It takes time

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

If I knew my life was coming to an end at a certain hour, I’d likely become much more protective of my time than I am already. Say I’d been given exactly one month before my days on Earth would end: I probably wouldn’t take a risk on a movie or other entertainment vehicle that might only be so-so when I could participate in some other activity guaranteed to bring enjoyment in my final moments.

I don’t watch a lot of movies for the aforementioned reason — I’m not dying any more quickly than the average human, as far as I know, but I still don’t like to take risks with my time. Perhaps this is why I’m so drawn to music. The time investment is low-risk, the return can be hefty and as a media form, music lends itself well to multitasking.

Despite the vast amounts of incredible new music being created in the world, it’s all too easy to stick with what we know, not venturing into the realm of new releases for fear of wasting money, time or both. For those of you with reservations about investing in the unknown corners of the music world, I’ve done a little bit of the work for you.

“Valhalla Dancehall” by British Sea Power

Despite my unfamiliarity with British Sea Power, which has been around for more than a decade, “Valhalla Dancehall” sounded familiar from first listen. It’s not that the Britpop group doesn’t have its own unique sound — I’ve put the album on my playlist, but I also might not miss it too terribly if it went missing.

Brothers Yan Scott Wilkinson and Neil Hamilton Wilkinson both contribute to the group with vocals that embellish pleasant, yet sometimes overpowering, instrumentals. The tone of their vocals is memorable and provides a different feel than that of other competing bands.

You have to work hard for many of the lyrics, which often sound obscured by filters and buried beneath high instrument levels. Lyrics weren’t easily found online, nor were they included in my electronic review copy, but given that the album was just released last week I’m sure they will start popping up on fan sites in no time.

Musically, this album is high contrast, dynamically covering a lot of ground. Each track varies from the others, one more passive and another more powerful. The group often explores both dark and light areas within a single song, which keeps my ears on their toes.

I can’t say that “Valhalla Dancehall” touches my soul in any particular way, but it’s still surprisingly enjoyable in a way that I don’t feel the need to explain further.

“Cackalack” by Jonathan Byrd

I’ve never been to North Carolina, or any Carolina for that matter, but Jonathan Byrd has got “enough North Carolina in him for everyone” no matter where he goes, writes vocalist Corin Raymond about Byrd’s new release. “Cackalack” was released this week by Waterbug Records, bringing a taste of the Carolinian to the rest of us.

The album reminds me of any Los Angeles County freeway a few hours before or after rush hour proper — stop and go. Things start out with a very down home feel in “Chicken Wire.” The tune bounces along at a moderate tempo with good movement in its simplicity, embellished by conservative banjo picking, awakening fiddling and laid-back group vocals.

Then, just as the momentum is building “Wild Ponies” comes along and takes things down a few notches — far too many notches, in my opinion. Track three, “I Was An Oak Tree,” brings things halfway back up to speed with pretty guitar work leading up to a bit more bounce by the end. By track four, “Reckon I Did,” we’re back down home with rugged fiddling and more of the group singing that gave the album its great start. But don’t get too excited, because things are about to slow down again.

If you like extremely low-key ballads, most of this album’s even-numbered tracks will probably do it for you. If you enjoy a bit of down home bounce as I do, sample more of the odds.

In general, “Cackalack” is tastefully recorded. The high points are really high; I could see myself listening to tunes like “Dungarees Overalls,” “White Oak Wood” and “Chicken Wire” over and over, but I could happily live without the less lively in-betweens. Variety is great, but in this case it’s a bit too dramatic for me. Then again, maybe that’s what North Carolina is all about — I wouldn’t know.

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