Review: Mumford and Sons – Delta

I thought Marcus Mumford was done. With the release of Wilder Mind in 2015, the band went in a direction that wasn’t overly popular with either their fans or, seemingly, the band itself. They barely toured the album, only playing festivals and small shows. I personally ended up loving the album, but I will admit I was leery at first. I had heard that they had put down their banjos and I wasn’t really ready for the end of the original Mumford incarnation. With their new release Delta, though, the band has shown that electric guitars and banjos can live together in harmony.

You can buy or stream Delta on Apple Music.

This fourth album is everything we loved about Mumford’s first two albums and the things we admired from their third. It’s still a totally different direction for the band, but in the way that you still have to go through some of the same routes to get back home after a cross-country road trip. Some of it is familiar, and some of it takes advantage of the new scenery and stops at the roadside attractions.

Delta is a geographical term for where a river and a larger, slower-moving body of water meet. This is a very fitting title for the album because thematically it deals with all of the major changes life can hold. There’s a song about death (“Beloved”), a song about divorce (“If I Say”), and a couple of songs about being happily in love (“Woman” is one of them).

Musically, the album is a perfect mix of their past works with some surprises thrown in. Marcus seems to sing at a higher register than he has previously; it adds a new dimension to the way this album feels as compared to their others. “Woman” features some synth-y backgrounds, akin to Judah and the Lion and Ed Sheeran, and it’s also my favorite track. There’s a heavy use of strings throughout the album, which provides a larger than life vibe. Mumford and Sons placed a high priority on uniqueness with this album, and it shows. “Beloved” featured what I’m pretty sure is a sitar, which is super fun and not widely used in American/European music. It also kind of ties in the concept of a delta: two different things meeting and becoming intertwined.

The first track, “42” is four minutes long, but I think of it more of an intro piece than really a track on its own because it ties so many of the album’s themes together. The next track, “Guiding Light”, was the first of two singles, the other being “If I Say”.

From a lyrical standpoint, this is easily the most personal release we’ve received from Mumford and Sons. Marcus sings about things that have happened in his life, in the other band members’ lives, and even about stories they’ve heard from people they’ve met. It’s accessible in a way that Mumford hasn’t really been known for, especially as a folk band. “Beloved,” in particular, speaks about death and ends with these lines: “And as you leave / See my children playing at your feet”. It’s a testament to both the innocence of childhood and also the legacy a family matriarch or patriarch leaves behind.

Their past albums use a lot of literary references, specifically Sigh No More, which alluded to (among others) “The Odyssey”, Shakespeare’s plays, and even “The Wizard of Oz”. In Delta, though, these are missing, except for the track “Darkness Visible” which is a passage from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. I did miss those small touches, because I enjoy doing deep dives into lyrics so much, but I suppose the layers of personal details the band has substituted are equally as interesting, and also it’s not my album so I really have no say here.

This album is full of heart and soul. Mumford and Sons brings you into their experiences more than they ever have before. It’s great to see a band become so comfortable in both where they are in their lives and in their sound. Delta is a great example of how we can walk away from the things we’ve known, but then turn back around. We learn things when we step outside of our comfort zone, but in the end, there’s no place like home…or a banjo.

4/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Review: Jake Bugg – On My One

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Jake Bugg has been a growing name in the musical world for quite some time. He grabbed the mainstream’s attention for writing aggressive, modernized folk with the fierce and biting lyricism of early Oasis. When his second LP, Shangri-La released, his shift to a full band delving deep into Brit pop was a welcome change that still managed to highlight his songwriting in the best ways.

On My One then, is a complicated matter. It is a hybrid that gives a grounded focus to Bugg’s signature acoustic ballads while throwing in some rock songs to give a taste for both worlds. However, what should be a well-rounded sound instead feels disjointed and crammed with several ‘filler’ tracks to justify the release as an LP.

All things considered, Bugg’s sound is remarkably similar to what gave him a rise to fame to begin with. His voice fits the sound with a youthful arrogance that occasionally hits the bleating notes of a young Bob Dylan. The acoustic tracks are a strong mix of crooning ballads and strong pop sensibilities. What falls flat are the electric tracks. Rather than transitioning his sound through an electric guitar, he takes the opportunity to experiment with genre and electronics. While I am never opposed to artists taking chances, it does not pan out for On My One.

