1. “Flare Gun” – In Tall Buildings. Like a more perky Album Leaf + chillwave-y, lightly reverbed vocals. I’m totally digging this upbeat, pleasant work.
2. “Hey Blood” – Born Joy Dead. You won’t be able to figure out this wild, careening rock track by listening to a fragment: this one’s a whole experience.
3. “Sophie So” – Hippo Campus. Put everything we know about indie-rock in 2014 into a blender and put it on frappe: out comes Hippo Campus. This joyous, entertaining track is fun on its own, or as a game of “spot the influence.” The overall track has its own vibe, so this isn’t a knock: on the contrary, it shows good musical knowledge. IN OTHER WORDS: YES YES YES.
4. “Picture Picture” – Tall Tall Trees. Kishi Bashi is on this track, which means it’s a complex, giddy, post-everything pop track that is absolutely, totally fun.
5. “It’s Not the Same” – ET Anderson. Some psych is all up in your face with bright flashing colors. Anderson’s psych creeps in around the edges of your vision and makes things slowly more chill and weird.
6. “For the Sun” – Close Talker. Complexity is at its best when it’s present enough to impress but not so obvious that it’s ostentatious. Close Talker’s winding, moody, Bloc Party-esque indie-rock has the best sort of complexity going on.
7. “Chinese Trees” – Lake Malawi. Sometimes you just want a big, happy pop song.
8. “All I Really Want” – The Plastics. I don’t know where we acquired the sky-high male backing vocal as a style, but it’s here to stay. Some nice mid-tempo, mid-’00s indie-rock vibes goin’ on here.
9. “Left, Right, Left” – 12KO. Lake Street Dive is on the forefront of the upbeat neo-soul/jazz movement, and 12KO fits right in there. There’s a bit of funk influence, but generally, this one’s a upbeat, fun, head-bobbin’ tune.
10. “Anthem” – The Maytags. Who doesn’t need some chipper, enthusiastic neo-soul in their life? Boogie down on this.
Here’s November’s singles, over the next few days.
Sing Yr Song
1. “Echo” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Some people have the greatness inside them, and it’s present in flashes that don’t reveal the whole thing. That was Squires’ previous work, and “Echo” is the revelation: the yelpy vocals, the singer/songwriter lyrics, and propulsive indie-rock arrangements all come together to give me shivers. Color me thrilled for the new album.
2. “Strange the Way” – James Hearne. Here’s a tight country arrangement paired with a great chorus. There is some great country in the world, y’all. I’m not even throwing “alt” on this. It’s country. And it’s good. You won’t be aurally injured by listening, I promise. You’ll like the chorus, for sure. You like Jason Isbell, you know? It’s okay. Admit it. Country.
3. “Pretend With Me” – Great Spirit. Remember a couple of years ago when back porch-style folk was in? Great Spirit is on that porch, still doin’ its loose, warm, optimistic string band thing. Break out your mason jars. (I love mason jars. This is not ironic.)
4. “Breathe Your Last” – Jameson. Banjo, bright production, swamp shuffle percussion, and some grit on the edges of the vocals make this track a keeper. Oh, also the giant chorus.
I’ve got a ton of videos in queue, so here’s a big drop of them!
Craymer’s “Underneath You” is a glamorous, beautiful “one take”-style video set in a mansion and party.
Devereaux’s “Ponytails” is a really impressive action movie with a surreal twist.
Little Cinema’s “Birdwatchers of the World, Unite” is a clever, interesting video with a fun ending.
Tetherball’s “Spring Chicken” comes from an album called Whimsy, and it’s clear that the album is perfectly titled. This is about the life adventures of a stuffed puppy dog. Now press that to its surreal extreme.
Vinnie Ferra’s “God Forbid” is the sort of video that I wasn’t sure what was happening and then I watched the whole video and I found out that I liked it–without ever knowing what as happening.
PSA videos don’t always catch my attention, but this one did because it’s so tastefully done.
New York folk/indie-rock duo Supersmall‘s This Other World captures the balance between composed and wide-open songwriting that is common in artists from across the pond: Johnny Flynn, Fionn Regan, and Eoin Glackin.
Big, warm, resonant acoustic guitar chords are held in line by calm, distinctly enunciated tenor vocals on the title track; rattling drums add to the ambiance. “Goodbye Old Friend” continues the cheery, upbeat folk vibes. The more serious “Wherever We Are” and “This Grenade Will Love You” invoke a little Ben Folds plaintiveness in the vocals, giving the EP some firm grounding and diversity. Tasteful keys appear in several areas, providing some atmosphere on tracks like the more romantic, swooning “Everywhere.”
Overall, This Other World is a neat introduction to a warm, friendly folk duo. There’s a lot of promise throughout in this short EP, as the band has given themselves a lot of ways to spread out from here. It will be interesting to see which of their strengths they play up as they continue to produce music. For now, there’s a cheery few minutes for you in This Other World.
1. “Great White Shark” – Hollands. Maximalist indie-rock/pop music with groove, noise, melodic clarity, effusive enthusiasm, strings, harp, and just about everything else you can ask for. If the Flaming Lips hadn’t got so paranoid after At War with the Mystics…
2. “Coyote Choir” – Pepa Knight. Still batting 1.000, Pepa Knight brings his exuberant, India-inspired indie-pop to more mellow environs. It’s still amazing. I’m totally on that Pepa Knight train, y’all. (Hopefully it’s The Darjeeling Limited.)
3. “Peaks of Yew” – Mattson 2. I love adventurous instrumental music, and Mattson 2 cover a wide range of sonic territory in this 10-minute track. We’ve got some surf-rock sounds, some post-rock meandering, some poppy melodies, some ambient synths, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m big on this.
4. “Firing Squad” – Jordan Klassen. Sometimes a pop-rock song comes along that just works perfectly. Vaguely dancy, chipper, fun, and not too aggressive (while still allowing listeners to sing it loudly), “Firing Squad” is just excellent.
5. “Droplet” – Tessera Skies. There’s a tough juggling act going on in this breathtaking indie-pop tune: flowing instruments, flailing percussion, cooing vocals, and an urgent sense of energy. It’s like if Jonsi’s work got cluttered up with parts and then organized neatly.
6. “Available Light” – David Corley. If Alexi Murdoch, Tom Waits, and Joseph Arthur all got together and jammed, it might sound something like this gruff yet accessible, vaguely alt-country track.
7. “Blue Eyed Girl” – Sam Joole. I’d like to make a joke about blue-eyed soul here, but it’s actually closer to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” than that. Lots of laidback guitars, good vibes, but not Jack Johnson twee, if you know what I mean.
8. “By the Canal” – Elephant Micah. I’m a big fan of people who aren’t afraid to let an acoustic guitar and voice splay out wherever they want and however long they want. Here, EM acts as an upbeat Jason Molina, putting the focus on his voice instead of the spartan-yet-interesting arrangements. Totally stoked for this new album.
9. “If It Does” – Robin Bacior. In this loose, smooth, walking-speed singer-songwriter tune with maximum atmosphere, shades of early ’00s Coldplay appear. That’s a compliment, people.
10. “Storm” – Dear Criminals. Not that often do I hear trip-hop, even in an updated melodic form. Way to go, DC–you pick up that torch that Portishead put down.
11. “You Open to the Idea” – Angelo De Augustine. Beautiful, delicate, wispy, earnest whisper-folk. They don’t make ‘em like this very often anymore.
12. “Billowing Clouds” – Electrician. The mournful, affected spoken word over melancholy, trumpet-like synths makes me think of an electro version of the isolated, desolate Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats.
13. “Blue Chicago Moon (demo)” – Songs: Ohia. Until Jason Molina, I’ve never had a personal connection to the art of a troubled artist who died too early–Elliott Smith was gone before I knew of his work. Now with unreleased demos coming out consistently after Mr. Molina’s death, I feel the sadness of his passing over and over. Each new track is a reminder that there was work still to be made; it also feels like a new song from him, even though it’s objectively not.
Is this how a legacy gets made in the digital era? How long will we keep releasing new Molina songs, to remind us that he was there, and now he is not? (Please keep releasing them.) Will the new songs push people back to “The Lioness”? Will we keep these candles burning to light our own rooms, or will we bring them to other people? “Endless, endless, endless / endless depression,” Molina sings here. Is it truly endless? Are you still depressed? Does your permanent recording of the phrase make it truly “unchanging darkness”? “Try to beat it,” he intones, finally. Try to beat it, indeed. Keep trying until you can’t anymore. And then let your work stand forever. I guess this is how I mourn.
Surreality and absurdity have specific meanings to me. Surreal is the type of weird that’s just left of normal; you can feel that it might be normal, but something is just off. It’s the creepy weird, the weird that everyone accepts as normal except you–and you don’t know why. Absurdity is when completely nonsensical things happen all at once and everyone realizes it’s bizarre. Creating absurdity is much easier than creating surreality. The Landing’s video for “We Are” is surreal, in the best way.
Springtime Carnivore’s video for “Name on a Matchbook” is the funniest video I’ve seen all year. Subverting gender stereotypes and tropes? Re-envisioning Springtime Carnivore as a girl-band Beatles? Be still, my fluttering heart.
Quiet Stories’ “When I Come Down” is not necessarily quiet in volume, but the story he tells in this video definitely is a quiet little tale.
Sometimes it’s a single image that gets me in a video. In Bobby Bare Jr.’s “North of Alabama By Morning,” it’s a two-second clip (0:37-38) of the keyboardist grooving so hard. Total dedication to the sound, right there. Also, this song rules.
I watched the whole 5:16 of Sharon Van Etten’s “Your Love is Killing Me” clip because I wanted to know what was happening. Let’s just call the end a baffling one. Van Etten is a towering presence on this track, so if you’re into huge, emotional songs, you can stay for that as well.
1. “Cassius” – The Maytags. You want some fun, dance-around your kitchen vibes? The Maytags have perky horns, upbeat rhythm section, group vocals, and a totally infectious mood. My fiance likes it, and she likes good music. Jump on it, people.
2. “In a Desert of Plenty” – Sunmonks. Motown horns, distant vocals, funky vibes, and engimatic/intriguing rhythmic elements make this track a keeper.
3. “The Snowfalls” – Whyte Horses. Gentle psychedelia meets ’70s folk with some ’50s girl pop vibes in the vocals: it’s a really inviting overall effect.
4. “Center of the Universe” – Chris Staples. Remember that hyper-personal acoustic indie-pop movement from the early to mis ’00s? Some called it quiet is the new loud, but I called it deeply engaging, personal work with a priority on intimate recording styles. This Built to Spill cover nails all the right notes.
5. “i don’t need an advocate, i need an exorcist” – moyamoya. If Appleseed Cast’s wide-open, cinematographic motion from Mare Vitalis made into to the minor keys of Peregrine, we’d have this track. Tons of great guitar work throughout, beautiful production job.
6. “A Sunday Afternoon Epilepsy” – More than Skies. MTS continues their very intriguing campaign to mix lush, autumnal folk landscapes with angular, punk-inspired guitars and creaky vocals. I’m a fan.
7. “Ghostlight” – Alex Tiuniaev. Here’s a cinematic, pensive, romantic instrumental piece led by piano and strings.
8. “Opus No. 21” – The Greatest Hoax. Ambient classical? Dreamy no-guitars post-rock? Wistful dreamweave pop? Whatever this is, it’s pretty, moving, and sets a scene well.
The band has mad chops: they throw down rolling, fingerpicked banjo; swooping violin; upright bass; earnest vocals; and even some whistling. And instead of employing them in the service of exclusively serious tunes, they mix up their lovelorn ballads with goofy tunes. The relatively modern sounding “Angel in the Snow” calls up the Avett Brothers at their country-est both in sadsack lyric and melodic style, while “Hot Party Dads” is a million bpm hoedown tune about …. the title. “Pray for Me” and “Long Low Down” bring that old school Southern Baptist gospel sound into the mix, while opener “Free” doesn’t take itself too seriously in its rapidfire delivery. (They’re really fond of playing as fast as possible, which is fun all its own–even if it isn’t explicitly humorous.) These guys would get along with The Parmesans really, really well.
Old school country and western is due for a glance from indie music; here’s to hoping that Whiskey Shivers find their people and make rowdy, alcohol-fueled string band music for a long time.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.