Tired Pony, Refreshing Approach

•July 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

Whenever the word “supergroup” is used, it comes backed with the expectation that the end result is going to be great. Such bets don’t always pan out (Remember Zwan, anyone?), but with Tired Pony, you’re right on the money. I would venture to say that the band isn’t even a supergroup though. The brainchild of Snow Patrol’s lead man Gary Lightbody, the band brings together R.E.M. axeman Peter Buck and longtime collaborator Scott McCaughey, producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee, and Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn. Other names, however, are less likely to ring a bell, such as underrated solo artist Iain Archer and Lightbody’s guitar tech Troy Stewart, but they’re just as necessary to the band as the other units. Their debut record The Place We Ran From also features appearances from She & Him and Editors’ Tom Smith, but don’t anticipate an ego-driven test of skills on all parts. The album is simplistic, a pure distillation of musicians making music for themselves, not some audience that is cobbled together from all of their fanbases. Refreshingly sparse and vulnerable, it’s exactly what making music should be about for any band.

North Western Skies – Lightbody’s theme of America comes to life in jangling madolin and echoing vocals describing an all-consuming storm. As is typical with his writing, the negative is made to sound oddly beautiful, with poignant lyrics like “girl you were beautiful before / but in the cyclone I love you more.” Already there’s a sense of vastness and vacant landscape, but there’s safety in following a story.

Get on the Road – In a similar vein to Snow Patrol’s “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” this duet with Zooey Deschanel has both singers perform the entire song at once rather than bantering back and forth. “The fire, the wine, the bed, and you” is a gorgeous opening line, as the rest of the song explores the difficulty of being both together with and separated from the one you love. While the song is clearly set in rural America, it could apply to a traveling salesman as to a touring musician. The ending of the song climbs into fuzz-induced chaos and belted vocals that show just how quickly emotions can mount.

Point Me at Lost Islands – I read somewhere that a writer compared this to sitting around a campfire making music, and it certainly has that warmth to it. You can feel how every element is being played at once, like you’re sitting in the room with everyone. This is perhaps the album’s most country moment, with prominent banjo and fiddles, with some piano that sounds like it belongs in an old time saloon for good measure.

Dead American Writers – The first single from this group has simplistic, powerful use of slide guitar and Lightbody’s vocals taking on strength and fragility in equal turn. “I’ve been waiting for the spark myself / I’ve been scrambling in the dark for health” should resonate with a writer of any kind. Clocking in at just two and a half minutes, it almost feels too short, but anything else might delude its power.

Held in the Arms of Your Words – This fragile ballad is as touching and simple as its title would indicate. So many lines could be pulled out to highlight the romance and perfectly imperfect relationship compared to the night, so rather than go on and on, I’ll present you with a couple of examples: “With the sunset, the neon awakes / And the cold colors dance on your skin / Finally, the modern makes sense to me.” “The shadows kiss before we do / Right here in the dark / I revel in the calm before the storm.”

That Silver Necklace – One of Lightbody’s characteristics is writing about broken relationships, but in addressing fictional or partially fictional characters, he’s able to explore problems and situations that he hasn’t necessarily experienced himself. “I can’t for the life of me read the signs, read your mind, read your lips, read your diary” shows just how easily he can flip a phrase, and the detractors of his songwriting should take a moment to eat their hats.

I Am a Landslide – The only song that doesn’t have its lyrics come from Lightbody’s pen are by Iain Archer, a former member of Snow Patrol and established solo artist in his own right. Simplistic synth sets the tone for this swaying tune. “I am a landslide waiting to fall” comes the chorus, and even though the song sounds warm, there’s enough of an edge to Archer’s delivery that it feels sincere. Garret “Jacknife” Lee’s young daughters get in one the action, making the ending that much more endearing and giving this project its sense of spontaneity and inclusion.

