Getting to know an artist is like making a new friend.
There are some people that seem standoffish in the beginning (maybe because they’re shy or because they’ve eaten a crap sandwich and it’s ruined their entire day–sandwiches have that kind of effect on people, y’know), so it takes a couple of visits or run-ins for them to get comfortable around you and for you to warm up to them; then there are those people you take an instant liking to (perhaps you both find great pleasure in watching/making fun of what has become of America’s Top Model over the years).
It’s the same with music. There are some musicians that require a couple listens to get into (Joanna Newsom, anyone?) and others where the connection is undeniable and instantaneous. For me, Youth Lagoon was the latter.
Even better, it was like revisiting an old friend. That’s the kind of nostalgia-tinged feeling The Year of Hibernation is wrought with.
“Five years ago, in my backyard I sang love away. Little did I know that real love had not quite yet found me.”
[MP3]: Youth Lagoon – “July”
Raw vocals with a sort of youthful reverie, crackling and hazy with reverb, beg for a closer listen, for a more concentrated ear. With synths, organ, guitar, and some heavy beats layered on–usually starting off quietly and then building up to thicker, fuller sound (think wall-of-sound)–Youth Lagoon crafts introspective bedroom anthems.
Also, I cannot lie. During my first listen of the entire album, I thought it was a girl singing. (Sorry, Trevor.) Alas, Youth Lagoon is Boise, Idaho’s awesomely named Trevor Powers. (Yes, that’s his real name.) And with a name like that and a penchant for bedroom music and introspection, you’d think that Powers might be walking around with a superhero costume hidden underneath his button-ups.
However even amidst the quiet introspection, Powers references the past only as a way to look to the future. Like the experiences and memories that make us who we are today, The Year of Hibernation is a memento of sorts, to the past.
[MP3]: Youth Lagoon – “Cannons”
From the opening track (“Posters”), I could immediately feel a quiet sense of understanding between Powers and I, like a quiet nod. Like, a musical ‘hey, I feel ya!’ What started as a bedroom project (where the whole LP was recorded) has found resonance beyond his four-walls.
You make real friends quickly. You make real friends quickly. But not me.
I get him. I feel where he’s coming from; from his lyrics, to his delivery, to the entire atmosphere that’s created when everything comes together perfectly. And for me, that’s the beautiful thing.
WHO: Lia Ices
WHERE: Brooklyn, NY
CONNECT THE DOTS: Friends w/ Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (who sings on “Daphne”); currently touring with The Besnard Lakes, The Cave Singers
CLAIM TO FAME: When Jagjaguwar snatched her up last year
YOU WILL LIKE HER IF YOU LIKE: Going for walks in forests, daydreaming, cloud-watching, fairies
FOR FANS OF: Bon Iver, Bat for Lashes, Glasser, Lykke Li, Cat Power
This one’s been sitting around in my drafted posts for a while, and with her album, Grown Unknown, coming out Jan. 25, I figured now would be as good a time as any to pull it off the shelve. Truth be told, I had never even heard of Lia Ices until it had been announced that she had been courted and wooed by consistently spot-on major indie label, Jagjaguwar in August 2010. She has already has one record under her belt: 2008′s Necima (out on Rare Book Room Records), which you can hear in its entirety over here.
Labels (or at least indie labels) are finally starting to catch on by offering up free “samplers”–legal downloads from artists–so that people are able to get a little taste before taking the plunge and buying the album (if anyone still does that anymore). Jagjaguwar has done a good job of this, by releasing lead single “Grown Unknown” for free legal download, and now, “Daphne” (which features Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon).
[MP3]: Lia Ices – “Grown Unknown” (right-click, save as)
Hand-claps and reverb-drenched vocals in “Grown Unknown” create a sea and cave-like atmosphere, like a siren singing her song, beckoning the sailors.
[MP3]: Lia Ices – “Daphne” (feat. Bon Iver) (right-click, save as)
“Daphne,” on the other hand, sees her as a woodland fairy, nimbly peeking from behind the moss-covered trunks of towering thousand-year-old trees. With the urgent shift around the 2:40 minute mark, Lia Ices and Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) vocals blend together seamlessly, intertwining, accompanied by piano and electric guitar; the turnaround is stunning. I’m an incredibly visual person, so these are just the images that flutter through my mind as I listen to her music.
Ultimately, it’s her voice that draws the you in. Lia Ices has a voice that is a quivering and lilting, timid wisp, with a certain mystic transparency about it. Her vocals flutter constantly, fading in and out, like the wavering remnants of something that was once there and now is no longer–like a hand reaching out to grab on to something that has already gone. Haunting and ethereal, it begs a closer listen and invites curiosity. And even after the song has ended, its ghost still lingers in the crevices of your mind, unseen and unheard, yet still present.
