Over the past couple years I’ve had a few opportunities to talk to Shawn Fogel about his band Golden Bloom (and, more often than not, “Breaking Bad”). I first caught him at a performance of one of his many side projects, Neutral Uke Hotel, which also includes Golden Bloom bandmate Josh Cohen. Then I ran into him at SxSw in 2011. Since that encounter he’s been back in Chicago four times to play-once again as Neutral Uke Hotel, then a solo show, and two more with his band. Each time I’ve been impressed with his great songwriting and passion for his craft.
On Golden Bloom’s new EP, No Day Like Today, I’m struck with another quality to his music-the professionalism. This record is by far the most polished and beautiful-sounding thing he’s put out. Some of that credit could go to the fact that the band approached this one as more of a group project. They went up to a secluded area and worked on the songs together instead of Shawn writing everything and acting as more of a director. The sound is a great leap forward for Golden Bloom, a group I already thought of as one of the best indie-pop bands working today.
Such a step forward, in fact, that when I first heard the opening track, “Flying Mountain,” I had to check and make sure I’d put on the right album. It sounded like Band Of Horses were covering a song by The Shins off Oh Inverted World. It took me a minute to get my bearings, but once I realized that it was in fact Golden Bloom I was taken aback. It’s incredibly well put-together, and the guitar work by Jeff Patlingrao is, as always, phenomenal.
And the EP just keeps getting better. It’s five tracks of unrelenting awesomeness that I always suspected was lurking under the surface, but I didn’t expect it to all come out at once! This is as close to a perfect indie-pop record as is humanly possible.
The record takes a somber turn on the second track, “Deliver It To Me.” It’s a piano-driven song with some flashes of beautiful guitar. Death, love, life itself-why are we here? All those ideas get looked at in some way on this song. Fogel takes a look at the entitled society we live in with the line “Why must we want so much more than we need. Wait for the fruit without planting the seed.” In the song’s final journey through the chorus it perks up a bit, evoking thoughts of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band-to me, anyway.
“Shadow Of A Man” might be the most familiar to Golden Bloom fans. It’s not a great leap from the songs on Fan The Flames. This has a great drum track with handclaps thrown on top of it that makes it a really fun song even though the subject matter is pretty serious. The verses are dense, requiring the listener to pay attention, but the reward for doing so is very high with lyrics like these:
“My days are numbered and I’m racing against time.Been handed down my sentence long before I did the crime. Did you ever wonder how life changes when you’re dying? I know that you might hate me but you can’t blame me for trying.”
No Day Like Today has built upon Golden Bloom’s previous efforts and improved in every way. Fogel’s already strong songwriting is sharper here. They’ve really gone out of their way to make a great-sounding EP with a lot of layers to every song. The band produced the album themselves, and it makes the argument that no one knows how to treat the music better than those who wrote it.
Golden Bloom has a few shows listed for now, but I’m sure more will be added. Only New York, Massachussetts, and Connecticut so far (there’s one listed on ReverbNation in Chicago, but that may be a solo set by Shawn-it’s not listed on Facebook). The album officially comes out on January 29th, but if you go to their Pledge Music page you can get it sooner.
When I think of pop music, there are few names that come to mind as people who got it right. Guys like McCartney, Cat Stevens, Elton John (with much of the credit going to Bernie Taupin). They understand the basics of writing a pop song and making it great.
What Shawn Fogel has delivered, under the moniker Golden Bloom, is a reminder that pop music can still be a thoughtful form of artistic expression.
Much of this EP you have probably heard before. Three of the five tracks were included in the fantastic split Daytrotter session with The Motion Sick and their joint venture Neutral Uke Hotel. I feel like these three, “Rhyme The Reason” and “You Go On (& On)” have been around forever (EP opener “In The Beginning” is not credited on Daytrotter, but acts as the intro to “Rhyme The Reason”). They’re a part of me now. I’ve heard them so many times I doubt I could ever forget them.
Golden Bloom’s credits go something like this: All songs written by Shawn Fogel. All instruments played by Shawn Fogel. Vocals Shawn Fogel. It would be easy for a record made this way to delve into self-indulgence, but it doesn’t. Even the last track, which is a synth-based reprise of “Rhyme The Reason,” comes off well. When that final song started playing, I was like, “What?” But after about ten seconds I started getting into it. I think the song actually plays as a great cherry on top.
Let’s get back to my original point about pop music for a second. Here’s what radio stations around the country think todays musiclovers should be hearing:
I’m talkin pedicure on our toes toes
Tryin on all our clothes clothes
Boys blowin’ up our phones phones
Pretty deep right? Ke$ha might actually be a step below Rebecca Black as far as intelligent lyrics go. Now here’s a sample lyric from March To The Drums third track, “You Go On (& On)”:
Today you see it in front of you
On the verge and you don’t know what to do
are you fightin fears that you feel inside
are you looking for truth or a place to hide?
It’s not only pop music that is suffering, either. A few years ago, maybe a decade now, there was some genius who coined the term indie-pop. Supposedly this was pop for the more intelligent crowd. Bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Decemberists, and a bunch of others have all been unfairly collected under this umbrella. But now it seems like industry types just label everything indie-pop in order to seem appealing to a certain demographic. I’m sorry, but Owl City isn’t indie-pop (shit-pop maybe). And my fear is that Golden Bloom get categorized as being indie-pop (or STARBUCKS-pop). This EP, and previous effort Fan The Flames, is so much more than that.
Diatribe over, and back to the record now. Shawn has a perfect voice for the kind of music he writes. When he hits the highs, he really nails them. And when he goes for a more resonant tone, he pulls that off as well. When I saw Golden Bloom perform earlier this year at Schubas, there was a full band present. They played the songs off this EP and some off of the last record, and the guitar player was amazing. I can’t remember his name now, but he was just shredding the hell out of the stage. Without the help of a group, I wondered how the EP would sound before I got my copy. Needless to say, my doubtful nature was laid to rest as Shawn easily packs a punch of his own on guitar, drums, keys, bass, and synths.
Technically this EP doesn’t drop until August (but you can buy the digital version on Bandcamp). I got an early copy for being a nice guy (I don’t know how many other copies are out there, but I assume it’s a pretty decent number). And yes, my opinion of Golden Bloom may be biased becuase of my deep love for Neutral Uke Hotel and anyone associated with it. That doesn’t change the fact that March To The Drums is better than 99% of the music you’ll hear this year.
I may run another piece closer to the release date that isn’t so angry at the current state of pop music (but I doubt my anger will subside by then).