Oaks’ “Galacticana” is winning teaser slice of forthcoming “Heaven”

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Strand of Oaks is the moniker created by Timothy Showalter, a 38-year old Indiana-born musician (and former Hebrew school teacher) who broke onto the scene in 2009 with album Leave Ruin.

I crossed paths with Showalter’s Oaks project in 2014, a year in which Tim’s album HEAL was a constant topic of conversation around indie rock circles. This was for good reason, as HEAL remains a desperately beautiful, screamingly raw, deeply delving insight into the deathly horror of mental, personal breakdown and the resurrection of finding the healing hope and reasons to still go on.

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HEAL also was speaking a lot to what I was feeling then. I had recently enjoyed being introduced to Dinosaur Jr’s brilliant J Mascis only to find his enigmatic guitar playing on “Goshen 97”, while the aching of loss I felt for Songs: Ohia musician Jason Molina after his tragic death at 39 was perfectly eulogized in the rattling “JM”. Even bonus track covers of Ryan Adams’ “My Wrecking Ball” and The National’s “Pink Rabbits” fit in line with other artists that obsessed me at the time.

HEAL is a true “complete” album without a misstep in an era that needs a lot more of them. That song on the radio may stay with you a day or a week; a true album is a staple of life.

I also empathized with Showalter nearly giving up the craft until fate intervened in the form of My Morning Jacket guitar-slinger Carl Broemel (leading to the recording of the gorgeous 2019 Oaks revival record Eraserland). I’ve long loved working in creative writing, but on more than one occasion I’ve felt the compulsion to quit based on anxiety, crippling self-criticism, and thinking I had nothing left to say anyone cared to hear. It’s connecting to hear someone singing and persevering through what I felt and what I still deal with mentally today.

Someone being real.

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Tim Showalter is one of those musicians talented enough to consistently bring that baggage of emotion out for some recording booth catharsis, and that continues with the lead single from the upcoming Strand of Oaks album In Heaven, due out October 1st.”Galacticana” has an uplifting swing in mentions of joy and ecstacy, but like storm clouds amidst summer sun it also dwells on the human fear and insecurity that lies beneath those gold rays.

But instead of that worrying “I don’t wanna drag you down” suggestive earworm on this track, that reveal of vulnerability instead feels like a badge of kinship. It’s a powerful bonding connection between Showalter and his listeners, which is more than can be said for a lot of musical projects.

For example, take a band I’ve enjoyed a long time who recently dropped a record with a producer I greatly respect. Despite the anticipated team up, the majority of this band’s new tracks just felt lifeless and meandering. But sometimes that’s just it, you can book the best producer behind a great veteran band with a handful of songs, but when there’s no soul in it…. you’re just ironing an empty shirt.

Not so with Strand of Oaks. If “Galacticana” is any indication, In Heaven is already a dark horse contender for 2021’s Best Of list.

Watch below:

Power trio Th1rt3en fuels with kerosene on raw, poignant “Exorcism”

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The band Th1rt3en is veteran rapper Pharaohe Monche, soulful blues guitar slinger Marcus Machado, and the punchy syncopated thump of jack of all trades drummer Daru Jones. The trio unites to form a sound I can only begin to describe as a mash of blazing fiery hip hop, assertive funk, and creepy cutting samples and sound; all combine to formulate the universe of their debut record A Magnificent Day For an Exorcism

To paraphrase Monche, the album’s title refers to the world and it needing a “cleansing” due to moral decay. A student tortured into school shooting insanity by constant bullies and beatings, violent conflicts and death brought on by the brutal actions of police, dealing with the constant fallout of racism as a person of color… it is a list of heavy tolls. 

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Despite that, Monche takes hearty bites of these heady matters with gusto; his carnivorous rhymes stripping apart the haters and competition alike with piranha-toothed glee, backed by the dual ninja slice of Jones and Machado acting as a backcourt of merciless Avengers. The trio swoons, battles, and machine guns through tracks like “The Magician”, “Goats Head”, “666”, and “Triskaidekaphobia”, barely stopping to hold still for the sad breath of a wistfully slipped “Amnesia”. 

