“Hardships” – Nadia Nair. Uproariously captivating in a way I haven’t heard since M.I.A., Nadia Nair’s sound balances exoticness and inclusivity, achieving dynamite individualism that anyone can appreciate.
“Lil Yamaha” – Sun Cut Flat. Sun Cut Flat combines gentle, Gramatik-like groove with a delicate pop sound. As the final steaming days of August roll in, promise me you’ll sit down with this track while the summer sun dips and the cool drinks start a-flowin’.
“The Shields” – Velour Modular. The ‘bass music,’ ‘sex,’ ‘neotriphop,’ and ‘Abstract’ hashtags adorning this track’s Soundcloud page sum it up entirely.
“Can’t Have” – Steven A. Clark. You know when you hear a song, and you think, “Yup. This is going to blow up. Everywhere.”? “Can’t Have” is that song. I’m counting down the days until Clark’s upcoming album, The Lonely Roller, is released on September 18th. (18 days from now.)
“wlkng” – arpl and do zee. If you like your instrumental hiphop buttery smooth and with heavy cream, get a taste of this rich lo-fi served up by two crazy-talented members of Fixed Fidelity.
“Petals” – BIKES and do zee. Another collaboration from Fixed Fidelity, because apparently I can’t get enough of them, “Petals” combines gnarly guitar lines, day-time lo-fi, and wholesome instrumentals for an electronic walk-in-the-park kind of track.
“Dance to the Beat” – Dr!ve. Brought to you by Discobox Records, this has flared jeans, electronic synthesizers, and funky soul written (in glitter pen) all over it. Check out the remixes by Shake Machine and Rotciv as well.
“Meteor” – The Winter Sounds. If I could copy and paste these insanely brilliant lyrics, I would. Instead, close those eyes, plug in those headphones, and absorb this galaxies-colliding, synth-sprinkled Big Bang.
“Boys Life” – Small Black. How does one make something so disco-dancey, sublime, laidback, and catchy all at once?
“Gutter” – baeb rxxth. With the opening lines, “Cage match, I’m a tiger cub/and you’re a bloody piece of steak,” it’s hard not to recognize the unprocessed trap-pop sound that is the big, bad, bold baeb rxxth.
“Miss. Mirage” – NoMBe. Haunting lyrics like, “Counting wolves and old sheep/Watch them sharpen those teeth/Crude from the walls of no sleep,” contrast with a smooth groove, smoother vocals, and utopian-esque album art that all left me feeling bewitched, a bit spooked, and completely hooked.
“Tantalized” – Fever High. Holy Happiness. “Tantalized” reminds me of those dandelion choker necklaces I used to wear in ‘98, and all the sassy lip-syncing that late ‘80s/early ‘90s chicks mastered long before learning to play the recorder. I have the feeling Fever High were totally those girls.
“Control” – Kisses. I’d like to write a bunch of “Oww! Woo! Szzz!” onomatopoeias that were my reaction when hitting play on this sizzling, sleek track. “Control” combines funk, synth, exotic percussion, and dance-inducing rhythm that remains controlled throughout.
“Pirates” – Heptagon Heaven. Heptagon Heaven–The corsairs of new-world synth, galactic drops, and astrological album art. Enough said, peace out. —Rachel Haney
Lee Reit‘s self-titled record is largely played on a nylon-stringed guitar. In addition to adding a gentle sonic quality to the tunes, those strings import Spanish and Latin American connotations to the nine songs included here. When Reit’s evocative vocal tone and narrative vocal delivery are added in, the result is an engrossing, calming album full of intriguing tunes.
Opener “Dream Another Night” gives a good look at Reit’s guitar playing and his suave, subtly dramatic baritone vocal tone. The rolling fingerpicking is underscored by an insistent, shuffling, brushed drumbeat that would fit in a country tune; the constant press forward creates a tension against the guitar line and Reit’s easygoing vocal delivery. That tension holds even when Caitlin Marie Bell takes the mic for a verse; it’s a pleasant sort of push and pull that engages me in the tune.
There are Spanish vibes in “Dream Another Night,” both sonic and visual. The sonic ones aren’t as pronounced as they are in later songs, but the choice of all-white clothes for the band in the video gives the clip a light, airy feel that makes me think of relaxing languidly in a Spanish vineyard. (We’re honored to premiere the video above today!) “The Pleasure of the Fall” has a dusky Spanish nightclub vibe–not Ibiza, but 1920s literary expat Spanish nightclub. (The distant trumpet and sighing strings reinforce the initial thought.) “Visions of Eternity” amps up this style by incorporating Dylan-esque, cryptic, religious/political/social commentary and ratcheting up the minor-key drama. “Thanks for the Lessons” calls back to that Spanish vineyard, while also pointing toward Parachutes-era Coldplay work.
