Now Hear This

Reviews of new albums by Waco Sparkler, Samuel E. Carpenter, and Slow Coyote

“Somniloquy EP” by Samuel E. Carpenter

Somniloquy EP by Samuel Carpenter

Dover singer-songwriter Samuel E. Carpenter has released his debut EP “Somniloquy,” a six-song selection of quintessential coffeehouse jams. The album clocks in at barely 15 minutes, almost enough time for a nap. And the tenderness of Carpenter’s songs, from the folk-country twang of “Black Eyed Suzy” to the cautiously optimistic acoustic pop of “Broken Parts,” offers total relaxation. You’d think he’d been singing these lyrics in his sleep.

Shortly after dropping out of the University of New Hampshire’s Fine Arts program, Carpenter retreated to his grandfather’s attic, where he wrote, recorded, and produced “Somniloquy EP” over six months. Through the gentle melodies, there is a context of uncertainty. But the tempo of the songs, along with Carpenter’s confident vocal clarity, give the album a mood that isn’t exactly moody.

Start to finish, each song has a foundation built on Carpenter’s soft finger-style guitar playing and his soothing folk-pop singing. Lo-fi elements like the subtle hissing of the tape are sometimes present. Seeping through the songs like a fog are ambient sounds like backmasking and chant-like backing vocals, giving the songs an ethereal atmosphere.

As the album art suggests, the doors to a calmer mood are before you. If you’re curious enough to enter, you’re sure to stay a while. Give it a listen here.

“Birdhouse” by Waco Sparkler
Are You Kidding Me? Tapes

Birdhouse by Waco Sparkler

Waco Sparkler’s debut album “Birdhouse” feels like the audio equivalent of Rubin’s vase. Hearing the ambient soundscapes and pop juxtaposed in these songs is just as psychologically potent as the ambiguity of seeing two faces or one vase in the same image.

On the opening track, “Be Mad, for instance, the slow waltz of the drums and guitar lay the foundation, while the stuttering, shimmering keyboard notes create an abstract layer, pulling the mind away from the comfort of the pop undertones and into a free-form soundscape.

The band’s sole member, Jack Reynolds, also constructs his vocals in a bi-stable way to balance the pop with the ambient. Some songs feature catchy, memorable melodies (“Grenadine,” “Surprise”). Others utilize a more stoic, eerily calm preaching, like that of a cult leader (“Birdhouse,” “Rebranded”). Reynolds’ crooning vocals, just a notch above baritone, echo the voice of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis but with a more optimistic outlook.

The band’s true colors come out in the heart of the album. “Epicurious,” the band’s only spoken-word piece, is an attention-grabber at the first strike of the bell. A voice recites words about empowerment, transcendentalism, and metaphysics while string arrangements and a triumphant chord progression shoot across the song like meteorites, bringing you to another world of consciousness.

In other words, “Birdhouse is a trip. Whether or not your ear catches the ambient soundscapes or the pop structures first, repeated listens entice the mind to bounce back and forth between the two. Hear a sample of the tracks here.

“Slow Coyote” by Slow Coyote

Slow Coyote

The marriage of hard rock and folk is not new, but Slow Coyote’s musical versatility casts a net to capture listeners of all interests. Juggling sludgy, fuzzy garage rock and psychedelic freak folk, Slow Coyote employs the techniques of the early ’90s Sub Pop groups that molded a mask of loud, sloppy grunge over the tender face of folk.

“Slow Coyote” is the Portsmouth-based trio’s pseudo-sophomore album. Their debut album, “End of the Highway,” which we reviewed around this time last year, features a handful of the same songs found on this self-titled record. Songs like “Freak Show Peep Stare,” “American Cream,” and “On The Road Again” have been reworked with slicker production, while “We Could Talk a Lot” and “You Never Call Me” add new tunes to the Slow Coyote catalog.

The songwriting on the new album parallels the bedroom-tape folk stylings of “End of the Highway.” Guitarist and singer Lucas Heyoka delivers on the sneers, snarls, and droning vocals as he waxes poetic about life, relationships, and society.

But with bassist Justin Uhlig — who also produced and engineered the album — and drummer Jim Hurley contributing a supportive rhythm section, “Slow Coyote” generates more power than the previous album. Uhlig and Hurley push the band to the next level, allowing more room for the type of experimentation and psychedelia the band was born and bred to nurture. Check it out here.