Brother Moses‘ sophomore EP Legendsbuilds on their debut Thanks for All Your Patienceby upgrading the sonics of their rubbery, laidback, Spoon-meets-Pavement indie-rock. Their debut EP was almost preternaturally chill; Raymond Richards (Local Natives) gives their sound some punch, while not losing their goofy, waltz-through-it-all charm.
The easiest place to see this is in “Older,” the lone track present on both EPs. The opening synth has become fatter, the drums are more resonant, the tempo is slightly sped up, and the guitars are brighter. The overall effect is like cranking up the saturate knob on a picture: it’s the same thing, but bigger, brighter, and warmer. Elsewhere, the saturation holds in the form of more reverb (the guitars on “Time to Leave”), more ambiance (“Crazy Eyes”), and more expansive songwriting touches (“Pretend”). Some tracks sound like post-punk; some sound like Vampire Weekend chilling way, way out. Throughout, the band is playing with what they can do in a studio, experimenting with what exactly the sounds in their heads can be with a lot of equipment at their disposal.
Closer “Please Stop” is probably the furthest push of their experiments, putting all of their sonic elements together into one track. Mashing all of their ideas into one place results in a tune that doesn’t quite sound like anyone: James Lockhart’s lolling drawl amps up to an anthemic soar over an indie-rock band that has thoroughly ingested modern indie music and spit out their own distinct version of it. It’s a fantastic tune that is more than the sum of its parts–and the parts are all pretty great on their own.
Legends is a brief six songs, but the growth and development from their first EP shows that they’ve got a lot of ideas. Brother Moses has got a great thing going, and you should jump on that.
John John Brown‘s The Roadis brilliant, drawing heavily from traditional Appalachian sounds and modern folk revivalists to create 10 songs of back-porch folk that are fully realized in scope and yet casual in mood.
Brown’s dusky voice, an immaculate production job, and a deft arranging hand makes this duality possible. “Dust and Bones” pairs a laid-back percussion line with a spacious fingerpicking rhythm at the beginning, before introducing subtle bass work and two different organ sounds for color. Brown’s superbly comfortable vocal delivery caps off the song beautifully. Even from the first listen, it’s as familiar and lovely as a shirt you put on for the first time and immediately know it will be your favorite one.
“On Our Own” pulls the same trick: the yearning solo violin, distant pedal steel, and hushed background vocals accentuate a lyric set of loss and redemption beautifully. “The Wind” is about as ominous as Brown gets, creating a sense of adventurous danger via keening harmonica. The title track is a jubilant folk tune grounded in big, round bass and a huge chorus vocal melody. “Spirits in the Silence” and “What I Really Want to Do” are a bit more pop-oriented-folk, sort of like Counting Crows, Five for Fighting, or Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Brown carefully crafts each tune to have individual elements that set the songs apart, yet never deviate from the overall chill experience.
This album is magnetic: it’s hard to stop listening once you start. You’ll know all the sounds on each of the songs in The Road, but they way Brown makes them come together is barely short of magic. It’s a rare artist that can make the familiar sound brand new and exciting; Brown is that artist.
Last time I checked in with B. Snipes, he was singing a pristine, delicate folk tune about death taking him on a tour of a city. So it was quite a surprise to find that American Dreameropens up with a wide-open, convertible-top-down, vintage American pop-rock tune. It’s a double surprise to realize that it’s the title track. (“We’re going somewhere new, y’all!”) I may miss folky B. Snipes, but his new direction is just as satisfying. If you’re into American pop, 1950-now, you’ll be all over this record.
After the blast of AM radio that is the opener, Snipes throws down a tune that’s an Isbell-style country rocker in the verses with a sunshiny ’50s pop chorus. It comes off a bit like Ivan and Alyosha’s work. The middle of the record hearkens back to a time when Roy Orbison was huge (“Amy, in Chicago”), country was turning into rock via pop music (“Sweet Eleanor”), and unironic sentiment was cool (“Easy Things,” which has a spiritual sibling in Jason Mraz’s non-rapping work). If you love the Avett Brothers at their most pensive, “Completely” will scratch an itch that probably hasn’t been touched much since “Murder in the City.”
The record is smooth, clean, clear, and deeply listenable. It’s a pop record shorn of the high glitz that the wall of sound and its children would put on the pop sound. They don’t make ’em like this much anymore.
But right when it seems like B. Snipes is ready to cap off a timeless-sounding record, he makes another shift. “Red White Blues” is a gentle yet concerned rebuke of political polarization couched in a tune that sounds like a mix of Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, and the Arcade Fire. That’s a lot of referents to pack into one song, but there’s a lot of song to go around. It’s the easy highlight of the record, made all the more impressive because it still manages to hang with the rest of the record in mood despite being completely different thematically. The sonics here are louder, but they’re still in the same, very American vein. (Which is funny, because The Arcade Fire is Canadian.) The tune provides a fitting bookend to the opener, which puts faith in being an American dreamer; “Red White Blues” is full of practical exhortations about what we need to do to keep being American dreamers.
