Folk is 2014's heaviest music
July 20, 2014 9:36 AM   Subscribe

What makes folk even heavier, however, is how much harder it has to work. Volume can be a crutch, and the back-to-basics ethic of folk isn’t anti-technology so much as it’s a reconnection to an older source of power. Without amplifiers cranked to 11, bands like Barren Harvest, Blood And Sun, and Musk Ox carry a different kind of weight: a heaviness of subject, a heaviness of scope, and a heaviness of intensity. More than that, they break free of the pseudo-hillbilly preciousness that folk has been reduced to in this post-O Brother, Where Art Thou? century. That contrast alone is both crushing and liberating.
posted by MartinWisse (38 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's psych-folk. It is not a new thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:10 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Battle of the Gentle Bands
posted by neroli at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I had to double check that yes, this is an AV Club article and not the latest Heathen Harvest post. Thanks, MartinWisse, I'll have to check these bands out.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 10:26 AM on July 20, 2014


Volume can be a crutch

I think that was Chapter One of "Popular Music for Dummies."
posted by Flexagon at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is the thread where I get to hate on Mumford and Sons for being pseudo-hillbilly preciousness?
posted by PMdixon at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


is this the correct thread to wonder why whenever rock bands do acoustic music, they sit down? Are acoustic guitars magnitudes heavier than electric guitars? Are bongos made out of lead? The acoustic bass is certainly much bigger than an electric bass, but those are almost always played standing up?

this is cool
posted by philip-random at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The first song in the article kind of made me laugh. I know Mumfordpop is considered passé right now, but I'm not sure I'm less embarrassed by something that sounds like it came off Pure Moods 8: Nordic Spa.
posted by threeants at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's psych-folk. It is not a new thing.

The amazed tone in the article is really something, huh? It's not even necessarily psych folk - it's really just bands playing in the European rather than American folk tradition. Music journalism is so weird. More than any other field of criticism, writers so often get away with being enthusiastic but extremely parochial. The standard for most fields of professional criticism is that the author is some kind of expert writing for a general audience, where for music journalism it's a fan who knows a bit more than the average reader. It's as if the author completely forgot about that huge American folk revival in the early oughts that cribbed heavily from the European tradition.

The Emma Ruth Rundle track is fantastic, though, so who cares?
posted by vathek at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2014 [11 favorites]


I like the second song a lot, but it seems more like Editors-esque rock than any kind of folk.

The third song is fine, but to me it sounds very akin to popular acts like Daughter or Lucy Rose, and no less of-the-moment than Old Crow Medicine Show or the Lumineers.

I guess I don't really feel like the author is describing as cohesive a thing as he thinks he is.
posted by threeants at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


is this the correct thread to wonder why whenever rock bands do acoustic music, they sit down?

90's flashback! All bands must perform "unplugged" sets. Nirvana? Unplugged. James Blood Ulmer? Black Sabbath? Unplugged. Maybe Prince refused to do it, but I'd not bet money on it.

I think they sit down because that's supposed to feel more intimate. Like they are in your bedroom, singing just especially for you.
posted by thelonius at 11:07 AM on July 20, 2014


baseline unplugged standard of at least one Oriental rug per band member is required by US law (potentially more, depending on the state)
posted by threeants at 11:08 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Since I first started listening to Scottish and Irish folk (very early Chieftans vinyl, that would be) I've been very aware of the recorded sound of even purely acoustic bands becoming louder and more forward and generally more and more rockified. (Not complaining, mind you, I like it.) I don't believe this is entirely due just to improved technology. At least part of it, I'm convinced, is due to new generations of record producers and recording engineers having grown up in an inescapable milieu of strats and marshall stacks and mic'ed-up drumkits and having incorporated all that into their impression of what recordings ought to sound like.
posted by jfuller at 11:24 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's as if the author completely forgot about that huge American folk revival in the early oughts that cribbed heavily from the European tradition.

It's also as if he forgot that there's a whole tradition in British rock that has drawn on European traditions (from folk to music hall) since, well, the very beginning of the rock era. I mean... the Kinks? The Small Faces? Early Rod Stewart? Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance? The Waterboys? Paul Weller?

I feel like there's frequently this weird assumption that groups like Mumford & Sons must have just woken up one day after seeing O Brother, Where Art Thou and decided to pretend to be hillbillies. Well, yeah, Muswell Hillbillies, I guess: "I'm a 20th century man, but I don't want to be here."
posted by scody at 11:58 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


None of which is to say, I should add, that I didn't actually find this article enjoyable -- good info about some new releases that I'm sure will be useful for my next music-buying spree.
posted by scody at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2014


jfuller: At least part of it, I'm convinced, is due to new generations of record producers and recording engineers having grown up in an inescapable milieu of strats and marshall stacks and mic'ed-up drumkits and having incorporated all that into their impression of what recordings ought to sound like.