The Deepest Ocean There Is – The backing instruments are simplistic but fill in the gaps left by one another to create a loose web from which to hang echoing, haunting vocals. There’s a touch of desperation here (“This is not the end, it’s still an outset bet / I’m not taking off my wedding ring just yet”), complemented by disparate feedback and delicate percussion. The end collapses into distortion and, seemingly, mortality.

The Good Book – Though the lyrics were written by Lightbody, they’re delivered by Editor’s Tom Smith. The delicate acoustic backdrop is completely unlike material his own band releases, but it suits his deep voice. “The ground comes at you faster than you think” is a sage piece of advice, and the whole song evokes a sense of a ghost town, filled with bears, wolves, and abandoned bars.

Pieces – The album’s closing track is filled with driving drums, throbbing bass, delicate guitar, minimal piano, and churning synth. Once again, Lightbody demonstrates his strength as a songwriter with turns of phrase like “Pieces of your heart collapse to the sound of beating drums / We can’t contain it anymore, so just let the madness come / There’s something in the way she moves that just terrorizes you / You’ve tried to piece confusing clues together in your head.” Backing vocals preempt the main delivery, adding to the ghostly delivery. “A sudden lurch, the quickening of footfalls / A Bible held above me like an axe,” Lightbody sings delicately, and then the song gives way to distorted feedback, layers clashing and building in a precarious stack as other instruments carry on with the same melody as before. Even if this is a side project, it ends with every member deeply involved, proving that this is very much a band and a group effort with impressive results.


Listen to Lisa Hannigan

•May 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I still remember the first time I heard Lisa Hannigan. I was getting ready for school, brushing my teeth to be exact, when I heard a voice on the television. I usually had it tuned to VH1, up early enough to actually catch music videos back when they played those, and that morning I caught “Volcano” by Damien Rice playing. While I was watching, I was drawn in by the song’s structure, the voices, the music, but more than anything, I was interested in the vocal interplay. By the end, I wanted to know the name of the woman with flowing curls and a voice that jumped up like a hidden bird’s. I desperately tried to remember Damien’s name, but of course the day of school erased it from my memory, and I ended up erroneously purchasing a Howie Day record I listened to once, trying in vain to find that track again.

Fast forward a few years. The first mistake anyone can make about Lisa Hannigan is to assume that she’s an augmentation of any song. Her strengths as a performer have made her a collaborator with many of Ireland’s great musicians, including but certainly not limited to Snow Patrol, The Frames, Bell X1, David Kitt, Mic Christopher, and Mick Flannery. However, she demonstrates immense strength on her own as a singer, songwriter, and musician, not to mention a creative spirit. Her debut album, Sea Sew, is as meticulously stitched together as its dice-filled cover and needlepoint lyrics. All of the songs except “Courting Blues” are original, some dating back to gigs Lisa played with Damien and some brand new. In the storybook world of the album, she endures a relationship hindered by physical distance (no doubt common in the musical world), admires a potential love interest from afar, but also stands up for herself. Between boots and curls, the sea and coffee, her personality shines through as natural, quirky, and uncompromised, as evidenced by the fact that she released the album herself and recorded it using a cast of longtime friends for her band.

Lisa’s instrumentation is also as much of a marvel as her spectacular voice. In these days when many female acts are synth-driven, her ensemble is anything but. Stylophone, harmonium, banjo, dulcimer—these are the sorts of instruments you’ll find not just on the album but in her live show, where she smiles and dances in a way that would make any girl who wasn’t a prom queen feel proud. Every performance looks like as much of a pleasure for her as it is for the audience, and that creates an atmosphere of camaraderie. One look at youtube is all it should take for you to see how this girl with long dresses, tall boots and colorful tights commands attention in a quiet, subdued way. She doesn’t have to banter or show a bit of thigh; the music really does say it all.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Lisa live twice in the past couple of years. The first time, I stupidly flew into Chicago in November and waited outside with some good people (Hello Erin and Damian, if you read this!) to see her open up for Jason Mraz at a sold out show. While most of the people were clearly there for the headlining act, I couldn’t help but notice individuals around me go from whispering and detached to completely silent, save for the occasional whisper asking who she was. It’s no surprise then that Mraz signed her to his American label after getting to see her perform each night. The second occasion was at an early afternoon Barnes & Noble in-store performance, tucked in beside the children’s books. She was just as engaging and entertaining in that small space as she was before a paying audience, and you couldn’t help but notice the unadulterated joy when one by one, three- and four-year-olds all came to watch, mesmerized. She’s come a long way since I glimpsed her on VH1 all those years ago, and I’m happy she’s now where she belongs, with her name getting the attention it deserves.

