Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Facing Future

facing future

I’m not sure if it’s even possible to accurately describe the effect Israel Kamakawiw’ole’s music had on me during my trip to Hawaii, but I have to try. Not only is his music incredibly soothing, but it’s a headfirst dive into the Hawaiian culture. The first thing the listener will notice when digesting his music is simply his genuine love and appreciation for the land. Perhaps none of his albums display this appreciation as well as his groundbreaking 1993 release, Facing Future. With its blend of traditional Hawaiian folk, and fantastic cover songs such as his groundbreaking version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ it’s not hard to see why it’s the best selling album of all time in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, Israel Kamakawiw’ole would meet his untimely death just a few short years after the release of this album, but his music will always live on and help capture that special feeling one can only get while walking along a white sandy beach in Hawaii. However, the album does much more than create a soundtrack for tropical weather. His lyrics encourage one to dig deeper into the background of Hawaii and its people, making it not only an album, but a journey.

Often referred to as “IZ”, the songs on Facing Future are brought to life by his downright beautiful voice and the gentle sounds of the Ukulele. Many tracks such as ‘Ka Huila Wai’ are upbeat, but simple tunes sung in Hawaiian, while others such as ’White Sandy Beach of Hawaii’ are easier to understand, but are just as effective in creating a relaxed island-like vibe.  His cover of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World’ has been used in countless films and is arguably the best version of the song due to his gorgeous vocal performance. There’s just something about his delivery that comes across as effortless, making each song as honest as it is beautiful.

The most important and memorable track on the album, however, is ‘Hawaii ‘78’ which acts as not only the album’s opener but its grand finale as well. Unlike some songs on the album, most of it is sung in English as IZ sings about the problems that continue to threaten their culture. During the ‘Hawaii ‘78’ introduction we hear IZ talk about his family and his background which does a spectacular job of connecting us with the artist, making the music that much more believable. Both versions of the song are great, but overall the song is strengthened by the mini-biography IZ lays down in the opening track.

Maybe one has to be there to experience his music the way it was intended, but there’s nothing quite like taking in the Hawaiian sun and listening to music by Israel Kamakawiw’ole. After hearing Facing Future I instantly gained more respect for the culture, and it even encouraged me to do more research. It’s as if there’s some kind of spirit that lives on throughout his music and I felt it every time I pressed the play button. I can’t guarantee his music will have such an impact on everyone, but for those looking to be transcended into a different world, Facing Future is the perfect place to start.

4.5/5

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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I believe that contrast is a good thing. However, I will admit, as of late; I have not been abiding to this principle and indulging enough in variety, despite it being the spice of life. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of other forms of music – my issue is merely explaining how great or unique or fantastic an individual artist is in a genre I am unfamiliar with. Albeit in consideration, I have decided to take one step into the regions of music that I would only usually ever listen to through the ‘crème de la crème‘ of that genre: a spectacular artist that stands out from their peers. Thus so, marking a rather peculiar departure from my usual review material in the metal & hardcore department – I am reviewing Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’.

For those unfamiliar with the band or Justin Vernon, the founder and centre of Bon Iver’s creativity; Bon Iver are a culmination of indie and folk; this making them susceptible to absolutely every hipster in the past half-decade to jump on the band’s fresh take on the two genres and pummel all emotion and honesty out of it with an indecent level of brutality. ‘Skinny Love’ in particular having been absolutely skinned of its beauty by many cover performances from indie artists as well as others for commercial use. Putting this aside, For Emma, Forever Ago is the exact antithesis of the initial expectation one might get when looking at the genres from a glance. Looking into its background, you can see why – The dissolution of Vernon’s band ‘DeYarmond Edison’, the ending of a significant relationship & the contraction of mononucleosis in 2006 culminated in Vernon’s decision to isolate himself in a small cabin in Medford in Northwestern Wisconsin. There, he recorded For Emma, Forever Ago single-handed, save a guest vocal appearance on the first track and a supporting musician in the eponymous track.

