1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.
2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.
3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.
4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.
5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.
6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.
7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…
8. LA Takedown– LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.
9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.
10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.
11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.
12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.
13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.
1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?
2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.
3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.
4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?
5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.
6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.
7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.
8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.
9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).
10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale. Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.
11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.
12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.
13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.
14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.
The Co Founder‘s Whiskey and 45’s is a raw, stripped-down acoustic offering that falls at the intersection of slowcore singer/songwriter vibes, rough-n-tumble country delivery, and alt-rock gruffness. The arrangements in the EP skew toward the sparse, but The Co Founder rarely lets things go totally acoustic. There’s a lot of atmosphere built into the five songs here, which serves to underscore (while helping create) the unique world these songs live in.
Hayden Eller’s vision of acoustic music is contained in the two opening tunes. “Balance and Composure” is a slow boat paddling, a lazy breeze over a brown-grass hill, a rolling pastoral that displays difficult emotions without poring over them. Elephant Micah would have been proud to write this one, aside from the muscly, guitar-chord-heavy chorus that provides a counterpoint to the gentle surroundings. If the verses are the composure, the chorus is the balance. “Yves St. Laurant” flips the script, focusing on the tough exterior; it’s raw, rough, and intense. It feels like a hollowed-out alt-rock song or an the sturdy skeleton of ominous alt-country tune. Yet quiet moments exist amid the brittle, powerful delivery. It’s a tension that Eller keeps at the forefront of his work.
That tension is pulled together with the subtle arrangement touches that help build the ambiance of the tunes. “Yves St. Laurant” includes clips of Heath Ledger as the Joker talking about morals, which is enough to make any song skin-crawling. It fits perfectly with the heavy delivery of the tune. The wide-open tom pounds that punctuate “Balance and Composure” point to the space and flow of the sound. Elsewhere, the distant lead guitar of “Harris Avenue” sends me to an empty street in an ominous, dusty frontier town; the background of “His Own Damn Self” is filled with found sound and pad synths. (Eller is aware of this; he includes an acoustic version of this one as the final track.) Closer “March 13th” includes indiscernible conversations for texture. Each element provides a pop of definition in the tunes, staking out remote and rare sonic territory for The Co Founder’s own.
Whiskey and 45’s is a pretty intense EP. Eller’s interests in minor keys, powerful delivery, and sonic texturing result in a collection that cuts against the current grain of easy-going folky tunes (that I love, it should be pointed out). Eller wrangles the striking sonic elements and the expectation inversions together with great success: the results display a distinct and memorable point of view. I’m intrigued to see how his songwriting voice develops and where his experiments with sonic texturing lead him.
1. “Sometimes It’s a Song” – Rob Williams. The fresh, round, earnest qualities of Williams’ voice match the subtle sweetness of the surrounding arrangement, resulting in the sort of song that feels real and weighty without being heavy or loud. It makes quite an impact.
2.”Heart of Stone” – The American West. This one captures the easygoing, lilting West Coast country sound in full flower, with the pedal steel more floating than weeping and the guitar more calming than cutting. The vocals and lyrics, however, supply all the heartbreak you could ask for from a country tune.
3. “Lovedrunk Desperados” – Annabelle’s Curse. That opening thumping kickdrum creates a sense of urgency that cuts through the banjo and acoustic guitar songwriting and lends it the hint of grandeur that compels me to keep listening. The rest of the song does not disappoint.
4. “Set on Fire” – Magic Giant. They’re not referencing their meteoric rise, but this rave-folk outfit (seriously, right there with Avicii, in only a slightly different way) is making a big noise in a lot of places. This particularly tune will keep their star right on rising.
5. “Mountains” – Andy Hackbarth. Even though its title says otherwise, this one invokes the beach: chill, Mraz-style acoustic-pop meets reggae in a sunshiny brew.
6. “Molly Put the Kettle On” – Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. It doesn’t get much more authentic-sounding than this rootsy, bluegrassy croon/holler tune featuring harmonica, banjo, and fiddle.
7. “Mother” – Adam Busch. Touches of psychedelia flavor this otherwise unassuming, easygoing, fingerpicked acoustic tune.
8. “Lighthouse” – Phillip LaRue. The subtle alt-pop of Peter Bradley Adams meets the flitting, romantic strings of Sleeping at Last for a romantic, lovely tune.
9. “Cool and Refreshing” – Florist. Sporting another not-quite-yet-self-aware title, this tune delivers fragile, melancholic, beautiful indie-pop that really seems like it should be acoustic. Shades of Lady Lamb, Laura Stevenson, and Kimya Dawson appear, but Florist uses the references as touchstones instead of crutches. Just beautiful.
10. “Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf. This tune has the gravitas to convey history in all its glory and terror–a tune so infused with lyrical weight that a single sigh can speak volumes. Distant trumpets, careful strings, twinkling glockenspiel and gentle baritone make this some sort of cross between Beirut and Kris Orlowski, which is only positive. Metcalf previously was in IC faves The Fox and The Bird, and it seems he hasn’t missed a step since stepping out.