Below are a few of the photos I snapped. Please don’t just nab them, yadda yadda. Also I apologize for the face I’m making in one of them. I was having an allergy attack, and my eye wanted to swell shut. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Swim on, brave Frightened Rabbits.

•April 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

One of the most frustrating arguments made by music fans and reviewers alike is that when an indie band has found success, they’ve “sold out” or “gone mainstream.” The phrases have different resonance to everyone, of course, but the implication is that making a living off art is a bad thing, that creativity has been compromised. Of course no artist is allowed to mature and become more polished, and everyone must remain a perfect little secret. The gap between Frightened Rabbit’s Sing the Greys, their first album, and The Midnight Organ Fight is the difference between the general and the personal.

Their sophomore established them as a dark, brutally honest group with music you could still move to, and so plenty of people have taken to grumbling that the group’s third offering, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is a little more tender. The lyrics are still fairly dark, but the vantage point is more of an outward glance rather than eyes lowered to clenched fists. There’s a more immediate, atmospheric feeling to this album, due in large part to the water imagery that’s threaded through a few of the tracks. The songs have more layers, less venom, but that doesn’t make them less poignant or sincere. But rather than just blindly defend this album as progress rather than inching towards the middle of the road, I’ve written up a brief bit about every song. Hopefully this will encourage you to check out the album and give Frightened Rabbit due credit as a band poised for even bigger things.

“Things” is a churning opening, gradually opening into pulsing drums and the occasional, fragile note touched on a keyboard, blending together with singer Scott Hutchinson’s insistent voice.

“Swim Until You Can’t See Land” kicks up like the beginning of a storm, then spreads out like the surface of the sea. This track also includes one of my favorite lines of any album this year: Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?

“The Loneliness and the Scream” has a marching beat and layered backing vocals that can makes the song’s dark imagery ironically catchy.

“The Wrestle” brings the bass to the forefront, highlighting how the band introduces elements from different angles to build songs that have similar atmospheres while retaining individual sounds.

“Skip the Youth” stacks simplistic keyboards against clashing voices, barking lines as though to emphasize the inherent conflict of youth.

“Nothing Like You” is classic Frightened Rabbit material, juxtaposing relationships with speedy music and bleak lyrics (denying a woman was a “cure for cancer” while the narrator has woke up “post operation”).

“Man/Bag of Sand” is another Frightened Rabbit trope, a brief track recalling the chorus of “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” In this way, the group proudly holds together the tradition of creating an album rather than just slapping together some tracks made at the same time.

“Foot Shooter” makes ample use of Hutchinson’s thick accent, accentuating the drunkenness in the lyrics. Profanities roll off the tongue with ease, a fact that must be glanced over by anyone concerned about the album being friendlier to audiences.

“Not Miserable” repeats the water imagery by referring to flooding, and the lines have varying length, sounding more like spontaneous thought than primly arranged lyrics. For once, bleak music is paired with somewhat sardonic lyrics (“so the hymns that I sung / prayers for the fucked, from a bitter, forked tongue / sing of history now”) for a positive outcome.

“Living in Colour” invokes chanting vocals and another stomping, charging rhythm, leading into more positive lyrics (“You were asking, you, you were asking / and with two steps, I was saved”).

