We’re getting to the point in history where long band names like Day Laborers & Petty Intellectuals are necessary. Instead of shrugging and repeating the “what’s in a name” platitude, it’s worth taking note of DLPI’s moniker. The indie/country/folk band puts great thought into its complex, verbose lyrics on this self-titled album; the Bright Eyes-esque profusion of religious musings in “The Beginning” echoes both Oberst’s memorable turns of phrase and penchant for ratcheting up to a frenzied delivery.
The highly structured chaos of Bright Eyes’ “Road to Joy” is a good RIYL for DLPI in musical as well as lyrical qualities. Every part of the sound is recorded with precision and clarity, moving in the opposite direction from Iron & Wine’s hazy folk sounds. Opener “What’s the Meaning of This Magic?” includes galloping drums, dramatic trumpet, sweeping violin, and vocals somewhere between the self-assured delivery of Cake and the apocalyptic fervor of Modest Mouse. The whole thing fits inside an ominous alt-country frame. It’s a vastly intriguing opening salvo, for sure.
“Irene, Goodnight” is a similarly dark but less overtly country tune; “What the Hell Happened?” is bouncy enough in the bass and acoustic guitars to be considered poppy. (If you’re into 4H Royalty’s work, you’ll be into this track.) But the core of the album is “The Beginning,” which uses all of the tools that DLPI puts forth to their best effect. Start there, for sure. This isn’t singalong folk-pop, yet it’s very involving.
Day Laborers and Petty Intellectuals’ self-titled album is quite impressive. The recording is immaculate, the songwriting is impeccable, the lyrics are strong, and the moods are enveloping. What else are you waiting for? Go get this one.
I broke out Nik Freitas’ Saturday Night Underwater this week, because its AM-pop gold was on my mind. I’ve got the soft way on my mind because of Monsenior‘s self-titled EP, which is an excellent example of the form itself. The Irish duo is meticulous in its song constructions, purveying sweet pop melodies and tight arrangements to go with them. The band gives the RIYL of Bright Eyes, but it’s much closer to Supertramp, Paul Simon, even Fleetwood Mac (at its most structured, not its “Tusk” weird era).
“Seven Bells” leans on a gentle guitar riff, shakers, tambourine, rolling piano and pressing bass, creating that old driving feeling. You can put your top down to this one, but it’s the knowing-cool sort of drive, not the the giddy-freedom sort of trip. “Head Screwed On” is a jaunty acoustic tune that reminds me of Fionn Regan and (again) Paul Simon; that’s high praise from over here. The winding lead guitar melody expands into a wide-open pop tune, complete with either spoons or tapdancing. That’s the sort of tune I can get behind! Each of these four tunes are supported by intricate arrangements that don’t self-consciously draw attention to themselves, which is nice in the chamber-pop era. (Don’t worry, I still love chamber-pop. But the change of pace is nice!)
If you’re disillusioned by the fact that rap, dubstep, country, rock and pop are all converging as one amorphous pop sound, let Monsenior’s four-song EP remind you that in the minds of at least a few holdouts, pop means something specific. Cheery hooks, acoustic guitar, piano (“Simple Miss”), and an unassuming backing band are all you need to get an overall shine to your pop. Monsenior has those things in spades. Here’s to pop music.
I’ve sung the praises of Pedro the Lion throughout this blog. Given The Soldier Story‘s moody indie-rock with clanging guitars, I’m going to take it as serendipitous that the second song on Rooms of the Indoors is named “A Lion.” Songwriter Colin Meyer’s voice echoes Bazan’s in tone, and the arrangement shifts from delicate thoughts to towering electric guitars at whim. The overall effect is striking, as Meyer knows how to play with tension, using layering and juxtaposition excellently.
He also knows how to make individual instrumental parts complement each other without competing: The complex, beautiful “When the Thieves Came” is constructed as if it were half clockwork and half Rube Goldberg Machine. Halfway through the tune, Meyer’s playing a spiky ditty on a clean guitar with a kick-drum stomp; the next second, the guitars and bass have distorted, the drums amp up to full-set freakout, and it sounds like a post-hardcore jam a la The Felix Culpa. Then it goes directly back to the spiky little ditty, without feeling disjointed at all. (Meyer got some songwriting help on this track from Jonny Rodgers, no stranger to intricate construction himself.)
