Tag Archives: alternative

The Kays Lavelle – Be Still This Gentle Morning

Quite some time ago now, I attempted to explain this notion I have about music being capable of performing a similar function to that which classic fairy tales once did. I’m not going to elaborate (much) on that here and now, nor point to the article in question, mostly because I didn’t even get half-way through the thought and I don’t know if/when I’ll ever finish it. Suffice to say, when I talk about music and fairy tales I’m not talking Britney and Disney, or music and stories as entertainment, per se. I’m talking about the safety, solace, or sometimes just the subtle awareness that arises, in the vicarious experience of things we’d rather not be alone in – particulary that age old, most popular subject of fairy tales, love.

From the opening notes of the piano on the first track, The Hours, there’s a clear sense of something similarly classic at work, as traditional ballads with unabashed, heartfelt emotion become something of a rarity these days.

In a relatively subversive move, however, Be Still This Gentle Morning starts at a point where most stories commonly end; namely at a turning point tinged with resolution and a seemingly open-ended asking of where do we go from here? The answer to which is usually left up to the imagination of (in this instance) the listener. But the arc of …This Gentle Morning unfolds from that question, and becomes very much a love story. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a concept album, but its theme is rather consistent and cohesive, and so in that sense linear.

As it travels through the familar trials and tribulations of romance and relationships, the journey is – as you might expect – fraught with emotion that is sometimes powerful and occasionally fragile; and though, as the album’s title suggests, it moves through these things in a relatively gentle manner, it is never weak. The album ultimately feels like a testement to the fact that even with the breakable nature of the heart, it is strengthened by emotion rather than damaged by it.

From an objective point of view, then, I’d say you can consider The Kays Lavelle as a counterpoint to artists like The Black Heart Procession. Exploring similar themes of love and all its associated highs and lows, heartbreaks and joys – it’s weaponry, armour and sanctuary. But on Be Still This Gentle Morning, these things don’t go hand in hand with despondency, sorrow or bitterness to the point of feeling defeated by emotion. The key here is ultimately hope, rather than the loss of it. Perhaps simply from the knowledge that this powerful thing that comes from our minds and hearts can not only be composed (if you will) and felt by us, but shared with others wherein it becomes an almost magic force.

I think The Kays Lavelle want you to know that even if sometimes that force between two people gets a little broken, there’s never enough reason to stop believing in the magic of it – and if that’s not one of the things fairy tales do best then maybe I’ve been reading the wrong stories, but I doubt it.

Be Still This Gentle Morning was originally released in May of last year, but is scheduled for a re-release early 2011. You can currently buy the album from mini50 Records, or purchase a digital copy via Bandcamp.



Sarah Kirkland Snider – Penelope (Featuring Shara Worden)

A bit of a heads up for fans of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and just fine music in general. Released 26th October via New Amsterdam Records, Penelope is a one hour song cycle composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider, featuring the vocal talents of Shara and performed by chamber orchestra Signal.

With lyrics penned by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, the album (loosely based on Homer‘s The Odyssey) tells the story of a woman whose husband returns after 20 years, suffering from brain damage, memory loss and the ravages of an unnamed war. The description over on the label website sums it up better than I ever could, so I’m going to cheat a little and quote that:

Suspended somewhere between art song, indie rock, and chamber folk, the music of Penelope  moves organically from moments of elegiac strings-and-harp reflection to dusky post-rock textures with drums, guitars and electronics, all directed by a strong sense of melody and a craftsman’s approach to songwriting.

Sound good? It does indeed, not to mention that I’m a sucker for a good story in any form.

Originally written in 2007/8 by Snider and McLaughlin as a monodrama, the work was reconceived and tailored to the inimitable voice of Shara Worden. Classicly trained, there’s very few out there that match Shara’s capacity to sing anything from rock, blues, pop and classical in the blink of an eye and sound absolutely perfect doing so (see – or rather hear – her efforts on The Decemberists‘ rock opera The Hazards of Love, as well as Clogs‘ contemporary classical The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton for further proof, if you need it that is).

The second track on the album, This Is What You’re Like, which as its name suggests sees the protagonist of the story attempting to show her husband who he is, or at least who he was in the way that she remembers him, is available as a free download via My Brightest Diamond’s website, and perfectly exemplifies the above description, combining modern classical and indie rock with a subtle touch of trip-hop. The full album can be purchased on CD or in digital format from New Amsterdam Records. For non-credit card but PayPal inclined listeners, it can also be purchased via Bandcamp.

Aside from being the perfect thing to tide over those eagerly anticipating Shara’s next MBD album – whenever that might be – it’s also the debut album for Sara Kirkland Snider, one that definitely inspires keeping a keen eye out for future work, Shara or no.


Phase – Perdition

New or old? Either way it’s an interesting Phase…

Lately, it seems, I’ve had a bit of a yen for artists doing something a little bit different within my favoured genres. I’m detecting a particular trend for this kind of experimentation to be labeled “psychedelic”, perhaps for lack of a better term, or perhaps psychedelia itself synonymous with experimentation – considering the roots of the genre, I guess that makes sense.

Anyway, I was having a bit of a browse of the new releases over at Amie Street and happened to catch a new (-ish) single called Perdition by a band named Phase. I say “-ish” because the band, hailing from Greece, formed in 2003, and the single was featured in Microsoft’s Playlist Seven program earlier in the year. (By the way, I don’t actually know what this program is as I’d never heard of it before I saw it mentioned in the band’s bio, and I have no shame in saying I don’t care what it is, either. Microsoft = bleh, to me).

I’m not overly sure why they’ve been tagged with psychedelic, but my immediate reaction upon hearing the track was “The Tea Party meets Depeche Mode“. A couple more listens later and I stand by that frame of reference. Particularly since, in googling for more info, I found a YouTube video of the band playing a live cover of TTP’s Fire In The Head, so I feel sufficiently justified there. The Depeche Mode ref comes from the electro-rock elements, which are blended pretty well with some nice, Middle Eastern sounds. (By the way, that link will take you to the vid – I’m not embedding it as, while a pretty decent cover, sound quality leaves a little bit to be desired. Methinks it would have sounded pretty awesome had one been there, though – Side note, I’ve been following Jeff Martin via Facebook and the last couple of months there’s been talk of a Tea Party reunion. Sweet).

Back to Phase, however… If you pay a visit to their blog, you’ll be able to read a few lyrics, as well as listen to Perdition via Soundcloud. (Or, download over at Amie Street). I’m impressed enough by this track to think the band warrant further investigation – if they get all their elements right (which may call for a slight improvement lyrically >_>) they have the potential to be doing some pretty awesome things on upcoming album In Consequence, described on their blog as “a dark, rolling, mysterious album where rock music meets folk and industrial sounds“. This, I am intrigued by – full judgement remains reserved…