First? Ryler Walker - Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) - Ryley Walker is from Chicago, and his second album in as many years comes out March 31st - Primrose Green. It's brilliant! Can't wait for the rest of the world to hear this album. For now, it's a personal pleasure, though I've played title track "Primrose Green" on the air a couple times. It opens the album and instantly charmed me first listen. The pastoral vibe here sets the tone much as the lush vegetation on the album cover does. Could talk about how it stirs parts of my musical soul not touched in a long time, and try to dance about architecture - but better yet, hear it yourself:
Walker is a talented finger-picking guitarist, able to elicit full, complex leads and rhythms. While "Primrose Green" has a fairly traditional approach, other tracks on the album play to the improvisational strengths of the jazz musicians Walker has gathered around him, giving a freewheeling feel to the material at times. And though he hails from the states, there's something that feels almost English about this album, as if it's kindred to albums from the late 60s, early 70s, when British bands would sequester themselves off in the countryside to experiment and create their masterpieces.
Vocally, Walker reminds me of folks I hesitate to name- like Van Morrison. I mean, that doesn't seem fair to Ryley. It's not that he sounds like Van. But as he loosens up on songs like "Same Minds", "All Kinds of You", "Sweet Satisfaction" and "Summer Dress", I'm reminded of Van's jazzier period. Again, perhaps better you judge for yourself - "Sweet Satisfaction" is out:
(Edit - "Summer Dress" is up, too!)
There are some nods to folk traditions here, too. "Griffiths Bucks Blues" is an instrumental exercise in furious finger-picking, "On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee" feels timeless and earthy - and very American, actually. But "Hide in the Roses" or "The High Road" wouldn't be out of place in a set of English folk rock by Fairport Convention.
While we hear some echoes of earlier folk rock rock efforts, there's a unique, singular talent at work here, a hybrid vision melding so many things that have come before into a stunning - yes, brilliant - new whole. When it arrives on March 31st, I'll be reminding you - you need to get this album.
Second? The Amazing - Picture This (Partisan) - The Amazing are from Sweden. On their third album they bring shimmering, breathy, shoe-gazey pop to a new pinnacle - and then twist it ever-so-slightly. A few of the songs here seemingly have two parts - for example, the title track opens with a perfect pop tune, then shifts gears and jams for another five minutes or so with a relentless, guitar driven groove. The video is oddly compelling for simply following folks down the street, though the girl we follow through most of it is awfully sweet, might have something to do with the attraction:
I'm a fan of albums - and Picture This has a proper album's cohesion and flow. Much like the songs themselves, the album takes some odd turns and goes darker places than you might anticipate given the ethereal quality of the poppier material - if they occasionally stray into sounding a bit like Snow Patrol, they compensate by veering into early Pink Floyd territory - sometimes within the same song, as on "Fryshufunk" or "Safe Island":
If you're intrigued, here's another that's out for listening:
Lucky for you, this one has been released! Came out just about two weeks ago as I write. Start with the title track - check out that "Picture This" video. Don't mean to suggest the whole album is "out there" - there are a few straight ahead songs as well as the twisty-turny ones, like strummy guitar piece "The Headless Boy" or that clever "Tell Them You Can't Leave". And "Winter Dress" is the perfect closing track - the album's flow wraps and finishes strong with an almost-traditional sounding, beautiful slow-dance of a song.
There you have 'em - my two new favorites, two early 2015 standouts - and there's a lot of strong, new material coming out every day! I've made a playlist anyone can listen to - no apps or subscriptions needed - of many new favorites at 8Tracks.com: http://8tracks.com/brotherzag/new-loves-2015
Hope you like what you hear!