Most of the tunes on the record benefit from the control Reit has of his voice. “The Pleasure of the Fall” allows him to accentuate different points of the narrative by modifying the register and tone of his voice, from light and high to low and serious. It sounds like a simple transaction, but it’s not: there’s a significant, mysterious gravitas that he’s able to conjure up with the vocal shifts. He’s also great at delivering phrases and words, filling particular ones with meaning just by inflecting them in a certain way (“Thanks for the Lessons” and “Grace Alone” in particular, although it’s evident everywhere).
It’s not all Latin American vibes–“Grace Alone” is folky, even with hints of blues and gospel vibes. The fast-paced, keys-laden “Here, As in Heaven” has a speak/sing, Lou Reed/CAKE thing going on, which presents a very different angle on Reit’s songwriting. But in general, this is a walking-speed, unhurried album. “Wheel Within a Wheel” and “Shangri La,” the chronological center of the record, are flowing, relaxed tunes that make me want to go on a low-stress beach vacation–they’re indicative of the overall response I have to the record.
Lee Reit’s self-titled record is one that can be appreciated for its beauty immediately and for its subtlety over multiple listens. Like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (although in a very different milieu), Reit has developed his voice to be a fine-tuned instrument for delivering melodies and lyrics that stick in my head and keep me coming back. You could cover a Lee Reit song, but you wouldn’t sing it the way that he does. That’s a distinctive mark. If you’re into slowcore acoustic (Mark Kozelek, Songs: Ohia, Mojave 3) or thoughtful acoustic work (Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, Jason Isbell), you’ll enjoy Lee Reit’s work.
Fine Animal’s debut album,Before the Glow, could orchestrate a modern ballet. The duo has created something spiritual–combining harp-like vocals with minimalist electronic that puts the ‘dream’ in ‘dream pop.’
“When It All Happens (it happens all at once)” was like listening to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” for the first time–only instead of riding shotgun in my dad’s ‘92 Honda Civic and asking him if we can cut my hair that short, I was sitting on my balcony feeling exceptionally euphoric. Lucy Oaks’ repeated lyric, “It’s so good when you know,” distorts itself, weaving in and out, until a simple techno beat drops, and one of the most fragile pieces of electronica I’ve ever heard launches this album off.
The delicateness continues throughout, especially on “Riser,” which combines high-pitched female vocals and trancey instrumentation, all sweating over sexual, ambient groove. “Portal” builds on that dreamy quality, bringing in an Irish countryside raininess, sweater-wrapped warmth. And “Lay Awake,” with its surprising energetic vibe, melts right into “Boarding Area,” where tasteful trippiness takes hold.
For as minimalist as Before the Glow may seem, tracks like “Perpetually Waking Up” and “Old Dollar” add depth. “Perpetually Waking Up” carries angelic vocals that mist over a thunder-warped soundscape, and Oaks’ ending lyrics, “Like a Pharaoh, sinking in his chair/Let’s test our devotion, while completely unaware,” surprised me with their gravity. “Old Dollar” zips like a racecar across a deserted soundscape, with hollowed vocals and a desperate, beautiful energy to match. Try thinking of “Old Dollar” as a remake of the plastic-bag-blowing-in-the-wind scene from American Beauty, except replace the bag with an old dollar and all-of-a-sudden it’s even deeper.
Before the Glow embodies the kind of mystery that makes you keen on listening for every moment; it’s a startling vessel of strength and beauty, a royal-blooded babe.—Rachel Haney
The folk-pop of Jennell‘s “Long Way From Home” draws equally from the stomp-clap hoedowns of The Lumineers and the polished country-pop of Taylor Swift, creating a point of connection between the two social worlds that could sit comfortably next to Phillip Phillips’ work. (It even talks about home!)
Fans of folk pop will notice the vocal melodies in the prechorus and bridge, while fans of T-Swift will recognize the chorus vibes immediately. The result is a tune that will get at least one melody stuck in your head (but it depends on which one). The lyrics address the uncertainty of travel and discomforts that come from a lack of community, something that anyone who’s ever been traveling a lot can relate to. Sonically, it’s a great song for the lazy end of summer; lyrically, it can keep the company of those still out there on the road.
