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Month: March 2018

Luke and Emily: Compelling folk-pop plus occasional New Orleans Jazz!

Good Weld by Luke and Emily is a great folk-pop album that also happens to include some New Orleans Second Line/dixie-land jazz in it, because why not? That’s how you kick things up a notch, kids.

The first three tracks are strong folk-pop entries, good for people who wanted the Civil Wars to be a little less intense or the Weepies to be a little less sad or Jenny and Tyler to be more like the Low Anthem. (Come to think of it, naming your band The Civil Wars should have been a sign from the beginning that it wasn’t going to end well. But I digress.)

After “Scars for Scars” sets the tone for the record as a meaningful folk-pop work, the fantastic title track appears, all soaring distant trumpets, train-track percussion, and vulnerable male vocals. It’s very moody (love it) until the midway point, when the female vocals come in with an enthusiastic fiddle. The next chorus is an excellent duet. The lyrics are a love song about how a good weld is stronger than either of the pieces of the metal it joins—perfect folk-pop fare. “Rob and Julianna” (by Luke and Emily) is another love song, this time in story-song fashion and featuring an accordion and piano. It’s similarly emotional (still love it).

But then things take a big shift in “When You Look at Me” that shows Luke and Emily aren’t a one-trick pony. Their next love song (sense the theme here) is a dixieland jazz romp, complete with vintage-styled horns and banjo. They follow up “When You Look at Me” with instrumental dixieland jazz piece “You Make Me Want to Praise”, because if you’ve already got the musicians there, why not?

“Abel” introduces religious imagery that was hinted at in “You Make Me Want to Praise,” while also bringing in more trumpets, gentle folk-stomp percussion, lovely strings, and Luke’s compelling vocal performances. “Back to Love” is a strong tune of domestic life capped with a great vocal melody. “Thank My God” is a tune that fans of Jenny and Tyler will love lyrically and melodically.

Good Weld is a strong folk-pop record that has a lot to offer: it’s fun, it’s well-arranged, and it’s interesting in its choices. It’s just flat-out compelling.

Moon Hooch: Genius Comes in Threes

Genius comes in threes when it comes to Moon Hooch. The creation of a jazz party in a trio of three cuts, Light It Up finds its way into the party songbook of the exceptionally cool Mike Wilbur (horns), Wenzl McGowen (horns), and James Muschler (drums). The trio has in a very short time exploded; jazz and funk collide into an experimental collision of improvisational dance jams delivered here in a triple hit of mind blowing cuts from Hornblow Recordings.

Recorded at Gnomehaus outside of Burlington, Vermont, the idyllic setting of the studio and its country vibe is a complete contradiction to the energy that the band delivers here. Incessant touring has created an incredible stage show, but translating that energy to a recording could be challenging; bringing in Tonio Sagan to co-produce and reproduce the primordial connection of the live experience results in the capture of lightning in a bottle.

A trippy tidbit could be that Sagan is the grandson of astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, whose expansive ideas and study of the universe opened the minds of many. Musically Moon Hooch has done the same in a very short time. They thrust the single “Acid Mountain” out for listeners with a visual to go with the auditory mind trip. Sensual, sexual primal energy is erotic at its finest; masterful composition makes an individual dance floor orgasm imminent from the opening Wilbur shout and first attack of McGowen’s baritone saxophone.

The listener falls into “Growing UP” with its soaring sounds. What the band calls “cave music” has no confines other than the imagination, and that is the point here. Growing up requires focus, but the main element here is enjoying the ride. Somehow Moon Hooch is accomplishing the impossible; ask anyone who has experienced the classical saxophone scales and runs woven into asymmetrical dance grooves, pulsing with millenials lit up with laser lights in the club.

