Ukelele Anthems For Two (Vance Joy, Nation of Two review)

Not every album needs to be a chest bumper or a call to arms. Sometimes it’s nice for music to be nice, and reflective. A thread between two hearts, for starters.

 

Vance Joy – Nation of Two

released February 23, 2018
******* 7/10

Vance Gabriel Keogh, better known by his stage name, Vance Joy, is an Australian singer and songwriter. He signed a five-album deal with Atlantic records back in 2013, and shortly thereafter, released his instant success, Dream Your Life Away, hopping on the back of The 1989 World Tour that Taylor Swift planned that year. Everyone and their mother knows Riptide at this point, and somehow Joy managed to ride the waves of that album for four years without anyone really noticing. Pun intended.

Lucky for us though, because his sophomore effort, Nation of Two, was worth the wait. It’s not an amazing album, but there’s something to it. Featuring the singles, Lay It on Me, Like Gold, We’re Going Home and more, Joy has managed to do even better the second time around. Garnering fans and swooning hearts all the same.

What I love most about this album, as I’ve said in previous reviews, is that it’s a concept record – Nation of Two tells the story of a couple who’s world is centred around their bedroom, their car, and other memories they share collectively. Even though it’s similar in tone to his debut album, and doesn’t push strongly in one direction or the other, I actually think it makes it a stronger record, and gives this one a pass. Love isn’t always about ups and downs, fights and makeup sex, it’s a consistent feeling of companionship and connection. Flowing from one situation to the next is real life, and this album has it too.

It’s full of romance, rainy day music, good for reflection, and even post-breakup meltdowns or whatever emotive tone you’re feeling. I’m looking at you in particular Alone with Me and I’m With You. So much heat there.

And that’s not to say there isn’t some fun in there. Saturday Sun is a great upbeat track and has good accompaniment with One of These Days showing up later. These are simple love songs, rooted in the tradition of artists like John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Ed Sheeran, and while they aren’t perfect, there is a cohesive quality that works, especially with the theme.

Pros: A solid theme, some great singles that stick to Joy’s strengths, and solid transitions between tracks, help this album feel like a complete story.

Cons: Sometimes the naivety can be a bit much, and this is where Crashing Into You would be considered a weak point. Some of the worst lyrics I’ve heard so far this year.

Runtime: 45 minutes

Points of Interest: Joy has been known to work with multiple writers, and in this case the running theme is evident throughout. The song Little Boy, is a true story about the time Joy fell off his bike as a little boy.

A welcome change from the never-ending mire of romantic crooners singing about falling in love, passionate sex, and breakups, this is an album for the long-time lovers. It’s never particularly cheesy, but it always feels sincere.

theories Summarized

I don’t expect that this will be an album for everyone, and as much as I wish that were the case (because the theme is strong), Vance Joy still has some growing to do as a musician, and so it bleeds together in the end. Give it a listen, be aware of the narrative, and have some forgiveness on hand, and I have a theory that you’ll enjoy yourself.

And if that don’t tickle your fancy, Brendon and I have a rock review from a brilliant Canadian duo known as Death from Above (formerly Death from Above 1979). The Physical World is also their sophomore album, and it kicks up everything fans of the band love. If you haven’t gotten into their sound yet, here is your opportunity to give them a much deserved listen.

Thanks for taking the time to read the review, watch the video review and hopefully you’ve left a comment or two. If you liked what you saw, click on the like button, and even better, subscribe to the channel! Come back tomorrow for a film review about Thor: Ragnarok. There’ll be more theories!

Tim!

Instant Friendship (The Sheepdogs, Changing Colours review)

Blues rock has always had a soft spot in my heart. Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and so on and so forth. But what happens when you mix in the Canadian wilderness and hit blend – does the era of cool translate for our polite sensibilities?

 

 

The Sheepdogs – Changing Colours

released February 2, 2018
******** 8/10

The Sheepdogs are a Canadian blues rock band originally from Saskatoon and founded in 2006. Lead by singer and guitarist Ewan Currie, backed by his brother Shamus on keyboards, trombone and tambourine, Sam Corbett on drums, bassist Ryan Gullen, and Jimmy Bowskill on lead guitar. They have since recorded six studio-length albums, which is a pretty impressive schedule of one year on, on year off.

I have their third (2010’s Learn & Burn) and fourth (2012’s The Sheepdogs) albums in my own personal collection, but I believe they would benefit from proper and complete catalogue representation on timotheories.com.

Let me clarify.

Changing Colours is a great record, I wish it had shown up in those summer weeks of 2017 when all of my possessions were packed up, and I was living out of a room in my best friends house. That music would have carried me through those two hectic months. Up In Canada would’ve become my anthem, and I would even have petitioned for it to replace our national anthem! It’s that newsworthy. But you see, that’s the thing about Changing Colours, all of this record’s tracks have the capacity to be released as singles.

My personal favourites are I Ain’t Cool, You Got To Be A Man, and Run Baby Run, but there are seventeen well made tracks on this record. And so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn your personal favourites are different then mine. In fact, I would hope that was the case.