It is quite difficult to comprehend the significant level of loss one Vernon probably felt at the time (I contracted mononucleosis earlier this year and it was a terribly difficult experience that I still feel the effects of). However, listening to For Emma, Forever Ago, the album just reeks of the melancholy that those incidents embody. The reluctance to re-engage in society, the environment he was in – the endless roads and winter cold, the longing for something beyond where he was at that point in time – the very title itself hinting at this; ‘Forever Ago’ existing in a timeless realm of even dreams or hope. It all comes out through the instrumentation, Vernon’s vocal performance, lyrics and the production.

The majority of songs on the humble 9 track album are simply Vernon’s voice coupled with his acoustic guitar, with the occasional production-feat thrown in to build atmosphere – ‘Flume’ starting the album in some humble beginnings with a crisp guitar tone opening the song before his brilliant falsetto vocals gracefully drift over the melody of the chords. Numerous vocal tracks add layers of mood and emotion to the tone of a song, this having some particularly effective results; ‘The Wolves’ having an absolutely beautiful effect in the middle as Vernon sings ‘What might have been lost.’ ‘Creature Fear’ including some backing vocals to further uplift the choruses and add to the positivity of the song – working very well. All the while, these go hand-in-hand with the honest lyrics that you can tell are written straight from the peculiarly unique heart of Justin Vernon. At times hitting hard with brutal truth in his words: ‘Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you.’ & ‘Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue?’ in ‘The Wolves’. Other songs exposing his entire innocence to the world around him, in ‘Blindsided’ he sings: ‘I crouch like a crow, contrasting the snow. For the agony, I’d rather know.’ and some simply being his poetic expressions of acceptance and memory: ‘For Emma’ taking two sides in its lyrical content of a ‘Him’ & ‘Her’: 
‘Him:
For every
life…
Her:
Forgo the
parable.
Him:
Seek the light.
Her:
…My knees are cold.’

All in all, it works well and rarely ever seems out of place; only briefly touching this in ‘Lump Sum’ which appears to lack direction as well as suffering a continuous issue of the album – the production at parts resulting in incoherence. The calm and solemn vocal style of Vernon combined with the numerous vocal tracks sometimes robbing the listener of actually knowing what he’s singing about. Likewise, instrumentation suffers – with acoustic string pickings turning into audible blurs. Atmospheric blurs nonetheless albeit not getting the treatment they deserve necessarily – ‘Blindsided’ & ‘Lump Sum’ being notable examples of this.

However, the majority of tracks remain crystal clear, even to the extent of the listener being able to envision the cabin and that honest, rustic environment; the gentle and continuous strumming of ‘Flume’, the hearty and tired chords that hum in ‘The Wolves’, the vibrant and almost post-rock elements of ‘For Emma’ & the intertwining melodies of ‘Re: Stacks’. The production has its flaws but ultimately allows the album to express its roots and the emotions behind the music at an honest and peaceful level that the album deserves.

For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those albums that works so well because it takes you exactly where the album came from. Listening to it, you can’t help but compare your own emotions to the longing tones of ‘Flume’ & ‘The Wolves’ and then the resonating acceptance found in ‘For Emma’ and its powerful moments. You hear Vernon’s voice, you hear the acoustic guitar and the rustic melodies it carries and you’re there – at that cabin in the woods, the end of it all and the start of something new. Listening to this album won’t change your life or immediately heal a heartbreak, but it takes away the fog that otherwise conceals the path to the future. Rarely ever is it that an album achieves such a profound impact, born from the heaviest of emotions.

‘I toured the light; so many foreign roads for Emma, forever ago.’

