Ryan Hamilton

Ryan Hamilton

The Ryan Hamilton that emerged from People on Vacation had tongue firmly in cheek and had left some of the straight folk sensibilities of Smile, Smile in the past in favor of writing perfectly crafted power pop rock that married melody to wit and welded it all together with loud guitars and just the right amount of humor.  Recording since then as Ryan Hamilton and the Traitors and current incarnation, Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, Ryan has developed into an adept pop rock journeyman, bringing forward the best legacies of the genre: earnestness, loud guitars, and a more than healthy dose of wit. 

Taylor Carson

Taylor Carson

With over one-thousand performances and seven full-length records released; including 2013’s With Innocence and Go Amaze in 2016, both debuting in the Top 10 on the iTunes charts, Taylor Carson comes to the Underwater Sunshine Fest through our pal, and Fest alum, Stephen Kellogg. Taylor opened for Stephen’s Daryl’s House show in upstate New York late last year and caught my attention by stilling the room as he humbly presented his gripping songs of love, life and family…

Fort Frances

Fort Frances

Honestly, the hardest part about writing this review is that every single lyric is so good, I could write an essay purely discussing the nature of how it interacts with the current political and social climate and how that runs counter to human instinct. Instead, I’m just going to share the first verse and chorus. I want you to listen to the song. Desperately. I want you to go turn it on right now so that we can talk about it. I want you to message me on Twitter about how great “Double Take” is (so not kidding: @kwdarby). That said? Even reading these lyrics delights me…

Bear Cub

Bear Cub

Bear Cub is a great band, and you can hear some of the reason behind that in the way Hall approaches, talks about, and truly loves music. He listened and he studied and he knows why the pieces fit where they do. He knows how to connect the chambers of the heart. And now he’s doing that with his own music.

Wild Pink

Wild Pink

Wild Pink is the perfect band to play the Underwater Sunshine Fest, for its very existence can be found in the soul of what this gathering of artists is all about; discovery in music.

To wit: It is a trio that is occasionally a quartet, a rock and roll band that isn’t necessarily or in any way rock and roll, and plays well-structured, singularly-composed songs which find their ethereal form in a free-association band construct. And that is only part of what you can figure out about Wild Pink, if you try. But why waste your time with such nonsense, when this is a band not made for “figuring”. It is made for absorbing, digesting and experiencing; all the things that matter in great art.

Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor

Notwithstanding Maria’s haunting and sorrowful onstage demeanor, she is so very lively offstage, attentive with spellbinding eye contact that transforms you into the most charming, likable version of yourself by being the warmest, most personable human imaginable herself  - all with absolutely no trace of artificiality. I’m gushing, but I promise it relates to the music because this warmth of hers also radiates from each of her records in special ways.

Cameron McGill

Cameron McGill

Honestly, it’s scary to me to think that somehow McGill saw this version of middle America back in 2013, but it’s a still a timely portrait of a place that seems to encompass the best and worst of humanity. It’s easy enough when he’s pocketing a hard truth in a joke— which McGill does deftly— but he doesn’t have to do so to write an effective song, and better than that, to vocalize it. If you were listening to the song, you’d still feel the tension underlying it, whether you stopped to parse lyrics or not. Cameron is an expert at finding a way to use backup vocals in surprising places, or when to use almost vaudeville-era piano techniques to lead you plinking away from the awful thing he’s about to say.

Petal

Petal

But there’s the trick in Petal’s music: while always perfectly relevant to the story at hand, it’s also all building to that last line— “I can’t say I didn’t love you.” Oh, but God, you get that she wants to say that. She wants the boldness, the belief that it could have never happened, that this was the only way either of them could be happy. But that’s never fully resolved. Even in songs like the more desperate “Carve,” Lotz says, “And I wish I could unsee your kindness/ Every upward turn of your mouth/ But I cannot so I'll bury it in sound/ In grace, in erasing myself” before saying, “And God, will they love me if I am honest?/ I would starve until every bone would show/ Just to feel a little lighter/ And still avoid the truth.”

Fort Gorgeous

Fort Gorgeous

Brooklyn band Fort Gorgeous is hitting the exact tone I’m constantly searching for in winter: thoughtful lyrics but music that is fun, layered, and easy to listen to, similar to bands like Ok Go and Andrew McMahon & The Wilderness. There is some great guitar work and some mild existentialism that’s washed over well with ninja-levels of un-dated synth and beautiful vocals. There’s not a track I’ve found so far that I didn’t hit “repeat” on. Though the band is out of Brooklyn, it has enough of a soft California tone that you almost miss the clear edges of the songs. Before I talk a little more about the individual tracks, though, I want to introduce you to the band itself.  

