The words honest and genuine are thrown around so often in regards to music it can be hard to wade through the sea of so called artists. But every so often, in the wading of the sea, you stumble on an album or artist that practically screams for praise without actually asking for it.
Micah Schnabel’s full-length solo endeavor, When the Stage Lights Go Dim, is just such an album. It is honest when it needs to be and never asks for forgiveness over harsh words. I can’t remember hearing anything quite like it, and I’m confident in saying that this album will stay in constant rotation for a long time to come.
When he’s not recording solo, Schnabel plays guitar and sings for the Columbus, Ohio outfit Two Cow Garage. His song writing style throughout Stage Lights is similar to what you could hear on a Two Cow record, but there is just something unique about this album allows it to stand out from previous songs he has recorded. These songs are more personal than the ones that preceded it. The record mostly revolves around Schnabel’s life as a touring musician and his experience as a hopeless romantic. In a song titled “My Blue Heart,” he agonizes over writing his crush a poem and wishing she were his Valentine. “So I handed you my heart/ ‘Like Me’ construction paper blue/ Cause I had used up all my red/ Writing poems and songs for you.” Occasionally the two themes overlap like in “God and Money” in which he professes his love for a girl despite her parent’s disapproval. That particular theme is very played out, but Schnabel adds depth to this petty fight over ideology. The album flows nicely with a well thought out song placement. The faster songs mixed well with slower acoustic beauties, “Throwing Rocks at the Sun” with its Irish pub song vibe, and a cover of the Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” make for an album where one couldn’t ask for more. The record feels complete, full and incredibly colorful.
Though it has yet to be pressed officially, I would highly recommend looking into preordering this album from Suburban Home Records’ partner Vinyl Collective. You can also check out some of Two Cow Garage’s songs at www.myspace.com/twocowgarage
Stand out tracks: “American Static”, “A Girl Named January”, “Bury the Maps”
Last minute shows can be the ones that surprise you in the best kind of way. A few months back my brother mentioned this show and his deep desire to be in town to see it. Not being entirely familiar with the sounds of the bands, I had nearly forgotten all about it, until I saw the Bottletree’s Facebook status update (one of the few benefits of technology, right?). For those new to town, Bottletree is a small venue in downtown Birmingham that caters mostly to the indie crowd, but hosts a wide variety of acts. So I headed downtown in hopes of buying tickets at the door. I was immediately reminded why I love Bottletree. It was a Saturday night show and the whole place was jumping. There was a decent mix of people there to enjoy a good show and those just looking for a hangout with good music and a nice bar. It was a fairly small crowd considering the size of the venue causes it to sell out fast. I grabbed a soda and made my way toward the stage. I came to the show with very little knowledge of any of the acts beyond the fact that they were all Scottish.
The first act up was We Were Promised Jetpacks. I knew with a name like that they had to be truly amazing to have made it this far. They looked like they just came from a high school battle of the bands, which is incidentally how the band was formed nearly six years ago. But this unassuming look adds to the grand shock they delivered with their first song. Their sound was big, warm and round. The lead singer, Adam, has an uneasy smile and adorable accent, but when he opened his mouth to sing, I was amazed. He has a strong, dulcet and clear voice that, when coupled with their lyrics, is a simple pleasure. “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” and “Quiet Little Voices” were the stand out songs to me. The band has an interesting live sound that I am still attempting to properly place, but for illustrative purposes I could say they had some post-rock influences with simple lyrical changes, interesting effects handled by the guitarist Michael, and a slightly emo feel. Now I freely admit to being an Americana and straight rock loving kind of girl, but these cats grabbed me with their first song and did not let go until they left the stage.