Nashville folk/indie-pop outfit Pageant‘s latest single “Don’t Stop the Rain” gets pretty literal in its accompanying clip, surveying the varied lives and meanings of water in our world and culture. It’s enough to make a Californian faint.
The song itself is a jaunty duet that draws heavily on indie-pop and folk conventions without falling neatly into either category. The vocals are the feature here, with Derek and Erika Porter’s voices intertwining throughout the tune as leads and backup vocals. There’s some pedal steel and harmonica to counter the vocal focus, while the bass guitar does some admirable work keeping the tune traveling sprightly on. The overall effect is close to the full-band vibes that Creedence Clearwater Revival put out–which is appropriate, as Derek Porter mentioned the band’s work as a major touchpoint. His full comments, which he graciously penned for us:
“I love CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the mystical, open-ended lyrics of the track, and I always heard it as an anti-war, anti-government protest song at its heart. I wanted to take that idea even further and make the lyrics more universal and removed from the point of view and period of time in which it was originally written, so I wrote “Don’t Stop the Rain” as a direct response, playing devil’s advocate. Pageant’s song doesn’t have a clear message but is more of a free spirited thought exercise — overall, I enjoyed the poetry of the original and riffed on it.”
The Gray Havens are back with a new Kickstarter project! The folk-pop duo is creating a new EP with Ben Shive, who has worked with Andrew Peterson, Ellie Holcomb, and IC faves Colony House and Son of Laughter. Shive seems to always turn out earthy, “real”-sounding recordings; paired with the Gray Havens’ dramatic, tension-filled songwriting, the results should be impressive. Check their video below.
1. “Run With Me” – Heather LaRose. A great pop song that has that Imagine Dragons / Magic Giant / Lumineers type of enthusiasm tinged with minor-key drama. You’ll be humming this one.
2. “New Minuits” – Tri-State. This low-slung rock tune escaped from some preternaturally chill realm: it’s smart, cool, moody, lyrically clever and vocally impressive without breaking a sweat.
3. “Nothing to Say” – WOOF. THAT BASS LINE. (Also, this a burbling, frenetic, arpeggiator-decorated mid-’00s indie-pop-rock tune. Tokyo Police Club would be proud.) SERIOUSLY THOUGH. THAT BASS.
4. “Take Me To a Party” – Sweet Spirit. “I’ve got a broken heart / so take me to a party” hollers the lead female vocalist over energetic, fractured rock music that sounds suitably unhinged.
5. “Corduroy” – Redcast. Gosh, there’s just something irresistible about a fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed pop-rock group with equal parts Beatles, twee indie-pop, and The Cars references.
6. “Soldiers” – Swim Season. Everything about this track makes way more success when you realize that it’s about to be summer in the band’s native Australia. This summery electro-rock jam slinks, sways and swaggers its way into your ears.
7. “Movies” – Captain Kudzu. Meticulous slacker pop seems like a paradox, but Captain Kudzu’s carefully crafted tune here sounds excellently like it’s not trying too hard. Foresty, moody vibes track with the easiness, making it an intriguing song.
8. “Captive” – WYLDR. Temper Trap + Passion Pit + a dash of Colony House = radio gold.
9. “Every Day” – Dream Culture. Here’s a funky psych-rock nugget with one foot firmly in the ’70s and one in outer space. The tension between grounded riffing and free-floating atmosphere pulls at each other in all the right ways.
10. “Hey Little League” – Michael Daughtry. John Mayer’s suave alt-pop touch collides with some tight ’90s pop-rock vibes to turn out this tune.
11. “Time to Share” – Model Village. Grows from a delicate pop tune to a surprising, swirling post-disco tune without ever losing a gentle touch.
1. “Spring” – Sam Burchfield. Measured guitar strum and an evocative vocal performance draw me in, but it’s the gentle keys and the ragged drumming that give the song character. The rest of the song just seals the deal. Shades of Brett Dennen here–nothin’ but a good thing. What a single.
2. “Vacation” – Florist. Within seconds the tentative, relatable guitar picking has drawn me in entirely. Emily Sprague’s tender, confessional delivery gives this a magnetic appeal usually reserved for acts like Laura Stephenson, Lady Lamb, and old-school Kimya Dawson.
3. “Little By Little” – Niamh Crowther. The melodic folk-pop is charming, and then she starts singing and it jumps way up into the stratosphere. Her voice is just remarkable. Serious one to watch here.
4. “Nevada City” – John Heart Jackie. Pulls the incredible trick of not feeling like a song, but like part of the environment you were already in, turning the corners brighter and lightening the vibe throughout. The easy maturity of this tune is not to be underrated or underestimated, especially when it bursts into a beautiful crescendo near its midpoint. Undeniably powerful.
5. “Reality Show” – Sam Joole. Adept at reggae and acoustic pop, Joole blends the lyrical and musical sentiments of both into a piece of spot-on social criticism about social media that doubles as a chill-out track.
6. “A Bone to Pick” – Ten Ton Man. The gravelly, circus-like drama of Tom Waits’ work collides with the enthusiastic world-music vibes of Gogol Bordello to create an ominous, memorable track.
