1. “Who Are You” – The March Divide. Jared Putnam turns to formal popcraft, creating a splendid little perky acoustic pop tune. Somewhere between “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and a Shins song, this tune is a lovely surprise.
2. “I’ll Be True” – Crockett Hall. Standing in front of a big Stax Records sign, a raw, rough-throated reverie with soulful, mournful horns in the background.
3. “Low Hymnal” – Told Slant. The dark flipside of twee shows its sleepy, anxious head here. This song is somehow both tiny and expansive in how it sounds.
4. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. Like a less hyperactive version of Dan Mangan, Smith has a bouncy, chipper flair to his troubadour folk.
5. “Vanishing Shores” – Tom West. Here’s a big, Australian indie-folk singalong with gentle, marimba-esque arpeggiator below it. Hard for me to dislike anything with that description.
6. “C’Mon and Sing” – Chaperone Picks. While we’re on the topic of singalongs, here’s a song about singing along. A rootsy, bass-laden guitar strum creates the structure and most of the arrangement for this not-quite-folk-punk tune, and the results are smile-inducing and foot-tapping.
7. “Burning Bridges” – 2/3 Goat. Led by a clear, bright, strong female vocal, this alt-country tune has a killer chorus that stuck in my mind.
8. “Francesca” – Thurdy. Sometimes you need a gentle, kind ukulele instrumental in your life.
9. “Windfall” – Kalispell. The majestic folk spaciousness of Bon Iver paired with striking, disarming, immediate tenor vocals creates a unique, deeply enjoyable atmosphere. The arranging and recording engineering here are truly remarkable.
10. “Curse the Road” – Austin Miller. The easygoing shuffle of a old-school country song meets careworn vocals to create a tune reminiscent of Rocky Votolato’s early work.
11. “Rattlesnake” – Fog Lake. An appropriate band name to fit this hazy, swaying tune. There’s some angular guitar and some abstract sounds thrown in for good measure, but other than that this is grade-A strength walking-speed bedroom pop.
12. “Everything” – Cavalry. First it made me feel like the first rays of dawn coming over the horizon, then like a gem opening up to the light for the first time, then the great expanses of wide canyons and huge mountains. It’s indie-rock that uses the same instruments you would expect, but their sense of wonder and careful restraint make this an incredible track.
13. “Ruelle (feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off in beautiful piano-based minimalism, grows to dramatic post-rock grandeur, then drops off to develop again.
“Californian Sun” is the opening song off Little Lapin’s sophomore album, Holding Out for the Kicks. This track is breezy alt-country at its finest.
The soulful electric guitar and overall beachy instrumentation contrast smashingly with Little Lapin’s twangy yet theatrical voice. “Californian Sun” forces me to sway; it’s just that kind of song.
The second track, “Gratuity,” echoes the instrumentation of the first, yet slows things down a bit. Here, the acoustic guitar is the star of the show. In both tracks, unassuming male vocals pair perfectly with Little Lapin’s lovely voice and intimate lyrics; think Iron & Wine.
Based on these two tracks, Holding Out for the Kicks will be a sweet-tempered summer album, set to release July 16.
“Wo Sind” – Klaus Johann Grobe. Psychedelic jazz-funk cut “Wo Sind” is a German-grown hallucinogenic in song form.
“Together feat. Clarens” – Douchka. Like a pair of patent red pumps, this track click-clacks into a gorgeous marble room of tessellated synth floors and a crackling fire in the far corner. Check out “Don’t Leave” while you’re at it.
“Underpass” – Asdasfr Bawd. What starts out as an intoxicating, exotic display of blunt, ferocious rhythm transforms into a complex track fueled by sexy, Parisian neo-disco vibes.
“Wasted On You (feat. ROZES)” – Louis Futon. From Foreign Family Collective, this future bass single’s emotive styling and gorgeous vocals propel a cleverly honest theme of questioning substance-induced love.
“Carried” – El Huervo. This future funk track sounds like ‘90s hiphop meets smooth jazz meets a Latin bar. It’s colorful and unapologetically hectic.
