Ivan & Alyosha are a Seattle four-piece who play an enchanting brand of harmonic, folk-leaning rock with swelling choruses. Their songs beg to be sung in unity, and they benefit from a comfortable, earnest romanticism that hits home on the first and the hundredth listen. After starting as a duo consisting of Tim Wilson (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Ryan Carbary (guitar, piano and vocals) at the time of their 2009 debut EP, The Verse, the Chorus, Ivan & Alyosha (their name inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov) expanded to include Wilson’s brother Pete (bass, vocals) and friend Tim Kim (electric guitar, vocals) by the time of their celebrated second EP, Fathers Be Kind, in 2011 and their outstanding 2013 full-length debut, All the Times We Had. Touring in support of All the Times We Had, Ivan & Alyosha rolled into Indianapolis (as a five-piece, now with a drummer) for a sold out performance at Radio Radio.
Although they already had two heralded EPs in their pocket and had gained plenty of acclaim from the likes of NPR before releasing All the Times We Had to mostly glowing reviews in February, my introduction to the band came on the heels of my review of The Lone Bellow’s fantastic, self-titled debut. The Lone Bellow had been touring in support of Ivan & Alyosha for the past few months and had initially been on the bill for Friday night’s Radio Radio set. As of late January, I was eager and fully invested in seeing The Lone Bellow’s set, so I purchased Ivan & Alyosha's album to ready myself. It was to my delight to discover I loved the eleven songs of All the Times We Had every bit as much as The Lone Bellow. Still, I can’t skip over my dismay of learning weeks ago that The Lone Bellow would no longer be on the bill. They left the tour after Thursday’s Cincinnati set in order to trek out west for a Saturday slot at Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, CA. Once I learned Twin Forks, a brand-new group that debuted at SXSW fronted by Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional and rounded out by Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative and Jonathan Clark and Ben Homola of Bad Books, would be filling The Lone Bellow’s absence, I was intrigued by the prospect and eager to see how the show would play out.
Young Heirlooms, a promising folk-pop duo from Cincinnati, opened the show, although I walked in Radio Radio only in time to catch their final song. However, I did see them play the Do317 Lounge a few months back in support of Green River Ordinance, and I can vouch for Young Heirlooms (Christopher Robinson and Kelly Fine) being a group with lovely and melodic tunes worth keeping your ears open for. From what I gathered in the few minutes I saw them Friday, they added a few members for the set to play as a four-piece and won over some new fans during their set. Young Heirlooms just self-released their self-titled debut, and you can purchase it on Bandcamp.
As previously mentioned, I was eager to see (and hear) Twin Forks, and I’m pleased to report the band – playing only their 15th show, as Carrabba announced – delivers the goods. With the mixture of Carrabba, Zeldin, Clark and Homola, Twin Forks have been touted online as somewhat of a supergroup since making an impact at SXSW, but that term is a misnomer to say the least (as it usually is).
As evident by their eager stage presence and consummate modesty, it’s obvious no one in Twin Forks has any grand illusions about exactly who Twin Forks are. They have zero interest in being Dashboard 2.0 (I was a fan of Dashboard Confessional for a few albums, but I can’t say I listened to or thought about Carrabba’s best-known band very much since about 2006’s Dusk and Summer – when I was 22.), and they craft charming pop-folk tunes boosted by Carrabba’s veteran, natural charisma and songwriting, and they rise to a superior level of accomplished beauty when rounded out by the band’s harmonies and musicianship. I was instantly pleased how organically Carrabba’s voice and lyrics translated into a rustic pop setting, and the effects become even more assuring when paired with the rest of the band, especially Zeldin’s vocals and mandolin. Twin Forks won me over early on, when they started in on a marvelous cover of Talking Heads’ “And She Was.” For a brand-new band lacking any official albums, Twin Forks did a masterful job curating their set list with instantly lovable covers (a winning take on the Fleetwood Mac Rumours classic “Second Hand News” also comes to mind) mixed in with strong original Americana tunes that put me on a mission to hear more. Fortunately, Twin Forks announced you can get a four-song EP (which, by the way, is fantastic and will be covered here in the coming days) by requesting it from the band at email@example.com.
