Urban based music is often similar to the structures that reside within its boundaries; crass, monolithic and mechanized to extents. No matter its outlet, be it hip hop, rock, punk, metal; its base expression rests on tales of disillusion, apathy, violence, drugs and other vices analogous to the lives entangled in concrete, steel and stone. We however, do take a liking to this form of negative influence – torrid anecdotes of sin and booze make for good song material; as do street thuggery and voices of upheaval and rebellion. Although such substance plays well to our most human of temptations, it is perhaps those who overcome these tragic follies and in their own creative, socially conscious ways influence others to do the same that has intrigued us the most.
It is a far cry from their rural counterparts. Who in their tranquil locale, often evade the same topical prose that seemingly becomes the norm for street-wise musicians. Surrounded by aging vistas, endless prairie lands and the frolicking wild, they tend to envision Earth’s unruffled surface in their manipulation of music. Those restful trees and soulful hills have plenty to say, but they speak of reflections, longings and love’s narratives in what is often far more simplistic and rustic. Key toned guitars are often unaccompanied, unhurried – coupling the lasting echo of music’s cowboys and lone heroes. Teitur is such a figure; hailing from the Faroe Islands, his craftful guise of guitar strung musings into one’s heart is likely to paint pictures of this apparent solemnity, one as graceful as its greenery visage and insightful meandering.
While graciously pop, the melodic undertones of the opening “Sleeping With the Lights On” is as far into accessible as Teitur will venture. Buoyed by rhythmic arrangements and its sensitively coy pop bass lounging, it distinctly reminds ears of Sting’s chic nature. Strengthen by Teitur’s deep vocal quality; its passable appearance is smartly kept in check by its unrepeated impression, avoiding the moment it passes from good natured to average.
His calm insightfulness is at a visible peak in “I Was Just Thinking”, a beautifully donned stringed whisper that best reflects this sense of solemn ground. Nimble and perfectly pastoral, it is the thoughtful disposition of that lone musician; resting in an aura of lovelorn contemplation, “I was just thinking / that I have been missing you for way too long / There’s something inside this weary head that wants us to love”, before resting in aching desire, “I’m tired of calling you / missing you / dreaming I’ve slept with you”. The track is wonderful in its ‘castle-in-the-sky-like’ daydream, blessed by its comforting ambience and quiet rustling.
Most of Teitur’s lyrical themes rest on wayward romances and all that equates to the matters of the heart; just take a gander at some of his chosen song titles: “Josephine”, “One and Only” and “Amanda’s Dream” – but as you tag along with the soft folk string-along of “Josephine”, with its culled words, “My sweet Josephine / Are you still racing stray dogs across the old stream? / My neighborhood queen”, it is clear that HIS heart is capable of delivering these recollections in a proficient manner. And like the no-frills balladry of “One and Only”, or the keyed escapism of “To Meet You”, his ability to move is as competent as his sharp contemplative charm.
Another rewarding aspect of Poetry & Aeroplanes is its uncluttered approach. Teitur seems content at simply being who he is; a talented, self-sufficient good guy who revels not in tattered grounds of overzealous experimentation and bizarre directions. His gifted scheming of what many say are the most romantic of instruments (the timeless strings of a guitar and the majestic ivory of a piano), are indicative of his spiritual and vastly grassland understanding. It is ideal in a time of stone, that the most pertinent of musicians paint pictures of well-being; a statement affirming that while many revel in the confines of concrete disillusion, there are those lone few who sleep in peaceful meadows.
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.