erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

Drew Danburry, Besides… (self-released)

At the start of Drew Danburry's album Besides: Are We Just Playing Around Out Here or Do We Mean What We Say?, you can hear his brain trying to wrap itself around the meanings of life and love. On the second track "It Starts With Indigo, Orange, and Green," he starts, "I wish I could write these feelings in some sort of poetic words / but all I can think to say is that it hurts." But then he tries for poetry anyway, not too successfully: "resembling pain just like a flame resembles the stretching gas." In this song his thoughts form a litany of attempts at understanding. He grabs at clichés, at received wisdom, at raw gut impressions, before emerging on the next song sounding more relaxed, a bit more comfortable with life, yet still obsessed with the hurt people do, the pain people feel, and why. "Maybe this is just a play in which we act?", he asks, "or maybe we've forgot just where we're from / we've forgot just where we're at." Besides is an especially open-hearted emotional trip – a DIY musician using his instruments to sort through feelings of hurt and confusion. At the start of the album he sounds intent to find the answers, recalling earlier Bright Eyes in places as he probes his heart with determination. As the album proceeds there's more of a 'relax, and see where this crazy life takes me' attitude, a willingness to lay back and dream. He brightens up his mood by imagining happiness and observing the perfect beauty of nature, while a country fiddle plays over a Sesame Street rhythm ("Tree on Wheels"). He injects a tropical feeling (think of Poi Dog Pondering's Hawaiian roots) into "It's Illegal to Frown in Pocatello," an attempt to remind himself to be more humble and kind. He plays piano and guitar in a relaxed sort of way, sings of an attempt to touch bases with an estranged love, and in general tries to look at life in a more positive way. Besides is an album that feels like an internal journey; the songs' narrator is learning to come to grips with hurt, and then to avoid judgment of others and instead turn his anger into positive self-criticism for the sake of self-renewal. What carries the album is the way it takes this personal journey and makes it something enjoyable for others to listen to, because of both how it communicates powerful emotions honestly and the strong melodies and diverse instrumentation. – dave heaton

The Orange Peels, Circling the Sun (Parasol)

Californian Allen Clapp is obsessed with the sun. Listening to Circling the Sun, the latest album from his band The Orange Peels, it's easy to imagine that he wrote all these songs while sprawled on the beach under an open sky, staring upward at the sun. His breezy pop-rock songs sound sunny, but also make frequent references to the summer sun, albeit in seemingly incongruous ways sometimes, with titles like "Long Cold Summer" and "California Blue." Chalk that up to his independent mind, a willingness to look at common things in an uncommon way. There's a sadness to Circling the Sun that nicely constrasts with, but also somehow fits, the lush, soft sound. Clapp's twin obsessions on the album are the sun and an un-named lost love, and sometimes it's hard to tell which he's referring to with his use of an ambiguous "you". The sun and the stars are constantly circling the album's confused lovers, somehow calling up longing in them for what (or who) they don't have. As on previous albums, Clapp has a wiley way of combining the sad with the sweet within really gorgeous melodies that float but also pack a punch. Parasol's press materials say the album is "more earthy and spacey" than its predecessors. That seems like a ridiculous statement, but it's actually quite a perceptive description of the album's mood. The Orange Peels create seemingly simple songs that are actually not simple at all. They're beautiful contradictions, like human beings. And for catchy pop songs that often float off into the upper stratospheres, they also pack a genuine emotional punch. – dave heaton

Piano Magic, Disaffected (Darla)

