One month has passed since the first episode of the The INDIE FOLK Radar and we have another group of interesting albums to review in this periodic digest with the most relevant Indie Folk releases. In the first episode I introduced the albums released by Old Sea Brigade, Angelo De Augustine, Better Oblivion Community Center, William Tyler and Mandolin Orange. For this second episode I’ve selected other five LPs, most of themreleased during the month of February 2019. Adding these five new records to the ones reviewed in the previous episode, it’s possible to say that the beginning of the year was absolutely positive for what concerns folk music.
As far as geography is concerned, we have one artist from Australia (Julia Jacklin), one from Luxembourg (Jérôme Reuter‘s Rome), one from England (Rosie Carney), and two from the U.S.A. (Jessica Pratt and Mark Kozelek‘s Sun Kil Moon).
Enjoy this new episode of the indie folk music radar and stay tuned for future updates!
“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin
I want to start this digest with one of the best albums that were released since the beginning of the year: it’s Crushing, the second LP by Australian singer and songwriter Julia Jacklin.
When you start listening to this record, the first thing which will impress you is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.
Musically speaking, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk, and in fact the LP has been featured in both the two categories of this blog. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums.
“Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome
Among the most interesting folk releases of this period we had the new album from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, the artist who operates under the name of Rome. Le Ceneri di Heliodoro (“The ashes of Heliodoro”) is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.
From a musical point of view, Reuter’s production can be generally classified as dark folk, but beyond tags and definitions, what’s really impressive in the LP is the sequence of emotional and brilliant songs which open the album. For the lovers of folk music who are not familiar with the music of Rome, this is definitely a good opportunity to hear something different from what we’re used to listening, and to enjoy some of the most beautiful melodies that were written in recent times.
There is a dedicated article for this album, you can access it from here.
“Bare”, by Rosie Carney
I approached with great curiosity the debut album by Rosie Carney, a young singer-songwriter that is getting great attention as one of the most promising talents of the British folk scene. And effectively the songs of her first LP, named Bare, highlight a musical sensibility and also a maturity of style that have very little to do with an artist that has just left her teenage phase.
Almost all of the eleven songs of Bare have an extremely essential arrangement: acoustic guitar, vocals, a very light and almost imperceptible layer of keyboards and some rare appearance of delicate instruments such as the xylophone. Only in a few cases, we hear drums and electric guitar. Such kind of instrumentation has the effect to highlight the beauty of the artist’s voice, which is perhaps the central point of the whole album. More than the melodies, in fact, which are very simple and linear, it is the combination of Carney’s angelic voice and her intimate lyrics that capture the listener’s attention.
The tones are quiet and meditative, the rhythms slow. This guarantees a stylistic coherence for the whole record, but at the same time makes the listening experience a little flat, even because there are only a few melodies that emerge from the memory after the album ends. Remembering that Bare is a debut album, however, the final judgment is definitely positive and Rosie Carney remains one of those artists who are worthy of our attention.
“Quiet Signs”, by Jessica Pratt
Jessica Pratt is a singer-songwriter who has never chosen to chase success and fame through the simplest ways. Instead, she has developed through the years a very personal and delicate style of music that requires a special dedication, but which can provide the listener makes the experience of listening to her songs something really special and absolutely fascinating.
Quiet Signs, her third and most recent album, is a collection of pieces that are so fragile and intimate that they really need the right conditions to be appreciated in full, and to protect the beauty of the small details from the disorder and the background noise of our routines.
The style of Pratt’s songs is characterized by a strong retro feeling and also by the adoption of instrumentation and an arrangement that are really simple and minimal. This allows her particular and angelic voice to illuminate the scene, although the record, as a whole, may result excessively linear and at times flat.
“I Also Want to Die in New Orleans”, by Sun Kil Moon
Album after album, year after year, what’s offered within every new record released by Sun Kil Moon is gradually moving out from the domain of “music” and entering into that of prose. A song like I’m not laughing at you, which is one of the tracks of the band’s new LP I Also Want to Die in New Orleans, can be a good example of what I’m saying. The song begins with four initial chords on an out-of-tune guitar, and from that moment, if we exclude a few sparse moments of “music”, what we hear is just a single guitar string that’s picked with a syncopated rhythm, on top of which Mark Kozelek whispers and tells one his many stories. That’s all: one note, a few dissonant chords, and Kozelek’s voice. For almost 12 minutes.
Musically speaking, the new album by Sun Kil Moon is one of the most minimal and essential in the band’s discography. The attention is almost totally on the lyrics, with the sounds playing an absolutely secondary role. This style certainly has something fascinating, and there are also moments in which the faint and almost imperceptible musical lines manage to generate particular and relatively intriguing atmospheres. But for my personal tastes, we’ve gone a little too far.
And frankly speaking it’s a pity, because there was a moment, between 2012’s Among the Leaves 2017’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, in which I was really impressed by the charm and uniqueness of Sun Kil Moon’s style of folk.
I felt obliged to mention I Also Want to Die in New Orleans in this review of the most important releases of the last months. But in all honesty, this is not something that I think I’ll listen many more times in the future.
If you liked this article, you will love the folk music playlists that I’m curating on Spotify. One is MODERN SONGWRITERS, the playlist which features the most interesting releases from contemporary singer-songwriters. The second is named THE INDIE FOLK RADAR and it’s the one dedicated exclusively to the best songs of 2019. Enjoy!