Although Grant Olsen wrote all the songs, calling Gold Leaves a solo project is a misnomer. Olsen had a great deal of help making The Ornament, which is out now on Hardly Art. Jason Quever of Papercuts was by his side through most of the recording process, serving as co-producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist. Quever helped guide editorial choices, keeping scratch vocals when Olsen wanted to go back into the vocal booth and try again, and laid down the four-in-the-morning cello part that haunts "Hanging Window." With a résumé that encompasses tutelage under Motown veterans and credits with Beach House and Brightblack Morning Light, Ben McConnell was an ideal percussionist to anchor Olsen's amorphous musical ideas. Thao Ngyuen (Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Thao & Mirah), Amy Blaschke, and members of the Moondoggies all contributed backing vocals.
With its roller rink organ and rumbling timpani, the title tune is propelled forward by the sort of ambitious yet calculated D.I.Y. production associated with legendary '60s British pop producer Joe Meek. From opener "The Silver Lining," with its sense of a life teeming with possibility (and a deft lyrical borrow from Steinbeck and some 11th century poetry), to the rising strings and keyboards of the dramatic finale "Futures," The Ornament sounds full but never overstuffed. This is a record full of judicious choices.
Friendly People’s debut, self-titled 3-song EP gives a concise taste of a promising young Cambridge, MA-based band. Their jangly indie pop is peppered with hints of Americana, roots rock and folk with vocals that owe a debt to Neil Young. The EP’s clear highlight is its opening track—their namesake song—“Friendly People”. It’s a tremendous, positive track buoyed by a horn section in the bridge which lends a mariachi feel. “A Lot of Work To Do” brings out Harvest-era Neil Young, starting as a plaintive acoustic ditty which builds slowly into a passionate electric number. Closing track, “Branches”, follows the same acoustic-to-electric path. As the song builds, it introduces tribal rhythms that are reminiscent of 80s indie-punk legends, the Volcano Suns. Friendly People are scheduled to record their debut full-length in March. If the Friendly People EP is indicative of what we can expect from this young group’s next batch of tunes it will be a record to keep an eye on later in 2012.--George Dow