Where the acoustic songs shine in atmosphere and story and emphasize the loneliness felt in the album’s name (“Love, Hope, and Misery”), the electric tracks devolve into wanna-be dance songs with repetitive lyrics that feel alien to anything in Bugg’s discography.

“One My One” is a dark, bluesy opener that aims to set the tone, describing being on the road touring for three years as an artist and feeling stripped of a sense of home, much less an abandonment by God. It feels like a thesis statement and carves a deep wound immediately.

The very next song, “Gimme the Love” barges in with a disco-esque beat and guitars ripping at the dance floor. Jake sings, “Better put your sticker on cause you gonna break / Late nights make you walk sideways / And now we’re gonna party my way / It’s only gonna be the same” before shouting “Just gimme the Love” eight times in a row per chorus. In a way, it removes most everything that made me pay attention to Jake Bugg in the first place, and replaces it with what feels like an above-average song that would play in the background of a dance club.

Immediately following that, is “Love, Hope, and Misery”, a song among the best of Jake Bugg’s career. An acoustic ballad highlighted with doo-wop guitar strains, brass instruments and swelling violins, the song is emotional and marks a return to the loneliness of the album title. Bugg’s voice carried the weight of frustrated sincerity as he sings, “They say it comes in threes; love hope and misery / And the first two have gone and tell me if I’m wrong / I hope that I am and you don’t hate me / Don’t be mad, I’m just a man / And I know, and I know, and I know, and I know, and I know, and I know that you must hate me”.

“Livin’ Up Country” is an experiment that pays off. It is a country-styled song that seemingly appears in the middle of the album, much in the same way Ace Enders would plant one in the midst of The Early November’s albums. It gives a different mood than the rest of the record, while pulling off the idea of being hopeful while stumbling through a series of failures. “And if I could understand, my body would get some rest at last / Would I fight back to take a stand?/ I’d never look back, never have to look out for the man”.

But for all of the hits, it is the misses that ruin the mood. “Ain’t No Rhyme” is a paltry attempt at a Beastie Boys-esque rap song that would have felt cheesy in 1991. It could be a matter of taste, but with it’s lame drum beat and cheap guitar riffs, the track feels like the epitome of ‘filler.’

Jake Bugg is an incredibly talented musician. He’s one of the under-headliners for Riot Fest, marked on the same line as established bands like the Deftones, Bad Religion and Underoath as a draw. On My One is an album that all bands make, a foray into experimentation and tweaking sound to ensure that they don’t write the same songs year after year. However, the trials here seem forced, wedged between great songs like a bad game of Marco Polo. Not that most of them are even bad songs, it seems like there would have been a better way to implement them into the record. While there is much to like about On My One, it is a divisive hodge-podge from a musician who has shown several times that he is capable of so much more.

3/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and will be seeing Mr. Bugg at Riot Fest. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for that for almost three years now. 😀

Reflecting On: Daphne Loves Derby – On the Strength of All Convinced

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

Daphne Loves Derby was a band that I still find hard to describe. Calling them an indie band is a disservice; the intricate weaving of pop melody, harmony, deep echoing ballads and the croon of Kenny Choi’s delicate voice holding it all together always meant so much more.

On the Strength of All Convinced was a beast; the likes of which I had never known before. The production was just sharp enough to sound as though the band was playing live and the descriptive lyrics had the acute details of poetry. It wasn’t enough to just hear the songs, the hooks and the melody – you could actually see it. Ten years later, not only am I waiting for anything to come along even remotely similar, I’m waiting to just hear anything at all from Kenny Choi.

By the time On the Stregnth of All Convinced came out, DLD was already fairly well known as the first band to hit a million plays on Pure Volume. I happened to find them by accident: their album cover caught my eye in a record store and followed me wherever I walked until I picked it up. It’s the first album cover I can think of that, in retrospect, perfectly describes the record.

The light colors of Easter green slowly fading into an even lighter blue, like an aquatic sunset hid behind the image of a lighthouse hanging off the edge of the planet itself, is such a simple symbol for the theme of the album. Also, the flying whale skeletons help, too.