Closing a mere ten minutes of music that is simply as mind blowing as the universe, the title track eases in with no tell of what is to come. It’s much like anyone having the first virgin Moon Hooch live experience: slack-jawed grin possession muscling out disbelief.  Playful jazz is jammed with smooth breaks of warm embrace like a lover’s caress. The masters are at work on us all. It’s hard to stay still when the band does not– they began a national and international headlining tour on March 21. The EP is available today on all streaming outlets, and is available to pre-order. In the meantime, Light it Up! — by Lisa Whealy

March 23 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom ^
March 24 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^
March 25 – Reno, NV – The Saint ^
March 27 – Eugene, OR – HiFi Music Hall ^^
March 29 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom ^
March 30 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge ^
March 31 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge ^
April 3 – Lille, FR – L’Aeronef
April 4 – Nantes, FR – Stereolux
April 5 – Rouen, FR – Le 106
April 6 – Cenon, FR – Le Rocher de Palmer
April 7 – Puteaux – Paris, FR – Festival Chorus des Hauts de Seine
April 8 – Rambouillet, FR – L’Usine a Chapeaux
April 12 – Saint-Jean-De-Vedas, FR – Victoire 2
April 13 – Marseille, FR – Le Molotov
April 14 – Cully, CH – Cully Jazz Festival
April 15 – Annecy, FR – La Brise Glace
April 19 – Oslo, NO – National Jazz Venue
April 20 – Trondheim, NO – Dokkhuset
April 21 – Bodo, NO – Sinus
April 24 – Skien, NO – Folque
April 26 – Bergen, NO – Garage
April 27 – Kristiansand, NO – Vaktbua
April 28 – Gjoevik, NO – Kulturhus
May 4 – Stavanger, NO – Mai Jazz
May 5 – London, UK – Roundhouse
May 6 – Bristol, UK – Thekla
May 18 – Asheville, NC – Highland Brewery *
June 7 – Stephentown, NY – Disc Jam Festival
June 14 – Hammonton, NJ – Beardfest
June 15 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
June 17 – Minneapolis, MN – Turf Club
June 18 – Fargo, ND – The Aquarium
June 24 – Rochester, NY – Rochester Jazz Festival
June 25 – Rochester, NY – Rochester Jazz Festival
July 1 – Montreal, QC – Montreal International Jazz Festival
July 6 – Saint-Denis-de-Gastines, FR – Au Foin de la Rue Festival
July 10 – Rotterdam, NL – North Sea Round Town
July 21 – Stuttgart, DE – Jazz Open Festival
August 10 – Croydon, NH – Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival

^ w/ The Accidentals
^^ w/ Turkuaz
* w/ Moon Taxi

Summerooms: A distinctive indie-pop voice

Josh Jackson has become one of my favorite indie-pop songwriters. His deep catalog of songwriting over several different monikers has given him the experience and maturity to create confident, warm, expertly developed songs and albums. Summerooms 2: When the Summer is Over is an excellent example of his work.

The best place to start thinking about this record is with the iconic indie-pop of Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie. From that base, throw in a dash of Relient K’s witty-yet-sad lyrics and melodic pop sensibilities, then season with some twinkling guitars and a brilliant melancholy from the emo revival. All of that comes together into a distinctive songwriting voice in an indie-pop milieu. That’s a rare achievement.

None of the songs overstay their welcome—they all feel like beautiful shards of the larger whole that is the album. The delicate, remorseful “When the Summer is Over” is the perfect example here; it’s a song that could have gone on much longer but confidently sits at 1:43. “Joey’s Theme” is a pensive acoustic guitar solo that fits perfectly in the flow of the record, between the somewhat-perky “Play G” and the laconic, hazy “Moving Day.” Even though “Moving Day” is fuzzy, it’s a lot more discernible than some of his earlier haze-folk experiments. (It should be noted that I liked those haze-folk experiments too, but this is just more mature, higher-quality work.)

“Flyover” is a confident yet peaceful instrumental that signals a turning point in the record. From there, Jackson’s attention turns to more solid pop tunes like “Hard to Sing” and my favorite track “Perfect Lander Halfpipe”. The latter features the joy of low-key twee indie-pop like It’s a King Thing without being precious. It’s got gravitas but also levity. “You’re Around Me” is the sort of pop song that just sounds effortless.

