Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – An Ohioan Returns Edition

Who needs that big a map to find the Cleve in amidst all those cornfields? Back in April, I rode and discussed five songs by Ohio native Josh Woodward.  This week I learned that he’s still at it.  He recently released Breadcrumbs, another full album of indie guitar available for free download on his website.  What a nice guy to keep it all so affordable! 

This week’s fourth track comes from Australian funk keyboardist Sam McNally.  According to SamMcnally.com, he’s worked with Air Supply.  I don’t know if I’m jealous or just plain bemused.

Just like last time, Woodward’s songs cover a variety of styles and influences.  McNally’s “RabbitFunk,” however, is pure unadulterated 80s-style funk. 

Hit the jump to find out which are worth a ride.

Recommendations

Surprising amount of traffic on this one “Swansong” is a song about how difficult it is to let go and move on.  And man do I just want to give Woodward a hug.  His cute, sort-of-cheesy voice just sounds so vulnerable.  I’m not sure I quite understood from the lyrics why he was so hurt (presumably a girl was involved), but I couldn’t help feeling for him.  There’s also a lot going on here musically.  A banjo twangs throughout.  A glockenspiel rings gently over harmonized vocals (a sound that reminds me of the Scottish indie-pop band Aberfeldy, which Rob once mocked me for having in my iTunes).  The eclectic, upbeat style might appeal to fans of the Barenaked Ladies or Sufjan Stevens.  The track picks up as the bridge explodes out of the second chorus with a driving quarter note pattern in the rhythm section.  It’s a technique I often here in less complex hard rock/metal songs, so it’s certainly a surprise to hear it in the singer/songwriter realm.  Woodward’s trying all sorts of things on this one.  And while it doesn’t all gel (I’m still not convinced the banjo fits), he should be commended for the effort.

Really?  RABBITFUNK?  What a great song name.  Of course rabbits like to get funky. Sam McNally’s “RabbitFunk” was a wise inclusion on this week’s tracklist.  It couldn’t be in more diametric contrast to the poppy guitar and banjo of Woodward.  It’s got electric keyboard, some sort of synth slap bass, a rollicking drum beat, and a roaring saxophone.  The sax has that goofy 80s sound, the kind that would bubble up for no reason in 80s pop songs.  I generally recommend jazz/funk tracks whenever I can because I think the structure works well for riding.  The solos, when good, are often inventive and entertaining, and the act of comping usually prompts the drummer and keyboardist to keep the background interesting.  The staggered chords fly overhead as tunnels.  The frantic drums lay out a sinister amount of traffic.  Meanwhile, you’re treated to a spiraling saxophone solo made even more hilarious when you imagine that it’s a horse behind the reed.  You should definitely play this song, even though I have two gripes.  First, it’s too short; I wanted more solos, perhaps from the other instruments.  Second, when the keyboard effect rings out and echoes, it sounds like the synth sound from “Wonderful Christmas Time.”  Totally weirded me out.

Other Selections

If you listened to “Swansong” and assumed you’d heard the entirety of Woodward’s range, you’d be wrong.  “I’m Not Dreaming” is a kind of grandiose his other stuff never dares approach.  It features humongous sweeping guitar chords rich with crunchy distortion.  There’s nothing saccharine or overly poppy here.  Unfortunately, the lyrics can’t hold a torch to the wonderfully over the top music.  It’s some kind of modern war ballad, with lines about paranoia and insomnia after witnessing terrible atrocities.  Not a bad idea for a song, though not terribly original.  And the words just weigh it down: “If God isn’t dead, then I’ll kill him myself,” he promises.  A bit blunt, if you ask me.  “Stars Collide” features the same level of precise songwriting coupled with the same amount of bland lyrics.  There’s a worthwhile sentiment in “Everybody’s alone/Everyone’s on their own.”  But it’s terribly unspecific.  His instrumentation, as usual, is intriguing – the glockenspiel makes a return.  And again, he crafts a bouncy bridge that’s a joy to ride.  I just want Ben Folds to be his mentor.  Woodward’s voice would work well in a Folds-esque character song.  It’s earnest and clear enough to properly support the emotions in his words.  He simply needs tighter words.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  I didn’t realize until the second or third song that Josh Woodward was a familiar face.  He still strikes me as a guy taking cues from Ben Folds and Sufjan, both positive musical role models.  His lyrics often don’t feel in line with his inventive take on pop, but the talent’s there, for sure.