Saturday, July 12, 2008

Continued: The Year in Review So Far: Folk Music

I got a little excited with the last post and it was longer than I thought. So I'll continue with the last three albums I intended to review.

The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (***1/2)

The Mountain Goats is led by John Darnielle; actually, he pretty much IS The Mountain Goats. However, "Heretic Pride" sounds much more like a full-band effort than some of his previous releases. Even classifying this release as folk might be a stretch, but I think it's probably the most appropriate genre.

Your enjoyment of the The Mountain Goats will probably rest on how much of Darnielle's voice you can stomach. It's high, it's nasely, it can be a little much. As much as I enjoy the music, I sometimes can only take a track or two at a time. Having said that, those who are willing to get past or get used to the vocals will be richly rewarded by some very strong storytelling and great melodies.

It's enthralling to hear songs like "Heretic Pride," which tells the story of a martyrdom from the martyrs perspective. As the subject is dragged through the streets and buried alive, his positive outlook and confidence in eternal justice fit the bouncy drum and bass line. Sounds a little morbid, I know, but it's great. Other songs tell stories of lake monsters, lost love, cults; it's a variety show. Not every song is a hit, and listening to the whole thing at one time gets a little grating, but there are some real gems to be found here.

Favorite Tracks: Heretic Pride, Tianchi Lake, San Bernardino

The Weepies - Hideaway (****)

If you're a sucker for male-female harmonies, like I am, you'll probably love The Weepies. Not to say that's all they have going for them, because it's not. The weepies are good lyricists, and they know their way around a great melody. Also, Deb's voice has a simple, child-like quality to it, which doesn't sound like a compliment, but it is. That's really what keeps them from being one of a dozen other folk duos out there.

I loved The Weepies' previous album, "Say I Am You," and I don't feel like Hideaway is quite up to the standard (which is quite high). It's probably a more even and consistent album, but that's partly what makes it a bit boring. I blame the production, mostly. It's a little too shimmery and shiny, which I found to be an unnecessary touch. The songs sometimes blend and a few tracks don't add much to the whole.

With that gripe out of the way, now I can say how much I really do enjoy listening to "Hideaway." It's not especially inventive or incredibly unique, but that isn't really the point. The point is that you will have a tough time NOT singing along by the second half of every song. And if you let the sweet lyrics and beautiful harmonies sink in, you might just find it difficult to stop listening.

Favorite Tracks: Orbiting, Antarctica, How You Survived The War

Sun Kil Moon - April (****)

Sun Kil Moon is more of a stage name for singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek than a band. I'm unfamiliar with the rest of his catalog, but apparently it's fairly lengthy; he's been around for a while and the critics generally like what he does. On his latest release, "April," Kozelek has created a beautiful album that, despite it's VERY long run time (11 tracks, 73 minutes!), is rarely boring and usually captivating.

You'll have to be in the right mood to listen to "April." It's a low-energy affair for the most part, with songs regularly stretching to seven or eight minutes, some of which are fairly repetitive. Luckily, Kozelek never runs out of things to say and throws in just enough musical twists that each track serves as more than just background music. His voice can take a little getting used to as it meanders around finger-picked guitar lines and soft percussion, but everything comes together for an interesting and intimate sound that demands the listener to pay attention. It's hard to say what exactly makes this album a success, which I think is what makes it worth a listen in the first place.

Favorite Tracks: The Light, Harper Road, Like the River

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