Thematically, the album is fairly simple when given a broad sense – wanting to see everything the Earth has to offer, but being too small to ever find it all. But the dream is alive and almost physical through lyricism that describes surreal settings (“You Versus the Sea”) and manifestations of emotion (“Sundays”) that most bands glaze over with sappy anti-love songs.

Musically, the diversity between songs is something that few bands would attempt, especially on their debut. When comparing the raging pop and stacked harmonies of “Hammers and Hearts” to the tender snare drum and hauntingly soft guitar of “You Versus the Sea”, or the lounge jazz pop of “Middle Middle” with the charmingly minimalistic cymbal taps and falling keyboard of “Debussie”, each song is a world apart. Everything from pop to jazz to folk flow together so sweetly and naturally that Daphne Loves Derby seem like a band that have been at this for decades, rather than the young upstarts that they were.

For everything the music is, though, it is Kenny Choi’s vocals and lyrics that really tie the whole experience together. His croon is nearly Sinatra-esque in nature, but manages to rise to proper singing or swallow itself into a tight whisper that dares you to listen closer. It’s an odd mixture of simplistic and elegant vocal range.

On the Strength of All Convinced is a totem of emo and poetic visuals. For each raw tug at the heart strings, such as “Birthday Gallery” (“I’ve been worn away by birthday memories and galleries / Of pictures in my head of you when I’m away / I’d do anything to keep this fear from flowing through my veins, oh / I’d stay awake and fret just for you”.), there is a highly detailed description of grandeur, such as “Pollen and Salt” (“I have been holding my breath, for too many nights in a row / And somewhere on coastlines unknown to me / You paint your dreams, with reds and blues and greens / Yeah you’re painting daffodils by the sea, without me”.)

The idea behind the theme of the album is still something that I fall in love with at each listen: The world may be far too big of a place to see everything it has to offer, but love will always fill the distance. Travel and coastlines play a part with centering the imagery, such as “A Year On An Airplane” as Choi sings, “I crossed some standard state lines and finally found myself so far away from home / And even though New England intrigued us, thrilled us, our bones were cold as sticks and stones / We flew over the cascades / Just to find ourselves in storms we’ve never known”.

Not everything is grand though, like any journey there are moments of darkness, such as “You Versus the Sea”. Choi describes a girl who has struggled with hardship for years, and the dream he has of her standing in the sea, walking further and further into the waves. “Was it hope that kept you alive through the years and / Should I even call it living?”

However, perhaps one of the greatest songs the band has written, is also their most simple. It’s just the rhythmic tapping of cymbals and the soft exploration of a keyboard in “Debussie”. It’s one of the softest songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the shortest, but it’s the lynchpin for the entire album. Everything before it danced a fine line between darkness and dreamlike wonderment, but “Debussie” puts perspective on the fact that the world is too vast, too large to fully comprehend the darkness, but the holes left by it, when filled with love, completes everything.

“Will my life be long enough to see the things I want to see? / I believe this world is just too big for me / This life is just a blink of an eye, a glimpse into a world we were never meant to see / So don’t hang on to anything at all / And all the things we have and all the people we have known / Will fade away so quickly into the deep / And memories of love will be the only warmth we have in the end”.

Capping off the album is a warm pop song “What We Have Been Waiting For”, welcoming the summer and saying goodbye to winter. It’s also a wish to relive and fix the days spent obsessing over the vastness and loss with the new perspective given by “Debussie”. Much like the warm green melts away the blue on the album cover, the new found positive attitude washes away the darkness, doubt and fear of not experiencing everything, as Choi pleas to the summer sun, “Save me from the worst I’ve known and let me relive the days I’ve blown away / Remember all the times we’ve wasted, drowning ourselves from foolish dreams / We were betrayed by our own hope, but the summer will be a sweet revenge”.

I may be reading way too much into this album, but it has never gotten old to me. It was pivotal, even as a symbol, of keeping my head above water during the darkest year of my life and not letting depression completely take me. Sitting alone in my car at 2 in the morning, this album would spin until the final note of “What We Have Been Waiting For” and always make me ready to face the next day with a positive attitude.