While it’s brief sidebar amidst the louder issues, “Amnesia” is one of the tracks that stuck with me longest from “Exorcism”. It’s a beautiful relationship between musicians playing in sync together to give life and form to the same sonic wavelength. Monche deconstructs a soldier damaged in the ICU who slowly has his mind ebb away through each razor-sharp tightened bar, Jones thrums on an ever-steady rich backbeat, and Machado lands a dancing solo into the track’s conclusion that scatters like constellations into the midnight. 

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“Amnesia” is a sobering drop before the marathon march of closer “Kill, Kill, Kill”, which brings Exorcism back onto its breathless path for a final conclusion; a fatigued yet triumphant boxer throwing out his last flurry of haymakers. This is an album that may be too thematically intense for some listeners, but it involves the type of conversations we need to be having more and more in this day and age. 

And that’s where it begins: by shutting up and listening. 

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An Open Letter…

To the person whose eyes choose to read these sentences,

Greetings. You may or may not know some small piece of the “creative me” via prior posts on this website as you give these current words a scan. At this point its more likely the latter as I’ve been absent since last year, AKA the start of pandemic times.

A combination of slow recovery from right wrist surgery, the changing of the world amid COVID, and a mix of so many of my anxieties kept me far from the computer; glued instead to the undersides of blankets and mind-blanketing side hustles. Fears… they don’t easily go back in the box when life changes radically. At least in my experience.

But I’m not here to magically say I’m better from those wounds now and have returned to become 100% myself again either. Its more a “one situation at a time” kind of vibe where some moments outweigh handling others during a pandemic. I will however say in these currently backward days that seem so unfit to be called something as futuristic-sounding as 2021, it feels wrong to allow time to win and freely pass while only being able to lay in the fetal position staring at its back as it gradually fades away.

So while I can’t perhaps provide the exact essentials many folks need right now, I’m still a writer here to entertain with creativity when I’m able to do so. And I can still do what I’ve always loved best: supporting musicians who just need a signal boost and a voice to listen and help spread the word. Sometimes the best thing we can do as humans (virus or no virus) is to give each other a hand up.

And better to do it sooner rather than later, because most of all we know is finite. The full name for this site (On The Back Edge of the Beat) came from singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle and a random piece of stage banter I happened to see of his on Youtube that ultimately inspired the title. That was all it took to start this project, and as small as it is I’ve always been thankful to JTE for that idea lightbulb.

Sadly, we lost Justin in August 2020 at only age 38. I haven’t had the words to describe how that’s felt since I learned it happened, other than I miss him and I wish it hadn’t had to occur of course. Especially for the sake of his wife and young daughter.

Moments like that have made me realize that its okay to slow down during these times, preserve strength and heal your wounds. However, you can’t just stop the car and hide because that’s easier than life’s potential fortune of possible cruelty. That’s a lesson I’m still working out on the days it feels easier to just be sad or depressed, but I plan to return to do what I do best on this site again, with a small tweak.

I’m now changing the email for all submissions to cwhedden@yahoo.com. Its a more direct means of contact that’s easier to handle right now.

Hopefully this is just the start of more to come in the days to follow.

All the best,

Kuri Hypnotizes on Unflinching “Human Nature” Visuals

British Columbia singer-songwriter Kuri recently released a video for his single “Human Nature”, a cut from an EP with the same title. Before I break down the visuals a little bit, this is my first exposure to Kuri’s work and plenty needs to be said for this song as well.

“Human Nature” is a gorgeously delicate, intricately woven patchwork quilt of airy folk that begins in a rustling whisper of leafy harmonies and culminates in sunshine-washed waves of strings and percussion. My first thoughts immediately fly to Damien Rice’s 2014, often-cinematic My Favourite Faded Fantasy for the song having that same pastoral ambition (as well as a knack for words of gut-dropping melancholy slipped within the breaths of the melody).

That lyrical introspection is given life in vivid illustration via the video for “Human Nature”, which captures the thin-railed frailty the title hints toward. We seem to be witness to an almost typical whirlwind of a romance in this story, but not is all as the perfectly arranged scene seems. A tender embrace includes a lost, rigid look into the distance. Moments of connection are sought with a passion, but fall apart like dreams become smoke become the unrelenting reality of one person who just can’t let release the unattainable.

