Thursday, 14 February 2013

Discovery: Bedroom Minstrels - To The Zippo Dusk


I'm sitting here listening to Fleet Foxes' wonderful sophomore album Helplessness Blues, wondering what happened to folk music. Where did all the love go? as Kasabian quite poetically put it in 2009. My Leicester comrades have a point. Listening to Fleet Foxes opens up a whole new angle of music, the indie folk album. Sure, artists have come into this umbrella and ripped it to shreds, taking it to the mainstream and ruining all the credibility and song writing it once possessed - I'm looking at you Mumford & Sons. Is having indie folk in the mainstream a positive or negative? I think it's a positive. Without The Lumineers or Mumford taking the reins, nobody would bat an eyelash at what came before. With the old guard slowly drifting away into anonymity or death, Nick Drake, Doc Watson, Bert Jansch, an album comes around that's dedicated to the generation that deserves the credit, deserves the attention and will one day receive its retribution. To The Zippo Dusk is half dedicated to Bert Jansch, covering the folk side of this album. The other half you ask: Bill Doss of The Elephant 6 Recording Company and The Olivia Tremor Control, the indie side of To The Zippo Dusk.

Bedroom Minstrels is the working name of Massachusetts singer-songwriter Jonathan Hoel. To The Zippo Dusk is Hoel's debut album after the EP Somniloquy was released in 2011, when his collective of independent artists started Gentle Whale. It's a magical 'label' as it's completely dedicated to getting new and interesting independent artists out there and into people’s listening habits. Recognisable artists in the Gentle Whale collective include Radio Wire Empire, Victor Florence and of course, Crywank. Bedroom Minstrels doesn’t have the British cynicism of Crywank, or the colossal vocals Victor Florence possesses, Bedroom Minstrels has emotion, honesty and a damn good meaning at heart.

Hoel sings: “Hope you know I’m going to hell, but I don't care cause I’m already there," on the fifth track "Let's Drown". There’s a sense of loss, sadness and loneliness on To The Zippo Dusk. The album cover depicts a single seagull, among emptiness, a dusk landscape and greyness. This cover is clearly meant to represent what the listeners are hearing, and it's a powerful, thought-provoking cover to look at whilst listening. "Suncrasher" begins the album with Godspeed You! Black Emperor atmosphere. By that I mean it has a haunting vocal recording, dark ambience and fuzz in the background. "Your veteran soul stuck in the sofa, will stay in Seattle forever," Bedroom Minstrels equivalent to GYBE's "The car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel."

The tracks with clear, slightly reverberated vocals and clean guitar work are the best. Opener "Suncrasher" aligns the album with Hoel reaching the high notes and strumming his guitar furiously. We hear this vocal on "Near" and "Nosada Heights", two of the strongest tracks in the album. "Near" being the one duet on the album, and "Nosade Heights" being a fast paced track with Jeff Mangum-esque vocal noises. Nothing quite defines this album more than the heart wrenching track "Ode to Junko Furuta". He sings: "I'm not afraid of anything anymore, because I’ve seen it all before," Hoel's lyrics follow a close relation to the inspiration / tribute to Junko Furuta's death.

"Papier-Mâché Mistake" has all Hoel's natural ingredients, from the minimal guitar mistakes to the slow / fast tempo variation. Hoel manages to contain and hide the simplistic instrumentation throughout To The Zippo Dusk. He strums through the G and C chords on second track "Virgil Hilts", hits three chords on the detuned "Specter Blues" - the lo-fi recording doesn’t help this either. The low fidelity does however aid the penultimate track "Junebug". Written by the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, Hoel put's his own take on the eerie original.

Bedroom Minstrels is Hoel's way of expressing his feelings and thoughts. He's affected by death, and pays tribute to those that have died, using his lyrics and the linear notes. To The Zippo Dusk sees Hoel's song writing improve, many of these tracks start off with saddening topics and put downs. What the listener doesn’t hear is Hoel's return to humility, his self-appreciation and how he always, no matter what, finds something to stand above: "At least I'm not alone." And we can't forget Hoel's trademark optimism: "...I hope so." To The Zippo Dusk is an album intended for the lonely and sad moments. It's a winter folk / singer-songwriter album madr for the cold. Hoel has shown signs of improvement since his EP Somniloquy. His voice, stronger, his lyrics, bolder; Hoel signs off with "Eeyore", with nine minutes of thrilling music, ending with: "Going down the train tracks, not coming back."
~Eddie

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