Those skills transfer over to the rest of the tunes, whether it’s the fragile, William Fitzsimmons-esque folk of “Gray Clean Suit”; the experimental intro of “Through the Trees”; or the vast, expansive title track, which grows from a forlorn acoustic strum to a rapturous, wild conclusion. Rooms of the Indoors is an album that unfolds its intricacies over multiple listens. I found it interesting the first time, but I see it as much more than that now. Meyer has moving songwriting skills that will grip you, if you give him your attention. Recommended.
Lullatone makes beautiful, charming, instrumental twee music. Their latest release Falling for Autumn – EP is 22ish minutes of ukuleles, toy pianos, whistling, clapping, gentle horns, and hushed acoustic guitars. It perfectly appropriates the feel of fall not only in the sounds, but in the titles of songs: “here comes the sweater weather,” “raindrops plucking the last leaves from a tree,” “the biggest pile of leaves you have ever seen,” “just walking around.” Lullatone, a married duo who live in Japan, know how to turn earnest cheer into affecting, emotive work. To quote a title of one of their previous albums, these are “Soundtracks for Everyday Adventures.” I am absolutely in love with this record, and I hope that you will be too. Falling for Autumn – EP makes me unabashedly, giddily happy.
Kayte Grace bridges pop-country and folk-pop nicely, singing with a pleasant twang and keeping the arrangements jaunty and light. The four tunes on Chapter 1: Say Yes are love songs with well-developed pop chops: only one of the tunes breaks the 2:30 mark. “Decorate the World” is a clear single, with a strong melody and cheery mood; “Just Need You” adds some jazzy markers to the songwriting. “City Plans” adds some gospel vibes in the vocals and cleverly romantic lyrics, which vaults the tune to highlight status. “Farther Than This” showcases Grace’s vocal prowess in a more dramatic song, which rounds out the diverse collection nicely. Chapter 1: Say Yes is a strong opening statement from an artist with diverse skills; the EP stays centered on Grace’s strong songwriting while displaying the variety of her creative ideas. I look forward to the next chapters in this release cycle.
Sometimes you just want something that makes you want to glide. Here are six of those somethings.
1. “Supersonic” – Dynasty Electric. Pulse-pounding dance music with a rubbery, LCD Soundsystem-style bass (which means I’m all, all, all over this).
2. “Forever in Your Debt” – Slow Readers Club. Do you miss old-school Interpol? Apply within for bass lines, night-time vibes, and general cool.
3. “Anxieties” – The Landing. Funky, smooth, quirky, perky: The Landing does it all in five minutes. Props. Mad props.
4. “Your Majesty” – Slack Armada. Song and band name are excellent fits for this tune, which re-appropriates bits that you’d hear in clubby dance hits into something majestic, slow-moving, and chilled out. There are surprises in store, as well; come for the chill, stay for the … well, I’ll let you hear it.
5. “I Want to Tell You Something” – D’Opus. Because you need more sleek, sinuous, futurist instrumental hip-hop in your life.
6. “These Days” – Martha Marlow. Every now and then, I’m totally blown away by a tune. 19-year-old Marlow’s smooth, lithe singer/songwriter performance here is every bit as assertive, clear and interesting as artists 10 years older. Watch out for her in 2014.
I absolutely love this style of dancing, and the gorgeous setting makes the actio in Flume & Chet Faker’s “Drop The Game” video even more beautiful.
Post-Echo releases records, but they also do way cool collaborative projects. PASSAGE is a movie/music collab that they’ve released in installations. The fifth part drops Dec. 3, but the trailer for the whole work is here:
Speaking of Post-Echo, it appears that going to a show by optimistic post-rockers Pan is about as much fun as I’d expect; which is to say, lots and lots. Props to the violinist for wearing proper ear protection: you’ll appreciate that in 20 years.
Are you tired of married duos singing folk-pop? ME NEITHER. The latest guy/girl duo in my inbox is Davy and Amelia, to go along with Jenny & Tyler, The Gray Havens, Destroy Nate Allen!, Venna, The Weepies, the Civil Wars, et al. Davy and Amelia’s Norah June EP leans more toward the stomping, clapping, upbeat party-folk of The Lumineers and especially Twin Forks instead of the quiet, introspective tunes of The Weepies. They also celebrate giddy romance and young married life, which sets them apart from sadder couples.
