With a hint of bottle-up punk-like angst, folk-esque acoustics, and hand-clapping soul, Kevin Morby’s 2017 release City Music is as classic indie rock as classic indie rock can get. Soaking up the experiences of past ventures from the NYC psychedelic-folk outfit Woods and more indie-centric efforts with The Babies and solo releases, City Music rounds off the edges and narrows his aim for a guitar-heavy powerhouse. And rather than opting for the long-haired three-piece indie jam guise, Morby focuses on including all shades of composition and structure rather than heads bobbing to the drone of reverb-laden guitar over a backbeat (although, there’s plenty of quality bobbing and reverb to be heard on City Music). There’s “Crybaby” and “1234” for the punk lovers, and just damn good indie rock with a hint of harmonic soul on “Aboard My Train”, and the indie folk from Woods on “Tin Can” and “Night Time”. But nothing hits the nail on the head better than the grandiose title track, “City Music”. Speed up and slow down, harmonizing guitar, handclaps and tambourine, “City Music” is the marquee track on a catalog standout.
Leslie Feist doesn’t owe the world a thing. Starting out as the female vocalist in the Canadian troupe, Broken Social Scene, launching a solo career captivated by the album The Reminder and pairing singles, “1234” and “I Feel It All”, and then morphing into something else entirely, it’s fair to say she’s paid some dues and been around the block once or twice. But the Feist we have today is not the Feist from The Reminder. The artistic transformation that ensued shed light on a seemingly internalized creative output seen on 2011’s Metals that turned some heads, if not entirely doing away with the iconic indie-pop image she created for herself. Like the pearl within the oyster, Pleasure brings a deeply personal and avant-garde approach to art as the follow up to Metals, resembling another drop in the river that flows further away from her former self. With songs like “Century” and “Pleasure” that drive with a gamut of percussion and distorted guitars, the catchy hooks and bouncy, cheerful lyrics of the past gave way to an elevated and exposed inspiration. Or even more so in opting for a bluesy-guitar or soulful and jazzy organ on numbers like “I’m Not Running Away” and “Young Up” does Feist truly come into her own form. And yet in a classic ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from tree’-like fashion, Feist and the acoustic guitar just can’t seem to parse with soft and soothing tracks like “Baby Be Simple”, “Any Party”, and “A Man Is Not His Song” that dive into the melodically flowing vocals and pairing acoustic guitar.
A starkly somber and humanizing reminder of the feckless struggle between yin and yang, man and woman, child and adult, and body and society. And without the slightest sense of regret in self loathing or pity, Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and co. recount anecdotal lyrics to the hum of a band ever-so present in the backdrop of the grand scheme. Frail and soft vocals up front, folk and lo-fi pop behind, and cast in an ethereal demeanor, Capacity is the glowing light that spans from melodramatic realism to avant-garde acoustic folk. With 2016’s Masterpiece in the backseat (and rightfully dubbed a masterpiece), songs like “Watering” and “Great White Shark” display perfect dynamics between melodic vocals, driving instrumentals and ambience. And as if seasoned musicianship wasn’t on display before, “Shark Smile” casts a light in case there were any doubts.
As one of the great contemporary acoustic artists to come out of the United Kingdom, Laura Marling’s release in Semper Femina focuses her efforts of a career dedicated to the genre of worldly folk. In theory, it seems difficult to refine a craft release after release, but Laura Marling’s effortless ability to stay true to the track while avoiding the slightest sense of redundancy is just one of her notable attributes. Semper Femina is necessarily a cataclysmic or polarizing release from her catalog (if you haven’t heard any of her previous releases, they’re worth a spin… or a bunch), but it comfortably fits into the soothing and softly sweet frame she’s created for herself. And all while dissecting femininity within society (see latin translation of semper femina), Laura never shies from laying down a soulful track like “Wild Fire” and “Nothing, Not Nearly”, a classically folk song with “Always This Way” and “Nouel”, and a more contemporary number like “Soothing”.