After years of being dominated with varieties of twee, freak folk, and singer-songwritingy mellowness, independent music finally dealt with the oversaturation of acoustic guitars and harmonicas by shifting heavily into synths and sampling. Synthpop/chillwave/dancepop has had a pretty good run at this point, but the latest release from Denver's Nathaniel Rateliff might be just enough to turn the tide back to something made with fewer computers, buttons, and faders.
Rateliff's "˜In Memory of Loss' is a well executed indie folk album with impressive depth in the lyrics, writing, and production. Albums from folky singer songwriters often feel samey after only a few songs, but Rateliff seems to have anticipated that and intentionally made "˜In memory of Loss' highly variable, displaying numerous influences. The singing is crisp and beautiful the way you would expect from a James Taylor or Jeff Buckley record, and the guitar work is just as precise and intricate as either of those two artists. This doesn't imply that the album is overproduced; there's still a raw emptiness in many songs, probably attributable to Brian Deck's stripped-down production.
The album isn't entirely toned down, however, as many of the songs are folk rock anthems in the vein of his future touring partners, Mumford & Sons. With a 14 song release it's nice that Rateliff tries to keep the audience engaged by alternate between rocking out and sulking. The lead off track is particularly unique, featuring jazzy drums, violin, and piano as the main instrument. As this release appears courtesy of Rounder there's a heavy dose of roots influence, and the album even touches on indie pop when the xylophone kicks in. Rateliff is currently part way through his first ever headlining tour, and will be at San Francisco's CafÃ© Du Nord tonight.