As is the tradition with Bright Eyes, Four Winds is an EP featuring a song from their upcoming full-length, Cassadaga, released a month before the record’s release date, packaged with several B-sides. A teaser EP is a brave release from any band. Considering how few records people buy, asking people to buy a record with only one song that’s going to appear on a soon-to-be-released record is a big request. However, those willing shell out the money for Four Winds should be quite satisfied with their purchase.
Bright Eyes continue inching closer towards a more traditional country sound on Four Winds; though they never quite let themselves get there. The rowdy “Four Winds” starts the EP in this style, though just as it’s about to settle in to a traditional country sound, a discordant fiddle cuts through the mix to knock it off the track. The same can be said for “Reinvent the Wheel”—a fairly straightforward, mid-tempo song, were it not for the swaying, dreamlike passage in the middle of the song.
Conor Oberst’s lyrics have a mystical feeling on Four Winds; more stream of consciousness than anything he’s written before. Though he’s able to keep his songs from going too abstract by sticking to a storytelling style of songwriting, which gives the songs a surreal quality. He’s also finding inspiration from simpler things. “I try to breathe in meaning/dig deep to every gasp of air,” he sings on “Reinvent the Wheel,” which perfectly captures his outlook on Four Winds. This view frames the rest of the songs, especially “Stray Dog Freedom.”
Four Winds also benefits from excellent sequencing. There’s a great ebb and flow to the record. By positioning the two slower songs at the middle and end of the record, it creates the timeless feeling of listening to a record on a turntable.
Bright Eyes also gets a major boost from their friends. M. Ward, Ben Kweller, Eisley, David Rawlings, Maria Taylor, and Janet Weiss of Sleater Kinney all play on Four Winds. With this type of support, it’s hard not to make an excellent record. All things considered, Four Winds impressively embodies the purpose of a teaser EP: its songs are so good that it makes you wonder how great this upcoming record can be if these songs didn’t make it. Well worth the money.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.