From talking to producers and engineers, this is correct. My friend is a cd mastering guy who's worked on lots of acoustic Country, Folk, and African music says, "If you want your [Folk] music to compete, it has to jump out of the system same as the rock band on the last cd." Which I kind of agree with, at least from a marketing perspective. I haven't asked him recently, but he thought Lunasa's 2nd cd Otherworld was the best-produced traditional Irish recording he'd heard, and maybe one of the best-produced cds period.
posted by sneebler at 12:24 PM on July 20, 2014


I nearly burst out loud laughing at the Barren Harvest track, too, just like threeants.

I can't do much better for devastating folk songs than the Scott Kelly, Steve von Till (both of Neurosis), and Wino (The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, a million more) album of Townes van Zandt covers.
posted by The Michael The at 12:30 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Emma Ruth Rundle track is fantastic, though, so who cares?
vathek, I hadn't known about the connection previously but the article mentions her connection to L.A. instrumental post-rockers Red Sparowes, who are also well worth checking out (if you like them, look to BandCamp for their music..)
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:30 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded of Martin Mull's comment "I first started making music during the folk music scare of the sixties, when that stuff almost caught on, and I've always felt that messages should be sent by Western Union, not by music."
posted by TDavis at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


All of those bands sound like acoustic metal with elementary western classical leanings.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:21 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Folk Music (to me) = A Mighty Wind.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:51 PM on July 20, 2014


I'm still listening to the music (the Emma Ruth Rundle is very nice), but I came in here to say what previous commenters have said about European vs American folk. My approach to folk came through English, Irish, and Scottish music. A lot of American operating assumptions about folk music just seem weird to me.
posted by immlass at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2014


I feel like there's frequently this weird assumption that groups like Mumford & Sons must have just woken up one day after seeing O Brother, Where Art Thou and decided to pretend to be hillbillies.

I dunno, I kind of suspect with Mumford and Sons this is exactly what happened. I want to lock them in Cecil Sharp House for a year, and then spend some time in Mali or Indonesia or some where, and then do the backing for Pendulum. And then write their next album.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:04 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've come to the conclusion that, at least for music, labels are generally unnecessary - if not downright unhelpful in discovering music that I enjoy.

On preview: A Mighty Wind = mighty awesome.
posted by spock at 3:23 PM on July 20, 2014


This thread is now where we share our favorite folk music. I'm into Basia Bulat these days.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:17 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Are acoustic guitars magnitudes heavier than electric guitars?

Nope, they're generally lighter, but due to the fact that they're deeper (because of having to accommodate the soundbox) and often having a strap setup that requires one end to be anchored on the headstock (rather than on the body near where the neck and body meet) they are super ungainly to play standing, especially if you're used to a solidbody.

...and if we're sharing our favourite folk, let me just offer up Valkyrien Allstars.
posted by Dysk at 4:24 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is the thread where I get to hate on Mumford and Sons for being pseudo-hillbilly preciousness?
posted by PMdixon at 3:50 PM on July 20 [2 favorites +] [!]


Can we not? Not only because they're not mentioned and it'd drive the conversation in a way that's opposite of productive, but mostly because hating on shit is at the bottom of the barrel that's on the bottom of the stack of barrels of things you could contribute to a thread.
posted by FirstMateKate at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


If we are sharing, I'd nominate The Milk Carton Kids. I would not have classified them as Folk but the Grammys did when they nominated their last album "Ash and Clay" for Best Folk Album last year. Their first two albums can be downloaded in their entirety at milkcartonkids.com

Check 'em out at YouTube or NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert".

PS: They play their acoustics standing. :)
posted by spock at 4:53 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm listening to Rockwood Ferry play live right now.
posted by zamboni at 5:09 PM on July 20, 2014


Volume is not a crutch, it is volume. Also, trend pieces are written by shitheads. Also, this music has been around for ages in this specific aesthetic (as Sys Rq has correctly, but only partially, pointed out).

Hey, SunnO))) is making a record with Scott Walker. Heavy, man.
posted by basicchannel at 5:56 PM on July 20, 2014


Wow, "shithead" seems like a really strong term to describe someone who wrote an article about here's some folk music you might like. What the hell, dude.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:01 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. You've each said your piece; stop this now.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:32 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love me some Martin Mull, but that whole "I hate message music" thing is silly, to me. Songs have sent all kinds of messages for centuries -- from "love is grand" to "love is horrible" to "the King is a poopy pants" to "down with the bosses" and so on.