You don’t begin a song with the sound of glass shattering, followed by the sound of its pieces clanking back together again, and it not be an epic track. And alternative pop artist DeQn Sue’s “Glass” is exactly that. The single from her latest EP Snack rocks tomboy femininity that is sudden, harsh, and genuine.
A punchy, dank beat thickens the sharp soundscape and creates a hypnotic element. DeQn Sue’s eerily at-ease vocals have the intimidating and alluring energy of Sister Sarah in Hocus Pocus (specifically the scene where she’s flying on her broomstick singing that creepy lullaby to the children of Salem). Sue’s vibe and the intensity of the instrumentals capture the theme of the song–contrasting a bold, “bad b***h” mentality with the sometimes shocking presence of feelings.
“Sturdy, I take the pressure/Fragile, behind me…Hard, I’m hard as nails/Solid, I am a dream,” Sue delivers her lyrics with a punch and realness that most street rappers can’t even seem to evoke these days. I would like to thank you, DeQn Sue, for discussing a common contradiction of human emotion, and doing so in explosive song-form.
Instead of glass, Mueller_Roedelius’ “Time Has Come” utilizes sounds a bit more spacey, ambiguous, and ambient, like someone making continuous attempts at lighting their lighter. I almost couldn’t see through the aggressive darkness, the sudden flicker of flame, and then the returning sonic pitch-blackness of it all. But the introduction of building piano melodies adds elegance to this track, all with a downbeat trudging beneath.
Before I knew it, the master duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Christoph H. Müller transported me to an impressively weirder experience, warmer and rich with production work that drips. There are hints of jazziness, even some Latin influence. The whole song subtly washed over me, and gradually morphed itself into a beautifully, unconventionally tropic experience. “Time Has Come” is the elevator music of my dreams–evoking the sleek sexiness of potted palms, hotel lobbies, and too-high high heels.–Rachel Haney
Denver’s King Cardinal plays dignified, classy folk music. In the performance video below of their original tune “One,” Brennan Mackey’s resonant, careworn voice gently leads the way while Texanna Dennie’s tender alto curls around Mackey’s with beautiful, delicate harmonies. The vocals float along over an easy-going guitar strum and acoustic bass thrum. It’s a simple, elegant tune that calls up visions of late night car rides, deep conversations over campfires, and melancholy end-of-movies credits. The cinematographer slowly pans through the room in a circle, giving a lush, cinematic air to both the track and the video.
1. “I Touch My Face in Hyperspace Oh Yeah” – Devin James Fry. You shouldn’t need my encouragement to listen to a song with a title so enigmatic and intriguing, but if you do, the fiery, wild-eyed psych-folk-rock is just as immediately engaging and mind-expanding as the title.
2. “Cheap Shades” – Chris Staples. Staples tosses off lyrics in this gentle, walking-speed acoustic tune as if they were easy to come by, as if they weren’t complex and unique and deeply thoughtful. This doesn’t sound like the Mountain Goats at all, but fans of John Darnielle will hear the lyrical kinship (even if the music is closer to Sufjan’s Michigan than anything TMG has put out, except maybe Get Lonely). If you’re of the age and vintage that 238’s “Modern Day Prayer” is tattooed on your consciousness, get prepared to have your mind blown: this is that Chris Staples.
3. “Can’t Undo This” – Heather Bond. It’s tough to do a dramatic, introspective ballad without getting formalist or maudlin. Bond balances gravitas and vulnerability to come up with a searing, poignant, piano-driven tune.
4. “Take You Away” – The National Parks. Handclaps, pizzicato violin, punchy horns, and bright-eyed guy/girl vocals buoy this cross between orchestral-folk-pop, party-friendly indie-pop-rock, and even some disco vibes (!). Weighty genre labels aside, this is a cheery, thoughtful tune that does more than bash out chords on a well-trod road.
5. “Ida” – El Tryptophan. Was Pet Sounds an orchestral explosion of the Phil Spector sound? If so, “Ida” could fit in the chronological and sonic space right between ’60s girl-pop arrangements and Brian Wilson’s masterpiece (with some Velvet Underground thrown in for good measure).
6. “Pink Lemonade” – Monogold. Sometimes the title is all you need to know.
8. “Kids” – Dara Sisterhen. Somehow manages to blend country, ’50s pop, and folk-pop into one breezy, carefree tune perfect for your next road trip.
9. “The Script” – The Treacherous French. Almost any accordion-laden acoustic tune is going to come off like a sea shanty; the washboard percussion, enthusiastic high-tenor vocal performance, and “whoa-ohs” solidify the notion.