But, as Kuri’s words fall out so appropriately, “it’s human nature to need some impeccable force”. Sometimes we’re that Jim Carrey character from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind simply refusing to forget a mountainous presence no matter how much we try to erase it. Or how it might lead to our own self-destruction. And much like the film, the visual’s end remains open… uncertain.. flawed…. yet still willing to fight even if only to end in doom.

And what could be more human than that?

Host Bodies New EP a “Diamondfruit” in the Rough

I love when its time to write reviews about up and coming talent in the music world. I’ve never asked around to get an opinion, but I’ve always been on the fence about whether to write about whatever music I’m listening to (popular or not), or to purely focus on that independent landscape. There isn’t exactly a binding contract stopping me from both I suppose. But, I enjoy it just a bit more when I get to try in-my-tiny-little-blog way to help someone get their art out there by using my own form of creation. So with that being said, let’s talk…. Diamondfruit

James Collector and Nick Hess are the San Francisco-based musical outfit Host Bodies, and together with Ryan Kleeman and Count Eldridge have created a new EP called (as you may have guessed) Diamondfruit. It’s an entirely instrumental creation, which isn’t a style I immerse myself in as often as I should. This was a nice way to be reintroduced. Music without words can speak just as loudly as a set of lyrics if the creators assemble it properly. Diamondfruit paints the scenery of its seven tracks with easily nimble fingers that leave plenty of room for the crafting of the melody. 

“Stories” is a ghostly, woozy sway of an opening track that quickly sets a mellow mood with a Portlandia-sounding intention that slowly twists shape. Guitars fade in and out and grow and diminish with a relaxing hypnotism that doesn’t evoke sleep so much as… satisfying balance. The moment they start to drift in on the back of an organic acoustic arpeggio brings the space of this track just a little bit closer to Earth. 

“Wildcat Beach” meanwhile returns more to the electronics of the constellations as it feels like the scene implied in the title, standing in the white dunes staring at the expanse of an infinite universe above. Guitar and drum kick in another layer to the party and spiral out with thematic elegance before spinning left into the ukulele strings and jittery zip of “One Under Won Over”. The pace and tempo of Diamondfruit never seeks to break the speed limit, but here you’ll go farther riding with the groove than speeding to the finish line. 

The first line of a description for Diamondfruit calls it “a dreamy electronic EP that finds calm and clarity amid hectic times”. I quote that line because by the time “A Humble Student” and “Outro” roll around and hit the final fade, it feels like there’s just a little bit less stress in the world. Fewer harsh vibrations and more reminders of the truth to power earnest, thoughtful music can bring.

For more on the band visit hostbodies.com, and to listen to Diamondfruit for yourself, click here.

Wyld hits the right notes on sweet summertime glow of “Child”

I’ve been freelancing as a music writer for a few years now, and I still consider one of my greatest gold medal achievements to be the connections I’ve made to New York City’s area music scene. I’m sure I’m said this in one form or another before in my writings, but here it is again. Some of the biggest city crossovers of mine have coincided within very significant parts of my life that really defined the person I’ve become and the art I’ve created since. There’s a beautifully-lit, urban imagery to it all I deeply appreciate whenever I get the chance to look back on it all. Plenty of nostalgic tones, sunrises, and late-night hero orders in that paint box.

I found that same fond imagery coming to mind watching the music video for my latest connection on that New York City map, Brooklyn-area singer-songwriter Elizabeth Wyld. Look no further than the opening shot of the iconic city skyline in “Child”, or the lyrics’ initial mentions of Christopher Street and signature yellow cabs. Though looking beyond that, I’d say the greatest ode to this city in both song and video lies in it’s romantic heart.

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“Child” is a sweetly shiny, folk-pop foot tapper that relays one of the oldest and most relatable feelings in humanity: navigating/risking the vulnerabilities of falling in love. It can happen as fast as a shock to the system and hit twice as hard, especially in that first moment’s “spark” that feels like your insides are doing caffeinated backflips. I equate the feeling to… jumping into an ice cold pool instead of dipping a toe in on a hot summer day. But as anxiety-provoking as the thought of such a crash is, when that feeling’s right… you just sense it in your bones and welcome it with a smile. And I felt this whole course of thought spill out just giving this song a few listens… again, good memories brought to mind by the presence of good art.

