Monthly Archives: June 2017

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Concert Review: Alan Licht at Suoni Per Il Popolo

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Alan Licht is one of those extremely prolific avant-garde musicians who keeps re-emerging in different musical contexts. Since the beginning of his career, Licht has explored large tracts of musical territory with endless collaborators and a consistently refined yet elusive style, one that resists description – ephemeral might be the best word for it. Whether he’s atonally plucking a subdued guitar with Loren Connors on Two Nights, or diverging into drone remixes of disco anthems on Plays Well, all of his output is confident and fascinating. Given this diverse discography, I was quite curious to see what Licht would play when I arrived at La Vitrola on June 3rd for his Suoni Per Il Popolo show.

The evening began with two strong performances from two very different guitarists. The first was local solo guitarist Vicky Mettler, who I’d never seen before. Mettler got the crowd’s attention with her loud, distorted acoustic guitar; any other sound in the audience was barely audible amidst the heavy tones she produced. Playing an assortment of atonal chords, Mettler sung and wailed alongside the creeping tones of her instrument, harmonizing in a foreboding and ominous way – a promising start for the night.

The second opener was an Icelandic guitarist by the name of Kristin Haraldsdottir. Her music, in direct contrast with Mettler’s, was hushed and lingering; Haraldsdottir let her instrument breathe in between notes, the guitar exhaling over empty air or a backing track of oceans, rivers, and various other hydrologic manifestations. Unfortunately, some of the effect was lost due to (in Licht’s words) a particularly noisy ‘polka-disco’ party underway downstairs. But despite the potential distractions, Haraldsdottir’s performance was captivating, and I hope she makes her way back to North America sometime soon.

By the time Licht went on, the room was quiet, the music from downstairs finally having subsided. Licht entered the stage quite unceremoniously, acoustic guitar in hand, and without skipping a beat he sat down on a chair centre-stage and began playing.

Licht’s guitar tone was clean and bright; you could hear each note reverberate as if it was a bell chime. He strummed his guitar, up and down, in a straightforward rhythm, and kept fingerpicking techniques to a minimum. There was no dissonance, no distortion – Licht was simply playing his guitar in the same way someone might play in their room at home, strumming chord after chord, thinking that maybe this progression would hypothetically sound good in a band someday.

Despite these rudimentary tools and straight ahead style, Licht did not fail to deeply impress. Throughout the show, he continuously convinced me that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that he was doing it well. Early on in the set Licht confided that, after reading Keith Richards’ biography, he was inspired to write a lot of these songs in open G. The tuning allowed him to hit all six strings of his guitar with every stroke of his hand, creating a real fullness and depth to the sound.

The songs themselves were like hurried meditations on hypothetical childhood memories, not nostalgic, but rather invoking in me the same sense of solipsistic optimism that I used to feel when I was a kid. Rather than leaving me with the chills, Licht’s gave me a warm feeling, like the one you get in your stomach when seeing a friend after many months apart. In a way, it felt as if Licht had turned La Vitrola into his own living room, and the audience members were his welcomed guests as we sat there and watched him play.

Licht didn’t linger on stage once he finished, instead hurrying over to the merch table, leaving his audience to find our way back to reality. The concert had been an exclusive peek into another world, Licht’s performances like bedroom renditions of the best rock songs never written. Eventually, I begrudgingly got on my feet to leave, feeling as though I was arriving home from a vacation, the sound of Licht’s guitar still repeating over and over in my head.

– Review by Rudy Quinn

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Album Review: Rocket – (Sandy) Alex G

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(Sandy) Alex G is more a storyteller than an autobiographer. Philadelphia’s Alex Giannascoli has released his much-anticipated sixth full-length release, Rocket, and it is as murky and expansive as ever. A lo-fi prodigy, Giannascoli has taken this opportunity to stray from terra firma and embark on an exploratory foray into the “country et al.” genre. His incorporation of banjos, sleepy swing rhythms, and Molly Bermer’s wistful violin have brought him into a new territory entirely. Accordingly, he takes his time to explore, meandering from Americana (“Bobby”) to noise (“Brick”), auto-tuned grunge-pop (“Sportstar”) to the cocktail free-form jazz (“Guilty”).