“Yes I Would” casts the listener back to sea one last time, straining and failing to make a return (“Hold me, I’m folding, I can’t see land”). The brilliance of a line like “The loss of a lonely man never makes much of a sound” is how it appears in the midst of an album that establishes the band as only making progress rather than fading out. Hutchinson belts out the final lines like the cries of a man actually sinking, creating a musical cliffhanger to see where the group goes next.

Don’t call it a comeback: The Frames.

•April 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“Make art, make art!” The words could not have been lost on the scores of celebrities, celewannabes and guests as they watched a flabbergasted couple accept the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song. Once had, of course, far surpassed expectations, a modern musical without the awkward lack of segue between the story world and song. Instead it was the bittersweet, sincere story of two lives converging for a while and making the most of that time. The music community didn’t know what to do with this feat of art, a combination of a good story and songs that could stand on their own without a concept album. Since that night, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová have toured the world with their band, The Swell Season, and released two albums in addition to the Once soundtrack.

But I’m not here to talk about The Swell Season.

Instead, I’d like to talk about The Frames, who you’ve already heard if you’ve seen Once. To say that they have reformed would be an injustice to the band’s members, who have been touring with Glen and Mar most of the ride. Started by Glen in 1990, The Frames have soldiered on as one of Ireland’s best acts for two decades. Though they’ve played together and toured relentlessly with Mar, the band hasn’t had an official Frames gig in years. This will change in September, when they will headline Ireland’s Electric Picnic festival.

So why would someone in New York, who doesn’t have the financial means to skip off to Ireland for a couple of days, get excited about a concert?

To put it simply, not many bands last these days. There are so many artists continually shoved down our throats as consumers (not to name names, of course), and their labels have the financial means to throw in elaborate costumes, stunning stages, and so much glitter that you forget that you came for the music. Or maybe you didn’t. The Frames have made it this far without backup dancers and models splayed over their laps. Instead, they’ve grown musically, from the Celtic rock of Another Love Song to the foggy, atmospheric The Cost. It’s impossible to peg The Frames as having a certain sound because no album sounds alike. As with so many things that last as long as they have, they’ve gone through makeovers, gaining and shedding members and adjusting their style accordingly. Two things, however, have remained constant: Glen’s sharp lyrics about life, some of the good and most of the band, and Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s violin adding a voice that can articulate what words can’t (Check out his solo record and you’ll see what I mean.). The current lineup also includes Joe Doyle on bass, who’s been with the band for most of its career, American guitarist and solo musician Rob Bochnik, and the illustrious Graham Hopkins, who has recording or toured with basically every band in Ireland.

The success of Once could have destroyed a lesser band. After all, the frontman went off, took the time to make a film and songs for it, then accidentally stumbled across international acclaim, all with another talented musician at his side. Instead, Glen recognized that The Swell Season could accomplish what The Frames had always set out to do: bring great songs to as many people as possible. On early Swell Season tours, the setlists were peppered with Frames songs simply because the band didn’t have enough original material written to avoid playing their album in full. Even though that has fallen to the wayside, the occasional Frames song does mingle with their other covers, and Colm always gets a moment in the spotlight to showcase one of his solo tunes. Through this touring experience, The Frames have gained a new sort of stamina, focused on the music rather than the accolades.

I met The Swell Season in November 2007 on a particularly dreary day in Washington, D.C. As the few punters waiting around competed for Glen and Mar’s attention, my friend Shannon and I noticed the other members of The Frames heading towards the bus unnoticed. We were able to intercept Colm, and he looked pleasantly surprised that anyone would recognize him. We had a nice chat about his music and Irish heritage (with names like Casey and Shannon, we stood out) before he called Glen over. As we talked about the possibility of there being an Oscar in their future (he said he would bring his mother as his date, and he did), Glen said that he was impressed by how well the gigs were selling out and people were responding to the new band. “It’s not like you don’t have another band to go back to,” I said, realizing about a second too late that my sarcasm could’ve come across as rude. Thankfully, he just laughed and said that was true, but he was glad they were along for the ride. If you haven’t heard The Frames on their own yet, now is the perfect time to start. They still have a long future ahead.