“Shy Brushfire” shows off the easy simplicity of Jackson’s fingerpicking—the tune is somewhere between a singer/songwriter tune and an indie-pop tune; it has the humble arrangement of a singer/songwriter work and the sort of wide-frame melody line that would call up indie-pop conclusions. But the whole thing is so calm!

Summerooms 2: When the Summer is Over is a fantastic record that should not be missed. I want to spend my time listening to this record, not describing it. Josh Jackson is not just one of my favorite songwriters–he’s quickly becoming one of the best young songwriters in the country.

Courtney Marie Andrews: Kindness sung in ethereal clarity

May Your Kindness Remain is the essence of singer songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest, authentic, and genuine, all from a woman early in life. I first came across her music at a small Phoenix venue called The Trunk Space on a bill with other locals Tobie Milford and Michelle Blades in 2008. I was struck by her pure vocals and connection to the audience; this real folk/country vibe is only achieved naturally. Now, seasoned by years on the road, Courtney Marie Andrews is set to release her fifth album March 23rd, 2018 via Fat Possum Records.

Following the critical and commercial success of Honest Life, which is largely a road song album, the new release is more about the people that are encountered while touring. Written with focus on the songwriter’s interactions with people along the road, the lyricist climbs to new heights. This may be family, friends, or fans, but they all make an impression–even down to the cover image on the album. Her work speaks to shared humanity. It is this connection that creates the raw emotion for listeners, each finding a real space in which to rest.

Each of the ten songs tells the story of a songstress and her troubadour perspective, bringing truth that is refreshing; this connection is what makes Andrews authentic, a sister you never had. It seems that her life of touring has instilled in this singer a kindness. To lead with a touchstone of such honesty is profound coming from a woman so young. There is also a raw edge, one that oozes strength and grit.

Channeling the likes of Joni Mitchell and Loretta Lynn, Andrews elevates her game on this ten-song assortment of Americana beauty. Elegant and unencumbered by pretense, every note and nuance serves a purpose here. The NPR-featured title track, “May Your Kindness Remain,” opens the record, paving the way based on the album’s central theme. In the angelic tune, Andrews creates a moment, almost churchlike in its flawless beauty. Awe-inspiring, simple arrangements keep the gospel feel perfect. Her vocals are pure, and in that, Andrews has firmly placed herself as one of the new generation of folk/Americana voices.

Recorded over eight days at a rented house-turned-studio in Los Angeles, Andrews is on vocals and electric/acoustic guitar. The album features Dillon Warnek (electric guitar), Daniel Walter (organ, Wurlitzer, accordion), Charles Wicklander (piano, Wurlitzer), William Mapp (drums, percussion), Alex Sabel (bass) and C.C. White (background vocals). It is produced by Mark Howard, whose past credits include Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Emmylou Harris, Courtney Marie Andrews has found the key to her soul on May Your Kindness Remain.

“Lift the Lonely From My Heart” is a songbird of country flair. This songs proves that to say this lady is not one of the best songwriters today would be just plain wrong. Musically lush, Wornek gets to shine on this track, bringing a downhome vibe to help paint a landscape with the singer’s vocal. Plaintive emotions soar here, and the instrumentation is stellar.

Great songwriting in the style of the American Songbook, “Two Cold Nights In Buffalo” puts listeners right there on the streets, shivering with the message breaking down the disparity of our country’s blues, mixing up the pace beautifully. She follows this spotlight up with the heartfelt “Rough Around the Edges.” There is an essence of Carole King perfection reached with simple piano from Wicklander. We feel you. Seems we have all been you, hiding from the phone, reality just outside the door.

Shredding in with some wicked Wurlitzer, Charles Wicklander is a standout addition to this incredibly talented ensemble of musicians assembled here for May Your Kindness Remain. That is evident on “Border,” with its funk intro groove that drives the track into a space that provides a place to hang lyrical images from Andrews. The tune is brilliantly guided by Alex Sabel’s bass.