Good music is good music (which often is just what you like).

In conclusion, cool new music is cool. thanks.
posted by allthinky at 6:49 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's psych-folk. It is not a new thing.

The difference to me is that all these bands are heavily influenced by west coast black metal. The article sort of hints at this but doesn't make the connection, half the bands on this list are side projects of Pacific NW black metal musicians and I'm surprised neither Earth or Neurosis got a mention anywhere. All of these bands have more in common with the last couple of Earth albums than O Brother Where Art Thou.

I mean the new Agalloch album is pretty good (hard to live up to the last one which was damn near perfect), but bands like Ash Borer and Fell Voices have taken the aesthetic and ideology exemplified by PNW bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and run with it. There's a lot of interesting bands defining this very specifically American version of black metal, it seems more to me that the kind of droney intensity of it is being adapted back into styles less dependent on volume.
posted by bradbane at 7:29 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Am I the only person who expects "folk" to sound something like this? And trendy modern folk to sound like this?
posted by d. z. wang at 8:21 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Since I first started listening to Scottish and Irish folk (very early Chieftans vinyl, that would be) I've been very aware of the recorded sound of even purely acoustic bands becoming louder and more forward and generally more and more rockified.

It's not just recorded music; there was exactly one stage at the NW Folklife Festival this year where the guy running sound knew what to do with acoustic/trad music. He's been running that stage for years and years, and if he ever stops I don't know that the festival won't end up just another rock/blues fest, with the occasional balkan fusion band (and their poor mandolin player whose solo is entirely silent because the sound guy can't tell that there's someone playing a stringed instrument on stage but all he's hearing is brass).
posted by hades at 9:06 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, I know two guys in two of the bands that are mentioned in the article (Blood and Sun, and Panopticon). They work together and are label mates. In fact, the guy from Blood and Sun has two other projects, and one of those involves some of the members of Agalloch, who are also mentioned in this article, and are major drivers behind a lot of this...trend, I guess you could say.
Although, I don't think it's quite the trend the author thinks it is. Most of the bands mentioned are extensions, evolutions, or side-projects of many of the members. Metal gets banal and formulaic for a lot of people after listening and playing for a decade or two. But, this has been going on for a long time with a lot of prominent metal musicians switching to folk/electronic/avant-garde projects. Ulver, Amorphis, Wino, Opeth, Alcest, and Solefald are all acts that can be cited as taking a departure from their heavier roots to branch out into other genres, often to the dismay of their fans.
It's cool that the author is digging this music and wants to share it, I'm glad to see my friends get the publicity, but it's nothing new and it's hardly a "wave." As pointed out upthread, people have been making this kind of music for years.
posted by Demogorgon at 9:11 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I also know the Blood and Sun guys, one of whom is a pretty close friend, and I am glad to see their new work getting some attention (the album package is a work of art and a thing of beauty.)

However, the angle of the piece, and the initial examples of the genre as contrasted with the bands featured, seems to completely miss the distinction between contemporary American folk music and Neo-Folk. Aside from the use of acoustic instruments, the two genres are so completely different that it seems ridiculous to compare the two.

Neo-folk is deeply rooted in metal, industrial, and experimental music, with nods to Paganism, the archaic and arcane. Its predecessor, apocalyptic folk, was not (according to this very helpful quote I found on Wikipedia just now) meant to be associated with "folk music" at all:

As a descriptor, apocalyptic folk predates neofolk and was used by David Tibet to describe the music of his band Current 93 during a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[4] Initially, Tibet did not intend to imply connection with the folk music genre; rather, that Current 93 was made by "apocalyptic folk, or guys."


It also seems like the author does not know very much about folk music in general, except that it is uncool. To be fair, it probably is, but I have learned that there are greater benefits to being adventurous and open-minded than being cool, so nuts to that. There is a lot more to folk music than Oh Brother Where Art Thou, A Mighty Wind, and Mumford and Sons. It can be dark and frightening and hilarious and sad and weird and sexy and all this can be yours if you are willing to do the Haters Gonna Hate strut past your Cool Guy Friends givin' you the side-eye.


Oh, by the way, The Milk Carton Kids are great. If you have a chance, you MUST see them live, you have to, that's a direct order. I say this because you are really only getting part of the story from their albums. Live, they might be some of the funniest people I have ever seen - I would compare them to The Smothers Brothers. When I saw them last year I think I hurt myself laughing.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:17 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I'm a 20th century man, but I don't want to be here."

You're not a horny-handed son of the soil or a comely maid waiting for her betrothed to return from the Napoleonic Wars; you're a web designer, a barista or a bike mechanic.
posted by acb at 7:41 AM on July 23, 2014


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