1. “Why” – Rathborne. Helter-skelter drums, bass that’s just trying to keep up, jagged guitar sprawling everywhere, aggrieved vocals leading the charge? And it’s done in 2 minutes? Sign me up for garage rock 101, Rathborne. Teach me.
2. “Jawbone” – Dogheart. Sometimes the melody and vocals are so good that it doesn’t really matter what genre the song is. Dogheart’s good-natured garage rock will have people of all sorts humming along.
3. “Suckcess” – Michael Rault. Lo-fi rock with just the right amount of fuzz to get your adrenaline, but not so much that you can’t tell what’s going on. A strong dose of pop ideals (and pop history) put this one over the top.
4. “Boomerang” – Ships Have Sailed. Big fat pop songs are great ways to get through wet, cold Tuesdays in February. Ones that have vibes like The Killers are even better.
5. “Six String to My Heart” – Purple Hill. If The Hold Steady were more alt-country instead of classic rock, they might have sounded like this organ-laden, vocal-driven mid-tempo rock tune.
6. “A Whole New Shape” – Happyness. Remember when Yuck and Smith Westerns were big because they were playing neo-grunge with an indie flair? Happyness is on that train too, and they deserve as much attention as the aforementioned.
Brooklyn Doran’s jazz-standards vibe brings a classy aura to Lake Street Dive-esque charm. The band knows how to hit it and quit it, as Doran and her crew mesmerize in less than two minutes.
Mann Friday are trying to get the booker at Glastonbury to book them by dedicating a video to her. “Say Yeah (Emily Eavis)” might mark the only time that the booker of a festival has been immortalized in song. The acoustic-fronted pop-rock song is pretty great too.
Jen Chapin’s “Gospel” pays homage to historical and current protest movements around the world.
Acoustic fingerpicking; versatile, powerful female vocals; an intimate performance–what more could you ask for? Courtney Marie Andrews is impressive here.
Ryan Culwell’s “Red River” is a desolate, stark, moving tribute to the people and land of South Texas. Shades of Jason Isbell, but for a different people.
As they say on Imgur, “Always upvote Cancellieri.”
Mike Evin’s “Have I Ever Loved?”: simple concept, masterful execution. It’s A beautiful clip that accomplishes being funny, charming, heart-warming, and haunting all at once. Top-notch work here.
The Great Escape’s heavy soul tune “All I Think About” has a neat video conceit. I love it when something fun happens that I wasn’t expecting.
Natalie Prass’s “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” is a clever concept and a deconstructive criticism of makeup, beauty, and women’s identities as constructed by society. Don’t believe me? Check it:
I’m not gonna lie: Moon Duo’s “Animal” is one of the weirder videos I’ve ever seen. It features a dandy-style skateboarder skating on things that are not skateboards. It’s cool, in a “I’m not totally sure what’s happening” sort of way.
Powerdove’s “You Can Make Me Feel Bad” does the collage video right, providing an off-kilter, slightly-unsettling mix of images that portray the feel of the abstract, avant garde acoustic song.
1. “Just Like Moonlight” – Inner Outlaws. Mad respect for any band that puts the bassist at the forefront of the tune. Michael Cacciatore’s lumbering low-end powers this wide-open indie-rock soundtrack to the city at night, which is a deft mix between sparse environments and blown-out arrangements.
2. “The Devil” – Michael Feuerstack. There’s a certain amount of guts it takes to tell the bassist to play straight eighth notes for an entire song, as it naturally turns the song into a highway jam. Feuerstack’s road anthem is perhaps a demolition derby jam–an indie-rock song amped way up, reminiscent of the roiling, raging loudest moments of the Mountain Goats.
3. “A Little Ditty” – Sleaford Mods. There’s nothing quite like UK blue-collar rage taken out in spoken-word fury over a chugging post-punk backbeat. It feels timeless and fresh at the same time.
4. “Stationary Life” – Blis. Twinkly emo, yelpy vocals, references to parents’ house, underlying good-natured energy/aggression: Deep Elm would have been all over Blis. a decade ago.
5. “Dead or Alone” – Lull. “How loud can we play something and still make it sound sad?” “I don’t know, man. Let’s start from the noisiest and get quieter till we’re there.” In other words, shoegaze, indie-rock and emo revival all smashed together into mopey, angsty goodness.
6. “Heavenstay” – Shana Falana. Reverb-drenched, guitar-sculpted dream-pop reminiscent of School of Seven Bells, Ponychase, or other artists who try to engulf people in the sound of dreams.
7. “Open Water” – Lade. Trip-hop and The Verve-style Brit-pop collide in a twilight mix.
