Has there been a more important innovation for independent music in the past few years than Kickstarter?
I don’t think so. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s essentially the Marillion Method for financing projects in advance – pre-orders of an unfinished thing, with special incentives for those who pony up early. The cool thing about Kickstarter is that the musicians/artists/whatever set a goal for their fundraising, and if they meet it – through their own marketing efforts – they get the cash. If they don’t, they get nothing. It forces artists to learn how to sell themselves, a skill they definitely need in this brave new world.
Kickstarter allowed my friend Andrea Dawn to finish her tremendous new album. It gave Amanda Palmer the freedom to make the forthcoming Theatre is Evil on her own, and on her own terms. It provided full recording budgets to both Brothers Martin, Jason of Starflyer 59 and Ronnie of Joy Electric, to make their new, upcoming records after they were dismissed from their shared label. And it financed one of the two albums I’m reviewing this week.
There’s just nothing bad here. It’s the greatest technological achievement of the modern age, as far as music is concerned. And now it’s going to help one of my favorite unsung bands get back into the studio for the first time in more than a decade.
Daniel Amos has been around since the late ‘70s, and for most of that time, they’ve been in the “simply incredible” category. Their ringmaster is Terry Taylor, one of our finest living songwriters – between DA, the Lost Dogs and his solo work, Taylor has written more great tunes in the past 35 years than nearly anyone whose name isn’t Costello, Mann or Finn. The Daniel Amos catalog is vast, but it’s also deep, and their records – particularly the angular Darn Floor, Big Bite, the Beatlesque Motorcycle, the impressionistic concept piece Songs From the Heart, and all four Alarma chronicles – are worth sinking into and soaking up.
The last time the four members of DA got together in the studio, the result was 2001’s mammoth 34-song Mr. Buechner’s Dream. It’s a classic rock record of titanic proportions, and had it been released by a more well-known band, you’d have heard every critic in the country falling over themselves to praise it. A double album with no weak songs – that’s an achievement in itself, but Mr. Buechner’s Dream goes beyond that. It’s a true American classic, and only a few thousand people heard it.
Terry Taylor is 62 now, and I wouldn’t blame him for resting on his laurels. He’s spent the years since MBD concentrating on the Lost Dogs, his country-rock supergroup – their 2010 album Old Angel is a masterpiece. But now he’s hoping to revive Daniel Amos, and I couldn’t be happier. This week, DA launched a Kickstarter page to fund their new album. They asked for $12,000, and they had it within a day. That’s how dedicated Daniel Amos fans are, and how hungry they are for new Taylor music.
We’re gonna have a new Daniel Amos album, probably next year. That’s just awesome. But although the band has reached their goal, they could still use support – it costs way more than $12,000 to record, mix, master, produce and distribute a nationally-released record on one’s own. The music of Terry Taylor has meant a lot to me, so I’m happy to give. If his songs have touched your life as well, please consider it. Taylor and his bandmates have languished in obscurity for their entire careers, with only the love of their fans to sustain them. This is a great opportunity to show them how much they’ve meant to us.
New Daniel Amos! Life is good.
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This is a good week to mention Daniel Amos, because the theme this time around is bands returning after some time away. Granted, neither of this week’s contestants have been out of the spotlight as long as DA has, but the albums on tap this week definitely serve as reintroductions.
In the case of Sixpence None the Richer, it’s been 10 years since Divine Discontent, an album that was pretty late itself. Sixpence once had momentum – their early records built up to their dazzling self-titled third effort, and that one included a little song called “Kiss Me.” You may think this happens to me a lot, but Sixpence was one of the few bands I watched explode, going from an obscure favorite to a nationwide sensation in the space of weeks.
That’s long in the past, though. It took the band five years to deliver Discontent, due largely to record label issues, and even though they turned in a shimmering, complex, gorgeous pop album, it was roundly ignored. I expect the same fate will befall Lost in Transition, their long-awaited new one, but that’s OK. Where Discontent was a bid to recapture their acclaim, Transition is just a Sixpence album, relaxed and confident. It’s the antithesis of a splashy return.
