Indie folk is an extremely heterogeneous genre of music that embraces many different styles and arrangements, but which in general gives a lot of satisfactions. And if we look at the number of good records that have been published only in the first weeks of the year, we can really have great expectations for 2019.
I’m presenting in this article a selection of five albums that were published in the period which spans from the beginning of the year and the first week of February. This is not of course an exhaustive list of everything taht was released so far; the albums that I’m introducing in the following, however, may be easily considered the most relevant of the period of interest.
Let’s start with the first record, and remember to visit the blog periodically for the future updates of the folk music radar.
“Ode to a Friend”, by Old Sea Brigade
After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-lenght record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.
The music in Ode to a Friend is extremely delicate and introspective, and there is a persistent note of sadness that impregnates most of the songs (the record tells of a friend of the artist who committed suicide). The result is a collection of pieces that maybe don’t have the brilliance and fluidity to become memorable songs, but still have the capacity to make us think, and dream.
My review of the LP is available here.
“Tomb”, by Angelo De Augustine
Tomb is the new LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, the third of his career, and it’s value goes beyond the mere analysis of the musical aspect. The album, in fact, develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. When this happens, there are two ways to reacto: we give up, or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before. This message is carried out through simple sketches of melodies, which make Tomb a delicate but also fragile work.
You can read here my review of the album.
“Better Oblivion Community Center”, by Better Oblivion Community Center
In recent years we have witnessed many interesting cases of couples of artists who decided to join artistically and produce folk music, one of the most recent and succesful cases was that of Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, but there are many other examples. Among the newest duos that have been formed we have the one composed by American indie rocker Phoebe Bridgers and American singer-songwriter Conor Oberst. The two have started a collaboration under the name of Better Oblivion Community Center, and released a self-titled album in late January 2019.
The album is quite interesting especially for the fact that the style of music varies a lot from song to song: there are melodic acoustic ballads, reaatively experimental pieces with electronic inserts, intimate songs alongside rock-oriented tunes. The same characteristic, from another point of view, may be seen also as one of the limits of this work, which in the end doesn’t show a well-established and recognizable style. It’s as if the two artists haven’t yet got that musical alchemy for which the blending of the individual styles and backgrounds produces something new, and different from the simple sum of the two parts.
For sure there is so much potential in this duo. Ideally in their future works the music will be more homogeneous and original than today.
“Goes West”, by William Tyler
Among the less acclaimed but still interesting publications of the last few weeks I can certainly includethe new solo album by William Tyler, a talented guitarist who’s playing indie folk since he was very young. In 2010 he stared a solo career and since then he’s publishing LPs with impressive regularity: one new album every three years. The last one, named Goes West, offers a collection of gentle and easy listening instrumental tunes.
William Tyler’s style of music has definitely become softer when compared to his early albums, and the acoustic guitar today has almost completely replaced the electric one. Tyler’s melodies are extremely light and simple, and they somehow struggle to sustain 40 minutes of completely instrumental music. However, some of the songs of the LP are still catchy and enjoyable to listen to. The first track of the album, Alpine Star, is definitely one of the best of the record.
“Tides of a Teardrop”, by Mandolin Orange
Many times we get excited for complex, deep and articulated records, but there are moments when we need something simpler and more direct. These are the cases where albums like Tides of a Teardrop seem to be made on purpose.
The new album by American folk duo Mandolin Orange shines for the magical kind of beauty that’s generated by the combination of guitar with mandolin, which are the two main components of the band’s sound, on top of which the gentle voices of Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin tell of simple but intimate stories.
From a musical point of view, the songs of the LP move with ease among the typical styles of American traditional music, from appalachian folk to country, but always maintaning an appreciable delicacy of sound and an enjoyable lightness of the arrangements. In all the songs you can also feel how strong is the harmony reached by Marlin and Frantz, something which tells us of years and years of playing together, and sharing the same passion for folk music. The two artists play and sing as they were one, and this is the secret which allows the songs of Tides of a Teardrop to stay simple, but beautiful.