“Dok” – Kenton Slash Demon. These bass lines could dig their way to China.
“Stars” – Sego. A indie rock track that would belong on a burned CD mix titled “Pancake Breakfast on Sunday.”
“Town & Country” – Bibio. Bibio projects countryside warmth with his Jersey cotton vocals and flute-y, pastoral instrumentation.
“Goose” – No Hot Ashes. This single from Manchester indie/funk group No Hot Ashes starts with a Slightly Stoopid vibe and then glides into an upbeat sunniness perfect for the upcoming season’s sunset porch drinking.
“C (I:Cube remix)” – Prins Thomas. Like a crawling, corrupted disco, this remix by I:Cube taps into a dark labyrinth of funhouse mirrors and staticy synth at every corner.
“The Harmonist” – Antoine Diligent. This psych pop track soothes and sparkles with lulling vocals and whirling dream pop elements sure to whisk listeners away.
“Anchors” – Benjamin Muñoz. A song that sounds like an underwater electronic orchestra: heavy, dropping moods that float to the bottom of the ocean and quick, colorful bursts of vocals, like mermaids singing from closeby coral reef. The sonic texturing is fluid and beautiful, coming and going in waves.
“Yosemite Das (feat. Bagavan Das)” – The Rondo Brothers. This electro-organic cut combines worldly elements, such as short, soothing guitar lines and warm, lighthearted vocal bits that give it a wholesome feel. This is USDA-certified electronica.
“Utopia” – Digitalism. A sensational, summer-ready track molded of tropical-esque guitar lines and a clean synth varnish.
“Invisible Cities” – Iska Dhaaf. Like punk-reggae nights in a Los Angeles bar, “Invisible Cities” sounds like the kind of music that pairs with kitschy red lanterns, abandoned surf boards in the corner, and glasses and glasses of Michter’s whiskey.
“Aloha Blue Sky” – The Foreign Films. Honey-drenched soul, funk, and jazz come together for an oozing good time on just one of many sexy tracks on The Foreign Films’ latest Side 4.–Rachel Haney
1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.
2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.
3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.
4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.
5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.
6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.
7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.
8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.
9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)
10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.
11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts.
1. “Hypachoi” – The Project. A thrumming distorted bass riff underlines this song, which moves from a spartan tune punctuated by clanking chains into a crunchy, towering, dramatic piece. The lyrics are a passionate re-telling of Christ’s death and resurrection. Happy Easter!
2. “Trucksea (feat. Dean McGrath)” – Nonsemble. This indie-pop chamber orchestra packs “Trucksea” full of fluttering strings, dramatic cello, grounding keys, perky drums. The vocals are the most modern thing about the tune, other than perhaps the confidence with which the difficult fusion is pulled off. This is an impressive tune that demands attention.
3. “Wildflower” – Shiloh Hill. Chipper full-band folk that starts with perky trumpet and brings in banjo like rays of sunshine coming out from behind a cloud. The chorus has an anthemic cast similar to The Decemberists, which is always welcome. This album looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Check out their Kickstarter.
4. “Dust” – Ryan Martin John, Todd Sibbin, and Tom West. Kind of like an Australian Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, this ominous track has a ’70s folk vibe, solid group vocals, and a dense, immediate atmosphere.
5. “I Know I” – The Tin Man. A pensive minor-key first verse leads into an ultimately hopeful, thumping folk-pop/alt-pop tune augmented by some distorted guitar providing some background grumble. Goes for a lot of drama and yet stops one inch from going over the top–an admirable skill.
6. “Same Boat” – Vanessa Forero. This is a swift, upbeat, smile-inducing folk-pop tune that doesn’t jump the shark in its arrangement (however, there are mermaids in the stead of Left Shark as part of the video).
7. “Million Miles” – Jesse Konrad. A calm strum, gentle guitar counterpoint, and a friendly organ push this track along in a very chill way.
8. “You Need to Hear It From Someone Else” – Protestant Work Ethic. Lazy horns play against a large choir, an autoharp, melodica, and assorted random percussion–the outcome is like a European version of Typhoon, all the way down to the passionate vocals.
9. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. A surging, major-key chord progression reminiscent of Dan Mangan, a fun organ performance, and a smooth vocal performance come together over a shuffle snare for a tune seems already comfortable and worn in, like a comfy sweater, when you first hear it.
10. “Marigold” – Neil Holyoak. Holyoak’s hazy yet gravitas-laden voice presides over this very carefully constructed folk tune, complete with pedal steel, mandolin, and reverb-washed electric guitar. It’s kind of like Dana Sipos’ work, but in a major key and more instrument-laden. Float away with this track.
11. “Love Is Like a Market Crash” – Thurdy. It takes a lot of work to sound casual. Thurdy’s laid-back, back-porch vibe permeates his baritone vocals, rolling guitar playing, and honest lyrics. It’s a tune that gives you back more than it asks of you.
12. “This Will Be Our Year – Zombies Cover” – Novi Split. David J’s magnetic, utterly gorgeous voice is in full flower here, matching his oh-so-lovely pipes with a “doo-wop meets old-school country in a subtle, spare modern bar” arrangement. It’s just great.
13. “Bed of Nails” – Logan Magness. “Tender” and “romantic” maybe aren’t the phrases most associated with alt-country, but this stripped-down, Isbell-esque acoustic ballad is both. Magness’s smooth tenor is a joy to listen to.
Reddening West‘s debut EP Where We Startedreminds me of Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church, which is in my mind the far-and-away best venue at SXSW. The towering space allows music to gather majesty during its rise to the rafters and return to my ears, imbuing already gorgeous work with extra grandeur.
The warm, full folk tunes that Reddening West puts together would be perfect for that space, as they have gravitas to spare while still maintaining strong melodicism and soothing arrangements. Fans of the Barr Brothers will be particularly excited to hear the dense arrangements of tunes like “Golden Light,” while those more into country will be charmed by closer “Every Wind.” The thread that runs through each of the tunes is a clear-eyed focus on creating beautiful work; it’s a wonderful present to listen to. I look forward to what Reddening West will put forward in the future.
SN!TA, the self-titled album by one-man-band Say No! To Architecture, is woozy, warm, and inviting. Groovy bass lines, far out vocals, and layered guitar hug listeners like a handcrafted Navajo blanket would form to their bodies on a dewy morning. For as sonically complex as SN!TA is, the record comes off as casual and rustic, with steady rhythms and a Western desert flair.
Simmering electronic starts “Wieder’s Floor” off, dissipating into a consistent, catchy bass line. Allen Roizman’s dizzying vocals capture an airy, hypnotic experience, like the commencing jam at a desert rave.
Similar electronic distortion is used at the start of “Bullet Proof Liquor Store.” It seduces the listener with subtle tambourine and a motivating rhythm that propels the track toward a climactic sonic horizon. Say No! To Architecture shines in the mobilizing build up and progression that presents itself on every song.
Western flair seeps into the record on “Get Sick,” which incorporates finger-snapping and shiny, sharp tambourine. The far-away vocals make “Get Sick” sound like a Western flick. It has a badass, Johnny Cash feel to it, but with spacey vocals. This vibe is further accentuated on “Cocaine, Eh,” where rattling tambourine shakes sound like the metallic clank of spurs hitting ground as our cowboy struts towards his duel.
Things turn a bit more alternative rock on “Detainees,” which is more hard-hitting than the spacier tracks, like the masterfully layered “Fall in Love at Tape Mountain,” or one of my favorites–the warm, lulling, yellow-colored “Hives.”
Each track on SN!TA allows itself to bloom. They ride on a perfectly straight, X-Acto knife-cut trajectory, like each track must reach its own sonic horizon by song’s end. And Say No! To Architecture reaches it each time. —Rachel Haney
Ashley Riley‘s “This Town” is an ode to everyone who feels that magnetic pull of a small town, even when they’ve gone off to the big city. You can take the person out of the town, they say…
Riley’s hometown reminiscences are sung in a dusky alto and set over an arrangement that splits the difference between old-school country and modern singer/songwriter. (With Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton becoming cool, it might be the country that’s the “cool” half these days.)
The drums and bass hold down the frame of the song, while the electric guitar pushes on the bounds of both country and singer/songwriter. It’s ultimately a tune that’s just as accessible and understandable as the lyrical statement it makes. If you’re looking for a smooth, easy tune to help you relax in a hammock on a spring afternoon, here’s one for you.
Benevolus’ “Go” starts off with a bang: a cymbal splash sets off a rhythmic, hypnotizing guitar strum and rumbling percussion. These two elements drive the mood for the whole tune. The percussion sounds like it’s being really hammered out, but with soft mallets: this gives it an earthy, organic sort of feel due to its lack of sharp edges and snapping hits. This unusual percussion choice makes it actually more a feature than the guitar, as the mesmerizing, consistent guitar strum forms a foundation for the drums and the vocals to play around on top of.
Composer Ryan Beppel’s vocals jump in the fray in a dramatic way as well: Beppel multi-tracks his voice to make himself sound like an enthusiastic, energetic choir. His penchant for hollered, punchy exclamations and wordless melodic runs match the wide-open feel of the percussion. Beppel’s work has been likened to Animal Collective crossed with Fleet Foxes, and that’s a totally appropriate call. “Go” is an adventurous, impressive track that really puts a best foot forward. I’m intrigued to hear more by Benevolus; the creative approach to using standard songwriting elements points to the emergence of a unique new songwriting voice.
The video for “Go” is also intriguing–Beppel runs through the streets of a snowy NYC like a modern-day George Bailey, but the ending of the video leaves it a bit uncertain as to his goals and the results of his quest. It’s beautiful to see the Big Apple in all its snowy glory, and you get an interesting little tale along the way.
“Rosebush”– Goldlight. I love it when a song starts off deceptively simple and progressively builds towards its climax. I enjoy the artist’s unique voice, but the driving beat and knockout instrumentation steal the show here. Listening to this track makes me want to blast it in my car, roll the windows down and drive fast– not many tracks stir that up within me.
“Tired”– Ashley Shadow. The layered instrumentation and unassuming vocals pair beautifully. The strong driving beat also makes this track another potential car-song, but maybe I’d drive a little slower.
“Cave”– Katie Zaccardi. This dark and brooding track combines Zaccardi’s strong voice with hard-punching lyrics that tell a poignant story about the tug and pull of toxic relationships. The guitar up-stroke even makes an appearance!
“White Noise”– Swells. I am feeling the groovy vibes of this tune. Soulful female vocals get me every time.
“The Wolf”– ALLA. This string-heavy song oozes with eerie. The repetitive lyrics and rhythms make it seem simple, but the string-plucking alone exposes the track’s complexity.
“Help Yourself”– Bryde. Bryde’s powerful, Vanessa Carlton-like voice continues to entrance me. The hard-hitting lyrics and full-bodied instrumentation keep me coming back.
“Bedbugs”– Amaroun. Amaroun’s unique alt-folk sound is akin to brilliant artists like Bjork and Jesca Hoop. You won’t want to miss taking a ride with Amaroun and her “Bedbugs”.
“Love Dust feat. Mercy”– Christopher Pellnat. I am absolutely captivated by this juxtaposition of seductive Lana Del Rey-like vocals and circus-esque instrumentation. It feels uncannily like a 19th century cabaret, with an accordion to boot!
“Speak”– Expert Timing. The sweet female and unadorned male vocals contrast great with the heavy electric guitar and drum kit instrumentation. This is one punk rock track to rock out to.
“The Lost Ones (featuring Leah Hayes)”– The Gifted. Fun, playful, even includes whistling–everything you want an indie-pop song to be. There’s something about the vibrant sound and catchy lyrics that make me feel that this track could be an anthem for a generation.
“What Became of Laura R?”– Heavy Heart. Summoning their inner MGMT, this track begins and ends with a slew of screaming kids. As the song progresses, Heavy Heart’s rock and roll vibes liken to that of the Silversun Pickups– breezy, laid-back rock and roll. –Krisann Janowitz
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.