Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism was an important guide in my transition from pop-punk to indie-rock (and then, via “Passenger Seat,” to acoustic music). I pulled it out earlier this summer to find that it sounds more like a pop-rock record than I remember. The songs are in no way diminished, but they feel noisier than I wanted them to be–I was looking for the distinctively indie-pop set of aesthetics (soft sounds, crisp edges, less clang, more clatter). But it’s an indie-pop-rock record, probably one of the best. We can get into a discussion of power-pop (early Weezer) vs. indie-pop-rock (Tokyo Police Club), but the point is that Young Mister‘s self-titled indie-pop-rock record feels like the direct successor to Gibbard et al’s masterpiece work, from its breezy California milieu, expansive take on indie-pop, and straightforward-yet-arresting lyrics.
Young Mister blasts put of the starting gate with “The Best Thing,” where Stephen Fiore marshals a sunshiny a.m. radio guitar radio riff, bouncy bass, and wryly honest vocal delivery to apologize for oversleeping his girlfriend’s hour of need: “I heard your car stalled on the interstate / I hope you got where you were going.” The chorus is a bubble of air breaking the surface, a rush of horns and lightness after the restrained verses. “Would It Kill You” and “Pasadena” continue this chipper, breezy pop vibe; the tunes pop out of the speakers with clarity and confidence. The deft hand with which oft-subtle musical and emotional shifts is handled shows Fiore as a songwriter with great skills. The shifts also echo the great sweeps of “Tiny Vessels,” “We Looked Like Giants,” and even “Transatlanticism” itself.
Elsewhere the tunes tend toward the expansive rather than the speedy, just as in its predecessor album: “Sound of Settling” is the single, but “Title and Registration” is the home base. Fiore gives “Would It Kill You” and “Take Me Away” some edge to keep things fresh into the album’s depths, but the composure of quieter tunes like “American Dream Come True,” “Carolina,” and “Everything Has Its Place” makes them shine brightest. “American Dream Come True” is a mid-tempo pop song with beautiful guitar work, a lovely vocal performance, and a devastating lyrical turn. It recalls Fountains of Wayne’s more pensive work. “Carolina” is a rueful, mourning break-up tune, wishing a lost lover the best. The sonic palette isn’t that different from “American Dream,” but the distinctive, anthemic chorus moves it into “songs other people might want to cover” territory. Dropping everything to its bare bones,”Everything Has Its Place” creates a floating world couched in delicate reverb, very precise melodies, and a deep sense of romanticism. It’s as if the sparseness of “Lightness” and the emotional ballast of “Transatlanticism” were merged into one daydreamy tune.
The lyrical punch of “American Dream Come True” is not an isolated incident: Fiore is an excellent lyricist. He’s as comfortable singing about “the fucked-up systems that failed you now” (“Would It Kill You”) as he is petitioning Christ for grace (“Carolina”) and sighing at the incredible effort of dating when you’re not in your early ’20s anymore (“Take Me Away,” “Anybody Out There”). His turns of phrase are clever, his topics are more than your standard stock, and his work is highly polished. But the lyrics don’t stray into the esoteric or the hyper-specific; he grounds his lyrics firmly in well-observed and carefully described experience. It’s the rare indie-pop-rock album that can add to the quality of the album with the lyrical effort, but Fiore has certainly done that here.
Young Mister is so carefully and meticulously crafted that it doesn’t show any of the seams. An immense amount of effort went into making indie-pop-rock songs that sound effortless and natural. You can sing along with these songs, write the lyrics on your bedroom wall, or just let the experience wash over you–all the things that my friends and I did with Transatlanticism. Whatever you choose to do, you should start by giving the album a thorough listen. Fans of pop music won’t be disappointed. I’ll be spinning this one for a long time. Highly recommended.
I’m the sort of Dawes fan that considers “When My Time Comes” an absolute essential for a successful Dawes concert. The major-key romp is tied for “Little Bit of Everything” as my favorite tune in Dawes’ oeuvre, even though most of their work (and basically every bit of All Your Favorite Bands) sounds more like Laurel Canyon laid-back country. So it’s with great excitement that I’ve discovered A Valley Son‘s Sunset Park, which is six tracks of enthusiastic full-band alt-country with lots of American roots rock thrown in.
