Track Review: Daphne & the Mystery Machines- Learn to Fall



Daphne & the Mystery Machines


Learn to Fall




Learn to Fall is available at:

January, 2015

Folk, Americana


Franklin, Tennessee, U.S.A.


FEW current acts manage to really grip the imagination…

with any real panache- impress you with their music and imagery; personality and projection (the whole package). With current music producing so many acts- there being a desperation to make an impression instantly; through fear of being forgotten- it is hard to stumble across real ‘characters.’ In the U.K. we have some pretty interesting musicians: those who win you over with their charm and personality; seduce you with their charm- it would be good to see it more often. To my mind, there is a lot of seriousness and po-faced acts: those that concentrate on the music alone- in person they come off as being rather humourless and business-like. It is not a big deal- and not the most important thing in music- but you want to connect with the human being- it makes everything a lot more effective and memorable. Whilst assessing some U.K.-based acts- including Los and the Deadlines and Jen Armstrong- I was not only amazed by the music- and its uniqueness and quality- but the people behind them. Witty, fun and friendly, it was great to see: musicians that feel very human and relatable; people you want to go out and see- those that give a lot to their fans. In the U.S., they do this a little better: produce musicians that captivate you on many fronts; have that vote-winning smile- fully-rounded musicians that know how to win fans. I know it is a small point- and as I said, not as vital as getting music right- but if you work on the image/personality, you can gain many more fans- ensure people keep coming back to you (and want others to discover you). When Daphne & the Mystery Machines were recommended to me- by an aforementioned Yorkshire stunner- I was hooked from the first moment: here is an act that intrigues you by looks/imagery alone. Delving into their social media, the band comes across as familial and warm-hearted: an Americana troupe that are built on a foundation of fun and warmth; kindness and community (complete with some stunning music). Before I go any further, let me introduce the band to you:

Josh Preston (beard of directors, lead guitar, happy feet)
Courtney Kinzer Blackwell (cello, bg vox)
Jenn Palmer (lead vox, guitar)
Daphne Culver (lead vox, guitar, harmonium, piano, accordion)
Jess Perkins (upright bass)
Amanda Palmer (harmony vox)

Daphne and the Mystery Machines was formed in July 2014. Daphne Culver (Missouri native), most locally known from her musical career with the Granny Whites, had met some amazing artists since she moved to Tennessee. First there was Jenn Palmer, (Sugar Dames and Anthony Adams & the Nite Owls) they became friends a few years ago, after, and always had a mutual respect and adoration of each other’s songwriting and vocal styles, so they started collaborating, not knowing if anything would ever come of it. Then Adam Taylor (originally from Iowa), was working as an engineer at the Sound Emporium at the time Daphne was working in the studio for The Granny Whites. He was so talented on the boards and in the studio, but soon Daphne would find out he was hiding an amazing talent, besides beard growing. He was a stellar guitarist and caught the attention of the Granny Whites, they started featuring him at live shows. Daphne became so enamored with his guitar playing alongside her own, she wanted him to join in on her sessions with Jenn. Soon after this trio was formed Maria Kowalski, violinist of Sage and the Saints and several other studio and touring projects got thrown in the mix (after Jenn worked with her in the studio for the Sugar Dames and was blown away by her emotional playing and creative stylings). Marias past remains a mystery, was she a dolphin trainer? Carnie? Escaped convict? Her mysteriousness is only matched by her insane skills on the violin. Courtney Kinzer Blackwell, (cellist from Honeyboy and Boots) was the last addition. Courtney (Washington native) came in the mix a little more by chance. She was playing at a CD release show in Franklin, TN at Kimbro’s Picking Parlor, and her performance on stage got the attention of Daphne. She searched her out and befriended her inviting her to bonfire jams and such, until she agreed to join what is now known as Daphne & the Mystery Machines. Their much anticipated debut was at the Tennessee State Fair and they are all looking forward to recording their first album and performing on tour soon.

Daphne and the Mystery Machines plan to start releasing singles in support of their upcoming EP by early 2015.”

It would be interesting for the band to come to the U.K. – maybe support Florence and the Machine on stage. It would be good to get Daphne’s (Mystery) Machines together with Florence’s- although it may just be my odd fantasy/wish-list. The group are built from a base of emotion and heartache; passion and pain; desire and love- concoctions that go into their incredible music. With some tour dates coming up- the guys are travelling Tennessee ready to amaze the crowds- the rest of this year looks prosperous; they have an album out in September- something you will want to get your hands on.

