I’m much slower at getting video posts out than MP3 posts, but that just means the quality is super-high when I get one out. Check out these incredible clips.
Tango? A compelling story? Pitch-perfect set and costuming? A seemingly incongruous set before old people? A great tune? What more could you possibly ask for in an incredible music video? Seriously, this video is almost perfect.
Music videos don’t usually make me cry, but this bildungsroman did. Maybe keep an onion around for plausible deniability. Simply an incredible piece of filmmaking.
How many ways are there to tell the story of a relationship? As many as there are relationships. This one is a beautiful tale gorgeously told, with Mt. Wolf’s hazy, distant electro-acoustic-pop lending the perfect soundtrack.
The clip for Grace Joyner’s “Dreams” tells the aftermath of a relationship (or something equally terrible). The evening unfolds.
Sometimes a video perfectly fits with the mood and topic of the song. I’m not ruining anything in this video for you–just watch it.
Here’s a intricate, moving modern dance interpreting the interpersonal horrors of substance abuse in the midst of a romantic relationship.
This haunting acoustic tune is given visual life by an evocative, mystic, wooded dreamscape.
1. “We’re So Close” – MOON. Heavy doesn’t shock anymore, but it certainly can still make a big bang. As such, the thundering electric guitar entrances in this indie-rock tune are really, really rad. I would love to see this live: I can imagine it would be an impressive experience.
2. “Chaperone” – TOLMAN. I hear electro-indie-pop tunes all the time, and yet some still make me turn my head (and fast; somehow the song makes me know in seconds that it has arrived). This electro jam has some zinging treble synths, sultry female vocals, and squelchy bass synths. The words don’t do it justice–it kicks.
3. “Cold Sunshine” – Dan Webb and the Spiders. Webb usually throws down brash and speedy pop-punk, but this one slows down into a mid-tempo rocker that makes me think as much about The Hold Steady as it does The Gaslight Anthem and other not-quite-pop-punk-but-whatever bands. Webb turns in a great, evocative vocal performance here.
4. “I Can’t Resist” – The Great Escape. Sassy organ, squawking guitars, roaring vocals, stomping percussion; this reads like a mix of The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes.
5. “Show Me Your Facebook Page” – Samantha Echo. This is a wild ride: Echo creates a cabaret/show-tune style piano-pop song about the emotional troubles that Facebook causes. That simple statement can’t encompass the many twists and turns of this song, but it’s the best I got. Just listen to it.
6. “Cigarette” – PANG! feat. Cameron Douglas. Manages, manipulates, and ultimately owns the space between introspective folk and Avicii-style electro-pop-folk. Beautiful, but also catchy and punchy.
7. “Bad Girlfriend” – Keith Monacchio. The downtempo, talking-style singer/songwriter work is immediately arresting. The lyrics are fantastic as well; the sort of simple, “I could have written that but I guess I didn’t” sort of plaintive concern that connects deep.
8. “Evening Light” – Paul Sweeney. This instrumental acoustic piece is the sort that has distinct, robust lead melodies that could have been vocal melodies, had Sweeney so desired. Instead, it’s a highly melodic piece with a lot of body and development.
1. “Papernote” – Tigertown. I had the same reaction to this song as I did the first time I heard The Naked and Famous: “whoa, now that is an electro-pop song.” Big, giddy, skittering all over the place; be still my heart.
2. “The World Is a Gumball” – Heavy Heart. Heavy Heart’s song-a-month project continues with a mid-tempo rock piece that blurs the boundaries between ’90s alt-rock and early ’00s female-fronted emo by dint of some shoegaze-y guitar textures. Hazy, dreamy, and yet oddly propulsive (thanks to the bass).
3. “Basic Instructions” – Gleneagle. Unhinged, permanently-threatening-to-come-apart alt-country is attractive because it always barely manages to stay together: here the vocals threaten to dissolve into an uncoordinated rage, only restrained by the carefully coordinated guitar rock going on behind it. The cathartic/jubilant conclusion is all you hope it will be from the first time you hear Bryden Scott’s vocals.
