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Reborn with Katie Grace Helow

20 Nov

katie grace helow.jpg

A few months ago, I had to interview prospective interns for a music development agency. I was forced to ask that horribly bland question, “What’s your favorite type of music?” and though I won’t say I’m surprised, I did get one answer more than any other: “Anything but country.” This is clearly a product of the direction that mainstream country has gone, but let’s be fair to alt-country and the underground musicians that keep alive the real art of the genre: country is not dead. Florida native Katie Grace Helow has created a dark and compelling alt-country record with emotional depth, proving not all country is bad.

Past Lives is Katie Grace Helow’s sophomore album, following a more acoustic effort, titled On Time & the Ocean. Her debut was gorgeous in its own right, but her new record has turned up the intensity in every way. The instrumentation is somber, yet powerful, creating the perfect tone for Helow’s commanding voice. The album is comprised of ballads that are world weary, inspired by real life experiences that Helow only felt comfortable sharing in song. The opening track, “Savior or Sin“ features the widest range of Helow’s vocals on the record, which admittedly never reaches any notable highs, but rather has a remarkable depth.This is Helow’s signature sound, one that sets her apart from whatever stereotypical female country singer that you may be thinking of. Though the vocals in “Left For Dead,” the following track, are subtler, they are still just as powerful. This actually could be said about most tracks on the album; her voice is simply impressive.

Helow hasn’t completely abandoned her acoustic sound, with some simpler tracks in the middle of the album. No matter what the backing instrumentation is, whether it be a full band or her singular guitar, Helow still manages to capture your full attention. And I also really appreciate an artist that doesn’t compromise with “radio length” tracks, four minutes and under. A long track is the hallmark of a talented songwriter, and Helow has this in spades. “Scorpion” is an enduring odyssey at seven minutes long, but it has some of the most soothing guitar work on the record. The same can be said of “Live Wire,” though the backing vocals are what haunt in that track. Helow’s good friend Zach Lever contributes to the harmonies throughout the album, and complements the rest of the record perfectly.

When analyzed, Past Lives has all the elements of a talented indie artist. Let’s not make assumptions just because it’s got the word country in it. 

Past Lives is out now. Find more info on Katie Grace Helow on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Avoid the highways, just take Sunset

28 Oct

nicholas krgovich

By my estimation, more music has been made about New York and LA than any other areas combined. Both places are enormous cultural melting pots, a huge draw for artists. But even given the vastness of these cities, the art that comes out of them all too often includes themes of loneliness and solitude. This dichotomy is so clear that people around the world feel intimately connected to these cities, even if they have never once visited. Last year, Canadian songwriter Nicholas Krgovich released an album called On Sunset, about life in the city of angels; the kicker is that, despite how emotional and close the record feels to the city, Krgovich never actually lived here full time. The album presents an impartial view of LA, one that likely benefitted from not having been made here.

Krgovich creates a beautiful story on this album, riddled with disappointment and anguish, told through vivid images of nefarious characters, distant relationships, and regret. It all begins with a failed romance in “The Backlot,” and the self pity and hopelessness that come with it.

“I don’t know what came along and tricked me into believing,
That you’re the only one for me”

It feels as though Krgovich, or more generally, our protagonist, is constantly pulled into the social nature of the city, but he doesn’t connect with that scene. First he is absent emotionally, then physically, when he refers to the attention given to Hollywood for the Academy Awards, as if LA has forgotten him. This vignette, and the several others in the following tracks, are best described as fabricated memories. As detailed as the scene and sentiment, remember that Krgovich conceived this project in the Canadian Rockies. A cold, snowed in artist creating a piece about sunshine isn’t a surprising image, but his love for LA reached an unhealthy level. Rather, he had an obsession with the idea of LA, manifested in his songs, which he never put down for the better part of eleven years. This album might as well be dubbed the Boyhood of music.

His obsession did not stop once the album was complete, either. Krgovich dissected the very record he had just devoted a decade of his life to making, and created a sister record, On Cahuenga. It features the same songs with the same arrangement, but it is stripped down to only vocals and piano. Because of how arrhythmic the piano melodies are, I had assumed it was like a remix record, where he simply deleted the other instrumentation on top of it and called it a day. Well, he didn’t. He went back into the studio to re-record the exact piano and vocal arrangements that he had for On Sunset, and the results are chilling. The lyrics are so clear, and the piano gives a darker and deeper dimension to the story.

Together, both records ache with a home-sickness that I shouldn’t even relate to, but, somehow, I miss LA. And I live here.

Buy On Sunset here. Buy On Cahuenga here. I learned a lot about these albums from this Noisey feature, you should read it. Find more information on Nicholas Krgovich on his website, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Melodramatic Medley

21 Oct

Hi everybody! Let’s start with some housekeeping. If you don’t know, I, Zoë, started a new music blog called Sawdust and Gin. I post new music every day, though the posts are far briefer than what I write here. I also make a weekly podcast, and write longer pieces in the form of show, album, and vinyl reviews. Please follow me on tumblr/ Facebook/ Twitter! I also just began writing for Grimy Goods, you can read my first review of the recent Deerhunter show in LA, and there will hopefully be more soon.