Aching and teasing strings beckon Learn to Fall in. Beginning rather tranquil and haunting, it sound progresses into something precise and strong: twirling and dizzying acoustic strings lift the mind and intrigue the senses- make you wonder what is coming next. Underpinned by some electronic tones, the song starts to expand and mutate: pick its feet off the floor and stride onwards- there is a tangible sense of itinerary and travel. The initial words- when our heroine steps up the microphone- are rather innocent and compassionate (“When I hear you sing/the songs that I wrote/I get a little lump/Down in my throat”). The vocal has a quixotic blend of southern U.S. and modern-day U.K. It may be an odd partnership, yet there are traditional Country music sounds; a striking Tennessee accent- all the hallmarks of a solid Americana/Folk pairing. On top of that, you have a very modern and striking voice: little bits Amy Winehouse and Adele; something soulful and British- the combination is effective and seductive. When the verse develops, something more philosophical and ruminative comes to the fore: our heroine looks at choices and mistakes; regret and our own decisions- not only creating some mystery, but speaking to the listener more directly. Whether speaking to a sweetheart (or friend of hers) there seems to be some perplexity. Maybe a situation has arisen- or life has taken an unwanted turn- but there is that need to go back; change events of the past- to avoid the strains of the present. Our heroine (and her subject) is out on her own; going into the world alone- perhaps there is a feeling that time has been wasted; youthful ignorance has led to mistakes- and a price is being paid. After the first verse- that is very much placed in the centre of attention- the vocal retreats; the band comes to the forefront to whip up a swaying beat; a striking support- adding emotion in spades. The guitars rise and pervade; the percussion crashes and strikes; plaintive strings add shiver and somberness- as our heroine comes back to the fold. When the chorus arrives, images are built up: I imagine something quite every day and relatable; that sense of regret and walls-closing-in-against-the-odds fear we can all understand. Whether lies and indecision have come to take their toll; a relationship is on the rocks- because of mistakes by both parties- it is not too sure- the song has room for interpretation; there is some ambiguity among the lyrics. The song’s most arresting moments arrive when Culver unites with her cohorts- the female vocals weave in and out of one another. Laying down some hard truths- you don’t have to be by the phone “to get that call”- the vocals soar and tangle; creating a stunning harmony and heavenly blend. To my mind, there was a sound (oddly enough) of ‘90s Rhythm and Blues- the classic girl groups of the age- that inspired legions of modern-day acts. There is that same sense of shiver and nuance- you keep repeating the verse; unable to take it all in (upon first listen). After the captivating vocals are complete, the band unleashes an instrumental coda- one that sees shivering guitars come to play. Reminding me of (a combination of) 1995 Radiohead and modern Folk, it is a stirring parabond; one that raises the song even higher. Never predictable or one-dimensional, the band gets stronger and more assured; the track gets better by the second- something few other tracks promise. After witnessing the stirring guitar quiver- that builds up so many images and emotions- the vocal comes back. Our heroine is still in firm voice; not wanting to deviate- more thought-provoking messages are presented. Whether speaking to a wider community (a universal message that everyone should take in) or a shamed lover, there is some anger and judgement; they better watch what they say and do- “’Cause it’s all coming back to you.” Among the sense of disappointment, there is some honesty and openness- a sense of compassion too. In spite of all the mistakes and short-comings, all that has been given (“has always been enough”). By the time the chorus comes back around, the vocals become more electric and spiked; it seems more effective and striking- meaning the song finishes (on an incredibly high) point.

It is impossible not to fall in love with Daphne & the Mystery Machines. On paper (and in photos) they seem like a band you want to meet- striking and happy; fascinating and interesting. When it comes to the music, they are indebted to nobody. Whilst Learn to Fall has some familiar themes- that sense of backs-against-the-wall fight; learning from mistakes of the past- the way it’s presented is indeed unique. The group does not go for bare-minimum with their words: the way the images and scenes they conjure will stick in the mind; they are an act that has a very individual perspective. The instrumentation and composition is emotive and stunning. Mixing aching strings and tender percussion, the band throw in quivering electric guitar- the effect is quite spellbinding. Standing above it all are those incredible voices: the stunning lead and the insatiable combinations. When leading the verses, Culver’s native accent mingles with some British tones (although my ear may be off); her strong and wonderful voice gets inside your head- and does not let itself go. When the trio (of voices) comes together in the chorus, you get an immense sense of swoon and romance- that aching beauty and uplifting grace. No member of Daphne & the Mystery Machines falters of slacks: each member is focused and tight; each element essential and paramount- most bands have one or two faults. Keeping Learn to Fall tight and focused, it does not overrun and wander- a song that does what it needs to; without wasting any words. Traditional Americana and modern-day Pop (with some soulful elements) combine to create a song that cannot be ignored- something that will unite all music lovers. With some incredible production values- the track sounds both intimate and expansive all at once- and you have a tremendous achievement. It is hard to judge the future on one song, yet the signs are all positive: I cannot wait to see what Daphne & the Mystery Machines’ album contains. Whether you are unfamiliar with the Tennessee band (or not) then do yourself a favour and get involved- they have a stunning future ahead of them.

