Debate over what to call this recent movement of quiet, non-mainstream music admittedly peaked a while back. (Is it freak-folk? Free folk? Does it really even have any relation to the folk music that came before it?) But it just keeps coming. The Kill Rock Stars sampler The Sound the Hare Heard is chock full of it.
But what exactly is “it”? Here are some of the characteristics these tracks share:
1) Storytelling: Simone White’s “The American War” is either a Schoolhouse Rock outtake about some small, forgotten skirmish or a metaphor for the Iraqi quagmire. It’s followed by Nedelle’s “Poor Little City Boy,” which sounds like Regina Spektor spinning Russian folk yarns.
2) A sense of childlike wonder: The Moore Brothers’ “Waves of Wonder” could be the flagship for this collection — and this whole musical movement. And Alicia BB’s contribution is the juvenilely titled “Best Friends Forever.”
3) A childlike sense that monsters are lurking in the dark: See Imaad Wasif’s “Other Voices,” Great Lake Swimmers’ “Where in the World are You?” and Lauren Hoffman’s “Another Song about the Darkness.”
4) Christian allusions: The Sound the Hare Heard starts out with the gorgeous, hymn-like “When the Angels Lift our Eyelids in the Morning” by Devin Davis. Corrina Repp’s “The Sound You Warn” is drenched in warm, churchy organ. (Sufjan Stevens brings his righteous presence to the collection, but instead of Jesus he sings about “Adlai Stevenson” in what’s obviously an outtake from Illinois.)
5) Alternately angelic/quirky voices: Owen McCarthy has the rich baritone of Robyn Hitchcock or even Bono on “Stargazers are Blind.” Southerly echoes McCarthy himself on “Dumbing Down.” Daniel Howle could pass for a risen Jeff Buckley singing about shooting his baby down by the Mississippi on “Kill My Love for You.” And Colin Meloy turns in a surprisingly funky entry with the Decemberists’ “Lazy Little Ada.”
6) A jones for the ’70s Laurel Canyon vibe: As a rule, the girls sound like Joni Mitchell, the guys Neil Young.
The final track, Lovers’ “Honea,” sums it all up. The last line, “This is how the story ends,” fades out to what sounds like a baby playing with a musical mobile above its crib.
Listening to this compilation, I’ve realized that what we call this movement is irrelevant. I say we stick to “great music.”
Kill Rock Stars Web site