Category Archives: Folk

If you like Sufjan Stevens, then you’ll like Local Natives

Sufjan Stevens -

Sufjan Stevens –

Sufjan Stevens is an indie folk/rock artist from Michigan. He has been recording since 2000 and has released 11 albums thus far, including two Christmas albums. He often writes lyrics centered on his faith and beliefs, as well as traditional values such as family.

All of Sufjan’s albums have been released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label he cofounded with his stepfather. He wrote and recorded his first album, “A Sun Came”, while he was in college. Prior to this, Sufjan played in a band called Marzuki. He can play several instruments, including guitar, banjo, bass, and piano.

Akin to Sufjan’s full, mystic, sometimes instrument-heavy sound are the stylings of indie folk/rock band Local Natives. The Local Natives add unique elements of percussion to Sufjan’s signature sound, often relying on clapping and stomping. In addition, their vocal style is similar to that of Sufjan’s, though the Local Natives incorporate a distinctive howling in many of their songs.

Local Natives -

Local Natives –

The Los Angeles-based Local Natives released their first album, “Gorilla Manor”, in 2010. The album was named after the house the group shared in Orange County. Interestingly enough, everything the band releases to the public is a collaboration between its members; music, artwork, etc.

The band’s latest album, “Hummingbird”, was released in January of this year. It is a noticeably darker album – the songs are less wild and more somber, the instrumental parts have been thinned. However, it highlights another side of the band without compromising the success achieved with their first album.

This is my favorite Local Natives song:

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David Ramirez

David Ramirez is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas. He played a CAB-sponsored show at Iowa City’s The Mill last Thursday and I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with him.

Unlike many musicians, Ramirez did not discover his musical talents at a young age. He was an avid baseball player throughout his youth. However, when his family moved at the start of his senior year of high school, he decided he did not want to continue playing baseball at his new school. It was at this time that his new acquaintances convinced him to join the school choir and theater programs.

Ramirez picked up both guitar and songwriting that same year. He then went on to form several “awful bands”, as he calls them. While he has been touring full-time for only five or six years, Ramirez says he began to perform at various open mic nights at age 19.

As far as his goals go, David Ramirez says they have changed significantly over the course of his musical career. When he was first starting out as a performer he set concrete goals, such as making a certain amount of money, getting signed to a label, or winning a Grammy Award. Ramirez felt the quality of his music suffered because of these goals – he was too focused on getting recognized. His current goals are to continue writing things that he believes in, putting out great records, and playing great shows. “If those [other] things happen as a result, then that’s great,” Ramirez said. He continued, “I believe art has a big influence on people, and I want to be a part of that.”

At age 21, Ramirez was given a Ryan Adams album. Adams became his main source of inspiration; he “changed it all” for Ramirez. The influential Adams has played a large role in what Ramirez writes and why he writes it. Ramirez is compared to Adams quite often. “People compare me to him, and I think that’s probably inevitable,” Ramirez said. “I looked up to him a lot for several years and I still do. It’s kinda hard not to mimic some of his stuff.”

This was David Ramirez’s first time playing in Iowa City. Kudos to CAB for bringing him out! He is playing at the SXSW festival in his hometown of Austin, Texas this week.

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If you like Bon Iver, then you’ll like Ben Howard

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver -

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver –

Bon Iver won the Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” in 2012. The band gained popularity with the release of their album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” in the summer of 2011. “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” was quite different from the band’s tamer first album, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Lead singer and creator Justin Vernon brought in multiple guest musicians to help change the album’s sound; the record maintains the same tone as “For Emma, Forever Ago” but the music is more diverse, layered, and full.

Bon Iver’s vocals are extremely distinct and define the band’s character. They have an echoing, melancholy sound that will immerse you. British singer-songwriter Ben Howard has a style that is reminiscent of Bon Iver’s. He won the BRIT Award for “British Breakthrough Act” earlier this year.