10. “Willingham” – Echo Bloom. Somehow combines the murky sounds of a forest, high-drama noir vocals, indie-rock slinkiness, and ghostly aura. Wildly inventive.
11. “Little Dreamer” – Charlotte & Magon. Delicate electric guitar, gently dramatic vocals, and an overall sense of lazy Saturday mornings.
12. “Gotta Wanna” – Gun Outfit. I turn the key and the engine hums. I turn out of the gas station and back onto an empty Arizona highway, headed back toward California. The insistent drumming underscores my sense of motion, but the vocals and guitar lean back to make sure that everyone knows it’s not all that urgent. We’re gonna hang out and enjoy ourselves when we get there; we’ll enjoy it on the way, too.
13. “Hold Hands for Dry Land” – Oryx and Crake. The gleeful community feel of Funeral was part of what made it so engaging: Oryx and Crake develop that same sort of group vibe in this punchy-yet-thoughtful melodic indie-rock track. Anyone named after a Margaret Atwood novel is asking for your full attention–they reward, both musically and lyrically.
1. “Saturday” – SPORTS. This evanescent (1:13!), earnest, perky garage-rock track hits all the right notes and touches a chord in me. It’s the perfect mix of enthusiasm and grit. Father/Daughter Records is on a roll.
2. “Vultures” – Delta Mainline. Call it Spiritualized at its most arch or acoustic-based ’90s Britpop (Oasis, The Verve) at its most early-morning woozy–this track is a memorable one.
3. “Wall Ball” – Art Contest. Any band that can make math-rock accessible and hooky is greatly to be praised. Art Contest’s impressive technical chops are only overshadowed by their incredible songwriting ones. This song is an adventure.
4. “There’s No Love” – We Are Magnetic. It’s summer, so I need a continuous stream of brash, upbeat dance-rock tunes. This one plays out like a less yelpy Passion Pit, complete with a giant chorus anchored by a soaring melody and backed with a choir. Get your dance on.
5. “Pistoletta” – North by North. Imagine My Chemical Romance had a little more rock and a little less theatrics, or think of late ’60s/early ’70s rock, right as glam was breaking out and wasn’t really there yet. Soaring vocals, rock drama, and crunchy guitars sell it.
6. “Get on the Boat” – Little Red Lung. This female-fronted outfit calls up Florence and the Machine comparisons through its adventurous arrangements (check that booming cello), minor-key vibes, and front-and-center vocals.
7. “Then Comes the Wonder” – The Landing. An ecstatic mishmash of handclaps, burbling synths, piano, and falsetto vocals creates a song that makes me think of a half-dozen disparate sonic influences (Foals, Prince, Fleet Foxes, and the Flaming Lips among them).
8. “Dust Silhouettes” – CFIT. Glitchy electro-pop noises give way to psych-influenced guitar and vocals, all stacked on top of an indie-rock backline. It’s a head-spinner in the best sort of way.
9. “Take Me Away” – Late Nite Cable. The chorus in this song is the electro-pop equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after two days of rain.
10. “ONE” – Moving Panoramas. Sometimes I wonder what people are listening to when they’re walking down the street with headphones in. This feels like it could be one of those things: a walking-speed indie-pop-rock song with excellent bass work, down-to-earth vocals, and a little sense of wonder.
11. “Alien Youth” – The Albino Eyes. Calls back to the time when synth-rock meant The Cars: the zinging, charming synths over slightly-smoothed out garage-rock is nostalgic in the best of ways.
12. “Strangers” – Balaclade. Balancing guitar crunch with feathery vocals makes this an engaging post-’90s-indie-rock track.
13. “Falling” – Here We Go Magic. This warm, swirly, electronics-laden pop-rock tune calls to mind School of Seven Bells, if their sound was a little more tethered to acoustic instrumentation.
1. “Soul Makossa (Money)” – Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP. Take the summery flirtatiousness of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” with Lou Bega’s trumpet-filled “Mambo No. 5,” and turn it up five notches on the dopeness meter. It’s a total pull-this-out-nonchalantly-at-a-party-and-immediately-become-the-coolest-person-there tune; the new “Macarena” we have all been waiting for.
2. “Glider” – Greyhat. This track hails from Foreign Family Collective, where radiant Odesza influence gleams through sci-fi glitch, guiding you through a labyrinth of zips, zaps, bings, and bass.
3. “The Gift of Giving” – CDAD. Labeled as dadstep, CDAD places breathtakingly honest lyrics with deep male vocals for a James Blake-vibe that is somehow rawer and heavier, but just as sensual.
