I wrapped up my bottom-half Newport Folk recommendations this afternoon, so what better time for a Post-SXSW breather before Lollapalooza takes over OEB’s coverage for a week.Highlights:
Polica (9) - Two drummers, a bassist and electronic atmospherics make up the palette of Polica’s foundation, a deep, sexy and salient territory.This is what psychedelia sounds like in 2014 and we are all better for it.
The Pollies (7) - Where The Pollies break away from their Chicago brethren is the Southern grit that infuses the record, whiskey-soaked vocals holding the notes for a half-second longer than expected, almost unwilling loosen their grip.Most of these songs come from a rootsy, Americana place, led by acoustic guitar and a healthy share of kick drum.
Parquet Courts (6) – The rambunctious punk rock grooves of Parquet Courts are loosely dismembered on the band’s latest, 2014’s Sunbathing Animal.The twists of feedback give Parquet Courts a classic, analog sound, vaguely experimental and oddly catchy.
Polytype (6) – Electronic pop artist Polytype lives within a mysterious air, best displayed on single “Cyclone”.The circular nature of the title applies to the winds of harmony that builds in this patient R&B track.
Peking Duk (5) – Australian producer Peking Duk deals in builds and drops, but there is an increased level of detail in his big-tent dance music.In another way, deep, technical minutia isn’t need for sing-a-longs and big beats.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Gregory Alan Isakov – “Amsterdam”
Pairs Well With…Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, Bon Iver
The Weatherman, Gregory Alan Isakov’s fourth full-length starts off as one would expect.Soft, acoustic strumming and hushed atmospherics have acted as a calling card for the introspective songwriter and are the foundation for The Weatherman as well.While not of experimental ilk, Isakov’s understated vocals and lyrical strength are sure to make for a splendid Newport Folk set.Isakov takes the Quad Stage at 1:25 on Sunday afternoon.
2013 Review: I caught Gregory Alan Isakov as an opener years ago and I’ve been following his career ever since.Unfortunately, it has been too long since his last release The Empty Northern Hemisphere, but Isakov did post some pictures from the studio a month or so back.The most catching element of Isakov’s songbook is his voice, a rich instrument that carries Isakov’s quiet-folk based music.While Isakov never chooses to turn up the heat on his sound, the plaintive landscape he paints on suits the music wonderfully.I hope his new material pushes more on the orchestral moments throughout Hemisphere, but we shall see with what will hopefully be plentiful previews at this year’s SXSW.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Puss N Boots – “Bull Rider” (live)
Pairs Well With…Norah Jones, Wilco, Hurray For the Riff Raff
The distinct voice of Norah Jones is a quick giveaway that Puss N Boots isn’t some new indie act, rather its Jones’ alt country band along with Catherine Popper (Ryan Adams, Grace Potter) and singer-songwriter Sasha Dobson.Their just-released debut LP No Fools, No Fun indeed has the vibe of a group of talented friends passing the microphone back and forth.A mix of studio and live cuts, originals and covers, No Fools, No Fun exceeds expectations by just being damn good in tone and delivery.Jones sounds noticeably comfortable in the rootsy genre, ditching her piano virtuosity for spoonfuls of soul.The whole is really relaxed – even the more electric tracks keep it in a mid-tempo pocket.Puss N Boots headline the Harbor Stage at 5:00 on Saturday night – I bet this will be one that will really turn the curious Newport onlookers to a new side of all three artists.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Pokey Lafarge – “Central Time”
Pairs Well With…Carolina Chocolate Drops, Shovels & Rope, Brown Bird
Pokey Lafarge has found such a unique crack to grow out of, continuing to find something new in something old on his 2013 self-titled LP.Traditional folk, blues and jazz are the baseline for this timely throwback in an age of digital wonder.Lafarge is pristinely authentic – even the recording gives the aura of a ramshackle studio paid by the hour.This is guaranteed to kill at Newport – a hip sound that will appeal to folk veterans and their grandkids.Pokey Lafarge is smartly booked for the main Fort Stage, 12:25 Saturday afternoon.
2013 Review: Genuine and traditional authenticity can be hard to find with so many bands reaching towards the future to define a new sound.For Pokey LaFarge, greatness is found in the past, which he commits to both in his persona and his music.Drawing from country and Americana traditions from the early to mid-20th century, LaFarge sounds like a love letter from the past, a novel rather than a laptop.This “all in” approach to his traditions has a great payoff for a SXSW crowd who respects history and good music.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Lucero – “Texas & Tennessee”
Pairs Well With…Deer Tick, The Hold Steady, Tom Waits
Fifteen-plus years in, Lucero has matured their sound, anchoring in traditional roots since our last check-in for SXSW 2012.Women and Work and follow-up EP Texas & Tennessee have peeled back Lucero’s rambunctious rock nature a bit, exploring alt country and Americana tones more often than not.Nichols’ distinct rasp of a voice takes a second to get used, but once it clicks in, it’s easy to realize how imperative that timbre is to Lucero’s infectious sound.Look for Lucero to solidify their throwback, throw-forward nature closing out Newport Folk’s Harbor Stage at 5:15 on Sunday.
