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Last Days of April – Ascend to the Stars

It may be the nostalgia that Last Days of April is trying to strum away, but I can’t help myself from floating on that California sunset in the middle of spring.

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I’ve only heard one song by Last Days of April before listening to this album. That one song used to be the staple of my sister’s life. I would hear it everywhere. Now with their new album Ascend to the Stars, I can enjoy my sister basing her life around a whole album instead of just “Will the Violins be Playing?” With my only background knowledge of that one song, Ascend to the Stars is very much like their sound. A summertime favorite that makes you think of California coasts and sunsets. Last Days of April has developed from their melancholy tunes to an optimistic point of writing music. I’m not saying that they completely left their old sound behind, but transformed the gloomy “I watch the pouring rain” sound to an “anyone up for some sand and surf?”

Every time I listen to the song “When I’m Gone, Will You?” I find myself imagining some love scene in a movie. A slow strum of a chord starts the song with a slow beat of the drum. A few soft melodies from a piano give a good intro for the lyrics. It gives me those butterflies in my stomach just trying to fathom the situation the songwriter, Karl Larsson, must be going through. As the song heads into the chorus, it’s almost like a schedule of things to be done within the week is sung out; “Monday. Stay indoors. Tuesday. Wish you’d call. Wednesday. I’ll be fine without you. Thursday. I would call and on Friday. Regret it all. Sunday. Saturday’s a blackout.” Lyrics like these sound the steps to take when getting over an old boyfriend or a girlfriend. Either way, there is some constant sadness in the slow pace of the song as well as Larsson’s lethargic voice.

Then there is always the break from the sadness and into the happiness. A song like “All Will Break” captivates the less miserable side of Last Days of April. This is the hit song off of the album. You might think that after something so gloomy a musical head-bobber cannot appear, but they pull it off well. If listening closely, there is the hint of xylophone in the background of the mildly heavy guitar. Once again Larsson has more sadness than a chick flick sound in his voice, but when the chorus breaks out there’s a side of him that is revealed. It is like listening to two halves of the same man. It starts off with a little shy and quiet voice, something like “Dr. Jekyll.” Then the chorus comes out and his “Mr. Hyde” appears straining his voice for everyone to hear “all this time / I’ve spent time on spending time with you / I’ve spent time on being bound for you / I was there for you,” angry lyrics for a very somber man.

Before writing this review, I listened to the album one last time to see if I could find anything else I would like to recognize. While listening to the second song “Piano,” I realized a similarity to their other song “Will the Violins be Playing?” It hit me with a little taste of nostalgia. I wouldn’t be surprised if I start hearing this song every time I pass my little sister’s room, and in my car, and on the subway. It may be the nostalgia that Last Days of April is trying to strum away, but I can’t help myself from floating on that California sunset in the middle of spring.

(crank! A Record Company)

Reviews

Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Reviews

Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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