Tag Archives: acoustic

Ben Woodward “Spinning Webs”


Ben Woodward
Spinning Webs
(Around Town Collective / iknowalotaboutmagic;2008)

Whether or not he realizes or admits it, Ben Woodward aspires to be a one man Radiohead circa The Bends / OK Computer. The qualities shared with the songs on mini-album Spinning Webs and the music that Radiohead released in the 90s is so unbelievably similiar that it’s almost painful to write about. Between the soundscapes made of clean guitar tones, pianos, and sparse electronics Woodward interjects his not-always-in-key singing voice in a very particular Conor Oberst impersonating Thom Yorke style. Of course, he sounds like he’s in pain, but just incase you didn’t catch it he’s written some quasi-obscure lyrics to let you know exactly why he’s losing it. No surprises there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Radiohead. I even love some bands that take large cues from Radiohead’s catalog. Those bands, however, also intermingle their own ideas with those of the almighty ‘Head, and they do so without sounding overly contrived. The difference here is that Spinning Webs doesn’t sound inspired by Radiohead, it sounds like it’s weak doppelganger. It’s not just these similarites that drive me away from this CD. When Ben Woodward sings ‘All alone in a crowded room/But he don’t mind’ on the all piano album break “He Don’t Mind” or when he pronounces the title of follow up track “Scaremongering” as ‘scare-mon-JUH-ring’ I can’t help but physically cringe. As the ill-placed final song “Go to Sleep” trudges through it’s meandering, reveresed vocal track underneath the repetative acoustic guitar riff I count myself lucky for making it all the way through Spinning Webs.

In closing, I should say that Spinning Webs isn’t a complete let down. He actually sounds like himself on the two acoustic guitar numbers “Stationary” and “Elizabeth”, the latter of which is a genuinely likeable song. If I could offer up a small amount of advice to Woodward it would be this: Be yourself. Radiohead is a wonderful band that has released many amazing records, but we don’t need to hear any of them rehashed again. Take the music that influences you to heart and build from it, but don’t wear it so blatantly on your sleeve. Besides, if you keep taking Radiohead’s ideas the karma police might arrest you.

– Patric Fallon

www.myspace.com/benwoodwardmusic

The Blank Tapes “Daydreams”

The Blank Tapes
Daydreams
(self-released; 2007)

The last single CD album I listened to that boasted a 25 song track list and wasn’t a compilation was probably a punk album. With their 2007 release Daydreams, The Blank Tapes have taken that slot, but similarities between this record and some of my old, punk favorites remain; the songs are relatively short, the structure of the music meets basic standards, and each track could be easily switched out for most of the others. This seems to be the case with the majority of genre-dependent bands. When the “style” you aim to achieve supersedes your drive to create new and interesting sounds you’re left with music that appeals primarily to people who are hoping to hear something they remember listening to before. Breaking that mold is the least of their concerns.

Thankfully, for us and The Blank Tapes, Matt Adams and his friends make up a pretty talented group. In Daydreams they offer us well played and passionate revisions of old-timey standards in a sound that comes off somewhat like Wilco meets The Black Heart Procession meets The Decemberists. These songs are fun, on point with their fathering genre(s), and sometimes even a little charming. It’s just that there’s so goddamn many of them! Had the track listing been a bit more concise I could see the potential for a truly brilliant album. In the first half, we’re presented with relatively the same idea about fourteen times over. It’s not until the refreshing and almost form-breaking song “Smoke and Mirrors” that The Blank Tapes give us something truly different and rock out a bit more than usual. They slide right back into mid-tempo, acoustic character, however, with the following tracks, and don’t bring the rock back again until instrumental number “Part the Clouds”. The glimpses of change are few and far between, making Daydreams a laborious listen.

I should reiterate that these aren’t bad songs. The Blank Tapes’ music is wonderfully played and highly enjoyable, but good songs don’t always make great albums. I think that a bit of self-editing and experimentation would do this band and their next record a whole lot of good. As Daydreams stands, the album is more susceptible to mixtape fodder than full, uninterrupted rotation.

– Patric Fallon

www.myspace.com/theblanktapes

Zach Zeller “From Here to There”

From Here to There
Zach Zeller
From Here to There
(Around Town Collective, 2008)

Don’t you just love structure and simplicity in music? Doesn’t the straightforwardness of a voice, a guitar, and maybe a drum or keyboard just allow you to lose yourself in the ideas and emotions the music is trying to convey? Isn’t it awesome when a singer/songwriter is so confident in what he/she has to offer you that they don’t have to shroud themselves in a veil of superfluous sounds and aimless production tricks? Well, whether or not you agree with my point of view, I know at least one person does. His name is Zach Zeller and he just released his third solo album. It’s called From Here to There and I think it’s wonderful.

Armed with standard, yet beautiful stories about friends, family, and faith, Zeller presents us with a record that conquers territory we’ve followed brilliant artists like Will Oldham, David Bazan, and Sam Beam into. He heads straight into the thick of his personal contemplations on “Bluejays” before sharing the tale of a girl headed nowhere on “A Faded Light”. Sounding like a young Johnny Cash, we’re sung a story about abuse from a drunken father on “Oh My Son” with the same quiet reflection we remember from the now deceased musical icon. Even when the music aims for the more inflated styles of The Wallflowers or Coldplay, Zeller skirts on the edge of going overboard before coming back to us with a warm, banjo-tinged ballad to his unborn child. This love of the basics is what draws me in so close to the songs on this album.

