Our Sleepless Forest Wakes Up

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Many hold the belief that ambient music serves as arguably the epitome of musical inaccessibility, with the lack of vocals and concise melody requiring several attentive listens to wholly and memorably consume. It occasionally leads those to disregard the genre as a whole in substitution for more melodically identifiable styles, resorting to some styles of pop and rock as an exclusive alternative. However, what these people often ignore are the intricacies of the given genre. Quality ambient music is just like a classic novel or film; one discovers something new in terms of thematic relevancy, artistic ingenuity, or structural tendencies each time re-read or re-watched. This obviously does not apply to all artists in the respective niche, but patience and an attentive ear will surely reward those who choose to put forth an effort. The appeal of ambient music for those who steer their tastes toward the mainstream will obviously be limited, but I have found that most people who read this site have a very refined and open-minded taste. This is the primary reason why I chose to feature Our Sleepless Forest, a young trio who specializes in a variety of experimental genres, with ambient and post-rock being the most prevalent.

One of the reasons why I consider the independent music scene to be perfect for those with an open mindset is the acceptant nature it has toward genres of all kinds; quality is looked upon as quality and not much else. Whether you dwell in structurally predictable pop music or otherworldly experimental post-rock, audible excellence will find you a fan base. In the case of Our Sleepless Forest, I believe that their talent alone will speak volumes and propel their status past the hordes who regard the ambient genre as nothing more than background music to a David Lynch film. Their implementation of samples provided over subtly intricate instrumental arrangements often creates an emotionally empowering force, with sentiments like desolation, romance, and other perils of human nature expressed audibly without even providing a moment of lyrical insight. It hearkens back to the days of classical music, where emotional expression was the primary purpose for musicians (compared to modernistic terms where catchiness and financial benefits seem to be at the forefront). The three guys in Our Sleepless Forest share a similar mentality, with members Sam Purcell, Josh Rothberger and Karl Jawara expressing a form of avant-garde ingenuity on their debuting album that is nothing short of commendable.

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Barely of legal drinking age, the trio met at school in South London and instantly found that they shared a common interest for the aspects of music production. They toyed around with a variety of software and basic recording equipment for over a year before emerging with material that they felt was of substantial enough quality to share. The result is a 45-minute debut spanning 8 tracks, all of which express the delicate ingenuity contained in Our Sleepless Forest’s sound. An early version of the breathtaking “The Tinderbox” caught the attention of Type Records, who included the track on their Free The Future compilation, eventually leading the band to a deal with Resonant Records. Impressively enough, the final version of “The Tinderbox” is even more fulfilling. Like all the tracks on Our Sleepless Forest’s self-titled debut, it is bursting with numerous layers of instrumentation that is enhanced by several unique methods of production. The sounds of intentional hissing and crackling are evident to an extent, but fortunately not enough to disrupt the instrumental focus that is provided by the ethereal strumming of an acoustic guitar, the subdued murmur of backing synths, and the slight frequency of weightless keys. Over a variety of sound effects produced by nature (birds chirping, blowing wind), vocals are subtly present, but they are used as an instrumental additive rather than the conventional lyrical usage. The wash-out effect is one instance of the trio’s innovative production techniques, with the unique use of panning also creating an enjoyably chaotic effect.

Our Sleepless Forest demonstrates confidence by opening up the album with “Nomads”, a sprawling and majestic track that is slightly reminiscent of Animal Collective’s epically instrumental nature. The bustling of synth pads and guitars are present in steadfast form during the song’s first several minutes. Eventually all instruments become subdued as the pad increases in velocity, uplifted in intensity by the murmur of a sitar and a variety of samples that depict a variety of sounds from ambiguous screeching to tribal chants. The conclusion is kicked off by the exotic shuffle of a percussion solo, with all the instruments compiled throughout the song making one final appearance as the song’s final minute proves to be a summation of all previous instrumental events. The serene “Doors In Limbo” is a great example of Our Sleepless Forest’s lighter side, employing a variety of string-like synth pads over the twinkling effect of several underlying keys. It manages to simultaneously capture beauty and elegance as the strings heighten in attentiveness as the track increases, eventually leading up to a remarkable change in key. It is arguably the most instrumentally linear track on Our Sleepless Forest, but the varied emotions it captures reminds me of the remarkable musicianship demonstrated by artists like Katsuhiko Maeda and Mogwai. If you are looking to get your fix of experimentally ambient psychedelia, Our Sleepless Forest have created a debut that is – so far – the best of the year in its respective genre.

