Albums for Evenings on the Porch
Some albums just lend themselves to Summertime listening. The formula is never the same, but, at least for me, a good Summer record is usually mellow, breezy and uplifting. There's a sense of relaxation in an album fit for Summertime evenings; a moody sensibility that just feels like home. I wish I possessed more descriptive language to capture the feelings I get when listening to albums like this. However, any record that's just plain fun, even if it doesn't contain any of the other attributes stated above, can be a good contender. Everybody's playlist will look different. The music that makes up the soundtrack of our lives reflects our individualism, and that's how it should be. So, with that said, I gathered a few new records that have been in heavy rotation at the Mercer household this season. I hope you enjoy them as mush as I have:
Daniel Martin Moore & Joan Shelley, Farthest Field
Aptly titled: Farthest Field sounds like the song you might play in your head while on a sunset hike with your soulmate. It's golden, wispy vocals and gorgeous sonic landscapes literally sound like Summer. Daniel Martin Moore's previous album: In the Cool of the Day (released on Sub Pop) was a grassroots gospel album that became one of our favorites of 2011. He's got this laid-back aesthetic to his voice that's soothing. Perfect for this type of music. Teaming up with Joan Shelley helped shape a wonderful record of soft guitar and piano work encased in colorful voices . Their vocals harmonize beautifully, and any fan of The Staves should check out this album. Admittedly, it can sound a bit monotonous after awhile. There are no grand compositional surprises here; no thumping dubstep remixes or complex change-ups. All you get is the straight musical dope: The light-hearted duet of Moore and Shelley. Even the LP's artwork was seemingly chosen as a means to express a feeling of vastness, the attractive simplicity of wide open spaces; with an image of a bird flying high above one of Mother Nature's plateaus of grass, trees, and a river off in the distance. If you're a fan of Voices on the Verge (), Ryan Adams, Shaun Colvin or the soundtrack to the film Once, I highly recommend checking out Farthest Field. We found it a fantastic compliment to a quiet barbeque on the back porch. Light the candles, sit back, smell the citronella, and enjoy!
Beachwood Sparks, The Tarnished Gold
There's been an explosion of what many refer to as "vintage rock" over the last few years. Some bands are trying to capture the essence of pop music from the sixties and early seventies. Sometimes they approach this from the writing style of the music or with various production techniques, resulting in a sonic signature that's meant to sound aged. Often this intention feels forced, and many bands and albums begin to bleed into one. Fleet Foxes are a fine example (they've since split up) of a vintage sound that appears genuine, authentic. Unfortunately the knee jerk desire to sound hip can often outweigh the natural talent of the musicians and you end up wading through a sea of sameness. Beachwood Sparks were actually doing this long before it became the fashion de jour. The band broke up after their last release Once We Were Trees in 2001. The Tarnished Gold is the result of the bands welcomed return to the studio after a decade of silence. Their newly crafted sound, appearing freshly shaped by the differing lives of it's members. I read somewhere recently about one of them being a milk farmer full-time. This record sounds, at certain points, like my generations Grateful Dead, for lack of a more precise description. I graduated high school in 1994, so I wasn't there for the glory days of the Dead, but I did get to follow them during the Summer before Jerry died! This album occasionally reminds me of Workingman's Dead, both in vibe and song structure. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the sound because I'm coming from a deeply personal place, but I can't just turn that off. If this sounds like something you may enjoy; perhaps you dig Phish and the Dead, or even bands like Fleet Foxes—I think you might like The Tarnished Gold. These guys are arguably one of the first honest retro bands of the new millennium. They were here, releasing and making music long before some of these other vintage bands came along. Do you miss the parking lot parties at Grateful Dead shows as much as I do? Check this LP out.
This record is a different sort of vintage, that of early new wave. The Cure came to mind when I first heard True. I know my comparison may draw venom from new wave devotees, and I count myself among you. Know in advance that I am not saying this group is on the same artistic level! The moment the strings began in "Totally True", the album's opening song I thought of the solemn strings that open The Cure's Disintegration album. It's a dangerous thing when describing a new group: Bringing out a prolific band comparison—as the haters will undoubtedly flock at the mere mention of that. Oh well. Maybe it's that consistent flowing synth vibe that's reminiscent of the Cure's signature sound. Nonetheless, Violens have crafted their own tightly orchestrated, yet fluid pop music. I thought I may have jumped the gun with these comparative thoughts, so I brought the album (uncompressed, via my iPhone) to a gathering at my fearless editors home; Dave and Carol Clark. We were celebrating Peter's birthday, their son. I tossed on the album, knowing Dave and his son have, occasionally, similar tastes to mine, and surprisingly nobody hated it! Every person who commented enjoyed the sound. There were even a few seasoned high end audio veterans there; friends who can be so jaded about music it's near impossible to please them, let alone surprise them. Thankfully they only had positive things to say about True. That's one of the marks, in my opinion, of a solid pop record: Whether it blurs generational boundaries. Overall I've found True to be the surprise hit of our Summer. It's airy and melodic without being too bubble gummish. If the new wave sounds of the eighties struck you (or, even if they didn't) I recommend giving this record a listen. It hasn't left my iPod since I got it months ago—and I'm constantly changing playlists! Even my older sister, who's responsible for turning me onto bands like The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, and Joy Division, enjoyed this album. So get on MOG and give it a listen!