4.5/5

Tracklisting:

1. Flume
2. Lump Sum
3. Skinny Love
4. The Wolves (Act I and II)
5. Blindsided
6. Creature Fear
7. Team
8. For Emma
9. Re: Stacks

Larry and His Flask- By The Lamplight

There’s something magnetic about a band whose music emanates an aura of flippancy, the bands who are more likely to describe recording an album as “a lot of fun” rather than “a lot of work.” Now flippancy doesn’t (and shouldn’t) equate to a poor product but instead simply radiate fun. Larry and His Flask do just that with their infectious bluegrass/folk/punk hybrid By The Lamplight.They have presented us a collection of toe-tapping, knee-slapping, and strangely danceable tunes whose novelty and originality sow seeds in the fertile parts in ze mind which grow into juicy fruits for our indulgence. It’s easy to hear the cohesiveness of the band members throughout By The Lamplight yet the very nature of the songs makes it seem like the music was written on the spot. This bluegrassical example of controlled chaos can, if nothing else, be recommended for a damn enjoyable listen.

By The Lamplight is a unique folk-monster, and a good example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The sheer quirkiness of the writing makes its seemingly inane make-up, bluegrass, country, folk, and punk (I guess) not just palatable, but good. As stated before, don’t let the description of flippancy shape your opinion of the music itself as from a technical standpoint these guys are well….on point. Although the drumming on some of the faster paced songs is quite literally interchangeable, it meshes with the multitude of instruments well and sits perfectly in the mixing. Everything else from the acoustic guitars and banjo to the various percussion instruments to the stand-up bass is primarily bluegrass infused and dammit do they infuse it well. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it very well could make some change their mind about the genre. The mood present in By The Lamplight is its greatest strength. It’s the smoky finger flowing from the freshly made apple pie beckoning you and try as you might, one can’t brush off such upbeat music easily.

The vocals of Ian Cook are another strong suit Larry and His Flask have going for them. Throughout the runtime of By The Lamplight you get the feeling that his folksy baritone is pretty much irreplaceable for this kind of music and for good reason. Nowhere is this more evident than the acoustic opus (and I mean opus) “Gone From You.” The melancholic guitar in combination with Cook’s sad crooning makes for a downright powerful song, and lies in stark contrast to the entire album without feeling jarring. The hooks come way of the vocals more so than the instrumentation and Mr. Cook and crew showcase some catchy, varied hooks using three distinct singers, not just slight variations of the lead’s sound.

Larry and His Flask have concocted one of the catchiest, feel-good albums so far this year in By The Lamplight. The band has a palpable connection so much so one can feel it in their music. This hopefully translates into more success for the band as they certainly deserve it. A little more diversity in the upbeat songs, especially the intros, would do the band well as it can get derivative and bleed together with repeated listens but with such upbeat tunes and grossly infectious hooks, your body will nonetheless find a reason to sway and move along. Larry and His Flask, get in it.

3.9/5

Tracklist:

1. Pandemonium
2. Out of Print
3. Barleywine Bump
4. The Battle for Clear Sight
5. Log, Hearth, and Ash
6. Gone From You
7. Home of the Slave
8. Some Cruel Twist of Fate
9. Justice and Justification
10. Muffled Thrums
11. All That We’ve Seen
12. Tides

Blackmore’s Night-Dancer and the moon

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We find that the Dancer and the moon is visually and emotionally representative of how we feel about our music. We have always had a very strong pull to the mystery of the moon. Her magic, her power, her legend…She affects us so deeply that we have named many CDs after her and she is almost always represented in our songs. The dancer herself is completely, unabashedly and whole heartedly moved by the intensity of the music she feels within her soul. As the music, the moon and the dance are what inspired us…we thought it to be a true relationship.

Well, there you have it folks. The music and concept of Blackmore’s Night is and apparently always has been largely inspired by the moon and all her wondrous power. “Dancer and the moon” is a supposed culmination of everything the band have done musically since their foundation in 1997, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily their best. And unfortunately, it actually proves to be one of the band’s weakest efforts so far. Now, before all of you devoted fans start slinging hate mail my way for even considering a Blackmore’s night album to be less than decent, there are enough reasons for my saying so.

