Author: Taylor Hale

Natural Child
Dancin’ With Wolves
Burger Records
Street: 02.25
Natural Child = Tom Petty + Gram Parsons
Is this the Return of the Grievous Angel? Not quite. While the broad strokes of Cosmic American Music are present here, Natural Child come well short of Gram Parson’s territory, instead sounding like the fat trimmed off Exile on Main St. being gargled by Tom Petty. The vocals are constricted and tone deaf, especially on the second track, “Don’t the Time Pass Quickly,” a song about time-altering sex that not only didn’t pass quickly, it made time stand still for a moment—a moment I spent outside my body, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, contemplating my missteps and events that led me to listen to this shrill, hurried attempt at blues rock. Unlike good ol’ Scrooge, I remain as crotchety and cantankerous as ever. “Bah Humbug!” –Taylor Hale
Desert Noises
27 Ways
SQE Music
Street: 03.25
Desert Noises = Roky Erikson + Neil Young + Local Natives

The “folk rock by way of Roky Erikson” sound concocted by Desert Noises isn’t anything new, but the standout track on the album, “Elephant’s Bed,” is an ominous and tuneful track that blisters at the end into a Neil Young–esque guitar solo—like something out of Rust Never Sleeps. The rest of the album turns into something just as unpredictable, jumping from introspective guitar tracks (“Angels”) to bluesy church stompers (“Dime in my Pocket”) and straightforward rustic folk (“Follow You Out”). They’re flexing their muscles a bit, which leaves the album feeling fragmented, and it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can be fantastic. –Taylor Hale

Joe Ecker
Into the World
Midnight Records Productions
Street: 06.20.13
Joe Ecker = Goo Goo Dolls + Dashboard Confessional
Moodier than Garfield on Monday and not nearly as fun, Joe Ecker makes up for what he lacks in musicianship with a strong voice and earnest (almost embarrassing) lyrics. It sounds less like a concise, conceptual album than a collection of attempts at Ecker finding his voice. He’s almost found it—he just needs a light. “It’s Not Over” was a meandering disappointment at first, until a guitar solo blew up in the middle and completely changed the track. There are some surprisingly lucid guitar solos that just sort of pop their heads into the middle of a song like gophers. You don’t have to dig to find pleasure in some of these tracks. It’ll find you. Just show some goddamn patience. –Taylor Hale
The North Valley
Patterns in Retrospect
Street: 01.10
The North Valley = Alabama Shakes + The Band
The North Valley are not afraid to leave it all on the table. They aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, either. That becomes obvious some 10 seconds into the first track, “Stones To Change,” which does its best “Tears of Rage” impression. I’m really impressed by the urgency and immediacy of the harmonies on this album. The second track, “You Got that Straight Jake,” showcases multi-layered and multi-faceted vocals that ripped right through the kevlar on my eardrums. The beat of the drums synched with my amphetamine-caked heart until I was begging for a murmur. I won’t say anything about their sometimes simplistic lyricisms because, in truth, it doesn’t matter. Concise, well polished and sure of itself, Patterns in Retrospect might be The North Valley’s best effort yet. –Taylor Hale
The Shilohs


Light Organ Records

Street: 05.15

The Shilohs = Big Star + Olivia Tremor Control + Mercury Rev

Vancouver’s The Shilohs position themselves adjacent to power pop trail-blazers Big Star and Badfinger, though their sound more closely resembles another band indebted to the Alex Chiltons of the world: Olivia Tremor Control. Like OTC, The Shilohs have a sound so natural and amiable that it borders on cloying. The Mercury Rev-esque third track, “Sisters of Blue,” meanders like a stray dog on an abandoned beach, aimlessly searching for … something. Or maybe nothing. “Stayed in bed all day again,” sighs lead singer Johnny Payne, content to let the day wash over him like high tide. It’s this easygoing attitude that makes The Shilohs so appealing, and also what holds them back. –Taylor Hale
Smoke Fairies
Full Time Hobby

Street: 04.14
Smoke Fairies = St. Vincent + Jack White
Calculating and sterile, Smoke Fairies’ eponymous new album opens with an old-school pop song wrapped in a Feist guise, called “We’ve Seen Birds.” A solid song to be sure, though perhaps a bit misleading, as none of the songs afterward reach its delirious heights and joy. The rest of the album is a morose letdown. “Hope is Religion” is an egregiously simplistic song that sounds so dated. It would be a good fit on the first Portishead album, but is jarring and out of place here. In fact, the whole album is like that—full of songs that sound more like experiments or a collection of singles from a genre-hopping artist like Beck, just without the restraint. –Taylor Hale
The Apache Relay
So Recordings
Street: 04.22
The Apache Relay = Fleet Foxes + George Harrison
The Apache Relay, despite sporting a pretty badass (I don’t use the term lightly) and foreboding name, are actually twee in nature. As such, they are subject to the usual comparisons: Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, and to some extent, Blitzen Trapper. The third track, “Terrible Feeling,” even has parallels with George Harrison. “Growing Pains” furthers the Fleet Foxes comparison, as lead singer Michael Ford, Jr. is a dead ringer for the patron saint of the nouveau Appalachian folk movement, Robin Pecknold. He’s also an able songwriter, keeping me on my toes throughout the album with surprising turns and bold songs, like “Forest for the Trees,” a stripped-down, Leonard Cohen–like meditation on identity crises. –Taylor Hale

With Light and With Love
Street: 04.15
Woods = Devendra Banhart + Teenage Fanclub

Brooklyn “do everything” folk band Woods return with a bright album full of quaint little pop songs with no edges and hooks so sugary they make Teenage Fanclub look like The Ramones. Woods are probably the least freaky of the “freak folk” acts, but definitely the most consistent (as long as Devendra Banhart keeps making shitty albums). The centerpiece of the album is the title track, with its spacious jamming that makes me think of Rust Never Sleeps, but doubled down on folk. The whole album, really, is like a saccharine Rust Never Sleeps. I might need a dentist. –Taylor Hale


Brad Hart & The Lopez Massacre

Sego Lily
Empty Set Records
Street: 03.07
Brad Hart & The Lopez
Massacre = Mark Kozelek + Tim Rutili
Armed with a buoyant singing voice falling somewhere between Tim Rutili and Thom Yorke, Brad Hart and his conspicuously named backing band The Lopez Massacre’s debut album is a brooding, little opus about Utah and the West. The songs are stuffed with surprising textures and dark imagery, but it’s all just a vehicle for Brad’s swoony, Mark Kozelek–like voice. His musings about the West are hardly groundbreaking—or even interesting—but songs like “The Homesteader,” about the appropriation of land in the West, are hard to resist, with breezy paces and images of wide-open spaces, mountains capped with snow and dark days when “we give thanks for every drop of rain.” –Taylor Hale
Courtney Barnett

The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Milk! Records
Street: 04.15
Courtney Barnett = Lou Reed + Patti Smith

Like a collection of Cheever shorts cut to Lou Reed, this “Double EP” features the most invigorating songwriting since Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Yes, Courtney has claimed this is not a real album—a “non-album” if you will—and if the songs don’t necessarily lose momentum, the album certainly does halfway through. But what it lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in staying power. Songs like “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” will stick in your brain like a tumor. These songs are deceptive. One minute it’s casual, almost languid, the next she takes you into a ravine of angsty power pop and on a trip you won’t soon forget. –Taylor Hale