“The Summer,” “Mountain Movers” and “Norah June” (the name of their baby!) all have rousing, celebratory arrangements; “The Summer” and “Norah June” are upbeat right from the word go, while “Mountain Movers” builds to its shouted-group-vocals conclusion. “Cause Daddy’s only 22, Momma’s 21/some people say we got married young/you are the treasure of our unbreakable love/hey!” goes the chorus of “Norah June,” which means not only are they giddily in love with each other, they’re singing songs to their baby. I think that’s absolutely adorable, but I think that might send the more cynical among us running for the exits.
The songs themselves are great, full of strong instrumental and vocal melodies. The songs are predominantly based in acoustic guitar, although “Mountain Movers” shows off their elegant, cinematic piano skills nicely. If you’re not into the genre, then these four tunes won’t be exciting to you. But if you’re a fan of pop skills applied to romantic lyrics and folky arrangements, you’ll love Davy and Amelia. I look forward to hearing more about this duo in the upcoming year. Just in case you needed proof of how cute this duo is, here’s their band photo:
Lotta good stuff trying to cram its way into 2013! Here’s a varied mix.
1. “No Sleep Tonight” – Family Cave. The precision of indie-pop, the aesthetics of indie-rock, and the mood of indie-folk create an incredibly intriguing tune. Watch for Family Cave in 2014.
2. “Keep It Together” – Decent Lovers. Not a cover of a Guster tune, this DL jam is ironically pretty separated and hectic. It’s held together by a strong mood and a deep internal rhythm. Elijah Wyman is getting better and better at this really unique style of pop.
4. “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” – Miles Hewitt. Reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s protest rock, Hewitt combines old and new into a hypnotic mix.
5. “Belfast” – William Steffey. Takes cues from Oasis with dashes of Portishead and Blur, this tune sounds completely British but is totally from Chicago.
6. “Heartbreakers” – Tomorrows. The Jim Ivins Band rebrands and revamps, moving from an adult-pop template to sounds more akin to Anberlin’s early modern rock. The prominence of vocal melodies has not changed, which is good.
7. “Love Is Not Allowed” – Gap Dream. Obligatory Eno namecheck. Aside from that, this is a gorgeous, swirling mass of analog-sounding synths, modulated vocals, and electronic drums that makes me swoon.
8. “Get In It” – Nyteowl. Funky, spacey, mostly-instrumental R&B. “Do you want to get in it?” Yes. Yes, I do.
9. “Get Down Baby” – Blacktop Daisy. You’ve got to hand it to a band which unabashedly labels its music disco. No violins here, but those harmonies!
10. “Can’t Let Go” – Black Checker. This pop-rock-punk tune comes from an EP called Fast. Yup, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
11. “The Ah Ah Song” – Stand Up and Say No. I miss the days when The Flaming Lips made jubilant, illogical, bright pop tunes. This joyful, exuberant pop-rock tune is exactly that.
12. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Magi. This Bill Withers cover is minimalist lo-fi glory: the distant recording, the raw passion in the imperfect vocals, the deep sense of mood.
I’ve been listening to Roy Dahan‘s The Man in My Head for several weeks, and I’m still struggling to pin it down to words. It’s a solo project that feels like a full-band effort, as the overall mood of the tracks is more important than any single musician. David Gray would enjoy the seriousness and gravity of these tunes, but the album still has upbeat, inviting moments like “Crush.” It’s chill and relaxing, but with a sense of tension running throughout each tune.
I guess the best descriptor is adult alternative singer/songwriter, but that sells it short in so many ways. “Nothing But Miracles” starts out with a gentle, burbling fingerpicking guitar line before expanding into a wide-open chorus: “You’ll see / there’s a beautiful place to be / and I wonder if you’ll see at all.” The subtly urgent “Farewell” pulses with restrained energy, while “Maze” has a cascading, U2 sort of vibe. The album hangs together beautifully, but doesn’t obscure the high points within it. You can play this one as a full album or pick songs out of it for your playlists. That’s rare.
Dahan’s beautiful music is tough to explain but easy to love. If you’re into things as diverse as Counting Crows, Bright Eyes, Matt Nathanson, Ray LaMontagne, or The Decemberists, you’ll love Roy Dahan’s The Man in My Head.