The next band up was The Twilight Sad hailing from Kilsyth, Scotland. They looked much different from the first band, and at first glance one could have easily confused them for your typical college town bar band. Again I was interested to see what they would sound like, and like Jetpacks I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. They were much more post rock influenced assailing the audience with an intense wall of sound. At first I heard a bit of Explosions in the Sky in their sound, but they are much more complex than just their use of effects. The lyrics on the other hand had a much more folky appeal to them. The layers of sound and effects did wonders to bolster lead singer, James Graham’s lyrics and intensity. Graham’s live show role in the band is to sing, but he brings much more than just his voice. In “Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed” he contributed to the noise by banging on a cymbal. Throughout the show he seemed to be possessed by the songs, letting them control his movements and voice. Between the wall of sound and James Graham’s charisma the crowd seemed enamored by The Twilight Sad.
Then finally, Frightened Rabbit hit the stage. Again, they looked nothing like what I expected, with the lead singer’s beard and the whole group looked like a Paste Magazine cover. Interestingly, their look held pretty true to their sound. They have a decidedly more indie and folky sound than the first two bands. All three acts formed around 2003 but Frightened Rabbit just seemed to be in the right place at the right time when they opened for Death Cab For Cutie on their UK tour. However, it was this band though that got the room dancing and smiling. “Old Old Fashioned” even elicited some girly screams from the group behind me. Their sound was very warm, rounded and filled the venue nicely. I could hear a bit of The Shins with a little Ryan Adams in his Americana stage. The lead singer, Scott Hutchinson, dragged the sound where he wanted it to go, almost like the ringleader of a circus. He, much like Graham of The Twilight Sad, has such an air of charisma and likability about him that it is hard not to enjoy the music.
A good live show should leave you reeling. And if the performers have done their job you should leave a little different than when you arrived. The high points of the night came into light while I was driving home and dissecting the experience. I loved that each band had such a distinct and unique sound. It was almost as though had each band not held their own, the night could have felt jumbled and incoherent. However, the most interesting part of the night was coming to the realization that all three bands sang with their Scottish accents. This is refreshing to hear, but the nice thing is that it was not obvious. We Were Promised Jetpack’s singer has a newer, younger accent, but it still remains prominent in his singing and rhyming for that matter. On the other hand The Twilight Sad’s singer, James, has a much thicker accent and even rolls his R’s, but at some points in the set caused the lyrics to be hard to understand. And finally Frightened Rabbit’s singer has a much more subdued accent as it comes out in some words more than others. So having attended at the last moment I am beyond glad to have seen these bands in action. I highly recommend checking out one if not all of the bands depending on your personal music tastes.
Depending on where this change of season finds you, The Avett Brothers latest, I And Love And You, could be the perfect sound for your adventures or a gleaming reminder of what summer should have been. With cryptic album art and more press coverage than ever, The Avett boys have their work cut out for them. The Avett Brothers, a trio native to North Carolina, released their seventh studio album and major label debut last Tuesday. Unlike previous releases, this record sounds much more produced, shiny even. But as these boys will show you, a little sheen never hurt anyone. This obvious shift could be due in part to Rick Rubin’s involvement in the production. One could easily say that such an iconic name being involved in the making of this album can only help the band. But the big named producer does not affect the fact that The Avett Brothers have delivered another stand up album. However, die hard fans must note that this isn’t a continuation of previous releases.
There are a few distinct characteristics that the band carried through to their new songs. Scott Avett’s banjo playing and the brother’s harmonies still play a large role like in “Laundry Room”. They’re also known for their verse sharing and lovey-dovey songwriting displayed perfectly in “January Wedding” about a couple so deeply in love their heart is actually one. “But I know what she's sayin'/I understand because my heart and hers are the same/And in January we're gettin' married.” Some newer sounds have emerged though, Seth Avett has taken to the keys and the drums are more prevalent than in previous albums. “Kick Drum Heart,” about the giddy start of a brand new relationship highlights the new drums and keys beautifully all while making you want to dance. All in all this is a great record and released at a perfect time in the year. The title track begins the record with a kick. However, The middle has a small lull, but I mostly blame the track placement. The end is rounded out nicely, but still leaves the listener wanting more. So if you’re still looking for an album that can put that special kick in your step, look no further. Stand-out songs: It Goes On And On, I And Love And You, And It Spread.