The new Choir album is called Shadow Weaver.
I mention this up front because it is the single most significant piece of musical information I learned over the last seven days. I’m certainly not shy about proclaiming my love for the Choir – they’re probably my favorite band, and every time they announce a new record, it’s a major event in my house.
It’s hard to explain, really – why do I get so excited about new music from a basically unknown group of old guys from Nashville, who play out only a few times a year, often to a crowd of merely dozens? Thankfully, the music speaks for itself, and most people who hear the Choir end up loving them. They play a darkly ambient form of pop music, all expansive, reverbed guitars and fascinating beats and glorious little melodies. They’ve never made an album I don’t like – even the worst ones, like Diamonds and Rain, have some classics, like “Render Love.”
Shadow Weaver comes out in March sometime. It’s being self-released by the band, like every album they’ve made for 10 years, and it was fully funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’ll be their 15th, following up The Loudest Sound Ever Heard, from 2012. I gave that album a lukewarm review, but it’s steadily grown on me, to the point where I love it about as much as its two predecessors. I find it a little earthbound, still, so I’m heartened by the fact that every snippet of music I’ve heard from Shadow Weaver has been spacey and dreamy and sublime.
I’m spending so much time talking about the new Choir album because we’re still in that part of the year where the upcoming albums are more exciting than the ones hitting stores. I’m right now listening to what I consider the first major release of the year, Transatlantic’s Kaleidoscope, and even that isn’t what most would think of as an important new record. Broken Bells’ After the Disco, out next week, comes closer, but the first real event is Lost in the Trees’ Past Life on Feb. 18. The year is going to be great, but it isn’t quite yet.
So let’s keep talking about the great stuff making its way to us over the next few months. For instance, Beck just released the first full song from Morning Phase, his reportedly low-key comeback. It’s called “Blue Moon,” and it’s gorgeous. Yes, this album is overhyped. But listen to this. If it’s all this good, the hype won’t matter.
Speaking of gorgeous, one of the guys from Explosions in the Sky has teamed up with the guy from Eluvium to form a new band called Inventions. I can only imagine how absolutely gorgeous this is going to be. If you don’t know, Explosions are a “post-rock” band, making instrumental soundscapes with glorious guitar tones, and Eluvium is a one-man ambient project, mixing drifting drones with lovely piano pieces. So yeah, this album – out April 1 – is pretty high on my list of things to look forward to.
And speaking of unlikely yet perfect team-ups, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo have just announced the self-titled debut from their collaborative project, The Both. This is a pairing that I never imagined, but hearing the first tune from it, “Milwaukee,” it’s clearly one that should have happened before now. Mann is one of the best pop songwriters alive, and Leo ain’t too bad himself. Their mixture seems to capture the melodic grace of Mann’s work and the spiky, guitar-fueled energy of Leo’s. It’s kind of perfect, and I can’t wait for this. It’s out April 15.
It seems like more goodness is announced every day. For now, all we can do is wait.
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Well, that’s not completely true. I do have something worth reviewing this week, and it was an altogether pleasant surprise.
If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that I’m a big Bryan Scary fan. He’s one of those folks out to save real pop music. You know, the kind with big, bold melodies and inventive arrangements, the kind that comes packed with sweet surprises every few seconds. The last time Scary made an album, it was called Daffy’s Elixir, and it was amazing. (Hear for yourself.) It’s the kind of insanely great record that makes you realize that some people’s brains work at faster speeds and higher gears.
Scary’s new project is possibly his most ambitious. It’s a band of sorts called Evil Arrows, and under this umbrella, he plans to release 60 or so new songs this year. They’ll come out in monthly installments, one EP at a time. The first one is out already, and you can hear it here. It’s six short songs, mostly performed with drummer Michael LaVolpe and guitarist Graham Norwood. But Scary says some of these Evil Arrows tunes will be full band efforts while some – like two of them on this first EP – will be solo efforts. And Scary’s good enough that it takes some effort to tell which is which.
On the surface, nothing about the Evil Arrows material is surprising. It’s all quirky, catchy pop music that could sit nicely next to much of what Scary’s done before. But these songs are all easier to digest than the crazy whirlwind of Daffy’s Elixir. “Romancer” is practically a ditty, and “Silver Bird” finds Scary slipping into a bit of a Bob Dylan riff, with plunking ragtime piano over the top. “Wide Open Yonder” is a terrific little driving song, with a convincingly rock and roll chorus. These tunes are all tightly written, compact little wonders.
The only problem is, it’s over before you know it. I could have gladly listened to five more songs as enjoyable as “Jennifer Kills the Giant (Once a Week),” which appears here in a piano-and-drum-machine sketch. “Laura Lies” is an acoustic ditty that leads into old-time whistle-led piano-pounder “The Lovers” perfectly, but three minutes and one second later – after a superb “la-la-la” outro – it’s over. And I want more. It’s going to kill me to wait a month between each of these Evil Arrows projects. But I guess that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time. Waiting and waiting.
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See you in line Tuesday morning.