And by “in September” I mean “in the last four days of September because I was behind, epically, on podcasts, all month”, but October was A++ of new listening. Also: full length reviews of Ha Ha Tonka’s Lessons, Two Cow Garage’s The Death of The Self-Preservation Society, and The Julie Ruin’s Run Fast here, and The Head and the Heart’s Let’s Be Still on Speakers.
San Fermin — San Fermin: already documented as one of my favorite sets of Hopscotch, the self-titled debut from Ells Leone-Lewis’s collective is as startling and lovely as their live show was. Complex melodically, musically, and rhythmically, the duelling male / female vocals, the chorus of horns behind them, the shimmering and sad songwriting — it’s all fantastic. This is one of my favorite albums of the year, with the emotional impact of the National and the visceral wail of all my favorite female-fronted punk bands, and I can’t get over how great it is.
Adam Marsland — The Owl & The Full Moon: I can’t be the only music writer who adds things to iTunes and then forgets where she got them from, so you guys will understand that the provenance of this Adam Marsland record is lost to the bowels of my GMail account. What I can tell you, though, is that it’s a well thought modern pop R&B / soul record, with clever lyrics that I might have better expected to be backed by a single acoustic guitar; instead, it’s a chorus of harmonies overlaid by Marsland’s own strong-yet-delicate melody lines, and a wall of piano haze and chimes and touches of guitar that might have come out of Muscle Shoals in the ’70s. Mostly it’s a pop soul record, and it’s lovely for that; when it has its moments of surprise, like at the beginning of “No One’s Ever Gonna Hear This Song”, it’s a wonder.
Jesse Woods — Get Your Burdens Lifted: ghostly, echoing, pedal steel shivered, cowboy country songs. Fascinatingly hook-filled, hand-clappy and foot-stompy, because there’s something deeply, deeply, delicious creepy about this record, too. This record is kind of like that guy that you know is probably going to be really bad for you, but you love him like a crazy person anyway, and he makes you really happy when he’s not doing something totally disturbing. Ache and shiver, hook and holler, the best kind.
Okta Logue — Tales of Transit City: sort of proggy, sort of post-rocky, echoed vocals, piano melody lines, songs about the nature of existence; this is a pretty compelling release that I can’t quite put words to. Defies description, I guess. It’s dream-like and warm and sad, mostly.
The Worthless Son-In-Laws — No. 8 Wire: smart rock and roll with twanged out vocals and the kind of steady drumming and guitar lines that don’t overshadow the lyrics — clever and eagle-eyed with regards to the human condition — but do invoke the current modern age of big Southern rock guitarists, like Jason Isbell.
Belle Adair — The Brave & The Blue: if it comes from Alabama, it gets labeled “Southern indie rock”, but this album, from Muscle Shoals quintet Belle Adair, is so much more complex than that; it’s blinding like the glare on a country road when the asphalt gets too hot and the sun is too bright and you’re driving barefoot with the breeze on your face, and it’s quiet like the North Carolina country nighttime sky. It’s echoes of guitar distortion and acoustic melodies and sharp harmonies. It’s a rumble of a thunderstorm and that golden light that happens only in the South when the sun breaks dark clouds. It’s pretty fucking stellar, and unlike anything else you’ll hear this year, and that’s why we shouldn’t call all music from one state by any kind of genre, other than “music made by a band that happens to, at this time, reside in Alabama”. Because The Brave & the Blue is way, way more than that.