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!

Hail Mary (Father John Misty, Pure Comedy review)

Unforgettable. That’s what many of us wish to be. But if we’re all important, then none of us are.

And that’s quite the joke.

 

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
released April 7, 2017
********* 9/10

Joshua Michael “Josh” Tillman, sometimes known as J. Tillman, and especially in this case, as Father John Misty, is an American singer/songwriter and instrumentalist. He’s been making albums since 2003, with the first eight being under the moniker of J. Tillman. This is the third outing of Father John Misty, preceded by the album I Love You, Honeybear; an affecting and self-dissecting grand gesture that is both smart and heart.

So it makes sense that Pure Comedy would simply raise the up stakes and let us walk on through into themes like post-apocalyptic landscapes, religion, pop culture, and politics. And it does. Hard. Hardcore even.

And maybe it’s my undying love of 90s bands like Harvey Danger, The Presidents of the United States of America, Weezer, Tonic, Jimmy Eat World, Semisonic, Everclear and Third Eye Blind, but doesn’t this guy sound like he could fit right in with those blokes? Without sounding like he was doing the recording itself in the 90s of course. But maybe it’s the confessional nature that really draws me in and makes me want to sit down and pray with him.

With a runtime at about 80 minutes, it’s almost impossible to sit through this in one go (read:meditating for the win), and even more difficult to break it up into separate ideas, though I am going to give it a shot.

Tillman is not alone in his criticisms of world views, namely the problems with our planet and the people that inhabit it, but his dark humour calls back to comedians of the 1970s like Peter Sellers and Monty Python. He wants to be seen as a patron saint of satire, but he is willing to self-efface to earn that mantel. At it’s centre point is the dark and sometimes funny Leaving L.A. It isn’t the best song on the album, but it definitely serves the purpose. The comedy of errors that we call life.

I can personally appreciate the health mix of existential though dashed into this record, because Tillman is no stranger to exploring themes within Pure Comedy. Both an epitaph to the process of art and a lover letter to making music, there is way to much complexity going on here to digest in my ever-so-brief review of it. Take a look at the album artwork for instance, a shining example of the detail involved in a life lived full.  We will likely never experience all of the same things as another person, but that doesn’t mean Birdie can’t try to describe utopia for us.

A criticism without judgment, Pure Comedy is a sermon Father John Misty should be proud to share.

theories Summarized

In listening to this record, I cannot help but think of The Comedian from the graphic novel Watchmen. Toward the end of his days The Comedian unravelled a global plot to change the world. One which would involved the slaughter of millions so that billions could united together against a common, if not fake, threat. It’s all a joke he said, just before he was murdered.

The real joke is that Josh Tillman hasn’t even begun his decline yet – this might just be pure gold.

Tim!

Discover Their Stories (Women’s History Month)

Today I wanted to write about some cool cats I know. Well not personally, but nonetheless, individuals who make great art and inspire all of us to be better human beings.

Memes aside, a moment for all of the ladies who make art despite facing incredible challenges every day, is not nearly enough.

I’m doing this in acknowledgement and praise of Women’s History Month. Which is a pretty big deal if you stop to think about it.

This is not going to be a post where I pretend to know the details of women’s history, because quite frankly, I’m not an expert on any kind of history, save maybe art history, and even then I’m not actively thinking about it often enough to claim mastery. No, this is a post for me in which I get to share with you some artists which I think need more attention and why I like them. Not “like” like them, just like them as professionals. Some of them are more known than others, but regardless of stature, these creatives are important and make great art.

Now I should address some hesitations my Canadian readers will likely have first. Yes I live in Canada, and technically that means I should be celebrating this event in October with the rest of my ilk, but quite frankly, I needed something to share this week and we share a border with Americans. And in case you didn’t know they’ve been running this event nationally since 1987, whereas we only picked it up in 1992. Shocking I know.

Insert Privilege Here

It’s a privilege for me to be able to write about these women, primarily because of the internet and a post-secondary education which taught me better. And that is a sad sad thing, so my hope is that you read these little snippets and take some time yourself to learn about these artists.


Marilyn Minter is an American artist who has been active since the 1980s. Her work often features sexuality and erotic imagery. Working in both photography and painting, Minter looks at the various roles of feminism, fashion and celebrity as they relate to idealizations of identity. Having published works in major American magazines and television she is known for being controversial and never loyal to one brand, medium or group. Minter has had exhibitions all over the world including Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in France, shows in Spain and Germany, being showcased in MoMa frequently. She teaches at the MFA department at the School of Visual Arts in New York and recently had a retrospective of her work in 2015. http://www.marilynminter.net/

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard were musical re-pioneers of what was a defunct form of music now popular once more – folk. The genre was given a boost back in the 1950s, and the duo of Dickens & Gerrard were at the forefront making friends and breaking hearts. Dickens, focused on bluegrass and acted as double bass, while Gerrard, also a singer, played both banjo and guitar, making them rather successful as both solo recording artists and as a pair. Their varied singing styles made use of both Dicken’s high-pitch and Gerrard’s love for crooning and shouting. The pair performed late into their lives but Dickens passed on in April of 2011.

