Artist Spotlight: A. A. Bondy

The transition from post-grunge rocker to indie-folk troubadour might seem like a bizarre shift, but Auguste Arthur Bondy has pulled it better than you’d think. It’s difficult to say whether fans of his previous outfit, Verbena, were eager to jump on the bandwagon, but those who did found themselves with one of the 2000’s most underrated folk albums – the stunning American Hearts.

Tracks like “Black Rain, Black Rain” sport an aching beauty vividly personal to Bondy, but it’s distinctly intrinsic to the listener, too. It’s an ode to sadness that pierces both author and audience. Digging in deep, Bondy goes for the emotional kill more often than not. That’s never changed from album to album, though his stylistic tendencies have.

2011’s Believers may have ditched acoustic guitars for electrics, but Bondy stayed the same. His music, regardless of shade and style, is always poignant, always clever and deserves your attention. Whether it’s the brief, acoustic stomp of “Vice Rag” or the militaristic, dirge-like march of “The Heart is Willing,” A. A. Bondy is an artist to keep an eye on.

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Chelsea Wolfe’s “Abyss” is an Ugly, Engrossing Ride Through the Mire

Ask me to point you towards an artist that could be described as oppressive, and I’d point you towards Chelsea Wolfe. That isn’t meant as an insult given her stylistic playbook. Since her debut The Grime and the Glow, Wolfe has been perfecting an ugly concoction of doom, dreary folk and mired electronics. It’s the type of combination that sounds gloriously miserable on paper and sounds even moreso when put to practice. Even so, the ride through Wolfe’s discography hasn’t been without its issues. Her last album, Pain is Beauty, suffered from an identity crisis. Approximately half the record played to throat-crushing atmospherics while the other worked in quirk-riddled, murky pop tunes, leaving some fans to wonder which side of Wolfe would appear on her follow up. Turns out it’s the former. With Abyss, Wolfe buries all traces of uncertainty behind the shed. It’s uncompromising, unrelenting and unsettling. To put it in other terms: it’s pure Chelsea Wolfe. Welcome to the mire.

Abyss immediately sets itself apart from its predecessor in numerous ways, none more obvious than the bold songwriting decisions littering the record. Though she has often opted for the slow-burner opener, “Carrion Flowers” marks a clear departure for Wolfe. Hideous waves of distortion wash over mechanical, militaristic drums as her ghostly vocals soar and crash against the cacophony. “Iron Moon” is an equally abrasive cut, hammering the audience before Wolfe’s chilling vocals play out over soft, acoustic strums. Stark contrasts like these are part and parcel on Abyss, and they work wonders. At this point in her run, Wolfe is a seasoned artist – seasoned enough to know the subtle difference in sustaining real power and creating monotony. “Maw,” oddly enough, may be the perfect example of Wolfe’s penchant for power, though not in the way you might expect. It’s a slow, surrealistic dirge of a song that as obfuscated as it is beautiful. Finding the right mix of ethereal synth and acoustic guitars, Wolfe draws the audience in like a whirlpool. Her music might tap into natural beauty from time to time, but don’t let it fool you; there’s a sick, emotional violence beneath that will swallow you if you let it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a murky undertow without the proper production, and Wolfe delivers here as well. Tracks like Grey Days showcase this fidelity best. Running through obscured, muddied lows in equal proportion to crystal-clear highs, the track truly shines and earns it spot as one of the album’s best. Just when the song seems like it’s about to slip into an inescapable muck of solemn distortion and pounding rhythms, Wolfe’s vocals pierce the fog with a tremendous relief. Moments later, ethereal strings lift the veil. Here, songwriting and engineering work in tandem to create something special. Sure, Wolfe’s been playing with this song-meets-sound approach for years, but it’s never resounded quite like this. Wolfe’s fourth album feels like a mission statement in many ways: tightened songwriting, consistent aesthetics and keen talent in the sound room all come together in spectacular ways on Abyss. If 2011’s Apokalypsis showcased an artist coming into her own, Abyss is that artist pushing past the pack.

