By Matt Ascone, Music Review Consigliere
Tough Love by HUFF THIS!
Alison Clancy is not your average singer-songwriter. She is a woman of many talents and has a number of other gigs outside of her music, such as being a Wilhelmina Model and a “dream-thrash” dancer who has performed with the Metropolitan Opera. This is a woman who clearly values individuality and originality, two qualities that shine through on her group HUFF THIS!’s latest EP, Tuff Love.
The latest incarnation of HUFF THIS!, which is currently based out of San Francisco, features Clancy collaborating with electro-acoustic cellist and composer Chrissy Lancaster (of Bill T. Jones Dance Company fame). Together the duo have created quite the piece of sonic art – Tuff Love is an experimental-sounding EP that features raw, emotional lyrics let to endless loops and reverb. Most cuts have a dream-like quality to them, as one of Clancy’s lines will begin to repeat over and over while the she sings the rest of the lines from the verse.
For example, on the EP’s opening song, “River,” the song opens with the hum of a cello, almost like what you would hear at the outset of an orchestral performance (think this might have been inspired by her work with the Metropolitan Opera?). This is the signaling of an announcement, of a beginning: “Take me to the river…” Clancy softly coos. The cello continues to drone, growing to a fever pitch. “Take me to the water…” She sounds like she is calling to us from a dream. The lyrics begin to overlap into a multidimensional cacophony – it is almost as if Clancy has captured what it feels like to be stuck in your own head with nothing but the same thoughts over and over again. “No more wading in/Shivers up the skin.” The piano and cello combined with Clancy’s voice transform this dream into a kind of nightmare. It is as if every time you down turn a corner, trying to escape the siren’s call, there she is again, staring you right in the face pleading with you to take her down to the aforementioned body of water.
Clancy is a master of creating musical art. Her looped lyrics, droning cellos, and emotionally helpless lyrics create the picture of a woman who is in the throes of a battle to prove to the subject of her affection that he can, in fact, let his guard done and just let her love him. As she sings in “Big Love,” “You are my one sun/Who hides behind the moon.” Despite her best efforts to gain his love, Clancy finds herself in a losing battle. After her final plea in “My Love” gracefully transitions into the next track, “Coast,” Clancy begins to question herself: “And you never know if you’ll see him again/But I made myself too vulnerable.” And as “Coast” drifts seamlessly into the final cut, “Open,” we are left with more questions than answers. Sparse piano notes and cellos paint neither the picture of joy or depression – only uncertainty. There are very few lyrics – after all, what’s left to say in a situation such as this? “My hearts in my hands/My palms are open/Oh lord I know/I know.”
Alison Clancy is an artist that simply cannot be ignored. Having already opened for TV On The Radio, Moby and The Kills at the SPIN Magazine party at SXSW, she is well on her way to making a much larger name for herself. Give this EP a listen and slip into her dream world.
MUST HEAR TRACK: “River” – Alison Clancy’s voice is even more hauntingly beautifully even when it is echoed around your head over and over again. This is what it feels like to be caught in a dream.
Beginnings by Batten Down The Hatches
Freehold-based pop-punk outfit Batten Down The Hatches have returned with their latest EP, Beginnings, released on Meadowbrook Records. The five-piece has turned in another quality piece of work, combining punk sensibilities with pop sentiments. The result is four tracks that rock hard yet are wrought with sincere emotion. It takes a skilled band to toe this line, and BDTH does not disappoint. From the first cut, “Draw the Line,” vocalist Johnny McManus delivers some of his finest work to date, declaring “For the first time in a long time my eyes are open to you.” McManus continues on – “You were such a huge mistake.”
The theme of a difficult relationship is prevalent throughout the EP. While the first two tracks find BDTH in more of a thrashing mood, “On My Time” is an acoustic number that reveals the group’s softer side. McManus is locked in an inner battle of relationship indecision – he can not decide whether what he has is what he really wants, or if something better is out there waiting for him just beyond the horizon line. “I’m waiting for a sign that this is worth it,” McManus sings. “Maybe I’m just better on my own.”