Ben Howard -

Ben Howard –

Howard’s voice is soft and full of feeling, just like Vernon’s. His guitar playing is quite unique – intricate plucking characterizes many of his songs. While he is less subdued, his sound can be compared to that of Nick Drake. Howard has cited musicians such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell as his major influences. His parents used to play these artists’ records for him when he was a child, and he began writing songs at age ten.

Both Bon Iver and Ben Howard have a folksy, melodic sound but darker lyrics than those usually associated with their genre. Howard’s latest release, “The Burgh Island EP”, has an even more ominous and menacing tone than his earlier works. In addition, the EP features electric guitar as opposed to Howard’s usual acoustic guitar; a progression that is typical of folk artists.

Here’s my favorite Ben Howard song, “Old Pine”:

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If you like Mumford & Sons, then you’ll like The Head and the Heart

No matter how old you are or what type of music you like, you have heard of Mumford & Sons. They’ve put a refreshing spin on mainstream music and have proved that not all hope has been lost to auto-tune and Rebecca Black. The London natives recently won the Grammy for “Album of the Year” for their latest release, “Babel”.

Mumford & Sons performing at this year's Grammy Awards -

Mumford & Sons performing at this year’s Grammy Awards –

Mumford & Sons has a distinctive sound. Their folksy, almost bluegrass-like rock is full of lively guitar and banjo, layered vocals, and passion. Their music ranges from foot-stomping anthems like “I Will Wait” to slow, heartfelt tunes like “White Blank Page”.  Their vocal harmonies are perfect and haunting.

The Head and the Heart, a group from Seattle, has a similar set of qualities with one major difference – their vocal harmonies are comprised of both male and female voices. The band’s sound is more reliant on piano than guitar, but the feel of their music is akin to that of Mumford & Sons.  Both groups have an incredible amount of soul.  They sing about love, loss, and longing, and they do so in a way that makes you feel what they are feeling.

The Head and the Heart -

The Head and the Heart –

Having self-released their album “The Head and the Heart” in 2009, The Head and the Heart should have had a slow start. However, since the album’s release, they have opened for artists like Dave Matthews and The Decemberists as well as appeared at music festivals like Lollapalooza. The band has a pop-folk sound, relying heavily on the vocals of Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, and Charity Rose Thielen. All three sing separately as well as together, giving the group a dynamic sound and a lot of room for variation in their songs.

Check out my favorite The Head and the Heart song below:

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If you like Bob Dylan, then you’ll like Joe Pug


Bob Dylan –

I am a gigantic fan of Bob Dylan.  Whether or not you can stand the sound of his voice, you have to admit that the man can write a song.  Furthermore, he’s made a colossal impact on the music community.  While I feel no artist can quite live up to the greatness that is Bob Dylan, I’ve come across a man who emulates him quite well.

Joe Pug

Joe Pug –

Joe Pug began his career in Chicago.  He has released two EPs and two studio albums thus far.  While he is not necessarily “new” to the music scene, Pug is underrated and underrepresented.  I like to refer to him as “a contemporary Bob Dylan”.

Pug’s voice is gravelly yet crooning; similar to Dylan’s, but far more pleasing to the ear.  He plays guitar and harmonica on most tracks. Oddly enough, his music has progressed in a similar way to Dylan’s.  Pug’s first EP, “Nation of Heat”, is composed solely of acoustic tracks.  However, his studio albums both feature full bands and electric guitar in many of the tracks.  The only difference is that Joe Pug was not met with the opposition faced by Dylan in ’65 when he broke out his electric guitar – but that’s another story.

While Dylan is known mostly for his protest songs, Joe Pug’s lyrics do not reflect that style or subject matter.  In fact, Pug’s lyrics are more comparable to those Dylan wrote for his albums “Blood on the Tracks” and “Blonde on Blonde”.  “Blood on the Tracks” includes songs about heartbreak, longing, and loss, while “Blonde on Blonde” is more of a quintessential rock album.  A meandering, riddle-like style is something the two artists’ lyrics certainly have in common.  Check out my favorite Joe Pug song below:

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