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Plus, the music video for this song fills in the illustrations of the lyrics beautifully. It does so in a way that reminds me of the useful narrative power music videos still have in even in a post-MTV and TRL era. I think that’s mostly due to the performances of Wyld and Dana DePirri, who exude the type of natural, bright-eyed chemistry that makes the “thrift store cardigan” romance of this song authentically movie-sweet. Not in the plastic, Hollywood way that feels more substance than stereotype. Rather, in the type of way that goes to show the sort of stylized gloss I think we all put on that initial relationship ember that makes our brain chemistry’s electricity crackle. It’s an endorphin rush, and this video really puts it in the moment.

To do that so naturally, puts a smile on my face every time. Go drive with the windows down, the sunshine on, and take in this song’s ambiance.

You can check out Elizabeth’s music at her website http://elizabethwyld.com/

 

 

 

Bowie first demo found in bread basket

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Not exactly a headline I imagined writing, yet here we are. Per this article and image via The Guardian, one of the earliest recordings of David Bowie singing with his first band The Konrads recently resurfaced. Evidently, a former Konrad rediscovered the demo of the 16-year old then-aspiring saxophonist singing the tune “I Never Dreamed” in an old bread box when moving back home.

First of all, finding anything of a value in a bread box that isn’t disgusting, rotten bread (especially with the magnitude of a Bowie tape), seems like the most adorably fun, totally British situation I can possibly imagine. All the story really lacks is that typical UK rogue’s charm and charisma, AKA: actor Colin Firth.

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You see what I mean. I can’t make fun though. Discoveries with historical value like this dazzle to my eye like shiny Spanish galleons from long-lost pirate ships. The concept of mythical areas like Prince’s Paisley Park vaults and wherever Ryan Adams stores his years of insane, unheard material creates the same effect. And to just have that hanging out in your house? It’s like finding a Honus Wagner baseball card being used as a bookmark in a copy of The Boxcar Children.

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The Bowie demo’s expected to fetch just over $13,000 US dollars at auction. Sadly not an expense I could ever afford, but may it hopefully find a good home to continue its unique little place in the musical timeline!

Reading this story also made me think back to Paul McCartney’s recent appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke and some of the oral history they explored around Liverpool. A lovely segment if you haven’t given it a viewing. Seeing this talisman of young Bowie just beginning to draw the line of his career is much like the scenes they show of the home where McCartney first wrote songs with John Lennon.

At the end of the day, its just wonderful to know these places and items still exist.

One More Time With Feeling…

Watching Moses Sumney’s NPR Tiny Desk segment was a lucky stumble-upon this week that I highly recommend hearing at least once.

I say this due to the stripped-back crafting of Sumney’s vocal range, which for lack of a better phrase froze me to my seat like a slap to the head. I was immediately reminded of an ethereal, Nina Simone figure just emoting a… gossamer beauty. It reminded me of the first time I listened to Bon Iver sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me/Knick of Time” solo at the piano.

And while Sumney and Justin Vernon are different musically, to hear the level of falsetto these men can conjure is… frankly unreal. And it’s not because they’re male. Rather, it’s the undeniable power of this ability. I hear these performances and am just stunned someone’s voice can make these sounds so beautifully in the first place. Simone, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, Jonsi from Sigur Ros, and certain select others come to mind. But whatever the case, my point is these are just some of the moments that make performances timeless, and why as a music lover I never stop searching for them. Because when you find it, you know.

Plus, if you somehow still don’t know by now (and you need to!), NPR Tiny Desk performances remain one of the best music media sources anywhere. Not only have I discovered new artists like Sumney and The Lone Bellow, but musicians like Wilco, Dave Matthews, Julien Baker, Anderson .Paak, Leon Bridges, Run The Jewels, Brandi Carlile, and countless others I love have adapted to the space in new and sometimes unexpectedly great ways. T-Pain anyone?

(Yes I really said T-Pain. It’s that good. Enjoy a few others.)