Halfway through this folk masterpiece, it is fair to say one can wonder if it is the journey or the destination. Listeners will agree it is definitely the journey, as “Took You Up” features Warnek’s guitar soaring along the road. It takes each drop of rain to make a rainbow, and Andrews shines a light on every single one on this track with her vocal nuance. Taking it to the next down home message, “This Home” has that backwoods real painted all over it, a homey warmth welcoming everyone in; kickin’ it on the porch under the stars. This is the the sound of Americana dreams.

Bringing it home with the last few cuts, it is safe to say that Courtney Marie Andrews has found the life that she had dreamed of as a girl of sixteen. “Kindness Of Strangers” is that homage to the struggle; it is difficult to be in the position of an artist on the road, and family and friends are the glue that make dreams for someone like Andrews come true. Talent alone does not do it. The lilting “I’ve Hurt Worse” with its harmonica has that goodbye feel which makes this a bit of brilliance in sequencing; a separation has begun. Closing out with “Long Road Back To You” and its slow, purposeful story is an elegant way to say so long. Like the best of what was, this is stylistically the best of May Your Kindness Remain with its tempo, gospel vibe, and feeling of hope. The listener is left with the ethereal clarity of Courtney Marie Andrews’  voice. Make sure and find her on tour as she hits the road in support of May Your Kindness Remain.–Lisa Whealy

Premiere: Stephen Babcock’s “Atlanta”

Stephen Babcock’s “Atlanta” is for anyone who listens hard to hear if there’s an organ in the background of a song. (You won’t have to scrunch your ears to find the keys in this one: it fades in at the one-minute-mark.) The organ performance, with all its screamin’ soul, is the heart of this folk/Americana tune.

There’s also charming pedal steel, punchy drums, and chipper guitar strum that try to steal my attention–and that bouncy acoustic guitar almost does it. But it’s the organ that really gets me in this one. It’s not even the most prominent element of the song (that would be the pedal steel or the drums) but it gives the song so much flavor.

Babcock’s tenor voice is also great–he’s got an off-the-cuff, easygoing approach to his vocal performance. He seems to be effortlessly gliding through his arrangement, like he’s singing as he walks past a band gettin’ after it on the street corner. (The below album art helps with this imagined scene.) The light swagger of the melody only adds to the freewheeling vibe. This track is a ray of Americana sunshine. If you’re a fan of Josh Ritter’s major key work (“Lark” comes to mind), Langhorne Slim, or old-school Dawes (“When My Time Comes” forever, y’all), you’ll connect with this one immediately.

“Atlanta” comes from Fiction, which drops April 6. Fiction was produced by Cody Rahn and Stephen Babcock at Seaside Lounge Recording Studio in Brooklyn, mixed/recorded by Mor Mezrich, and mastered by Kevin Salem (Rachel Yamagata, Yo La Tengo, Zee Avi, Peter Paul and Mary, Lenka).

You can checkout Babcock on a Sofar Sounds tour if you’re near the East Coast. (I’m sad to miss the Raleigh date–I miss you, North Carolina!)

4/7- Rockwood Music Hall, Stage Two – New York, NY – 9PM
4/12- Sofar Sounds DC – Washington DC – 8PM
4/13- Sofar Sounds Charlotte – Charlotte, NC – 8PM
4/14- Sofar Sounds Raleigh – Raleigh, NC – 8PM
4/15- Sofar Sounds Charleston – Charleston, SC – 8PM
4/20- Sofar Sounds New York – New York, NY – 8PM

Mid-March Singles: Light but not Slight

1. “Maria” – Frances Luke Accord. FLA make it just sound so easy. This beautiful, svelte indie-folk tune has all the swift fingerpicking a folk fan could want and all the memorable melodies of an indie-pop fan could hope for. Maddeningly, the song is only 120 seconds long. Guys! You could have kept going for like three more minutes without overstaying your welcome! Highly recommended.