2012 Review: Lucero is one of the more established acts on the early SXSW bill, currently headlining clubs across the US.They’re country in their roots, but Lucero succeeds best when they turn the rock energy up to eleven.I’ve caught Lucero a couple times in the past few years and totally get while they’ve received decent billing on the festival circuit the past few summers.Ben Nichols’ whiskey-soaked vocals sound like a broken pickup in constant heartbreak and that’s a very good thing.There is so much emotional resonance in Lucero’s music that it kind of sneaks up on you amongst the patient alt country inspired licks.Lucero will have no shortage of material at SXSW next year; they’ll be supporting their ninth album, Women & Work, due in early 2012.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Tall Tall Trees – “Waiting On the Day”
Pairs Well With…Kishi Bashi, Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket
It’s been two years since Tall Tall Trees’ expansive sophomore record Moment was released and the hope here is that NYC songwriter has embraced even more of his weird side for his upcoming 2014 follow-up.The base here is Mike Savino and his electric, effects-fueled banjo and Savino’s first efforts were relatively minimal solo efforts.Moment is a completely different animal, a record of multi-layered, psychedelic spins on melody and structure, complex yet strikingly personal.The bigger, the better with Tall Tall Trees – songs like “Vacation”, “Alaska” and the Raga-threaded “Waiting On the Day” are all highlights and completely different from one another.This one seemed to fell under the radar in 2012, but the talent, emotion and experimental grounding are all there and seemingly ready to burst at the seams.Tall Tall Trees is an excellent left-field choice for Newport Folk and one that will surprise a few early entrants as they take the Harbor Stage forty-five minutes after gates open on Friday afternoon.
Pairs Well With…Trippy Turtle, Flume, Cashmere Cat
Brooklyn electronic artist Obey City’s sound is dance music by form, but the details and layering demand a listen beyond a late night lounge.Funk-fueled rhythms are spliced and diced, falling off the beat unexpectedly.That anticipation pulls like a rubber band, tensely laying an undercurrent of mystery and grace.Hip hop and R&B both find homes in Obey City’s originals, down-tempo twists and turns with an artist’s precision.Above all, Obey City’s mostly wordless music has soul.For digital creations, the warmth is admirable and a quality that keeps me digging for more songs he has gotten his hands on.In addition to a handful of loose singles, Obey City has three EPs out, two solo and the latest, 2014’s Shochu Sounds, a collaboration with Japanese electronic artist Seiho.
Pairs Well With…The Temper Trap, Miike Snow, The Naked and Famous
While the upbeat pop hooks of tracks like “Always” are the initial draw, the Australian band’s tracks are deeper than surface beats and melodies.Mid-tempo dance beats are complimented by droned-down synths on tracks like “How We Feel” and “It’s Not Over”, shading the light within Panama’s music.EDM elements are sampled at will through Panama’s pop filter – this band is accessible to both an indie and club crowd.More shine than soul, Panama avoids being too distant through new wave bass lines and specks of electronic experimentation - little things that connect created music to a natural ear.“Always” is definitely the standout amongst Panama’s ten or so recorded tracks, an anthem that could close any set, any day.
I’m sneaking one in this Sunday evening to spotlight a pair of electronic-based artists who find warmth in a many times cold genre.Highlights:
Obey City (8) - Funk-fueled rhythms are spliced and diced, falling off the beat unexpectedly.That anticipation pulls like a rubber band, tensely laying an undercurrent of mystery and grace.
Panama (8) - Mid-tempo dance beats are complimented by droned-down synths on tracks like “How We Feel” and “It’s Not Over”, shading the light within Panama’s music.EDM elements are sampled at will through Panama’s pop filter – this band is accessible to both an indie and club crowd.
OWSLA All Stars (6) – This one is a little hard to rate, but reports called out some OEB favorites like Hundred Waters and What So Not showcased at OWSLA’s SXSW event.Skrillex’s label is on a hot run in 2014 and hopefully the collaborative nature of the OWSLA All Stars leads to some mixed multi-artist studio tracks.
Paper Diamond (5) – Beat maker and EDM collaborator Paper Diamond’s long EP Paragon is fairly minimal for a dance record, letting disco synths and thick bass lines carry the artist’s poppin’ take on House/R&B.Down-tempo trance plays a big part in the record as well, especially succeeding when the beat dissipates.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer – “Tam Lin (Child 39)” (live)
Pairs Well With…Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, William Shakespeare
Anais Mitchell is another artist throwing a curveball at this year’s Newport Folk Festival, teaming up with frequent collaborator Jefferson Hamer this year to feature their 2013 record Child Ballads, a collection of late 19th century English and Scottish folk songs.The record sounds, well, traditional.The harmonies of Mitchell and Hamer and clean production allow Child Ballads a modern approach, a sound that is inviting given the duo’s relatively obscure source material.One place where this will be a perfect fit is at Newport – Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer open up the main Fort Stage on Friday at 1:00.
