Borstal Beat Records, 2012
Californian indie-folk ruffians The Drowning Men seem to be fans of the freakish – just take a look at the Moreauvian beasts on the album artwork. Hear also the unsettling minor-key funfair themes of “Bored in a Belly” and “A Better Place”, and feel the infernal desires aroused by “I am the Beggar Man”. Sounding at times like a carney version of Arcade Fire, All of the Unknown is a wounded giant of a record: big and damaged and angry and confused, roaring its indignation at the world.
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Paper Bag, 2012
Approaching complex themes with warmth and humour in a similar manner to The Decemberists, Canadian folk-rockers Cuff the Duke combine roots-rock with pop-like melodies to create an accessible and engaging record – the first part of a two-part concept album. Though not entirely free from cliché, it is at the same time varied yet coherent; each track hints at an underlying emotion that carries the listener through highs and bittersweet lows. A highlight is the eight-minute epic “Bound To Your Own Vices” – worth an EP release in its own right.
Sophisticated and introspective New York based indie-rock with sweet male/female harmonies and an almost classical feel via the emphasis on delicate piano work. Even though the subject matter often details personal turmoil and heartbreak, the music is often upbeat with hooks buried deep in the carefully calculated instrumentation. Ideal for admirers of pensive, moody songcraft – apparently even Leonard Cohen is a fan.
The title track of singer-songwriter Joe Coleman’s EP opens things in dramatic style, the mournful folk wringing every morsel of intensity from his voice. The three remaining songs are left to put you back together with a gentler tack, homely harmonica in tow. Well worth bending an ear if you’re partial to The Decemberists, Neutral Milk Hotel, et al.
Asthmatic Kitty, 2010
At an hour’s running length, All Delighted People should really be called an album rather than an EP. But then Sufjan has never been one to follow protocol, and his latest outpouring shows him at his enigmatic and – at times – inspired best. The instrumentation is eclectic and orchestral, matching the songwriting as it swerves from minimalism to gushing extravagance. Stunning 17-minute closer “Djohariah” is worth the download price alone.
Be Set Free sees the Pennsylvania songwriter delivering his third album of chirpy, barroom-friendly folk-pop. The soulful singalongs have a familiar quality, which is intended – Langhorne is tapping into communal, gospel-inspired melodies. It’s not highly original then, even with its genre-roaming, and the lyrics can be clichéd as well as earnestly penned, but the backing of a full band and the timely touches of strings, piano, and organ, ensure the record pulls through in celebratory style.