2. “Rounded Sound” – Roxy Rawson. “Rounded” isn’t the right term for this kinetic, frenetic indie-folk blitz–the herky-jerky passion of Regina Spektor, the incredibly warm catchiness of Lisa Hannigan, and a liberal dose of her own distinct vision create a wild, enveloping tune that flows, bounces, rushes, and snaps to its own logics. One of the coolest, most interesting tunes I’ve heard all year. Highly Recommended.

3. “Apocryphal Blues” – Harrison Lemke. The first time I heard Harrison Lemke I bought his album after about 2 minutes worth of listening. If you’re into old-school Mountain Goats records (inception all the way until Tallahassee), you’re going to want to do the same thing when you hear this song. Lemke’s vocal tone and melodic tics are similar enough to John Darnielle’s that you can imagine these are lost tMG tapes, but you don’t have to be a tMG obsessive to appreciate the excellent lo-fi pop that Lemke is purveying. (These tunes have far more rounded edges than the id blasts of tMG’s early days, too, which helps.) But there’s warbling electric guitar, bleating harmonica, and an insistently strummed acoustic guitar–just the way you like it, lo-fi heads. (Bonus points: this and subsequent tracks treat Genesis with all the serious but also creative religious imaginary a Christian could hope for in an artist.) I could keep going for a long time, but suffice to say this song and EP are highly recommended.

4. “Rise Up” – Belle of the Fall. Here’s some densely-packed indie-pop/indie-folk, layering glockenspiel, multiple vocal lines, strings, drums, and guitars into a tight sonic space. The interplay of the multiple vocal lines is a lot of fun. Fans of the Decemberists’ songwriting attitude, Belle and Sebastian’s acoustic style, and male/female duos will be very into this.

5. “April to Death” – Flower Face. Flower Face’s delicate, smooth folk arrangements contrast with the speedy Kimya Dawson-esque lyrical delivery and the unexpectedly sordid and painful tale the song tells. There’s a lot going on here–a lot more than meets the ear on first listen. Watch for Flower Face.

6. “Crying Shame” – Jennifer Castle. This is a spartan, ’50s-doo-wop-meets-’70s-Fleetwood-Mac pop song that wriggled its way into my ear and just didn’t leave for a long time. Castle’s vocal melodies are subtle but man, do they ever stick.

7. “I’m Done” – Gordi. If you’re getting out of a bad relationship, do I have a song for you. The gravitas that Gordi can pack into a single vocal line is more than some can do with a whole song or six. Her distinct, unique vocal tone leads the way through this kiss-off acoustic track. There’s a mournful trumpet and some found/manipulated sound, but this tune is all about Gordi’s voice and guitar.

8. “Breathe a Breath of Me” – Lokki. This piano-led ballad is gospel-inspired in so many ways: the dignified piano performance, the thick background vocals, the distinctive vocal rhythms, the call-and-response vocal patterns in the chorus–mmmm. All of those things come together perfectly around a singer/songwriter core to create an excellent tune.

9. “Song for Omer” – Evelyn Kryger. Sort of jazz, sort of folk, sort of Middle Eastern, all chill. This combo has chops and chemistry–this is a smooth, unique, head-bobbing ride.

10. “The sky is clear now” – Stefano Guzzetti. It’s one thing to write an album of solo piano works, but it’s quite another to create an album of very high quality in the genre. Guzzetti clearly knows what he is doing–instead of just creating a beautiful melody or an intriguing bass hand, he sets the mood and tone for the piece as it is going along. There are some other sounds to help create the relaxed, somewhat melancholy mood, but it’s mostly the carefully curated tone of the piano, the subtle timing of the notes, and the relationships between the low end and the treble that create this enveloping mood. A beautiful entry into the genre.

Frozen Houses: Levity-filled indie-pop

Frozen Houses’ self-titled record is an indie-pop offering marked by levity. Whether that levity is from the unusually spacious mix, the lack of low-end in the acoustic guitar, the laconic pace of the songs, or the overall warm-and-lazy vibes, the levity pervades.

