This Man Records – November 18, 2016
I’m totally a sucker for Christmas compilations – it’s fun hearing bands convert generally traditional sounding songs to fit their own sounds. Louisville Covers Christmas is a collection of eleven previously written holiday tracks recorded to the liking of eleven bands and musicians out of Louisville. Brenda does a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Christmas Tree” – a really fun take that is noisier and heavier than original. That’s followed up by a calm, cool setting of “Winter Wonderland” as performed by The Watson Twins, set to a softly grooving bassline and electronic, shuffling beat. Billy Nelson‘s “White Christmas” sounds just like it would fit on his recently released Water Sports – the melody plays on delayed synths before being joined by Billy’s spacey-sounding self-harmonies. A favorite of mine from the compilation is a beautiful, calming cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” contributed by Fire the Saddle, set with acoustic guitar, mandolin, and male // female harmonies. Later in the album is a bizarre take on the hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” by Maximón – it’s complete with darkly pulsing synths, affected vocals, and samples from a Malcom X speech. Plastic Bubble closes the compilation with “All I Want for Christmas is You,” a jangly, uptempo rendition complete sleigh bells and background choirs singing ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ to add some extra texture. Compilations like this are a great way of finding out about several bands you’d never heard of in a short time – at least 6-7 of these bands were new to me (including some of my favorites of the release). Treat yourself to some locally-source holiday cheer and grab a copy of the compilation from This Man Records – proceeds from sale of the record go to benefit Star Duck Charities.
Tracks I Liked: Brenda (“Christmas Tree”)!!, The Watson Twins (“Winter Wonderland”)!, Billy Nelson (“White Christmas”), Fire the Saddle (“River”)!!!, Maximón (“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”)!, Plastic Bubble (“All I Want for Christmas is You”)
Ben Southworth – December 18, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Karate Body Records – July 22, 2016
They say trends are cyclical. Nowadays, bits of the 80s aesthetic have returned in music and other pop culture, and Billy Nelson is channeling that mood in a way that could only be done by someone who experienced the decade firsthand. Water Sports is a cool, cohesive collection of six songs painted with buzzing synthesizers, laid-back drum machines, distantly roaring guitars, and Billy’s echoey vocals falling just behind the beat. The first two tracks on the album were released over the last year as singles – you can find more extensive write-ups on “We Could Be Friends” and “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” in older posts. “Feels Like an Arab Spring” is filled with shuffling drums, shimmering synths and arpeggiating piano that consume the song before giving way to a quiet ending. For me, the standout track on Water Sports is “Still Life with Cormorant,” a dark, densely layered song which finds Billy’s voice imitated by rattling guitars as he describes an encounter between a bottom dweller and a bird circling overhead like an apparition. Things get even hazier on “Let’s Live Through This Feeling,” which is arguably the catchiest song of the bunch. The line “because it was too dark, was too dark to see, I couldn’t make out objects standing in front of me” is almost self-descriptive of this song and much of this album – the music is strange, moody, impressionistic, with lyrics that leave a lot of interpretation up to the listener. The final track, “A Hidden Beach,” sheds the synthesizers in favor of layers of shimmering guitars, closing the album with a beautiful chorus of “I’m still in love with you.” As a whole, Water Sports listens like an abstract, introspective series of snapshots as Billy Nelson finds his way through the emotions and experiences of adult life.
Tracks I Liked: We Could Be Friends, Lord You’ve Got the Nerve!, Feels Like an Arab Spring, Still Life with Cormorant!!!, Let’s Live Through this Feeling!!, A Hidden Beach
Ben Southworth – September 5, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Atmospheric Synth Pop
Karate Body Records – January 21st, 2016
As a nice snow day surprise, Louisville’s Billy Nelson released his most recent single, following the release of “We Could Be Friends” last August. Much like the previous track, “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” is textured largely by atmospheric synths, pulsing drum beats, and Billy’s recognizable voice. And also similarly, the song feels somewhat frustrated. Where “We Could Be Friends” repeated “I could see us as friends,” here we’ve got lyrics like “you say you only want a friend, do I have to go through this again” – in fact, the former track sounds awfully good when played directly after this most recent one. The track’s art is vaguely reminiscent of the cover of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, mixed perhaps with the mood of Neon Indian’s most recent album, Vega Int’l Night School – the art suits the track very well. Things are hazy here, from the distantly roaring guitars, to the effected vocals, to the smoky synthesizers that swell loudly into the midpoint of the song. Though only two tracks have been released from it thus far, the upcoming Billy Nelson album (whatever it may be called) seems to be hinting strongly at its disposition – word is we can look forward to a full album from Billy later this year.
Ben Southworth – January 24th, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Karate Body Records – August 18th, 2015
Billy Nelson is the solo project of Whistle Peak’s frontman, Billy Petot, and as someone who has enjoyed that band’s music in the past, this track has a pretty familiar sound. Much like the music from their album, Put to Flight, the stuff here sounds strange at first listen, but it doesn’t feel quite as lighthearted as the stuff I’ve heard before. Instead, this track has a little more melancholic tinge to it, almost like Billy is singing to someone and trying to get them to stay, or win them back. The second half of the song has a line to it that caught my ear at first listen, one that struck me as humorous at first – “It’s fine if Megan wants to be a lesbian, … I wish I was one as well,” but there’s something almost sad about it when you’re listening to the song on repeat. I don’t know, I’ve been watching relationships fall apart on Mad Men quite a bit lately, so maybe I’m just letting my perception of the song be colored by the show’s constant depiction of lost love. But then again, there’s a lot of minor tonality to the chords in this track and the rest of the song goes on repeating the lines, “I can see us as friends,” and then “we don’t have to make a child” – there’s just something pretty emotional about this song, even if it feels lighthearted on the surface. Anyway, Billy Nelson is supposed to be putting out his full length debut in 2016, so maybe a little context will help to decipher the song.
Ben Southworth – October 3rd, 2015 – Mount Horeb