In Giannascoli’s opinion, the more esoteric a lyric, the more powerful the song. He’s of the mindset that once lyrics are explained, they are stripped of power and meaning; in his eyes, it is better for the listener to develop their own individual interpretation of his music. In addition, Giannascoli cheekily refrains from admitting which tracks are autobiographical in interviews, though he has admitted that he is prone to write multiple character narratives (cf: “Bobby”) that span multiple albums.

To the untrained eye, Rocket may seem cobbled together, a hasty amalgamation of different genres. Below the surface, however, Giannascoli has subtly created a tryptic of genres: his foray into country, experimentation in grunge and noise, and development of a more rounded lo-fi sound. Rocket acts as a foggy window into his writing process, helping his fans to understand that often, the musician’s process involves the willingness to transcend traditional genre labels. On this album, Giannascoli delights in keeping listeners on their toes as he moves among a myriad of sounds and genres.

Rocket begins with a classic Americana track, “Poison Root.” Here Giannascoli incorporates the Sufjan effect, with muffled, nearly incoherent vocals over a pleasantly twangy banjo and quick-paced, layered instrumentals. A gorgeous crescendo signals a build in intensity, with the addition of a hurried violin, before the track ends abruptly. On “Country,” he cleverly masks dark lyrics with the use of a drum brush, smooth jazz instrumentals, and sing-song vocals.

“Brick” is a harsh contrast to the preceding tracks, providing an immediate sense of tension and urgency. Dissonant, competing guitars fight for melodic attention before the track explodes into heavy drums, distortion, and bass; Giannascoli’s droning shout fights to float over the melée. The track is violent, aggressive, and short, ending as abruptly as it begins, but is one of the most intriguing tracks on Rocket; if Giannascoli ever wanted to transition into noise rock, he has an in. In a delightful contrast, “Sportstar” begins with a wistful piano melody before heavily-produced guitars begin to fade in and out, with auto-tune providing an interesting contrast. When Giannascoli drops it, the lyrics are much more impactful: “I play how I wanna play, I say what I wanna say.” A subtle “Nikes” reference sends a wink towards Giannascoli’s involvement in Frank Ocean’s 2016 Blonde.

The titular track is the apex of the third theme of Rocket, and shines as the singular instrumental track on the album. A mix of Americana and lo-fi, the warm melodies of banjo and piano act as a bittersweet maypole. “Powerful Man” follows directly after, and signals a return to (Sandy) Alex G’s more classic sound. Giannascoli’s vocals enter at the forefront after an introduction of finger picking, but they are slowly and methodically overtaken by the building up of piano, violin, and drums until only the instrumentals remain; a signal that this carefully crafted story arc is coming to a close.

Album released: May 19, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam

 

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An Interview with Christopher Kirkley from Sahel Sounds

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Christopher Kirkley is the founder of the Sahel Sounds record label based out of Portland, Oregon and the man responsible for bringing Les Filles de Illighadad to Montreal during the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival in June 2017.

Louis Rastelli, director of ARCMTL (Archive Montreal) and resident CKUT DJ (Montreal Sound Ark on Fridays 3 – 5 pm), invited Kirkley for a conversation at Archive Montreal’s archive centre in the Mile Ex district a few days after the Filles de Illighadad concert on June 21.

There is a local connection to the Sahel Sounds label by way of the old underground record co-op Backroom Records, which ran from the mid 2000s until 2015 in a back alley just south of the train tracks in the Mile End. That’s where Warren Hill, local record collector and Backroom Records founder, began putting out cassette and LP compilations of old blues, gospel and music from around the world on the Mississippi Records imprint. Around 2009, Warren began visiting Portland regularly to coordinate Mississippi Records releases with the local record store of the same name. A chance meeting in the shop with Christopher Kirkley led to the first Sahel Sounds releases. Just a few years later, the label boasts a catalogue of around 50 albums, documenting dozens of Sahel musicians and acts whose music would not likely have ever been preserved otherwise. Among the best loved of these records are two volumes called Music from Saharan Cellphones, compilations documenting independently produced musicians and bands whose recordings were mainly shared through memory cards on cellphones.

