Howdy folks. Perhaps because this has been the most normal* summer we’ve had in years, life has been incredibly busy these last few months. However, I appear not to be alone in that, because clearly, all of our favorite labels and artists have been releasing new albums, EPs and singles like mad since the spring. So here’s a rundown of many of the other great titles we’ve been loving this season.
*Well, as normal as this prelude to dystopia could be.
Let’s first check in with Dear Life Records.
This little label out of Philadelphia has quickly become one of my favorites, as they drop stellar new folk and folk-adjacent releases seemingly every few weeks. In May, they released the melancholic Stephin Merritt-meets-Viking Moses-like You’ll Have to Take My Word For It, by The World Without Parking Lots. This singer-songwriter record perfectly blends cold electric and acoustic guitar work and woozy orchestration with eloquently honest lyrics that cut to the bone and squeeze your heart. William Oldham, Tom Waits and Bill Callahan fans can surely appreciate this one.
Anne Malin’s Summer Angel has been keeping us company on the days where it’s too hot to do anything other than sprawl out under the nearest window AC unit. With tense near-operatic vocals and hazes of anxious organ and blues guitar blurring into the background, this album perfectly captures the current state most of our nervous systems have been at over the last few years. This is especially evident on “Mary (Dear God Please Help Me),” with Malin singing like a stunned Josephine Foster while a skronky saxophone shrieks in fear behind her. It’s an arresting listen to say the least. This is one for the Nico, Diane Cluck and Kath Bloom fans out there.
Little Mazarn’s Texas River Song Is a collection of spectral cowboy songs that sound as though they drifted in from the ether. Ringing banjo, droning cellos and singing saws provide a rustically surreal backdrop for grandly swooping vocals that are as soft and airy as dandelion fluff. This Texan group seem to pull the spirits from the hard days of the pioneer era right out of the soil and give them a voice once again. Little Mazarn play like a sort of Southern gothic chamber room orchestra, with their mournful country ballads and homespun classical-like sound. Think Joanna Newsom by way of The Black Twig Pickers and Tom Waits. You’ll be moved by just how beautiful and just how serious this music really is. Check it out now.
Gods be praised, Perpetual Doom has been certainly very busy these last few months:
Mila Webb keeps things mellow and wistful on her lonesome sounding Lucky Nights album. Her arctic hush vocals give a nice chill to each tune, sounding well varnished while coasting over pedal steel, shivering electric guitar and a snapping snare beat. The album is filled with honest tales of heartache and the fickle nature of human relationships that everyone can relate to. Just take a look at the opening verse of the title track:
|“Like it rains in paradise enough for everything to grow |
I’m glad we have the time for now together even though
Everything has hunger and no one’s ever satisfied
Still I won’t forget the way it felt to have you on my side,”
I think everybody has felt like this before. However, it’s Webb’s acceptance of this unfortunate reality, combined with the song’s trickling piano and weepy slide guitar that make this tune an emotional centerpiece of this record that you soon won’t forget. Stark, raw and endlessly elegant, this is singer-songwriter LP that everyone should know.
Perpetual Doom’s “Stay Tuned” series has returned, once again, to feature a vast assortment of artists covering classic TV theme songs. This time around, we get Jennifer Jane Nicely giving the Dukes of Hazzard theme song a rootsy Appalachian bluegrass makeover, Mark Mulcahy (of Miracle Legion and The Adventures of Pete and Pete) turning the Mr. Rogers‘ Neighborhood theme into a bizarre Tom Waits-like junk shop basement stomp and Hanna Yeun amplifying the synthy emotional core of the Perfect Strangers. theme music This is a fun collection that’ll make you want to spend the rest of the day watching TV Land.
This one won’t be out until October, but it’s so great, I just have to share the few preview tracks that have been released so far.
Mountain Brews draw from the same well of laidback ’70s stoned folk rock that Color Green and Rose City Band frequent as well. With swaying, no-cares-in-the-world kind of rhythms, bluesy licks and moonshine smooth harmonies, this is an essential record for any fan of The Band, JJ Cale and Little Feat. Songs like “Earthquake Country” and the title track are more country than Neil Young, but are also more cosmic and rock-based than Gram Parsons. It’s a hazy new middle ground that fans of The Allman Brothers and Mountain Bus would surely love. Preorder this one today, and be sure to also score yourself a sweet sticker, hat or shirt along with this album, too. If there was ever a sound that demanded to be represented on a trucker hat, it’s Mountain Brews’.
Ithaca, NY’s Brian John McBrearty cooked up a solid folk rock gem that flirts with All Things Must Pass-esque glossy production and astral soundscapes. The songs here feature rivers of melty slide guitars flowing under beds of brightly strummed acoustics and sunny vocal harmonies that certainly bring to mind tracks like “Isn’t it a Pity” and “Acadian Driftwood.” This is especially true with the sentimental mantra-like “Follow Me.” Between the songs, you’ll find earthy little instrumental pieces built out of the sounds of nature and droning synthesizers, so the record has a great deal of atmosphere. It feel as though this is truly a peek into McBrearty’s private world. What a heartfelt and inviting world it is, too. Click here to check it out.
David Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd fans would certainly find a lot to love in C. Ross‘ prog-infused singer-songwriter album, Skull Creator. With his softly reserved vocals and delicate acoustic fingerpicking, you could easily expect Ross (of whom you may know as a member of Comet Control) to head into a more folk, Nick Drake kind of direction. Instead, layers of swelling synths and ripping iridescent electric solos ultimately give these tunes a modern progressive rock bent. Songs like “Wrong Side of The Sky’ and “The Stranger” have strong Barclay James Harvest vibes, while other tracks bring to mind the modern work of Steven Wilson. It’s a dreamy, introspective affair, but one that’ll stick with you long after the record is over. Click here to give it a try.
Speaking of meshing acoustic music with daringly experimental sounds, let’s check in on Duncan Park’s latest offering.
In The Floodplain of Dreams is an astonishing blend of guitar soli music, psychedelic folk and unhinged noise. Perhaps the ultimate highlight on this album is “In The Mountains of Sour Grass,” in which you’ll find beds of banjo ragas that scorch with howling overdriven guitars and layers of distorted static that eventually give way to clean fingerpicking and didgeridoo drones. It sounds as if the song sails its way through a storm and ends up under tranquil sunlight and calm blue skies by the end. This is wooly, sprawling music that sounds harvested straight from the wild vegetation of some remote forest. Give it a listen here.
To be continued in part 2 soon…