Offering vivid snapshots and moods, Piano Magic's latest, Disaffected, is the album-length equivalent of a motion picture, complete with a tag line printed on the back cover: "Set Your Clock by Your Heart." Johnson and his band bring a Joy Division-like sense of distance and impact to melancholy pop ballads – here they do so perhaps more viscerally than ever. Guitars rage around Johnson's deceptively calm voice on some of the openings tracks, while later they're strummed slowly, darkly, accompanying moody synthesizers or electronic programming. Throughout Disaffected the past is a ghost you can't escape from – and so is the present. For that matter, human beings are ghosts, walking around feeling invisible end empty. "Anything can happen in life / especially nothing, mainly nothing," guest vocalist Angele David-Guillou sings on the title track. That song's like a momentary intrusion by a new character. Its lyrics epitomize the album's theme of feeling disaffected by the world, yet the song has a more optimistic tint to it, like a theme song for the disaffected (sing along, "I'm disaffected now"). Its music provides an up note of beauty and comfort, with David-Guillou's lovely voice over a pleasurable mix of electronic beats. Johnson and friends are skilled at creating and holding onto one distinct mood – bleak but beautiful. The songs feel like part of the same story, yet also converse which each other. Yet Disaffected also gains strength through a diversity of style, from the more pop touches of the title track to the graceful, gently bitter ballad "I Must Love London," from the dance-pop inclinations of the remarkable "Deleted Scenes" to the closing "You Can Never Get Lost (When You've Nowhere to Go)", a disaffected, spacey folk song which embodies both a feeling of blankness and the secret longing that still smolders inside. In that same way, it's an album that feels lovingly molded; it may gave voice to feelings of emptiness, but there's true warmth and passion exuding from it. – dave heaton

The Trembling, Art for the Masses (Boyarm/Top Quality Rock and Roll)

Everyone knows, the kids wanna rock. For that matter, adults do too. Sometimes everyone wants music you can put on, turn up, and jump around your room to, passionately screaming out every word. Music that energizes, and all the better if it carries an anti-establishment, rebellious attitude. Where do you get music like this nowadays? It's not on MTV, not on your radio, not on the Billboard charts. Mostly it's homegrown bands in cities across the globe, just doing what they do. Bands like The Trembling, whose album Art for the Masses is exactly the sort of turn-it-up-and-shout-along album that you need, an album to wake you up and get you moving. Like a young Superchunk with a Bikini Kill-like rebel yell and a certain ragged pop sensibility, the Trembling ignite the album format, set it on fire. With loud guitars, unleashed drums and impassioned singing from vocalists Monday Busque and Kelli Miller, this Michigan trio is waging a war against mediocrity and complacency ("the latest version of the same old thing"), plus the zombiefication accompanying capitalism (a "shopping mall society"). They're countering with positive energy and a push for change: "Let's start shouting / some things need to be said out loud / let's start pushing / some things need to fall down." There's a real emotional yearning behind their words, a real hope for things to change for the better. It's in their outright calls for change, but also in songs where they express sadness and pain, when they sing choruses like, "I don't want to be bitter and old / trapped complaining and all alone." They sing about feeling lost and confused, about complicated relationships, about wishing you lived in a place you felt excited about. They express universal feelings, deep feelings, in a sincere way; it is Art for the Masses, music that will move people if they give it a chance. It's music that, when you're blaring it loud, does feel like it could change the world – dave heaton

Tullycraft, Disenchanted Hearts Unite (Magic Marker Records)

I'd be lying if I didn't say outright that Tullycraft's 'aren't we so indie' attitude has always bugged me, tongue-in-cheek as they often meant it. I thought their song hating on Orange Cake Mix was my breaking-up point with them…but hey, here's another Tullycraft album, and damn are these songs catchy, and man I can't resist hitting 'play' again, and oh just a couple more times. Disenchanted Hearts Unite has a sleek, full sound – a toughened-up version of typically cute and catchy "indie-pop" – that nicely complements the melodic pop-rock songs that fill the album from end to end. There's a real old-school ('50s, '60s) pop feeling to a lot of the songs. Plus it's a great guitar album – guitars shine through brightly, whether they stand alone, stripped-down, or chime in as part of a great big fuzz-cloud of sound. It's the perfect album if you like your pretty tunes to also rock, if you like to sing "ba-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da" at the top of your lungs but want a propulsive backbeat and loud guitars to do it over. Then there's some nice synthesizers chiming in here and there, often on the more bittersweet romance songs. And what's more, Tullycraft's record-collector vibe isn't quite as strong here, as most of the songs are more about crushes and whatnot. Or maybe I'm just ignoring the word cause I'm bopping my head around and shuffling my feet and doing all the other stupid moves your body makes when music has taken hold of it. – dave heaton

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