Rastelli spoke to Kirkley about how this all began and about how he discovered Les Filles de Illighadad. By the way: don’t forget to catch them on their second swing back in Montreal this Wednesday June 28 at Sala Rossa!

L: I’m curious about the challenges you face dealing with the kinds of artists you work with. For example, all the stuff that you copy off of people’s memory cards, it must be a huge range of digital files?

C: Yeah, I try to copy as much as possible, and I use that to source a lot of material for the albums, because a lot of time they only exist as MP3 and there’s no higher quality version. When I was first doing that for the Saharan Cellphone compilations, they were basically found MP3s. I thought I’d find the artists and contact them to get the master files, but there were no master files.

L: Were you able to contact a lot of them?

C: Yeah, everything on there was fully licensed and I was in touch with everybody, which presented its own difficulties — just finding people based on an ID3 tag on an MP3. Nobody was putting their phone number out there, which they really should be… If you don’t exist on the internet but you’re using this underground network of distribution, it needs some sort of tag or some way to verify that your name is attached to the file. What would happen is you’d have local cyber cafes, and they were the most savvy ones because they knew how to use computers, they would take out the ID3 information and replace it with the name of their own cyber cafe, so for a long time I kept zeroing in on the cyber cafes.

I spent about two years travelling around West Africa writing the Sahel Sounds blog. I was over there on a one-way ticket just travelling and recording without any commercial angle. When I got back to Portland, that’s when I walked into the Mississippi Records shop with a bunch of CDs of recorded music that I was passing around, and I dropped one off at Mississippi Records, primarily because I wanted it in the store and I saw that they were selling music from that part of the world, some of the Sublime Frequencies releases for example. And I thought, “what do these guys know about West African music? Here’s a CD…” But I wasn’t really looking for any label or anything, I was just looking for people to share the music with and talk about it with. Continue reading

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CKUT TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS::: June 27, 2017

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Hi folks,

Had a busy weekend of friend hangs, a wedding reception, and a truly excellent afternoon noise show on Sunday featuring a great set by CKUT’s own Tamara Filyavich (above). I’m also gearing up for Les Filles de Illighadad to make a second appearance in Montreal tomorrow night — their show last week was really special, so it’s exciting to have the opportunity to see them again. If you’re in town, don’t miss it!

xo
joni

:::CHARTS:::
ckut top 30 – june 27, 2017

1. do make say think – stubborn persistent illusions – constellation CC *
2. couleur dessin – s/t – fixture records CC *
3. she-devils – s/t – secretly canadian CC *
4. house and land – s/t – thrill jockey
5. best fern – covers ep – self-released CC * Continue reading

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Album Review: Benjamin Booker – Witness

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Benjamin Booker is soulful garage-rock at its finest. His characteristic blues-meets-punk style, alongside his distinct husky voice, results in a unique, gritty sound that one might stumble upon in a New Orleans bar. On each track of Witness, Booker’s highly anticipated sophomore album, he croons on a number of subjects, from faithlessness to police brutality, resulting in a record that is emotional, raw, and highly intimate.

Production-wise, the album’s opener “Right on You” sets the tone for the record. Heavily panned right and left channels serve to isolate the instruments and Booker’s voice. This decision is consistent in every track on the album: there is no song on Witness where everything feels centred. The audience enters a unique kind of listening experience as the intricately balanced isolations allow for more instrumental clarity. One can hear the way each particular element adds to the song’s arrangement as a whole rather than focusing on how they all work together simultaneously in the track. Booker unabashedly introduces listeners to this novel sonic environment of Witness — he invites them to stay, yet remains nonchalantly uncaring if they don’t.

