A Mellow Mood

After a rather loud beginning to the New Year, when I spent a week blasting the cobwebs of my mind out with heavy black metal bands (as I wrote last time), things have turned much mellower. I’ve turned to alternative folk, blues-infused rock and even some experimental music.

Todd Snider is an American singer-songwriter who’s got me hooked with his confessional, self-deprecating lyrics, and jaunty but ragged style

A JOY TO LISTEN TO: Todd Snider is an American singer-songwriter who’s got me hooked with his confessional, self-deprecating lyrics, and jaunty but ragged style

Todd Snider is an American singer-songwriter who’s fought many a battle with addiction and depression yet each of his albums (he has a dozen, including the latest, Excitement Plan) is a joy to listen to. I first heard him in 2003 on East Nashville Skyline and was immediately hooked by his confessional, self-deprecating lyrics and jaunty but ragged style of singing. So, when I heard about his latest album, I bought an mp3 version and have been enjoying the 12 tracks, some of them grim and disturbing but always laced with Snider’s wry sense of humour. On many of the tracks Snider sings accompanied only by his guitar and the sparseness of the music somehow makes his songs more appealing.

If anyone had told me that Medeski, Martin & Wood’s (MMW) bassist, Chris Wood, was part of an Americana-folk band, I wouldn’t have believed it. MMW, after all, are a celebrated jazz trio that blends unexpected styles together (such as hip-hop, electronica and funk) to deliver a unique kind of jazz. But it is true. In his side project, Chris and his brother Oliver join hands to produce an interesting kind of blues-influenced folk music. Like his brother, Oliver too has his own band called King Johnson, a blues-rock outfit that has produced at least four albums. The brothers have two albums to their credit, Ways Not to Lose and the more recent, Loaded. I’d recommend the latter if you want to sample them.

And, in case you want to try Oliver Wood’s band, King Johnson, I’d recommend looking for an album called Hot Fish Laundry Mat. Try a song on it called Adultcontemporaryrootsrockbluesjazzfunk, which is the most representative of the genre King Johnson play. Sadly, after Hot Fish… came out in 2003, King Johnson haven’t really released anything else. I wonder what happened to the band. They probably broke up the same way that Medeski, Martin & Wood practically have. Although John Medeski (keyboards) and Billy Martin (drums) continue to play together, the golden years of MMW are probably over. If you’ve never heard this fantastic rock-jazz trio, I’d suggest starting with Combustication (1998) and Uninivisible (2002). You’ll wonder why they remained so below the radar.

Baltimore Band Yeasayer has a singer guitarist, Anand Wilder, who looks partly Indian

Baltimore Band Yeasayer has a singer guitarist, Anand Wilder, who looks partly Indian

Alt-folk, blues-rock and jazz-inflected music work fine for me but soon enough I was yearning for new rock music. It came in the form of a new Yeasayer single. It’s been a couple of years since Yeasayer came out with their debut album, All Hour Cymbals, which had 11 experimental songs that I enjoyed immensely but had equally immense difficulty in pinning down in terms of genre. What were these guys influenced by? African music? Sitars? Chamber music? Middle Eastern? Metal? It didn’t matter because All Hour Cymbals has well-crafted tunes that break genre stereotypes and are instantly appealing. After I first heard them, I found out that Yeasayer are a five-piece Baltimore band and has a singer-guitarist who looks at least partly Indian called Anand Wilder. He and keyboardist Chris Keating also create the vocal harmonies that are a vital ingredient of the band’s multi-layered music.

The Yeasayer album has been doing duty on my iPods ever since I heard them first and has always had me wondering when they would come up with a new one. Well, it’s time now. Odd Blood is the name of their new album and I think it comes out next month. There’s a track on the internet from it, however, called Ambling Alp, going by which, Odd Blood will be more experimental than All Hour Cymbals. Oddly, it reminded me of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, an album that I’ve mentioned many times and one that’s been getting critical acclaim. The Yeasayer certainly draw their influence from Animal Collective but then they also appear to be influenced by older bands like The Talking Heads, which also blended many genres to create a new wave style. Perhaps, we’re seeing the beginning of new wave 2.0. Who knows?

Three to Tango:

  1. The Wound That Never Heals: Jim White has influences of Tom Waits and an offbeat style that makes his country-style music quite unique.
  2. Vic Chestnutt: An interview with the singer-songwriter who was a towering figure in Athens, Georgia and influenced many. Chestnutt died last month at 45.
  3. Moonless March: By Aloha, an experimental pop band from the US. Try them. Maybe they’ll go places.

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