American Dreamer is an American pop record through and through. It draws from earlier eras of pop’s history but makes statements about our current condition through them. The songs are fun, pretty, interesting and thought-provoking. How much more can you ask for in a pop record? This is great work. Highly recommended.
Kyle Cox‘s “Trusty Ol’ Pair of Boots” is an old-school train-whistle country song, complete with traditional bass work (love me some standup here), vocal harmonies galore, and even a guitar solo. The vocal melodies are familiar and warm, but not derivative; the love song lyrics are simple, earnest, and a perfect fit for the song. It’s basically everything good about country music.
So to make that excellent song even better, Cox paired it with a charmingly simple video. Instead of going to high-drama lengths (which wouldn’t fit the song at all), Cox recruited his wife to play HORSE on the basketball court outside their house. The very pedestrian yet fun and funny activity matches the candor of the tune, which is a pledge of steadfast marital allegiance. Some people would chafe at hearing their relationship called a trusty ol’ pair of boots, but those who wouldn’t are going to understand both the song and the video. I love it all.
Also, I just really like basketball.
Kyle Cox’s Trio and Friends came out in June; you can pick it up at iTunes. He’s got a bunch of shows through the South coming up, so you should check him out on those. Maybe you’ll get to play some hoops with him.
Seth Nathan‘s Swimopens up with a fuzzed-out blast of ’90s indie-rock in “Four Corners,” building on the discography he’s created recently of fractured indie-rock fusions with various other genres. The rest of the album streamlines out some of the genre mash-ups, focusing on an updated Pavement/Guided by Voices sound. With the music streamlined, it leaves room for Nathan’s attention to turn toward lyrical concerns for most of Swim. “How did you still love me / when everything was wrong in my head?” opens up second track “Pieces of Jade.” The rest of the album could be subtitled Love in the Time of Mental Illness, as Nathan takes the listener on a tour of what love looks like in the midst of “everything was wrong in my head.”
Nathan is remarkably open and detailed about this period of his life, whether that’s the flute-laden psych-pop of “Diagonal” declaring a Mountain Goats-esque couple paralysis (“we’re stuck in a tangle / or a strangle / we can’t handle”), the loping “Sealed My Fate” trying to make sense of a relationship “crashing down,” or the country-esque “This Big Old House” unspooling a rebuilding narrative with an ominous ticking clock in the background. It’s a deeply personal album, but not in the claustrophobic way that many records can be when they try to go this route. The one exception is the title track, which closes the record with a brittle, intense solo acoustic performance that caps the story of the record in an inconclusive, loose-threads sort of way. If you’re into indie-rock albums that are genuinely trying to do things that you can’t do in a regular rock format (that was the goal once, no?), you’ll find a lot to love in Swim.
The Coconut Kids’ debut release This Time Last Year proves to be a delightful and complex four-track EP. The instrumentation is comprised of trumpet, two lovely ukuleles, an acoustic guitar, and relaxing percussive elements to create a jazzier Jack Johnson sound. And the powerful vocals pair so well with the relaxed jazzy instrumentation. Finally, the moody lyrics pair with the relaxed, jazzy sound to create an emotional texture all its own.
The tug-and-pull lyrics combine with the delightful instrumentation to create a beautiful incongruity. Right off the bat, the first track showcases this as the repeated lyric “It all went wrong” is paired with a flirty combination of the ukulele and trumpet. The vocal pairings on this EP also prove beautiful. “Richman” showcases the perfect sassy soprano/seductive baritone combination that works so well. In fact, the whole EP gives off Once vibes; I can picture these two people singing these songs to each other in a Once-like world.
“Lullaby (Don’t Say A Thing)” stands out from the rest of the tracks in the many layered vocals and more melancholic sound with the guitar and ever-present trumpet. It’s a slower track with a powerful Adele-like voice that will be sure to blow you away. “Lullaby (Don’t Say A Thing)” is a pleasant way to close out the EP.
The Wild Reeds’ three-track EP Best Wishes is like an assorted candy sampler displaying the range of sounds The Wild Reeds is capable of producing. The lyrics showcase a variety of human emotions such as hope, dejection, and self-awareness. Similarly, the overall sound varies from classic singer/songwriter to folk-country. The one thing that ties the tracks together is the perfect harmonization from the array of female vocalists.
The lyrics of “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)” explore the emotions of dejection, balancing regret and acceptance. The emotive lyrics eventually lead up to the track’s lyrical and instrumental climax, going from gentle fingerpicking to a voracious guitar/drum kit/keys combination. “What I Had In Mind” gives off a very Eisley sound, showcasing the band’s perfectly harmonizing vocal layering. Then “Love Make Me A Fool” comes on and a more cheery folk-country track enters my senses. The track’s classic country rhythms, self-aware lyrics and robust instrumentation make a refreshing end to an eclectic EP.
