Sour Cherry Bell (Kranky) is the second full-length release from New Orleans-based artist Melissa Guion, who releases music under the moniker MJ Guider. It primarily deals in atmosphere. Guion uses heavily processed electronic textures, often drenched in thick treacle-like reverb, to create moody and evocative soundscapes. There are synthetic drum sounds, but this is certainly not dance music. The emotion-laden washy chord sequences recall the 1980s “Gothic” music and perhaps the “shoegaze” that followed in its footsteps, but this is music that doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Many of the sound-worlds have a lush warmth which lends them a meditative quality, but there is also an unsettling element of tension, as though dissonance and harmony are in competition with each other. Guion’s voice is tender and graceful and with it, she weaves flowing melodies. But the voice is often intentionally distant – buried in the mix and concealed by long reverb tails. It feels as though Guion has intentionally engineered a situation where opposing elements battle it out for dominance. These songs could have been presented in a radio-friendly indie package, but instead, the melodies and words only just lift their heads above the walls of noise that encase them. It takes audacity and boldness to attempt this sort of approach which flouts so many of the accepted rules of composition and music production. It seems that Guion was pushing the boundaries of her creativity and her tools: “I was curious to see how far I could go with them, even if that meant reaching the ends of their capacity to do what I wanted.” Continue reading
Troubador is a terminology almost forgotten to time. Sure it applies to a lot of Indie-Folk and Alternative artists. There are some really great storytellers across different genres in music history: Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder, Loudon Wainwright III, Jaye Jale, Emma Ruth Rundle, The White Buffalo, Marissa Nadler, Chris Smither, Wovenhand, and even the lighter side of artists like Xasthur and Panopticon. Why not mash-up soulful Blues and Country like Hank III, but also Torch Song Art-Punk like Amanda Palmer? It can be done if you have the talent and the ability to convey realness. Fake anything won’t work for this style at all. Amigo The Devil a.ka. Danny Kiranos deals in these realities that point the mirror at the less flattering and absurd moments in life, including at himself. His new album, the Ross Robinson (Korn, Sepultura) produced Every Thing Is Fine (Regime Music Group) conveys this in spades. Continue reading
According to those who are, supposedly, in the “know”, the album is dead and the only thing that we are interested in now, whether on our streaming service of choice, our iPods or laptops are the hits, the single tracks. The album, as we know and loved it, has passed to the great gig in the sky. Nobody seems to have told Jake Smith (aka The White Buffalo) this.
For the past couple of years Smith has steadily built an increasingly fervent following for his beguiling blend of country, Americana, folk and melancholic rock. His progression as a musician has been helped by artistic jumps forward in songcraft, subtlety and nuance and, let’s not be coy here, having a spot on the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed television show, Sons of Anarchy, cannot have done him any harm either.
Love and the Death of Damnation is his latest album and it is, well, fantastic, actually. This is the sort of album that makes you want to take up smoking again or start smoking if you’ve never done it. It’s the sort of record that effortlessly traverses a rich palette of aural majesty: darkened narratives of deals gone bad, loves gained and lost and oneupmanship battles around drinking and shooting pool are just the start of a rich, brooding and utterly captivating record.
The first cut from the album, a humdinger of a duet with Audra Mae, the husky and emotion packed ‘I Got You’, is but one piece of prosecution evidence for a record that is about human resilience, the power of love and strength under extreme adversity.
Smith’s exemplary qualities as a lyricist are in full effect here: he has a brilliant ability to make the general feel deeply personal and emotive: it is a baritone voice that suggests a life lived hard and well, a voice that speaks of adventure and pain, often in equal measure. Smith captures the pyscho-geography of the Deep South with a forensic eye. He has a palpable sense of raw anger at the injustice and failings of the American Dream. Fortunately, this is an artist that, having suffered loneliness and betrayal is optimistic that humanity and fairness and love will prevail, despite the obvious and challenging setbacks that he has faced.
On Love and the Death of Damnation, Smith has succeeded in creating a series of individual tales of love and loss, redemption, survival and the power of the human spirit. Long term admirers of Smith will recognise an artist that has moved beyond a default songwriting aesthetic that was almost uniformly dark.
On this latest album, there is light and shade, an expansive sound and supreme evidence of an artist finding a clear and distinctive voice in the process. Comparisons with other “great” American songwriters are likely to be numerous and obvious. Know this: The Love and Death of Damnation is an evocative record that you will return to again and again. Majestic.
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