1. “Seven Hells” – Quiet Company. If English goes through other languages’ pockets looking for spare grammar, Quiet Company has gone through the pockets of various rock genres (’00s garage, southern rock, alt-country, mid-’00s indie-rock-pop) for components to this excellent tune.
2. “As You Fall” – Heil Hipster. Speaking of ’00s garage, this tune has a walloping dose of brittle guitar, danceable rhythms, and just the right amount of outrage and ominous overtones.
3. “Waves Erase” – Reservoir. Yo, it would be hard to get any more Mare Vitalis than this, which is a pretty heavy compliment from over here.
4. “Take Me to the River” – Dr!ve. You gotta love a slinky/sexy/fun dance track with a hook you can chant, a beat you know and love, and cheerful melodies.
5. “Another Night” – Teen Daze. My favorite started-as-chillwave outfit has gotten downright clubby with this track, as the arpeggiated ’80s synths over an insistent beat throw Daze in a whole new direction. Get it.
6. “Unmistakeable” – In Tall Buildings. Some songs are meant to rock, and some are meant to vibe. This one vibes so hard, with a funk-lite guitar line, delicate synth patterns, and breathy vocals.
7. “Is This Hotel Haunted?” – Wild Pink. Rumbling, grumbling, twitchy, herky-jerky power-pop from the purveyor of IC faves Challenger; the same melodic and rhythmic gifts that made Challenger so cool are on display here.
8. “Love & War” – Fairmont. Fairmont rocks out more than they have in a long while, delivering up a towering slice of indie-rock that’s still built off their most recent songwriting foundation of acoustic guitar, indie-pop ideals, and Neil Sabatino’s vocals.
IC knows Jared Foldy as an acoustic singer/songwriter, so I was a bit surprised when he sent over his new single “Everglow.” Instead of dreamy, gentle acoustic picking, his new single has gently rolling electronic beats and a warm, lush arrangement. It’s a beautiful, pastoral piece that doubles as a chill dance anthem (refrain: “Take me back to summer”).
It perfectly balances its indie-pop and electronic commitments, resulting in a song that could fit as the last track on a chill indie-pop mixtape or get remixed with some sick drops and fit straight into a club mix. Get versatile, Jared! Above all that genre nonsense, it’s a fun, nostalgic, memorable track that IC is pleased to premiere today. You can also check it at his Soundcloud.
1. “Back, Baby” – Jessica Pratt. Mystical folk in a husky voice, reminiscent in mood of Carole King.
2. “Victoria” – Tamara Williamson. A haunting, eerie track that incorporates elements of folk, Argentine history (including the death flights), and enigmatic pop sounds (a la Bjork).
3. “I See You, Tiger” – Via Tania. Combines the slow-paced mystery of trip-hop with a ’30s torch song and a ’60s Burt Bacharach arrangement for an enigmatic, enveloping tune.
4. “Portland Square” – Martin Callingham. You’re walking through a dark forest for fun and this music comes on. Instantly you know that you are starting an epic fantasy quest that may cost you your life, but you’re going to be a hero. You start looking for gear and feel no compulsion if you steal it out of empty houses. They have like ten swords there anyway.
5. “Primrose Green” – Ryley Walker. If you’re into rolling, pastoral ’70s folk a la John Denver, you’ll be all over this.
6. “Howl” – The Lowest Pair. I don’t know how a duo can sound so forlorn, but this guy/girl outfit manage to sound more morose than The Civil Wars (in the most endearing of ways, of course).
7. “Gold” – Dorthia Cottrell. If it ain’t a murder ballad, it sure sounds like one. If you like your country with great vocals, unadorned performances, and a side of slightly terrifying, jump on this one.
8. “Slow Time Vultures” – Elephant Micah. As far as I’m concerned, Jason Molina passed his Songs: Ohia baton directly to Elephant Micah. That’s all you need to know about this wonderful track.
9. “Everyone’s Summer of ’95” – Iron & Wine. Remember when it was just Sam Beam, a guitar, and romanticism? Here’s a new song from that era. It’s everything I could possibly want it to be.
1. “Father’s Day” – Butch Walker. Do you want to cry? Butch Walker’s gorgeous, vulnerable, powerful eulogy for his father will make it happen. This is masterful songwriting.
2. “Through the Night and Back Again” – Michael Malarkey. With the casual vocals of Josh Ritter, the smooth yet perky vibe of Alexi Murdoch, and a charm all his own, Malarkey is now one to watch.
3. “How You Should Be” – Ethan Jano. Here we have a country-rock hollerer with a Johnny Cash strum, train-track drums, and a twitchy overall mood. It’s exciting.
4. “So Let’s Go” – Alan Doyle. If Imagine Dragons decided to write a sea shanty folk tune with some Celtic vibes, we’d have this astonishingly chipper tune. This should be crushing radio right about now.
5. “Never Gonna Cry” – Ryan Culwell. Mmm, I just can’t get enough of that Southern Gothic, windswept troubadour, Jason Isbell stuff. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
6. “Juniper Blues” – Chris Jamison. Jamison sets a stately, hushed mood, getting emotional without getting histrionic. For all those fans of the dignified dive bar singer/songwriter who takes his job of offering the soundtrack for climbing into a tumbler of whiskey and sadness seriously.
