When we last heard from This Old Ghost, I profiled their EP Island of Violent Lovers, back during 2011’s “Year of the Album” project (they were #063). Their upcoming album Family Room, due out January 21st, features the unerringly catchy jangle-pop of “Emily Green,” which melds Posies-esque pop hooks on the chorus with the sunny pop disposition of Death Cab for Cutie or the Lonely Forest, making for an enjoyable listen. You can hear it below for yourself and decide if, like me, you’re now looking forward to the rest of what Family Room has to offer. Here’s hoping if I report back at the start of 2014 I won’t find them still mired in obscurity.
Year of the Album — #063
This Old Ghost – “Island of Violent Lovers EP” (2011, Independent)
This unholy alliance between the pop smarts of Death Cab for Cutie and the indie-folk depth of Blitzen Trapper, Ian McGuinness of This Old Ghost launches a full-on assault with a mere six song EP, ensuring that fans will soon be clamoring loudly for more. “This Lifeboat is for Gold, Not People,” the EP’s opening track, sets the stage with acoustic guitar, bass and a solid wall of harmonized vocals which lure you into a false sense of security before pulsating percussion pushes the song into overdrive.
It’s a comfortable sound for the group, and they clearly have the chops to make this music pop even when it lacks traditional “hooks.” The quality of the music in this case is the hook, and these are songs which definitely stand up to repeated listening. If you enjoyed Death Cab’s Codes and Keys or The Lonely Forest’s Arrows earlier this year, this is music perfectly tailored to your tastes. And songs like “Tiger Man of the Matto Grasso” hint that the band is capable of creating melodies as deftly catchy as Auld Lang Syne, another New York band playing music that pushes the boundaries of modern folk cool. Island of Violent Lovers is a perfect way to spend half an hour immersed in folk music with a pop sensibility, proving there’s defintely plenty to love about music still as 2011 draws to a close.
Year of the Album — #032
Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys” (2011, Atlantic Records)
For an album that was recorded in eight different studios, Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys, the band’s seventh studio album, comes off sounding incredibly concise and unburdened by pretension. The album, inspired by Brian Eno’s Another Green World, is very keyboard centered, which makes these songs the band’s most easily digestible confections in years.
The band’s focus on keyboards gives the songs a common musical tone, and Ben Gibbard has jettisoned the dark, self-loathing tone of Narrow Stairs, focusing instead on coming back down to earth and focusing on self redemption. And though many of these songs were reportedly developed first as musical sketches by Chris Walla, with Gibbard adding lyrics and vocals after hearing the original compositions, these don’t sound like square pegs fitted through round holes. Instead, it finally sounds like Death Cab has turned a corner, the band members’ individual contributions merging cohesively to form some of the most hummable songs the band’s yet produced.
Though all the songs are in their own way catchy and memorable, it’s hard to imagine many of the songs heating up radio, which continues to live off of disposable trends rather than solid music. But Codes and Keys is Death Cab for Cutie’s strongest full album since Plans. This is an album which will please long-time fans of the band while building word of mouth support from the newly converted as well. The album proves Death Cab for Cutie is fully capable of surviving in today’s musical climate, continuing to craft interesting melodic pop albums long into the future, come what may. In today’s disposable pop climate, that’s something worth celebrating.
Year of the Album — #010
The Lonely Forest – “Arrows” (2011, Trans Records)
The album’s not out until March 22nd, but you can read all about the Lonely Forest’s major-label debut, Arrows, on the Yahoo Contributor Network:
Van Deusen and the Lonely Forest don’t go for anything “easy” with Arrows, which is by far the most rewarding and adventurous music they’ve produced thus far. The singles are provided a home within the whole of the album, and each additional listen peels away layers of insight into their artistic place in the world of modern pop.
Which makes Arrows a must-hear album for anyone who has been told there’s nothing worthy of praise in today’s pop landscape. If anything, the Lonely Forest proves there’s so much great music bubbling under the surface of that landscape it’s impossible to take it on in a “single serving song” world.
Read the rest of the review on Y!CN! And check out a video of the band with Chris Walla, of Death Cab For Cutie, who signed them to the major-label in the first place, below:
One of indie-rock’s more interesting acts finally has a label home, thanks to Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, who signed the Lonely Forest to his Trans imprint. But judging from the songs on the band’s latest EP, a tantalizing hint of what’s to come when their latest full-length drops on January 11, 2011, the band would find its audience regardless. Anyone who’s been enjoying the latest music from Band of Horses is going to be hooked from the start, and with Walla backing the group’s work via his label, they’re almost certain to be getting wider exposure than ever — and rightly so!
The Anacortes, Wash., quartet has always been anchored by the addictive vocals of its leader, John Van Deusen, but the whole group comes out to shine on the eponymous EP. Though the most played song may wind up being “Turn Off The Song,” for the mere novelty that the band dares to encourage us to “turn off the song, you can listen to it later, go outside.” If one were to take that advice, however, you’d miss my favorite track, the ethereal “Live Here,” which is the EP’s true stunner. (see below for a free legal download!) A quiet snare march provides beautiful backdrop to echoes of lightly picked guitar, bass and piano that hides just far enough in the background to taunt your ears as you’re sucked into Van Deusen’s addictive melody. The song develops to a crescendo, then lures listeners into a near trance with the repeated tones and a light vocal chant that fades into the stark piano close. It’s a haunting song which will surely inspire repeat listens from the band’s fans.
“Let It Go” also proves to be worthy of a listen, illustrating Van Deusen’s sense of wordplay, building into a chorus that uses the singer’s strong falsetto to create a hook which will stick in your head: “Let it go, dear, and let your worries fall!” he sings, as a wall of guitar greets us with the full strength of the song’s melody.
There’s not a lot of meat on the bones of this EP, which really features only three fully-functioning songs, a short introductory track and then an acoustic version of “Turn Off The Song,” but if what we have here is indicative of the path the band’s taking on Arrows, its third full-length, this is going to be one of those bands worthy of hearing repeatedly during the long winter months most commonly known as the “good music doldrums.” Considering the tendency of the Lonely Forest to write whatever music they feel like writing at the time (case in point: Nuclear Winter, the band’s debut full-length, a space opera concept album about the end of the world), we’re all likely to be in for a real treat come January.
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Free Legal Download: The Lonely Forest – “Live Here” (MP3)
And check out this great live video of Van Deusen singing the band’s song “We Sing In Time,” from their sophomore album We Sing The Body Electric! (2009) . . . it’s definitely a keeper.