For the evening’s headlining slot, Ivan & Alyosha excellently covered the majority of their album with considerable live charm, plenty of smiles and the necessary crowd engagement for a first set in the city. After a 10-minute delay working out the kinks to get the sound in order, the band opened the set with a choice bang by tearing through the potent rocker and thoughtful album closer, “Who Are You,” touting the pensive chorus, “No one in this world could bring you down / Who are you when no one is around?” From there, the band consistently brought each of the album’s songs to vivid life over the course of an hour – the lone All the Times We Had absence being the album’s exquisitely somber title track, instead swapped for the Fathers Be Kind tune “I Was Born to Love Her.”
Ivan & Alyosha craft such sublime harmonies and assured lyrics that they really have few peers in those respects (Seattle brethren The Head and the Heart are the most notable, gifted exception), but I’ve gathered the current saturation of the pop-Americana genre, especially given the backlash in the wake of Mumford & Sons’ meteoric rise and Grammy-winning coup, makes some apprehensive to laud up-and-comers in the genre. Whereas radio and music supervisors are ready to embrace anything with an ounce of the same DNA of “Little Lion Man” or “Ho Hey,” face-saving indie types are too ready to write off folk-leaning rock bands as derivative (at best) or opportunistic (at worst), even if those bands are capable of writing and performing eleven very good-to-great songs of original material that ring true, both on album and live.
To me, this is a damn shame, but it’s also a valid byproduct of this exact moment in pop music. Fortunately, having been granted the opportunity to contribute to No Depression, a website/former magazine that touts itself as “The Roots Music Authority” since 1995, I have the freedom to artists who appeal to me from this genre without always having the concern of whether or not it aligns perfectly with the trendiest picks of the moment. Music trends are cyclical just like any other form of popular culture, and No Depression surely has witnessed the ups and downs of roots-and-Americana music’s popularity time and again over the course of 18 years. I see those cycles happening exponentially faster on a weekly basis in the indie music blogosphere, and I do my best not to get too wrapped up in each week’s (or day’s) hottest new buzz artist if I don’t sincerely believe I may still enjoy the music ten years down the road. That’s precisely why I’ve fawned over All the Times We Had for the past few months, and it’s why Ivan & Alyosha's cheerful Radio Radio set will make me want to see them each time they visit Indianapolis.
What I’ll remember most from their set is was the final third of the 12-song performance, a stretch that started with the band ushering Twin Forks and Young Heirlooms back on to the stage to offer enthusiastic, helping hands in bringing the spiritual sing-along “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” and infectious lead single “Be Your Man” to life. Once the 11-piece band of merrymakers was trimmed back down to the initial five-piece, Ivan & Alyosha finished the set with another album knockout “Running for Cover,” the whole crowd of Indy faithful booming the massive chorus in harmony. After a quick breath, Ivan & Alyosha returned for a single-song encore in the triumphantly devotional “Glorify,” the spirited closer of the Fathers Be Kind EP.
All in all, Friday night gave the sold-out crowd a young, regional band worth putting on your radar, an exciting, brand-new act of accomplished veterans whose fresh genre entry deserves – and, sooner or later, will demand – your attention, and an acclaimed, hot Seattle band whose songs surpass their substantial charisma. The unifying traits between them all are charm, musicianship and unapologetic love of savory melodies sang with sincerity, and the riches they deliver are enough to supply an abundance of joy for all those times we’ll have.
Ivan & Alyosha's All The Times We Had is out now via Dualtone Records.
*This post first appeared on Division St. Harmony on April 27, 2013.
Justin is a featured contributor to No Depression, and he resides on the outskirts of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Indiana. He writes his own music blog Division St. Harmony (@DivisnStHarmony), and he has been a senior contributor to The Silver Tongue and Laundromatinee. .
Justin has an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel and on Facebook.
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