 

 

Julie Taymor is an American director of theater, opera and film. She is definitely best known for directing the stage, as she has been responsible for The Lion King musical, which netted her two Tony Awards, a first for a woman at the time. She has also directed broadway musicals for Spider-man and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Taymore has an Emmy Award, a Drama Desk Award and an Oscar nomination, which is how I got to know her work. Directing films like Titus, Frida, and Across The Universe, Taymor has a natural aptitude for theatre which has spread throughout the performance arts.  Taymors work on Frida was substantial and got the film two Academy Awards – one for makeup and the other for costume design.

 

 

This might seem like a small sampling of professional women to showcase for this post dear readers, but my hope here is to demonstrate that women permeate throughout the arts, and that this is merely a drop in the bucket of talented creatives out there. And these are some of my personal favourite artists too, I could’ve listed off Tracy Emin, Cindy Sherman, Sofia Coppola, Sarah Polley, Debra Granik, Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding, Leslie Fiest, La Roux, Adele, and tons of others, but then I would just be making lists, and this is about celebrating women.

A privilege in and of itself.

theories Summarized

So where’s the wisdom you ask?  Well, I’ll leave you with this quote by Susan B. Anthony and see if you can glean something from it. And I hope for damn sure that it’s absorption rate is quick, thorough and positively altering, and not a wasted theory.

It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens, but we, the whole people, who formed this Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men.
Susan B. Anthony
We’re only telling half a story in many cases, but a half does not make us whole.
Tim!

Good, Not Great (Bon Iver, 22 A Million)

I’m glad I went to art school. I was exposed to a lot of people looking to impress, but without anything real to offer up. The struggle of the artist isn’t one of employment, it’s whether they can commit to a purpose and authentically represent it.

Too many posers walk around pretending they suffer, when they should put their nose to the grindstone and be affected for once. Yeah I’m feeling salty on this one.

Bon Iver – 22 A Million
released September 30, 2016
****** 6/10

jv1

Bon Iver is a multi-instrumentalist group headed by Justin Vernon, one that focuses on indie folk and which has been around since 2007. They’ve put out 3 full-length studio albums at this point, but it has been five years since their last album was released.

22 A Million is more of an experiment then anything. Lots of the songs go into unique directions, ascending and descending, depending on the song, but often cutting short before we see a real resolution. I think I may have been spoiled this year dear readers, there have been so many great album releases that Bon Iver didn’t really have a chance.

I should be more clear with my intent – it feels like the songs have lost all interest in established forms of songwriting, and they don’t really help us to whatever atmosphere the group had strived for; thanks Justin and friends. It’s a challenge against convention, a battlecry against form, but the other team didn’t want to show up.

Folk music is in a difficult place these days it seems. While pop music has continued to explore what’s possible and even make conceptual decisions that are exciting, especially this past year, folk artists that dabble in pop should be uniquely poised to come out ahead. And yet, this album feels a lot like the late oughts. I find it very confusing. We’ve explored these themes already.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed parts of this album and it sounds beautiful, but as a professor of mine once said, I’m grading you based on your own ability and not on a preset standard, because that’s the only way you’ll grow. After all, I think it can be exciting when we reject tradition in favour of exploration, but exploration for explorations sake? Come on Bon Iver, wake up.

This album is a complete mess in terms of it’s composition. I might as well be listening to a 35 minute solo track in long form.

Literally every song on this album features some sort of dichotomy, good vs evil, up vs down, I could go on, but the point being made is one of tension. Even the song titles are written with symbols and avant garde grammar, it’s pretentious and we’ve seen that trick before too – leet speak is dead. Maybe I’m completely off my rocker here folks, but 22 A Million is not groundbreaking, it’s evocative, haunting, and a great jazz session. We should look at this as more of a mixtape then anything, and hopefully when the rest of the world wakes up, Bon Iver will have put their pants back on.

 

 

 

Maybe that was a harsh criticism, but I really do believe these guys are capable of a lot more than we saw on this record. I want to believe that this was just a misstep, but the flourishes and fawning of the masses over this record are driving me nuts friends. Listen to this one at your own discretion, but don’t for a second fall into the hype. It’s good, not great.

Tim!