Social media can be a very handy thing indeed: when you put a plea out- looking for a great act to review- those in the know always come through. I mentioned it in my last post; it seems we need some sort of music-based social media site- there are a few out there, yet none really cuts the mustard. It is hard to patrol and filter fantastic music: compile a bespoke list/channel that the user will desire. That said, the basic steps would not be a challenge: with the burgeoning of social media, it would be easy enough to make a better site- something more effective and full than what is already out there. It may be one of those ‘to-do’ things for me, because I do worry a bit: so many great acts are being overlooked and going past- only coming to your attention if you are lucky/have a music contact. In a social media age, it is ironic that the ‘social’ aspect seems to be lacking: when it comes to music/promotion, there needs to be something better (out there for the musician). I mention it because Daphne & the Mystery Machine- alongside many others out there- deserve a wider audience; great exposure- they would love/be adored by crowds over here; across Europe- and find opportunity and fan-base. With their eye-catching ranks- you cannot ignore the staggering beard of Josh Preston!- and stunning music, the future is looking very good. Having graced their social media pages- and seen the feedback fans are providing- they put on one hell of a live show. On the basis of Learn to Fall, I am looking forward to the forthcoming L.P.: see exactly what the band has to offer; how they will vary and adapt their sound across a full album. I love the music this country produces- I still think we are just edging it with new music- the U.S. has greater opportunities and support. I find musicians are talent is looking across the ocean: eyeing up the big cities; the warmth of Nashville; the lights of New York- finding better fortune over there (than they have here). The U.S. do somethings a lot better than us- their comedy is a lot better (ours sucks big-time); their dramas are superior (bigger budgets and better talent); their economy is stronger and more prosperous- and it seems the country has a better music climate. In spite of its superior size/population there seems to be greater diversity and community- hardly surprising so many great acts are coming through. Tennessee is synonymous with its terrific music scene- not just Country music and Americana- and the wonderful acts coming through. With its warm and friendly locals; the unique and charming music venues; the opportunities out there, it seems a very tempting proposition. What you find with acts- like Daphne & the Mystery Machines- is a natural warmth and sense of ease. There seems little anxiety and fear- like they have to hit a certain target; always have to look over their shoulder- they have a loyal fan-base and tremendous sound- a rather secure future it seems. There is a lot of preconception and judgement when you say the words ‘Americana’ and ‘Folk’- and tie it to the word ‘Tennessee.’ Many would imagine something quite antiquated and divisive. Many still have that preconceived notion of Americana-style music- and what Tennessee musicians produce. Sure, there are a lot of traditional and old-fashioned acts, yet Tennessee is a large state; its musicians are among the most talented in the U.S. – Daphne & the Mystery Machines are among the finest. Learn to Fall has some regrets and harder tones; it has warmth and heart to it: terrific melodies and building tensions; a combination of emotions- that comes together in an arresting way. Two things come to mind; make me wonder: firstly, if the band would ever come to the U.K., and secondly, what their album will sound like. Even on the basis of one track, you just know the band would be well-received here: those melodies and vocals remind me of Adele (and Amy Winehouse); the lyrics/music would inspire a lot of fellow acts- the crowds would love to see/hear Daphne & the Mystery Machines. Through London (and further north) there are venues they would suit; a definite fan-base awaits- of course it costs a lot of money to come over here (yet something for the band to consider). More urgently, their album will be hotly-anticipated and received: if it contains gems like Learn to Fall then it will be a staggering album, indeed. I’ll wrap this review with a singular message (to those reading this): expand your horizons and start to get out of the comfort zones. For me, I would not normally have known about Daphne’- the type of act/sound that is coming out of Tennessee- but I am so glad I did. Take away any preconceived notions; leave your restrictions at the door and there is a musical world out there: one filled with new heroes and wonderful sounds; entrancing moments and brilliance- start your search in the U.S. This country produces some wonderful music, but to my mind, the U.S. has a greater diversity and range- so much out there to discover. It may be hard to seek all the terrific (U.S.) music out; get to grips with everything out there. If you are looking for a phenomenal starting-point then start here…

WITH Daphne & the Mystery Machines.



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