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Month: March 2016

Ummagma’s Frequency: Ethereal, shimmering, unique

ummagma

Just imagine yourself on a rowboat in the final moments after the sun has completely set behind a twilight ocean. Someone behind you is doing all the rowing, and all you have to do is look forward and prepare for a meditative boat ride. That’s what Canadian-Ukrainian duo Ummagma did to me when I listened to their latest EP, Frequency. The mood is fanciful and tranquil, coruscating with electronic, dreampop, and rock elements.

“Lama” starts out dreamy and electronic, then pushes through that cloudy atmosphere into a silvery, rock-inspired galaxy. While earlier in the song the ambient texturizing is the focal point, it’s the eventual rock instrumentation that sets an intriguing, exciting mood.

“Winter Tale” features a cherubic choir, with female vocals calling back and forth to one another over steady, humming beat. It’s a bit exotic-sounding, like Eastern meditation music–and then this kind of splitting, surging sound pierces the utopian chorus towards the second half, like a shooting star flying by and almost hitting one of our choir angels in the halo.

Our rowboat has transformed into a gondola on “Ocean Girl.” Now we’re drifting down a narrow, Venetian water alley with tender accordion, subtle tambourine, and an overall gorgeous, romantic instrumentation accompanying the ride.

The three “Lama” remixes underscore the dreampop aspects to the EP: The Robin Guthrie Remix has deep, sensuous bass that accentuates Shauna McLarnon’s airy vocals; the Malcolm Holmes’ OMD Remix includes catchy dance sections; and the Lights That Change Remix builds into an unexpected electronic dance-rock vibe, almost like No Doubt may pop out of nowhere.

However,  the best part about Ummagma is that you can never really imagine other artists stopping in for a brief feature. Ummagma is discernibly their own style, and Frequency is their ethereal, shimmering lovechild, born for the dreamers and built out of moon rock DNA.–Rachel Haney

Try the Pie and like it

trythepie

Try The Pie’s latest album, Rest, departs from their slightly heavier punk sound from previous albums. Recorded in frontwoman Bean Tupou’s San Francisco bedroom, Rest has a refreshingly raw acoustic-punk sound. The tracks contain lovely acoustic guitar instrumentation with layered female vocals and an occasional dying smoke detector.

The idea of Rest is simple: the album is a rest or a break from a heavier sound. There seems to be less pressure, rules, and instruments within this album, compared to their previous works. With the exception of “Willing” and “Root to Branch,” each song begins with the acoustic guitar, giving them an immediately relaxing feel. The small additions of percussive elements provide layers to the tracks. For example, “‘Alu A” begins with the guitar, and as the track progresses, more and more surprising percussive elements enter in. The whole track feels like a DIY version of The War On Drugs. “‘Alu A” has a really chill vibe that makes it one of my favorites from Rest.

My other favorite element of Rest is the vocalization. Many of the songs feature more than one female vocal, and they all come together to make a refreshingly dissonant combination. The vocalization is akin to other punk bands like Amanda X. “Please! Please! Please!” brings in the multiple vocals almost immediately. It sounds like there’s about three female vocals looping and overlapping in a perfectly wonky way–the vocal dissonance pairs well with the old reliable acoustic guitar.

The raw nature of Rest makes me love it even more. The tracks are so short, yet so powerful. Take “Eight,” for example: a seemingly simple song about a spider. Yet, if you take a look at the lyrics, they explore what happens when you get in “sticky” situations where “the net gets so sticky/ and I can’t get out of it/ but I still try.”  The final lyric–“when you are using all eight it seems so dull/ to know that you are superior over all”–drops a metaphorical bomb that makes you want to read the lyrics all over again to try and understand it. “Eight” actually ends with a disgruntled “God damn it,” which I’m assuming was Bean’s response to the earlier-heard dying smoke detector.

Try The Pie’s latest release is a beautifully unassuming album with a slightly grainy music quality and a nonchalance toward interruptions. My recommendation is to relax, sit back and enjoy a little Rest. –Krisann Janowitz

Premiere: Band and the Beat “Straight and Narrow” / “Jimmy’s Jam”

B&TB SaN Cover_1400_72

I am incredibly stoked to be premiering the Straight and Narrow Digital 45 from Band and the Beat today! It’s a perfect two-song set for a spring afternoon and evening (and it’s Friday, to boot!)

B&TB is a North Carolina-based indie-pop duo using analog synths to create perky, warm, smile-inducing tunes reminiscent of Mates of States’ electronic side. Tracy Shedd’s vocals lead the way, as her forthright tenor slides smoothly along the bed of pad synths, drum machines, and good vibes.

