Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead and Drew Dixon of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share a video or two highlighting music that we find particularly engaging and meaningful.
Josh T. Pearson
Ten years ago, a trio of Texas lads going by the name of Lift To Experience released The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, a sprawling two-disc shoegazer/rock concept album about the end of the world where Texas was the new Promised Land. On paper, it sounded crazy, but the trio pulled it off thanks to a crushing, louder-than-loud sound a la My Bloody Valentine, lyrics that veered from sacrilegious pleas for fame to haunted angelic visions, and a Texas fetish the size of… Texas.
Sadly, the band imploded shortly after the album was released and the members went their separate ways. Particularly fascinating was the case of lead singer/guitarist Josh T. Pearson, who was always rumored to be working on new material — very little of which surfaced, if it even existed in the first place. But now, after ten years, Pearson is releasing a new album later in March titled Last of the Country Gentlemen — which doesn’t chronicle Judgment Day, but rather the tumultuous nature of love. On a track like “Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell”, Pearson trades the walls of amps and guitar effects that powered Lift To Experience for an acoustic guitar and his inimitable voice… and the effect is heartbreaking.
Duluth, Minnesota’s Low have been a longtime favorite of mine, ever since I first heard the haunting strains of “Words” from 1994’s I Could Live In Hope. In the ensuing years, the band has released a slew of solid album, and though they’ve also been tagged as “slowcore”, they’ve consistently changed up their sound. They’ve delved into folk-pop, drone, drum n’ bass, and minimal electronica, to name a few. The first single from their upcoming C’mon full-length, titled “Try To Sleep”, moves more towards the “pop” end of the spectrum, with jangly guitars, chiming vibes, and the ever-so-lovely harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
An MP3 of “Try To Sleep” can be downloaded from Sub Pop Records.
The Selene Project
If you consider yourself at all a fan of science fiction, then I’m assuming that you’ve already seen Moon. And even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you ought to check out Moon: eschewing any semblance of big budget spectacle, it was a small, intimate film about a man working a routine job on the moon that soon evolves to be something much more thought-provoking. Despite having a fraction of a Hollywood budget, the film still created a convincing, powerful atmosphere, and much of that is certainly due to Clint Mansell’s score.
Now, Richard Rich and Max Tannone have turned Mansell’s score into a hip-hop mix inspired by Moon titled Selene. Personally, I don’t find Rich’s lyrics and MC’ing to be all that effective; at times, they’re strangely goofy considering the tone of the source material. But Tannone’s beats, which repurpose Mansell’s score to create a haunting work all his own, are solid. For example, on the album’s closing track, “Me Today”, Tannone twists and warps Mansell’s melancholy string arrangements as if attempting to wring every last bit of emotion from them.
Future Islands – In Evening Air
I have lately been drawn to vocally driven music and despite some really fantastic vocal performances from last year, I still think Future Islands’ album, In Evening Air is the best vocal performance of 2010. Samuel T. Herring’s range is pretty incredible and its eerie raspy quality complements the simple synthesizer work of band mate J. Gerrit Welmers perfectly. Future Islands avoid the all-to-common trap of indie music today of making impossibly busy music. Despite the fact that you probably haven’t heard anything quite like it, this is an incredibly simple album. Its just smooth synths, simple drum tracks, undulating strums of the bass guitar, and consistently engaging vocals. Highlights include: “Tin Man,” “Long Flight,” and my personal favorite “Inch of Dust” which sounds like something straight out of the 80’s but is stirringly dark love song that ends with Herring bellowing, “call on me/I’ll be there always.” I have a feeling its going to be in my rotation for sometime.
Given that Jeremy Larson is due to release his new album, They Reappear, in a week-and-a-half, I thought it an appropriate time to encourage you to get acquainted with him if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. His two previous albums, the first is self-titled and the second is called Salvation Club, are both superb. The first is slightly more critically acclaimed but Salvation Club contains one my favorite songs, “Self-Esteem” that you simply must listen to. Larson sings songs about the quest for authentic faith, faith strengthened by the trials of life and tells stories of redemption despite ever present darkness. Larson’s music lacks all the forced joyfulness that I have come to despise in many Christians who write music and delightfully so. These are by no means your typical Christian ballads–they have are somber and even despairing at times and yet every time I listen to Larson I seem to walk away encouraged as the somber terrain makes the ascent toward redemption all the more sweet when it comes.