7. “Monterey” – Grand Lake Islands. Rides the link between cerebral folk mysticism and dreamy beach-bum sunshine nostalgia with surprising ease.
8. “I Need a New Hymn” – Grant Valdes. The latest in Valdes’ settings of unpublished hymn-writer Haden Laas’ texts is a perky, quirky, breathy tune that calls to mind an optimistic Elliott Smith, if you can imagine tapping your toes to Smith’s work.
Problems That Fix Themselves – Which Is Worse. This electronic duo creates gently unfolding, melodic ambient/glitch music. They manage to make glitch not sound brittle and lifeless, especially on standout track “8:62.” Elsewhere they make circuitbending sound downright beautiful; this might be the easiest introduction to the technically and musically intimidating practice I’ve ever heard. It’s not ODESZA by any means, but fans of melodic post-dub will find connections they may not have expected.
Nate Allen and the Pac-Away Dots – Take Out the Trash. The wild songwriter behind the folk/punk duo Destroy Nate Allen! took a long, hard look at the ills of society. The subsequent musical and lyrical response was a bit darker and weightier than DNA! purveys, although the songs of Take Out the Trash still fit in the folk/punk category. Allen’s raspy voice is perfectly suited to righteous indignation, and so tunes like “West Side Blues” come together perfectly with impassioned vocals over brazen electric guitars. On the other end of the spectrum, gentler tunes like “Social Equality” aim an introspective lens at social justice with banjo, brushed drums, and acoustic guitar. It may make you laugh a bit less and think a bit more than DNA!, but the songwriting chops are just as strong (and in some places stronger) for the change in topic.
Kayte Grace — Chapter 2: Sail There EP. Kayte Grace’s country-folk-pop is a charming, romantic brew that will appeal to fans of Taylor Swift, Twin Forks, and young love. There’s infinite depth to be mined in young love, and Grace does that here, both melodically and lyrically. It’s smooth, sweet, but not too saccharine; if you’re swooning over someone right now, you’ll be all about it.
It’s been a wild and chaotic 2015 so far, as I’ve already logged two interstate trips. Amid the travel commitments, I’ve had the good pleasure of coming across the alt-country of Embleton. Kevin Embleton’s songwriting vehicle combines the poignant pedal steel of Mojave 3, the soaring arrangements of Dawes, and the ragged charm of Bright Eyes in the sentimental barn-burner “Leaving for Good.” The living eulogy for a close friend leaving the area floats along on a river of flaring horns and Embleton’s low, passionate vocals.
I usually post a video of the “I Have a Dream” speech on MLK Day, but this year I have a different King speech to post. Over the past year, I’ve been a part of a group of academics working to recreate King’s “A Creative Protest” speech, which is more commonly known as the “Fill Up the Jails” speech. You can listen to a voice actor performing the speech at our website.
May the vision of equality and peace that Dr. King proclaimed so fervently be realized here and now and soon and forever.
3. “Picture Picture” – Tall Tall Trees. Kishi Bashi contributed strings to this giddy, major-key alt-hip-hop/singer-songwriter’s tune. It’s pretty amazing.
4. “Billions of Eyes” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Lady Lamb opens her sophomore campaign with a tour de force grower that moves toward indie-rock, away from the Neutral Milk Hotel-ish psych, and maintains the inscrutable, impressionistic lyrics she’s known for.
5. “Laurel Trees/21 Guns” – Jet Plane. The opening moments of this 10-minute post-rock piece mix fragile strings and bagpipes with grumbling guitar noise to set the scene. The rest of the tune is a leisurely unfolding track that follows that same pattern, albeit with more clean guitar.
6. “New Year’s Retribution” – More Than Skies. What if Tom Waits had played in a punk band and adopted modern folk arrangements to go along with it? This sad, pensive 8-minute track has twists and turns galore.
7. “Lo and Behold” – Sarah Marie Young. More and more people are picking up vintage vocal styles and combining them with modern instrumental styles. Young has a crooner’s voice added to some funky R&B bass and keys, making for a smooth, head-bobbing track.
8. “Pores” – Hand Sand Hand. “Rumbling” is what I call things that sound ferocious but never get a sharp, brittle edge. This post-punk track presses forward with all the power of a much heavier band and keeps me glued to my seat.
1. “Glass Heart” – Magic Giant. The rhythmic knowledge of a dance floor anthem powers this folk-pop jam. The inevitable whoa-ohs and jubilant trumpet line send this over the edge into “world-conquering pop song” mode. Seriously, this is like the best parts of the Lumineers and Mumford without the negatives.
2. “One More Song” – Tyler Hilton. Hilton imbues a lot of romantic intensity into his voice, layered neatly over an adult alternative tune that splits the difference between Taylor Swift and Matt Nathanson.
3. “Local News” – Heath McNeese. A simple acoustic fingerpicking pattern, a gentle voice, an endearing story, and a memorable melody: what else do you need? Beautiful singer/songwriter work here.
4. “All Along” – Joe Mansman and the Midnight Revival Band. Snare-shuffle country with evocative vocals, a soaring chorus, and a great vibe. Do I have to throw “alt” in front of country, or can I trust you to listen anyway?
5. “Alegria” – DBG. British folk singer/songwriter DBG went to Spain and interviewed people, then wrote a bunch of songs about those interviews–in Spanish. This one showcases his gentle fingerpicking along with the Spanish-language lyrics.