4. “Only at Night” – Candysound. Somehow strikes a warm, comforting balance between jaunty and subdued, like Bloc Party chilling way out or Vampire Weekend on downers.
5. “Revolution (feat. First Aid Kit)” – Van William. Everything that First Aid Kit lends their voices to immediately becomes 4 times better than it was before. This was a good folk-pop song with charming trumpet before their vocals come in; after their vocals, it’s a great song. Straight up.
6. “Life 101” – Sonoride. Shuffle-snare percussion, walking bass, rolling guitar and wistful vocals come together into an excellent folk tune.
7. “All We Do” – Daniel Trakell. The soaring vocal melody in the chorus of this acoustic-pop song just takes off and pushes this song to a whole new level.
8. “That’s All You Get” – Chaperone Picks. Raw, enthusiastic, lo-fi singer/songwriter with some country overtones. For those days when it seems like no one doesn’t use autotune and maxxed out production values, Chaperone Picks is there for you. Realness.
9. “Runaways” – Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light. I feel an expansiveness in my soul when I listen to this song, not unlike that which I feel during Gregory Alan Isakov’s “The Stable Song.”
10. “Agata” – Sam and the Black Seas. This acoustic tune has serious gravitas and yet remains a floating world of a song, barely over two minutes.
11. “Alstroemeria” – TOLEDO. A dignified, composed, carefully constructed piece of acoustic music that shows off the male vocal tone and the ability to make all the pieces fit together intricately.
12. “I Found a Home” – Brooklyn Doran. The pristine guitar playing features an intriguing bass line. The guitar fits between Doran’s Adele-esque vocals and chord-heavy piano playing, creating a strong pop song.
13. “When We Were Young” – Anna Atkinson. Dramatic high alto/low soprano vocals and fiddle duet for the first chunk of this tune, evoking solitary, yearning mountain folk songs. The introduction of guitar somehow amplifies those feelings instead of diminishing them.
1. “Devil Yellow Sun” – Small Town Glow. If the emotional indie-rock of Frightened Rabbit had been born in the grunge-laden ’90s, it would have been as gloriously slackery, goofy, and relatable as this tune.
2. “Fossil” – Readership. The present or future ghosts of Modest Mouse, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Arcade Fire, and Spoon dance to the beat of this impeccably crafted, relentlessly endearing indie-rock tune. It’s a rare tune that ends way before I wanted it to.
3. “You Know It’s True” – Quinn Devlin & The Bridge Street Kings. Van Morrison has been popping up in my life a lot recently. Whether it’s in essays, songs, or Spotify recommendations, Van the Man is calling my name. Is this a getting older thing? Is this like classical music? Whatever it is, here’s some earthy-yet-ethereal blue-eyed soul that carries that Van torch forward. Also there’s some Hall & Oates in there? I mean that in the most positive way possible. You know what, ignore all that. It’s just a great song.
4. “Be There” – Buddha Trixie. Hectic/loping, quirky/formal, exuberant/laidback, manic/careful; there’s a lot of duality going on in this joyous indie-pop tune.
5. “there’s nothing better” – Eugene Gallagher. A beautiful, tender, herky-jerky love-song that feels like Delicate Steve’s burbling enthusiasms mixed with a male version of Kimya Dawson’s vocals. (I think you’ll forgive the seemingly ridiculous comparisons once you hear it.)
6. “Bow Down” – TD Lind. Protest folk at its vocal belting, harmonica-toting, major-key best.
7. “The Swim” – Case Conrad. One of those alt-country tunes that balances on the edge of so many things (is it a singer/songwriter tune? is it about to go full-on rock? are the vocals about to explode?) that it keeps the listener on her toes the whole way. Surprisingly, it’s deeply satisfying through all the tension. A fantastic tune.
8. “Melting” – Lindy Vopnfjord. Have you ever walked up a forested mountain near dusk? The beauty of the setting sun unveils a sort of ominous beauty, where the unknown is both gorgeous and dangerous. Those tensions are encompassed in this acoustic/electric minor-key folk tune.
