There’s something in the frustration opening this track that feels incredibly rare nowadays — a break from the usual wound-in-hindsight poet. Plenty of songwriters pen cathartic cuts (“Ballad in Plain D” comes first to mind), but catharsis in real time, without affording oneself such wit of the staircase, is rare. Cillie Barnes’ “Facework,” which was recorded with Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott in Omaha, opens her new EP out next month.
From an instrumental standpoint, Wisconsin’s PHOX could bang out tight-knit whimsy all day, but then Monica Martin’s voice comes in, bringing with it a much-needed layer of light emotive tension. Simply put, they’re a fun band and a fitting way to ring in the new season. “Never Lover,” a springtime swoon that would fit well on their self-titled debut, was unveiled for Minnesota’s North Shore Sessions this week. Both this session, which finds Martin moving in and around the house’s performance space, and their new Tiny Desk Concert are a fine treatment for a band that caught our attention with unusual live takes. That video EP holds up very well, and these clips should, too. Check out the new tune above and songs from their first LP below:
London’s Toe Rag Studios — complete with an EMI REDD console formerly housed at Abbey Road — is one of the best under-the-radar studios around. Anyone who’s heard the White Stripes’ Elephant knows its vintage charm, but the other secret weapon is owner Liam Watson, a skilled engineer with a knack for catching timeless cuts on a 2-inch tape machine with just a handful of microphones. Of course, the main ingredient in all this is the talent in front of those mics, and this take from Stroud, England’s Emily Barker would sound great in any room. Barker put a 12-track solo set live to tape at Toe Rag back in January, and it arrives in two weeks. Watch her record opening cut “Little Deaths,” a lovely original folk tune performed on a 1937 Gibson, above.
Will Oldham is often depicted as an enigmatic, headstrong solo artist, which seems to be true in part. But don’t forget that he’s also one of the most open-minded and prolific collaborators around. In the past year alone, Bonnie’s teamed up with Dawn McCarthy, Mark Kozelek, Santiparro, Doug Paisley, and many, many more, with each project leaning just as much toward his partners’ sound as his own oeuvre. The latest collaboration is with Watter, a post-rock outfit featuring members of Slint (Britt Walford), Grails (Zak Riles), and King Crimson (Tony Levin). They’re calling themselves, cleverly, Bonnie Stillwatter, and their record, The Death Is People, arrives alongside a limited-edition beer by Stillwater Artisanal in a few weeks. The result, per above’s title track, is a rousing, cinematic cut that — par for Oldham’s course — melds both worlds quite seamlessly.
Meanwhile, Oldham has a new fan in the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser, who recently performed this nice crooning acoustic cover of “Trudy Dies”:
There are some new tunes over the past decade for which I can’t help but imagine a Johnny Cash American series version. “Ain’t No Bitter” — Gabrielle Papillon‘s fine new piece of foreboding redemption — could be among that canon. Recorded in Lake Echo, Nova Scotia, producer Daniel Ledwell infuses the cut with equal parts darkness and light; a theme of the record’s multi-textured yet inherently warm palette. There are many other standouts on The Tempest of Old, from the gothic dirge “Brother, Throw Down” to opening cut “Got You Well,” but this track is a worthy introduction. Hear it above.
Alice Boman is from Sweden, but her voice — a soft pang and haunted swell — drifts in from somewhere closer to home. That’s how I feel about it anyway, and this cut, in official video form, does it again. We shared her debut Skisser EP here and this one, from part two, deserves a shout as well. Director Christoffer Castor used found 8mm film footage from an abandoned cabin for the clip; a fitting treatment for tunes that Boman first put to tape without thinking they’d be heard by more ears than two.
This isn’t a typical Houndmouth tune, but it’s among favorites regardless. Perhaps for that reason. The Indiana band have proven their inspired take on working class, the Band-esque anthems with a charming debut followed by the accessible recent single “Sedona,” but “For No One” flips the script. No sing-along-ready refrains, buoyant harmonies, or rafter-reaching hooks here; just Matt Myers coming down solo with a bit of despondent defiance. The sophomore record, Little Neon Limelight, shows a number of other shades for this band, too, but this one is going after LP1’s “Come On, Illinois” as a personal standout. Hear it above.
Austin’s David Ramirez recently joined Seattle’s Noah Gundersen for this poignant take on “Girl from the North Country” in the latter songwriter’s hometown. Moving and meditative, the pair nudge the classic Dylan-Cash duet from its Nashville Skyline roots a bit, refining each syllable into an overcast-day piano ballad of forsaken love. Also of note, director Ryan Booth’s use of natural light and his audio team’s capture from a century-old church stay out of the moment’s way beautifully, imbuing it with even more depth and timelessness. (h/t sftd). Watch above.