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Our Sleepless Forest – The Tinderbox

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/osf-tin.mp3%5D

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Our Sleepless Forest – Nomads

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Our Sleepless Forest – Doors In Limbo

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/osf-doo.mp3%5D

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Ane Brun Watches the Changing of the Seasons

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The difference between music awards in North America and Europe often astounds me. Sure, a “Grammy Award” is universally synonymous with quality on each side of the Atlantic Ocean, but the exposure that it provides the artist with differs dramatically. The American version of the “Grammys” tends to recently be more fixated on popular forms of rap, R&B, and bland mainstream pop, leading those genres to be the most profitable among musicians in the respective country and elsewhere. While the award is obviously not the most defining factor in attributing to a conventional music taste, it certainly plays a big role. Though I often find myself disregarding the awards to an understandable extent, I can’t help but wish that the mindless award shows in the US were more like their European counterparts, in which quality can actually have the potential to overshadow superficial aspects of melodramatic imagery and commercialism. That being said, I can’t remember the last time the American version of the “Grammy Awards” gave a prominent award in the vein of “Best Female Artist” to someone as naturally skilled as Ane Brun. It may serve as a shock to younger readers, but Brun actually won the Norwegian version in 2005 without flagrantly promoting rampant drug use, wearing revealing attire the size of a handkerchief, or producing an “accidental” sex tape. Yeah, amazingly enough, she actually won the award because of her musical skill alone; it is a stark contrast from what modernly defines commonplace talent in the US.

Though I yearn for the day were an artist like Brun wins any mainstream music award in the US, those who already enjoy her should consider the desire irrelevant. For purpose of enjoyment, if if you have the ears to recognize her impressive ability, your individualistic viewpoint should be the most important factor in identifying her as an artist to keep an eye on. Brun kicked off her songwriting career in 2003 with her debut, Spending Time with Morgan. The reception was impressive, as European audiences and critics alike fell in love with her ability to produce elegantly haunting alternative-folk with lyrics that were both descriptively revealing and emotionally charged. Considering that the likes of Feist and Neko Case have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity in America, I would not be surprised if Brun’s newest album, Changing of the Seasons, sees her success carry on to foreign shores. A 32-year-old native of Norway, Brun first picked up the guitar only 11 years ago, proving to be a quick learner when she released her debut album only 6 years later. With her debut, Spending Time with Morgan, originally only released in Europe, Brun’s second album, A Temporary Dive, was her first album released in both the US and Japan when it dropped in 2004. Like Spending Time with Morgan, it was released on DetErMine Records (Brun’s self-founded label) but was picked up by V2 for distribution in the US.

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The interestingly appealing Duets was released in 2005, featuring Brun singing singing 10 duets with talented Norwegian and Swedish artists like Lars Bygdén, Tingsek, and Tobias Fröberg. Though the names will be unfamiliar to most audiences outside of Norway and Sweden, the album’s fantastic quality speaks well for the current music scene in Norway. After releasing a live album in 2007, Brun headed to the studio to work on Changing of the Seasons, which was released on March 12th. It is produced by Valgeir Sigurdsson, who is known for his excellent work with the likes of Björk, Sigur Ros, and Múm. Brun currently resides in Sweden and her musical approach fits in nicely somewhere between the contemporary pop and folk the country has become reputable for. Her instrumental focus varies between a plethora of acoustic guitars, strings, and keys on Changing of the Seasons, with each playing the role as melodic role alternatively between each song. The powerful “10 Seconds” sees Brun and a gospel-y backing vocal section glide seamlessly over the delicate progression of a piano. The chorus introduces the gradual use of strings, an instrumental feature that is used to excellent consistency throughout the album. “It is those ten seconds, those ten seconds in your head,” she sings. “When you don’t wonder if you’re alright, when you’re just hanging around with yourself – with yourself.” The chorus alone marks the point of a devastatingly haunting hook, primarily guided by Brun’s uniquely empowering vocals, the string arrangement, and the underlying twinkle of keys. It is a perfect example of Brun’s raw talent.