Firstly, the few positives of the album should be noted. It seems that since the band’s last album, “Autumn sky”, Ritchie Blackmore has been taking on a more prominent role within the band and apparently plays the majority of the instruments, including those that contribute to a more folk-inspired sound such as the mandola, nickelharpe and hurdy gurdy. In fact, he pretty much wrote every song on “Dancer and the moon”, and those that weren’t written by him were simply cover versions of Uriah Heep, Randy Newman and his very own band who were in their prime three and a half decades ago, Rainbow. His guitar performance on songs such as the eccentric title track and ‘The last leaf’ is undoubtedly precise and well-executed, and his usage of the folk instrumentation on songs such as the melancholic ‘Troika’ and upbeat instrumental ‘Galliard’ are rather decent, considering he hasn’t really used them before.

However, this is essentially where the album suffers as well. Yes, folk instrumentation can be heard throughout the album, but in contrast to the band’s previous albums, it just doesn’t seem to be as prominent as it has been. Every song bar the title track and instrumental ‘Galliard’ is charged by Blackmore’s eccentric guitar performance, be it acoustic, electric or classical, and whilst this does appear to be a strong advantage to the band’s sound, there are many times when it feels like the magic of the band’s earlier albums is lacking quite a lot. The simplistic nature of each song just doesn’t bode well for the band at all, especially when there are various moments, such as the mid-section in ‘The spinner’s tale’ or the Industrial-esque nature of the intro in ‘The moon is shining (somewhere over the sea)’, where it seems the band haven’t thought out their songs well. If the band had written songs like these with a bit more experimentation and more thought, they could have been something special.

The other major problem with the album is, and it pains me to say this, Candace Night’s vocals. Whilst there is a good twenty years between Candace and Ritchie Blackmore, it just seems like Blackmore is providing all of the excitement and effort of the album and Candace is merely ‘doing her job’. Her vocals are at all times slightly inaudible, sometimes tedious and never even sound like a singer enjoying her work. Just listen to ‘The ashgrove’ or the blasphemous (and not in a good way either) cover of Rainbow’s ‘Temple of the king’, where Candace Night can be heard giving a very half-baked attempt at harmonizing with Blackmore’s soulfully written lyrics, and you’ll see just why this album is failing to succeed with whatever intentions it has.

Apart from the fact that the album is flooded with cover versions and half-hearted instrumental melodies (take those away and you’re left with a mere seven songs consisting of original material), the vocals and the extreme loss of the magic and power provided by folk instruments as brilliant as the mandolin or the French horn make “Dancer and the moon” seem like a dud. If it wasn’t for Blackmore’s much-needed input, this album would have been so much worse. Put simply, it just seems like Blackmore’s Night are going through the motions for the most part, and not even a premier guitarist in his 60s can save the album from being arguably the band’s weakest effort.

2.4/5

Released: June 11th 2013

1. I think it’s going to rain today (Randy Newman cover)

2. Troika

3. The last leaf

4. Lady in black (Uriah Heep cover)

5. Minstrels in the hall (Instrumental)

6. Temple of the king (Rainbow cover)

7. Dancer and the moon

8. Galliard (Instrumental)

9. The Ashgrove

10. Somewhere over the sea (The moon is shining)

11. The moon is shining (somewhere over the sea)

12. The spinner’s tale

13. Carry on…Jon (Instrumental)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blackmores-Night/104071542963009?fref=ts

Bandpage: http://blackmoresnight.com/

Album teaser (Youtube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCg9LjvmX38

City and Colour – The Hurry and the Harm

When looking back on City and Colour’s discography, I found that I enjoyed his first album, Sometimes (and was a bit taken aback by the completely different direction from his main band, Alexisonfire), thought the follow up was a bit of a rehash and not as strong as the debut, and then just fell in love with the music of Little Hell. The Hurry and the Harm is a bit of déjà vu to Bring Me Your Love, as it is a a dip in quality when compared to the former.  Mr. Green seems to be less conflicted and even a little optimistic in spots on his fourth album. Maybe he did indeed finally escape from his little Hell, but what is fortunate for him may be unfortunate for his listeners, as his songwriting seems to have suffered in return.

