Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sneak Preview: New Unbunny, Common Loon & Painted Hills

When I wrote about Unbunny a few weeks ago, I mentioned that they weren't big on self promotion. Things seem to have changed. Immediately after I tweeted about my Unbunny post, their label, Parasol Records, contacted me and asked if I wanted to hear their new, unreleased album. I did.

The 10-song album, Moon Food (upper left), is due out in May. I had wondered if Unbunny would develop a more heavily produced sound as they evolved. The good news is they have evolved without relying on studio technique. The approach is typically minimalistic and the production is high-quality lo-fi. Driven by folky acoustic guitar, the songs are stripped down to their essential instrumentation. Moon Food highlights Unbunny's country/folk influence as much as anything they've previously released. Yet there is still enough diversity among songs to give the album a nice flow. "Young Men Are Easy Prey" might be off Neil Young's first release, while "Straw on a Camel's Back" comes as close to rap as we might ever hope Unbunny will get (although it is one of my favorite songs on the album). As always, the quality of Jarid's voice and vocal harmonies shine through as he sings self-deprecating lyrics that can be in turn melancholy and funny. Unbunny fans won't be disappointed in this release, but will it win them a larger audience? We'll have to wait to see ...

Included with Moon Food in Parasol's package to me were unreleased debuts from two bands I had never heard of: Common Loon's The Long Dream of Birds (April 6) and Painted Hills self-titled release (April 20). I'm rather particular about music. I don't like much of the new music I hear and there are many technically great bands that never made a strong impression on me. So I was surprised to find myself happily listening to both of these albums repeatedly. While the two bands are heavily influenced by 60s-era psychedelic rock, their sounds are clearly distinct.

Hailing from Sierra Madre, CA and led by former Beachwood Sparks guitarist, Josh Schwartz, Painted Hills has a lush dream pop sound, accentuated by guitar riffs whose influences range from Middle-Eastern to country to 70s rock. The band's press sheet suggests we "think sun-baked, pastoral psych-pop and starry-eyed Cosmic Americana influenced by the Laurel Canyon scene of the 70s and the 80s Paisley Underground in Los Angeles." I understand only a bit of this, but it somehow seems reasonable. I hear traces of the Beatles' psychedelic era combined with the full, lingering guitar sound of The Doves, among other influences.

Common Loon, a duo from Champaign, Illinois, is more dynamic in their approach, contrasting moments of thick vocal harmonies over noisy guitars with sparse, spacey instrumentation and vocals. They have a knack for creating strong musical moments with dramatic changes between parts or in instrumentation. Common Loon's press sheet describes them as trafficking in "dreamy, dayglo rock, blending classic West Coast harmonies with some classic shoegazing guitar-lushness." They are now touring with dates available here.

Returning to Unbunny for a moment: Parasol has recently release Unbunny's New England tour schedule:
Apr 18 @ Death By Audio - Brooklyn
Apr 19 @ Green Line Cafe - Philly PA
Apr 21 @ Garfield Artworks - Pittsburgh PA
Apr 25 @ Pa's Lounge - Somerville MA
Apr 26 @ Red Door - Portsmouth NH
More dates coming...

While we're waiting for these releases and shows, I'll leave you with Unbunny's Casarole video, off their Snow Tires album.

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