“The Puzzle” serves as the album’s new single, and it is a good choice on Brun’s part. It is certainly one of the more fast-paced tracks on Changing of the Seasons, especially when considering that the appeal on stunners like “My Star” and “Gillian” has a lot to do with Brun’s delicate vocal delivery interchangeably evolving over beautiful instrumentation. Commendable instrumentation is once again prevalent here, though the sense of urgency is appropriately in full form in regard to both vocal delivery and melodic instrumentation. “I walked into love. I walked into a minefield I never heard of,” she opens the song as strings build under the gentle progression of an acoustic guitar. The use of xylophones makes an enjoyably innovative entry after the introduction, providing the precise moment that Brun increases the speed of her delivery. She compares the fallacies of love to a jumbled puzzle, noting that friends and family can help put together the “corners” of the puzzle but that you have to put singular effort forth in order to “fill in the frames”. The usage of metaphors is prevalent throughout the album and it does so without being pretentious or overbearing, instead being understandable and poetically invigorating.  Brun has the lyrics to all the songs in her catalog on her site and it is well worth a look, especially given Brun’s blatant poetic ability. She may currently only be acclaimed in Europe, but given the outstanding Changing of the Seasons, I would be shocked if Ane Brun does not break out globally by the end of the year.

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Ane Brun – 10 Seconds

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/abrun-10s.mp3%5D

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Ane Brun – The Puzzle

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/abrun-puz.mp3%5D

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Ane Brun – The Treehouse Song

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The Adventures of Micah Dalton and Pawnshop

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While some people listen to music purely for the melodic features alone, there are others who value lyrical content just as importantly (or even more so) than the other audible aspects involved. Personally, it varies between genres for me. I usually do not pay much initial mind to the lyrics in some dance tracks or even some pop songs, mainly due to the domineering melodic focus that an artist occasionally attempts to convey. I never disregard it entirely, but occasionally paying no mind to such features enhances the listening experience, especially if the songwriter is not a capable lyricist (which is suitably the case with many dance and pop songwriters). It is common sense in life: to enjoy yourself, try to disregard all the negative aspects of a situation. It is certainly impossible in some areas of life, but most music allows you to do so without a hitch. That being said, when I receive an album that I have never listened to before, the most background reading I found myself doing comes in the form of a one-sheet or concise biography. Up until now, I have never been provided with a short story of sorts to accompany an album. If done right, it is an extremely innovative way to complement the lyrical content throughout the release, just as a new artist recently taught me…

Though I have never met him personally, it is quite easy to tell that Micah Dalton is a risk-taker. Apart from the fact that his musical style is an appealingly intrepid mixture of folk, blues, soul, and R&B, Dalton has provided an extremely unique experience for the release of his third album, Pawn Shop. Many of us have listened to concept albums in some form before that were based on works of literature, but very few can say that they heard an album where the artist based his lyrics off of literature that was written specifically FOR the respected album. In addition to providing an enjoyable album with 12 tracks, Dalton has enlisted Jewly Hight to write a short story told in 12 vignettes. Included in the album sleeve in one pamphlet, each story represents a different track. The plot is ongoing, depicting a traveler by the name of Pawnshop who undergoes the unexpected adventure of his life while stopping by the quaint town of Mineola on his route to Atlanta. It plays slightly like a Tarantino screenplay, providing clever humor and plenty of action in a desolate setting where entertainment is to be unexpected. On a side note, a quick Google search reveals the author, Ms. Hight, to be an aspiring musician herself, with “White Knuckles” on her MySpace being well worth the listen. As the name of the love interest eludes to, the story is one containing central themes of commitment and desire. With Dalton and the character of Pawnshop having several striking similarities, it makes listening to Pawn Shop a very enriching experience.

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Along his journey of peril and self-discovery, Pawnshop comes across a slew of interesting individuals, such as an impetuous preacher by the name of Reverend Julius Ramshack, a shotgun-wielding but kindhearted housewife named Eula, and a disgruntled local who also acquaints himself with a firearm. Yes, the protagonist (Pawnshop) gets a gun pointed at his face three times throughout the story by three different characters, but the ending result sees him continuing on his path to discover a job in Atlanta and appease his beloved who is hundreds of miles away, the lovely Desiree. The most interesting character, however, is Ramshack, a foul-mouthed preacher who insistently proclaims God to be the almighty despite contradicting his beliefs in nearly every action and vile word spoken. His is exposed best in “Rev. Ramshack Run”, an appropriately stylized blues number that sees Dalton providing his suave and raspy vocals in infectious form. “Ramshack and run, go on and get your gun!” he exclaims. “Get one for Petey, he does not have one.” The lyrical content and character itself serves generally at a swipe at those who contribute significantly to the immorality of society due to selfishly contradictory beliefs, but even Dalton would admit that Ramshack is a great character who deserves exposure, regardless of whether he is described through music or literature.

