erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

The Black Swans, Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You? (Delmore Recording Society)

Like a haunted-country version of Arab Strap, The Black Swans slowly glide through the shadows with love-and-loneliness dirges on their latest album Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You?. The Black Swans' music is eerie, yet at the same time quite beautiful. The surface-level bleakness is often covering up lovely evocations of solitude. There's an ample amount of George Jones hidden in these bones, along with the more obvious Nick Cave. The Black Swans sound is evocative of both old-time American C&W and British folk music, in instrumentation (the violin and acoustic guitar) and the bare-bones emotional landscape. And the overall tone is as serious as Death himself. To get a sense for the Black Swans universe, listen to the picture lead singer Jerry DeCicca paints at the start of "Song Without You," as he sings, "Tonight is fading/and tomorrow's falling down/promises are breaking/can't you hear the sound?" Hurt, disappointment, and the feeling that everyone is left alone forevermore - the answer to the title question is 'no one', by the way - are everyday feelings in this world. As with much so-called bleak music though, it isn't about sinking or wallowing. This in its own way is revealing, inspiring and quite gorgeous music. - dave heaton

Lizz Fields, By Day By Night (ABB Records)

Lizz Fields' album By Day By Night has those jazzy, vaguely hip-hop-ish textures behind every song which are so popular in certain strains of R&B these days. That is, in the strain of R&B where the musicians involved care about the history of soul music and want to add to its legacy, where the sounds of '70s soul have been updated for the modern era. In other words, Lizz Fields stands out as unconventional within the world of contemporary R&B radio, but sounds right in line with what you would expect from a Philadelphian soul singer on ABB Records (that is, if you've heard Jill Scott, Jaguar Wright, Musiq, etc.). That isn't bad news, just a statement of fact. Actually, if that style of laidback, sort-of jazzy soul music is up your alley, this likely will be too. Fields is a talented singer, with a smooth, warm voice. As a sound or a style, By Day By Night is successful if not all that unique. The songwriting, though, is another story. Few of the songs really stand out from each other: the lyrics are indistinctive (self-examining, some might find them inspiring, but to me they're indistinctive) and the hooks hardly hook you at all. By Day By Night, then is another one of those solid but sort of ordinary albums, where everything is produced and performed impeccably, but the songs just don't hit hard enough. - dave heaton

Folk?, self-titled (Vibrating Needle Collective)

Is this folk music? That's the question that Mike Detmer and William Ryan Fletcher are posing with the name of their duo Folk? Or maybe the question should be, why is this folk?, as there's nothing on the surface that would make most people identify it as such. This is catchy-as-all-get-out pop-rock which uses electronic textures in various ways. Sometimes the electronics add atmosphere, other times, purposefully or not, they make the listener think of '80s pop, of Hall & Oates or The Cars. I'm not bringing up those names as insults. You know how all that '80s synth-rock sounds both like 'please everybody' cheese and like an attempt to travel to the future? Ok, maybe you don't. But that's the feeling I get from Folk? To me these songs are folk music because they're using the tools of today - computerized things plus rock instruments - but also in the sense that they're aimed squarely at the folks, at people. There's a down-to-earth, hit-people-where-they-live quality to these songs, which carry killer melodies like secret weapons but also express emotions in a genuine way. But the songs also have a playful feeling, like the musicians are just fooling around and seeing where it takes them. That's not just admirable, it helps make for music that's powered by enthusiasm for creating, and sounds like it. - dave heaton

Pipas, Chunnel Autumnal EP (Matinee)

Pipas' songs may seem innocuous - short catchy pop songs - but they're so much more than that. Anyone who can't hear the magic in their songs needs to listen to "Don't Tell Me That" before writing them off. The second song on their recently reissued debut 10" ep Chunnel Autumnal, "Don't Tell Me That" is a study in simplicity and economy. It's a 2-minute song with just guitar, voices (those of Pipas' two members, Lupe Nunez-Fernandez and Mark Powell) and maybe a tambourine; that makes it seem like a trifle, like nothing with real weight. Yet the song's relaxed reflection, on ghosts - "can you believe he was there / sitting in your favorite chair" - on death, on mortality, and on the question of the afterlife, accomplishes so much emotionally with so little. Its reverberations are endless... yet before you know it you're listening to the next song, and it's breezy and lovely and modern, and it too has a line that your brain will catch on, that you will carry with you and think about. And then there's the next song, and the next...and soon it's over, but it's not. The sound of the songs - the way really beautiful pop melodies are put together with a few beats and things that make them dance around in your head - make for a CD that flies past in a really pleasurable way, yet after you're done listening certain words and melodies and sounds come back to you and get under your skin. Pipas is like that, and this reissue of Chunnel Autumnal, augmented with the 3-song "A Short Film About Sleeping" 7", is a reminder that they were like that right from the start, that their music has always been special, and will continue to be, whether it's valued most in this lifetime or the next. - dave heaton

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