The Wild Reeds’ Best Wishes EP is an assorted delight to the senses. —Krisann Janowitz
I’ve been doing a lot of long, uninterrupted work sessions lately, so I’ve been getting deep into instrumental modernist classical and new-classical work to accompany them. (“Canto Ostinato” by Simeon Ten Holt blows my mind.) Mattias Phillips‘ Provisationsis a solo piano work that fits into that listening regimen: the short pieces here range from high modernist abstract (“She doesn’t like it”) to classical delicacy (“Decision”) to Liszt-esque romantic-era blitzes (“Everyday Labor”) to minimalist-influenced pieces (“Moral Hangover”).
Phillips shows off his breadth as a composer here; that diversity will help listeners who may not be as familiar with solo piano work. This album does not feel like 14 tracks of the same thing; there are obvious peaks and valleys throughout the work. The tunes themselves maintain a passionate energy. Phillips notes that these are more than impromptu improvisations but not much more; the thrill of creation is still audible. It will be interesting to see if further work from Phillips hones in on one of the many styles he puts forth here and goes longform on it, or continues in the “diverse short piece” vein. Either could be interesting. A whole album of solo piano music probably isn’t what readers of this blog usually are listening to, but I think y’all could dig this.
Strangers by Accident‘s five-song EP establishes the male/female duo as somewhere between the wistful, major key acoustic pop of the Weepies and the spartan acoustic delicacy of Joshua Radin’s early work. They can get a little bit noisier than either outfit (“Straight to Space,” “Borderline”), but their sweet spot is a bright, clear, open sound garnished with a twist of sadness (or two).
“Steal” is the opener and the tone-setter, with a single acoustic guitar, a tambourine, two vocalists, and ambient guitar marking out the sonic space that the duo explore for the rest of the EP. Standout “Borderline” opens as the quietest track: the lyrics are poignant and unafraid to take on the darkness in the world, like a Rocky Volotato song. It grows to one of their noisiest, with a raucous electric guitar line crashing in intermittently. “Busted Heart” and “Hold Me Down” are both just great acoustic pop songs; sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a really great car. If you’re into the Civil Wars, The Local Strangers, or other classy male/female duos I’m not familiar with, you’ll love Strangers by Accident.
O by Holy ’57 owes an incredible debt to the carefree first two albums of Vampire Weekend. The four tracks here are all sun-drenched and wrapped in the swaying-yet-choppy rhythms that Ezra Koenig and co. virtually trademarked. Holy ’57 trades out the helter-skelter guitar runs for tropical synths, making a sound even more upbeat and sunshiny than VW did. The songs bounce, leap, skip, and twirl their way through my speakers, making it impossible not to smile.
The topics fit with the vibe: “Venice, CA” is about having youthful adventures in the titular city, “220.127.116.11” deals with a breakup and/or social failures by a nostalgic longing for the ’90s, and “Jep Shuffle” builds its chorus around a dance (although it doesn’t tell you how to do the Jep Shuffle, just that it exists). That last track is the unavoidable track: it’s a nigh-on-perfect summer pop song, with verses that build, a chorus that pays off in spades, and rhythms that make me want to move. It’s a sin that this song isn’t everywhere, because it is awesome. Those looking for a song to close out their summer with need to look no farther than O, where there’s at least one (if not three!) tunes that can do that for you. Awesome.
Deer Scout‘s customsis a slight, intimate object: Dena Miller’s four-song EP barely breaks 10 minutes. But in those 10 minutes, her unadorned songwriting makes a statement. She opens with “holy ghost,” which is nothing more than delicate guitar picking, earnest alto vocals, and beautifully complex lyrics. Fans of the dense stylings of Lady Lamb will see similar sparks here. The song is beautifully balanced: there’s not much to it, but it all sounds vital and immediate. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go.
“little state” and “up high” feature strumming more and have more of a distinct song structure, recalling Waxahatchee’s early stylings. Although there are referents, Miller’s vocal melodies are put together in her own way (the interval jumps on the chorus of “little state,” the confident delivery of everything in “up high”); she is establishing herself as a songwriting voice here. The short set closes with “train song,” which splits the difference between the dense lyrics and fingerpicking of the opener and the concrete song structures of the center two pieces. Her voice is excellent here as well. Fans of women singer/songwriters, intimate sketches, and minimalism will find much to love in customs.
The Jonah Project‘s self-titled EP packs more emotional punch into 16 minutes than most emo albums can get into a 40 minute full-length. The quartet, headed up by Drift Wood Miracle‘s Bryan Diver and Jvno‘s Tristan McGee, tell the story of Jonah from the Bible in a powerful, moving way. The EP has four songs, one for each chapter of the book, and each shows off a different side of their sound.