In terms of general songwriting, “Looking For a New Way” is the best track on Pawn Shop. With a B-3 organ and toy piano providing the melodic backbone to a flurry of acoustic guitars, tight percussion, and backing vocals, it is the best demonstration of Dalton’s abilities as a songwriter. It begins in simplistic acoustic form but gradually builds in instrumentation. When Dalton delivers his fantastic croon with increased ardency when an additional guitar progression emerges, the song begins to pick up momentum. The percussion is revealed in the chorus over Dalton’s vocals and acoustic guitar shortly afterwards, later introducing a nice bridge accompanied by a variety of male and female backing vocals. When Dalton repeats the chorus one last time, one can’t help but grin at the outstanding potential “Looking For a New Way” alone shows. “We Came Alive” is also worth the listen for its beautiful use of strings, complementing Dalton’s tenderly endearing vocals to perfection. It also is very demonstrative of his falsetto toward the song’s ardent conclusion, signifying just how broad Dalton’s vocal range truly is. Speaking of enjoyable love songs on the album, “I’ll Find You In Ohio” serves as an ode to the Pawnshop’s love interest, Desiree. While the songwriting does not reach the heights of “Looking For a New Way” or even “We Came Alive”, the mixture of keys and twangy guitars provides for a very radio-friendly track. Accompanied by a Southern Gothic narrative, the impressive Pawn Shop is now available.

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Micah Dalton – Looking For a New Way

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/mdalton-loo.mp3%5D

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Micah Dalton – Rev. Ramshack Run

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/mdalton-rev.mp3%5D

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Micah Dalton – I’ll Find You In Ohio

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/mdalton-ill.mp3%5D

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REVIEW: Jim Noir – Jim Noir

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As music technology continues to increase in sophistication and variety, the world of neo-psychedelia continues to be in a constant state of reconfiguration. New styles of music are constantly entering the genre, whether it be in the form of throwback revivals like funk and blues or contemporary staples like dance and indie-rock. Though the birth of psychedelic rock in the ’60s can rightfully call itself the origination point for straightforward psychedelia, even artists back then used technological methods that were – at the time – beyond their years. Techniques that are now considered standard in everyday music production were considered to be glimpses at futuristic audio production. Effects known today as reverb, phasing, reversed tape recording, double-tracking of voices, and phase shifting were all used to some degree even before the ’60s, but it was not until the particular decade hit that artists began to implement the particular production techniques into their music more ambitiously. Jim Noir serves as an enjoyable reminder of these revitalized techniques, implementing methods of production that recall the nostalgic likes of ’60s psychedelic pop with more contemporary elements in the vein of dance and electro-pop. Even with only one album under his belt, he has built a reputation for being one of the more talented artists in the constantly evolving genre of psychedelic electronica. Sure, the techniques themselves are not the epitome of innovation, but the way he incorporates them into a modernistic sound is.

A self-titled album is conventionally known as an introductory release for artists, but Noir’s Jim Noir is his second full-length. Known as a skilled multi-instrumentalist who plays every single instrument on his albums, it follows the impressive Tower of Love, his 2005 debut that drew considerable acclaim. His style of psychedelic electro-pop has granted Noir comparisons to the likes of Badly Drawn Boy and Caribou, but Noir is notable for utilizing the aforementioned techniques of psychedelia production in a more full-fledged form. It is a method that continues to be expressed on the impressive Jim Noir, even more so than his commendable debut. Unlike several other contemporary artists who limit their psychedelic experimentation to the use of keys, samples, and rhythm, Noir has the uncanny ability to toy with several genres simultaneously due to his excelled multi-instrumental capabilities. Perhaps evidenced best by the exceptional “Happy Day Today”, one should expect to find a plethora of guitars and even strings over more traditional psychedelia instrumentation in the vein of keys and muddled bass. The song also provides an enriching example of Noir’s capability to craft hooks that are both wildly infectious and structurally proportionate. Without sounding repetitive or stylistically manipulative, his melodic capacity alone provides for a generally enriching listening experience.