Pros: This album is incredibly pleasant to listen to. It’s a summer album, that plays nice with the other seasons. AND they’ve managed to extend their range to incorporate more sonic safe choices then previous efforts.

Cons: A symptom of their musical stylings, they never quite shake the sounds of Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys and a host of other sounds I’m sure you’ll recognize along the way. Proceed with caution if you hate drawing from the past.

Runtime: 49 minutes

Points of Interest: Newcomer Jimmy Bowskill officially joins the ranks of The Sheepdogs on this record. A band for the people, their bassist Ryan Gullen regularly polls the fanbase and observes which songs are getting the most streaming airplay, influencing what charts as a single.

These guys are absolutely guilty of making “good-time” music, and by pulling most of their influences from the safety net of 1970s rock and roll, they successfully emulate the sounds of the day, while pulling it into the present. It’s only slightly odd that despite a lack of originality in most places, I can’t help but enjoy what I’m listening to.

theories Summarized

Have you ever heard the theory that we’re drawn to certain types of people because of a natural chemistry and as such, those relationships typically last because of their familiarity? The Sheepdogs have that instant friendship quality, and while it might seem like a pure emulation of the past, I’ll argue instead that it’s a display of their immense talent. That they can match sounds of the past, but still maintain genuinely their own voice.

There is just something incredibly appealing to me about pared down music, it’s heartfelt, timeless and can be played no matter how you choose to spend your listening session(s). That’s why I thought transitioning from The Sheepdogs into a video review on Andrew Bird was an apt choice.

If you haven’t listened to the Echolocations series yet, you are in for a treat creative cuties.

Thanks for taking the time to read the review, watch the video and hopefully you’ve left a comment or two. If you liked what you saw, click on the like button, and even better, subscribe to the channel! Come back tomorrow for a film review about bravery and wildfires.

Tim!

Red Cross, Blue Cross (First Aid Kit, Ruins review)

What is the difference between a red cross and a blue cross, dear readers? One is a humanitarian organization, which receives all resources through donation, and the other is an insurance company that specializes exclusive in the health sector. It’s the little things that make a difference, after all.

Which is why this album is immediately better then their last.

 

 

First Aid Kit – Ruins

released January 19, 2018
******** 8/10

First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk, indie, americana and country based sister duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’ve been officially making music since 2007, and now have four albums under their belt. Their first studio-length album may have been 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue, but their international attention came from a cover they performed of Fleet Foxe’s Tiger Mountain Peasant Song which blew up on the internet.

In addition to their studio albums, First Aid Kit (FAK) have also made a couple of EPs, and some other singles over the past few years. Their early exposure to artists like Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Louvin Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris all played a big part in forming their musical sound, but the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Are Thou? was especially inspiring and a major catalyst for Johanna.

Their newest album, Ruins, was recorded in the early part of 2017 and they slowly released the singles It’s a Shame, Postcard, and Fireworks over the back half of the year. Thank God for that, as these singles are momentous and a welcome addition to the canon.

Track opener Rebel Heat sets the tone, a deep sadness and finality, telling us not to mess around with First Aid Kit or their hearts. Sure it might seem a bit on the nose, at first, but there is a deep pain hidden within these lyrics.

This is even more smartly said when we do get to the finish line. There is a tired sincerity to Nothing Has to Be True, and in the end nothing really matters, except for the moments and these two women who’ve shared them with us.

Pros: These singles are amazing on their own, but when paired together, they really shine and showcase the range of First Aid Kit. Postcard, Fireworks or It’s A Shame, take your pick, excellent songs to move to.

Cons: The second half of the record isn’t quite as strong as the first, and as a result it feels somewhat tacked on, despite the beautiful vocals and intelligent instrumentation.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of InterestDid you know that the name First Aid Kit came from the duo thumbing randomly through a phone directory?

Their strength has always rested in their shared songwriting and harmonious sound. Ruins continues in that strong tradition of enriching tradition and emphasizing the romance of country music. To Live a Life is an excellent example is an excellent worship song of the art of solitude and exactly the kind of thing their heroes would have done.

Taking the road less travelled and sticking to the truth has always been the name of the game, and Ruins doesn’t deviate from that vein of glorious history being rewritten on their lips.

theories Summarized

This is gorgeous music and whether or not it completely devastates with earnest lyrics or not, theSöderberg sisters know how to make dark clouds seem warm and inviting. I hope it wins some new fans to the First Aid Kit brand, and diehards will enjoy it too, but let’s hope that red cross doesn’t turn blue.

Tim!

Time Enough To Pass (Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley review)

An age-old problem of music, if it’s a shorter album, we’ll complain that it feels weak, and it comes in over sixty minutes we can’t believe what a slog it is.

Is forty minutes the sweet spot though?

 

Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley

released April 28, 2017
******** 8/10

Joan Shelley is a Kentucky based American singer-songwriter who has been making professional music since at least 2014, as that was when she released her first full-length album Electric Ursa.

