Smoky Wilds – Andy Fitts

Andy Fitts - Smokey WildsAndy Fitts carved out a role as a mainstay of Seattle’s thoughtful indie rock scene, but did so as a background player. He’s served as the bassist in David Bazan’s band, the Long Winters, and Say Hi to name a few, but this month he branched out from being a backing musician with his debut album Smoky Wilds. The record showcases Fitts as a singer-songwriter with a knack for composition that belies his lack of solo experience.

The natural—and apt—comparison for Fitts is Bazan. While Fitts partially hides his vocals behind distortion, his timbre is eerily reminiscent of Bazan’s voice, just with the emotive qualities turned down a handful of notches. Smokey Wilds also bears a sonic resemblance to Bazan’s solo albums, undoubtedly due in part to longtime Bazan collaborator TW Walsh mastering the record. The main difference between the two singer-songwriters is while Bazan’s songs function primarily as delivery platforms for his expertly crafted lyrics, Fitts puts a clear primary focus on the instrumentation (he even made an instrumental version available for download), while opting for a melancholy lyrical expressionism.

Smoky Wilds sports a cloudy ambient feel, like the album is submerged in a liquid layer of white noise. The songs were composed and mostly performed entirely by Fitts, with Josh Ottum (drums) and James McAlister (guitar) providing additional instrumentation. While tracks like “Start Cutting” put fuzzy bass in the forefront, Fitts doesn’t force the issue with his signature instrument. It’s never overwhelming in the least. If anything, the undercurrent of synth sounds that wash over each track give the album its distinct flow. Fitts expertly combines live drums and drum machine parts to give Smokey Wilds a complex rhythmic identity. The guitar work provide significant texture and detail, from the chunky, percussive playing on “Easier Said” to the bare bones sound “Father Time.” A couple tracks (“My Axe” and “Roll My Chair”) feature musical breakdowns that feel like actual breakdowns with scattered flurries of notes seeming to begin and end randomly. It’s all part of a tonally taut package. On Smoky Wilds, Fitts presents a slow-burning downward spiral, and it sounds beautiful.

Review Score: 7.1

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*

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Fiendish Conversation with Decibel Festival Founder Sean Horton

Sean Decibel
Seattle’s electronic music extravaganza Decibel Festival celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year. I talked with fest founder Sean Horton about the genre’s growth over the past decade. Check it out.

Fiendish Conversation with Bushwick Book Club’s Geoff Larson

Bushwick Book Club
I talked about converting literature to song with Geoff Larson, the founder of Seattle’s Bushwick Book Club. Check it out.

East – The Trouble Starts

The Trouble Starts - EastThere’s confidence and then there’s opening an album with an extended guitar solo confidence. The latter reeks of false bravado, but Seattle’s the Trouble Starts (formerly Daneil G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts) manages to pull it off without coming off as insufferable on East, the group’s new EP. In fact, a sense of subtlety pervades across the six songs and their mixed palate of alt-rock.

As the group’s previous name suggests, the band centers on the songwriting of Daniel G. Harmann. His vocals are a mix of the deep richness of Augustines/Pela’s Billy McCarthy and the emotive cadence delivery of Brand New’s Jesse Lacey. Harmann’s go-to singing technique involves holding notes with a subdued calm, then quickly pushing his voice to an aggressive, raw place in mere syllables.

Each track of East has it’s own unique touch. “Glaciers” features a ramshackle, intentionally off-kilter chorus of call to mind Modest Mouse. The upbeat tone of “I Am Black Waves” echoes British dance rock. Rolling drums carry “The Door Is Locked.” “Family Rifles” balances a staccato guitar chord attack on the verses with instrumentation that floats along during the chorus and bridge. The EP ends on a dreamy note thanks to “Golden Silver”‘s sweeping high-concept British rock feel and refrain of “I want Stardust to play at my funeral. What brought you in will carry me out.” While the Trouble Starts never settles on a sound on East, the grab bag the band offers up is plenty satisfying.

Review Score: 6.1

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*

Bumbershoot 2013 Slide Show Recap

The Joy Formidable
Once again I spent Labor Day weekend wondering around Seattle Center to recap Bumbershoot. This year’s highlights included Death Cab for Cutie, Heart, Superchunk, The Joy Formidable, and more. Check it out.