9. “Aelia Laelia (Edit)” – Christopher Chaplin. I can give this complex, complicated piece one of my highest compliments: it defied easy conventions, making me ask, “What is this?” Part post-rock, part ambient/industrial electronic, part neo-classical performance, part operatic vocal songcraft, this composition bends the boundaries. Chaplin is really inventive and engaging here.
10. “Bombs” – EDGES. Reverb can serve to obscure, but it can also make things more intimate, as if you’re sitting next to the musician in a huge church. This acoustic tune is the latter, as the patient guitar and gently yearning vocals create a sense of closeness and warmth amid a giant building.
11. “Like a Funeral (Joel Rampage Duet Remake)” – Erik Jonasson. There will be approximately 1,000,000 slow-jam electro ballads released this year, but I would wager that maybe five will make me want to cry. This heartbreaking, expansive tune is one of them.
12. “She Floats” – Van-Anh Nguyen. Ambient by dint of crackles, breaths, and distant noises that run throughout, this delicate, piano-driven piece evokes a seaside boardwalk in the early morning.
Shiloh Hill creates a vibe with their latest release Wildflower that feels like running barefoot through a summer rainstorm, fresh and alive. The eleven-song album combines eclectic instrumentation that embarks on a blend of New Orleans Bourbon Street combined with traditional folk. For the rest of the world that is not in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area where this band blossomed, Shiloh Hillis a treasure that has yet to be unearthed since the album dropped in August.
Supported by regional touring, the band’s current lineup consists of Nick Wes (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Mamie Wilson (lead vocals, mandolin, glockenspiel), Julian Jackson (background vocals, banjo, electric guitar, dobro), Zeke Churchill (background vocals, drums), and Michael Kuehn (bass guitar, piano, organ) with the regulars joined in studio with friends Benjamin Matlack (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Evan Ringel (fiddle).
“The Artist” begins with a simple pizzicato of strings, building a cinematic vibe with vocals in layers from Wes and Wilson. Drifting like a summer breeze with banjo and trumpet accompaniment, the parade that is “Better Fool” begins by clearly marching to a different drum. Admittedly love’s fool, lyrically closing out with a restrained chorus and banjo is brilliant. Creating separation within a song is a challenge that is achieved here with instrumentation and tempo.
Moving it down to to an easy roll, “Mama’s Boy” enhances that Americana quality this album embraces. Juxtaposed with lyrics that bleed anguish, the arrangement is downtempo in a sweetly triumphant way. With horns leading the parade, “Wildflower” is the closest to a pop song on the album. The vocals really shine here, possibly because they are the storytellers, metaphor spreading the seed on the wind. “Seasons” rests roughly halfway along the journey; it’s a traveling song with the anticipation of new things ahead. Mandolin is featured up front in the mix here, and it is a beautiful touch. “Dust” feels like something that bands like The Avett Brothers may have inspired, with banjo and guitar along with the harmonies of Wes and Wilson. Taking the genre in a new direction, horns are added in a subtle way here. The tune pulls out into a solo piano accompanied by a fine bit of banjo work, coming together in a haunted musicality.
“Box of Pine” kicks the album into high gear with an opening that pulls fiddle and banjo to the front of the mix to highlight the roots of North Carolina musical tradition. Relying heavily on the familiar, the song is sweet with dobro and a toe-tapping infectiousness. “Stale” pulls that new folk thing back in with a fiddle squeal. An almost hypnotic piece is tossed on the table here with a dare. Something so fresh can never be considered old. Songs like “Six Months” and “Riverstone” are lyrically based: the things that are not wanted are usually things that are unavailable, smoothed by time to be less resistant to the currents of life. Closing out with “Oh My Love. Oh My Sweet,” Wildflower goes out in the way it came in, on a soft spring breeze: fragrant, brightly colored, and sweet. —Lisa Whealy
Samuel Alty‘s Hammering Nails into the Sky is a folk/singer-songwriter album that draws heavily off a standard flamenco guitar idea: the bass notes play a straight rhythm while the treble plays a speedy, syncopated rhythm over it. Most of the tracks here play off some variation of that theme, creating a unique, energetic feel to the record.
