To what we’re listening: Root Glen’s Winter EP

Whether it’s emails from East Anglia or that leftover, freezer-burned Yankee pot roast that once warmed my chilled, cabin-feverish soul and has yet to depart the refrigerator, I just can’t trust the seasons anymore. (Blame my preference for pre-Enlightenment alchemedic metallurgy over 21st century “science” or the fact that it was 40 degrees two days ago and today it was 80 and hailing with the sun out.) One thing in which I’ve learned I can trust, though, is the continued development of the band Root Glen. That trust is based on being more than seventy-five percent of the way through the New Jersey-based band’s formative year of quarterly, seasonally themed releases. In fact, that year’s almost up, as the group’s spring offering is due out shortly. I don’t even care that this review is so late, because it could snow tomorrow in Topeka, and you need to be mentally ready for that.

The sparse, dry, wintry sounds of “Throw it in the Bay” appropriately open Winter, and the tune is an excellent way to start this EP. The sound immediately transports the listener to that dark, snowbound cabin depicted in the cover art. The verse rocks out in a fashion reminiscent of the darker turn heard on the band’s Fall release with a few appropriate variations: 1) rather than straight-ahead rock, there’s a slight jam feel around the fringes creating more of a slowly looping feel, something that both reminds the listener of the band’s loose, early sound and, here, suggests a nice feeling of ongoing despair; 2) the production value continues to improve, and on this song, it serves to mute the sound– much like a heavy snow would– as much as tighten it; 3) guitarist Ross Griswold’s lead line threads a long approach through the song that both compliments the feel described as variation (1) and 4) provides some developing continuity for those appropriately frequent times when the thicker parts back out into sparseness.

The second cut, “Lost in the Night” opens like Everlast’s “What it’s Like” and features an up-front exchange between David Moroney on vocals and Eric Blank’s kit cymbals. Griswold tastefully varies the electronics on his instrument to create some subtle soundscapes underneath these two, and Andres Gonzales gets a feature toward the end after rooting this tune with his occasionally and deftly muted bass. And just as the first song gave way to a more prominent role for Moroney and Blank in the second, it’s Gonzales’ more pronounced bass that leads the way into “Removed.” The reggae feel hinted at with some of the jam sensibilities present in the first song appears in this third song, placing the listener on a calmer, higher plateau after rising through the first two pieces. Gonzales’ slightly slappy bass eventually gives way to an airy interlude that visually recalls standing on a mountain as clouds rush by in a time-lapse video.

This lilt continues into “Out of Frame,” which will be the first number likely to draw the casual listener to the EP credits to find out who’s playing that saxophone (Marty Eigen), but it’s the distant, unison vocals that especially recall Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. (While looking at the credits, the listener will discover that five additional individuals helped Root Glen on three of Winter‘s five songs in various ways, including everything from songwriting to vocals and instrumentation.) At last, “Caradhras” is a fitting tag for Winter, a seven and a half minute piece of modern progressive (post-progressive? post-post-progressive?) rock that contains a nice hook and a very slight bit of tension-and-release work while staying within the introspective confines of the EP.

With Winter, Root Glen shows listeners yet another of their faces, this one perhaps the most mature yet, reminding us very clearly of a season this year did not bring us. As before, you can stream or purchase Winter at http://rootglen.bandcamp.com/album/root-glen-winter. Catch up on the latest band news at RootGlen.com.

AD’s year in review

Thanks for dropping by this week and checking out our year-in-review posts, interspersed with our usual coverage, and thanks to Brendan for a great idea.

Top Sports Moments of 2011

The scoreboard in left field.

If you’re looking for an official or objective list of the top stories of the year, I suggest you go elsewhere. What I like about our year-in-review features is that we’ve written about the stories, albums, and events that were most interesting or important to us, and, as will be immediately obvious, I’m going to follow suit.

1. Detroit Tigers playoff push

The Tigers obviously didn’t make it as far as they did in 2006, but this year was like that year in that Detroit beat the Yankees along the way. What was different about 2011, for me, was that I was a) living in Michigan, and b) writing and tweeting for a sports blog during much of the season. Both of these things measurably enhanced my experience of and connection to this year’s team, its successes, personalities, and volatility. It also was the first time in a few years that I was able to attend a game. I spilled much digital ink on this team in these virtual pages, and the posts are easy enough to find so I’ll spare you any detailed recap, except to say that, a few months later, I am able to appreciate the way the wheels came off as a suitable ending to a dramatic (by Detroit standards) season.