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Whereas the verse in “Happy Day Today” is superbly supplemented by a repeating key progression that is reminiscent of amiable ‘70s psychedelia, the chorus ushers in the entrance of keys and strings over the increased ardency in Noir’s breezy voice. However, once the acoustic guitar-aided interlude kicks in after the second chorus, a sense of realization should come upon most listeners that Noir is simply not another psychedelia revivalist. Instead, he is a musician who skillfully crafts a flourishing offshoot of a genre with his melodic and instrumental skill. “Don’t You Worry” finds Noir at a somewhat different attempt when compared to straightforward psychedelia gems like “Happy Day Today” and “Ships and Clouds”. It tackles a more naturalistic form of pop, this time driven primarily by guitar and bass. “If you don’t want to be with me, what do you expect me to be?” he sings over the strums of an acoustic guitar and the whirs of a padded synth. The guitar chord progression itself slightly recalls Radiohead’s “Creep”, yet Noir’s entry of phase-shifting synths provides for a very enjoyable mixture of guitar-oriented pop and ethereal synth-pop that is unique to his own work. Like the majority of the album, Noir’s vocals are drenched in reverb to a noticeable extent, but the lyrical content remains recognizable due to the commendably balanced production. You can thank Noir for that as well, as the impressive multi-talent is also the album’s producer.

When Noir travels toward more dance-oriented territory in “All Right”, the result is both infectious and stylistically innovative. The use of the vocoder in “All Right” has obviously been employed before in electronica, but the pairing between it and Noir’s eclectic musical approach is well worth the listen. Though those who prefer dance and techno over psychedelic pop will likely find “All Right” to be arguably the best track on the album, I personally find his pop-oriented tracks to be more in his favor. Fortunately for me, those types of tracks comprise the majority of Jim Noir, but the reception that this album receives per individual has quite a bit to do with personal taste. While that may apply to most albums in general, Noir’s showmanship of his outstanding grasp for both psychedelic pop and dance may leave fans of dance simply hungry for more. For those who prefer the catchy psychedelic pop of “Happy Day Today”, this may be one of your favorites for the year so far. Though he falters on a few tracks toward the latter end of the album like the over-distorted “Welcome CJ” and the repetitive “Good Old Vinyl”, the majority of Jim Noir finds the budding artist at his current peak. At this point and time, Noir remains one of the most underrated songs in the field of electronic pop music. However, considering the enjoyment that Jim Noir can grant any fan of pop music, his name should gain a significant amount of reputability soon enough. 8/10

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Jim Noir – Happy Day Today

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/jnoir-hap.mp3%5D

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Jim Noir – Ships and Clouds

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/jnoir-shi.mp3%5D

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Jim Noir – Don’t You Worry

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/jnoir-don.mp3%5D

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Now That Sera Cahoone Is All Grown Up…

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Most young and budding songwriters develop in their own atmosphere, with their intended audience being targeted toward an age group that is similar to their own. Most of us know the deal with those discordant “Battle of the Bands” at high schools; masses of kids usually gather around a small stage and proclaim the loudest act to be the absolute best, often dismissing rare traces of talent as a source of pretentiousness or irrelevancy. In fact, those who are aware of audible talent usually disregard such events entirely, instead focusing on honing their skills in a more suitable setting. Though I can certainly understand if some locations are better suited for musical development, this is at least what I experienced in high school. When I come across an artist like Sera Cahoone, I can’t help but appreciate the maturity of some musicians during their early stages of development as a songwriter. When Cahoone was an aspiring musician at the youthful age of 12, she could have easily reverted to being a child who viewed the pop-oriented trends at the time as simply the way to go. Instead, she found herself playing at bars in Denver almost 10 years before she was old enough to drink. It was a move that built up both her experience and confidence, leading her to the point of widespread acclaim where she is today.

