the songs themselves, the arrangements are downright luminous. The standard guitar, bass and drums may form the musical core but a swirl of strings, piano and horns make the music downright giddy. And the harmonies, ooh the harmonies are sublime. If Brian Wilson hasn’t heard this record, he should certainly get himself a copy.
Up in the Air is the sound of an artist hitting his stride.
We shared the debut track from New Orlean’s The Batture Boys on the September 2015 playlist. That track, “The Mighty Flood”, commemorated the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and set the stage for their, um, mighty fine debut release.
The album finds them continuing to tell the tale of their beloved home town. While the story isn’t always a happy one – this track finds them singing about the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill – the music remains uplifting and with plenty of New Orleans character. Of course, that is exactly what one would expect from musicians with the pedigrees that Tommy Malone (the Subdudes) and Ray Ganucheau (the Continental Drifters) posess.
You know those times when you feel the need to crank up some boisterous rock and roll? Asbury Park, NJ’s the Vansaders have got you covered. Save a lone (but enjoyable) acoustic ballad, Jumping at Shadows is filled with full on sonic blasts. Not a single track is longer than three minutes but, make no mistake, they each pack a punch.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.