Amy Vachal

Amy Vachal

…she can move from a breathy longing to a strong, burning desire in the middle of a line. She has the ability to sing something clippy and playful, but she can sing long, stretched out notes that feel either sexy or sorrowful depending on the spin she puts on them. Like a pitcher, every note is supposed to land: she is quick to spin from self-reflection to an application in a current relationship: It’d be easy enough to write a song called “You Can Have Me,” and either slowly slink through it as an appealing offer, or you could be self-excoriating and use that kind of pain in your voice— instead, like in the lyrics (which she sings back and forth with Drew Robinson, whose voice matches hers excellently), she explores the past while projecting the future:

Jordan Klassen

Jordan Klassen

It turned out that being migratory at the start of a transitional season was the perfect circumstance to hear Klassen's album, Big Intruder. With buoyancy, dark ideas, and a touch of the fantastically whimsical, Big Intruder is a soundtrack for a hero's journey. One of the songs especially, "Yer Cure," brings to mind the sort of music you'd hear playing in the colorful, expansive universe of the acclaimed television show Adventure Time - that is, music that delights with novel arrangements and universal, adult lyrical themes. I often find myself talking about the album as if it's a magical entity, made of some sparkly, reflective substance, which I hope comes across as the high praise that it's meant to be. 

Eric Hutchinson

Eric Hutchinson

Hey everyone, James Campion here. You may have heard of Eric Hutchinson, or at least you’ve heard his songs. They’ve appeared on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s Growing Up Fisher. He’s also played them on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Today Show. Perhaps you’ve seen him in your town, as Eric has been a touring songsmith now for sixteen years. His versatile solo performances or with bands through five albums filled with spectacularly crafted and exquisitely sung pop, rock, soul songs that brim with tasty melodies and infectious rhythms are a unique experience.

Red Wanting Blue

Red Wanting Blue

That’s a strong start to the record, because his friends, presumably, are standing next to him, getting drunk on blood in the vampire club, all trying to be “never-ending” (*which strikes me as quite different than immortal, but I’ll find a way to work that into a poetry class later so y’all don’t have to suffer). And that’s not even to touch my favorite line— “I got a lamp-post-God/ On the corner of who gives a shit.” I think if we close our eyes and go into a dark street, we have either seen or been that person. And it’s a terrifying place to be. So how can someone who can so effectively personify evil and then write rock ‘n’ roll that kicks off new record this convincingly have the range of a band that can also write a soft (still driving) song with the delicacy and gentleness of “Survival Song”? The tempo is slowed, his voice is kind…

The 2018 Recap

The 2018 Recap

I’m going to recap the Underwater Sunshine Fest. But I understand, now, especially as I go through my pictures and my video, that it won’t be the same Fest you were at. Nor was it the same one Adam saw, or Barb, or even my husband Andy or our intern Charlie. It wouldn’t have matter if we’d be tethered to each other. This show meant something different to everyone, and the moments that stood out to me might not have to you— might not have even existed in your world. In fact, I took a risk by starting this article off by talking about Cinjun Tate because— if we’re being really honest— I was supposed to be down at the club helping set up (thanks to everyone who told me to go ahead and stay to watch). There were, maybe for the first time that weekend, fewer than ten people in the Garden. So one of the most important things that happened to me… happened to me.

Elizabeth and the Catapult

Elizabeth and the Catapult

Elizabeth & the Catapult is a trip featuring piano, drums, and guitar, though they often add some strings to the mix to flesh out a track. They have found a way to maintain pop sensibilities without it feeling like chamber pop— that’s to say, they know how to make it sound as contemporary as anything on the radio, just put together better and with more heavy-hitting writing.

Dave Godowsky

Dave Godowsky

Dave Godowsky is standing in the gap for us. There are so many things that are in short supply in this world, and he provides two of them with absolute stark nakedness: beautiful piano music, some of which is there simply for its beauty (and to quote Keats, perhaps a bit out of context, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty”); and incredible vulnerability.

Those Nights

Those Nights

Something about trying to find ways to connect, ways to soothe souls, ways to honor the humanity we see in each other—but against a dark, minor key background with up-tempo and sometimes aggressive drums—is absolutely stunning. It takes it to a different level. It’s almost like the lyrics and the mood of the music are fighting to see which side is going to win—

Brick Briscoe

Brick Briscoe

Brick and I have a lot in common. He has a radio show on NPR called “The Song Show”, I’m often a guest on that show; I love Billy Joel and could talk about how much for 24 hours, he let me talk about how great Billy Joel was on his radio show (though it was couched as an “apologist” episode); we have both fought major medical issues in the last two years and are still re-learning how our bodies and minds operate in artistic mediums that had been natural to us. But Brick Briscoe finished making his record IV (you should ask him how to pronounce it) while he was receiving chemo in the hospital.

Yellow House Orchestra

Yellow House Orchestra

When I tell you that Underwater Sunshine Fest’s greatest strength is its diversity, I’m not kidding: and yes, this is the wind-up for the curve ball. This week’s spotlight artist is the phenomenal, Grammy-nominated Yellow House Orchestra. And if you think you will see anything else like them— maybe anywhere— you’re sadly mistaken. You’re going to have to come to the Bowery Electric and see them with us in October.