2. Vanderbilt’s football season

I didn’t put the Lions’ season on my list under the rationale that it still is ongoing, so this selection is cheating a little bit, but the college football regular season is over, so I’m running with it. I’ll hit on some of the high points in my Liberty Bowl preview that will go up later today, but first-year head coach James Franklin appears to have changed the culture at Vandy even faster than Jim Schwartz has in Detroit, tripling the win total with essentially the same players. As successful as he was on the field (I’ll always maintain that they were three plays away from a 9-3 record), Franklin may be even more successful on the recruiting trail. He already nabbed a Virginia quarterback recruit away from Virginia Tech, and he took a five-star QB recruit to the wire against LSU and Notre Dame. Next year looks even more promising, when Warren Norman is scheduled to return to the backfield alongside 2011 success stories Zac Stacy and starting QB Jordan Rodgers. 2012 will look even better if the Commodores can win the Liberty Bowl and finish this year 7-6.

3. Misbehaving College Coaches

This was a great year for teams I like– Spartans, Commodores, Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings– and it was a great year for sports writing, with the launch of Grantland, OutKick the Coverage, and The Classical, but like Magalan felt compelled to remark upon the marathon record-setter, I feel compelled to mention the names Jerry Sandusky, Jim Tressel, and Bruce Pearl. Sandusky is in a terrible league of his own, and I already have written here about Tressel and Pearl. Sparing the hand-wringing, defending, and analyzing, what I’ll say in the context of the posture of this post is that it is a welcome development that the NCAA is punishing coaches individually for the violations they commit or otherwise oversee. I hope the days of slippery escape artists like John Calipari, Pete Carroll, and Lane Kiffin are over.

Top Albums of 2011

Creating this list was a bit more difficult, not because I don’t like or know about music, but because I’m not quite as hip-to-the-modern-scene as many of my co-writers here. (See, for example, my punt on Amy Winehouse earlier.) Resort to a list of 2011 releases from a trusted source, something I suspect a lot of people writing bits like this do, was unavailing. That list jogged my memory on one album, Gregg Allman’s Low Country Blues, that Bdoyk actually tipped me off to initially. It didn’t make my list though, even though I had to cheat a little as you’ll see, because I didn’t think it was anything special. I liked it, but I don’t think it deserves to be one of the three best albums of 2011, even if I can’t come up with three.

1. Revelator - Tedeschi Trucks Band

This was an easy number one choice for me. I wrote a full review of the album back in September, and I don’t feel the need to supplement it now, except to add that it was the first record I played on my turntable after recently setting up my new stereo system.

2. June 3, 2011, Pine Knob - Phish

This is a concert, not an album, but I was in attendance, and it was a perfect concert night. Put attendance together with recording (free sample streaming), and I’m calling it an album. I went with a good friend, with whom I’ve seen the band once before, and everything went as smoothly as could be. The weather was perfect, the band was playing at a level they hadn’t reached in years. and it was my first visit to this historic outdoor Michigan venue. It definitely was the best I had ever seen them, and we had the feeling during the show that something special was going on, which made it all the more neat and enjoyable. Because amateur blogging about a Phish show registers somewhere between talking to another person about your fantasy minor league baseball team and a rambling monologue at a loud bar about that “drug trip” you had “back in high school,” I’ll close this by quoting bona fide Phish blogger Mr. Miner (the second Mr. Miner– I held that username as a prior legal nonconforming use on phishows.com), who wrote shortly afterwards that:

Sometimes a show—just one set—can launch thousands of dreams, taking the audience on a voyage so cosmic and coherent; so spectacular and superb that people will look back on it for years to come. Odysseys like the second set of Detroit’s Friday night exclamation reach the very core essence of Phish—four musicians pushing the boundaries of musical possibilities while taking 15,000 fans with them into the depths of the universe. With playing so together and inspirational, Phish opened yet another door last night, inviting us further into the future. And more than ever, the future is now.

…You get the idea.

3. Fall - Root Glen

As I suggested above, I didn’t hear a lot of 2011′s new releases, but I definitely heard this one. One of two releases by this relatively new band from New Jersey, I also wrote a full review of this EP last month. What I’ll add in this retrospective is that it is cool to listen to something for the first time and immediately recognize that it represents an important step up for a band you already liked. Before Fall, Root Glen had been successful at capturing their live sound in the studio, and this was great. After all, it was their live performances that gave them a following in the first place. But a lot of bands play live and just noodle and jam without much focus or commitment, and Fall is evidence of a group redoubling its effort to put forth an even higher quality of music they always had in them.

Thanks for reading us in 2011, and be sure to stick around for much more in the New Year.