1. “Muscle Memory” – Laura and Greg. Do you miss the Weepies? Laura and Greg’s precise, delicate picking and close harmonies are augmented by just the right amount of indie affectation to end up with a totally charming outcome. This is sort of song that sticks in your brain and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait to hear where they go from here.
2. “Promised Myself” – Kylie Odetta. There’s an “towering pop vocals” button in my soul, and it doesn’t get pushed by Adele that often (come on, 25!). Kylie Odetta writes those torchy, piano-led dramatic tunes and backs them up with soulful, belting vocals. (The video is an unusual mashup of the “’80s pop star in empty building” trope and Odetta hanging out in a coffeeshop; welcome to 2015.)
3. “The Secret” – Sam Joole. Joole’s got the old-school piano ballad down, and his tender, gentle vocals sell the tune beautifully.
4. “Memoria No. 1” – The Greatest Hoax. TGH offers up more downtempo ambient, but this time with a more electronic bent. More Album Leaf, less Ólöf Arnalds, all chill and wonderful.
5. “Stormy Grey Eyes” – Knitted Cap Club. Meagan Zahora of KCC pushes the “dusky, cabaret dramatic vocals” button, which is right next to the “towering pop vocals” button. This could have been written in the 1920s, which I feel is a major compliment if you’re going to be in this genre.
6. “Four Sisters Part One” – Lowland Hum. This one’s a duet, but the female vocals are no less arresting for being lead by a tenor vocalist. The intimate harmonies on the phrase “use your voice” couldn’t be more perfect in this acoustic tune.
7. “In the During of a Moment” – The Lowest Pair. This duet is lead by the female alto vocalist, with the man chiming in on harmonies. It’s a stark, hushed recording that seems like it could be happening just behind you; the room reverb warms up the whole performance and fits perfectly with the tune.
8. “Hands and Feet” – Lowlands. Vintage rock’n’roll music has been getting a lot of love recently: the ’50s rock vibes here are cut by modern indie-pop melodies in the chorus. It’s an appealing mix. (And yes, I put Lowland Hum, Lowlands and The Lowest Pair in the same mix because seriously how often does that happen?)
9. “Let It Burn” – Magic Giant. MG’s new single is just as hooky, infectious, and enthusiastic as their previous rave-folk tunes. It doesn’t seem like dance music and folk-pop could come together so perfectly, but that’s why you listen to music, right? It always surprises.
I don’t post a lot of videos, but when I don’t post the few that I find interesting for a long while, I end up with a ton of them. So over the next few days there will be a lot of videos. Even rarer that posting videos is posting lyric vids, but I couldn’t resist these three for various reasons.
Falcon Arrow made a lyric video for “Landing Party.” But wait, you might think, Falcon Arrow is an instrumental band. You’re totally right. The lyrics are from Lisa Loeb’s “Stay.” Draw your own conclusions.
The Weather Machine took honorable mention for album of the year in 2014 with an album that came out in 2013. So it’s with great enthusiasm that I can announce that they’ll have a 2015 album, named Peach. The first peek is a lyric video for “As Long As We Get Along,” which is what I imagine Josh Ritter would sound like with an electric guitar turned all the way up.
Kangaroo Knife Fight’s lyric video for “It’s You” has impressive typography, a sweet color palette, and a mood that fits with the epic-leaning pop-rock song.
Indie-dance legends Matt and Kim have a new song called “GET IT.” This is all you need to know.
Some bands fit easily into categories, and some bands are Wall-Eyed. Kentucky Gentleman is a seven-song, half-hour blast of sound that combines garage rock, folk-punk, a nortena-style horn line, and cabaret pop (that piano intro to “Cold Black Ink”) into one brooding, foreboding experience.
It’s got punk energy, nasally vocals, and a textured approach to songwriting that goes completely against any stereotypes you might figure for the first two elements. Maybe it’s like a less-glam, more-folk version of My Chemical Romance, but I’m stretching here. Wall-Eyed’s well-developed sound is just tough to explain, which sucks if your job is putting that sound in words. It’s great, however, if you’re a listener interested in unique and interesting sounds.
Opener “Wise County” and follow-up “Cold Black Ink” set the darkly manic stage with performances fit for an alternate-universe version of Conor Oberst’s unhinged side. “Exile” flips the script and drops a perky alt-country tune that wouldn’t be out of place next to “Another Traveling Song” on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It even includes whistling! “I Want to Wreck Your Car” later returns to the major key in a ’50s-inspired pop song, but mostly Wall-Eyed wants to purvey tunes of grit and dusk here. And when you’re good at it, more power to you.
