Music

Red Heart the Ticker: Oh My! Mountains Below

The single best word I can find to describe Red Heart the Ticker's second album is “sensual”, in that everything about their gorgeous country-folk songs feels inextricably tethered to the world of the five senses.


Red Heart the Ticker

Oh My! Mountains Below

Label: Auger Down
US Release Date: 2009-05-26
UK Release Date: Import
Website
Amazon
iTunes

After spending most of the young spring absorbing Red Heart the Ticker’s stunning second album, Oh My! Mountains Below, the best single word I can find to describe the effort is “sensual”, in that everything about their songs and sound feels inextricably tethered to the world of the five senses. Guitar notes bend and curl upwards like trailers of fog off of green hills, voices wind around each other in close harmonies that raise goosebumps on one’s arms, not to mention the imagery-filled lyrics that conjure everything from domestic and pastoral scenes to car accidents and pistols in dress pockets. Every word and note of Mountains feels intended, or rather, simply feels.

Southern Vermont husband and wife duo Tyler Gibbons and Robin MacArthur play a style of music for which the only shorthand is unfortunately the vague tag “Americana”, in that the instrumentation is largely acoustic, with song structures and melodies that feel like part of the rich lineage of American forms from the blues to country, ballads to bluegrass, without borrowing directly or wholesale at any given moment. The opening acoustic guitar figure on the woozy “Yellow Bird” echoes Neil Young’s “Old Man”, for example, but the song quickly veers off into its own melancholic realm, populated by prominent stand-up bass-lines, slowly reverberating cymbals, and evocations of “songs of plenty, songs of old / Songs of courtship, songs of war”. When MacArthur croons at the song’s close, “Yellow bird, yellow bird / Flight of golden wing / What makes your poor heart sing?”, it’s not a convention. It feels as if there really is, or should be, a tangible answer.

Similarly, “Snakeskin” pairs a heartbreaking lyric with a sweet-sounding arrangement of guitar and banjo. “I left snakeskin on my floor / In case you felt like coming by / Just inside the kitchen door / A heart-shaped note by its side / Telling you to walk on by / … to let me be / To let my heart get hard inside”. The song dips into memories of better days, but uses landscape and sensory details to hammer home loss, rather than the rote language of emotion, “take your old Chevrolet and park it on the hill above / The place where you took my heart, touched my legs and called it love / The place where the cold black water reflected all the stars above”. Then the song masterfully slows down, stretching out and away from its familiar rhythm to accommodate the gentle harmony with Gibbons, “Cold rain gonna fall / This kind of love won’t do at all”. The song could provide a study in smart songwriting, but it grabs the gut as much as the intellect, if not more, providing room for the listener to experience emotion rather than just have it described for them.

The Gibbons-sung material tends to be jauntier, beginning with the two-part “I Lift That Boombox”, which builds slowly but steadily through a variety of moods and tones to incorporate cello, glockenspiel, and a playful bassline. “Naked in Pittsburgh, But Inside, Full of Grace” is as epic as its title, a noir story-song that unfolds like a movie, full of characters and a climactic, unforgettable image of a car accident, “He topped at twenty feet / High as a body could / Came down on the pavement / With the sound of splitting wood”. Gibbons’s voice warbles at times like Workingman’s Dead-era Jerry Garcia, as at the end of “Small Sky Country”, or it can purr and gently emote as on the propulsive “(I Used to Wear) The Head of a Lion”: “I used to eat up all of you for supper / And still have room left for some wine”. Better yet, the duo knows how to harmonize their voices not only with interesting intervals, but with the complimentary timbres and candor. On the duet “When We Were Young”, their voices rise and fall together, backed by singing saw in a country waltz whose progression curls upward like a flowering vine. It’s perhaps the best representative example of the Red Heart the Ticker partnership: natural, graceful, reflective, hopeful, honest, sure to be some of the best music of the year.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image