David Myles throws a party for a retirement home while playing his charming folk-pop tune “When It Comes My Turn.” I guarantee you at least one smile in watching this.
Vacationer’s “Paradise Waiting” clip is pure joy: people in a roller skating dance party in Central Park just doing their thing for the love of it. It’s like the visual representation of the song (which is, of course, what many videos aspire to). Total gold.
Adir L.C.’s clip for “Dinosaurs” is hilarious, particularly in one section with a dancing dinosaur. I won’t ruin the shot for you, but it’s just a riot. Way fun.
I can’t help but laugh and smile while watching this anthropomorphic, goofy-in-the-best-way video.
Sometimes you write a song about your dog, and you get a bunch of dogs to be in the video for it. Perfect, really.
After a long, slow climb, Jason Isbell has hit the burners: five years ago I saw him in a dive bar in Auburn, Ala., and just last month I declined to see him again in a 2700+ person venue in Durham. He has officially made it. If you’re looking for your next up-and-coming dive bar Americana champion, I volunteer Edward David Anderson. Anderson’s Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessionsdoes everything you want an Americana record to do and then some.
Americana starts with the voice, and Anderson’s is great: a smooth, comfortable tenor delivered just right. His melodies fit in between Isbell’s gravitas and Nathaniel Rateliff’s infectious enthusiasm (see “Silverhill” for more on that idea). The tunes surrounding the vocals are spartan and carefully arranged to not clutter anything: there’s not much you can do to help a melody so pure as “Cried My Eyes Dry,” so the band backs off and lets Anderson sing it. This is their approach almost everywhere, except for the hustlin’ crime tale “Jimmy & Bob & Jack” that’s closer to a rock arrangement than anything else here. And it’s the right approach, because Anderson himself is the centerpiece, whether he’s singing over a gently rolling banjo in “Hidin’ at the Hollow” or leading the back porch picker “Sadness” (surprisingly cheery). The songwriting is just right there.
Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions offers up spot-on vocals-centric Americana songwriting. It does its thing and does it well. If you’re looking for more Southern songwriting pathos in your life, here’s to Edward David Anderson.
Archie’s EP by Aryl Barkley is an intimate release that combines the intense focus and breathy vocals of Elliott Smith with the fingerpicking of early Iron and Wine. “High on Inhibition” is a tune right out of Sam Beam’s wheelhouse, a tender major-key rumination on the past. The fingerpicking is just lovely, fitting beautifully with the whispered vocals. The minor key and gentle strumming of “Inside the Playhouse” speak Smith’s language, pondering something heavy without ever becoming heavy itself. “Two of the Ten Best” closes the three-song EP with a tune which includes ghostly background vocals over minor-key fingerpicking, something like a mash-up of the two previous tunes into something that starts to point toward his unique strengths. The ghost of Bon Iver holds out somewhere in the distance, but this last track is where Aryl Barkley really starts to put his name out there. I look forward to hearing more from this Aussie.
Haleiwa‘s Palm Trees of the Subarcticcombines acoustic guitar, Scandinavian dream-pop, and the occasional post-rock touch to create songs that feel bright, fresh, and cinematic.
The trick is that they’re cinematic in a low-key, indie-movie type way, not is a surging melodrama sort of way: “Wall of Blue Sky” feels like a pensive roadtrip scene, while the quiet expansiveness of standout “Seals and Sharks” points more in the direction of the “personal revelation” scene. The blend of acoustic instruments, electronic sounds, and live drumming is arranged and mixed perfectly, creating warm pieces that feel effortlessly pulled off. Just check out the title track or “The World Beyond” for a seamless melding. “All Sparked” focuses more on a flowing acoustic guitar line, which makes the song one of my personal favorites.
Haleiwa’s unique blend of sounds puts it in the same league as The Album Leaf, Teen Daze, and Grandaddy, but different from each of those. Palm Trees of the Subarctic is an exciting work that should be celebrated.
Wrestling is having its indie rock moment, what with The Mountain Goats’ Beat the Champ coming out this year and now this excellent video for Patrick Sweany’s “First of the Week” about what it’s actually like to be a small-time wrestler.
Gracie and Rachel’s “Tiptoe” is a gorgeous black-and-white clip that shows off remarkably beautiful tandem dancing.
Briana Marela’s clip for “Dani” is achingly beautiful, as a woman doing incredible aerial silk acrobatics matches the gentle-yet-intense vibe of the song.
