So even in this packed musical world, some band names have slipped through the cracks. Thus New York duo Frog have come to have a four-letter name, kind of like when The Killers found out that no one had taken that band name. (And really, of all the bands in the world, the one led by Brandon Flowers probably shouldn’t have been the one to get the name The Killers.)
But Frog fits their name a little better: “All Dogs Go to Heaven” starts out with the sound of swamp fauna (crickets, cicadas, even a frog or two, I would guess). Their gentle guitar strum comes in over the found sound, creating a pastoral pastiche. The summer sounds give way to drums that lead the listener through some loopy-in-the-best-way guitar pop. “All Dogs Go to Heaven” is thus a deeply enjoyable track, a perfect tune to drive or walk to.
The video for “All Dogs” echoes the themes of motion that I head: a train ride is the main image throughout the piece. I’m usually not into old video montages, but this one fits the nature of the song pretty perfectly. Sometimes a perfect connection between image and sound can transcend the methods used, and such is the case here.
The main character stumbles through a train car as Dan Bateman mumbles a rapidfire collection of words, while the smash-cut transitions in the song fit perfectly with the video transitions. “All Dogs” isn’t the sort of video I usually feature, but it’s the sort of video that fits exactly with the song it’s supporting. May we all be so lucky.
“All Dogs Go to Heaven” is the opening track off Kind of Blah, which comes out May 25th on Audio AntiHero Records (Pre-order). You can hear the single “Judy Garland” here.
Have you ever listened to The XX? If not, it’s two steamy voices, one male and one female, alongside minimalist instrumentation. Flavor The XX with bluegrass/country twang and instrumentation, and you have The Lowest Pair. Their recently released The Sacred Heart Sessions highlights Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee’s sultry voices through a minimalist banjo/guitar arrangement in a truly beautiful way.
Listening to The Lowest Pair is such a pleasurable experience. Kendl’s voice is sweet and innocent, as highlighted by singles like “Rosie.” Palmer’s voice has more of a soulful sound, with power behind it. The combination of Kendl’s angelic voice with Palmer’s more earthy one come together to create an almost heavenly sound. The Sacred Heart Session rests mainly on their beautiful vocal combination, much like The XX. Yet the unique addition of their bluegrass flavor sets them apart from other minimalist bands.
Even though The Lowest Pair could easily be an a cappella group, the instruments they chose in no way take away from the vocals. The banjo and guitar make up their whole instrumentation, trading off song to song. Some songs are just accompanied by the banjo, emphasizing the beautiful country twang existing in their voices. Other songs like the more upbeat “Fourth Times a Charm” have both a guitar and banjo. “Fourth Times a Charm” sounds particularly bluegrass with the chorus made entirely up of the phrase yik a dink a do/day.
The Lowest pair’s sweet and sultry vocals paired with their minimalist bluegrass instrumentation all come together to create a standout sophomore album. The Sacred Heart Sessions is out now!
There is no one quite like Aly Spaltro, and there is nothing quite like After. Spaltro burst on the scene as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper with with the almost overwhelmingly brilliant mindbender Ripely Pine in 2013. Two years later, she’s returned with a shorter name (Lady Lamb) and a new album that tightens up her already incredibly fine-tuned indie rock. After is a musical and lyrical powerhouse that should establish her as a talent with enough ideas to keep going for the long term.
It’s reductive to label After a breakup album, but the title invites the reference. Tunes like “Vena Cava” and “Batter” reference a split off-handedly or obliquely, while “Milk Duds” lays out the loss in raw detail. But it’s not the process of breaking up that is documented; instead, After is an accounting of the emotions that appear or return after the end of a relationship. It’s an emotional exploration of the territory that Josh Ritter’s post-divorce album The Beast in Its Tracks accounted for in concrete, physical spaces. There are multiple references to the tiny details of life that she has suddenly noticed: singles “Spat Out Spit” and “Billions of Eyes” both discuss train rides and their attendant emotional revelations; hair braids, shoes, and all manner of animals are minor characters; food is a constant metaphor.
Animals and food aren’t new territory for Spaltro. Ripely Pine included tons of references to those topics as well, both lyrically and visually. The phrase “crane your neck” makes a significant return, as well. But as much as there are threads connecting these two albums, there are vast territories separating them. Sometimes the territory is lyrical and literal: trains, planes, and cars move people around, while Arkansas, Maine and Vermont might be the places they are going. These lyrics are rich, deep, and visceral; they are not your typical breakup lyrics.
They’re not your typical lyrics in general. Spaltro’s image-heavy lyricism never becomes so idiosyncratic as to be effectively dadaist or surreal; instead, these tunes feel like the most vivid memoirists’ work, inviting you in to an experience that you can share. Ripely Pine was an occasionally inscrutable, impressionistic affair: After seems to have fiddled with the knobs and brought everything into focus. And whoa, what a picture.
And whoa, what a sound! The territories between the two albums don’t just range to lyrical differences. Ripely Pine celebrated fractured, passionate, highly intricate songwriting almost to the exclusion of relatability: it was a towering artistic achievement that served as a big boom from a new artist. After takes the complex work and fits it into the service of emotional narratives. The balance of fantastic arrangements and lyrical relatability is much closer to equal, although Spaltro’s voice will always make the mundane seem majestic.