And swagger dripping from the stage, curse the impatience of the age.

•March 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In the midst of the guitars and pianos that crowd the tiny stage of (Le) Poisson Rouge, an unassuming man in an omnipresent hat moves to a pair of microphones. He could be anyone as he picked up a pair of boxes, the objects near him least likely to be identified as instruments. The room is quiet as people who are making their mandatory two-drink orders realize that this is the main act. Stepping forward, David Ford rattles the boxes, then claps them together. His voice is a gravelly projection to complement the anxieties laced through his lyrics. “Well, I took me a deep breath / and I counted to three / I am nothing at all like I wanted to be…”

In an age of performers taking over the industry, Ford is a novelty: a musician who creates music onstage. There are no props, no curtains, no elaborate lights. Ford’s only accessories are his lyrics, his instruments, and his banter, which is warm and conversational. He strays from the traditional “Hello (insert city name)” and declarations of love for his fans. Instead, he lingers on matters relevant to his audience (how Americans answer every question with “Woo!”, not to get him started talking about soccer) or his songs (entertainment from Fox News, spending so much time away from his wife, how reelecting Margaret Thatcher is like not breaking up with an unsuitable girlfriend). In short, the name on the ticket is the person who appears onstage, gradually fleshing out a personality that’s snarky, honest, passionate, but bemused enough to get through the troubles of the modern era.

Performing without a single person to accompany him onstage, Ford is the embodiment of the open mic night musician’s dream, an artist capable of standing alone without adornment and still creating complete songs that stagger a chatty audience into silence. He doesn’t put on airs or attempt any sort of charming routine while singing because he simply doesn’t have to. The smoke and mirrors of so many popular artists today need not apply because this is music to be heard and a privilege to watch. Even though his latest album, Let the Hard Time Roll, has only just been released on the US version of iTunes (having previously been released in the UK in digital and physical formats), old fans already have their copies secured from overseas, and new ones are drawn in by the sincerity of Ford’s observations. Even “Stephen,” a song about a Northern Irish murdered policeman, draws just as much reverence and applause as the angry anthem “Go to Hell.”

At this show, the performance of Ford’s songs can be broken into two categories. Some, like the delicate and self-aware love song “To Hell with the World,” tie him to the guitar or the piano. Each word is enunciated clearly, the lyrics sinking in to fill the void formed by any other instrumentation. The simplicity is a refreshing break from the hype of the increasingly artificial. Other songs call for more layers, and this is where Ford’s show becomes its most captivating. Darting between his instruments, he plays each for only a few seconds, recording a piece and then looping it to generate just as much depth as an entire band. While many performers have at least some parts prerecorded so they can just hit a button and spend their time entertaining, Ford takes us inside the act of creating a song. We are behind the scenes and under the skin, getting to the heart of these tracks. It looks simple, but the timing is delicate, and one sour note or hesitation could cause the entire time to collapse.

After his performance, Ford hops from the foot-tall stage and darts out the door next to the stage. We are a city used to standing ovations and immediately oblige, hungry for an encore. After all, the lights are still dim, are they not? Our wait is short, and he bounds back, visibly humbled by the enthusiastic response. Admitting that he does not often perform encores, he launches into the song that most would probably know him for, the Bush-slamming “State of the Union.” Like many of Ford’s other songs, its bitter words are all but whispered over soft guitar and piano. Each part he adds makes the song begin to lean to the left, a violent passion swelling until it raises his voice, strengthens his guitar, and mimics the public outcry against that administration. Jumping down again, he croons from table to table, expressing the outrage of the generation and also throwing back a shot he picks up along the way. By the end, he is standing on his piano stool, two microphones in hand as he croons and slams his foot down against the keys. We feel the same frenzy, and when he says goodnight, everyone is rocked back, trying to recover our emotions and tuck them back away to something socially acceptable as the stage is once again a litter of instruments, their potential realized and purpose complete.