9/10

Artist Spotlight: Noah Gundersen

Noah Gundersen may not be a household name in the indie folk scene, but it sure should be. Last year’s phenomenal “Ledges” crawled its way up into many album of the year lists. It deserved every accolade, laying bare the heart of a man in ways so straight and honest it might sound like a deposition set to acoustic guitars. That may not sound endearing, but it is. Lines such as “you remind me of cigarettes, the way I hold you in my chest, the way you kiss me, with your filter breath, I keep thinking, I’m getting over this” are delivered with a poignancy that’s rare even in this diluted genre.

It’s not all somber strumming, though. Gundersen ups the tempo for tracks like “Ledges,” which carries a strong Allison Krauss vibes in its energetic, sweeping chorus and rustic instrumentation. Counterbalancing tracks like this with slow heartbreakers sets Gundersen up with a winning formula. Whether or not he’s set to repeat this remains to be seen, but whatever route he pursues will likely be an exciting one.

Noah Gundersen’s new album “Carry the Ghost” is now available for preorder at the artist’s official website. The album releases August 21 on Dualtone Records.

New Bon Iver Songs Debuted Live

Fan video captured two new Bon Iver songs played during the band’s performance at the Eaux Claires Music Festival earlier this week. Both songs can be listened to at Consequenceofsound. The performance marked the band’s first set of concert dates in three years, spurring rumor regarding the state of the band.

During an interview with David Campell of The Current in 2012, Justin Vernon said the following about the future of Bon Iver: “I have to turn it off and walk away from it because so much of how that music comes together is subconscious or discovering. There’s so much attention on the band, it can be distracting at times. I really feel the need to walk away from it while I still care about it.”

No official word has been issued regarding the release of a new album. Bon Iver’s last album, the self-titled Bon Iver, Bon Iver was released in 2011.

Chelsea Wolfe Drops New Single

Eclectic experimental artist Chelsea Wolfe has dropped her latest single, “Carrion Flowers,” via Spotify. The song is the second promotional cut in support of Wolfe’s upcoming album “Abyss,” due August 7 on Sargent House.

2013’s “Pain Is Beauty” received widespread acclaim from critics and found Wolfe moving past her dreary folk roots into electronic soundscapes, and “Abyss” looks to plunge even further into those murky soundscapes.

“Iron Moon,” the album’s first single, can be streamed below:

You can find more information regarding the artist at her official website.

Artist Spotlight: Steve Von Till

Though he’s best known for his work in the monolithic post metal group Neurosis, Steve Von Till has crafted a successful solo career as well. His debut, 2000’s stark “As The Crow Flies” served as a statement of intent: there’s more to Von Till than just that tribal, sweltering sound. The primal, savage fury of Neurosis’s “Times of Grace” had given way to melancholy acoustics and soft, plaintive rasps. Morose? Sure, but Von Till’s expert songcraft kept listener’s engaged. That hasn’t changed with 2015’s “A Life Unto Itself.”

Following 2008’s excellent “A Grave is a Grim Horse” was never going to be easy, but Von Till has met, perhaps exceeded, expectations. Tracks like the sprawling “A Language of Blood” cement Von Till’s mastery of soft-strummed melancholy while eerie cascades of synthesizer warp around the ethereal atmospherics and gravelly vocals in “Night of the Moon.” Whether he’s revisiting old ground or paving new paths, the Neurosis veteran shows that he’s still got it thirty years into his career; his new album “A Life Unto Itself” is sure to stand as one of the year’s most solid folk recordings.

More information regarding the artist can be found via his official website.

Artist Spotlight: The Tallest Man on Earth

When the Tallest Man on Earth released “There’s No Leaving Now,” change was clearly in the air. Drums, bass, and a myriad of other stylistic advancements crept into Kristian Matsson’s signature acoustic-folk sound. Much as Bob Dylan struck out beyond his bare-bones aesthetic, so has Matsson — diving headfirst into full band territory on his new album, “Dark Bird is Home.”

Whereas Matsson seemed perfectly content to ride his acoustic guitar talent to the end of times, that content has all but fully evaporated. Keyboards, horns, and even synthesizers dominate alongside both electric and acoustic sounds. Matsson’s also taken a leap in songwriting, bringing a keenly adventurous attitude into the fold. The backing vocals of “Little Nowhere Towns,” for instance, stand out as one of his boldest and least expected turns to date. On album number four, The Tallest Man on Earth has never been so ambitious.

More information regarding the artist can be found at his official webiste, and the new album can be purchased here.

