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La Guerre
Rare and Collectible Spirits

Let's face it: The whole synth-pop-fronted-by-a-delicate-voiced-female-singer thing is a niche genre on the verge of being pummeled to death by a bunch of would-be sensitive starlets who believe that distortion makes up for quality. It's a shame because, at one point, I had great love for Oh Land, Beach House, Lana Del Rey, Cults and Lorde. Then Top 40 swooped in, crushing everything good and pure in its greedy jaws.

Some artists remain outliers on that musical trajectory, which was once so promising. Local singer-songwriter Katlyn Conroy is one of them. When she isn't providing backup vocals for Cowboy Indian Bear, Conroy is busy crafting thoughtful songs for her solo project, La Guerre. The latest effort is Rare and Collectible Spirits, a full-length collection of ambient songs that seep out of speakers like mist from the edge of a forest.

Spirits is synth-heavy, but Conroy isn't patching potholes with electronic filler. There is real substance here: purposeful and reflective lyrics. Check me out like a library book/Read the summary and be done with me, Conroy sings mournfully on "Feel It." The album title is derived from "Not People," on which Conroy delivers her sinister thesis: a desire to collect spirits, devour them and leave a hollow person behind. She interlaces these intangible ideas with references to real places and dates, but nothing ever quite lines up; the song "Lawrence, Kansas" seems to refer more to a state of mind than to the town itself.

Spirits soars smoothly — almost too smoothly. With 15 tracks, Conroy runs the risk of sameness. Playing in the background, Spirits can sound repetitive over 35 minutes. Yet Conroy's voice saves her. She exhibits an astounding vocal power, pushing skyward on "I Remember" and nearly to a breaking point on "Feel It." She scales down easily to a soothing alto, but she's still hard to ignore.
— Natalie Gallagher

Old Sound
Rain Follows the Plow

Old Sound is dead-set on making music that sounds, well, old. The three members — mandolin player and guitarist Grady Keller, bassist Greg Herrenbruck and guitarist Chad Brothers — have been playing together for more than a decade, and though they are far from retirement age, they seem to relish a musical style that predates them.

The band's debut record, Rain Follows the Plow, opens with 20 seconds of vintage circus sounds before fading into "Shell Game," a cryptic ballad with Keller handling the lead vocals and Herrenbruck and Brothers harmonizing on his heels. The sparse strings and echoing lyrics have a Celtic energy to them — a mood that is ripped apart two songs later, when "Two Midnights" breaks into fast-paced fingerpicking madness, aided by producer Phil Wade's banjo.

Where Rain Follows the Plow could lumber along on old-timey, town-square-ready songs, Keller and company offer a few surprises. The hissing cicadas that fade in and out on "Little Wrecking Ball" set up the desolate melody beautifully (thoughts of Miley Cyrus are far from the mind), and Brothers' singing falls to a hushed, rough whisper. The rain and wind chimes on "Train Station" give way to handclaps, foot stomps and Herrenbruck's rumbling bellow.

It's the picking style, though, that sets Rain Follows the Plow apart from a host of other folk albums. Keller's mandolin playing is masterful — at times, he seems to be playing a different instrument entirely — and Brothers' chords lap over one another like waves in a cheerful stream. It's a nuanced collection of drugstore remedies: Plow assuages any headache, calms any painful maladies and stirs you out of any dusty depression. — N.G.

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