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Before I even listened to Modern Folk X for the first time, I’m immediately taken with the band name. Superficial, sure, but a good name for your band/project/etc. is key and The Modern Folk is an excellent one.
The titles listed in all caps are intriguing as well, and after several minutes of ‘Borders Are Violence,’ the opening track on the album, I can see that this album serves as a statement of purpose for its author. An 8 song album with songs averaging around 3-4 minutes I also like how concise this record is. But enough about the parameters, let’s delve into the music.
These songs are loose indie rock that sound like if early Pavement was, dare I say the word, “folkier.” I think a better way of describing this record is it’s very experimental while also being earthy at the same time. I get the sense that with radical titles like ‘Future Without Capital,’ and ‘Complete Condemnation,’ The Modern Folk has experienced his share of suffering: I can hear pain in every track and the album shows how a musician can take any kind of pain and turn it into art.
I can’t say I know what specifically inspired this record, or whether it was a combination of things, but I feel like The Modern Folk’s songs invite you in a very personal way. At the same time, the main band I keep thinking about as I listen to this record even though they sound different is 1960s folk radicals, The Fugs.
The Modern Folk’s Modern Folk X continues folk music in the tradition of The Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders, instead of the early 70s singer-songwriter variant that emerged after folk-rock. The songs ‘Borders Are Violence,’ and ‘Future Without Capital’ sound great, but I think my favorite tracks on the album are ‘Cool Guy Bullshit’ and ‘Hippy Nite Improv.’
The former I’d make the single for the album, and the latter is on the opposite end of the spectrum as the most free-form album track. ‘GDTRFB’ is a nice traditional folk follow-up to ‘Hippy Nite Improv.’ It almost sounds like something that would have been sung around a campfire in the early 1960s.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Modern Folk X is the diversity of sounds. Suddenly in ‘GDTRFB’ a synthesizer appears but what does it mean? Did The Modern Folk get abducted by aliens going down the road feeling bad? Or did he just trip out for a second? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a cool song.
‘Wilderness of Love’ is a catchy closer and also a good candidate for an album single were The Modern Folk to release one. The 2:30 song length provides a perfect framework for The Modern Folk to end this album. Modern Folk X is abrasive at times, it’s certainly odd, but it’s also catchy and rooted in tradition.
I’d recommend Modern Folk X to anyone with an interest in experimental or folk music. It’s a very enjoyable album that gets to the point immediately. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this artist.
The three-track preview Rootless has released for people to hear and pre-order their upcoming album Live at Rhizome lives up to the genre descriptions on their website. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard an ambient folk record before, but this is definitely the real deal.
The guitar parts on the preview of Live at Rhizome are played skillfully, and one hears this immediately with the opening track, ‘Last Man Standing.’ Most of the track is hauntingly beautiful, but descends into synthesized chaos for a little before returning to the initial fingerpicked guitar. Great opener for the preview.
The second track, ‘Hidden Meanings,’ opens with the same lovely chiming guitar tone. I hear the influence of Spanish folk music heavily on this one, even more pronounced than the guitar on the first track. In an era of music where everything seems to be electronic, it’s nice to hear two acoustic guitars harmonizing with each other.
Four minutes into the song, and it’s also clear how this track is ambient. However, the repetition never overreaches and gets dull like some ambient work I’ve heard. I think this is the greatest challenge of ambient music: to make something one can tune in and out of; something repetitive but with just enough variation to engage an attentive listener. Rootless succeeds at this, and I think ‘Hidden Meanings’ is even stronger of a track than ‘Last Man Standing.’
‘Self-Contained’ starts off slowly but once it picks up, the listener is treated to more of the same guitar sounds. I was also surprised at the end of ‘Hidden Meanings’ and beginning of ‘Self-Contained’ that Rootless appears to be a one-man-band using I’d imagine a loop pedal. Wow. It really sounds like there’s two adept musicians playing a duet. ‘Self-Contained’ at 8:07 is the shortest song on the album preview.
Musically it’s a really cool piece, but I prefer the first two tracks. That said, there’s not a dip in quality and I can see this track working really well within the greater context of an album. If the album were only the three tracks presented as a preview, I would place it second instead of third. Again, great tone on the guitar, especially for a live performance.
At the end of the record I hear, “we’ll be right back,” and the illusion that this is the project of one person is dispelled. I really enjoyed Rootless’ Live at Rhizome. It was very atmospheric, and as you can see I had no idea whether it was one or two people playing which is a testament to how in sync the band members must be.
My favorite part about this album is definitely the influence of Spanish folk music. This definitely isn’t a Spanish folk record, but I love the way they incorporated traditional Spanish melodies and chords into something totally different. Ambient folk? Sure. Whatever it is, I dig it.
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Classical violinist and piano player. Mostly self-taught guitarist took lessons with Vic Juris who was sampled for Gang Starr’s Mass Appeal hit. Appeared in Music of the Heart with Meryl Streep (d. by Wes Craven.) Long-time home-recording artist.