New Music Monday: Judah & the Lion

Judah and the Lion, photo:

Judah and the Lion, photo:

What happens when you rap over a mandolin, garage-y drums, and a synth? You get Judah & the Lion, a young band out of Nashville, Tenn. Once a decidedly rootsy-folk outfit only a few years ago, Judah & the Lion have now adopted the surprising label of “folk hop.” As difficult as it is to imagine, the band has certainly succeeded in smashing together at least four genres, including folk, electronica, and hip-hop.

The band is comprised of frontman/guitarist Judah Akers, drummer Spencer Cross, mandolin player Brian Macdonald, and banjo player Nate Zuercher. They all met as students at Nashville’s Belmont College and initially had no intentions of turning their jam sessions into anything too serious. They had been playing casually and exclusively in Nashville when they had the opportunity to play in Athens, Ga. The green, unsigned band had no idea that they were building a significant following by posting their songs on sites like Noisetrade. Cross recently told Go Knoxville that it’s been gratifying to know that their fans have been garnered for the most part through word of mouth, without help from a big record label.

They’ve done some quick evolving to get to the sound of Folk Hop N’ Roll, which was just released on March 4. This newest album was released on EMI, a division of Universal Music Group, a huge step up, in terms of publicity, from their 2013 independently released EP Sweet Tennessee.

Though they’ve never been much of a tearful ballad type of band, Folk Hop N’ Roll presents a whole other level of excitement for them, leaning fairly far away from the relaxed, toe-tapping bluegrass sound of Sweet Tennessee. Between these two, they released their first full-length album, Kids These Days, in 2014, which definitely shows the evolution with its rambunctious folk rockiness. Folk Hop N’ Roll begins with “Graffiti Dreams,” diving straight into a head-bobbing drum beat, electric guitar and almost-rapped lyrics about wanting to see good things happen, rather than them just being “graffiti dreams.” The album doesn’t let up from the fast beats. The newest single, “Reputation,” makes me think of Weezer and even some old school Beck, except more happy and dance-y.

It’s clear, lyrically speaking, that this album is about the confusion and freedom and ever-present apprehension of being young, and the collision of genres only aid this theme. This album works so well for our generation. In a time when folk is being revived in the biggest way possible, but beat-driven pop still rules the charts, Judah & the Lion has taken the best of all of the worlds and made all the pieces into something meaningful. If anything can speak some truth about our Mumford & Sons/Skrillex/Drake-sounding time, it’s Judah & the Lion.

You can listen to Judah & the Lion on Soundcloud and Spotify, and keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.