Zach Zeller displays true ambition with his dedication to musical simplicity and could-be-your-life storytelling. Whether or not his guitar and banjo style appeals to you is almost irrelevant. It’s Zeller’s voice and the words he chooses to share with us that are the true epicenter of From Here to There, a marvelous solo album that couldn’t force itself to be more true and welcoming.

www.myspace.com/zachzellermusic

fpodbpod “Demos”

fpodbpod (not album cover)
fpodbpod
Demos
(self released, 2006-08)

After listening to the compiled CD of 14 songs that were recorded over a three year span under the name fpodbpod, most anyone would come to the conclusion that this is the music of an unmistakably wacky musician. After listening to this CD multiple times a day for weeks, I have concluded that singer/songwriter Sean Olmstead is a wonderfully talented, musical genius. Nearly every song on fpodbpod’s demo invokes the spirit of late, great music without sounding the slightest bit derivative or contrived. Such sincerity and ingenuity is rarely heard from artists who can be primarily compared to household names like The Beatles, Marc Bolan, or David Bowie.

Though many would just peg him as an indie, psych-rock revivalist like Devendra Banhart, I think there is more truth and personality to be heard from the music of fpodbpod. Most lyrics are either too odd to understand or just plain indiscernible, but the words come second to their delivery and the beautiful music their wrapped in. As sole writer, performer, recorder, and producer (save the song “Cold Wind”), Olmstead has given us the near equivalent of his most personal thoughts and emotions in this music. Songs like “Bad Baby” and “Hey, Nate” show his more fun loving, extroverted and strange side while other tracks such as “Without Prior Warning” and “Overfed” display his subtler, discreet side. The ability for him to shine with such versatility is credit to his skill as a songwriter and self-producer. I couldn’t be more enthralled and drawn in by a group of demo recordings.

www.myspace.com/fpodbpod

Brother J. Irvin Dally / 100 Swans “Split Cassette”

Brother J.Irvin Dally / 100 Swans \

Brother J. Irvin Dally / One Hundred Swans
Split Cassette
(Pretty Blue Presents, 2008)

The two artists on this tape, Brother J. Irvin Dally and One Hundred Swans (moniker for Ben Chisholm and whomever he brings into his fold), most definitely share some qualities as musicians and songwriters. Both are the sole/primary composers of their music. Both are inclined to the introspective/contemplative side of music. Both record themselves at home/somewhere they don’t have to pay for. Both are featured on this split cassette. Other than those similarities they are two very different musicians. I will tell you what I think about their music accordingly.

Brother J. Irvin Dally
The one and only song Brother J. Irvin Dally offers on this cassette begins with a flurry of out of tune and out of time music accompanied by yelping, ghost-like vocals. Unexpected electronic elements and various room recordings come and go without warning and usually tend to signal the ushering in of a new part of the song. The musical ideas at play here are reminiscent of The Microphones and Animal Collective, but with a vocal style that leans more towards Damien Rice and, almost uncannily, Jeff Buckley.

After a short, bleeping electronic interlude around the 7 and-a-half minute mark I ask myself, “Is this really one song?” Could J. Irvin really play this all the way through from beginning to end live? What I hear are about 20 different songs that were recorded individually and subsequently connected by overdubbed sounds to appear seamless. The idea of The Microphones’ epic final album Mount Eerie is prevalent in this song’s lengthy and shape shifting nature, but the simultaneous expanse and intimacy is lost in the erratic sounds and broken ideas of the 26 minute “song”. In addition, the peaks and valleys of the music this song reminds me of are nowhere to be found. A plateau of emotion and instrumentation is consistent throughout.

I can’t help but feel that if the parts of Brother J. Irvin Dally’s “The Countryside of Southern Illinois & the Day Dreams That Almost Got Me to 19 Years” were written and recorded as separate songs my opinion would be different. However, I’m driven to compare the song to a frozen pizza. All the ingredients are in their appropriate spots, and it looks like it could be amazing to eat. All you need to do is take the time and preparation to heat everything up and you’ll be satisfied. Just make sure you cut it into slices before you eat it.

www.myspace.com/jordandally

– – – –

One Hundred Swans
The most common modus operandi for singer/songwriters is to impart their feelings, ideas, and experiences to the listener through songs either roughly or directly inspired by their own lives. I’d have to say that well over three quarters of the time these songs are about love and the pain, joy, or uncertainty that comes with the intense experience. If an artist is doing his/her job then those emotions and stories will speak to you and stick with you. For the most part, Ben Chisholm (aka One Hundred Swans) doesn’t cloud what he wants to share with unnecessary experimentation and distracting production. His songs are honest, beautiful, and, when they’re at their best, classic.

The brightest moments throughout the 8 tracks on One Hundred Swans’ side of the cassette come with the stripped down arrangements of “Daffodil”, “Nora”, and “Hey How Was Your Day”. A simple guitar and vocal melody help breathe truth into memorable lyrics like, “Though the silence that I will leave you with seems wrong/I know I’ll have much more to say when I’m gone” and “You are the rainy day that I’ve always needed/The sun won’t hurt me no more”. These stanzas speak on universal themes while their delivery keeps them intimate and accessible on a personal level. That sort of balance is Chisholm’s greatest asset, but it’s sadly lost when his aspirations aim higher.

The other 5 songs from One Hundred Swans are less focused and range from genre exercises like the jangly, psych-pop of “Temperate Ghost” to Black Heart Procession influenced piano numbers like “Where is My Girl”. The same lyrical and emotional intent is there, but the immediacy and charm is lost behind the inconsistency. I wouldn’t call these bad songs, the solid structure and musicianship are still prevalent, but they do sound like an all together completely different band. Thankfully, no matter his method of execution, the promise of a singer/songwriter is delivered again and again through Ben Chisholm’s 8 songs as One Hundred Swans. I’d consider them less of a body of work and more of a collection of early recordings. I’m sure when the time comes for a solo EP or even a full length recording that his sound will be refined and his ideas will be collected and concise. I look forward to it.

www.myspace.com/100swans