Yet there’s still a giddy charge that emits from these tracks. “Violet Clementine” is as whiz-bang hectic and technically impressive as anything she’s ever written, incorporating a loping bass line that turns into an ominous guitar line (complete with whirring organ). Another section sees her duetting with a male voice, then a noisy choir; it smash-cuts into a brand new tempo and mood. It’s catchy in the weirdest of ways. Opener “Vena Cava” shows her in full flower, whipping back and forth from singer/songwriter quiet to garage-rock loud with unexpected lyrical turns throughout.
Elsewhere, she has straightened out some of the curls and eccentricities of her songwriting into indie-rock songs that focus on her dramatic, powerful voice (“Billions of Eyes,” “Milk Duds”). “Batter” is a garage-rock stomp through and through. “Sunday Shoes” is a vulnerable fingerpicked tune. These tunes are just as compelling as the more wild ones, displaying a different sort of confidence. We knew she could write stuff we couldn’t; now we know she can write the stuff we do write better than we do. In short, talent abounds throughout.
I could keep writing about After for a while. It’s got complexities all in and throughout it, like a complex jewel or a particularly large painting. Lady Lamb’s ability to command attention musically and lyrically is impressive, and the resulting songs are ones that won’t let you leave for long. After is a remarkable achievement that I expect to see on my year end lists.
Considering the state of the nation and the world, I always expect to get more protest music than I do. I could expound upon why I think that is so, but it would take away from the point of this post: a political/protest song debut. Whatever else other people are doing, Tyranny is Tyranny is involving politics in their work.
In fact, everything about them is a political statement, from their band name to their imagery to their lyrics. Their sophomore album The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism is coming out quite soon (streaming in full starting tomorrow, vinyl pre-orders till May 17, full release June 13 on Phratry Records), and they’ve graciously allowed us to premiere their 15-minute juggernaut “Victory Will Defeat You” today.
The best way to describe Tyranny is Tyranny is as a very noisy, thoughtful rock band: post-rock, post-punk, and post-metal are all applicable at various times throughout the 15 minutes of the tune. Forlorn trumpet lends a post-rock texture to the piece; towering distorted guitars and howling vocals ring up the post-metal comparisons; the section from 9-11 minutes has post-punk grooves going on. The whole thing is somewhat akin to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, one of the very few post-rock bands that is explicitly making political and social moves. It’s very heavy in sections, which may not appeal to some post-rock fans, but I think many will dig this. If you’re into Hydra Head Records-style post-metal, you’ll be all over this. It’s not every day you get to be bowled over by 15 minutes of indignant fury, so get your kicks in here.
Ellsworth is about to record the follow-up to that record, and he’s looking for funds to do that. But instead of running a Kickstarter, he’s purchased the URL NotAKickstarter.com. Instead of asking for a goal amount and then making everyone wait, he’s going to ask for donations and then give his music to you immediately as a thank-you for that donation. He has six albums, EPs, and singles available as part of the promotion. That’s a lot to love, and a lot of reasons to contribute to this campaign.
To help whet your appetite for what you may hear when you contribute, here’s a live video of “In My Thoughts,” a track that appears on the Live from the State Room record. IC is lucky enough to debut the video today! (The live album is new, too, as part of the campaign.) “In My Thoughts” is a gorgeous, delicate tune that seems to tumble out of his mouth and out of the band’s instruments. His subtle arrangements frame his mellifluous baritone voice, as the band provides just the right amount of color: cello swoops, guitar garnishes, and percussion keeps the song all held together. The highlight is the chorus, where the rhythms of Ellsworth’s melody gently push against the calm setting for a memorable tension. It’s a song that shows off his skills. (And even though it’s a new song that wasn’t on Salt Lake City, he gives a shout-out to the city twice at the end of the track. Awesome!)
And now we’ve made it through the full Konami code. Cheers!
Blimp Rock’s pop-rock tune “Let’s All Stay In Tonight” celebrates the joys of staying in your house, inviting your friends over, and drinking tea. I heartily approve. For those who have been to hundreds of shows, a sentiment I have echoed for years: “I see there’s more than two bands on the bill / so I don’t think, I don’t think I’m gonna go / I wish it started at seven / so we could get to bed by 11.”
The Life and Times also celebrates home life in “Passion Pit”: the central character brushes his teeth, washes dishes, gets covered in leaves and hangs out with a housecat. The rest of his rock band follows him around his house. Good times had by all.
Keeping the domestic theme alive, one of the oldest urban living tropes I know of is brought to life here in Tyler Boone’s “Take Aim”: meeting a romantic partner at the laundromat.
In stark, vivid, flamboyant contrast to the first three, Many Things’ video for “Holy Fire” concerns the atypical, unusual, and surreal in a single-shot video of remarkable oddity. It’s not what I expected from this song, but it works. Oh, it works.