Wonky Tonk’s “Denmark” floated by so pleasantly that I hardly knew it was over when we got there. Just a lovely clip.
I’m pretty sure Ben Maggs’ clip for “The Storm” is a metaphor for the artistic process. Either way, the location and set are great.
Adir L.C.’s clip for “Buyer’s Instinct” is an unusual performance video, as he situates himself in front of tons of different graffiti to sing his tune. It’s surprisingly compelling.
The Sound of Rescue‘s Aperture is a smart fusion of post-rock and drone that strips some of the traditional slow-fast, quiet-loud post-rock tropes and instead substitutes long, thick synths to create their own songwriting logic. It takes 1 minute and 33 seconds before a recognizable guitar comes in on opening cut “Slowly, Then All At Once,” relying on synths and loping yet insistent bass to push the album into existence. The instrumental outfit does retain the song length that many outfits are enamored with; no song runs shorter than 5:41, all but two top 7 minutes, and the closer is 11 and a half.
Yet the album never drags–it’s a testament to their refined palette (this is their sixth major outing in five years) and their clear focus. There is still variation: “Footfalls Echo” almost gets up to post-metal range, as does “Falls the Shadow” before it turns out a nearly-4-minute drone coda. The title track echoes Sigur Ros’ grainy Super 8/ethereal vibe, but never dismisses it in the 6:43 of the tune. It’s a rare band that can get the hammering “Footfalls Echo” and the light-washed “Aperture” next to each other, but The Sound of Rescue is that group. Post-rock fans, pay attention.
Beach Moon / Peach Moon‘s Kite Without a Stringis dreamy early ’00s emo that could have been on Deep Elm or Vagrant records, paired with an artsy sensibility that wants to tug some post-rock, atypical structure sensibility into it (“Firefly Stars”). My first thought was the work of another band with an unruly name (Empire! Empire! I Was A Lonely Estate), but instead of making me want to go listen to that, BM/PM kept me fully engaged in their tunes. The vocals are wide-eyed and child-like, pointing toward the sort of intimate/widescreen tension that is going on in these tunes. Opener “Philosophy at 23/at 24” plays with this particularly well, opening with spacious reverb and an intriguing drumbeat before stripping the tune down to its bare essentials for the coda. Elsewhere the drums play a significant role in directing the sound: the meticulous rhythm that opens the “The Fog” keeps it from being a Lullatone atmosphere piece, while follow-on “Firefly Stars” balances out the low-slung guitars with perky rim-clicks. It’s unusual for the percussion to be such a big part of the sound in a dreamy work, but the pieces all work together here beautifully to keep the tunes from floating off into the ether. Instead, it’s a well-rounded, beautiful release that sticks with me.
Living Decent‘s self-titled EP also could have been on Vagrant Records in the early ’00s, but from the more punk rock side. Vic Alvarez’s latest punk rock outfit offers a contemplative (but not navel-gazing) gaze in their tunes, drawing on some shoegaze/”wall of sound” vibes (“Close Enough to Keep You Close”), pop-punk energy (“Bad Collections,” “Borrowed Bike”), and acoustic-pop sweetness (“Antique Store”) to fill in. The results are songs that feel accomplished–Alvarez has a long history of songwriting, and it feels like all those songs and all those bands have resulted in a “know thyself” sort of maturity evident here. Jimmy Eat World’s stable-yet-productive run in the mid-’00s with Futures and Chase This Light is the best analogue I can think of: both band’s songs are well-crafted, memorable, not ostentatious, and thoroughly focusing on the best characteristics of the band. In Living Decent’s case, that’s Vic Alvarez’s voice, the specific moods the trio pulls out of guitar tone and drum style, and the lyrics. The spartan yet evocative words point toward a concern with “listening,” as three of the five songs mention it–the older we get, the more important it seems to become to just listen and appreciate. If you’re interested in thoughtful punk rock with a lot of maturity in it, please go listen to Living Decent.
The Black Watch has released somewhere between 13-17 albums and somehow hadn’t come to my attention until the last couple of years. Highs and Lowsis a rock’n’roll album the impressive likes of which they hardly make anymore, combining big guitars with psychedelic touches, baritone vocals that don’t veer into monotone post-punk territory (thank you, thank you, thank you), melodies that fit with the rock attack, and a backing band that just nails it. Extra bonus: the band has the ability to peel it all back for an acoustic ballad that doesn’t get maudlin (“Eleanor’s Not Hiding”). Tunes like “Pershing/Harvard Square,” “Love’s Fever Dreams” and “There’s No Fucking Way” get stuck in my head, with “Love’s Fever Dreams” in particular standing out for high praise. I could break down the tunes for you, but in an album like this that’s totally not the point. If you’re into rock’n’roll, you’ve probably already heard of The Black Watch and you’re wondering why I’m late to the show. If on the off chance you’re new here like me, you should jump on this one for real.
