With the rapid increase in accessible, cheap recording technology over the years, much of indie rock has developed an increasingly homespun quality. Without large record labels, many artists do not have the finances necessary for time in a large, expensive studio. So instead of Electric Ladyland or Abbey Road, these artists may use their bedroom or their basement to lay down songs. Obviously when doing this they don’t get, say, a “Dark Side Of the Moon” level of quality hi-fi sound. But what they do capture is the true emotion of their songs; the sentiment and the feeling.
One unfortunate side effect of this widespread availability of cheap recording technology is that now anyone who wanted to release some acoustic songs recorded in their bedroom has now done so. There are so many artists who make folky, hushed, bedroom music that it can be nearly impossible to sift through the lot of it. But, there are many artists you may not have heard of who are diamonds in the rough of this massive musical landscape.
Liam Betson is best known in rock circles nationwide for his two stints as a guitarist in New Jersey punk/indie rock band Titus Andronicus. In the interim between touring with them, he has made multiple full-length albums under the pseudonym Liam the Younger. Some, like 2007’s After the Graveyard, are coated in a beautiful, delicate layer of ambient noise, its lo-fi origins coming to the fore. Others, like 2010’s Revel Hidden Worlds, have a more punchy, but still organic production. The one constant, regardless of the production quality, is Betson’s smooth strumming and haunting, plaintive vocals and lyrics.
On his records, Betson channels the honest spirit and the clear-cut, steady strumming of classic American folk singers like Woody Guthrie. But rather than singing populist, political calls to arms, Betson sings more of personal travails. He reflects often about the world around him, and how he feels about its changes. There is an occasional underlying sense of anxiety in his often-lonesome lyrics, but it never overwhelms you. Despite almost all of his recordings being him solo, he brings a unique sense of atmosphere to his songs. His observations of his world make you think more deeply about your own; whether it be physical or mental.
The opening track on After the Graveyard, “Current Joys”, shows Betson’s talent for framing his spare songs. Beginning with a few seconds of whirling but quiet noise, Betson executes a gorgeous melody right underneath the dusty, scratchy lo-fi production that enshrouds the song. Having to search a little to find the song beneath the dust makes it all the more rewarding.
His most recent release, Revel Hidden Worlds, is his best and most developed to date. Tracks like “American Flag” and “Door” are more layered and less open-ended than his earlier material. Even with more instrumentation, the bare bones nature of Betson’s songs are not lost. Folk songs, regardless of their subject, were always meant to tell a story, to take the listener to another time and place. Betson is a master at this, creating an entirely unique, amazing atmosphere around his songs. You owe it to yourself to check him out.
Take a listen here:
Find out more at http://liamtheyounger.bandcamp.com
Jackson Maxwell is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is double majoring in history and journalism. He is a staff writer for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and has his own music blog entitled “Two Dudes, Two Computers” with his friend Zach Newman. You can follow him here at twodudestwocomputers.tumblr.com/ or http://themotorcade.tumblr.com/