Daphne Loves Derby have long since disappeared (though you can still hear the magnificent guitarist Jason Call), but the message and passion of their work still lives on, as strong as ever. It’s hard to find an album whose theme and message don’t age, but when you do, it latches onto you for a lifetime. It’s the strength to keep you wanting to see everything there is.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and didn’t buy the purple DLD Zebra wearing sunglasses shirt when he saw them live years ago. Why wouldn’t you get it? They’re gone now, stupid.

Review: Jason Call – Mariner

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It’s safe to say that I’ve waited eight years for this. Daphne Loves Derby has been one of my favorite bands for many years, but after their last release in 2007, the members have been relatively quiet as they moved on to different lives, putting music to the side with the odd release here and there. A week ago, Jason Call, DLD’s primary bassist, discreetly released his sophomore solo album. Admittedly, I haven’t kept up with much of Call’s other side projects since his original solo album six years ago, but Mariner reminded me of just how much I’ve missed.

Call’s original solo album was satisfying, but it felt incomplete and lonely. Mariner is a full album that ebbs and flows over a sense of dreamlike self-discovery in crashing waves of positive energy. Many of the songs were written after Call left the touring music industry and traveled to Peru for two years, and the theme of journeying and the accompanying wonderment permeate the album. The concept is defined in the title track, which contains a single lyrical line to guide the way; “There is a point late in the night / Where I just can’t help but think / How can I brave such ghostly seas / With just stars to guide the way”?

For me, the record balances on a nostalgic style that feels like it fell out of 2006, a personal loving quirk I have for DLD that has felt absent from music for several years. There is a craftsmanship to Mariner to help it feel like a labor of love. Tinges of amateurism brush over the production that allows each instrument to stand out perfectly when its time arrives. Call has added enough new elements to his music to peek into variant genres like chiptune and dizzyingly wonderful percussion.

Mariner is incredibly uplifting in a religious sense that shines a light on love, friendship and finding your place within the universe as a whole. It’s hard not to become wrapped up in the positivity that radiates from each lyric and the upbeat melodies. The second song, “Avion”, helps establish the concept as Call sings, “I’ve been blessed / And given much / I cannot bear to hide this love”.

There is a familiarity to Mariner that fans of DLD will recognize (“Say Hello!”, “The Love We Lost”) and Call’s vocals trace a safe croon that works well with the music, without standing out on their own. But there isn’t a need to shred the vocal scales with music as peaceful as “Terremoto”. The new version of “Kent Loves Gig Harbor” is refreshing to hear after being a popular DLD song for ten years as a b-side.

Lyrically, the album stands out as a shining star of positivity and peace. The place from which Call wrote about seems to be such a high that I honestly envy the well from which he pulled. “Starting Over New” is a song late in the album that justifies the journey throughout the record as Call sings, “Because now I see the truth the world has construed / I’m so tired of the selfish things I’ve put before you / Well, I’m ready to forget myself / It seems so hard but I know you’ll help”.

Mariner is what I’ve waited so long to hear to patch the hole in my heart where Daphne Loves Derby has always sat. The soothing tones play familiar homage to a band Call helped define while pushing his style of songwriting in new directions. The message can hit you in many different ways, but it’s clear that Jason Call has found his place within the universe and hopes that you can too.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and honestly didn’t know Jason Call still wrote music. He’s so happy that he does.

Review: The Dead Armadillos – The Dead Armadillos EP

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The Dead Armadillos are the type of band you always wished you and your friends would be; authentic, relaxed and writing about what you love. There are few folk-alternative bands out there that don’t feel forced, and even fewer that make me want to visit the band’s native Oklahoma to see what it was that inspired this EP.

The Dead Armadillos EP is something that feels familiar and comforting while maintaining a sense of identity. There is a loving mixture of Death Cab For Cutie and The Early November circa The Mother, The Mechanic, and the Path (mostly The Mother). The sound is recognizable, but it still feels distinctive from most anything else out there.

One of the most redemptive qualities is that each instrument is given its due. The bass isn’t under-produced, the vocals aren’t hidden beneath layers of music, and the guitars aren’t the focal point of the EP. Mark Hine’s drumming thunders through on “The Only Thing” and leads the band before knowing when to settle and provide only a ghost of strength during the EP’s slower moments.

