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by Brice Ezell

12 May 2015


Back in March, PopMatters premiered the tune “Small Fires”, taken from the Providence, Rhode Island instrumental outfit A Troop of Echoes’ new album, The Longest Year on Record. Well, the time has come for the full album to be released to the world, and as such, PopMatters is proud to present it in full streaming form.

Best classified as omnivorous instrumental music, The Longest Year on Record finds A Troop of Echoes carving their own impressions into distinct sonic niches. “Manifest and Legion” employs a guitar tone that is reminiscent of Mogwai at their moody best. Tunes like “Small Fires” and “Arecibo” represent unique spins on ‘90s indie rock. Gorgeous, soundtrack-like pieces such as “Kerosene” and “Pure Alexia (Is It Silent In This Room)” provide respite from the at times knotty instrumentation. Of the many unitive threads that runs throughout The Longest Year on Record, saxophone undoubtedly is the most distinctive. Even those not keen on jazz will find something to like in this band’s sharp use of the woodwind instrument.

by Brice Ezell

12 May 2015


Photo: Dee Dee Morris

Although Compostela, the latest outing by indie folk singer/songwriter Jenn Grant, is coming out in the United States next week, it’s already garnered her significant—and deserved—attention in her native Canada. The record led to Grant receiving two Juno Award nominations: Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. (As the Toronto Star boldly put it, “If you can resist this, you are made of stone.”) In addition to further refining her songwriting, Grant also used Compostela to work with a range of musical figures, whose collaborations add even more dimension to what is an emotively complex recording. Among many others, artists such as Ron Sexmith, Buck 65, Don Kerr, Sarah Harmer, Rose Cousins, and Jonathan Goldsmith all join in Grant’s musical world.

The title Compostela, meaning “field of stars” or “star field”, is an allusion to the legend related to Spain’s Camino de Santiago, which holds that the dust of pilgrims who walk that trail formed the Milky Way. For Grant, this has a strong personal resonance, as the name Compostela came about through some of her mother’s last words: “I will meet you in Spain.”

by Brice Ezell

12 May 2015


For those disillusioned by the glossy, overproduced sheen that’s lacquered on so many mainstream country records, Christian Lopez Band’s Onward will be a much-needed respite from the pop-country deluge. While Lopez and his band do write crisply produced tunes full of great hooks, there’s never the sense that he’s glossing anything over, but rather refining what are some supremely catchy tunes. Lopez’ craft in this respect is all the more remarkable given his young age; as his artist bio cheekily puts it, he “is a 19-year-old with the soul of a 65-year-old Appalachian mountain bluegrass musician hidden away inside.” Onward makes it apparent that he not only knows but has respect for his aesthetic predecessors, particularly folks like George Strait, whose style can be heard echoed in tunes like “Morning Rise” and “Oh Those Tombs”. There are also hints of newer styles laced throughout; tunes like opener “Take You Away” would fit cozily on the shelf next to the most recent Lone Bellow record. All in all, Christian Lopez Band and Onward both put to bed any notion that country music is “dying”; based on this record, it’s still got a great deal of life in it.

Onward was produced by Dave Cobb, who has worked with country and Americana luminaries like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, and Chris Stapleton.

by Brice Ezell

11 May 2015


Photo: Dani Barbieri

In their press bio, the Brooklyn-based, Balkan-obsessed band Tipsy Oxcart are described as “channeling the spirit of 36 hour weddings to keep the crowds dancing until the sun comes up” with their music. The sounds of Eastern Europe are indeed alive and well with this vivacious young outfit. Their release of their latest outing, Upside Down, is imminent. To ready yourself for the bevy of sonic adventurism to be found on the record, you can stream the track “Homecoming” below. Like Tipsy Oxcart themselves, who take their name from an old Bulgarian folk tale, there’s a rich story behind the tune.

by Brice Ezell

8 May 2015


With a fragile, delicate vocal beauty in the vein of Joanna Newsom, Sye Elaine Spence paints a vivid image of her grandmother in her tune “1964”. A bare arrangement consisting merely of Spence’s high-register voice and a guitar creates the effect of flipping through an old photo album, nostalgically gazing at all that has come to pass in a rich life experience. Although Spence is a young artist, the timelessness of “1964” makes it seem as if she’s doing it for a much longer time—in past lives, perhaps.

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