Canyons in my Mind
Andrew Combs is an understated artist who paints with subtle restraint in Laurel Canyon settings. His music is not quite country, not quite pop, not quite new but not quite old. Orchestral arrangements frame his acoustic guitar-based songs with a healthy dose of pedal steel and piano. Opener Heart of Wonder is the most musically tumultuous song as Combs sings of internal struggles as an anxious piano builds tension before the song finally descends down an atonal staircase. Blood Hunters remains buoyant but less than cheerful while a buzz saw of a lead guitar cuts across the understated beauty of his voice.
While Combs does not whisper, his voice never strains or elevates much above a tender ballad’s volume, often seamlessly shifting to falsetto, but each time he opens his mouth, he serves the song that he wrote. There is a warm 1970’s feel to many of the songs, which suggests vulnerability yet retains a self-assuredness. If there are lyrical themes that cut across tracks, it would be the quiet contentment of finding oneself through the maturation process – at once confident and again unsure of where life will lead, aiming to steer the future. Album closer, What It Means To You is a gem, the most overtly country song sung in tandem with a female voice.
Middle Kids EP
Remember when Snow Patrol released their confident debut and we heard a new type of understated anthem? Hailing from Sydney, Australia, this three-piece outfit has come out of the gates with a debut album that echoes the understated anthemic debut from Snow Patrol; but better. Their songs are confident and radio-friendly guitar-driven alt-rock. Singer Hannah Joy flexes her vocal strengths, vascillating between Amy Winehouse’s power and a falsetto reminiscent of Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine). Songs with creative structures sound familiar, supported by a production team who clearly placed each sound with intent. At times, Edge of Town soars into an anthem then calms to narrowed passages featuring a hushed voice and bass, a droning rhythm guitar part and lead guitar that is heavy on a single note repeated again and again. Joy’s voice is just perfect at every inflection; in an instant, she moves from confident to fragile to brooding to doubtful. Not a word or phrasing is out of place. Like early Arcade Fire, Middle Kids walk the line between indie-rock edginess and power anthems without falling into Coldplay. The first four songs (out of six) are radio-ready. Album closer, Doing It Right, a piano-driven ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a Fiona Apple album, takes a right turn stylistically and may signal another dimension for the band. Why they are not stadium-ready now only has to do with the paucity of original songs from a new band. Look for great things coming very soon from Middle Kids.