Travis Lyon’s bass is a highlight as it bounces the album along at a crisp pace, even as the guitars take their time. As such, Lyon never stagnates too much on a single chord progression and provides a strong melody to boost the song. There is a slight tint of Chicago’s Lucky Boys Confusion and The Insecurities to the melodic structure that makes the songs sound local and birthed next door.

As lead guitarist, Bert Hughlett knows when to steal the show and when to lay in wait. The music itself seems to flow smoothly until Hughlett jumps to add a bluesy burst of energy before hiding again for the next opportunity (“I Can Change Your Life”). Nick Lyon, the group’s vocalist, guitarist and resident harmonica player avoids being drowned out by the music and finds the exact spots where he can pull to the forefront. While his guitar might be a bit stifled by Hughlett, the harmonica and vocals take center stage when the chance calls for it.

Lyon’s vocals are deep for a folk inspired group, but he manages to keep the lyrics on task. He also has a knack for bursting out harmonica solos that sounds absolutely necessary to each song. The only downside to his vocals is that they sound a bit monochromatic after a while, but this band is focused on the power of the vocals as opposed tracing as many notes on the scales as possible.

Lyrically, the EP focuses on relatable and down to earth tones that base themselves in Oklahoma. “Boston” is a prime example, as Lyon sings, “I know that I’ve got to leave / But I don’t want to go / Boston, I miss you / But Oklahoma, I’m heading home”. The country influences are few but strong; it is Oklahoma after all. “My Hometown” has Lyon singing about the double standard of remembering where you grew up – a mixture of wanting to leave and wondering how anyone could ever want to. “Everyone drives the roads / That seem to lead to nowhere / They follow everyone / In hopes they’ll lead out of here / In my hometown, my hometown / If you find the road in / You’ll have trouble leaving”.

The Dead Armadillos are a hypnotic mixture of country influence, blues, folk and rock. That’s not to pin anything against them; they’re not afraid to test the bounds of genre and blend a healthy mix of sounds together to create what they want. Each song feels home-grown, down to Earth and fleshed out. Unlike many bands’ initial EPs, The Dead Armadillos know who they are and aren’t trying to feign genre and inspiration to impress. The biggest gripe about this EP is that I am so curious about what their first LP will entail that The Dead Armadillos EP feels like a tease.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and actually put Oklahoma on the map of places to visit because of this EP. Although to be fair, he’s easily influenced and susceptible to propaganda. PROPAGANDA!

Review: The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

the_decemberistsGreatest hits albums always sound jumbled, juxtaposing tracks written at different points in an artist’s evolution, different eras in music, and different stages of life. The Decemberists’ newest release—What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World—is not a greatest hits album, but it has the same mishmash vibe. The Portland, Oregon, folk-rock quintet retains its musical versatility and commitment to saving the dictionary industry. But this time, they seem compelled to prove they’re doing it for themselves.

In the first track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, frontman Colin Meloy pines about the danger of selling out for fame. Its narrator, a singer in a boy band, admits, “We know we belong to ya / We know you built your life around us, and would we change? We had to change some”. The track evolves from a light acoustic number to a rock ballad with angry distortion, then adds a pseudo-Sgt. Peppers string arrangement. “The Singer” is the band’s disclaimer. It warns fans who jumped aboard after The King Is Dead, their folksy 2011 triumph, that they will keep making music they like, whether fans do or not.

Fear not: The album does have folk. And like all folk songs, “Till The Water’s All Long Gone”, “Carolina Low”, and “Better Not Wake the Baby” talk about sad people in sad situations. The saddest song, however, is the acoustic “12/17/12”—a reflection on the tragic Sandy Hook shootings. At that time, Meloy had a son in first-grade and another on the way. In the song, he questions how he could be so happy while others mourn. His conclusion is inconclusive: “Oh my God, what a world you have made here—what a beautiful world, what a terrible world”. Stripped of persona and gimmick, “12/17/12” is a rare, poignant glimpse into Meloy’s life.

The following and final track, “A Beginning Song”, carries a message of hope. The song’s give-peace-a-chance-style lyrics ask, “I am waiting, should I be waiting?” Unlike “12/17/12” it’s difficult to accept the song’s sincerity. The sudden didacticism feels out of place, and adds to the album’s “greatest hits” hodgepodge vibe.