“Thirst,” “Two Coins,” and “Ladies and Gentlemen” are highlights here; “Thirst” being one of the more active songs (like “Fragile Bird” and “Weightless” from Little Hell) that just hooks the listener from beginning to end (as well as being one of the few songs with an electric guitar this time around), and “Ladies and Gentlemen” just shows Green doing what he does best, which is writing gorgeous acoustic ballads. While “Ladies and Gentlemen” is great, “Two Coins” one ups it and steals the show here. The song represents the cover, showing Green’s face represented in darkness and light, with its chorus: “I’ve always been dark/With light somewhere in the distance” which is surprising since he chose “The Hurry and the Harm” song title as the name of the album. Everything just comes together on “Two Coins” with the somber chord progression of the guitars, the flowing bass and drums, the well placed guitar solo, and Green’s incredible voice and well thought out lyrics tying it all together; it is one of C&C’s best songs to date.

When there is good, sometimes there is also bad, and unfortunately The Hurry and the Harm has its share of both. “The Golden State” (which is about his disinterest in California) is just entirely uninteresting from pretty much every aspect, and even his voice can’t save the song from plodding along at its ridiculously slow pace and long running time. The lyrics are commenting about why everyone keeps singing about California and how he doesn’t relate to it at all. It feels like a bit of a contradiction since he decided to write an entire song about the state (which is exactly what he is complaining about in the first place) and maybe would have come off better if he had just mentioned it in passing in another song or two and just cut “The Golden State” out entirely. “Take Care” also has its share of problems, but for once it’s actually Green himself that is holding back the song. The guitar arpeggios are actually quite nice and soothing and are accompanied by the occasional string part to give it a little more depth, but Green’s vocals seem a little phoned in as he croons about a friend that needs to better watch out for himself. “Paradise” has a similar issue on the verses, but the chorus comes in to save the day, while “Death Song” would be better if not for the repetitive chorus:

Singing my death song X3
This is my death song
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh

That’s it; that’s the whole thing.  There’s one verse and then this, over and over again. After a solid couple minutes of that, the song just fades out with the chorus chord progression and the “oh-oh-oh-oh” vocal line on repeat. We all know you have a beautiful voice, Dallas, but come on: You can give us a little more than that, either lyrically or instrumentally, to give this song (ironically about death) a little more life with its near 5 minute running time.

“Commentators” and “Harder than Stone” are both surprisingly bouncy and fun songs (even though the latter is still on the depressing side lyrically), which is definitely not the norm for Green, while “The Lonely Life” also has a very upbeat vibe coupled with a darker tone. It has a very rigid and stiff flow with the drums and bass on the verses that really drive the song along and then perfectly transition into the half time feel of the more free flowing choruses. It joins the ranks of a definitely front-loaded album, and “Ladies and Gentlemen” is the only thing that saves the last four songs from drowning themselves in a sea of near skip-able tracks.

Mr. Green’s light seems to be in a bit of an uprising over the dark parts of him and as they battle it out in The Hurry and the Harm, the results are a mixed bag of songs ranging from fantastic to passable, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a bit too much to ask of him to let the darkness reign supreme for maybe just a little bit longer.

3.3/5

Release Date: June 4th, 2013

Tracklist for The Hurry And The Harm:
01. The Hurry and The Harm
02. Harder Than Stone
03. Of Space and Time
04. The Lonely Life
05. Paradise
06. Commentators
07. Thirst
08. Two Coins
09. Take Care
10. Ladies and Gentlemen
11. The Golden State
12. Death’s Song

 

Two Coins

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8Kdzluxxdg

The Lonely Life

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZQdEUavr1g

Ladies and Gentlemen

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtyaG28-OvM

Thirst

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMWoimU2wUQ

 

http://cityandcolour.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cityandcolour

Vocal Few – Tall Trees

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The Classic Crime’s vocalist in a folk project with his wife? Yes, please.