“Be Brave” is the most identifiably flamenco of the tunes: the rhythms are familiar, the tune’s in a major key, and the whole thing makes me want to sway and dance cheerfully. “Guiding Hands” is a minor-key, even ominous flamenco-inspired piece that retains the treble/bass relationship. That relationship diversifies in “Life It Is for Living,” where the stand-up bass plays the ostinato notes and Alty uses the whole rattling guitar as the counterpoint; it’s inverted in “Revolution,” where the treble is the repeated and the bass and vocals go wild. “Travelling Song” is a complicated instrumental ballad where both the bass and the treble are moving around. Alty does an impressive job turning one overacrching idea into a wide array of compelling song structures.
There are a few tunes where Alty breaks from his theme. “Sanction” is a near 7-minute singer/songwriter tune that focuses heavily on his baritone range instead of his guitar work. It’s a spacious, sparse work, not unlike Bonnie Prince Billy in places. “Glory” is even more focused on Alty’s voice, as he multitracks himself singing and beatboxing for a song that’s completely a capella. It has a trip-hop vibe to it, which is a break in the mostly-speedy tempos of the record.
Hammering Nails into the Sky is a fun, intriguing, intricate record that is probably unlike what you’re listening to right now, unless you’re listening to José González or going flamenco dancing. It has charms on first blush and rewards multiple listens. If you’re looking to expanding your musical horizons today, definitely check out Hammering Nails into the Sky.
1. “The Age of Man” – Diva Faune. The vocal melodies here are magnetic: I can’t stop thinking about them. They are somehow optimistic and wistful, enthusiastic and pensive. The restrained electro-pop that accompanies the acoustic guitarwork is just as subtly brilliant. Highly recommended.
2. “My God” – Bitter’s Kiss. Bet you weren’t expecting a plucky, swaying piano-pop tune about religious tolerance.
3. “Love Not Hate” – Penny Mob. This rock’n’roll tune isn’t skate punk, but the distinctive vocal style, punchy ska-esque horns, and massive enthusiasm remind me of late ’90s/early ’00s skate-pop-punk. This one is also about tolerance. Bonus!
4. “I Need You Closer” – Eric Reid (A Prince). Muted, bouncy 808s; handclaps; anthemic sing-alongs full of big cursewords; Beatles-esque string arrangements. What more can you ask for in a busted-heart breakup tune?
5. “Take Me Over” – Ari Roar. Most woozy pop has distortion slathered all over it, but Roar prefers to layer slightly-off-kilter casio sounds with his feathery voice to create the a pleasingly woozy effect.
6. “What of Me” – Corey Crumpacker. If you mash the Southern rock of Needtobreathe with old-school Mumford and Sons theatricality, and you’ve got a fist-pumping, stadium-sized folk-pop tune.
7. “The Holy Ghost” – decker. decker really goes for it here, hammering away on every available instrument (including vocals) in creating an almost claustrophobically intense piece of rock’n’roll-meets-folk. Wow.
8. “Liberations” – Martin Forsell. The humble “ooo-ooo” line gets deployed to great effect here in this troubadour folk tune swaddled in layers and layers of reverb. (It’s not quite to Fleet Foxes levels of reverb, though.) The drums and bass ratchet up to a post-punk thrum, giving this folk tune great aspirations that pay off in a rewarding tune.
9. “Cabin Fever” – Candy Cigarettes. A downtempo acoustic guitar at the heart of this track is surrounded by slow-moving strings, descending rhythm guitar, ascending lead guitar, stacks and stacks of background vocals, and eventually pounding drums & keys to make a dense, charging rock tune.
10. “Aristide’s Entry into Paris” – Belly of Paris. So you’re Beirut on a bender with a cohort of gypsies shambling down the back alleys of some ancient-yet-modernizing city, and then you start getting chased. Inventive, carnivalesque, and fascinating.
11. “Or Not” – The Clydes. Everyone needs a good desperate-sounding guitar-rock song at their disposal when things are going off the rails. Keep this one close at hand for business partner backstabbing, romantic deceptions, or certain unsavory characters with outsize influence on your life.