The indie-pop here is multifaceted—there are ‘80s nostalgia tunes, songs tipped with Graceland twinges, Bossa nova flights of fancy, and chill folk-pop. Each of these genres is connected by the aforementioned mood of relaxation and the low, smooth vocals of Alex Hill.

Hill’s songwriting chops are well-developed; he knows how to write a pop vocal melody and how to arrange a song to support—not interfere—with that melody. By deploying them in a variety of milieus, he takes listeners on a quite a journey. You may not like all of these songs (the Mountain Goat-esque strum of “Greenhouse on Mars” opens up into some Tom Petty-esque rock; contrast that against the noodly guitar and Lou Reed vocal delivery of “Road Aroma”), but each of them is created with impeccable care.

Opener “Hey Leanne” is the ‘80s nod here, all spacious guitar reverb and lots of space between notes. “Tomorrow We’re Gone” has the most infectious melody of the bunch, both in the main melody and the background vocal response in the chorus. But all of these tunes have pop charms, if you’re up for a tour of indie-pop styles. It’s a lot of fun for those inclined to take the journey.

Mid-March Singles 1: Upbeat

1. “Glue” – Bugs. We’re not to the summer yet (unless you live in Arizona), but here’s an early vote for you Summer Jam lists. There’s some early ’00s indie-rock guitars going on (back when major key versions of grunge guitar patterns was the hot thing), some attitude-filled vocals that nod to pop-punk ideals (but not too much), and fantastic background vocals that really make the song. Fans of Brand New’s first record or bands like The Fratellis will be real into this.

2. “Starcrossed Lovers” – The Fratellis. Speaking of: Oh hey, The Fratellis! It’s good to hear from you again. This one has a little more emotional weight than the never-going-to-retire-that-one-live hit of “Chelsea Dagger” and less frantic antics than “Flathead,” but it has way better falsetto in the chorus and boasts a neat strings section in the chorus. Some people just know how to write pop songs, you know?

3. “Other People’s Houses” – American Film History. There’s a fair bit of ’80s nostalgia that I just don’t subscribe to–I was never into giant synth soundscapes, and most new wave doesn’t give me that happy kitsch feeling. So it’s with surprise that American Film History’s updated version of ’80s pop strikes a chord with me. Sure, there’s a lot more emotional depth than most ’80s music, but that alone isn’t it–there’s some excellent melodies, some strong arranging, and just all-around good vibes. Also, I feel no shame spoiling this for you: the video is horribly sad and made me sad. Go with that knowledge.

4. “Foundations” – Pilod. Slowcore acoustic music is a genre that I leave and return to repeatedly: there’s something entrancing about the angst-laden, repetitious minimalism. Sometimes it just feels right. Pilod’s “Foundations” isn’t quite as long or as slow as some of the slowcore you can find, but the long pauses between guitar strums, simple rhythms, and emotional vocal delivery all resonate with my expectations of the genre. There’s a little more electric guitar than you would otherwise expect, but the song lopes its way to a totally great emotional climax (as one would expect). Fans of Songs:Ohia and the like will be into this.

5. “hey (pixies)” – lost valley. I don’t often mention covers on IC, because it has to be 1. a good song 2. re-envisioned in a unique way for me to get on board. Usually covers fail one or the other requirement, but lost valley’s trip-hop-influenced post-dub take on a Pixies tune is a mindbendingly good time. There are flashes of Odesza’s melodic elements, but the tune is mostly stacatto and choppy, hopping from one idea to the next. Very intriguing.

6. “Long Way Home” – YESES. This tune has some definite War on Drugs-esque psych influences, but they are tempered with a liberal dose of Interpol-esque post-punk rhythms, rhythm guitar tone, and dour vocals. Those two poles push and tug on the song from multiple angles, creating productive tension that elevates this above the pack of a very trendy genre right now. (Being above the pack in anything is great, but being above the pack in a “very right now” genre is super-great.)