“Jonah 1” is a keys-led piece that leans toward the wistful side of the emo spectrum. The band does ratchet up to some screaming guitar noise at the end of the track, but this one is more focused on the lyrics depicting why Jonah ran and his emotional response upon realizing that he can’t run from God. (It’s a little-discussed element in the story, at least when I was growing up: Jonah expects that God will forgive the people that Jonah hates if Jonah follows through on God’s call. Jonah doesn’t want that to happen, so he flees.) Diver’s vocals lead the way with some dramatic, memorable lines.
“Jonah 2” also opens up with keys, but Tristan McGee takes over lead vocals in a spoken-word format. I tend to hate spoken-word, but this fits over a roiling, churning instrumental mix that feels more like MeWithoutYou than bad stereotypes of spoken-word. The first time I heard McGee holler out in anguish “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” I got shivers. (Even more rare, I got shivers the second and third time. It’s intense.) The winding, syncopated opening guitar riff of “Jonah 3” powers one of the most inventive rock songs I’ve heard in a long time. It sort of feels like The Collection’s rhythmic background, only punctuated with stabs of electric guitar chords and overlaid with chiming, heavily reverbed, floating guitar notes. It stumped my expectations.
“Jonah 4” caps off the set with more interplay between acoustic guitar, chiming electric, chunky chords and even group vocals. The drums are particularly exciting here, as Aaron Allred somehow manages to keep up as the rest of the band whips through mood change after mood change in rapid succession. The lyrics evocatively draw the story to a conclusion, with Jonah struggling to grasp the concept of grace. The whole thing comes together brilliantly, showing off a quartet that’s astonishingly tight for being brand-new. They’re writing some new material, so perhaps we’ll get to hear more from this impressive outfit. If you’re into early ’00s Deep Elm emo (Brandtson, Appleseed Cast, Pop Unknown, etc.), you’ll love this EP.
1. “New Moon” – Namesayers. The lead guitar here is angular, cranky, and brittle, contrasting against the swirling, low-key psychedelia laid down by the rest of instruments and Devin James Fry’s mystical croon. It makes for an intriguing rock that sounds like midnight in the desert with a big bonfire going. (Which is pretty much what the title and the album art convey, so this one has its imagery and soundscapes really tight in line.)
2. “O Zephyr” – Ptarmigan. It’s tough to be a serious alt-folk band without sounding over-earnest or overly ironic. Ptarmigan finds the perfect center, where it sounds like a bunch of people who love folk and have something to say are making their noise how they want. Fans of River Whyless, Fleet Foxes (often violators of the over-earnest, but nonetheless), and Barr Brothers will enjoy this.
3. “Axolotl” – Lord Buffalo. Lord Buffalo specializes in primal, pounding, apocalyptic pieces that build from small beginnings to terrifying heights. This is an A+ example of the form.
4. “A Miracle Mile” – St. Anthony and the Mystery Train. Equally apocalyptic as above, but in a more Southern Gothic, Nick Cave, howl-and-clatter style of indie-rock than the all-out-sonic assault. A wild ride.
5. “Spring” – Trevor Ransom. A tone-poem of a piece, illustrating the arrival of spring with found sounds, distant vocals, and confident piano.
6. “Not Enough” – Sunjacket. This inventive indie-rock song draws sounds and moods from all over the place, creating a distinct, unique vibe. There’s some Age of Adz weirdness, some Grizzly Bear denseness, some giant synth clouds, and more.
7. “Bushwick Girl” – CHUCK. A goofy, loving parody of NYC’s hippest hipsters in appropriately creaky, nasally, quirky indie-pop style.
8. “Ghost” – Mood Robot. Chillwave meets ODESZA-style post-dub with some pop v/c/v work for good measure. It’s a great little electro-pop tune.
9. “Da Vinci” – Jaw Gems. All the swagger, strut, stutter, and stomp of hip-hop and none of the vocals. Impressive.
10. “Disappearing Love” – Night Drifting. If the National’s high drama met the Boss’s roots rock, you’d end up with something like this charging tune with a huge conclusion.
11. “Black and White Space” – Delamere. Britpop from Manchester with a catchy vocal hook and subtle instrumentation that comes together really nicely.
12. “Plastic Flowers” – Poomse. Predictions of human doom over crunchy guitars give way to a densely-layered indie-rock track with claustrophobia-inducing horns. If you’re into Mutemath or early ’00s emo (non-twinkly variety), you’ll find some footholds here.
13. “Lake, Steel, Oil” – Basement Revolver. There’s something hypnotic about Chrisy Hurn plaintively singing her heart out as if there isn’t a howling wall of distortion raging around her.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.