12. “Schtum.” – Lunacre. A subtly askew guitar performance opens up into a deep, Radiohead-esque pool of barely-soothed anxiety.
1. “Happy Heart (Can Go for Miles)” – The Deltahorse. This impressive tune is sort of to the left of all its referents: there’s some skronking sax, some straight-ahead ’90s techno beats, and some Brit-pop vocal melodies all jostling for precedence. It comes together into a genre-less sort of work that will stick with you.
2. “Trip” – The Venus De Melos. Math-rock is often a technical outworking of hardcore, the patterning of brutal spasms. This is the opposite: this is a major-key, burbling technical blitz that has a chorus that sounds like the soft side of Motion City Soundtrack or Copeland. Check it.
3. “Palms” – Native Other. Like a deconstructed Vampire Weekend, Native Other splits herky-jerky afropunk into parts and reconfigures it with elements of R&B, dream-pop, and math-rock. Whoa.
4. “All My Fake Friends” – Ira Lawrence. Lawrence’s overdriven, hypermanipulated mandolin is back! This tune creates a towering sound that’s hollowed out by an almost complete lack of bass. The resulting folk/indie-pop-esque sound is yearning, physically missing something that is reflected in the disappointment of Lawrence’s voice.
5. “Shut Out the Light (Ft. Peter Silberman)” – Tiny Dinosaurs. This low-slung, low-key electro-indie-pop tune didn’t have enough enigmatically romantic iciness to it, so Julie Jay brought in a member of the Antlers. That fixed it right up.
6. “Ellen” – Steph Sweet. An insistent, burbling, rubbery electric guitar line gives way to a syncopated, ratatat melodic line that I would expect to hear in tunes far more electronic than this one. Organ, glockenspiel, harpsichord(?), and ghostly waves of delay weave in and out of the guitarwork to create a truly unique tune that wouldn’t be out of place in ’70s Fleetwood-style rock or at the end of a modern prog-rock album.
7. “Demitasse” – JJASMINE. Cello, delicate piano melodies, synths that genuinely sound like breaths, and stuttering oscillations transform a dusky electro-pop track into a mystic, foggy, evocative landscape.
8. “Illuminate” – Carly Comando. Glockenspiel accents the bass-heavy, river-run-fast piano keys that create this beautiful track.
9. “La voz del sur (Himmelsrichtungen, nr. 4)” – Juan María Solare. Look around that city corner carefully; you never know what will be there, even in broad daylight. It’s a veritable cornucopia of possibilities, but there’s always a threat hanging above your head–you never know what it could be. And then suddenly, it is.
10. “Ded Mel 25” – Moyamoya. The machine lifted from the ocean floor. it had been trapped there for days, after the ship wrecked. It housed two poor souls, rationing everything they could to perhaps survive. And help had come, lifting their craft slowly yet surely toward the water. Breaking the surface was euphoric and crushing; still floating were remnants of their life’s work. The boat was gone, but they remained. Clenching a fist, one looked at the other and nodded. The hatch popped.
11. “Valley” – Sonic Soundscapes. A determined sojourner trudges across a windswept, wintry landscape. The still air is almost pristinely cold, as if every step he takes endangers the perfect landscape around him. But the landscape keeps going on, and so does the sojourner, neither of their determination fading. The light continues to creep over the mountains. He will get there or die trying.
1. “Turtle Doves” – Jenny Elisabeth & the Gunned Down Horses. A. What a band name. B. Like light spreading across a horizon, this tune grows from spiky yet warm tendrils of sound to a full, round alt-country performance. The bassist and JE’s creaky voice get special honors.
2. “Refugee” – Cameron James Henderson. Some artists command a gravitas–a combination of confidence, vocal control, melodic maturity, and (let’s be honest) Dylan influences–that catapults their folk tunes into the upper echelon. This tune very firmly belongs up there with the Joe Pugs, Josh Ritters, and Barr Brotherses of the world.