There are a few retro tunes, such as the surf-rock “Easy Come, Easy Go” and a 60s pop piece, “The Cavalry Captain”, which is a sort of Tennyson-Tom Jones bastard child. And then there’s “Philomena”. Meloy has called this one “the dirtiest Decemberists song ever written.” The salacious song about sexual awakening mixes music from a 1950s soda fountain with lyrics from a biker bar. Its schoolboy narrator wishes Philomena would “open up her linen lap and let [him] go down”, promising he’d be her “lashing loop of a leatherette”. (I feel a swoon coming on.) The backing female vocals repeat, “Ooh Ahh”, adding to the song’s novelty and sleaziness.

The songs with staying power start with radio-ready “Make You Better”. If The Decemberists ever release a greatest hits album, “Make You Better” will certainly make it. The jarring guitar intro with Meloy’s enunciative vocals kick off this track about waning love. “But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore”, Meloy sings, “like the perfect paramour you were in your letters”. It questions how you retain individuality when, years into a relationship, so much of you is tied to another person with lines like, “All I wanted was a sliver to call mine / All I wanted was a shimmer of your shine, to make me bright”.

The song is so great that the band had to prove they don’t care with an ironic music video. The video is set in Berlin in 1970 and features comedian Nick Offerman with a German accent. You’d think they hired Jan Terri’s director, with worse results.

“Make You Better” isn’t the only standout. Another is “Lake Song”, a mellow reminiscence about being a teenage outsider who’s “17 and terminally fey”. The upright bass, piano improvisation, and syncopated strumming give this song a jazzy feel. Super-listenable “The Wrong Year” should be the next single and the soundtrack to every road trip. Chris Funk’s guitar riff repeats so many times, without sounding overused. “Anti-Summersong” presents Portland in summer. It also shows the band trying to downplay its past, labeling “Summersong” (from 2006 release The Crane Wife) “another suicide singalong song.”

Still, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is worth the listen. It probably won’t bring any new fans into the fold, but won’t force longtime fans to leave either. The album’s odd variety shows that The Decemberists are fighting for autonomy; they’re struggling desperately not to be pigeonholed, even though no one is trying to do so.

3/5

by James Figy

james_figyJames Figy has two cats, two rabbits, a coffee dependency, an amateurish collection of Duke Ellington LPs, and a degree in creative writing from the University of Indianapolis. His creative work has appeared in The Flying Island, Punchnel’s, and UIndy’s literary journal, Etchings.

Review: Merriment – Sway

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Being the youngest in the family can be a real downer. Rarely getting to take part in games with the older siblings, being perpetually confined to the backseat, having to fight for attention. In the case of the youngest DuPree siblings, Christie and Collin, the age gap resulted in living in the shadow of indie pop act Eisley, featuring sisters Sherri, Stacy and Chauntelle and brother Weston.

No longer must they wait their turn. The Tyler, Texas, brother-sister duo, better known as Merriment, began touring in 2012 before releasing the Through the Rough EP that same year. They have since signed with Equal Vision imprint Rory Records and have released one of the most remarkable debut albums of the year in the form of Sway.

You wouldn’t have been remiss to think of Merriment as a sort of Eisley Jr. in their earlier form. Christie’s vocals share a familiarity with her sisters’ and her dream-like songwriting over the top of the duo’s stripped-down acoustic sound lent itself well to comparisons. With Sway, the band hasn’t been completely reborn from their roots, but they’ve certainly distanced themselves far enough to be considered much more than a carbon copy.

Indeed, Sway leans much more in the direction of indie-folk and even alt-country than it does indie pop or rock. The duo’s songwriting has grown bounds since Through the Rough and their melodies now shine brightly.

While the album’s first two tracks, “Take Heart” and “Tremendous Love” wouldn’t feel too out of place on Eisley’s 2013 release Currents, the real progression begins with “Somehow”. The song holds a distinct country twang that surprisingly fits the band quite well – Christie’s vocals swoop up and down over the strum of her guitar as she prepares the listener for her story with the line, “I would tell you but I don’t think / You wanna hear these words I’m ‘bout to sing”.

