Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead 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 brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Sam Billen’s Headphones & Cellphones came out in 2009, but I only discovered it recently thanks to the kind folks at The Record Machine. I had been a fan of Billen’s former band, The Billions, as well as a Christmas album he released last year with Josh Atkinson titled A Word of Encouragement, so perhaps I was a little predisposed to like this album. Having said that, Headphones & Cellphones does not disappoint in the slightest. Easy points of comparison include Sufjan Steven’s breathy folk-pop and the Postal Service’s electronica pop, but Billen’s music is quite a bit more diverse, though no less catchy — the man’s a solid songwriter and composer. You’ll hear strains of R&B, 70′s and 80′s AM Gold, and even some modern minimalist piano throughout the album, making for a quirky, intriguing, and often affecting listen (those intricate synth melodies on “Bandaids” get me every time). Lyrically, the album is full of pensive, sometimes melancholy ruminations on everyday life, family relationships, and faith. The album never gets heavy-handed or sappy though, but rather, remains sincere and thoughtful throughout. On top of that, you’ll be humming some of these melodies for days. (As an added bonus, Billen has recently joined with his brother and father to start The Billen Brothers, and have recorded a number of covers. I’m especially partial to their versions of “Ventura Highway” and “Wildfire”, myself.)
Talik is the duo of Cory Zaradur, who has recorded droney ambient pieces as Language of Landscape, and MuskoakA, who has put out a couple of releases of IDM/electronica. Talik, not surprisingly then, falls somewhere in-between, with Zaradur’s gorgeous, languid guitar lines and melodies drifting like summer clouds over MuskoakA’s glitchy beats and gentle programming. Talik’s music isn’t really ambient, nor is it electronica, shoegazer, or post-rock (though one can use all of them in a pinch). Rather, it lands gracefully in some beautiful place in the midst of those genres. Confluentia of a Long Distance Love Affair is their latest release, a free three-song EP that is perfect for warm summer nights. (If you like this, be sure to check out their 2010 debut, Slow Motion Breath Forward. Also, word has it that a new Talik full-length is in the works, which is very good news in my book.)