3. “Louisiana” – Eric & Happie. This is more country than the Civil Wars, but still very pop-oriented. It would be like if folk-pop had a country-pop counterpart, but this has almost nothing in common with Florida Georgia Line, so that’s out. The male/female harmonies are lovely, the arrangement is small but full, the production is bright and tight, and the whole thing comes off like a sunbeam out of a cloudy day. It’s just great.
4. “The Space Between” – Aaron James. Here’s some folk-pop with strong vocal harmonies and lots of subtle production touches that push it just far enough outside of the box to really catch the ear, while still fitting in with all the folk-pop standard-bearers.
5. “Don’t Leave My Side” – McKenzie Lockhart. I’m really into immediate production: it sounds like Lockhart is sitting right next to me, playing and singing her folk-pop/singer-songwriter blend. The drums and electric guitar add a lot of character and atmosphere to this tune, which is often not the case in this type of music–mad props to the band. The results are an unusually gripping singer-songwriter track.
6. “No Gauge” – Ariah&. Ariah’s low alto voice contrasts nicely against a chipper mandolin and blaring trumpet. She can belt like Amanda Palmer, too.
7. “Beans” – Little Hermit. If you threw the ukulele charm of Ingrid Michaelson, the quirky lyrics of Kimya Dawson, and an impressive female duet into a blender, you probably still couldn’t come out with something as attractive, elegant, and intriguing as this.
9. “Yesterday’s News” – Esbie Fonte. Starts off as a torchy tune with some jumbled noise for atmosphere, then blooms into something more electronic and complex than that.
10. “Cold Moon” – Lacei. Vocal-driven folk + wubby spacious bass + skittering beats = (either) the folkiest electro track I’ve heard all year or the most electronic folk track of the same period.
11. “Pluto’s Waltz” – Barrow_. This instrumental inventively combines solo neo-classical/jazz piano with snare-heavy electronic kit drums and the occasional synth for effect. It’s a fresh, impressive vision.
Indie folk rock musicians Red Sammy & Some Charming Trespassers channel some greats here in their latest release, True Believer, dropping this fall. Taking a page from the song book of Tom Waits is a challenge, often landing in a crash. This is definitely not the case here, with a collection of eight songs that feel like a throwback to something past, a campfire along the train tracks of life.
Adam Trice is Red Sammy, and that is an important distinction to make. His songwriting is inspired, simple and down to earth. Storytelling is a lost art to many indie musicians; a few come to mind, like Sedona’s decker. and Brooklyn transplant Charles Ellsworth. Both pull in ghosts from the greats as shadows to call on. Some Charming Trespassers are a band of highly skilled musicians including Sarah Kennedy (violin), John Decker (resonator), and Rebecca Edwards (backing vocals) who, with the help of sparse arrangements, play a simple part in the success of this album. They are vehicles that get out of the way and let the music soar.
Opener “Caribou” takes this release out in a stampede for people not yet familiar with Red Sammy. Subtle and powerful, it weaves together a beautiful violin and loaded lyricism. At a little over three minutes, a lifetime is a picture the song paints. “Barefoot in Baltimore” is a love song in the tradition of Appalachian bluegrass, except this is coming out of Maryland, which makes it all the more transcendent of race and economic status. Music is a great equalizer, and “Barefoot” is just that.
“Chickenwire” is poetry bleeding with pain, and “Western Bound” is pain bleeding with hope, all done with skilled arrangements and poetry. Strange thing is, the message is the same, just wrapped in different ribbon. “Heaven the Electric Sky” is filled with harmonic echoes that flesh out the song, reinforcing the band’s stated desire for sparse arrangements on this album. The music shines. Choices like this make this album, and indie music in general, such a force.
“I Knew You Better” is a testament to thinking and how this is a dangerous pastime. Violin-driven, it is terrific. “Santa Ana Wildfire” is that drawn out feeling that isolates us all. As a bit of sequencing genius, it tells a beautiful story that is a complete contradiction and paradox to the previous song. True Believer closes with “Aunt Mary”: sometimes all there is in life is the comfort of an old song, a campfire, a cold beer or a cup of coffee with friends. Desperation is a shared and palpable thing, with taste, sound, and feel. Let this one settle in like a pair of well-worn boots. —Lisa Whealy
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.