A quirky, varied Soul Selection Mix, with infusions of dance music that weave in and out between lyrical hip-hop and a soulful second half: that’s the most accurate way I can describe Night Beds’ “Strangers in Paradise Mix.” Its over 30-minute duration begins with fresh electronic pieces, intertwined by rich R&B and dense hip-hop beats. Duke Dumont’s “Street Walker” sets the mix off, then the mix manifests a Disclosure sleekness with Cyril Hahn’s “Slow.” I was most intrigued by Jacques Greene’s remix of Ciara’s “Sorry,” which elevates the mood with exotic percussion and sleepy-eyed vocals.
A third of the way through we’re presented with a few Jaylib tracks to yank us out of that sensual pool and bounce around various hip-hop snippets with static transitions, like changing the channel on different genres; the common denominator is the constant groove. “Woman” by WoodzSTHLM feat. Night Beds slows it down again halfway, tumbling into a series of romantic tracks, such as “Antidotum” by Kobana.
Ambiance draws the tide out with “Cybertrance” by Les Mes, which rumbles for minutes. It ends with a retro whisper of a song that you may recognize: “Stranger in Paradise” by Vic Damone. But the antepenultimate is what stamped this mix shut like a hot wax seal on a piece of parchment: “Ain’t Got Time” by Roy Ayers shimmies it up with jazz and powerful lyrics: “The war has just begun/the war for freedom…We ain’t got time to be tired/We got a long, long way to go.” Check out Night Beds’ latest album, Ivywild, for more.
Leon Van Les is a Latvian house wizard. On his track, “Life,” the vocalist repeats a single far-away phrase, staying true to mainly instrumental house music roots: “Do what you do with what you want out of life.” Not only is Van Les’s production trimmed and clean, but the combination of pure house and a taste of tropical left my palate cleansed of the usual tumble of genres. (Not that I don’t support the genre-less movement, because it’s awesome.) It felt refreshing to hear straight, sophisticated house music equipped with blinking female vocals, sharp strings, and a quick-to-build house beat that drops into a Kygo-esque sonic whirlpool with underwater fluorescent lights.
Leon Van Les shows another side with the track “Basics,” which has navy blue tones; it’s deeper, more Cathedral, but just as shiny as “Life.” A jabbing rhythm balls up into dark, vibrating synth that sounds like an electronic organ at Church of the Holy House Music. My favorite parts of the song are the carefully-employed drops that, instead of exploding into shards of mind-blowing bass, accentuate Van Les’s poignant elements: crisp production, suspenseful beats that gain momentum throughout, and minimalism, which seeps in through our Church of the Holy House Music’s vents. It’s the spectral simplicity, keeping with the basics if you will, that stamps this Leon Van Les track a warehouse banger. —Rachel Haney
Singer-Songwriter Christie Belanger has released her sophomore EP For Whomever, From No One. The EP’s sound is a combination of sweet soul and flirty folk: Belanger’s voice has a soothing soulfulness, while her instrumentation remains unique and playful.
“Darker Days” starts off the album with Belanger saying “1,2,3,1,2,3”. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s what really drew me in: the opening starts the listener off to expect a cute playfulness to the album. A banjo-heavy instrumentation then falls into place, followed by Belanger’s surprisingly soulful voice. All in all, the track has a sweetness to it that sets the tone for the rest of the EP.
The combination of Belanger’s calming voice and folk instrumentation make For Whomever, From No One a relaxing EP to listen to. Belanger’s voice has a soulful Joss Stone quality to it. Belanger doesn’t reach for any crazy notes or riffs; rather, her voice has a soothing casualness that sounds effortless. A pattern in her songs, Belanger adds in fun onomatopoeia such as “da da”’s (“Porcelain”) and “Mmmm”’s (“Pioneer Moon”) that only further add to the EP’s charming feel. In “Sideways”, a folky drum set keeps the driving beat and both the electric guitar and organ serve as unique additions to the sound.The last track “You Gave Me Your Hand” has a wonderful Jack Johnson vibe to it in the instrumentation and overall relaxing feel.