4. “Spring” – Calvert. ‘Easy, Breezy, Electronic Pop Cover Girl’ could be the slogan on this track, which is laden with buttery vocals and a catchy, paisley-patterned beat.
5. “Cave Drops” – Minor Rain. A psychedelic experience in the rain forest and this beautifully textured chillstep track go hand-in-hand, or wing-in-wing–whichever takes you as high as Minor Rain has intended.
6. “Pieces” – Yellow Shoots. Of course, we need a trip-hop track somewhere on here, and “Pieces” is it. Smooth groove, easy vocals, and a soaring build from the start give this one a mellow R&B flare.
7. “sore” – elle le fantôme. Twinkling, like metallic rain, and a drudging-along rhythm create a damp, dreamy setting. The gloomy vocals of elle le fantome and her resisting, determined lyrics create a glittery, yet spooky, experience.
8. “The Real” – Hein Cooper. The ice-cold, abstract album art featuring a blurred Cooper perfectly illustrates this melancholy indie electronic track. “The Real” has a classic rock n’ roll appeal to it, making it one of the most versatile on this list.
9. “Queen” – Jon Zott. This is my kind of house music love song: minimalist, clean, and very obviously focused on declaring he’s found “the one,” his queen, this tempting groove. This one’s for the ladies!
10. “Play Out” – Zola Blood. Just like the album art, featuring a hot pink blob of what appears to be a rock molting from the inside, “Play Out” drips and dribbles into catchy dreampop. Lyrics like, “I’ll be the left side, if you’ll be the right/I’ll let it bloom and then let it die,” add an emotive dimension to an already gracefully complex electronic track. —Rachel Haney
I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize my 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)
1. “Started a War” – My Own Ghosts. Builds from a fragile, rickety beginning to a full-on indie-rock/shoegaze stomp without losing a deep sense of pathos. Oddly beautiful.
2. “Boys in Blue” – Inner Outlaws. Bass-heavy indie-rockers Inner Outlaws bring their genre-wandering sound to a fine point here, taking all sorts of sonic turns you wouldn’t expect.
3. “White Lodge” – The Kickback. “Hey guys, let’s phase the drums on this one.” “Why? Dark, serious indie rock bands don’t do that.” “Because wouldn’t that sound rad? It would sound rad. Trust me.”
4. “Show Some Shame” – Caustic Casanova. This is definitely the most amped up I’ve ever been while being told “we are doomed!” The innate melodicism of this riff-heavy rocker turns my head, even though I’m not that into heavy stuff anymore.
5. “Lint” – Teen Cult. I spent four years playing in a band composed of a metalhead drummer, a jazz pianist, a Radiohead-addled guitarist, and a pop-rock bassist. As a result, I am the perfect audience for Teen Cult’s sprawling, genre-mashing art-rock. It starts off in traditional Spanish guitar (and Spanish language!), then morphs into difficult-to-classify, Mars Volta-esque stuff (only slightly less heavy).
6. “Spirit of Discovery” – Have Gun, Will Travel. Sometimes I call things alt-country because it’s neither Sweet Home Alabama-style Southern Rock or hot country, even though it’s definitely not the Jayhawks. Whatever you call HGWT, there’s a sweet pedal steel and a workman-like approach and vibe to the song. It feels real, like it’s made by guys who you just want to hang out with.
7. “Next Life” – Tyler Boone. Dedicated to the victims of the Charleston shooting, this tune bridges the line between pop-rock (giant drums!) and alt-country (pedal steel!) but without dipping too deeply into hot country sounds.
8. “Belinda’s Cross” – American Elsewhere. Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov are easy touchpoints for this charming acoustic tune that rides the line between warmly nostalgic and and remorsefully wistful.
9. “Wait” – Wyland. Goes from Lumineers to chiming U2-esque work back to horns-and-group-vocals folk-pop. You know who you are, readers.
10. “The Third Light” – The Left Outsides. Sway your shoulders/hips and bob your head to this folk-tune with a touch of gypsy magic in it.
11. “Sparrows” – Scott Krokoff. I’ve been getting an unusual amount of e-mail about ’70s soft-country and indie-soul recently; Krokoff’s easygoing acoustic tune fits in the former genre as a more full-sounding James Taylor, complete with smooth, smooth vocals.
12. “Education” – Cancellieri. Ryan Hutchens continues his hot streak of brilliant songwriting with this ethereal, floating-world gem. It’s a beautiful, expansive, warm tune that seems to color everything that’s happening while it plays with a bit of a softer tint. If you’re not listening to Cancellieri, you should be.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.