I’ve included my own photos here, and for the sake of space, the rest can be seen here. The videos are not mine, but they’re all from the performance, so enjoy. Hopefully they can help you understand the environment where my words so often fall short. On a tangential note, if anyone I met at the show reads this, it was a pleasure talking to you before, during, and/or after, and I sincerely hope to see you at the Union Hall show. Please say hi if you see me. Special thanks to Harris for settling the tab. It was quite uncalled for, but you were absolutely sweet to do so, and thanks for offering me a seat at your table.

A Crash Course in Concert Etiquette

•February 28, 2010 • 2 Comments

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be attending a couple of concerts that I’m hoping to review here. I know I haven’t updated this recently, and it would almost be a shame to force something out when I’m busy getting excited for other artists and considering doing my taxes. Rather than force sincerity, I’ll just post up a little something I wrote a while ago.

You see, I love live music, but an audience can really make or break the experience. Due to being a poor, part-time employee, I don’t have the funds necessary to see every gig that sounds interesting. I tend to see my favorites and leave it at that. However, others have more money than sense and more hormones than inhibitions, and they threaten to ruin the concert experience. We could use a few more seconds of preparedness to make sure that we don’t walk away with facial lacerations or a felony conviction. So, here are a few tips to make the concert experience more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Wear deodorant.
When Kurt Cobain declared that a grunge pep rally smelled like Teen Spirit, he wasn’t just referring to their enthusiasm. You don’t have to follow his brand advice since celebrity endorsements are rarely to be trusted, but do find a nice, strong deodorant to wear to concerts. Most contain antiperspirants, which will be appreciated by the short people who are tucked under your armpits for two hours or more.

2. Dress defensively.
Chances are that you want to look attractive when you’re gyrating in public. While it’s possible that hot people go to concerts, don’t worry about them because you will never get within twenty paces. Instead you’ll be next to the tall guy with broad shoulders, the short girl trying to slip past your coveted spot, and the couple vertically spooning in your personal space. Wear boots. Military issue, if possible.

3. Practice dancing.
Your Wii telling you that you’re the ruler of the dance floor doesn’t mean that you’re prepared to bust those moves in front of people. Concerts are not the place to debut your gymnastics routine unless you want to get soaked by your fellow audience members’ drinks/sweat/contraband can of spray deodorant. You don’t have to limit yourself to merely impersonating your favorite bobblehead doll, but if someone could mistake your gestures for swatting at a bee or something crawling in your rectum, leave the show for the stage.

4. Arrive early if you want a good spot.
The people who want to stand in front of the band are the ones who also want to stand in a ridiculous line waiting for said band. Don’t arrive at the set time, buy beverages, and then squeeze your way through the audience with the excuse that you’re meeting someone. Your friend is not up front. Your sister is not in labor and waiting for a cup of ice to get her by until medics arrive. The handbook of duels says that it is perfectly okay for someone to slap you across the face and challenge your honor if you stop in front of them after the first song has ended.

5. Drink responsibly.
If you’re at a seated venue, then chances are the people who aren’t drinking are on the ends of the aisles. Don’t ask me why this works out the way it does, but it’s pretty much the same logic that decides you will always be on an airplane with crying babies and ill-mannered rich people asking for special treatment. The heavy drinkers will always be in the middle of the row, and they will always ask you to get up several times, particularly in the middle of a slow song or a non-single. Here’s an idea: if you want to get drunk and listen to music, go to a bar with a jukebox. If you want to see a concert, stay sober enough that the stage doesn’t blur. And venues, stop trying to make your overpriced beverages more appealing. It might be nice to have glowing swizzle sticks in your drinks, Radio City Music Hall, but when the lights are down, you should be looking at the stage, not your cocktail.

