Market saturation is a terrible thing. It is the multi-headed harbinger of music’s greatest foes; monotony and sameness. It spews forward in endless amounts, permeating our living rooms, our car stereos and our toned-into-repetition minds with alarming effectiveness, diluting our most wicked of senses. Our fabled music industry has deftly mastered the art of flooding; turning morsels of decent ideas into tsunamis of unexceptional trivia. If these waves were not damaging enough to our fragile landscapes, then the one-hand-in-our-wallets-fake-wink-of-the-eye routine they pull is about as insulting as our often naïve commercial drive to buy into this junk. It is unfortunate, this market saturation thing, because Mando Diao will ultimately suffer from inherent retro-rock backlash. It is an unfair predicament to be in because these fun packed Swedes (yes, Sweden – can’t escape from it can they?) have written a record filled with some of the finest beat influenced rock jangles this side of the 50’s and 60’s.
Bring Em In is sharp musings of said time period, one that merely seems to have been displaced in our chronological continuum. Unlike many of their current counterparts who update bygone sounds with modern narrative, chic jive and pretentious overtones; Mando Diao cavorts in gifted historical association. They are a cosmic rekindling of The Who with graceful sprinklings of bluesy guitars and an uncaring sense of freedom that remains through the eras. It’s the sort of underlying rhythmic sentiment that reflects in the ‘My Generations’ of this world – ultimately unending and timeless.
“Sheepdog” is the frontrunner, equipped with paralyzing percussion punching and the strong pull from the frenzied bass and guitar partnership that only compliments the track’s vocal competence. It evokes the same high-energy as an “I Can’t Explain”, a wide-eyed-grab-you-by-the-throat awakening. It forms an exciting one-two punch with “Sweet Ride”, the album’s ultimate highway hotrod soundtrack; a roaring compositional flurry with just a tad of harmonic love suited best for that blistering open road wind in your hair.
Mando Diao are simply fantastic in these depictions of moments. Take the organ soaked “Mr. Moon” as an example. Its jaded nature and solemn approach is rich in its passing affection, the quiet lonesome spiral caught by the words, “I wanna love you but I’m growing old / Ten little soldiers screaming in my soul / The day is using up its final breath / I’ve never been so sure”. The track is in distinct contrast to “The Band”, a spirited homage to pulsing beat rock; with its organ driven 50’s fueled guitar flustering and wailing vocal harmonies, it screams wild fun-filled nights of letting go.
There is a seamless transition between these more fussy rock anecdotes and those with an abundance more blues and soul. While they certainly do pay tribute, the album comes off not as some hackneyed, indiscernible paean; but each track an accomplishment in its own. “Motown Blood” oozes dirty swamp boogie pizzazz with its funkdooby bass thumping and blues groove, the likes of which B.B King would praise, and it doesn’t feel merely content at being so – influenced, but not dependent.
This seamlessness is quite the strength, you may bounce around from mop-top British rock n’ roll but when you hit the hot heat of America’s south, it’s an incredibly accepting welcome. Perhaps the album’s lone weakness lies in the closing “Lauren’s Cathedral”, the obligatory southern-tinged ballad that feels like the slow setting sun. While certainly less taking than the previous numbers, it manages to crawl into some salvation, a fitting reflective dissolve of sorts.
Oh woe to our music industry for trying to milk too much of a good thing; if it weren’t for the recent deluge of decent to good rock bands that have more than satiated a certain licentious craving for the rock n’ roll zenith, Mando Diao would be on their way to this unsurpassed apex – ultimately sharing the same podium with those sanctified. Nonetheless, those who are unfazed by the wealth of choice will see that Bring Em In is blessed with the same aura of excitement that 1965’s My Generation had, an exhilaration felt while spinning the record for the very first time, an undying importance that no amount of waterlog can sink.
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
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.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
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.