Too pretentious/convoluted/ambiguous a description? Oh well. My schedule is lacking in creative writing courses this semester, so you’ll just have to bear with me. Nevertheless, Lia Ices is one to watch in 2011, so keep an eye (and ear) out for her!
Also, if you like what you hear, show your appreciation by buying the record and supporting the musicians whose songs you listen to on repeat so that they can in turn make more music for you to love. I mean, that’s the least you can do, really.
[WATCH]: Lia Ices – “Half Life” (from Necima)
**Damn. Brooklyn really is a breeding ground for artistic talent (Sharon Van Etten, Oh Land, and Holly Miranda, just to name a few). New York, I can hear you calling my name. I’ll be there. I’ll see you in a year or two.
WHO: Charity Rose Thielen (vocals, violin, percussion), Chris Zasche (bass), Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), Kenny Hensley (piano), Tyler Williams (drums)
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
CONNECT THE DOTS: Toured with Dr. Dog, Dave Matthews, Vampire Weekend
CLAIM TO FAME: They’re just really good. (Plus they just got signed to Sub Pop!)
YOU WILL LIKE THEM IF YOU LIKE: Husky male vocals, collectives, bearded men in plaid, log cabins
Seattle is a very luck state. Composed largely of Seattle transplants, The Head and the Heart was certainly the state’s best kept secret (up until now that is). I, myself, only discovered them this past summer (after finding their eponymous self-released full-length debut); but now that they’ve just been signed to Sub Pop Records, these guys are about definitely about to, for lack of better terms, “make it big.”
Crafting beautiful songs out of the heartache, they remind us not to dwell on the pains of sadness and instead focus on the beauty of it all. Just a bunch of friends singing around a proverbial bonfire, they’ve etched out a special little niche for themselves in a genre that seems overflowing. With a focus on instrumentation, their music is a seamless meshing of rustic harmonies, piano, percussion, acoustic guitar, violin, and yes–shakers. It’s a good ‘ol foot-stompin time.
Though I honestly don’t know too much about them as a band, but what I do know is that you should give them a listen. I guarantee you will like them. “Sounds like Hallelujah” was the first track of theirs that I heard, and damn, that transition to “Momma, don’t put no gun in my hand” really hooked me. “Down in the Valley” is another stunner, and you can now download it HERE, along with a new song, for the price of FREE (a.k.a. an email address), so there isn’t really a good reason not to check them out.
WHO: Nanna Øland Fabricius
WHERE: Brooklyn, NY (via Denmark)
SOUNDS LIKE: The futuristic swirls and crunchy beats of a ghost from another planet.
CLAIM TO FAME: SXSW 2009, where she caught the eye of Epic Records
FOR FANS OF: Roison Murphy, Little Dragon, Florence + the Machine
LISTEN TO: “Wolf & I,” “Rainbow”
[MP3]: Oh Land – “Sun of a Gun” (right-click, save as)
There is a sense of assuredness in the way that Oh Land sings that I can’t quite put my finger on–like she knows some sort of secret no one else knows–and you can’t help but follow her into her futuristic sonic landscapes. Maybe it’s the way she sings with a barely audible accent (that sometimes slips out on particular words) that makes her so intriguing; or maybe it’s the fact that was a dancer at the Danish Royal Ballet Academy; or maybe it’s the way she describes her music in new ways; or maybe it’s a combination of all three.
But with an opera singer for a mother and a theatre organist for a father, it was only a matter of time before Fabricius found herself experimenting in the music scene. A recent Brooklyn transplant (by way of Copenhagen, Denmark), she was scouted and snatched up by Epic Records at last year’s SXSW festival. With the release of her self-titled EP (her US and major label debut) this past October, plans are in effect for the full-length to be out sometime in 2011.
Although she has only recently had her US debut, Oh Land already has a full-length record to her name. Fauna was released exclusively in her native Denmark via Fake Diamond Records in 2008, thought it can now be downloaded on iTunes worldwide.
“Son of a Gun,” a catchy pop tune and the first single of the EP, is a little introduction to the talented sonic crafter, but it certainly isn’t the best she has to offer–only a taste of what she is fully capable of; “Wolf & I” and “Rainbow” are even catchier. Plus, her music translates surprisingly well in a live setting. (Watch her stripped down version of “Rainbow” below!)