The digital 45 they’re releasing today contains twelve minutes of work in two tunes. The gently tumbling vocal melodies of “Straight and Narrow” and the more dusky, terse minor key action of “Jimmy’s Jam.” Both tunes are the sort to make me lean my chair back, close my eyes, and take a mental trip. The fact that the two tunes go different places in my mind is a bonus–both are strong examples of the sort of veteran, polished, easily-lovable work that the members of Band and the Beat are putting out early in their career.

You can check out a video for the digital 45 below!

They are playing quite a few shows right now, too.

Premiere: Luna Jamboree’s “Chasing Dreams”

Luna Jamboree’s “Chasing Dreams” is a dramatic, tension-filled duet that hits on an age-old problem for musicians: how do you sustain a relationship between a touring musician and a significant other at home? How much is the significant other willing to sacrifice for the touring musician’s dreams? How far is the touring musician willing to go to achieve the goal of being a full-time musician?

The struggle is played out here in an alt-country milieu that’s similar to The Local Strangers or a more speedy Civil Wars. Bryan Copeland and Kim Painter trade impassioned vocals over a traditional country vamp: stuttering guitar strum; straightforward, snare-heavy drums; and up/down bass action. The swooping cello adds another layer of gravitas to the tune, tying the vocals and the instrumentals together neatly. The band knows how to say their piece and quit while they’re ahead: the tune makes a big impact in its 3:22, without stretching out to epic lengths. The results are an impressive alt-country tune that continues traditions while not sounding dated or tired.

If you’re in Columbia, Missouri on April 15th, you can catch Luna Jamboree during their CD Release show for Phases at The Social Room.

Jimkata: In Motion is a Wild Ride

jimkata_in_motion

Electronic rock trio Jimkata has released a full-length album, In Motion, at the most opportune time: as March comes slipping in under the slits of our hibernating eyes, In Motion is the perfect soundtrack to brush away the wintertime blues and awaken us to the vivacity of spring. Jimkata meshes electronic and jam band elements, which make a perfect setting for lyrics you may end up tattooing on your forearm.

You know those songs that give you nostalgic chills, the ones that narrated the first few tantalizing experiences of adulthood? “Wild Ride” accomplishes that emotion, conjuring up those feelings of teen angst and heart-pounding excitement. It has a youthful tingling, unapologetic rock elements, and a whirling anxiousness to it that made me feel like I was on a journey to an unknown destination. “Because you are a force to be reckoned with/You are a dreamer, a saint, stronger than wire/You won’t be defeated by any crook, any thieves, any liars,” the male vocalist sings. It sounds like Phil Collins’s way cooler sons are egging me on, telling me that I’m the shit.

And when I don’t feel like I’m the shit, “Won’t Let You Down” is right there to pick me back up again. Lyrics like, “I don’t know much/But I know that you’re my friend/And I won’t let you down” have such a genuine pulse to them that I feel like Jimkata and I have been friends since the carpool line in elementary school.

The instrumentation complements the lyrics each time: vigorous drum solos follow inspiring phrases; the powerful, sliding guitar lines of “In the Moment”seem to similarly tug us down; and airy synth parallels uplifting lyrics. Synergy exists between the music and the message throughout the album. The best example of this is on “Innocence.” While the lyrics, “When the innocence starts to fade/when in my mind I hope that it stays/never fall away from me,” are some of the more serious lines on this record, the groovy, carefree funk that accompanies it exhibits that breezy innocence the vocalist sings of.

I’ve had a reoccurring dream of standing under a tsunami wave that’s about to crash down on me since elementary school, and I’ve been analyzing it ever since. That’s why the lyrics, “Well you can ride the wave, and nothing stays the same/but it’s okay, it’s okay, ‘cause you can ride the wave,” in “Ride the Wave” feel destined for me. It’s Jimkata’s ability to create interaction between artist and listener that makes them special.

The blending of the rock instrumentation, electronic embellishments, and jam-band groove emphasizes their messages. The instrumentation elevates the lyrics with an optimism that, while sunny, feels serious, proactive, and personalized. That’s the power behind In Motion: lyrics that mean something specific to each person. So the next time I enter my lucid dream, instead of standing on the sand looking up at the wave, I’m diving in and riding it, because apparently, I can. –Rachel Haney

March MP3s: In the Minor Key

In the Minor Key

1. “Works for You” – Σtella. Sleek, slinky pop that bridges the gap between electro and Fleetwood Mac with ease.

2. “Throw the Game” – Sky vs. Heath. Electro-indie bands are a dime a dozen, but Sky vs. Heath manages to rise above the pack with pristine production, a breathy vocal performance, and solid vocal melodies.

