malleus&incus

Distant Stars

Posted in Folk, Indie, Rock, Singer-Songwiter by jurbanik on July 10, 2010

People use very different tools for music discovery. These days, Pandora seems to be a favorite choice. Others use last.fm similar artists, the radio, their favorite blog, hype machine, or word of mouth – really, anything goes. But all too often when I try to find some new jams, I find myself going down roads I can’t even remember, clicking on link after link. I float through the network that is the network in a dazed state, floating through the haze aimlessly until I find something that pleases my ears.

That said, I don’t know that I can explain how I found myself listening to any of the artists I’m about to share with you. However, I do know that they are talented artists that deserve a little more exposure. I doubt any of them will end up on national radio any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving them a lot of play time in the last couple of weeks, and hopefully it won’t stop you from appreciating them. In selecting songs from these artists, I noticed many of my favorite songs have something to do with stars.

Benjamin E. Morsberger

Citing his father as his main influence, the younger Morsberger delivers music much different than his father’s TV scores and smooth alternative vocals. Instead, Morsberger utilizes his slightly boyish, wavering voice and draws on a legacy of indie folk to provide his own fresh contribution to the scene. Though he planned to release an LP in March, only a few songs from the album seem to have made their way into the public (and some are freely available). However, these songs show quite a range and quite a bit of promise – ‘Near’ displays catchy hooks and a summery feel, while ‘I’m On My Left Side’ features only acoustic instrumentation, instead using Morsberger’s voice to build the song from a groggy dreamlike beginning to a riveting, emotion driven ending.

From Where We’ve Fallen// Untitled Album

My favorite track at this point, though, is ‘From Where We’ve Fallen.’ The background strings sing like a choir behind Morsberger’s voice, and somehow the rather pessimistic lyrics still get me to put on a smile. Some of my attraction to his music is that every song sounds familiar, but different. In this case, I find myself thinking of Rocky Votolato and Elliott Smith, regardless of the fact that when I go back and listen to songs by those artists, I find them as different as they are similar. Morsberger claims that “our love is like a distant shining star.” I doubt my love for his music will stay too distant for long.

1,2,3

Maybe I lied about there being no chance that any of these artists get big any time soon – 1,2,3 is damn good and pretty consistently catchy. While I only own two of their songs, perusing their myspace has made me very thirsty for their LP, Going Away Party. Though only composed of Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels (as far as I know), the enumerated musicians pulls off a full band sound. I won’t even bother making comparisons here. Just give them a listen.

Confetti// Confetti

In Confetti, 1,2,3 manages to combine a slow tempo, a head-bobbing foot-stomping drum line, and a repeated proclamation that ‘we’re all gonna die here’ into one cohesive song that has repeatedly occupied my headspace over the past few weeks. Perhaps some of this allure has to do with all the priming I have received for the song in the past few weeks: among the topics touched upon are oceans of oil  and blades of grass – thanks BP and beautiful Stanford lawns – not to mention the requisite  (for this post) mention of stars.

Glass Rock

Glass Rock is the fusion of Soft Location and Tall Firs… two other bands you probably haven’t heard of. The two bands got together and produced a record in under a week, yet came out with a product that has been praised (by the few reviewers that have actually reviewed it as): one claims that if the “released two decades ago, chances are this band would be playing stadiums.” This reviewer certainly has one thing right – Kathy Leisen’s voice sounds like it belongs in another era.

Possession// Tall Firs Meet Soft Location

I had a very difficult time picking a song from the album; it is torn between beauty and darkness, some songs display the soul influences while others show more post rock riffs. The album shows a level of maturity that is hard to beat – I can’t wrap my head around that this is truly a collaboration. Eventually I settled on Possession. Though the song doesn’t have the post-soul bass-lines, I feel that song perfectly exhibit’s Leisen’s vocals. While the song does not mention stars, I feel that Glass Rock themselves are the distant stars, trapped in the wrong time.

Jonathan Vassar (and the Speckled Bird)

Regardless of whether he is with his band or not, Jonathan makes very compelling music. Certainly the presence of fiddles, accordions, harmonicas and banjos present indicates that Vassar is heavily influenced by a country legacy, but his song-writing indicates a more complicated formula than that. While much of his music is pastoral as first glance, much of it has an additional urban edge. Vassar’s band shares Glass Rock’s anachronism, but perhaps has the timelessness of a figure like Sam Beam (Iron & Wine). His songwriting is absolutely marvelous, and whether or not he appears in duet with his wife’s voice – which could do opera as well as it does folk – the vocals have an endearing earthy quality.

Holy Roller// The Hours and Days

One of my favorite songs by Vassar, Holy Roller, speaks of the ‘panic in the distant stars.’ I love the instrumentation on the song, with piano and strings coming in and falling away at exactly the right moment. Adding to this, the lyrics seem to have some hidden meaning which I have yet to figure out. ‘What you do in the dark will be brought to the light/ and buried beneath a tall white pine.’ I have my suspicions that Vassar writes his lyrics for a reason, and the fact that he repeats this chorus so often makes me curious to learn the significance.

Mimicking Birds

Mimicking Birds has gained a little more recognition than the other artists in this post – the make-or-break Pitchfork even did a review. Story has it that Nate Lacy was contacted by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse; Lacy had planned on keeping his music private, but a mutual friend showed it to Brock, who insisted that he did a recording with Glacial Place. I’m glad he agreed. Though the demos present on Mimicking Birds’ virb are downright amazing, I would have never heard them (nor would those people who are attending Lollapalooza… jealousy surges within me) if not for this slight commercialization. Lacy’s music is hard to draw comparisons to… perhaps if you tranquilized Modest Mouse fused it with a dream and a Sci-Fi film, you would get a similar result.

Subsonic Words// Mimicking Birds

One of my favorite songs for the past few months overall has been Subsonic Words. Though it does not have much to do with stars (like many of the other songs do), I felt like I needed to include it because it is almost singlehandedly responsible for my addiction to Lacy’s work. Sure, the other songs are great, but the wordplay that Lacy engages in is unreal. Lines like “I’m down in the mean time/ wondering what time means” have become engrained in my brain, and the simple cyclical melody is wonderfully engaging, especially when it is layered with the innumerable other subtle samples present. If I had to listen to one song on repeat for a week, I think this would be the song.

The Loop// Mimicking Birds

However, the scientist (and star lover) in me is also drawn to The Loop, a track that appears both on the full album and Lacy’s home recordings. I wholeheartedly recommend you check out Mimicking Birds’ virb page… there are a lot of great tracks available for free. The Loop is a lyrical masterpiece seemingly describing the cycle of birth and death in the universe – energy transfers from one entity to another as stars swell and galactic clouds solidify into solar systems.

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2 Responses

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  1. lamice said, on July 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    john youre hot.

  2. At Last, FM « Glass Rock said, on August 11, 2010 at 7:11 am

    […] acts like Sonic Youth and Joni Mitchell. And that’s no knock against John who can be found at https://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/distant-stars/. is everyone happy? in these times of pain and strife, [i] need a freak with long, long […]


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