“My goal is to sound like I’m from 2050, but still feel really classic, like the music is an old friend.”
This is clearly just the beginning for this young artist who cites Björk as one of her major influences, and it’s going to be very exciting to see what she does on her full-length next year.
[MP3]: Oh Land – “Sun of a Gun” (Savage Skulls Remix) [right-click, save as]
**To download mp3 from soundcloud player, click the arrow on its right side below “info.”
[MP3]: Oh Land – “Sun of a Gun” (Yuksek Remix)
[MP3]: Oh Land – “Sun of a Gun” (Ian Pooley Remix)
WHO: Joy Williams and John Paul White
WHERE: Nashville, Tennessee / Florence, Alabama
SOUNDS LIKE: Curling up by a warm fire with a glass of red wine
CONNECT THE DOTS: Ten out of Tenn (collective), Madi Diaz, Erin McCarley
CLAIM TO FAME: Free digital album: Live @ Eddie’s Attic (download below!)
FOR FANS OF: The Swell Season, The Honey Trees
You may know Joy Williams as the voice of the new Oscar Meyer theme song, “Doesn’t Get Better Than This” or from her song placements on numerous television shows. You may even remember her as one of the Christian musicians your parents let you listen to as a child. But perhaps you haven’t yet heard of The Civil Wars.
After previously being on a major label and then releasing a couple EPs on her and her husband’s independent label, Sensibility Music, Williams has now joined forces with singer-songwriter John Paul White, the pen behind a couple of country tunes from well-known artists (LeAnn Rimes, Matthew Mayfield, Jason Aldean to name a few). They met by chance at a songwriting session in Los Angeles, hit it off, wrote a couple tracks–and that, dear readers, is the story of how The Civil Wars came to be.
Their sound is warm and inviting, with lyrics offering reflection on life and love. Williams and White’s voices blend together so well it’s as if it was somewhat inevitable that they sing together. The Civil Wars offer up a brand of music that is sincere, honest, raw to the bone, and without gimmicks–giving their stripped back sound the ability to withstand time and the influx of fads that come and go it. And with slow-burning, folk-tinged songs, “melodic melancholy folk” is what I think best describes the music these two make together in this age of blending genres.
Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking to Joy about the struggles and triumphs of being an independent musician, having already experienced the major label world. She had some thought-provoking insights into the industry and was incredibly well-spoken, and I think that really comes across in her co-writing with John Paul White. We discussed how we are living in an unprecedented era of the independent artist in which there are so many avenues and platforms through which musicians can get their music out to the public.
And the technological era has done really incredible things for the pair: their free live album has been downloaded over 80,000 times; their 2009 four-song EP, Poison & Wine, debuted at #4 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Top Albums chart; and the EP’s title track was played in full on “Grey’s Anatomy.” (And wow, when was the last time you’ve heard a song played in full on TV?) See how much the Internet and a little good ‘ol word of mouth can come in handy for independent artists?
The mesmerizing duo will be releasing their debut full-length Barton Hollow on Feb. 1, 2011 via Sensibility Music, and it’s only a matter of time before they make it big. Can’t wait to see what The Civil Wars has in store for all of us in the coming year!
[DOWNLOAD]: The Civil Wars – Live @ Eddie’s Attic **Don’t forget to spread the word!**
WHO: I Blame Coco (Coco Sumner)
WHERE: London, UK.
SOUNDS LIKE: Gritty pop with soul
CONNECT THE DOTS: Pete Doherty, Robyn
CLAIM TO FAME: Raw Vocals, Bohemian Love (w/ Pete Doherty) Sting’s Daughter
FOR FANS OF: Rachael Yamagata, Sting, Damien Marley
She has his eyes, his jawline, his unflinching talent; she even has his voice.
With music in her genes, Coco Sumner (the Police man’s daughter) has been making music since forever and writing for her debut since she was 15. But when she turned the ripe age of 17, she signed to Island Records and got the go-ahead to record her first album, The Constant, under the moniker I Blame Coco. With its October 12 UK release date edging up upon us, the raspy-voiced Coco has been releasing a slew of music videos, including “Self Machine” and “Caesar” (feat. Robyn).
Her vocals on the Pete Doherty-written “Bohemian Love” (rumoured to be written about Kate Moss) is probably what first got her noticed. Well, it’s when I discovered her. And it’s a must-see for all I Blame Coco newbies.
There’s no denying Sting has a very talented bloodline.
Download: I Blame Coco – “Caesar” ft. Robyn (Diplo Remix)
*Below is the just-released video for “Quicker.”