Her fourth album is self-titled as Joan Shelley, and that’s usually a sign of intent on the behalf of a recording artist, a demonstrable shift in tone, content and genre(s). This album is no exception to that rule, at all. Joan Shelley is an intimate record, chalk full of dense material and featuring production efforts from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a more complex album with tons of instrumentation and production value. No, it manages to tells it’s story with considerably less – vocals, guitars, ukulele, piano, organ, bass, and drums. The staples of folk music and this album most definitely has a folk feel to it. Just listen to Wild Indifference over a couple of listens and you’ll be at the heart of it.

Acoustic fingerpicking is a key element opening every track up and spreading the message out either simple and sweet or with a whiskey tinged bitter accommodation. Isn’t That Enough is a great example of that pull, especially since we experience both innocence and finality in it’s notes.

Where we best see the contributions of Jeff Tweedy come through are on I Got What I Wanted, Where I’ll Find You and If The Storms Never Came, but Shelley’s vocals almost come through, demonstrating the wisdom of Mr. Tweedy.

There is a great deal of beauty too to be found in these songs. And that all starts with track number one We’d Be Home, and quickly followed up by Even Though in the space following the second, third and fourth songs on the record. And man does the piano ever bring the attention on Pull Me Up One More Time, thanks be to James Elkington for that.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my favourite song on the album – I Got What I Wanted. It must be the lingering outlaw country flourishes of Willie Nelson, but I cannot stop tapping my toe and feeling remorseful for Shelley.

Pros: The vocals of course. Joan Shelley has all the makings of a great country artist, and The Push and Pull demonstrates this well. And while this is a shorter album, the length suits the ideas perfectly.

Cons: At the great risk of being a contrived self-referential mess, Shelley manages to avoid this for the most part, but sometimes it feels blah. Go Wild I’m looking directly at you.

Runtime: 34 minutes

Points of Interest: This self-titled album began with a fiddle, of all instruments. Though Joan Shelley wasn’t able to articulate herself well with the fiddle, she took the direction of that instrument and applied it to the guitar. And it is indeed self-titled because it features her most assured and complete thoughts so far.

It’s difficult to add something new to folk music, but with some help (or should we say non-help help?) Joan Shelley has managed to craft a well-worn album from the bare minimum of instruments. And her ability to spread ideas across moments in time comes across quite well.

theories Summarized

All that considered, I think that Joan Shelley is a master of her chosen form, and we should be happy to have her work out there on display. It never manages to overstay it’s welcome and it sounds amazing both in your car and at home. At least, that’s my theory.

Tim!

Dream Time (Wilsen, I Go Missing In My Sleep review)

Death and sleep. I don’t know how I manage to link up these themes so easily, but maybe it’s just my nature to find patterns where others would rather enjoy the state of rest.

A departure from the waking state would serve us all well.

 

Wilsen – I Go Missing In My Sleep

released April 28, 2017
******* 7/10

 

Wilsen is an American rock band comprised of Tamsin Wilson, Drew Arndt, and Johnny Simon. Now, while they have been playing together since 2013 and are based out of of Brooklyn, New York, Wilson is in fact a Canadian, so yay for unintended Canadian content! Also, this is the debut album of Wilsen and it was recorded in both the UK and the USA, which means I might want to be gentle with them, though they’ve already done that work for me.

I Go Missing in My Sleep is one of those albums that pays out over repeating viewings, listening to it over and and over again is a must. But thankfully, all of this exploration gives them a ton of opportunity to take new directions on future albums and learn from what they’ve accomplished thus far.

Tracks like Otto, Dusk and Heavy Steps represent the best of the band, and while songs like Garden and Centipede are a bit of lighter fare, they are still incredibly appealing and will do well in drawing in new fans.

This is one of this records which you would want to listen to in the early hours of the morning or while out on a casual excursion, and it’s because the group spent a great deal of time sorting it out in the wee hours of the morning, like something out of a  Frank Sinatra song. But it works for them, and you really do feel a little boozy by the time you get to closer Told You, with Emperor helping create that dreamlike state.

Pros: This album is amazingly good at being intricate, detailed, thoughtful and letting the space between sounds work for it. Wilson has every right to be at the lead of this band. They excel at the warm and melodic.

Cons: Where the album lacks depth is in when things sound just a little to clean and straightforward. It’s as if those tracks were an experiment for Wilsen, like single Centipede. They decided to try something new but couldn’t quite figure out what to do with the melodic arrangements.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of Interest: After a couple of small EPs in Sirens and Magnolia, Wilsen carefully constructed I Go Missing In My Sleep. Comparisons will be made to another band they toured with, Daughter, but Wilsen have a distinct voice.

The thoughtfulness of I Go Missing In My Sleep is not lost in all of this reflection, with tracks like Final there to help ease us into the morning. Wilsen are crafting their own sound with a sadness in the lyrics and joy in the melody, I just hope that range continues throughout their career.

theories Summarized

As much as there can never be a perfect album, this is a good album. The vocals are engaging, the arrangements are entertaining, and the production value reaches some heights not uncommon in todays world of pop and hip hop masters, considering this is an alt-folk record, that’s a good thing. But maybe we should just sleep on it?

Tim!