3. “Future Ex” – Plastic Knives. Somehow things still sound futuristic, even though we’re definitely living in the future. This electro-meets-rock-meets-post-rock-meets-soundtrack tune achieves an unusual amount of clarity, consistency and vision for a tune of its type.

4. “Come to Your Senses” – MNNQNS. Ping-pongs between post-punk verses, party-friendly indie-rock pre-chorus, and an almost alt-rock chorus. The results are a lot of fun.

5. “Stay” – Sabbatical Year. Performing the balancing act between hipster-friendly indie-pop and radio-friendly OneRepublic-style pop takes a deft hand, and Sabbatical Year shows off that they’re up to the task.

6. “3 A.M.” – New Dog. A surprisingly perky arpeggiator anchors this late night indie-pop; it’s perhaps a gentler version of Digital Ash-era Bright Eyes. The sort of song that you feel like you’ve known and loved forever, starting right now.

7. “Dodged a Bullet” – Greg Laswell. Laswell is in full-on mope-out mode, making breakups sound just as weird and uncomfortable and all too familiar as we know they are.

8. “All In Time” – Hospital Ships. If you pull out elements of The Postal Service, Songs: Ohia, and LCD Soundsystem and mash them together, you might end up with something along the lines of this intriguing, low-key indie-pop jam.

9. “Cut Love” – Hayden Calnin. A brilliant, icy, arch, James Blake-ian electro-mope (with piano).

10. “The lamp kept us warm, but now we walk (Feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. A thoughtful, atmospheric piano-heavy piece (post-rock? modern classical? I don’t know anymore) that includes lots of found sound; it’s the sort of thing that turns an ordinary place into an extraordinary one with a simple pair of headphones.

11. “Back Home” – Lyfe Indoors. It’s tagged “coldwave,” which I’m sure is a specific term, but I like it because this tune is like a spartan chillwave tune in a minor key. It’s got subtle groove and evocative atmospherics.

12. “Dissolve” – TIHMTGB. A fractured, tumbling, almost architectural sonic piece; it relies heavily on impressions and interpretations of the mood, rather than melody. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]

March MP3s: Pop

Pop

1. “Pigtails” – Sean Magee. This is the sort of throw-your-hands-in-the-air pop that makes 13-year-olds think of Bastille and 30-somethings think of the Ben Folds Five. This is just too fun. The video is also incredibly fun.

2. “I Really Love You” – Gibbz. Humongously catchy chorus, almost-equally-catchy verses, perky drum machines, crunchy guitars for emphasis, and the ability to sing curse words at the top of your lungs. HELLOOOOO SUMMER

3. “Can’t Stop Moving” – Sans Parents. An escapee from the mid-’00s moment where ’60s garage, dance-rock, and indie-rock all converged and became stuff like The Caesars. The chorus is just rad.

4. “Sport’s Drinking Again” – The Sharp Things. Next up in the “things I didn’t ever think I’d sing out loud” category: “I’m drinking again / alleluia.” Add in jubilant choir, triumphant trumpets, chamber orchestra, and full rock band, and you’ve got this enormous three-minute wonder.

5. “Nonnie” – Flaural. I don’t get out to many rock shows these days, but Flaural’s psych-rock has enough whimsical, Alice in Wonderland indie-pop sensibility in its guitar melodies that it hooked me.

6. “Ethics in Gaming” – Marc with a C. Marc is always able to wring meaningful lyrics out of goofy, sometimes-esoteric pop culture in his well-developed fourth-wall-breaking style. Then he marries those lyrics to ridiculously catchy power-pop. Everyone wins.

7. “Dream Catching” – Fell Runner. Like a deconstructed Vampire Weekend, Fell Runner slo-mos their way through effervescent pop. It is uniquely ear-catching.

8. “Burn Baby Burn” – Stevie Cliff. Prince would be proud of this sly, funky, sexy jam.

9. “High” – Breaking Heights. Sometimes you need a walking-speed, head-bobbing Brit-pop-inspired tune. Stay tuned for the surprise halfway through.

10. “Staying Awake” – Why We Love. Yelpy, chirpy, jumpy, hectic, super-fun indie-pop.

March MP3s: Acoustic

Acoustic

1. “Days With Wings” – Black Balsam. In a post-Mumford world, folk-pop is seen with some suspicion. Tunes as genuinely engaging and fun as this one should help with the fears of those who are over-banjoed.

2. “Sugar Moon” – Jonas Friddle. Folk-pop can also regain its footing by not taking itself too seriously, and Friddle’s artwork of a man playing a banjo that turns into a pelican by the end of the fretboard is a good start. The tune itself sounds like Illinois-era Sufjan mashed up with a Lumineers track at a Beirut concert. In other words, it pulls from everywhere and ultimately becomes a Friddle tune. Totally stoked for this album.