Related
Magalan’s year in review
Bdoyk’s year in review

Exexpatriate’s year in review

Bpbrady’s year in review
ALDLAND’s year in review

Mixed up Monday

Big weekend of reckoning in the NFL after things had become a little unhinged in recent weeks. It took the Redskins to remind everyone that the Giants are not that good, the Colts decided that now was a good time to change strategies and beat the Titans for their first win of the year, the mighty Chiefs ruined the Packers’ undefeated season, and the Denver Tebows proved no match for the Patriots, suffering their first loss since the Lions took it to them. Speaking of, out in Oakland, the Lions got back to their winning ways, coming from behind to keep their playoff hopes alive.

In the Nation’s Capital, Root Glen put on a highly enjoyable two-plus hours of floor-stomping music, which meant I barely caught Ohio U beating Utah State in the Idaho Potato Bowl.

Slow Jam Friday

Things have been a little slow around here this week. Really it has been the slowest week in the history of ALDLAND. To make it up to you, I present three Friday jams for your enjoyment.

First up is one of my favorite slow jams (apologies for the visuals):

In preparing this, my thoughts first went to the Jimmy Fallon/The Roots feature in which they slow jam the news (the latest edition of which appears to be here), and, as it turns out, The Roots have a new album:

Finally, I’m on the road this weekend tracking Root Glen, and this cut off what may have been the first CD I ever owned sets the theme:

To what we’re listening: Root Glen’s Fall EP

Does being post-Thanksgiving mean we’re post-autumn? I’m sure the star charts have the answer, but I’m too busy not wearing white and listening to the latest offering from Root Glen to care.

Earlier this year, these New Jersey rockers released their first of a planned year’s worth of seasonal EPs, Summer. Now comes Fall, a collection that, from the first track, feels very different from their earlier work. Opening with the edgy, hard-hitting “Battle Cry,” Fall  has a darker, tighter feel than anything I’ve heard before from Root Glen. Outside of Summer and a few miscellaneous demos and singles, I’ve known Root Glen as a live, dance-friendly act, and to my ears, Summer was a successful attempt at bringing that live feel into the studio. By contrast, Fall sounds like a concerted effort to prioritize songcraft, leaving the details of the inevitable live presentation of these tunes for a later day. This isn’t to say that fans won’t recognize this EP as Root Glen– David Moroney’s signature vocals and Andres Gonzales’ bass work ensure that they will– but Fall definitely is a new chapter for this band, and a welcome one. Of the five songs, only the second, “Detective Porn,” immediately registers as one of Root Glen’s familiar live jaunts.

The fourth cut, “Red Lines & Spinning Wheels,” is the best single song I’ve heard from this group. From the lead-in interplay between Gonzales and drummer Eric Blank, the chorus’ vocal harmonies, and the driving, confident guitar work by Ross Griswold, this song is a well-composed, well-executed ensemble effort.

The final number, “The Salty Pepper,” is a Griswold guitar workout that mixes textures and speeds and sets forth some of the best playing I’ve heard from him.

As with Summer, Fall is available for streaming or name-your-own-price purchasing at http://rootglen.bandcamp.com/album/root-glen-fall. Live dates and news of their work on their next seasonal EP are available at http://rootglen.com/blog.

To what we’re listening: Root Glen’s Summer EP

Sure Labor Day is next week, high school football started last week, and August is over tomorrow, but there’s still plenty of time for summer relaxation, and Root Glen, a New Jersey-based rock outfit, can help with that.

Eric Blank (drums), Andres Gonzales (bass), Ross Griswold (lead guitar, vocals), and David Moroney (lead vocals, guitar) describe their sound as “alternative rock of a funky nature,” and I think that’s accurate. The group isn’t afraid to work out over their riffs and grooves, especially in the live setting and especially if they’ve got a dancing audience (as they always do), but the lyrics are always there too, and they come through by way of strong, musical vocal work. The combination of the bottom end– Blank’s drums always pushing ahead, Gonzales’ bass creating a complex, broad foundation– and a top side with the ability to soar on the wings of Moroney’s distinctive, classical voice and Griswold’s melodic guitar lines give the quartet a full, textured sound without getting heavy so as to bog down band or dancers.

Back in late May, the band released Summer, a five-track EP and the first of its planned seasonal releases. Summer does a nice job of showing off different sides of Root Glen, all while remaining under the broad umbrella of the summertime theme. Stream the album or purchase it by naming your own price at http://rootglen.bandcamp.com.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch Root Glen twice, once in Philly and once in D.C., and I recommend East Coast readers in particular check their fall dates on their website. Everyone else can get a feel for their live performances here.