“Right on You” blends into “Motivation,” a track with a lo-fi vibe that begins with a tape-saturated acoustic guitar and a syncopated bass groove. In the chorus, slightly distorted violins swell in the left channel, offering an unconventional type of orchestration that brings an interesting contrast to the acoustic elements within the song. In “Believe,” the listener hears the soulful elements of Booker’s music: the background vocals are akin to a gospel choir, and they harmonize with Booker as he yearns to find a resolution in his search for faith: “I don’t care if right or wrong / I just want to believe in something / I cannot make it on my own.” The title track, “Witness,” is a commentary on police brutality and racial issues in America. Resonant lines such as “Thought we saw he had a gun / thought that it looked like he started a run” make this the album’s most poignant track by highlighting Booker’s strongest lyrics on the record.

Besides “Witness,” the most memorable songs on the record are the ones emphasizing Booker’s well-crafted guitar riffs. In “Truth is Heavy,” the guitar lick isolated on the right side and the bass riff isolated on the left create a unique melodic blend, exemplifying how the producer’s decision to include heavy pans augments the music’s emotive abilities.

Booker’s strength is his bluesy and garage-influenced guitar work, as it allows him to create groovy, head-bobbing rock tracks without being overly flashy. However, most tracks on the album offer only subtle dynamic changes; additionally, since the drum patterns tend to remain steady and simple, at times the songs on Witness seem to drag. Nonetheless, Booker delivers this static feel exceptionally well and this may have been his intention: he emphasizes movement and repetition so listeners can hone in on the pulse of the music in order to lose themselves within it.

– Review by Francesca Pastore

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CKUT TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS::: June 20, 2017

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Hello friends,
The past week has been kind of a blur… In addition to catching a bunch of excellentSuoni shows, I was also lucky enough to share a bill with the fantastic HSY and H. de Heutz (above) at Ottawa Explosion — in a church, no less! I ended up staying for a couple days to hang with pals and came back just in time to see Les Filles de Illighadad make their North American debut here in Montreal last night. It was probably the most stunning show I’ve seen all year; in addition to putting on an amazing performance, they also have a pretty incredible story. They’re playing a few other dates on this side of the pond, and please do yourself a favour and check them out if they stop in your town.

xo
joni

:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT:::
We’ve got a whole ton of fresh new content up on the CKUT music dept blog. Check out our take on Next Music from Tokyo and peruse these reviews of local favouritesEmmett McCleary and Best Fern; or perhaps you’re in the mood for a more detailed read, like our ongoing series tracing the use of samples in modern hip hop. There’s a lot to explore, so turn on some background music and dig right in.

:::CHARTS:::
ckut top 30 – june 20, 2017

1. she-devils – s/t – secretly canadian CC *
2. best fern – covers ep – self-released CC *
3. sick boss – s/t – drip audio CC
4. joni void – selflessness – constellation CC *
5. arto lindsay – cuidado madame – northern spy Continue reading

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Concert Review: Next Music From Tokyo Vol. 10

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On May 22nd, I arrived at Divan Orange at 8:00 pm, just before the music was supposed to start, to find a room already packed to the brim with a horde of excited fans. The concert was a showcase of Japanese bands, part of an ongoing series called Next Music From Tokyo. I was planning on bringing a few friends along, but even at such an early hour, the show was – in the words of organizer Steven Tanaka – “beyond sold out.” From talking to a few people at the concert and record store clerks, I eventually gathered that this 10th edition of Next Music From Tokyo was the most popular one yet.

I ended up at the show after recently reading Ian Martin’s Quit Your Band!: Musical Notes From the Japanese Underground – a newly published, finely compiled compendium of the history and inner-workings of the Japanese underground music scene. As Martin takes the reader through the history of Japanese rock music and band politics, he opens one chapter with a short story about Canada, presenting the country as some sort of promised land for indie bands aspiring to greatness. Martin then goes on to discuss a mythical figure within the Canadian scene, someone who would regularly travel to Tokyo from his home in Toronto several times a year to scout out underground bands, hoping to enlist them in a series of concerts in Canada.

