The fact that only the best bands tend to make it out of their respective homelands and into my hillbilly world gives the false impression that those countries produce fewer, but higher quality acts. Mumford and Sons and Adele’s recent explosions, for instance, give the impression that the UK is a utopia of songwriting and musicianship. Although they’ve never really caught on here like those big name acts, Winnipeg indie rockers The Weakerthans let me imagine that a wonderland of hyper-articulate dreamers exists just a few thousand miles to the north.
In their sophomore effort, Left and Leaving, frontman John K. Samson strikes the perfect balance between introspection and storytelling. Samson’s songs often feature refreshing micro-adventures, which provide hopefulness to a narrative that is always laced with self-doubt. One such example comes from “Watermark,” in which he confides to an unnamed listener “We’re talented and bright. We’re lonely and uptight. We’ve found some lovely ways to disappoint, but the airport’s almost empty this time of the year, so let’s go play on a baggage carousel. Set our watches forward like we’re just arriving here, from a past we left in a place we knew too well.”
While there really aren’t any “skips” on this album for me, highlights include the wistful “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open,” the almost spoken-word “Without Mythologies,” and the gently anti-establishment (and close to perfect) “My Favorite Chords.” As always, click the image for song clips!
From a later album, Reunion Tour, “Sun In an Empty Room” is my favorite song of theirs:
When your debut album nabs you two Grammy wins, you know you’re doing something right. Such is the case for The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow, a country yet classy tour-de-force. Joy Williams and John Paul White have voices that on their own would make you stop and listen, but when blended together in soaring harmonies, will make your hairs stand on end. Standout track “Poison and Wine” masterfully explores the despair, contempt, and even comfort of a love gone stale, while title track “Barton Hollow” is sure to please the pure country fans. Listeners who don’t yet have a high twang tolerance should try out the back-to-back “C’est la Mort” and “To Whom It May Concern” to get their feet wet (though the album as a whole is far more folk than country). As always, click the picture for clips!
Here’s the duo performing “Poison and Wine” on Letterman. THIS is what a live performance is supposed to sound like.
As I watched mewithoutYou finish up their set at the House of Blues, I was captivated by the front head of their bass drum. Scrawled in big Sharpie letters were the words “one day you will all see.” I was certain of two things: Aaron Weiss must be an Autistic savant, and I’m going to be a fan of anything he creates. Turns out only the latter of those is true.
A few months later, mewithoutYou released their third full-length, Brother, Sister. Wedged comfortably between the bombastic shout-singing of their first two albums and the church camp singalongs of their fourth (the eccentrically titled It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All a Dream, It’s Alright), Brother, Sister is mewithoutYou’s most accessible album. Featuring beautifully poetic lyrics that are spiritually mature without being preachy, and lush instrumentals that feature tendrils of harp and flugelhorn weaving out from rock-steady guitar melodies, this album deserves to be listened to from first note to last while reading along with the lyrics.
As always, click the cover for song clips; mewithoutYou’s fifth album, Ten Stories, comes out May 15th!
Also calling Brooklyn, New York home is indie/folk/rock singer Kevin Devine, whose infectious personality is matched only by infectious melodies. His fifth full-length, 2009’s Brother’s Blood is arguably his most polished and varied outing to date. Synth-pop inspired “I Could Be With Anyone” will have anyone within earshot bobbing their head and smiling, while the earnest “It’s Only Your Life” is a damning yet uplifting ‘letter to me’ song. Other highlights include “Carnival,” which blooms from quiet control into echo-laden madness, and the socially aware “Time to Burn (Another Bag of Bones).”
Here’s the official video for K-Dev’s “I Could Be With Anyone,” and just for funsies, being peer pressured into stepping in front of a softball by Jesse Lacey and the members of Manchester Orchestra:
In 1997, Brooklyn, New York rockers Jets to Brazil released one of the most under-appreciated alternative albums of the 90’s. In “Orange Rhyming Dictionary,” former Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach weaves tales of hope and desperation using some of the most vidid imagery I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. Guitars range from bombastic to laid-back and melodic, giving the album enough variety to never feel stale despite the limited vocal range employed by Schwarzenbach. Can’t miss tracks include metaphor-laced “Sea Anemone,” Ordinary People inspired “Conrad,” and Gatsby-esque Sweet Avenue. As always, click the image for song clips!