There’s so much feeling injected into these performances, and it would be a bucket list goal of mine just to watch a taping. But in the meantime, get a listen to Moses Sumney. Not just because of the voice. Listen to the harp, saxophone, and twinkling guitar in the band moving around in the arrangement. You may not be a fan for life by the end, but the creativity in motion is a fascinating place to play.

Saluting the Drummers!

Because really, do they ever get the respect they so justly deserve?

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Maybe people are just jealous of the hair. The need for this dedication comes courtesy of two sources.

1: This writer’s ongoing obsession with the music of Anderson .Paak (see previous post, RE: The Reasons Behind That)

2: This.

As you may or may not know, this video of 8-year old Japanese drumming prodigy Yoyoka Soma replicating John Bonham’s (extremely difficult) drumming on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” recently went viral. Now watch this video because the interest is SO well-deserved!

I don’t say that easily either.

You see, I’m one of those Grinch types that can’t get onboard with kid musical performances. And I don’t mean the 8th grade high school talent show variety, more like the “see this crazy gifted 10-year old on major network television” kind. I applaud them for what they’ve done… I’m just not likely to watch.

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But let’s not dwell on that, and instead talk about this video. I’m not a drummer so forgive the lack of any technical knowledge in describing this, but suffice to say this kid has chops. Her foot can barely reach the kick drum pedal, yet she’s already acing the patterns of one of rock’s more technical drummers. If you’ve seen the video already, just go back and watch it for that kick drum impressiveness alone.

In 8 years I was lucky if I had complete mastery of the alphabet (spoiler alert: still a work in progress), let alone nailing the percussion to one of rock’s more classic songs. Right down to the opening cowbell flourish people. Somewhere, Christopher Walken is very happy. And still likely as weird as ever, according to Captain Obvious.

So all hail the sick drumming skills of Yoyoka Soma, as well as all the young, very talented musicians who may or may not be “crazy gifted on network television”. Ya’ll are doing fine work, and despite this Grinch’s worse ways, you are the coolest.

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Thinking of a “Peaceful Dream” to end 2017 without a “Walk Into a Storm”…

As 2017 winds down to its final few hours, I feel like its the perfect time to continue posting more of the end of the year album countdown segments I participated in with Lee Rayburn over on the radio side of my creative work at WHCU. For this first one I chose to bring Mavis Staples’ latest, while Lee did the same with Jason Isbell. More below…

My notes…

If All I Was Was Black continues the run of dark horse brilliance between soul legend Mavis Staples and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who once again trade musical statements as natural and as free flow as conversation. Whether its Tweedy’s folk guitar mechanics adding warmth to the earthy gospel of “Peaceful Dream”, Staples beautifully empathetic delivery on the contemporary charge of the title track, or the two doing what feels like an overdue vocal duet on the sweet friendship of “Ain’t No Doubt About It”, the pair’s chemistry remains at a strength usually only held by decades long collaborators.

Though despite this Tweedy’s impact remains strictly as the crafty man-in-the-shadows, while Staples is allowed to shine with every bit of the wisdom, poise, and tenacity she’s held in her lengthy career. And in the state of a world today that has drifted further and further into complete upheaval, having a voice like Staples’ preach for love, tolerance and equality is one of the more comforting moments 2017 could actually provide.

We’re lucky for that.

Moving on to #2, where we compare my choice of The Lone Bellow, while Lee brought Big Thief to the conversation…

My thoughts…

Walk Into a Storm finds The Lone Bellow continuing to build off the momentum of prior release Then Came The Morning, which saw the band work with The National’s Aaron Dessner on a bigger sound that didn’t quite abandon their folks roots (see: Mumford & Sons) so much as expand them into new territories.

Now with Nashville producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb at the helm, third album Storm didn’t try to go even bigger and risk ruining the essence of whats in the band’s wheelhouse (again, see Mumford & Sons). Instead, its content with punching in the best of the band’s new material which crackles with bristling energy (“Deeper in the Water”, “Feather”), brakes appropriately for the introspective moments (“May You Be Well”, “Long Way To Go”), and shows that Storm is another essential listening moment on The Lone Bellow’s musical journey.

Whether its StormMorning, or the band’s self-titled debut, to truly understand them best requires reading each chapter carefully. They won’t make you regret it.

Keep an eye for #1 on the list in just a few days! 

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