Friday Awards (January 22, 2021)

Every Friday, I scour the internet for new music releases. The weekly Friday Awards will highlight my favorite discovery each week, with a special emphasis on artists that are new, new-ish, or new to me.

Sympathetic Magic © 2021
Roll Call Records

The big news for this release weekend is that (obviously) my new album came out. But(!) I’m not about to give myself the Friday Award, and the fact that I was buried in my own self-promotion didn’t keep me from diving deep to find my favorite new releases. What made this Friday Award extra special was, in a sense, I was looking for the album with which I was most honored to share a release day. In my search, I mostly found great EPs: the love-everyone, humanitarian anthems of Phil Joel, the debut EP from GLASWING (the new side project of Copeland’s Aaron Marsh), and the top-notch pop-punk efforts from Camp Trash and Nominee. I also really appreciated the lush, blue-eyed-neo-soul from Rhye, whose music reminded me of a related artist that I deeply miss named Quadron.

This Friday Award goes to Typhoon, a band that sounds young and fresh and inspired, despite somehow having been around since 2005 without my knowledge. The band’s style (at least on the surface) fits in nicely with the emo-folk and bedroom indie that’s become increasingly popular over the past two decades, but as the band’s latest album, Sympathetic Magic, progresses, you begin to realize that this larger-than-expected group is working on a much different level than your average acoustic singer/songwriter act. Once you reach a song like “Two Birds,” the trumpets and violins create the “magic” of the album’s title and elevate the band’s style to the classical-inspired indie rock of artists like The Decemberists and Bright Eyes.

As I researched this band, I discovered that it often employs about a dozen musicians for its live shows. It appears the band has officially had up to fourteen members at one point, and ten different musicians participated in the recording of this album, which was entirely written during and inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s all functioning in support of the core songs, as written and sung by Kyle Morton, whose simple, sometimes wavering voice belies a world-worn profundity and an ease for singing lovely melodies atop deceptively complex music with far-ranging sources of inspiration. (For example, check out the Spanish horns and sea-shanty styles in “Time, Time.”)

This might be my favorite album I’ve heard that was written and released within this global pandemic. Every now and then, Morton writes a lyric that feels rote and overdone, only to then reveal a setup for a much more original and thought-provoking observation, such as on “Evil Vibes,” where after calling his heartbeat a “time bomb ticking,” he drops this: “Fantasized about the next life / Come back as a rocking chair / Just want to hold you in the rhythm.” Morton’s also clever about his delivery of these lyrics. On multiple occasions, he puts just enough space between his syllables to create a double meaning; in the above example, this happens in between “rock-” and “-ing,” where for just a second, you think he’s saying that he fantasizes about coming back as a rock. This might seem like a happy accident for some artists, but the dense music of this band is so intentional, it’s hard to think that any of its miniature brilliances are incidental.

Everything that’s great about this album hits a climax on the album’s final two tracks, especially the penultimate “Masochist Ball,” where the ten-piece band finally gets to go all out, as if the whole album was revving up to this moment. Towards the end of the song, there’s a massive horn section that keeps modulating its key in the middle of its melodies, and it works so well with the lyrics and the tone of the composition, that no one could accuse the band for getting all music-theory-y just to show off. Then Sympathetic Magic comes to its gorgeous conclusion on “Welcome to the Endgame,” with pulses of sound that almost register as alien. It’s a fitting albeit resolution-less ending to an album inspired by a year that’s been as alien as anything we’ve ever experienced, and this album’s search for love and solace and understanding is a balm of comfort and healing for anyone who will listen.

Author’s Note: The reason I created this website and write these articles stems from my belief that artists should support other artists, in the same way that art inspires art. My sophomore album Development & Compromise is available now and I’d love for you to hear it.

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