“Holy War” amps up the volume of the horn line and uses it as a blaring, stabbing hip-hop-style marching outfit. The whole song is built off the fat, staccato rhythms, giving the tune an inescapable swagger. It’s only 2:12, but you know it’s there for all 132 seconds. “Red Marks” follows it up, and it sounds like a murder ballad (!). The band ties it all together with closer “The Long Folk Revival”: five and a half minutes of booming arrangements, hectic vocals, and ominous vibes. It’s impressive.
Kentucky Gentleman is a release that is far more consistent than my ability to write about it would purport. These songs all hang together in a tight cohort: this is very much an album. Wall-Eyed has a unique sound that they’ve developed to a fine point here, and that pays off for them and the listener. If you’re into adventurous, seedy versions of Americana, you’ll be thrilled to hear Wall-Eyed.
North Carolina folk outfit River Whyless‘ tunes have no hard edges. The gentle, cooing folk on their self-titled EP has had all its difficult parts sanded down to a smooth, warm experience that wraps you in a comfy blanket of sound. Look no farther than opener “Life Crisis” to find that fuzzy feeling: the slow-building, slow-burning tune incrementally adds harmonium, glockenspiel, clapping, and dramatic cello to culminate in a ragged, earthy stomp that would make Fleet Foxes, barnraisers, and snowy-day-fireplace-watchers happy.
Look no further than “Miles of Skyline” to see how deeply the production values are imbued in their bones. The song has a rhythmic, metallic drumbeat that wouldn’t be out of place in an industrial tune, but they manage to layer so many harmonic plucks, swooning strings, trilling vocals and other pleasant vibes that it doesn’t sound out of place at all. It’s a frankly amazing songwriting trick, not unlike the moment in “All My Friends” when you realize that James Murphy has been playing the same piano line this whole time but it sounds different with every instrument that’s added.
In between those tracks are “Maple Sap” and “Bath Salt,” which both flesh out the River Whyless sound. The former starts off with a capella harmonies that remind me of Mountain Man, First Aid Kit and the like. Then it explodes outward into that Fleetwood Mac/CSNY sound that modern folk in the mid ’00s was so good at pulling together. It feels rustic in a beautiful way. The latter starts off so wonderfully crisp and bright that it sounds like the audio equivalent of turning a corner on a path and seeing a mountain pond ringed by trees with the sun shining in. The song floats.
River Whyless is a delicate, glorious wonder. It’s highly stylized to reach maximum beauty and calm, which seems to me the best reason to stylize anything. If you’re into modern folk, River Whyless is a must-know; this release is a must-have.
The seven songs of Cable Street Collective‘s The Best of Times are exciting: can’t-stop-moving, mood-lifting, first-time-you-heard-Vampire-Weekend exciting. The London six-piece plays ecstatic, polyrhythmic indie-pop that snags Afro-cuban rhythms and harnesses them in the service of giddy pop songs.
They don’t just do the upbeat, herky-jerky melodic style; they also know how to lay back on the beat, dub-style. The contrast of laying back and then pushing way to the front with syncopations creates an atmosphere of gleeful uncertainty: you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you know it’s going to be fun. Whether it’s the four-on-the-floor, rat-a-tat female speak/sing vocal delivery of “He’s on Fire,” the iconic Latin percussive vibes in “Yin & Prang,” or the Givers-esque perkiness of lead single “Can’t Take Me Under,” Cable Street Collective know how to give the listener what they didn’t know they wanted. They even slow things down a little for the last track, turning Vampire Weekend back into Paul Simon’s Graceland and knocking out an uplifting, “All These Things That I’ve Done”-style coda.
I haven’t even touched the lyrics: The Best of Times is an only-slightly-more-subtle version of Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News: “It is the best of times / to be at number one / it is the worst of times / for all the other ninety-nine.” Social commentary and heavy-hitting dance grooves? Sign me up. The Best of Times is the best EP of the year so far.
Raleigh’s own Six String Drag is back after a 17-year recording hiatus with Roots Rock’n’Roll. The seminal alt-country band (they were kickin’ it with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown in the ’90s) gets points for truth in advertising, as their new LP is a rollicking celebration of vintage rock’n’roll styles.
The track I have the great pleasure of debuting isn’t rock, though: “Hard Times, High Times” is a horns-driven soul tune. Vocalist and songwriter Kenny Roby leads the way with a lush baritone, encouraging a lover (but also pretty much everyone) to hang on through those hard times to get to the good ones again. The backdrop to that crooning vocal is a moving amalgam of motown horns and alt-country twang that works beautifully despite the seemingly disparate parts. It’s a beautiful, poignant tune that would work perfectly as a slow dance for people who don’t do saccharine, lovey-dovey stuff.