Often, it seems like side projects of vocalists tend not to stray far from the source, but Vocal Few is quite the departure from TCC’s material. I don’t know about you, but when I listen to a side project of someone in a band I like that is still together, I don’t want to hear a replica of said band. There is a variety of instrumentation happening with some wonderful vocal performances throughout, and (aside from Matt’s voice) it doesn’t really have much similarity to his main band. Matt is the dominant one on the vocals here and even though he is the stronger singer (granted he has had a lot of practice over the last 8-9 years) I wish Kristie was utilized a little more. I didn’t think much of her voice at first, but it really grew on me over repeated listens. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have many of her own passages and typically just plays harmony to Matt. Also, when they are singing together, her voice sometimes seems to be further back in the mix than it should, but it could just be Matt’s vocals overpowering hers. Speaking more the vocals, I also wish the two would have overlapped and intertwined their vocal lines, maybe something similar to how bands like Emery handled their dual vocals, instead of only singing in harmony or completely separate from each other. The chorus of “Simple and Free” is a great example of this:

And I don’t mind
(The fact these musical notes)
Haunt my mind
(And resonate from my bones)
Simple and free is what I said…

The parts in parentheses are the background vocals, but Matt performs the entire chorus and overlaps his own voice. Kristie could have easily performed the background vocals to add some more flavor and then, just to spice it up some more, they could have switched the vocals on the chorus later in the song and had Kristie do the main part and Matt in the background. It just seems like a missed opportunity for something of this high quality to be even better than it already is.

The music is typically of a lighthearted nature, but there is a very strong sentiment in the lyrics throughout the EP, and it runs the deepest on “One Day Soon.” It is an absolutely gorgeous song in which Matt lovingly sings about the present and then moves on to the future, as the title suggests, of his baby girl. Kristie is largely absent in the song, except for some harmony parts, and it could have been a nice touch to have her sing the background parts in the chorus (“You will never be alone” is repeated in the background as the main passage goes on) or even have her own verse, but the song is pretty much all Matt’s baby (pun intended, you ask? I haven’t decided yet). “Good Enough” is another beautifully somber song that and has Matt delivering one of the best performances I have heard from him. Kristie also gives a fantastic performance along with him and especially shines in her harmony sections. It’s almost as if she was afraid to let loose on the sections where she sings by herself like she does here when singing with Matt.

Wild I Am is another great song that livens things up a bit after “One Day Soon” and even if the chorus is a bit reminiscent to the beginning of the chorus in “What I’d Give Up” from TCC’s last album, Phoenix, the piano is well done (the staccato on the intro is a nice touch) and the vocal harmonies sound great together (especially since Kristie’s voice is more prominent in the mix). I almost think that it would have made a wiser choice as an intro track and The Road would have been better to finish the EP off, but the choosing of the beginning and ending tracks doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

All the lyrics are handled quite nicely and have a fairly wide range of topics. “The Road” is about how the couple handled Matt being on the road with The Classic Crime, “Simple and Free” speaks on the subject on why they chose music over other career choices, and “Good Enough” talks about the pitfalls of love, their failed relationships in their past, and also touches on how the two have made it as long as they have as a couple. Along with “One Day Soon,” it has a strong emotional weight to it and both are absolute highlights of the EP.

Aside from a few odd choices on how the vocals were handled, this is a wonderful and well executed EP from Vocal Few. Originally, the two only started it up because of Kristie’s first pregnancy and the need of some extra money, but after their first release came to much success (as well as Kristie becoming pregnant again), they decided to keep it going. Whether it’s because of their enjoyment of making music together, the need for some extra money, fans just wanting more, or all of the above; I couldn’t be happier to help support them through their endeavors. Who knows? If they keep popping out kids like this, maybe we will get a full length album one of these days.

4.2/5

Track list:

1. The Road
2. Misunderstood
3. Good Enough
4. Afriad (Interlude)
5. Simple and Free
6. One Day Soon
7. Wild I Am

Release Date: May 21st, 2013

http://vocalfew.bandcamp.com/