Album Review: Diamondwolf’s ‘Your Time Has Come’

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Seattle’s music scene is special in its own right. Just like Texas has its own country scene away from Nashville, Seattle has a music scene with its own identity. Obviously you think Nirvana when Seattle music is mentioned, but beyond them a music scene still thrives. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper are both long time singers and songwriters in Seattle. Dara is a member of indie-rock band The Volcano Diary. However, with a wave of inspiration to write songs that didn’t fit with that band’s identity and vision, Alicia Dara ventured elsewhere to satisfy her musings. On her personal blog, Dara explains:

“I wanted to be less specific and more universal, to say something true about the human condition… How the people closest to us form the matrix of our spiritual practice, and how loving them makes us return to this moment, again and again. How our mortality is beautiful, and sacred.”

So to record these new songs without compromising TVD’s vision, Dara established a side project with long time friend, Glen Cooper. “I think because we both understand how the natural world evokes powerful metaphors for the human experience,” she writes on her blog. And thus with a musical vision and partner, Diamondwolf was born. The duo’s first full length album, Your Time Has Come, is chock-full of powerful metaphors, flawless folk, Americana instrumentation, and beautiful harmonies.

Your Time Has Come begins with “When I Rise.” Alicia Dara leads the way on this track. Actually, for all but the last song, Dara provides the lead vocals with Cooper harmonizing behind her. She has a beautiful voice that adds an extra layer to each song. This song is about getting over a relationship. She’s still in a dark stage of heartbreak recovery, but knows she will rise. Up next is “Cool Blue Fire.” I listened to this song about three or four times, and still couldn’t really decipher a meaning from the lyrics. However, thanks again to Alicia Dara’s personal blog, I found this:

“I can feel the colors when I perform. Lately the colors have been working their way into the lyrics I’ve been writing for my new band Diamondwolf. Our song “Cool Blue Fire” came directly from synesthetic experience.”

Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where the “stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” To drastically over simplify it, basically when Alicia Dara hears music, she has colorful visions. (I highly recommend reading both links above about Synesthesia and Dara’s personal experience with it.) “Cool Blue Fire” is a beautiful song, and the abstractness of it adds more beauty to the lyrics.

“Crasher” deals with a broken relationship. This song is just one example of how the guitar works in favor of the song. Throughout the whole album, production and instrumentation is simple, meaning they play what is necessary and don’t overload the songs. “Unbound (You Know My Name)” is a song about finding freedom in love. The acoustic melody and the vocals, along with the writing, make “Unbound” one of the album’s top tracks.

The writing on Your Time Has Come is wonderful, and the imagery in “Swan Song” is a perfect example of it. It’s another song of a relationship ending, but with descriptions of carrying a shadow while it fades and lyrics like “the sweet, sweet Siren cries through the endless fire burning in your eyes” raise the song above other songs of the same subject matter. I talked about the simplistic production, and “Supermoon” is a song with very little instrumentation. Dara and Cooper’s voices are front and center and carry the song. It’s a song about how they may have over estimated the strength of their love, and how the spell of the rare super moon influenced their actions and thoughts. Following this is “Burn Him Down.” A heavy acoustic strum drives this song about a woman who’s in yet another poisonous relationship with a bad man.

“Limited Time” is another album standout. The relationship in this song appears to be on the fringes. Maybe it’s just a bad spell, maybe it’s the end, but they both hope they reunite their love and spark a fire bright enough to lead them to the other side of the darkness. I really love everything about this song. It’s grounded in a realness of life in a relationship, and has some great imagery and vocals. However, in “Across The Water” she’s the one who’s ended things. This decision may have been rash though and she’s hoping he’ll forgive her and call to her across the water to return. The album ends with “Mantra,” a song where Glen Cooper sings the lead. This song is about getting over the loss of someone you love. It’s a tough grieving process, but “if color fades out no shadows remain.” Sometimes waiting it out is the only way to get over our grief. Cooper also reminds us that we’ll see the ones we miss once again.

Overall, Your Time Has Come, is a fantastic album. Many times, it’s the Indie music artists who are the most talented in both writing and instrumentation, and Diamondwolf is no exception to that thought. In fact, they’re a great example of that thought. The deep metaphors and meaning found in the writing of these songs are a lost art in mainstream music. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper sing these deep lyrics beautifully on every track. Even though you may have to listen to some of these songs a few times to fully grasp the meaning, it’s worth it. The reality and honesty grounded in each track only makes Your Time Has Come that much better. I highly recommend this album.

Grade: 10/10

Review – Laura Joy’s “Takes A While”

Laura Joy

The Chicago music scene is certainly an interesting one and over the years has produced a variety of different artists from nearly every genre. One artist you might find playing at a local bar cheering up local bar patrons is singer-songwriter Laura Joy. Her approach to music would be described as a minimalist, as she writes her own songs and simply needs her own acoustic guitar to make music. Joy has played at music festivals across the midwest over the past few years and plays a minimum of 50 shows per year. On March 5 she came out with a new EP titled Between Our Words. The lead single from that EP is “Takes A While” and today I’m going to take a look at it.

Right away you’ll notice the playing of her acoustic guitar drives the rhythm of this song, along with the drums. It’s kept quite simple and to me that’s just fine. Too many songs nowadays are drowned out by terrible, overproduced instrumentation. Less is more, as I always say. Joy’s vocals are precise, crisp and smooth. I can see why her voice and approach have been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss. I can definitely sense the similarities. Joy pulls off spoken word well in this song too.