Martin eventually reveals this mythical figure to be Tanaka, an anesthesiologist working in Toronto who moonlights as a seminal figure in Tokyo’s underground music scene. Intrigued, I decided to dig further. I found Tanaka’s blog on the Next Music From Tokyo website, where he writes about seeing bands playing live, hanging out with the members, and the intricacies of the scene itself. Both the book and blog made the Next Music project sound like an amazingly genuine product of love for the music, and I knew there was no excuse for me not to be at the next instalment.

So I found myself alone at Divan Orange, where Tanaka’s love and excitement were on full display as he introduced each of the five bands playing that evening. He spoke so candidly and excitedly about the bands that you couldn’t help but feel the same sense of pure unadulterated glee. This enthusiasm was matched by the performers, too. Although a lot of words were lost in translation, each band emitted some seriously positive vibes. The combination of good energy from the organizers and bands created an experience that I won’t forget until I’m old and senile, and maybe not even then. Let me walk you through it.

Continue reading

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Album Review: Best Fern – Covers EP

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The work of the Montreal-based group Best Fern is not foreign to this blog — their self-titled EP, which was released around the end of the summer in 2016, stayed on CKUT’s charts throughout the fall and into the new year. The group is comprised of Montrealers Nick Schofield and Alexia Avina, the latter having also made waves with her solo releases this past spring. Best Fern’s latest offering is definitely an interesting move; the title of the new EP, Covers, aptly reflects the content of the record. When asked about the motivation behind releasing an EP made up entirely of covers, Avina said the duo “liked the idea of paying homage” to the work of some of their favourite artists, “while also imbuing the tunes with [their] own sonic style”.

First up on Covers is “Morning Side,” the group’s take on a 20-minute trance piece by British artist Four Tet. Best Fern’s version of the song is condensed to a more palatable four minutes, and does so without sacrificing complex vocal layering and sampling. “Morning Side” rides a strong, pulsating current, punctuated by ever-changing electronic sounds, showcasing Schofield’s creativity as the producer behind Best Fern.

The following track, “It Means I Love You,” features Avina’s strikingly clear voice as the main attraction. The instrumental aspects of the song are restrained, made up of mainly a driving drum track and simple synth bass line; however, this minimal structure allows Avina to showcase her versatile and expansive vocal abilities. In addition to carrying the main melody and lyrics of the song, she also incorporates soaring lines and more percussive elements, developing a tonal mosaic which leaves Best Fern’s stamp on the popular Jessy Lanza tune.

Schofield and Avina also add their signature softness to Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica.” The more vocal-forward approach of Best Fern’s version serves to round out the sharp edges of the original, without losing the track’s meditative feel. Rich synth chords and a dynamic range of samples make every second of the song an new and interesting moment to lose oneself in. While acknowledging that most of Panda Bear’s music has had an impact on Best Fern’s sound, Avina says they chose to cover “Comfy in Nautica” because it spoke to their “ambient/drone influence as people and as a project.”

The EP finishes with my favourite track off Covers, “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, originally by Majical Cloudz. In form and melody, Best Fern’s take on the song stays fairly loyal to the original composition. Where the cover differs, however, is in the ethereal quality which permeates the duo’s work. Sparkling synth and layered vocal harmonies fill out an otherwise sparse arrangement, developing a day-dreaming feel that moves lazily towards a slow fade. The song’s smooth, uninterrupted flow make for a perfect drifting summer tune, and a gentle end to the EP.

A release comprised entirely of cover tunes is a bold move by any group; however, Covers demonstrates Best Fern’s ability to leave their stamp on some of the most popular hallmarks of modern electronic music. In this early summer release, Schofield and Avina transform four songs into works of their own. Schofield’s use of a vast range of electronic tones and sounds, and Avina’s soft, yet incredibly varied vocal tones create a dream-like set of songs that are the perfect accompaniment to the long, lazy summer days ahead.