7. “Walk Right” – Pete Lanctot and the Stray Dogs. An old-timey revival is the site of this tune, where the stray dogs admonish all those listening to forsake their lives of sin and “walk right.” The vintage sound is updated with great production and a hint of a knowing wink.
8. “15 Step” – Phia. The kalimba-wielding indie-popstress drops a gently mindbending cover of the Radiohead tune with just thumb piano, distant guitar, claps, stomps, and layered vocals. Just whoa.
9. “It’s Not Your Fault” – Gregory Uhlmann. Soft woodwinds deliver pleasant texture to this swaying, loose, thoughtful piece. Uhlmann captures a beautiful, unstructured mood here.
10. “If I Go” – Jake McMullen. Hollow and distant yet visceral and immediate, McMullen creates slowcore acoustic tunes similar to those of Jesse Marchant or Gregory Alan Isakov at his most ethereal. Shades of Damien Jurado’s tortured voice creep in too. It’s gorgeous stuff.
The album art on Unalaska’s self-titled debut EP says it all — purple gradient waves appear as eggplant-colored tides, layered shorelines, mountaintops even. It captures the mellow fluidity of the four tracks on Unalaska: the EP’s abstracted sway and occasionally gravelling soundscapes.
Stirring techno elements whirl on “Air Transylvania.” Ghostly english-accented vocals, hollow tinkling, and lush guitar lines mesh together for an ominous and sober first track. The repeated, taunting lyric, “It’s madness,” plays just as loud as the building, lonesome guitar line that leads the song out.
While “Air Transylvania” evokes a futuristic feel, “Skeleton” has an initial air of nostalgia accompanying it via crunchy guitar riffs and echoed instrumentals. That nostalgia soon gives way to synth, heavy texturing, and charming vocals that make this track somewhat of a futuristic campfire song. I could nod along to this one in front of a bonfire on another planet, where we can look up and spot at least two moons.
That distance from planet earth continues onto “Salaryworld.” A rippling beat creates soft current under various, incoming channels of static-churned vocals. Powerful electric guitar lines make a sweet juxtaposition; this track packages both high and low frequencies. “Salaryworld” sounds like a jumbled mind, a collage of sounds, but yet, it’s repetitive in its chaos.
The last track on Unalaska is a desolate indie song titled “Fallows.” Just as–if not more– far-out as the rest, it sounds more like a howling wolf in moonlight than anything. Raw and emotive, “Fallows” is darkly choir-like. It has ghastly, Bane-inspired breathing, which adds to the overall solitude–a solitude that left me strangely at peace. “Fallows” is a thunderstorm of a song.
In fact, all of Unalaska can be compared to a rainstorm; it’s an obscure, drizzling, cerulean-tinted rainy season of an EP. And if you’re not outside with your mouth open wide, you’re missing out on some quality weird music. —Rachel Haney
Charlie Belle amazes me with their second EP, I Don’t Want To Be Alone. Seventeen-year-old Jendayi Bonds leads Charlie Belle with her guitar, vocals, and songwriting skills. Her brother, fourteen-year-old Gyasi Bonds, gives their songs sonal depth through the drums. Together, the two sibling prodigies leave a lasting impression with their masterful rhythm & blues/pop fusion sound.
Ironically, mature pop is one way I would describe the sound of the EP I Don’t Want To Be Alone. At first, Charlie Belle’s sound comes off like very happy-go-lucky pop. The drums provide the songs with a driving beat while the guitar strumming adds an easygoing flair, making this EP perfect driving music. Yet, the more closely I listened, the more I noticed the mature R&B elements and poignant lyrics. Particularly when arriving at “You Don’t Know Me,” I am hit with the sassy R&B flavor that Jill Scott is known for, both in the lyrics and overall sound.
The single “Petting Zoo” is another great example of Charlie Belle exploring mature topics in a fun sounding way. The guitar strumming intro sets you up for happiness and rainbows but eventually the weight of the lyrics become apparent. Particularly when the song slows down at the chorus, Charlie Belle emphasizes the weightiness of the lyrics: “Nobody knows me like I do / But everyone is telling me what I’m supposed to do.” “Petting Zoo” depicts the reality of hitting that age where you realize that family, friends, and society are all trying to tell you how to live your life–and then having the maturity to reject parts that don’t fit with your true identity. It’s awe-inspiring that Jendayi Bonds can write such mature lyrics at such a young age.
I cannot finish a review on I Don’t Want To Be Alone without notingJendayi Bonds’ beautiful voice. Jendayi’s voice has the sweetness of Colbie Caillat with the soul of India Arie. Some tracks emphasize more of the sweet side, such as “Petting Zoo.” Other tracks bring out more of the soulful side of her voice, particularly “You Don’t Know Me,” where she even raps mid-way through. While still maintaining her vocal flavor, Jendayi’s crisp vocals enable the lyrics to be heard clearly.
Charlie Belle’s I Don’t Want to Be Alone is a prime example of truly well-done music by musicians who haven’t even lived two full decades. Never underestimate youth. —Krisann Janowitz
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.