Communion is on to something. The brainchild of Ben Lovett (of Mumford and Sons fame), Communion is a community for artists that acts as a “hub for songwriters and musicians to develop and flourish in an increasingly competitive industry environment.” Across the pond, Communion’s monthly shows have helped spawn names that are now on the forefront of modern folk — Michael Kiwanuka and Ben Howard, to name just a few — and if last Thursday night’s Nashville Communion show is any indication, it looks to be only a matter of time before the U.S. follows suit. We’d like you to get to know Swear and Shake and Tumbleweed Wanderers, two of Thursday’s standout acts that you’d be smart to keep your eye on…
My initial instinct was to label Swear and Shake as an “indie Mumford and Sons,”but I decided that was probably unfair. I have to imagine that in the world of modern folk-rock that is a label that gets slapped on any young band that comes within 10 feet of a banjo…and in reality, Swear and Shake are quite different. For starters, vocals are shared between a male/female duo. Female lead Kari Spieler and guitar/banjo player Adam McHeffey weave complementary, complex, interlocking melodies that are more reminiscent of infectious Midwestern indie-pop than Marcus Mumford’s impassioned bellowing, and occasionally engage in some clever male/female style lyrical interplay. Check out “Marbles” off their debut LP Maple Ridge to get an idea of what I mean. On Maple Ridge, Swear and Shake branch out a bit from their aptly-named debut EP Extended Play. Maple Ridge kicks things up a notch from Extended Play’s soothing, mid-tempo indie-pop leaning fare, and ventures into more-upbeat banjo-n-bluegrass-infected folk-rock territory. Standout tracks include the aforementioned “Marbles,” a plucky, bouncy Shovels and Rope-type romp, “These White Walls,” a fast-paced but moody anthem in the vein of Of Monsters and Men, and “Wrecking Ball,” a warm and slow-burning ballad with a fuzz-toned chorus that inches further into your head with each listen. My favorite track off of the album, though, is “Summer in a New State” — one of the band’s more overt rockers on which Swear and Shake remind me of Chicago-based indie-rock outfit The Hush Sound. I’d be guilty of criminal negligence if I didn’t also advise you to check out “The Promise” off of Extended Play. The superbly-catchy drum-and-harmonica hook on this track sucks you in like a jet engine, and Adam McHeffey’s vocal performance leans almost into emo-rock territory (trust me, it works). Check it out below:
You have to respect a band that got their start busking. If you can sound tight and polished banging on trash cans out on the street, chances are you’re going to sound kick-ass a coming off of a mixing board. Tumbleweed Wanderers got their start busking outside of San-Fran Bay Area concerts, and this experience is very apparent on their debut self-titled EP. Broadly, the Tumbleweed Wanderers is composed of tight folk-rock, though it is just as dynamic as it is tight. 2012’s full-length So Long saw them explore some of these diverse tendencies in more detail. The album’s content ranges from lonely, early MMJ-style alt-country on “No Longer Waiting” and “Quiver in My Bones,” to upbeat OAR-esque jam-band fare on “Take it Back,” and even soul on “Roll With the Times” and “Freedom Town.” I could see the Tumbleweed Wanderers being criticized for failing to construct a sharply-defined sound, but as the band exclaims on “Roll With the Times:” “This ‘aint the 60’s.” Whatever the band is doing is working. Besides, in a musical landscape where outdated distribution norms are about as useful as Keith Richards’ liver (is it even there anymore?), it just may be the case that a band with a diverse sonic identity is better equipped to trap the attention of a public whose attention-span is constantly shrinking.
Throughout all of their sonic explorations, Tumbleweed Wanderers remain highly listenable, and if their brand-spankin’-new EP Worn Down Welcome is any indication of their future course, they don’t seem too concerned with falling into an easily-labeled genre-space. The title track, “Worn Down Welcome,” begins by masquerading as a sweet-n-simple finger-picked folk number, and then proceeds to throws you for a loop by morphing into a jaunty soul jam around the 1:30 mark. “Let it Go” sees the band include some very unexpected yet very-welcome doo-wop influence, and “Troubador” is a moody alt-country number that sounds like it could have been included on So Long. The EP’s last track is also its standout, however. “Fire” is an infectious, thoroughly-danceable indie-pop song that’s about as far from Tumbleweed Wanderers folksy roots as you can imagine. It starts as off somewhere in-between The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, but finishes off with a boozy speakeasy-swinging coda. That’s about the best I can explain it; just do yourself a favor and check it out below. You won’t be disappointed.