– Review by Nora Duffy

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TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS::: June 13, 2017

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Hi folks,

Keeping this short as it’s a really busy week here at the station – we are still eyeballs-deep in Suoni goodness, and there’s a ton going on in terms of our coverage, special programming, and remote broadcasts. Over the past week I got to check out local free-jazz-gone-noise upstarts Nyon (above) open for Peter Brotzmann & Heather Leigh, Montreal/Berlin duo Pelada, improv heavyweights Nace/Flaherty/Meginsky, and so much more… Gimme a shout during tracking hours on Thursday if you wanna hear about my personal faves thus far.

xo
joni

:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT:::
Tune into Jazz Euphorium tomorrow night from 8-10pm EST and hear us broadcast live from Casa del Popolo as jazz trio Icepick (Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten/Chris Corsano/Nate Wooley) take over the airwaves. We’re lucky to broadcast this special performance to the masses, and if you can’t be there for the show then tune in and catch our feed straight from the soundboard. Essential listening! Stream it all viackut.ca.

:::CHARTS:::
ckut top 30 – june 13, 2017

1. do make say think – stubborn persistent illusions – constellation CC *
2. le fruit vert – paon perdu – three:four CC *
3. jessica moss – pools of light – constellation CC *
4. dixie’s death pool – twilight, sound mountain – leisure thief CC
5. katie moore & andrew horton – six more miles – self-released CC * Continue reading

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Album Review: There’s A Better Something – Emmett McCleary

17834083_1683230611687423_6525160691465892576_oEmmett McCleary is of the opinion that it’s much easier to write a sad song than a happy one, though you might not catch it right away in his intricate, snappy tracks. The Newton native, finishing his university career here at McGill University, self-released his debut LP There’s A Better Something last month, just in time for Montreal to wake up from its eight-month long winter hibernation. The ten-track release, only 30 minutes in length, is a gentle breath of fresh air, and celebrates the return of the summery, sun-soaked 60s and 70s.

McCleary more than proves his worth as a burgeoning professional musician, mixing the retro musical themes of his youth with the jangle pop overtaking Montreal’s Mile End. While he draws heavily from influences like Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys, and Elliott Smith, McCleary adds a personal touch to his music; in particular, There’s A Better Something addresses depression and trying to find new ways to stay positive while navigating through school, love, and the dreaded Montreal winters (despite being a born-and-bred East Coast boy, he is adamant about moving to warmer climes after graduation).

There’s A Better Something, McCleary’s first full-length album since changing his moniker from his high school project Easter, demonstrates a successful shift from a DIY-attitude to one of collaboration. Thanks to his father’s experience in the recording business, the album boasts a crisp, full-bodied production quality; a step up from the more homey sound of Easter’s discography. Additionally, the shift allowed McCleary to lean on the creative resources of Boston and Montreal’s fine music communities, rather than playing all the instruments himself. As a result, the instrumentals are more adventurous, tinkering with pedal steel guitar and experimenting with some different genres.

The album opens with the the sweet, breezy “Candy,” an airy track that is anchored by the subtle theme of social anxiety present in the lyrics. The female background vocals, provided by childhood friends of McCleary, add another layer to a fairly straightforward track. “She’s Coming Home” provides a subtle electronic introduction before launching into a gorgeous ballad; this track is easily McCleary’s boldest piece of work, both musically and vocally. He momentarily leaves his breathy falsetto behind, adopting instead a gruffness that serves him very well.

“Bright and Blue” moves like a country slow dance in the early morning, wistful and intimate. The echo and pleading chorus serve as a window into McCleary’s darker heart.  “Twine and Straw” shows his edgier side, guitars smoldering underneath almost-shouted lyrics. Discordant melodies sprinkled here and there provide a nice contrast to the otherwise pleasant musical atmosphere on the rest of the album. There’s A Better Something ends with the title track, a short acoustic number that brings home the sweet melancholy that McCleary does so well.

In fact, the entire album is a smooth navigation between raw emotions and catchy hooks. McCleary is wholesome, but never disingenuous. He advertises “earnest music for earnest people,” and what you hear is what you get: retro pop for the tender heart.

Album released: May 12, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam