Kris Orlowski has come a long way since 2011, when his At theFremont Abbey EP crossed my desk. Often in the Pauseis his second LP of full-band indie rock tunes, and it is his most musically assured and confident work to date.
Opener “Something’s Missing” is a low-slung indie-rock tune with a bunch of reverb (a la The Walkmen) until it explodes satisfyingly into a Bloc Party-meets-Jimmy Eat World rocker. That interplay between the angular, dusky edges of Bloc Party and the mature, hummable pop-rock of Jimmy Eat World forms the basis of the album’s sonic palette–the acoustic guitars and pianos I love so much are thrown in for contrast and color, either within songs (“Walking In My Sleep,” “Stars and Thorns”) or as a whole song breather amid the noisier tunes (“Go,” “Lost,” “We Share the Moon”). Lead single “Walking in My Sleep” develops the noisier sound well, showing off Orlowski’s talent for combining intriguing rhythms and textures with song structures and vocal melodies that are immediately recognizable to indie rock listeners.
“Electric Sheep” expands this dark, brooding palette with a set of lyrics that blurs the line between the androids of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and an emotionally cold human being. Orlowski’s lyrics aren’t all literary references, though; most of them are direct, affecting, and effective, working through the tensions of young adulthood in the 2010s: relationships, politics, career fears, meaning-seeking.
The standout song on the record is unity-seeking political anthem “Stars and Thorns.” Lyrically it strikes just the right balance between patriotism, criticism, and optimism; musically it features a towering chorus that gave me shivers the first time I heard it. Orlowski doesn’t try to holler above guitar-rock din–instead, he lets the stomping arrangement punctuate his enthusiasm. It’s one that I immediately pressed repeat on.
Often in the Pause is a surprisingly diverse, satisfying record of crunchy indie-rock songs, ballads, and even some folk-pop tunes. If you’re looking for a big hook and a melody that’s going to sound great in a huge group (the whoa-ohs of “Stars and Thorns” will sound awesome live), Kris Orlowski should be in your listening habits.
(There were a ton of good songs these last two weeks, so I included a lot more than usual in this post. Here’s to a good problem to have: too many tunes!)
1. “Can You Hear It” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. A piano-led cross between mid-’00s alt-country (The New Amsterdams, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning) and contemporary indie-pop whose enthusiasm just jumps out of the speakers.
2. “Mammoth” – Brothers Among Wera. Astonishingly, this is the second song I’ve heard in the last few weeks sung from the perspective of a mammoth at the end of the Ice Age: where Rock, Paper, Cynic’s tune was played for laughs, this one’s a bit more serious in its lyrics. However, the music here is an invigorating blast of folk-pop that has arrangements similar to Of Monsters and Men but tempos more similar to Twin Forks. The horns are just excellent here.
3. “The Man That I’ve Become” – Night Drifting. A blast of sunshine in indie-pop form, this tune has a skittering guitar line, jubilant vocals, and a bass line that bounces all over the place. There’s just enough going to be really interesting without getting hectic.
4. “Time Goes On” – Brothers. Sometimes you don’t have to break ground, you just have to nail the best elements of the formula. Brothers’ tune here is a straightforward folk tune with round acoustic guitar tone in a fingerpicked style, shuffle-snare drumming, root-chord bass with some nice fills, and sing-along vocal melodies. It just does everything I’m looking for in a folk tune (there’s even an organ solo, which isn’t strictly necessary for a folk tune but is greatly appreciated). Keep on keepin’ on, Brothers.
5. “Rose Petals” – Kindatheart. Here’s a fun tune: “Rose Petals” has indie-pop sensibilities (delicate vocal and guitar melodies, feathery background vocals) played at power-pop tempos.
6. “Stray Cats” – Robbing Johnny. There’s more vocal attitude packed into this single infectious acoustic-pop song than into some entire albums; John Murrell has impressive charisma and presence.
7. “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” – Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. Swampy, immediate, forceful, neo-gothic gospel that raised my eyebrows. It’s recorded immaculately, arranged dramatically (whoa organ), and performed intensely. It’s a workout, and I was only listening to it.
8. “THOUGHTS” – Gabriele Miracle. This unique tune ties the theatricality of flamenco guitar and vocals to a minimalist percussion line and mesmerizing guitar lines. It’s a wild trip.
9. “One Good Night” – Candy Cigarettes. Somewhere in the corners of my mind is a picture of a forlorn individual standing outside a hotel while the camera pans backwards away to show off the bleak desolation of the parking lot, barely-lit swimming pool, and the run-down building. The shot is fuzzy around the edges, a sympathetic reading of the place that’s seen better days. I immediately thought of this image when I heard this slice-of-life, mid-tempo acoustic jam.
10. “I Do” – Meiko. I’m a sucker for an intimate singer/songwriter tune about marital bliss, and Meiko’s latest single pushes all those buttons. The strings are great as well.
11. “Single Mountain Fiddle” – Jared Hard. Hard has a country-style tone to his baritone and a bit of country structure to his vocal melodies, but the folk-style arrangement is clean, uncluttered, and engaging.
12. “Thirteen Years Astray” – Glider Pilots. Speaking of big, empty spaces, Glider Pilots plays the kind of slow-motion alt-country that Mojave 3 was so good at. This song is heartbreaking without going for any of the big moves–it simply is infused with the majestic sense of sadness that seems so fitting.
13. “Washed Away” – Katmaz. The album’s called Nautical Things, and this relaxing, easygoing acoustic tune certainly has a gentle tidal vibe to it: there’s a slow, rolling vibe evoked from the picking pattern and a hazy, fluid mood coming out of the vocals.
14. “Never Heard Nothin’” – Galapaghost. A confident vocal performance of a resigned, sad melody plays on top of an insistent ukulele strum. The tune doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaving me wanting more.
15. “passing” – Dead Skunk. Lo-fi singer/songwriter material that falls somewhere between the hazy mood of Iron & Wine’s early work and the angular guitar work of The Mountain Goats’ early phase. It’s warm and relatable.
16. “Anyhow Anyway Anyday” – Wholewheat. Lo-fi work with casio that evokes the old-school lo-fi masters: there’s a clear song structure, off-kilter pun-making, and a clear vision that includes the tape hiss as a vital part of the tune. Lo-fi fans should jump at this.
17. “We Fell Apart” – Abby Litman. Evocative singer/songwriter work that hangs on subtle, thoughtful lyrical shifts and pleasingly melancholy guitar fingerpicking.
18. “Kissing Faded (feat. Timid Soul)” – Bohkeh. If Amanaguchi tried to write a chillwave song, it might sound like this neon-colored, glitchy-yet-chill electro piece.
19. “twentythousand” – Exes. Slow-jam electro-indie with delicate vocals and a convincing emotional palette. The smart use of vocals throughout is a highlight.
I love sign language, emotional dance, and “Let’s Be Happy” by Fire Chief Charlie, so this video combines three things I love in an incredible way. Just a gorgeous clip.
OSOG’s clip for “Who Who (feat. The Hazelnuts)” is a post-apocalyptic travelogue that’s heavy on mundane, pedestrian survival attempts and low on zombies. The depiction of the grinding physical difficulty, the emotional toll, and ever-present danger of being two souls on the run creates a compelling watch.
If the ambient intensity of the last clip wore you out, cleanse your emotional palate with Wanderwild’s crisply-shot, peaceful, pastoral nature images.
Many attempts at surrealism suffer from not being near enough to reality to entirely register as off-kilter. Kevin Morby’s clip for “Dorothy” starts off subtly odd, and gets incrementally weirder and weirder as it goes. The great major-key indie-pop/indie-rock tune gives the whole thing a levity that helps it be even more unusual by contrast to the weird imagery.
Bad Bad Hats are poking fun at people here, either themselves or other people. Whichever one it is, this is some of the most bizarre, engaging satire that I’ve seen in a long time.
“Love Run” by Flaunt is a video built around a talented dancer with a hoop. It’s just plain fun to watch.
1. “A Laughing Heart” – Steve Benjamins. I am a sucker for steel drums and horns; Benjamins includes both in this jubilant party of a song. If you were waiting for a song to kick off your summer appropriately, let me suggest this one.
2. “I Confess” – Cody Hudock. Hudock possesses the rare skill of being able to sound dramatic and chill at the same time. His skyscraping vocals bring the theatrics (in the best of ways), while a lazy piano and moseying drummer keep the vibes relaxed. The end ratchets up to a big, satisfying conclusion, but for a while, being suspended between the two moods is quite an experience.
3. “Take Your Time” – Night Drifting. The vocal melodies and the gentle, airy synth inclusion take this slightly fuzzed-out acoustic indie-pop tune to the next level. He’s on a rolling release schedule, so hit up his Bandcamp frequently for more music.
4. “I Hope You Hear This On the Radio” – Will Bennett & The Tells. Bennett and company barely keep all their enthusiasm contained on this folk-rock blaster; and if the band is that excited, how can the listeners not get excited? Great stuff here. I love songs that sound like the drummer is about to take off into space.
5. “Completed Fool” – Hollis Brown. Soul is hot right now, and Hollis Brown has some crunchy, electric-guitar-heavy soul ready for those who are all up on the Nathaniel Rateliff train and want more. Brown and his band have a month-long residency at Berlin in NYC, so if you’re around, you should hit that up.
6. “Take That” – CRUISR. Punchy, grooving electro-pop that sounds like MGMT fused to Vacationer.
7. “Drop Your Sword” – Joy Atlas. The fact that this electro-indie-pop song works is amazing: it’s an abstract, angular sort of thing, full of claps and snaps and keys and high-neck bass notes. It’s held together by Imogen Heap-esque vocals and its own internal logic. It made me press repeat just to try to figure out what happened.
8. “Talk About Us” – The TVC ft. Jayme Dee, Connor Foley. The lyrics and the huge, rubbery bass synth give off a hugely ’80s vibe, but in a pleasant way. I feel like I’ve been transported to the montage sequence of a dramatic ’80s teen movie, the part where things have gone south but the protagonists are collecting themselves and gearing up for the final confrontation. tl;dr raaaaaaaaaad.
9. “The Fear” – Amaroun. Amaroun’s engaging vocals power this churning indie-pop/R&B tune.
10. “Elizabeth” – Stephen Hunley. Some serious adult alternative vibes going on here, augmented with some bluesy cred in the arrangement (check that wurly).
1. “Firefly” – Brave Bones. The vocal enthusiasm of folk-punk bands bolted onto the hypercharged alt-country of The Old ’97s? Sign me up.
2. “The Pilot and the Flying Machine: Part Two” – Ben Bedford. The hardest thing about being a blogger is the X factor. What makes a song good? Sometimes you can break it down to a guitar line, a vocal line, an auxiliary instrument, the lyrics, or the overall mood. Sometimes we throw a RIYL band at it to help you figure out whose X factor this band’s is most like. But not this time. Bedford brings it all together here for an excellent acoustic tune that stands on its own, no comparison artists needed.
3. “Whispers of the Night” – Rowan McGuire. The intricate, delayed guitarwork here is totally mesmerizing.
4. “Thunder Road” – Adam Hanna and The Class of ’18. I’m of the opinion that doing any cover well is hard, and covering iconic tunes is exponentially harder. Hanna successfully reinterprets the Boss in an acoustic vein by delivering a solid vocal performance and choosing good instrumentalists. He doesn’t try to thoroughly reinvent it (a smart move), and the results are good.
5. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Freedom Fry. This band chooses the “completely reinvent” method of covering an iconic song, turning the monumental grunge tune into a major-key indie-pop jaunt with reggae rhythms. You have never heard “Teen Spirit” like this before. Mad props.
7. “Inside Your Heart” – The Two Romans. Or if you’re not down for tropical vibes, maybe you can go for ecstatic hoedown folk, Twin Forks-style. This is the sort of song that makes you why we liked this type of song in the first place, before a lot of people got all folk’ed out.
8. “Hattie Barlow” – Jack Hotel. If you drew a triangle with bluegrass, old timey music, and modern folk-pop at the corners, you’d find Jack Hotel in the middle. Those who like their folk with lots of fiddle sawing, banjo rolling, and acoustic strumming will be into this. Alternately, if “holler” is a positive term to you, also apply within.
9. “Fiery Eyes” – Prinz Grizzley. “Prinz Grizzley” is a name for a TV show host, a rapper, or a country singer–we got the last one. The horns in this song bring a memorably bouncy enthusiasm to this mid-tempo alt-country jaunt.
10. “White Lies” – Darryl Rahn. Sometimes I want to write “It’s just really good” and leave it at that, but I suppose you want me to tell you that the vocals sound like Brett Dennen reappropriated into a sped-up Rocky Votolato song. Or you could go with “It’s just really good.” Either way.
11. “Wounded Wing” – The Duke Spirit. This ballad-esque song seems like it was written for maximum gravitas: heavy piano, distant atmospherics, solemn alto vocals, and a Mark Lanegan guest spot. Rad.
12. “I’m Not This Layer of Skin” – Yvonne McDonnell. It successfully combines ancient and modern: A brash vocal style with traces of traditional British folk tone leads this emotionally engaging fingerpicked folk tune that features melodies equally reminiscent of the UK’s traditions.
13. “Leave” – Sea Offs. A tone poem of a song, floating beautifully off in the distance, making me carefully reconsider my surroundings, like the most freeflowing moments of Bowerbirds.
Redvers Bailey‘s if you want to fly you’ve got to let go is a charming, evocative album that sounds like a cross between The Mountain Goats, Belle and Sebastian, and Wes Anderson. Whoa, you might be thinking, that’s a lot of hipstery junk. Well sure. But if you’re into that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll really like.
For instance, opener “Young Romance” contains 450 words, some of which are Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, microfibre cloth, and several puns about the word “arm.” Follow-on “Elephant Ballerina” contains 537 words and includes the fact that a group of angels is a murmuration, some characters doing Gangnam Style, and “a hundred Michael Jackson zombies filling the dance floor.” Both of these tunes include only acoustic guitar and Bailey’s quirky, endearing, affected tenor (except for a very brief intrusion by a pseudo-marching band to the latter tune). By this point you’re in or you’re out, but if you’re in, here’s some more information.
Past those two opening tunes, things level out a bit into a melodic singer/songwriter with a Mountain Goats bent. “You and Me and My VW” includes a glockenspiel over the fingerpicking to give the pop tune a eternally-sunny Avalanche City vibe, while “The Key to Happiness” has furious, chunky guitar chords straight out of John Darnielle’s early ’90s period. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” and “Sarah” are ballads that lean heavily on the descriptive lyrics instead of the quirky guitar-based songwriting; they fit with the earlier songs through a similar hyper-specific lyrical disposition and Bailey’s voice, but musically they’re a lot different.
Still, Bailey wraps up the collection with the title track, a tune just as verbose, humorous, and enthusiastic as the opening two tunes. The track is a mission statement of sorts, relating the poignant yet still smile-inducing story of how Bailey ended up trying (and failing) to disavow being a musician. (Spoiler alert: he comes back to music.) It’s the perfect mid-point between the earnest emotionalism of his quiet tracks and the passionate theatricality of his poppier tracks.
If you’re into self-aware singer-songwriters with a huge vocabulary and tons of cultural references, you’ll find a gem in Redvers Bailey. if you want to fly is a whirlwind trip through someone else’s mind, and it’s a thoroughly invigorating experience. Here’s to knowing what you do and doing it unabashedly.
1. “Delightful” – Katie Garibaldi. A delightfully honest reflection on how to live life in this crazy world.This sweet-sounding song beautifully combines acoustic guitar strumming with Garibaldi’s unique voice.
2. “Alaska” – Tina Refsnes. This thoughtful folk tune starts off with minimalist guitar instrumentation and slowly expands to include a rather full orchestral accompaniment. “Alaska” is a lovely track that provides just the right amount of cheer for a rainy day.
3. “No Last Call”– Emily Rodgers. A contemplative, melancholic folk tune with alt-country influence coming out in her use of pedal steel. The long length of the track gives off a feeling like it may just be an endless beauty. When it comes to a close, you are left wanting to return to its peaceful arms.
4. “Little by Little”– Niamh Crowther. Crowther’s soaring sopranic voice pairs well with her playful instrumentation. Similar to the likes of Regina Spektor, Crowther hits, holds, and transitions through very high notes; it’s rather awe-inspiring.
5. “Miami”– Kara Ali. Soulful, jovial, and refreshing, the funky instrumentation of “Miami” makes me want to groove. Ali’s voice is this interesting combination of Mariah Carey and Joss Stone. This is a great ode to a fun American city.
6. “Cormorant”– Dana Falconberry and Medicine Bow. I love this song; it feels very Birdy meets Fleet Foxes with some Dirty Projectors thrown in. Heavy on the banjo and bass, this track combines unique instrumentation with quizzical lyrics and a powerful voice. Fun all around.
7. “Oliver”– Brooke Bentham. This simple, lovely singer-songwriter track will steal your heart with its raw vocals and compelling lyrics. I can truly feel the warmth emanating from this song.
8. “Tonight”– Ashley Shadow. This is a great example of how Ashley Shadow makes music that builds and climaxes magically, akin to The War on Drugs. And Shadow’s coy alto female voice correlates well with the male background vocals entering at the chorus.
9. “Next To You”– Dannika. Sit back, relax and chill out to this track. Dannika’s unassuming vocals paired with the guitar provide a perfect example of casual feminine rock.
10. “Late to the Party”– Heavy Heart. Another chill rock song, this female-fronted rock band makes great rock music. The crisp electric guitar steals the show from the start, but the layered strings certainly deserve an honorable mention.
11. “Midnight Blue”– Candace. Although the vocals are great, the instrumentation shines on this track. It makes me want to take a drive, roll down the windows, and let the wind mess up my hair as I listen to this song.
12. “Cementville”– Annabelle Chairlegs. This song radiates fun. The vocals are very reminiscent of the female from the B-52s, with raucous screaming to boot. I’m especially in love with the boldness of this song; feels very third wave feminism.
13. “Lies”– ¿Qué Pasa? With quaking electric guitar, sultry vocals and punchy lyrics, “Lies” oozes sex appeal. The multitude of false endings leaves you thinking it’s over and then the seduction starts up again. It somehow feels like something that Quentin Tarantino could have used in a Kill Bill Vol. 1 fight scene.–Krisann Janowitz
Borken Telephone by Rock, Paper, Cynic is a hilarious album. It packs more funny jokes in than I thought could reasonably fit on a pop-rock album. Now, it helps that I am an appreciator of nerd culture and an academic, and therefore get a lot of the video game references and a lot of the philosophy references. (“The Philosophical Zombie Slayer” is a pun-filled description of exactly what the title says.)
There are also references to Cthulhu, a whole song about a woolly mammoth seeking a mate at the end of the ice age, an anti-war song written via Mario Kart references, a paean to Netflix (featuring an A+ punchline at the end of the song), and an 18-minute game of Broken Telephone. Put a different way: this album is largely here for the lyrics. The stomping pop-rock that forms the majority of the musical work here may not be your favorite, or you may not like Peter Chiykowski’s vocals, but if you think that some of these songs are funny, you’re getting it. (If you’re determined to find the musical apex, skip straight to the poignant ode to roommate friendship “This Will Never End,” which is a great folk tune, complete with pedal steel and shuffle-snare drums.)
The tune that gives the album its name is actually an 18-minute collection of songs that are a literal game of broken telephone: 15 artists from across the geek/nerd music landscape each got to hear the previous song before them in the chain only once and try to recreate it in their own style (lyrics, melody, and all). RPC starts off with a lovely acoustic ditty, and by the end of the 18 minutes, the song is 100% different. It is really, really funny to listen and hear how the song changes–some artists are faithful in attempting to copy the previous song, while others basically rewrote it based on an impression. (Maybe they were playing video games while listening?) Jokes fall apart, new ones appear, and the lyrics change dramatically. It’s a really fun experience that I haven’t heard before, and it’s fully worth the price of admission. But the great news is that you get that and all these other funny tunes. If you’re into nerd culture or funny pop-rock, you should be all over this.
Travis Smith‘s Wildness is a delicate, beautifully executed folk / acoustic pop record. Smith walks back and forth over the very muddy line that separates fingerpicked troubadour work (“St. Patrick’s Day,” “Wildness,” “Already Gone”) from James Taylor-esque pop work (“Temporary,” “Try”), creating great work in two related yet distinct arenas.
The unifying characteristic is Smith’s smooth, easygoing tenor; whether singing a yearning, legato pop melody or a more staccato folk tune melody, Smith knows how to get the best results out of his voice. The highlights here are when Smith gets the most vulnerable, as his lyrics and arrangements work together to make each other stronger. The title track and closer “St. Patrick’s Day” both move far beyond the standard love song / break up song that are stock in trade of both these genres and delve into the complexity of human relationships: relationships to family and to the land intertwine with the romantic concerns in a rich patchwork. The arrangements of both are similarly rewarding. Wildness is a record that will satisfy many different listeners who love the acoustic guitar played in a gentle way.
1. “e. silver” – Roco. Noises, riffs, rhythms, and vocals collide in atypical ways, creating an exciting, “what will happen next?” environment. Sort of like The Avalanches, or weird trip-hop, or a Beck fever dream, or none of the above.
2. “Where I’ll Be Waiting” – Why We Run. This Snow Patrol-esque tune that falls between alt-rock and indie-rock rides a memorable guitar riff with an engaging guitar tone. The tune’s about a friend with a mental illness, which many of us can relate to.
3. “Permission” – Slow Falling Sun. If you’re into ’90s Britpop, you need to be listening to this bouncy track.
4. “Fatal Vision” – Brice Randall Bickford. Bickford uses his smooth baritone to turn out a vulnerable, engaging vocal performance. His voice leads the way through this almost-weightless, pristinely recorded indie rock tune that will be appreciated by fans of Spoon.
5. “The Great Attractor” – Qualms. Big, round bass and an attractive variety of synth sounds build out this midtempo tune; the vocals ride the waves nicely. Comes out like some mix between Spiritualized and Manchester Orchestra.
6. “The Blue Hour” – Brand New Moon. BNM fuses folk, slowcore electro, and trip-hop to create a unique, fascinating, imaginative track.
7. “Books for the Holidays” – Halcyon Drive. Hits you with the Antlers-style blue-eyed soul/R&B vibe that’s so popular right now, then shifts gears with a ratatat snare into a charging, Bloc Party-esque rock tune without changing vocal style. Now that’s a hook.
8. “Imaginary You (feat. Stahalamora)” – Lyfe Indoors. Ambient? Chillwave? Found sound? Whatever you want to call this, it’s got admirable movement, melody, and arrangement skills. Chill, hypnotizing, mesmerizing.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.