Along with the sonic shift, much of the album’s content takes a turn for the personal, with Christie sharing stories that hint at youthful pain, confusion and hope. Even the mysterious lyrics of album standout “Backwards” seem to point at something deeper, especially with the line “Take it from someone who sees both sides of the story”. The track’s infectious chorus is driven forward by appropriately controlled percussion, showing its hand as a folk song while remaining covertly pop.

It’s these sorts of transitions and meshings of genre that keep the listener maddeningly engaged. “Patterns” once again displays the band’s poppier side with a cute, catchy chorus that finds Christie emulating the vocal stylings of elder sister Stacy, while “Right Again” swings the band back in a slower, folkier direction with the sounds of a plucking banjo. Album closer “Unhinged” utilizes a string arrangement to push the song to a crescendo.

In truth, Sway is all about motion, whether it be in terms of the figurative heart or in reference to the band’s shifting musical stylings. If this collection of songs seems at all scattered, chalk it up to experimentation from a young duo with a whole lot of talent at their disposal. One could hope that the band bends in the direction of their country/folk sound in future releases, but to nitpick at the details would be to ignore the promise and downright infectiousness of this fresh debut.

Merriment are no longer the cute little siblings of the Eisley circle. With Sway, they have established themselves as their own separate and unique entity – one that is sure to improve and grow even more in the years to come. For now, Sway is an astounding starting point.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Billie Joe + Norah – Foreverly

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Billie Joe Armstrong is a divisive name in the punk scene. Either he’s recognized as a punk rock legend for some of the most epic songs and records in the genre, or as an annoying sellout. Norah Jones is an indie princess who has spent the last decade forging a name for herself through bluesy inspired folk pop. Admittedly, I don’t know that much about her music, but I hear that she is just swell.

Although Billie Joe isn’t known for his quieter side, the collaboration with Jones, effectively called Billie Joe + Norah, is a beautiful pairing between two renowned artists that pushes both into unfamiliar territory. The fact that this is a cover album of The Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us might throw some people off, but the record is a rare chance to see new aspects of musicians exploring outside of their genres, especially for Billie Joe, in ways that we’ve never known them.

Songs Our Daddy Taught Us
was originally released in 1958 by The Everly Brothers, a rock and roll duo in the days of the still newborn genre. The release is a collection of traditional songs that the duo learned as children. Billie Joe + Norah’s take on the album is a tribute to the original material more than it is a reimagining or reinterpretation. The duo play it very close to the vest on the record, so much so that at first glance, you wouldn’t know that it isn’t The Everly Brothers singing. However, the biggest tell is the full backing on the CD, as opposed to the original’s guitar and singing only.

What Billie Joe + Norah manage to capture almost perfectly is the beautiful harmonies that both sing together, which is partially what The Everly Brothers are known for. However, the downside to how well they match the original brothers is that they don’t try anything new to expand on it. This style of music is a refreshing sound that just isn’t practiced anymore, and seeing the duo releasing Foreverly as a tribute is a welcome surprise that tosses a wrench into the scene. One of the best parts of the album is how basic everything sounds, as the music sits in the background while the duo’s crooning singing dominates each song.

Lead single “Long Time Gone” is a faithful rendition of the original, complete with the twang of country-inspired guitar. Without an intricate and heavy musical style, the song uses the music to push the lyrics front and center as Billie and Norah croon together. “Oh So Many Years” is much in the same vein, a pop guitar song with the simplest drum beat and piano hidden behind acoustic guitars. Like any good folk song, it lyrically tells a story rather than rely on hooks to catch the listener. This track is easily the poppiest on the record and includes an electric guitar solo midway through. The album can feel monotonous at times, but the simplicity to the songs is one of their most endearing aspects.

Billie Joe + Norah’s debut album is a throwback to the older genre of rock and country that is as refreshing in this day and age as it is a uniquely made tribute album. While it is sure to introduce a new generation to past legends that they may not have otherwise listened to, the album can be so similar to the source material that it’s almost redundant.

While faithful covers are always welcome, some reimagined songs that really showcased the musical talents of both Billie Joe and Norah’s take on the songs would have been an incredible addition. That being said, the album is surprisingly refreshing in a scene that is starving for creativity and hopefully the start of more collaborations between the duo revisiting classic albums to introduce them to a new generation.

3/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.