Katie’s sophomore solo album is a true folk album of acoustic and vocally driven music, whose lyrics ponder the world and her/our place in it. This stripped down folk sound is exactly where Baggs should dwell, because her quiet, controlled songs do not get in the way of her arresting voice, nor the stories the songs tell – both of which are vital components for her music.
Compared to her last album, there is a pronounced move towards haunting, perfectly fitting flourishes in the background of the songs, like the wind chimes and aching viola work on the stand-out track “Silver Thaw.” You can barely hear these backdrops; instead you feel them – and the best of albums, like this one, are felt by their listeners as much as they’re heard.
An exception to the album’s quietude is track 2, “Book of Forms,” with its full band chorus that forces Baggs to sing like a rocker. This adds a nice tempo-varying moment to the album’s 8 tracks, and in that regard, Katie shouldn’t be afraid to run with these kinds of impulses that lie slightly out of her comfort range. It’s how we grow as artists, to have the courage to release work that feels, in her own words, “strange” to the artist. Not that Baggs ought to push herself, forcefully, in any new direction. All she’s done here is perfect her own sound, and what more can an artist strive for?
Songs like “Fall Away,” “Always a War,” and “Silver Thaw” are everything a modern folk song should be: gentle but powerful, with empty track spaces building an atmosphere as strong as any further instrumentation could have mustered anyway.
“Fall Away” off Wonderful Strange
There was a time when pounding drums and gang-chanting around a fire are what brought us together and made us feel like living, breathing, wild hu-maans. Maans new self-titled album taps into that primal part of its listener, and proof of such hyperbole lays in the fact that Maans are the first live band of the decade to regularly have people crowd surfing at The Ship.
While Micah Brown’s sound calls to mind seminal Canadian rockers like Japandroids, there’s nothing derivative in the sound – it’s genuine and exploding with something so raw and true that it clearly doesn’t come from emulation, but a channeling of time and place: see “To Live or Die in Rabbittown” for an overdue local anthem.
A handful of traits can be singled out to explain the band’s new City Favourite status. Like Courtney Barnett or The Burning Hell, Brown’s vocals tend towards mile-a-minute delivery which keeps the listener jolted and engaged. The music itself is altogether catchy, with all the right flourishes in lead guitar that often mirror the vocal’s cadence and delivery, amping up every song’s sing-along status. Micah’s music also employs the “get out before it gets old” formula – only 2 of 8 songs are more than 3 minutes long. And they don’t need to be.
There’s also an imperfectness in the recording of the songs that adds a beneficial grit, well-suited to the sound. While it’s a consistently good album, there are some songs outshining others, namely the anthemic “Drink and Scrape” (which was featured in Heavy Rotation all February long on Overcast Radio), the unpredictable rocker “Pizza Pie,” and the surf-tinged “Future World,” with its perfect use of gang vocals.
“Drink and Scrape” off Maans
Reviews by Chad Pelley