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Listening for the Depths of Winter: And a hot debate enters the House floor

Austin Bullock — Don’t Wake Me Up

At the end of 2020, Providence-based multi-instrumentalist Austin Bullock dropped Don’t Wake Me Up, a satisfying collection of eight songs with wide-ranging influences. A prolific writer, Bullock put out three albums in 2020, all following the theme of “8 hours labor, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest” according to his Bandcamp page.

Though it was hard to decipher any kind of throughline, all the songs feature smart arranging and superb guitar playing. He mixes a lot into the stew here, and all the parts are well fleshed out. “Circus Freak” has a kind of dancy Franz Ferdinand vibe, and “How Could You” is a breezy folk tune. 

Some of the songs off Don’t Wake Me Up make that warbly, Mac Demarco guitar tone the star of the show, like the heavy groover “Deflated.” The leadoff “(I Don’t Want) Another” has the sunny, laid-back tones of Ryland Baxter. The interlocked guitars in “Evaporate” are straight-up Strokes.

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The best moment comes when Bullock moves away from the modern indie influences completely in the bluesy, psych-infused ”Talk the Talk.” The song’s repetitive, hypnotic riff is something my brain hasn’t been able to shake.

There is a homespun basement vibe — Bullock appears to play all the instruments — that is definitely cool, but these songs would really rip with a full band. The act performs as a duo with Lauren Boucher on drums, and hopefully will be playing live at a venue near you soon. 

Purchase Don’t Wake Me Up here.

Torn Shorts — Live at Dusk

During this time of peak concert withdrawal, Torn Shorts has released their Dusk set from eight years ago. The quartet, consisting of Josh Grabert, Nick Molak, Brendan Tompkins, and Zach Zarcone, specializes in a mix of heavy blues, folk and jam.

The band always seemed like a popular live draw in the before times, and this set illustrates why. If you listen hard enough, you can almost feel yourself back in the post-industrial hinterlands listening to a live set, beer in hand, and afraid to use the dank, graffiti-covered bathroom.

Live at Dusk has many jams fans would describe as “tasty,” with extended guitar solos in “Wishing Well” and “Sunday Afternoon.” They mostly keep it pretty tight without entering moe. territory, though the part about getting high down by the river in “It’s A Feeling” may be a bit on the nose.

I’ve said before that Dusk has the best sound in the game and it’s on display here, where each instrument is well-accounted for. “Life On A River” features anthemic, Springteen-era rock with everyman themes. A groovy cover of the Wilco, Guthrie-penned song “Airline to Heaven” is made infectious with some tasteful slide guitar.

On this album, I gravitated toward the heavier stuff: “Take my Soul” is kind of a classic rock blowout and “Devil” is supercharged, distorted blues for the win.

The best part: all proceeds will go toward supporting Dusk.

Purchase Torn Shorts’ Live at Dusk here.

Making it Official?

A recent ProJo article highlighted a bill in the RI House of Representatives that would make R&B the state’s official music. Warwick Democrat Rep. David Bennett filed the bill at the behest of RI R&B Preservation Society president Cleveland Kurtz.

The bill defines R&B as “music which contains elements of pop, soul, funk, hip-hop and electronic music.” My take: Perhaps folk or jazz would be a better option, given the state’s two historic music festivals. I suppose any way to draw more attention to our musical heritage is a good thing. 

I can’t help but imagine what sort of spirited discourse this measure might inspire. Is House Speaker Shekarchi more of a ’90s hip-hop guy? Would a companion bill on the Senate spark debate, with Ruggerio pulling for doom metal? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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