The Mountain Goats Faceplant in Spectacular Fashion on “Beat the Champ”

If we inventoried a list of things that don’t belong together, it’s likely that indie music and professional wrestling would sit in a comfortable position. John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats, however, seem to disagree. On the band’s 15th album “Beat the Champ,” Darnielle has tapped into his childhood love of large men grappling one another into submission (yes, typing that was weird). But, here we are, with one of the most peculiar indie albums of the year staring us in the eyes with a masked, sweat-drenched face. It’s inventive. It’s brave. Unfortunately, it’s just not particularly consistent. On their 15th album, The Mountain Goats seem more interested in riding the quirk of the album’s lyrics than penning compelling songs. “Beat the Champ,” oddly enough manages a knockout – but not how the band intended. Sporting an unfavorable ratio of misses to hits, the album goes all-in for a pile driver but winds up face planting the floor in spectacular fashion.

The Mountain Goats’ latest record suffers most from the wavering quality of its songwriting. Throughout 13 songs, “Beat the Champ” covers all the indie bases – starry-eyed balladry, up-tempo romps and mild-mannered acoustic dirges. It does these things competently, indifferently and stupidly – sometimes all at once. “Werewolf Gimmick” provides a much needed shot in the arm after a ponderous track, but even the rolling percussion and fiery acoustics can’t save the song from its uninspired sigh of a chorus. It’s the perfect example of buzzkill, captured in a mere two minutes and thirty-five seconds for your listening convenience.  “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” is one of the record’s worst offenders. It’s not at all unreasonable to think one of the longest cuts on the album should spare the courtesy to end on some semblance of a climax. It doesn’t. The song lurches forward with sporadic string runs that punctuate and contrast Darnielle’s nasal yelps. This irritating game of back and forth, admittedly, does get louder, but louder alone doesn’t make for an exciting finish; it makes for a lazy one.

Lyrically, the album treads through stories of muscle-bound braggadocio and untimely demise. Over the album’s 13 tracks, it eventually becomes apparent that this thematic unity, while impressive in how well it’s maintained, reeks of gimmickry. Take “Foreign Object,” for instance, which documents the pre-fight insults wrestlers hurl with reckless abandon. Lines such as “sink my teeth into your scalp, take an icepick bite, save nothing for the cameras, play the angles all night” work well enough as lowbrow black humor, but aren’t exactly highlights of stunning lyricism. Really, it’s a shame; on previous releases the Mountain Goats’ lyrics, while not profound, did manage to conjure some semblance of relatability. Listeners could feel what the band felt. Here, connection is taken to the shed out back and buried. Sure, it’s easy to tell that it’s all meant to be tongue in cheek, but that doesn’t make mediocrity any easier to swallow.

This is The Mountain Goats performing their shallowest songs in years behind a fresh coat of lyrical paint to mask the deficiencies. The joke’s on the band, though, because that fresh coat only works to sabotage the record even further. If this sounds exciting, then by all means, jump right in. I hope that Mountain Goats fans enjoy it. I really do. But when you wind up with your face plastered on the floor, it won’t be anyone’s fault but your own. It’s bad enough that the band’s down there. One embarrassment is enough.; we don’t need any fans down there with them.

4.2/10

The Tallest Man on Earth Premieres Second Single “Dark Bird is Home”

Swedish singer-songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth, aka Kristian Matsson, has debuted the second single from his upcoming album, “Dark Bird is Home.” The single finds Matsson reunited with his acoustic guitar after the electric “Sagres.”

“Dark Bird is Home” is slated for a May 12 release via Dead Oceans and follows up 2012’s “There’s No Leaving Now.” The record is currently available for preorder at the label’s website and at Amazon.

Laura Marling Streams “Short Movie”

English singer-songwriter Laura Marling is streaming her fifth studio album “Short Movie” via NPR’s First Listen. The record, slated for a March 24 release on Ribbon Music, marks Marling’s first official release since 2013’s “Once I Was An Eagle.”

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1. Warrior
2. False Hope
3. I Feel Your Love
4. Walk Alone
5. Strange
6. Don’t Let Me Bring You Down
7. Easy
8. Gurdjieff’s Daughter
9. Divine
10. How Can I
11. Howl
12. Short Movie
13. Worship

The album can be streamed here via NPR. More information regarding the artist, including links to purchase the new album, can be found at her official website.