Lylit’s clip for “Unknown” is basically a combination of those previous things: there’s a very domestic ’50s flair to Lylit’s wardrobe, hair and surroundings, but the pastel coloring of everything makes it just a bit off-kilter. It’s still a fantastic pop song, on top of that.
Ryan O’Reilly’s gorgeously-shot video for “Northern Lights” plays out like a wintry Moonrise Kingdom. The high-drama, piano-led singer/songwriter tune fits perfectly with the video.
Some bands know how to create gravitas out of the same old instruments. There’s nothing unique about the instrumentation in Lowland Hum’s “Odell,” but they wring heartbreakingly powerful indie-rock tunes out of it (a la a catchier Bowerbirds). The video is a perfect foil to the song, pulling the heavy and the light out of everyday experiences.
The swift fingerpicking of Caitlin Marie Bell’s “Mama” is filled out with a gentle alt-country arrangement that calls to mind Laura Stevenson’s immediately-engaging work. Bell’s evocative voice leads the way through the arrangement, resulting in one of the best new songs I’ve heard this year. I’m very much looking forward to more from Bell.
Laura and Greg’s pristine, bell-clear, minimalist songwriting is similar to The Weepies. The terrific video is a lovingly hand-drawn animation that will make you want to watch it over and over.
1. “Make Me Wanna Die” – White Reaper. If Oasis had been playing at 40 bpms faster and way thrashier, you’d end up with this catchy, snarling, fun track.
2. “Hard 2 Wait” – Iji. My first thought when I get a pseudo-disco tune is not, “Oh yeah, that’s my jam.” But somehow, Iji has won me over with this charming retro nugget. It helps that the disco is fused to a San Fran indie-pop sort of sensibility.
3. “Punk Band” – Conrad. Actually a synth-pop band with some chillwave inflections and post-punk rumbling bass singing about a punk band. Joins “The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton” in the “odes to other genres” genre. It’s pretty great.
4. “Oh Josephine” – Vienna Ditto. Pulling back from their brittle ways, but not their noir drama ones, Ditto delivers a smooth, sultry indie-rock cut with a hint of trip-hop glamour to it.
5. “Bibleblack (demo)” – Autumn Owls. That sort of ominous, artsy, glitchy rock that Radiohead burst into the public consciousness is on display here. AO is following up on their debut of dark, melodic indie-rock with a new album later this year (after their lead singer recovers from–oh no!–a mugging).
6. “Asleep in the Pine” – Birds of Night. Do you remember that moment when Band of Horses was the biggest thing going? Birds of Night totally do.
7. “Aleph” – Battle Ave. The band’s raw, frantic rock has met atmosphere and jangle since we last heard it, resulting in less panic and more mumbly confidence (is that a paradox/oxymoron?). New York cool permeates this tune, even though Upstate New York is part of their story instead of the city.
8. “Singing Tower” – R. Ring. Two rock vets team up for a poignant, delicate acoustic lament. Seems like if you can write a song somewhere, you can write a song in a lot of places.
9. “Kote’w Te Ye” – Beken. Sometimes a song comes along that’s so fresh, warm, and bright that it just lifts the clouds of whatever’s going on. The raspy, gravitas-laden voice of Haitian Beken, who sings in Kreyol, is accompanied by an easygoing group of male singers, tom-heavy percussion, and a lively acoustic guitar.
“Grainy” – Cotton Claw. You know that scene in action movies where the spy is in a club, and then he spots his guy, and then a noir-ish chase scene through a dark, glamourously-lit urban landscape erupts without the music changing all that much? Plug and play.
“Rooftops” – Sick of Sarah. Is it a dis to say someone sounds like Paramore these days? If not, the confident vocals and tight dance-rock beats makes this tune sound like an enthusiastic Paramore club remix. If yes, this sounds nothing like that at all.
“Broken Angels” – Jade the Moon. Other than the wub in the bass, this is a vocals-heavy, female-fronted mid-tempo club banger from the ’90s. (That’s totally great with me.)
“Raincoats” – Maribou State. Got me wondering: what’s the politically correct term for Tribal House these days?
“Enchanteresse” – Scattered Clouds. Dissonant, disorienting flashes of guitar lightning crash on an ominous plateau of baritone speak/sing vocals and plodding bass. For fans of apocalyptic post-rock.
“State of Low” – Cajsa Siik. I know this sort of delicate, feminine indie-electro-pop existed before I heard Frou Frou on the Garden State soundtrack, but I can’t escape thinking about Imogen Heap’s vocals whenever something this light (yet dark, always dusk where they are) appears.
“Lost” – Zohara. An unusual fusion of pop chanteuse vocals, dissonant orchestration, and pleasant piano produces an enigmatic, interesting track.
“Forest Fires” – Axel Flóvent. If you’re the sort of person who longs for winter as soon as it gets warm, this acoustic- and piano-laden track will give you all the snowy-cabin-folk chills you need to get you through the hard months.
“True Colors” – Johanna Warren. Surprisingly technical guitar playing gets matched with calming vocals and very serious arrangements of piano and flute. This results in a tune that is both calming and unsettling.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.