7. “Angry Seeds” – Narwhals. If you split the difference between the manic indie rock enthusiasms of Frightened Rabbit and the sensible, down-to-earth vocals and arrangements of The National, you might end up somewhere near where Narwhals did on this track. It’s huge that this song doesn’t ape either band, but creates something new and interesting out of the influences.

8. “Happiness” – Callum Pitt. This has a very cheerful acoustic folk/pop chassis with a big, enthusiastic indie-pop body on it–I’m reminded of Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and mid -’00s indie-pop bands like Annuals. Very fun.

9. “She Waits” – The Gray Havens. tGH has grown from a perky piano-pop duo to something much more vast. This particular track shows off a newfound patience in arrangement–layers of piano and strings slowly accrete in a pattern that echoes the emotions of the titular chorus phrase. Dave Radford’s vocals are some of the most confident that he has delivered, and the song itself is something unique and passionate. This is deeply impressive, highly mature songwriting. If you’re into Viva La Vida-era Coldplay, your eyes will get wide.

10. “Tour Guide” – Cheri Magill. Magill’s website says “music for moms” on it, but it could also say “music for parents” or “music for people who know kids” or “music for people.” This piano-pop tune is starkly beautiful, mostly eschewing percussion in favor of the piano’s own rhythm. Magill’s vocals are strong and clear, just as the strings are. Fans of female-fronted piano work will enjoy this quite a bit. The song is the title track on an album all about parenting, which should come with a different sort of parental guide on it–namely “if you are a parent, you will probably cry while listening to this album.”

Early March Singles: Indie-pop and stuff

1. “First World Problems” – Sam Levin. Levin infuses this song with more confidence and swagger than are probably legal for a low-key power-pop tune that includes a raccoon that was really just a dog. His voice may remind you of Jon Foreman’s (that’s a good thing), and the quirky, charming electric guitar/808 beats/plodding bass is one of my favorite forms of bedroom pop. Basically: indie-pop music, raw and undistilled. Mad props.

2. “How Did This Happen!?” – BODEGA. If LCD Soundsystem was more into art-punk than disco-electro, you’d have Bodega. The thick bass riffs, the speak/sing/holler lead vocals, the pokes at music-world and general social mores, the exuberant flair that everything is done with–it’s all here. Rad.

3. “Sight Inside” – Feverbones. Busy bass lines are like catnip to me, and so this zooming low-end caught my ear immediately. There’s a lot of angular guitar going on over the top of it, not in a mathy way, but in a sort of old-school indie-rock/post-punk sort of way. There’s some stomping drums and insistent vocals–it’s all very enigmatic and punchy. Very cool.

4. “Baby, I Know It” – Francis Moon. Maybe it’s just that I miss School of Seven Bells so much, but anytime someone throws a big wall of distortion against a simple percussion line and pop melodies (as opposed to shoegaze-y ghost melodies), I get all nostalgic for SoSB. And this track has me all misty–Moon’s track pulls out a lot of the bass from the distortion/mix, making the song an echoey, yelping, enthusiastic, untethered dream that rushes through your ears and then abruptly fades away.

5. “About You” – G Flip. Right here is a electro-indie-pop tune that doesn’t do basically any of the things you would expect from a contemporary song of that genre. This song has nuance, soul, avoids going for the big hit, includes some awesome live drums, and basically will flip (ha) all your expectations on their head.

6. “Ascendant Hog” – Andy Jenkins. After 15 years in the game, my bar for breakup songs has gone sky-high, while my bar for love songs has stayed pretty much the same. (It has become more clear over time that I love love songs.) Jenkins’ love song here is strong to pass the higher bar if it needed to. It’s a starry-eyed love song from someone who knows that they really shouldn’t be getting starry-eyed but just can’t help it. There’s pedal steel, piano, female group backup vocals, and just a whole lot of happiness. Pick your favorite era of enthusiastic, country-influenced pop and find your own RIYL for this one.

7. “Underwear Blues” – Matt Dorrien. Not actually blues–closer to ragtime mixed with lounge-y ’70s pop. Nuances aside, this jaunty piano tune is a fun, goofy track that even includes a clarinet. (Has anything other than a piano ever been described as jaunty? Discuss.)