3. “Star of Hope” – Mairearad Green (feat. King Creosote). Green is what Frightened Rabbit would sound like if they weren’t constantly thinking about death: chipper, major-key, acoustic-led indie-rock led by a vocalist with an unapologetically Scottish accent. It’s just fantastic.

4. “We’ll Live” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Wolfe’s tenor voice carries this alt-country tune with great aplomb. The pedal steel also provides a great amount of character here.

5. “Only Time” – Ryan Downey. I know you’re not going to believe this, but this is a multitracked-vocals-and-clapping version of the Enya staple. It seems remarkably honest in its intentions, and it’s remarkably engaging as a result. You think you’ve seen it all, and then…

6. “If I Could Fly Away” – Alan Engelmann. The warm brightness of this acoustic pop song makes me think of the spring with a great longing.

7. “Where Am I?” – Amy Virginia. A clear, bright voice cutting across a stark folk frame makes for engaging listening.

8. “Either Way” – Sorority Noise. We’ve come a long, long way from “Good Riddance” on the punk-bands-with-acoustic-guitars front: Cam Boucher’s musing on suicide and loss is a heartrendingly beautiful, spare tune that can fit right next to any early Damien Jurado track (who, of course, was once a punk with an acoustic guitar).

9. “The Curse (Acoustic)” – The Eastern Sea. An intimate performance of rapid fingerpicking and emotional vocals. Not much more I could ask for.

10. “Prologue” – Letters to You. A gentle, pensive acoustic ditty expands into a beauty-minded post-rock bit.

11. “what if i fall in love (with you)” – Isaac Magalhães. A soothing, nylon-stringed guitar performance matches a bedroom-pop, lo-fi vocal performance to create something deeply personal-sounding. Impressionistic RIYLs: Iron and Wine and Elliott Smith.

12. “Most of the Time I Can’t Even Pay Attention” – Crocodile. An off-the-cuff sort of air floats through this one, as if you showed up at your friend’s house and he was already playing a song, so you let him finish and then you both go off to hang out. The lyrics are a bit heavy, but the soft, kind vocal performance calms me anyway. It won’t ask too much of you, but it gives you a lot if you’re into it. You could end up writing a lot about it, you know?

13. “Pickup Truck” – Avi Jacob. It’s hard to quantify maturity, but it’s sort of a mix between knowing your skills, knowing how to maximize them, and not trying to push beyond that. It’s the “sweet spot.” Avi Jacobs hits it here, putting accordion, piano, fingerpicked guitar, and female background vocals into an arrangement that perfectly suits his just-a-bit-creaky-around-the-edges voice. From the first second to the last, it hits hard. Keep a close watch on Jacob.

Dan Hubbard: Confident, world-weary folk-rock

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Dan Hubbard‘s self-titled record is an intimate, world-weary collection of folk-rock tunes penned by a veteran songwriter.

Hubbard has a smooth tenor voice that hits like a Midwestern Jason Isbell or Adam Duritz (of the Counting Crows)–the sort of lithe, confident voice that uses vibrato and other flourishes to display tension and emotion easily. “February” and “More I Live, Less I Know” are incredible vocal performances that are both seemingly effortless and also weighted down with the tension of years of woe. (Relatedly, these tunes have a kindred spirit with Bruce Springsteen’s work, both musically and lyrically–check “She Gives It Everything” for more proof.)

Musically Hubbard is a pro–the songwriting here is tight, the arrangements are impeccable, and the songs seem to roll off his guitar. The pickin’-and-grinnin’ “Straw Hat,” the Civil Wars-style ballad “Tired of Loving You,” and the Dawes-esque roots-rock tune “Come Tomorrow” are confident entries in their respective songwriting veins, despite being different from each other in a variety of ways. “And The Music” is the quiet end of his sonic spectrum, as stand-up bass thrums imperially to underpin a gently tumbling fingerpicking pattern and Hubbard’s most memorable vocal melodies of the record. The coda of the tune is the sort of melody that people latch on to and don’t forget, a “Ho Hey” for people ten years later.

That lyric that accompanies the indelible melody is representative of the lyrics throughout: “I remember when God left / and the angels left / and you were there / you were there.” The world-weariness, questioning of religion, and hope in relationships (in this case, an old friend) to get us through are all over the record. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, the lyrics push hard on the way the world is, could be, and perhaps should be. That’s the sort of lyrics I want to hear.

Hubbard’s self-titled record is a confident record of folk-rock from a veteran of the genre. It shows in strong songwriting, well-developed lyrics, and an overall sense that Hubbard was really going for it on this one. Dan Hubbard should be on your to-hear list.