On the final cut of the EP, “Beginnings,” the group shows off their multi-faceted approach by opening with a soft intro only to quickly drop into classic, galloping high-tempo Blink-182 style punk. Again, McManus and company are wondering some of life’s toughest questions: “We don’t know what the future holds/Can we rise above and break the mold?” Uncertainty is always a frightening prospect, either fort an individual or a band. It is nice to see a group such as Batten Down the Hatches embrace that uncertainty by blending genres so seamlessly.
MUST HEAR TRACK: “Rich Mahogany” – McManus’ voice soars in a track that shows off BDTH’s Blink-182 and A Day To Remember influences.
Sing Yourself to Sleep by Chris Brown
“It’s always been my business/To try and spill my guts/But this whiskey tongue is so damn loose/Can’t keep it all locked up.” It is with these opening lines to the song “Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong” that folk/punk singer-songwriter Chris Brown declares who he is and what he he’s all about. On his latest EP Sing Yourself to Sleep, Brown showcases his abilities as both a storyteller and a chord-strummer. His storytelling benefits from his aforementioned hold-nothing-back, loose-tongue style. He has managed to keep his punk sensibilities and funnel them into a different vessel than screaming and three-chord thrash. But make no mistake about it; the yarns he spins have not forgotten their humble patched-up punk-jacket roots.
Right from the first cut of the EP, “Lullaby,” Brown establishes he is in search of himself, whoever that person may be: “Ask myself who I am again/The answer begs the question/Do I even know just yet?” He is a man with many questions but few answers. He sets out with his guitar and plays what comes to him, hoping to divine a few truths along the way. Maybe along the way, he’ll run into another lone soul, in search of something more: “Wanna sing myself to sleep tonight/If that would be alright/Maybe I’ll wake up someone new.”
Brown’s finest work on the EP comes in the form of “Dance With The Devil,” a rollicking folk-style tune that just begs for a sing-along in one of Asbury Park’s intimate venues. The song features one of those divined truths that get picked up while walking along the road of life: “No matter how fast/You can’t outrun your past/Karma’s a bitch/I should know.”
Nothing makes Brown happier than to share his stories with his audience. He is most comfortable behind a guitar and a microphone, painting pictures of life as he knows it. With his impressive ability to sing out a captivating story and his seemingly endless amount of life experiences from which to draw on, Brown possesses the rare ability to bring together fans of multiple genres, from folk to punk to rock to indie. Give his EP a listen – you’ll be pouring out shots of whiskey and singing along before long.
MUST HEAR TRACK: “Dance With The Devil” – An upbeat folk stomper with an infectious melody made for singing along.
Basics by Just Us
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to sit side-by-side with your significant other and pour your collective hearts and thoughts out into an album? Indie-Folk duo Jenna Murphy and Thomas Louis, better known as Just Us, have accomplished just that by releasing their debut full-length, Basics. The LP from the Asbury Park duo peers into the hearts and minds of the real-life couple, and the result is a sincere and telling collection of the many ups and downs of life in a committed relationship.
Now, the subject matter of relationships is nothing new to music. However, it is not often that we see a couple really pull back the curtain and capture the multitude of emotions that swirl around a pair of lovers’ heads. Just Us have a real knack for songwriting – their lyrics could easily be read as poetry in their own right. Paired with music though, these words are given a new dimension and really come to life.
Murphy and Louis sound as though their voices were made for each other. Their quiet, breathy singing styles unite to form gorgeous harmonies on every one of the tracks. Even when the subject matter hits really close to home, such as in the song “Losing Faith,” when the pair sings “You’ve slept next to other men before/You could go back to the way you were/But I’m sure as hell hoping not,” they still do so as a pair. It must be quite the feeling for Murphy to sing out those lines while sitting right next to her boyfriend. Yet it is this unrelenting sincerity that makes Basics irresistible. Anyone can opine about love when it’s great, but how many couples can really paint a picture of what love is like when it’s full of uncertainty and worry?
Murphy and Louis leave no emotional stone unturned on this impressive debut. They say the best music comes from pain; Basics proves you can get pretty good music from love, too.
MUST HEAR TRACK: “Warm” – A touching celebration of all the seemingly mundane things that can make a boyfriend or girlfriend smile. It is love captured in its basest essence.