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“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: bill waters.

bill waters is a blank canvas; he could be an unassuming next-door neighbor, the vaguely-recognizable guy from the bus, an office curmudgeon.  in this context, waters is the moniker of songwriter and producer william smith, a twenty-something who hails from the hudson valley.  humid is his first serious solo venture and bill waters is the vessel through which it is delivered, a beleaguered persona that allows songs to wax romantic freely, without any elements of self-consciousness trickling in.

the six songs that span humid are varied, but all harken back to the 1960s & 1970s soft pop waters acknowledges as a touchstone; the brisk “new car” segues seamlessly into the woozy, laid-back haze of “easy,” while penultimate cut “polyphone” is a sparse, tender entry swaddled in the warmth of an electric piano.  equally impressive throughout humid is waters’ dedication to exploring the peaks and valleys of his vocal register.  perhaps no one song better captures this than “milo and me,” a raucous ode to companionship that finds waters’ rich, sonorous baritone flirting with the cusp of falsetto.

through and through, humid is a remarkable songwriting achievement, a showcase of the depth possible with a modest amount of tools.  we recently caught up with the man behind bill waters to chat about the album process; check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

you record under the moniker bill waters, whose given name is an abbreviation of your own.  is the moniker simply a stage name, or more of a persona you slip into while writing?  maybe something else entirely?

bill waters is definitely a persona for me to slip into while writing.  i think he’s some jaded 1970s recording artist that chain smokes and takes a lot of amphetamines – definitely a character that i lean into while writing and recording.  it feels like something to almost hide behind, or like a barrier to put up while being maybe a little too sappy or romantic with the lyrical content.

i believe humid is your first venture as a solo artist.  what projects have you worked on in the past, and what was the catalyst to strike out on your own?

i played in a band called dumb talk for a long time with a few of my good friends.  that was great; we put out some vinyl and gigged around.  that helped me get into the nerdier, engineer side of music as well.

i think with humid, i wanted to prove to myself that i could write, record, and produce something completely on my own.  i was working a lot, and when you’re doing that it’s hard to coordinate schedules with other people and friends who also have lives.  it’s also a good chance to release all of the little control freak tendencies that every songwriter has.  there are definitely pros and cons to doing a record on your own, as opposed to with a band or engineer.

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photo courtesy of the artist

to that end, how did you approach the writing and recording process for the songs on this ep?

the writing process came in waves over the past year.  a lot of it was me getting high and sitting in the bathroom with a nylon string guitar for an hour or two.  the lyrical content seemed to flow pretty easily; i was starting a relationship with someone, and got to use all of the romantic influence that comes along with that.  i think it’s hard to be falling in love and not write about that.

recording was a pretty special, interesting process.  i was living with my friend in upstate new york and we had a little studio set up in our apartment.  towards the end of july 2017, i had a week off of work, so i decided that was when i would record and mix everything.  looking back, it was kind of a dark week.  i would wake up, eat some eggs, binge on adderall and coconut water until i felt like i tracked enough, then pop a xanax and start drinking to bring my body to a screeching halt when the sun came up.

and for all the nerds out there: i used an sm7b for all the vocals, played the guitars through a fender twin reverb and a blown-out fender solid state amp, and i recorded most of the drum takes into a tascam 4-track.

i kept the air conditioner off because it was obviously loud as hell, and i think my body reached its peak temperature that week.  i definitely had a moment where i realized the album had to be called humid as an ode to the remarkable amount of sweat my body released while tracking drums.

one of my favorite tracks on humid is “milo and me,” in part due to the noodling guitar lines and in part due to its subject matter.  is there a particular backstory to that song?

oh yeah, there’s a juicy, sad story behind “milo and me.”  milo was my sister’s dog that was staying with me for a bit in the spring.  we had a great time an i got pretty attached.  about a month later, he got hit by a car and passed away.  i think that was the most depressed i’ve felt about a beloved animal passing away.

on a lighter note, i was listening to a lot of 10cc and sheer mag over the past year, and that’s definitely where the guitar riffs came from.

you seem comfortable in, and with exploring, myriad vocal registers.  are there specific artist you’ve taken cues from while working on this project?

with recording humid, i had a lot more time to experiment with vocal performances and production.  i think that gave me the space to find new registers, but there’s definitely some production trickery in there.  i was messing around with varispeed (changing the tempo and pitch of the song) and was just discovering the magic of double vocal tracks and auto double-tracking.

as far as other artists go, todd rundgren was a big influence and kind of always has been.  also, connan mockasin was a big vocal influence as far as experimentation goes.

humid is out now via forged artifacts.  take a listen to the entire album below.