“Takes A While” is a song about life. In the opening lyrics it talks about how life can feel so slow and it seems hard to see the big picture. But as we all learn throughout life you simply learn more with each step and it takes a while to see life for what it is. In the middle of the song Joy sings about babies, jobs and lovers, subjects we all deal with. She seems exasperated taking it all in, but reminds herself once again life is long:

“take a break take a break take a break / take in the view / everything you give comes back to you / and are these actual miles? / step by step it takes a while”

So by the end of the song the lesson learned is that you just need to enjoy life to the fullest every day and that all you give will eventually come back to you. It’s a great and true message.

Joy’s brand of indie folk music on display in “Takes A While” is intriguing and exploratory. The lyrics really make the listener think about the message being said and even reflect on their own life. The instrumentation is upbeat and pleasing to the ears, which makes it easy for listeners to consume. Of course you can’t forget Joy’s vocals, which to me are her biggest asset. I think she knows this too, as her voice is front and center on the song. If you’re into singer-songwriter, indie folk type music I would definitely recommend checking “Takes A While” out.

Grade: 7.5/10


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Album Review – Houndmouth’s ‘Little Neon Limelight’ Shines Throughout

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Groups! Groups! Groups! In 2014 we reviewed a lot of talented country groups here on the site and it made it difficult to choose the winner of Country Perspective’s 2014 Group of the Year. We ultimately chose First Aid Kit, but any of the other groups nominated could have won. Well 2015 is shaping up to be quite similar and we’re only in March. Blackberry Smoke, The Mavericks and The Lone Bellow have all released albums that will be candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award so far. Needless to say the bar has been set. So when I came across alt-country/indie folk band Houndmouth and their new album Little Neon Limelight I didn’t expect them to meet this bar. The group based out of Indiana made up of Matt Myers, Katie Toupin, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody faced a tall task. But I love when I’m proved wrong. Their new album is awesome and I’m going to do my best to explain why.

The first song of the album is “Sedona,” which is about the city of Sedona, Arizona and harkens back to the days of when it was known as “Arizona’s Little Hollywood.” John Ford, a famous Hollywood director, basically put this little city on the map as it helped start three decades of A-list movies being made here. You can read more about Sedona, Arizona here (this information was obtained from the book on the town). The instrumentation in the song is upbeat, yet reflective and the vocals are quite good. Katie Toupin’s voice is front and center on “Otis.” She sings from the point of view of a woman who holds a man named Otis dear to her heart. I enjoy the harmony in the chorus, as it gives it a bigger punch to listener’s ears.

The sound of rock and country from yesteryear combine to produce an awesome song in “15 Years.” The group’s vocals are infectious and the instrumentation is impossible to hate. You can tell Houndmouth enjoyed making this song and the listener will have just as much fun listening to it. “For No One” is one of the quietest tracks on the album, as well as one of the most alluring. It’s a ballad that seems to be about life and personal discovery. Myers in an interview with NPR described it as a “personal tune.” Interpret this song how you want to, all I know is it’s immersive and intriguing. Greed is the theme of “Black Gold,” as it’s about a rich family who accumulated their wealth via their involvement in oil. The guitar licks in this song are great and the lyrics are quite catchy.

Houndmouth keeps it simple with “Honey Slider,” a song about a man getting his heart-broken and left wondering what has happened. The bluesy guitar licks set the tone of this song perfectly. The group goes back to their fun side in “My Cousin Greg.” The song is about a cousin named Greg, who isn’t exactly normal. There’s also a message in the song about how if you want to live the good life, it’s best to stay away from the limelight. This is one where you can sit back, have a few laughs and enjoy a fun song. The slow and haunting “Gasoline,” is about a woman who explains she burns faster than gasoline. In other words, she isn’t the settling down type and her love burns pretty quickly. Toupin’s voice shines and really gives it the bluesy feel needed to make this a haunting song.

“By God” is a rock country song with a rocking beat and a subtle, sinister undertone. It’s about a man who has things going wrong around him and insisting for them to “turn out the lights,” but to leave his “candle burning.” The harmonies are spot-on throughout. Everything in this song simply works to make for one of the best songs on the album. The penultimate song on the album, “Say It,” is about a man telling the woman of his desire to lower her expectations so she could be happy with him. The tone isn’t very serious and it’s more playful than anything, as his charm starts to win her over. It’s another song where the listener will have just as much fun hearing it as Houndmouth had making it. Little Neon Limelight concludes with “Darlin’,” one of the most country songs on the album. From the lyrics to the combination of the guitar, piano and organ on instrumentation, it proves this. The vocals of the band soar throughout the song and leaves you hooked from beginning to end. Hell I can say that about this entire album.

Little Neon Limelight is flawless in every aspect. Houndmouth’s vocals are dynamic and the harmonies will stick with you for a while. Each song tells a story or conveys some sort of emotion in the listener, which is what great music does. While there are a few somber songs, this album is mostly fun and even mixes in some good humor. This is an album I thinks some people might let slip through the cracks and miss out on. Don’t be one of these people. Anyone who appreciates great music should hear it. If you’re into groups like Shovels & Rope or The Lone Bellow, you’ll enjoy Houndmouth even more. I highly recommend this album. Without a doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015.

Grade: 10/10