Cahoone’s beginnings came as a drummer, picking up the instrument in junior high school and eventually playing in a variety of bands when her skill gradually increased. One of those bands was a blues act who played in that Denver bar, a couple of accepting men deciding to give the 12-year-old a shot. From there, she only got better. After graduating high school, she participated in a variety of musical projects before finding her true calling as a solo artist. One of these was as the drummer for Carissa’s Wierd, a short-lived indie-rock band that featured the familiar likes of Ben Bridwell, one of the founders of Band of Horses. Like a large number of promising indie-rock bands that disbanded at a creative peak, most of the members found substantial success after the group’s disbandment in late 2003. Mat Brooke and Ben Bridwell went on to from Band of Horses, Jenn Ghetto began a promising solo career, and Cahoone is preparing to release her second solo album, Only as the Day Is Long. Since her time in Carissa’s Wierd got her well acquainted with Bridwell, Cahoone was the studio drummer for Band of Horses’ excellent 2006 album, Everything All the Time. It was enjoyably demonstrative of her capabilities as a proficient drummer, but her solo career is where her melodic talents truly shine.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect in the world for drummers. But, while their rhythmic capabilities are second to none, drummers often find it most difficult to tackle melodic identification when compared to other performers specializing in other instruments. For Cahoone, neither rhythm nor melody seems to be a struggle. With that in mind, she quickly realized that strictly holding an occupation as a drummer was not going to get her very far as a songwriter. “You can’t really write songs on the drums,” Cahoone explains. “I needed to find something to get my creativity out.” Her output of creativity was first found on her self-titled debut, an album put out in 2003 that was self-released but distributed through a “special agreement” with Sub Pop. It brought considerable acclaim, enough so that Sub Pop decided to officially sign her shortly afterwards. Now, Only as the Day Is Long is set to be released on March 18th, and she already has a devoted following watching her every step. Considering that this is her first release on a major label in her young but promising solo career, one can only assume that this will be the album that launches her name into a state of respectability. Whether it reaches a large audience or not though, there is no denying the sheer quality of it.

Though Cahoone has come into a style of her own on Only as the Day Is Long, the approach remains in the same realm as her previous work with Carissa’s Wierd. Folk is the most prevalent genre at hand, with glimmerings of country-rock also being enjoyably implemented. As displayed on tracks like “You Might As Well” and the haunting “The Colder the Air”, Cahoone often relies on intricately acoustical arrangements that are backed by a simplistic rhythm section. This has led to a classification by the name of “country-noir”, an appropriate coinage that represents both the bleakness and instrumental despair of her music. The mixture of twangy electric guitars and old-fashioned acoustics bode particularly well on “Runnin’ Your Way”, providing an exceptional stylistic fusion of both folk and country. Also, like many artists signed to Sub Pop, Cahoone has a flair for invigorating choruses. The title track treads for a minute or so in a bare acoustic arrangement, only to be picked up by a grandiose chorus that includes intensified percussion and an additional flurry of acoustic guitars over Cahoone’s exceptionally soaring vocals. “Happy When I’m Gone” also is noteworthy for its commendable usage of bass as a leading melodic instrument, an unconventional element in Cahoone’s genre that she pulls off with surprising ease.

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Sera Cahoone – Only as the Day Is Long

[audio:https://mikemineo.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/scahoone2.jpgtemp/scahoone-onl.mp3%5D

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Sera Cahoone – Runnin’ Your Way

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Sera Cahoone – Happy When I’m Gone

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The Tallest Man On Earth Digs a Shallow Grave

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Towering over the rest of us at a height of 8’6”, Leonid Stadnyk is the tallest living man in the world. It is a record that requires little endurance and skill to achieve, mainly relying on good (or bad) fortune. Still though, one has to respect the tolerance of the record’s holders; they commendably dismiss the nuisance of speculative public eyes watching their every move, demonstrating a form of patience and understanding that most people could not even begin to fathom. I doubt that Mr. Stadnyk would take harm to the name selection (as it actually proves rather complementary), but Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson chose a bold name for his musical project: The Tallest Man On Earth. Considering that Matsson’s height appears to be normal, the name selection more appropriately relates to his intended style. It is often a nuisance whenever a critic calls a new and young artist a “beatnik”, but I suppose that it would be a somewhat suitable classification for Matsson. Despite a fresh and wavering scene that mainly dismisses gritty folk as a component of the past, Matsson has chosen to disregard the skeptics and carry on with a style that suits him the best, similar to the individualistic ideals of his namesake.