 

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photo courtesy of bronwyn walls

austin duo hovvdy made a lasting impression with their debut full-length, taster; released by sports day records in 2016 and reissued by double double whammy earlier this year, taster embodied charlie martin and will taylor’s knack for writing hushed, intimate lo-fi pop, songs that easily could have been exhumed from an older sibling’s tape collection.  after taking time to tour and enjoy the well-deserved accolades that have followed taster, martin and taylor are forging ahead with cranberry, their sophomore album, due february 9th.

an initial sampling of cranberry arrived late last month in the form of “petal,” a lilting slow-burner that turns on a disarming, whispered chorus delivered in falsetto.  hovvdy’s newest single harbors subtle contrasts; the vocals throughout “late” are assured and nestled in the foreground, and the guitars feel a bit more blown-out, creeping closer to the cacophony of their slowcore forebears.

but “late” is also about tenderness and compassion overcoming initial feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, as the song revolves around the couplet “circle point of view / i’ll come around to you.”  appropriately, a pastoral synth pad seems to be perpetually hovering underneath the more immediate timbres, paying homage to the thematic warmth radiating outwards.  “late” functions particularly well on repeat, a new component sinking in on each new listen until the track coalesces into something greater than the sum of its parts.  embark on your journey through the link below.

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photo courtesy of cameron wittig

sean carey has long augmented his contributions to bon iver with a solo output under the moniker of s. carey.  that body of work is now slated to grow even further; carey will release his new album, hundred acres, on february 23rd via jagjaguwar.

coupled with the announcement is “fool’s gold,” the affecting catalyst for the rest of the songs that populate hundred acres.  the palette of “fool’s gold” reflect’s carey’s sparse, stripped-down approach to this project; an acoustic guitar lightly accents carey’s crystalline, prominent lead vocal for much of the track before ben lester’s pedal steel leads a small band into the fray, providing a warm pad of gentle flourishes through to its conclusion.

hundred acres will arrive in time to provide respite from a bitter midwestern winter.  for the time being, reflect on “fool’s gold,” below.

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photo courtesy of the artist

for major murphy, the closest analogue to a coast would be the banks of lake michigan, but the grand rapids trio have long dwelt in an auditory enclave decidedly less chilly than the midwest.  as this year draws to a close and they start looking towards the next, the band has shared a sampling of things to come in 2018.

“mary” begins with plaintive keyboard chords before a full-band arrangement kicks in, crackling as if coming across via transistor radio.  the groove is well-defined and the atmosphere decidedly nostalgic as jacob bullard and jacki warren gently harmonize with each other, traversing through a narrative before arriving at an impossibly tender coda, driven by the contours of bullard’s guitar solo.

“mary” is out now via winspear.  get swept away below.

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photo courtesy of the artist

kevin krauter plays bass and sings in the bloomington, indiana, dream pop outfit hoops, but he also released a stunning six-song collection, changes, under his given name late last year.  consuming that body of work immediately would be ideal.

while each track on changes holds its own as a singular achievement, it’s “reckless,” the album’s fourth cut, that has received music video treatment.  like the song it accompanies, hugh sherman donkin’s visuals are sparse but impactful; krauter is filmed alone in various parts of an older building – a gymnasium; a stairwell; a loveseat – either playing or miming the various components of “reckless.”  the poignancy of the audio and video truly coalesce in the final moments, with krauter departing as a harmonized piano motif gently drifts off into the ether.

changes is out now via winspear.  watch the clip for “reckless” below.