Reviews: Isidore, Orcas, Jenny Ownen Youngs

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Hello, everyone. In the midst of the usual craziness of the world, things around here have felt a little different lately, with my wife recently dealing with some serious medical issues. It has shaken our little world all the way to the ground, and we are now putting everything we can into her recovery and healing process. Our friends and families have been great and we are blessed to have all of them with us. She is very strong, and she inspires me and keeps me going every single day. She is my hero. Honey, I love you. Tell someone you care about what they meant to you today. Find a reason to connect. Thanks.

Isidore, Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels)

Isidore is Steve Kilbey, from The Church, and Jeffrey Cain, from Remy Zero, who is also the Dr. Frankenstein behind the Communicating Vessels label. Cain runs the label as he pleases, releasing what he wants when he wants with little apparent regard for commercial acceptance, and God bless him. The two of them co-wrote the songs here, but Cain plays guitar, bass, piano, synths, drums and machines, and he also produced the album. Kilbey’s distinctive nasally, ghostly vocals are present throughout, but each of the songs takes on a slightly different aural structure from the others. The seven-minute plus opener, “The Privateer” is most Church-like, with a snappy five-note drum hook. The shimmery, acoustic title track is simultaneously creepy and alluring, and glows a little like 90s shoe-gaze. “Old Black Spirit” is cryptically sad like a Leonard Cohen b-side, while “Just Dust” buzzes with a post-new wave flavor. And “The Headlight Child” is a high-minded psych-pop ballad that fully articulates the overriding sense of alienation and distance that persists when Kilbey, sounding resigned, sings so matter-of-factly, “Everything’s changed/You’re just a stranger.” It resolves into a long, slow fade-out that pulls you with it to the finish. As albums go the whole thing has a widescreen quality, but in the end it all comes back to Kilbey’s voice. You’re either captivated or you’re not. At almost 67 minutes sitting through this entire set is demanding if you want to fully engage it, but as it plays out it continues to reveal hidden parts of itself that further entice you to stay the course.

Damon Moon And The Whispering Drifters, Lungs, Dirt & Dreams (Adair Park)

The uber-prolific Athens/Atlanta axis has churned out so many new high quality bands of so many different stripes in recent years it’s almost beyond comprehension. You can add Damon Moon and his avant-garde post-Americana to the list. Their modus operandi wants to be “experimental,” but it’s more mystifying than that and not as all-out crazed as that descriptor might suggest. They don’t really unearth many new findings, but they give everything a new bent of its own, with disconnected phrases and incongruent sounds bumping up against each other as the songs waver and wander about. “Further On” is suitably atmospheric and good ole boy rugged all at once. “Restless Roads End” is intriguing, posing as one thing and then suddenly becoming another. And “The Fool” is very spare; so spare, in fact, that it’s almost hollow. In this post-Bon Iver world we’re living in this seems like a logical next step in some ways, and it also has a surprisingly ingratiating lurching quality that rumbles and shifts beneath the surface. On the excellent final track, the epic-long “We Make Our Own Traditions,” where all the superlatives more or less fail, it all finally comes together. It’s a heavyweight number, for sure, and it sums up a very unique recording. Good work all around, fellers. Chalk up another Georgia peach. It must be something in the water down there.

Orcas, S/T (Morr)

The pace of this eerie album is glacial, to quote the great North Carolina band, Seam, and it takes quite a while for them to find themselves on practically every song. It’s not exactly slow-core, but it’s almost somnambulant for stretches of time. “Carrion” is loopy and ethereal, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, just hovering around aimlessly. “A Subtle Escape” ups the ante somewhat and is quite a bit more dense/ compressed, but it too lacks a real pay-off. “Until Then” is not bad as sluggish, moody post-rock goes, with a plinking piano and plucked guitar straddling some decent baritone vocals, while “High Fences” is basically five minutes of humming. Some of this just wallows in wallowing, and loses itself in a soupy mix without much substance. After all is said and done its low energy tip just doesn’t quite have enough oomph behind it to launch it very far.

Grace Woodroofe, Always Want (Modular)

Grace Woodroofe is an Australian singer who spends much of her time in the netherworlds between indie folk, art rock and post-modern blooziness. She entered a radio competition at 16 and was invited to the states after being heard by an L.A.-based art collective called The Masses. She subsequently wound up working with American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel, among others. She returned to Australia, graduated from high school, then went back to L.A. and started work on this album, with Ben Harper producing. So, the question is obvious. Does she live up to the luck she’s apparently lassoed in her short career? The answer is a pretty solid, “heck, yes…” “I’ve Handled Myself Wrong” utilizes her thick vocal cords and “You’ll Never Find Me” shows what she can do with an orchestral ballad, and she does so with just piano and vocals. There are some nice textures on some of these tracks, with a hint of some P.J. Harvey here and there. And there’s also an odd and absolutely fantastic cover of David Bowie’s “Quicksand,” which makes the entire project worthwhile. This young woman has got it going on, especially considering she’s just a teenager. If she continues to develop as she has thus far she has a shot at pulling away from the rest of the pack.

Jenny Owen Youngs, An Unwavering Band of Light (Self-released)

From 2007 to 2010 Jenny Owen Youngs was on Nettwerk Records where she released three EPs and three full-lengths, but they evidently did little to promote or market her music and her career suffered an early setback. As a singer/songwriter she is positioned in the camp of “post-alternative woman with a guitar” but she is no joke, and she mines the earth for the heftier stones. “O God” goes dark and bleak on us right away. The she squirms around and comes up with “Born To Lose,” which has really good energy and shares some things with the Dresden Dolls, while also sporting a very cool vocal. The “Sleep Machine” raises the stakes, using a loud/noisy break for emphasis, and after hearing this song one can’t help but think of P.J. Harvey in one of her earlier incarnations. “So Long” is more abstract than some of the other tracks and it wanders off somewhere by itself, but “Wake Up” sounds like it could be playing alongside any current modern-rock radio hit single anywhere in America. This album could go a long way to getting her another record deal. Maybe with a label that actually knows what to do with her this time.