2012 Review: Folk music has a lot of nooks and crannies to thrive in, so its welcome the hear Anais Mitchell’s unique vocals as they sail over soft acoustic picking reminiscent of Joni Mitchell.In fact, Anais Mitchell’s writing style also bears resemble to her namesake (unrelated, by the way).There’s a heightened sense on honesty at play here, so it’s no surprised she was signed by Ani DiFranco and has been with Righteous Babe Records since 2004.I’m just discovering Mitchell for the first time and am surprised my ears and her music haven’t crossed paths these past few years.This is right up the alley of any Bon Iver or Low Anthem fan, members of which appeared on Mitchell’s last album.Mitchell will be appearing at SXSW in support of her new record, Young Man in America, due this February.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: Death Vessel – “Ilsa Drown” (feat. Jonsi)
Pairs Well With…Milosh, Sigur Ros, Sharon Van Etten
In what will surely be the best Icelandic atmospheric folk record from a Rhode Island singer-songwriter this year, the mere idea of Death Vessel’s Island Intervals is intriguing in and of itself.Before I get ahead of myself, key track and Jonsi collaboration Ilsa Drown is not really indicative of the rest of 2014’s Island Intervals, it is a beautiful starting point and a song that carries an incredible amount of weight over four minutes.Death Vessel pushes and pulls in terms of scope and layers of sound, succeeding best in fuller material like “Island Vapors” and the haunting “Ejecta”.The sparse moments work in relative counterbalance to this dense foundation – an end-to-end listen is worth the time and effort.Dramatic, yet lonely – Island Intervals is a good headphone listen, a demanding opportunity for the band’s 1:40 set at the Harbor Stage Friday afternoon to see how these intricate details translate to stage.
Newport Folk 2014 OEB Spotlight: The Oh Hellos – “Like the Dawn”
Pairs Well With…The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men
The Oh Hellos are kind of what you think of when the term “folk rock” arises, ranging from gentle picking to orchestral grandeur through melodious waves of acoustic bliss.Their songs tend to build, rousing into rhythmic choruses.Need rootsy harmonies?They got that too, especially in the tender guy/girl vocals that dominate many of The Oh Hellos’ songs.The Texas band is careful to not get too poppy or melodramatic, hanging on the edge of both in a sturdy, forthright way.It’s been a bit since The Oh Hellos have shared originals (2012’s full-length Through the Deep, Dark Valley being the centerpiece of the band’s work), so expect new songs this summer – hopefully a sophomore follow-up will show up in the near future.The Oh Hellos’ naturalist, Americana roots should play splendidly at Newport Folk Festival this year – the band takes Quad Stage at 12:20 early Saturday afternoon.
Summer Festival/Newport Folk Crossover Artists – OEB’s Top Picks
Bonus – here are some recommendations for Newport Folk Festival that I already covered through OEB’s Sasquatch, Coachella, Bonnaroo and Forecastle coverage.Add these to your schedule, in person or online with NPR Music next weekend:
SXSW/Newport Folk Festival 2014 Crossover Artists – OEB’s Top Picks
Operation Every Band’s virtual summer tour continues along next weekend with a trip up the coast to Newport, Rhode Island.The Newport Folk Festival started in 1959 and is storied in musical history.Dylan, Baez, Seeger, Cash – these names graced Newport’s early rosters, making the seaside Fort Adams State Park hallowed ground when it comes to acoustic (and electric, once controversially) troubadours and ramblers.In 2014, the legacy continues strong with key sets from some of today’s best singer-songwriters including Ryan Adams, Jack White and Jeff Tweedy.The lineup is complemented with highlight veterans like Mavis Staples, Robert Hunter and Jimmy Cliff, a weekend that consistently delivers greatness.
For OEB, the bottom-half of this year’s lineup is where we’ll be focusing our energy this week.As always, it begins with a list of artists that showcased at SXSW this year and drew top scores from the OEB crew.The week will continue with more recommendations, worth a listen whether you are going to Newport this year or just are looking for some new bands to dig into this summer.
Forecastle 2014 OEB Spotlight: Brett Dennen – “Out of My Head (Summer Mix)”
Pairs Well With…Matt Costa, Amos Lee, Ben Kweller
No doubt – Brett Dennen’s Smoke and Mirrors is a full-on pop record.In fact, the California singer-songwriter just released a ‘summer mix’ of single “Out of My Head”, adding catchy, hooky accents that ups Dennen’s mainstream game a few notches in 2014.His songwriting ability allows Dennen to pull off this new form so well.Upbeat tracks are mixed with coffeehouse ballads, less rhythmic and more melodic than the bulk of Dennen’s earlier material, though without losing a beat.Brett Dennen will hold up the main Mast Stage at 4:15 at Forcastle Sunday afternoon.
2011 Review: a quirky indie folk rock artist from Oakdale, CA.In relation to many of his peers at SXSW, Brett Dennen is a fairly established artist already, releasing albums since 2004.Is music is very accessible, but has it’s own sound apart from the slower singer songwriter artists (such as John Mayer and Jason Mraz) currently in the mainstream.He often employs synchopated rhythms within his vocal melodies and acoustic guitar playing, covering his music in a light reggae undertone.Playing live, Brett brings a great deal of energy to his simple catalog suiting his dedicated fanbase.Brett Dennen is releasing his fourth album in 2011, so expect to hear some new material at SXSW.