After a scene-setting instrumental intro, AVS kicks it in with the fuzzed-out guitar and blaring organ of “In the Low Light of the Late Afternoon.” “Low Light” is a song of youthful excess and bravado, matched in fervor by Trey Powell’s confident vocals. Powell’s low tenor is lithe and adaptable: he swings from observant to mocking to self-deprecating in rapid succession, selling each change with subtle intonations and careful delivery. He can also throw down a joyful chorus: the refrain here is one that I’ve been humming for days, as much for its enthusiasm as its melodic quality. Powell shows off his versatile vocals elsewhere in the more straight-ahead rock song “Lights in the Sky” (which we premiered) and the careening closing ballad “Shaken, Abrupt.”
The latter tune is a particularly valuable turn instrumentally as well; it shows off another side of the band after four midtempo rock songs. The band knows how to crank out the rock: they can turn out zinging lead guitar lines (“Dark Places”), chunky bass runs (“Sunset Park”), and mood-setting drums (“Lights in the Sky”) with ease. Most of this EP was recorded live, and it really shows. Instead of sounding clinically precise, the songs roll and lunge along in a satisfying way. The closing instrumental salvo of “Lights in the Sky” feels raw and organic, like a band having such a good time that they’re going to run it back some more. I can’t help but get behind a band like that.
But about “Shaken, Abrupt,” the color tune in a clutch of strong rockers: while it does have some guitar theatrics toward the end, this one relies less on the band and more on Powell’s vocals and electric rhythm guitar. Powell is up to the challenge, as he delivers a confident vocal line over a guitar performance that doesn’t get in the way. Powell’s howls here aren’t of the abrasive type that Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) conjures up, but the two vocalists share a propensity to just go for it on a big, sweeping line. That quality gives this and all the rest of the tunes a distinct character which points towards good things for the band.
A Valley Son’s debut EP establishes them as a band to watch. Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages. At the moment, they’ve created six tunes that are satisfying in a variety of ways. Sunset Park drops today. You can check the band out in New York over the next few weeks:
August 10th, Sofar Sounds NYC
August 13th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY (Album Release)
August 26th, Rockwood Music Hall, NY, NY
Galapaghost released its self-produced album I Never Arrived earlier this year. Recorded in Italy, the album shows classical influence in the intricate acoustic guitar work. The layered vocals, creating a Simon & Garfunkel effect, are also notable. What really makes this album shine is how all of the elements come together to create a sound all its own.
The acoustic guitar begins every song off in I Never Arrived, with the exception of “The Secrets our Body Keeps,” which begins with the electric guitar. The beautiful intricate guitar work displayed in this album is stunning. Right off the bat, with “Mazes in the Sky”, listeners get hit with gorgeous acoustic guitar picking that continues to be a theme throughout the album. For example, towards the end, “Goodbye (My Visa Arrived)” pairs brilliant guitar picking with a twangy electric guitar that’s suiting for the somber track.
Another notable feature of the album is the layered vocalization. Beginning with “Mazes in the Sky”, we get introduced to two sets of male vocals. The first is a softer, higher voice and the second is more of a deeper baritone one. Together, they create a classic Simon & Garfunkel sound that proves quite soothing. For many of the other tracks, the deeper, crisper voice stands alone (“Salt Lake CIty”) or immediately enters in with the harmonizing set of vocals (“Science of Lovers”).
Many of the tracks take on a more eerie tone. “Science of Lovers” is a great example of the harmonization taking on a creepier effect. In particular, the melismatic “Ahhh”’s that the harmony intersperses throughout the track adds a certain level of eeriness–think modern day Gregorian chant. “I Never Arrived” also has a similarly brooding sound. Here, the instrumentation makes the track sound darker with the acoustic guitar/ piano combination that is also met with spacey effects. The meditative lyrics of “I Never Arrived” also add an extra level of melancholy, with lyrics like “Can I/ be who I used to?”. The tracks are in great contrast to the few that are abundantly more hopeful, namely “Bloom” and “Somewhere.”
It’s interesting that Galapaghost thought to add “Somewhere” followed by “Bloom,” adding in more cheery tracks close to the end. “Somewhere” starts off the mini-hope train with a more peaceful acoustic guitar and piano combination. “Somewhere” is a very hopeful song, with the chorus repeating “Somewhere/ you’ll arrive/ Somewhere/ the sun will rise.” “Bloom” kicks it up one notch further with a bit of whimsy. For the first half of the track, the lyrics tell a tale of jealousy and pressure, while everyone else is finding deep success. The turning point in the song begins with the lyrics “But I’m happy for you/ Everything around me/ and everyone around me/ is in bloom.” The next verse depicts beautiful moments within the speaker’s own life, leading up to the final lyrical climax of a slower, self-realized repetition of the above chorus.
Overall, I Never Arrived is a calming album, filled with many beautiful elements. I highly recommend checking Galapaghost out. —Krisann Janowitz
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.