Now onto the music. This week, I’ve randomly selected these three tracks from our submissions bin aka email inbox. Indie is not dead, folks, contrary to what some people might say.

The Hermit Kings – “Cashing In”

It’s summer o’clock somewhere, am I right? No? Because the southern hemisphere is in spring and the northern hemisphere is in fall and so that doesn’t make sense? Well it makes as much sense as “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” except at least that expression is true approximately every half hour. Well screw all that logic, and bathe in this bright and calm summer tune from The Hermit Kings. The guitars touch on shoegaze while drums have more of a surf rock tinge, and it all pulls together beautifully.

PS This band has their own Ed, Edd, n Eddy thing going for it, with a Zac, Zack, and Zach. I hope one of them goes by Z and another by Manuel.

Find more information about The Hermit Kings on their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Jojee – Unravel Me

If you needed your lush electropop fix, stop your scratching and take a listen to this. Jojee is very dramatic, which I’ll admit is not usually my thing, but the beats that she cuts together are magnificent and hard not to love. And of course, her voice is also gorgeous. “Unravel Me” is great, but be sure to also listen to her previous single, “Think of Anything.”

Find more information about Jojee on her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Sophomore – “Duck and Cover”

Remember that club scene in Black Swan? Or the entire movie Enter the Void? Or any other mind-altering movie experience? This is the universal score for all of that. This song is spatial, but has a rhythm, making it perfect to enjoy with or without visuals. Sophomore has his own aesthetic here, with the grainy maritime footage. Check out his other single, Outcry, here.

Find more information about Sophomore on his Soundcloud.

Solitude is Bliss

25 Sep

a dyjecinski

My roommate and I frequently find ourselves discussing the entertainment revolution that we are experiencing. Mankind has never been more creative than we are today. Take one look at Vine and YouTube, and there is so much talent everywhere. Because shooting video and recording music have become so easy, everyone has the capacity to be an artist, and we are inundated with new art. Though music videos aren’t a new form of media, they still are finding ways to push boundaries. First there was Michael Jackson, who created the first mainstream music video short film; then Madonna, whose middle name is ‘controversial’; even Kanye West had some illuminating moments, such as when he took literally the idiom ‘moving picture’; and now you have people like Tyler the Creator (warning: ick) making videos only meant to gross you out. A. Dyjecinski brings something new to the table as well with the video for “I’m the Woods.”

Innovation. That’s the one thing that this video is slathered with. I’ve never seen a video within a video, but here we are given two perspectives on the same scene. And what a beautiful scene it is. I’ve never seen snow, so maybe that has something to do with how much I love the snowcapped pine trees. I find this whole video very visually appealing, with maybe the exception of the bland subtitles. The scene is soft yet ominous, the solitude practically tangible.

The concept behind this video is to show how someone might unravel at his or her loneliness. Being suspended in the air on a mountain in thick snow is certainly a recipe for the crazies. The subtitles are vocalizations of the conversation that the protagonist is having in his mind, with himself. It’s funny, but also has an eerie quality, especially when it seems like his two halves are conveying starkly contrasting demeanors. Sure, it could just be inner rambling, just meant to pass the time… but it could also be indicative of something more.

“I’m the Woods” is A. Dyjecinski’s debut single, pick it up here. Find out more on his website and Twitter.

Take Solace in Area of Refuge

17 Sep

area of refuge 1

We’ve all had those nights, where for whatever reason, we decide to simply lie down and become consumed by music. Those are the instructions I followed quite literally on my first Joanna Newsom listen, just add wine. I also did this when I first heard Vulnicura, a heartbreaking record. And Area of Refuge have created something equally as immersive with their recent Series One LP.

Area of Refuge is a duo, consisting of Christopher Morin and Jahna Stanton. Morin was beginning a career making easy listening music, writing riffs on a classical guitar after his band broke up. He played at an art show and there met Stanton, a violinist. They decided to collaborate and play a few songs together, but those tracks turned into an album, sometimes with the addition of the piano, and on one track, an upright bass, viola, and cello. And despite that seeming like fairly limited instrumentation to work with, all fifteen tracks on this record are genuinely unique.

Morin’s guitar work is delicate but cinematic. “Leap of Faith” shows this off, and also makes abundantly clear how talented Stanton is on the strings as well. It and the violin act as voices, with complementary melodies that warm your heart. In fact, the entire record is comprised of the quiet melodies that are better cherished alone. Each chord rings with beauty, and makes it tough to dislike. The grandest of them all is “Seeds of Aspen,” the tune with the upright bass et al; its composition almost seems to tower above the other tracks, but the emotion of the track that follows is equally as impactful. “Big Bad Luck” has a particular violin chord progression that makes me feel a yearning, as if my soul has opened up but I’m not sure for what.

My favorite song is “Shipwreck,” because it inexplicably reminds me Laura Marling. The guitar strums are very deliberate and methodical, then it slides into something bigger, more meaningful. There is something special about each track here, and because Area of Refuge is giving it out at a pay what you want rate, you have no excuse to download it and listen for yourself.

Visit Bandcamp to listen or download Series One.

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