If you had read any article concerning Matsson prior to this one, you are probably aware of one comparison that is consistently evident. Dylan-like, Dylan-esque… yeah, you get the drift – Matsson sounds a bit like the folk legend. It seems that the tag has been granted to seemingly every folk songwriter with an acoustic guitar these days, but Matsson actually makes a case for a legit comparison. Playing a varied style of acoustical folk is one thing, but Matsson’s excelled lyrical prowess is where he shines most uniquely. Providing a cohesion of metaphorical imagery and anecdotal musings, Matsson’s emphasis on nature serves as a refreshing change of pace when compared to other, somewhat melodramatic songwriters. Though the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson provided us with a similarly successful literary device for two centuries, the delivery is exceptionally suited for Matsson’s music. Appropriately enough, the talented Swede sounds nothing like the indie-pop the country has been stereotypically churning out enjoyably in massive numbers (which is why it is called a stereotype). In fact, I would have taken him for an American if I had not known prior of his geographical origins. His style of folk takes plenty of dues from rootsy Americana, with his soulful croon embodying the genuine ardency that western folk music has come to be known for.

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Matsson made his debut last year with a 5-song EP. Released on Gravitation Records, it proved promising and brought the Swedish songwriter a variety of online praise. Because of the considerable acclaim it got in indie-folk circles, there was a substantial demand for a full-length shortly afterwards. After nearly a year, the wait is over. Matsson’s debut album, the bleakly titled Shallow Grave, was released on March 5th . Impressively enough, it is an improvement on his EP in its integration of more varied styles into a lyrical delivery that remains just as resoundingly effective. Folk is his primary classification, but Matsson also weaves in elements of finger-picked blues (Piedmont blues) to provide a reminder of artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Curley Weaver. To make the sense of nostalgia even more suitable, Mattson utilizes a form of production that relies on both his raspy vocals and instrumental minimalism. The lo-fi approach is overwhelmingly appealing when applied to Matsson, and it mainly has to due with the fact that his lyrics are constantly invigorating. Considering they play such a large role and are impossible to avoid due to the minimalist style of production, his poetic talent provides a breath of a relief.

The fact that Shallow Grave sounds like it was recorded on a random tape machine is part of its lo-fi charm; it is the same method that made the preceding EP so uniquely enjoyable. I admit that, like Dylan or any artist in a similar vein, not everyone will find themselves growing easily accustomed to Matsson’s vocal style. It has a sense of intimacy to it that usually only songwriters that are old in age and bountiful in experience encompass, being unconventional in the most broadest sense. I personally was enamored with it the first time I heard the opening track on Shallow Grave, the fantastic “I Won’t Be Found”. Rather than simply repeating “carpe diem”, Matsson signifies the importance of treasuring every moment in life, looking upon death as an imminent circumstance that can only be enjoyed if its preceding life was lived to the fullest extent. Over a fastidiously plucked guitar progression, he sings ardently and establishes time as a component that should be treasured. “Well if I ever get to slumber just like I’m old deep in the ground, hell, I won’t be found.”

“Into the Stream” features a more simplistically repetitive progression that is excelled by Matsson’s vocal melody and the slight melodic transitioning that takes place after each verse. This time around, Matsson tackles the obstacles in turning a fantasy into reality. Using natural elements like alternating weather with metaphorical significance, the values of societal perception are also put into question, eventually settling on circumstances that are widely dependent on the individual. The thoughts can generally be pinpointed as examples of transcendentalism, even if Matsson’s skill provides for verbal jousting that is occasionally too vaguely intricate to classify with confidence. If you choose to skip past Matsson’s lyrical talents and go straight toward his instrumental talents, “Pistol Dreams” is a great example of his talents on guitar. As far as recent folk artists go, I have heard very few that compare to Kristian Matsson’s raw skill as a lyricist and songwriter.

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The Tallest Man On Earth – I Won’t Be Found

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/tallman-iwo.mp3%5D

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The Tallest Man On Earth – Into the Stream

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/tallman-int.mp3%5D

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The Tallest Man On Earth – Pistol Dreams