8. “Cannonball!” – Buck Meek. Some people think that summer sounds like fast cars on Pacific Highway 1, and that’s cool. But to me, summer is a major key and the slowest possible speed that still feels happy. That’s this song in a nutshell: Meek’s drawl unspools over a bouncy bass line, a legit guitar solo (man, we could always use more well-fitting guitar solos), and a rock-solid percussion section. There’s some ghostly synth and wheezing background vocals too. It just all fits together right. Here’s to the slow-paced summer jam.

Early March Singles: Anything Goes

1. “Ever Stay” – Joy Ike. Ike’s blend of funky groove, singer/songwriter nuance, and pop melodies come together in a hard-to-explain track that’s both brooding and exultant, hopeful and hushed. The bridge and final chorus here are a total knockout–get ready for this record, people. Highly recommended.

2. “Do It Right” – Nuela Charles. Charles has a voice that could melt ice, it’s so warm and sultry. The admirably minimalist arrangement puts the focus squarely on her impressive voice, which is a smart, smart move. There’s still some old-school horns snuck in and some low-key funky elements. It’s the sort of soul that appeals to just about anybody–if you’re into indie-pop you’ll hear it, if you’re into radio pop, you’ll hear it, if you’re into soul you’ll hear it.

3. “quartessence” – kerim könig. The insistent piano is the main attraction here, but it’s all the things going on around it (found sounds, distant vocals, snatches of instruments) that drew me in to this. It fills out into a beat-heavy instrumental rumination that sounds like it would be perfect in a sneak-laden section of a spy movie.

4. “Where to Begin” – Ellie Schmidly. A five-minute journey of a song that has some fun interplay between Schmidly’s vocals and the guitars, lots of cinematic moves, and some adventurous clarinet/xylophone/marching band action to close out the song. (Yeah, you read that right.) This daring arranging should make you very excited about Schmidly.

5. “Plays With Fire” – Cloud. Unique, high-pitched vocals lead the way through a chilled-out, low-key indie-rock landscape. I feel like I’m obliged to say that fans of Pavement will be into this, but I think fans of Modest Mouse might be even more into it. Feels a lot like the mid-’00s, when “anything goes” was in style for everything from vocal styles to lyrics to arrangements.

6. “You Got Some Best Friends” – Mateo Katsu. Fans of lo-fi acoustic indie-pop will love this this warm, quirky song about being emotionally cold. Katsu’s confidently warbling vocals are reminiscent of Matthew Squires; the bouncy, fun bass work gives the tune even more levity (to contrast with the dour subject matter).

7. “Restoration” – Grace Gillespie. Gillespie’s voice is recorded high in the mix, giving her song a very intimate, close-to-the-listener feel. The bass-heavy guitar fits in perfectly, as there’s a lot of gravitas in her playing. There are shades of Nick Drake in some of the guitar melodies, too, which is just fantastic.

8. “Lay Me Down” – Ivan Moult. Fluttering, swooping strings provide a beautiful frame for Moult’s compelling, high-drama vocal performance. Yet the track never feels overwrought–it’s a smooth, easygoing sort of drama (if such a thing exists). Fans of Beirut will recognize similar vocal and arrangement touches, making for a strong, interesting track.

9. “Dearest Lovely World” – Simon D. James. Aptly titled, this lovely folk-pop song has the balance just right between folk vulnerability and solid pop melodies. The overall product is a warm, thrumming piece that makes me imagine what the Beach Boys would have sounded like had they been born in this era, or what St. Even would sound like with a punchy bassist. Fans of Belle and Sebastian will love it.

10. “Clouds in Advance” – Jon Durant. A whole whirring, humming ambient landscape created with nothing but an electric guitar: rhythm, pattern, melody, and atmosphere all come from the many different layers of guitar. Feels just like the title says it could: like the sense of mystery and awe that I get when I’m scanning the horizon, watching a storm come in over the prairie.