6. Enjoy yourself.
You are attending a concert to enjoy a concert: the music, the atmosphere, the strange and interesting smells that are only sometimes replicated on public transportation. You’ve paid to hear and, if you’re incredibly lucky and/or tall, see a show. Leave the main performance to the artist. Talent scouts are not looking out for that one person in the audience who can sing louder than the amplifiers and break the most toes while doing the Running Man. Also, exercise extreme caution when attempting to crowd surf. You can only blame yourself when other concert goers realize you’re not famous and drop you on your head.

The band’s playing tunes that mean nothing to you.

•February 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In these days of MySpace, Facebook, radio, TV, and so on, it’s really easy to get lost in a web of music. Sure, there are the artists that are flashed in our faces, from Web site advertising to playing in the background of our commercials, but on a rare occasion, someone of real, admirable musical quality can emerge through the static. I discover a lot of music through suggestions from friends or musicians whose taste I trust, so when I find someone without any outside human influence, I feel accomplished. There’s part of me that wants to hold these discoveries to my chest, the cards that make up my winning hand that should not be corrupted by casual eyes that will inevitably roll and stamp down my enthusiasm. On the other hand, I want these artists to have successful careers so they don’t become discouraged. I want them to be able to record, promote, and tour so I can see them and appreciate them for what they are, glimmers of hope against an increasingly dark, commercialized backdrop. One of my greatest concerns about the music industry is we’re looking at music more than we’re listening, but that’s another rant for another time since I’d like to lift the curtain and actually push forward one of my favorites.

A couple of years ago, I was in the thick of a Damien Rice phase. This isn’t to say that I was falling for singer/songwriters, because I’m not one to subscribe to genres so much as artists, albums, songs. Into my inbox popped a result that I clicked. I quickly realized that it wasn’t Damien at all but an English musician by the name of David Ford. I had just graduated from college and was crashing at home with the parents, which meant that my Internet connection was tenuous and not too keen on random YouTube clicks. I was prepared to get rid of this mistake, but the description of the video somehow intrigued me. One man would play the song in four takes, meshing them together to form one unit. I listened. I fell in love.

The academic side of me loves a good bit of research, and when I discover a song I like, my next step is to investigate. Is it a fluke, a stray bullet that manages to strike the heart, or has something managed to slip beneath the skin, using music as that one extra step to go beyond the articulation of words? David Ford has occupied both spots, learning the risks of compromise in Easyworld, his former band (though I still consider “Junkies and Whores” a classic all its own). However, as a solo artist he has truly come into his own, a trilby on his head and his wry sense of humor aimed at all. Ford’s music covers the territory you’d usually expect from a singer/songwriter, addressing broken hearts and disappointment in life. However, his cynicism is clear as his tongue is planted firmly in cheek for songs like “Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck).” His material is also not just introverted, instead drawing inspiration from the political climate on tracks such as “State of the Union,” “Requiem,” and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Credit Card.” Though the music is often subdued, Ford’s raspy vocals convey emotions across the spectrum of living, from the lowest of solitude (“Oh you, well you are no fun / And I’m so dumb / But please let us not be lonely, again”) to the deepest of love (“And scatter from the window, / To settle on the fields, / And tell yourself a hundred times that forever starts today, / And think how good it feels”). Sincerity is Ford’s forte, and even if his words are ugly, the point is that he means them.

But the proof that Ford is a musician, not a performer or a so-called “artist,” is his live act. While he delivers his own tracks with precision, sometimes with a band and sometimes alone by looping a part at a time until he’s compiled the full effect, there’s also an interactive element to his delivery. Rather than supposedly appreciating his fans with a tattoo of a nickname or just scribbling his name on a piece of memorabilia, the audience is also part of the experience. Asking for a number from the audience, Ford opens up a book of tabs, delivering a cover of whichever song happens to pop up. From Britney Spears to R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige to The Pogues, Ford inserts musical sincerity even as he interrupts his delivery to occasionally mock the very lyrics he covers. All of this adds up to a man who loves music for the performance and for the message, in spite of an industry that covets artists as frivolous as our worst days.

David Ford’s third LP, Let the Hard Times Roll, is out now. Please order it here.