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/tallman-pis.mp3%5D

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Hilotrons Get Happymatic

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In present day, calling a genre “dead” will most often be looked upon as a controversial statement. There are countless numbers of musicians specializing in stylistic revivalism, and I doubt that number is going to change any time soon. Though it is delivered differently than it was some 25 odd years ago, one of the genres that continues to subtly flourish is new wave; it is generally a genre that many have widely assumed to be at its peak in the ’80s. Memorable artists like The Cars and Gary Numan managed to incorporate elements of rock and punk with synth-pop, leading to a style that is most recognizable of the era. When grunge eventually began to dominate the airwaves in the early ’90s, many of these aforementioned acts either broke up (The Cars) or continued on embarrassingly (Duran Duran), timely establishing “’80s music” as merely a nostalgic thing of the past. Over the past decade or so, independent music has grown increasingly acceptant of music styles that remain amiably expressive of past trends. With caps lock set on default, HILOTRONS are enjoyable representative of such retro-minded ideals. With their style encompassing both aspects of ’80s new wave and contemporary indie-rock, they provide for a stimulating example of just how infectious audible nostalgia can be.

It is inarguable that electronic music has come a long way since the early ’80s. With the style being heavily dependent on audio technology, the stylistic growth is not surprising. HILTRONS use several aspects of synth-pop that is admirably futuristic in tone, yet their incorporation of pop and rock stabilizes the genre and keeps it familiarly accessible. Since the five-piece formed in 2002, each album has proven to be a step forward in developmental progression. They currently have two albums available, with the third and newest, Happymatic, set to be released on April 1st. Their self-titled debut was released the same year as their formation in 2002, revealing HILOTRONS’ style to be an appealing form of pop music with elements of new wave and funk thrown in. Proclaiming themselves to be “one of Ottawa’s finest live acts”, the Canadian five-piece demonstrated on their debut that their combo of new wave, synth-pop, and power-pop created a considerably excitable listening experience, whether it was done at a venue or through headphones. Their next album, Bella Simone, proved to be a more ambitious affair. Released in 2006, it offered more complex song structures while still maintaining the accessible infectiousness that made the debut so noteworthy.

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With two albums worth of experience under their belts, HILOTRONS consider Happymatic to be a summation of all the successful aspects of their preceding debut and Bella Simone. Somewhere in between the simplistic catchiness of the debut and the excelled musicianship of Bella Simone, Happymatic excels in being the group’s most matured effort yet. While regaining their trademark ’80s flair, the five-piece also introduces a more rhythmic focus that is comparable to power-pop staples like The Vapors and The dB’s. In general, there is more of an emphasis on guitar-led power-pop and less of a focus on electro-pop when compared to Bella Simone. Personally, I believe that HILOTRONS have finally found their most suitable style after three attempts. While aspects of synth-pop remains prevalent on successful tracks like “Emergency Street” and “Streets of Science”, the brightest spots on Happymatic occur during moments on tracks like “Deep River” and “Big Plans” when a variety of snappy guitar progressions collide cohesively with a slick rhythm section. As the group’s lead songwriter and vocalist, Mike Dubue’s abrupt vocal delivery recalls the likes of Gary Numan and a more optimistic Robert Smith, both fitting deliveries considering HILOTRONS’ intended style.

Though “Deep River” takes about a minute or so to kick into full gear, those who value patience will be rewarded greatly. It initially finds the members shuffling through a straightforward set of concise guitar chords, backed strongly by a fleeting vocal melody. The track’s defining moment comes during the second chorus when the rhythm section increases intensity and a set of sparkling keys emerge as a melodic backbone. Well worth the time, it eventually proves to be one of the impressive songwriting examples I have seen from HILOTRONS. Only “Astroman”, a fantastic track on Bella Simone, proves more enjoyable for me. In terms of sheer catchiness though, “Big Plans” is undoubtedly the most rewarding track on Happymatic. Sure, the style may sound slightly out of place compared to the other tracks on the album, but the eclectic nature toward the end of the album on tracks like the ambitious Morricone-like “Feet First” and the melancholic “I’m a Parade” makes its placement appropriate. Featuring a robust chorus that borders on aspects of ska and dub, it serves as a briefly exciting track that only fault is its short length. However, with the brass-led “Feet First” directly following it, the two overlap together to create over 4 minutes of extreme pleasure. Much of the album is like this as well, with each track flowing together very cohesively despite any stylistic transitions. Whether you are a fan of ’80s new wave or contemporary indie-rock, Happymatic has something for everyone.

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Hilotrons – Deep River

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/htrons-dee.mp3%5D

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Hilotrons – Big Plans

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/htrons-big.mp3%5D

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Hilotrons – Emergency Street

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/htrons-eme.mp3%5D

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