In fact, it’s so relaxed that it’s almost underwhelming at first. The core of the band has always been the delightful voice of Leigh Nash and the deceptively assured songwriting of Matt Slocum. They’ve long been risk-takers – that self-titled record includes tricky time signatures, surprisingly raw production and a track sung in Spanish, and Discontent features twisting pop songs like “Melody of You” and dramatic epics like the spiraling “Dizzy.” By contrast, Transition has a dozen simple little tunes, recorded minimally – guitars, drums, piano, some pedal steel, not a lot else. At 41 minutes, it’s their slightest and wispiest album.
That said, there’s nothing at all wrong with it, aside from a lack of ambition. Most of these songs sound homespun, and largely concern loneliness, and lost and found faith. There are songs here that could easily be about Nash’s 2007 divorce, but Sixpence has always written about standing on shaky ground, hoping for a lifeline. The simple arrangements actually enhance a song like “Go Your Way,” a sweet number of separation and reconciliation.
While I wish some of these songs, like the trifling “Radio,” went a few more places, there’s nothing I dislike on here. I’m actually quite fond of “Give It Back,” a classic Sixpence cry to the heavens, and of “Safety Line,” both of which put the emphasis on pianos and nifty melodies. There’s more than a hint of country to some of these tunes, like the relatively upbeat “Don’t Blame Yourself,” which could be a hit if Nash had more of a twang in her voice. The actual single is the pretty “Sooner Than Later,” which, at track 11, is the record’s emotional climax. And again, there’s nothing wrong with it.
But there’s nothing that screams “we’re back” on here, either. Lost in Transition is a good record, but it’s a bit too sedate and easygoing, especially after 10 years. It’s interesting to say that, since Sixpence has always been a band that erred on the side of trying too hard. This new album barely even announces itself. I like it just fine, and if it’s kicking off a new era of breezier Sixpence records, then it does its job well. But if this is all we hear from Slocum and Nash for another decade, it seems like it won’t be enough.
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The same cannot be said of Jonathan Jones, who has brought back his band We Shot the Moon for their first album since 2009. Now, of course, that’s not a long time, but Jones has made a pretty big deal about launching his solo career in the intervening years, effectively ending We Shot the Moon after two albums to focus on softer, piano-driven music. (His latest, Community Group, was also released this year.) So the band’s return is something of a surprise.
Even more surprising is the fact that the new album, Love and Fear, reunites the original WSTM lineup – Jones, multi-instrumentalist Dan Koch and drummer Joe Greenetz. There have been a lot of other players making their way through this band since their 2007 debut. Longtime fans will no doubt have noticed that the new album’s title is the mirror image of that debut, Fear and Love, signaling this return to basics.
But this is in no way a sequel to the pianos-and-guitars punky pop WSTM used to create. Love and Fear is full of big pop songs with big arrangements – it is, in fact, the most interesting sonic canvas Jones has ever given himself to sing over. Just check out “We Can Wait,” a synthy tune that would be danceable if not for that tricky missed beat in the verses. Electronic drums burst and pop, keyboard washes roll in like waves, and Jones harmonizes with himself.
This is also Jones’ most varied work, a lesson he learned well while making Community Group. The album zips from the bass-driven ebullience of “Sonrisa” to the ‘80s rock of “When I’m Gone” and the introspective reflection of closer “Blind” with confidence. I do wish these songs were stronger – Jones is good at coming up with decent, but unexceptional melodies, and few of these tunes try as hard as they should. He’s getting better, though – “Forgive” is one of his best, and “Me Vs. Myself” goes some interesting places. And like the Sixpence album, there’s nothing bad here at all.
Jones financed Love and Fear entirely through Kickstarter, raising almost $15,000. He’s used that cash to create one of the richest records he’s yet made – and for a 29-year-old, this guy has made a lot of records. Love and Fear is an impressive return for We Shot the Moon, and another step in Jones’ evolution. So far, it’s been fun to watch. You can hear all of Love and Fear for free here.
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So I have just enough time left to tell you about a piece of music news I’m pretty excited about.
On October 2, the world’s greatest ambient shoegaze band, Hammock, will release its first double album. It’s called Departure Songs, and the first track released from it, “Tape Recorder,” is here. Hammock music is some of the most impossibly beautiful stuff I’ve ever heard, and a double album just means twice as much floaty goodness. If you’re unfamiliar with Hammock, go here, and then buy everything you see for sale. You won’t be disappointed.
See you in line Tuesday morning.