1. “The Last Generation of Love” – The Holy Gasp. Hugely theatrical vocals, driving conga drums, stabbing horns, and an overall feel of wild desperation permeate this wild track. It feels like a lost ’60s bossa nova played at triple the speed with an apocalyptic poet dropping remix bars over it. In short, this one’s different.
2. “Hot Coffee” – Greg Chiapello. Somewhere between Brill Building formal pop songcraft and Beatles-esque arrangement affectations sits this perky, smile-inducing, timeless tune.
3. “Wake Up and Fight” – Gaston Light. If you’re looking for a widescreen folk creed, this tune builds from a single bass note to a fist-raised anthem. Gaston Light attempts to channel Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, and more.
4. “Evil Dreams” – Elstow. ’50s girl-pop mixed with some 9 p.m. vibes and reverb = solid track.
6. “All This Wandering Around” – Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan and Alyosha are back with a chipper indie-rock song that will get you tapping your toes.
7. “Less Traveled” – Johanna Warren. A lilting soprano supported by low flutes and burbling fingerpicking developed into technical guitarwork that lifted my eyebrows. There’s a lot of talent going on here. I love what Team Love is up to this year.
8. “Folding” – Martin Callingham. Callingham has crafted the sort of tune that’s almost inarguable: it floats lightly on your consciousness, gently working its way through to the end of the tune. If Joshua Radin had gotten a few more instruments involved without going rock…
9. “Wild at Heart” – Trans Van Santos. Does Calexico have a patent of the sound of the high desert? Mark Matos hopes not, as the baritone-voiced songwriter of Trans Van Santos has a way with the guitar delays and reverbs of that venerable sound. Perfect for your jaunts to or from Flagstaff.
10. “Don’t You Honey Me” – Timothy Jaromir. Here’s a bluesy country duet with excellent come-hither female vocals, muted horns, and romance on the mind.
Yo, “Steal the Light” by The Cat Empire takes a minute to warm up. Give it a second, though, because it turns into a triumphant, horn-laden, percussive Caribbean groove. Because they’re from Australia.
The clip for “Between Us” by Pistol Shrimp is beautiful non-sequitur set to a Passion Pit-esque thumper. Awesome.
Just Walden’s “Space Cadet” video is certainly saying something, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s a neat-looking video aside from parsing the deeper meanings.
Austin alt-country outfit Salesman‘s output up until this point has been eerie, avant-garde, and complex. With the Let’s Go Jump into the Fire 7″, they’ve gone in a different direction that they admit is “a new page” in their book. And boy, is it.
Instead of dark and foreboding tunes that take a while to make their way to your heart, the title track of the seven-inch is an immediately endearing tune. It opens with a jaunty, celebratory, major-key fingerpicking pattern on an electric guitar, which is a shock in itself.
The rest of the arrangement unfolds in a careful way that builds the song seemingly organically to a jubilant point two minutes in where Devin James Fry yells “Yeah!” not out of terror, but out of enthusiasm. Wavering pedal steel, tasteful drums, and thrumming bass create a warm atmosphere that’s hard to resist. It’s very much alt-country, and the rhythms and vocals still mark it as a Salesman track, but their powers are definitely engaged in a different direction.
“Let’s Go Jump into the Fire” is backed with “Riddle of the Source,” which is darker in tone and timbre. It’s still not as difficult as their previous work (or Fry’s previous work with apocalyptic post-rock band Lord Buffalo), but the vibes are darker, more forlorn, more at home in the minor key. Fry stretches out his vocals here, leading the song with his nuanced performance. There’s an awesome (and all too short) guitar solo as well. Salesman’s new look is less obtuse, more direct, and thoroughly enjoyable. “Let’s Go Jump into the Fire” is a brilliant track that speaks optimistically toward things to come.
Janet Devlin‘s Running With Scissors is a thoroughly modern acoustic pop album, putting all the things we’ve learned since Nevermind to good use. The Irish singer/songwriter channels The Lumineers, Lilith Fair, Ingrid Michaelson, and KT Tunstall throughout the album, creating tunes that fit the best adjectives of each turn. Opener “Creatures of the Night” is a perky mid-’00s acoustic-pop song with mandolin and stomping drums; the booming kick bass turns into the walloped, four-on-the-floor tom of “House of Cards,” which is a female-fronted Lumineers track if there ever was one. (It’s even got the obligatory “hey!”)
The tunes set the tone for the album: fun, smart, and melodically mature. The surprisingly maturity with which she traipses through genres is worth noting here: “Hide and Seek” is straight-ahead ’90s female pop (Jewel?), “Lifeboat” includes melodica and separated strumming a la Ingrid Michaelson, “Things We Lost in the Fire” is an introspective piano ballad (Fiona Apple!), and her cover of the The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” is all folk fingerpicking and whispered vocals. “Wonderful” has a regrettable lyrical concept, but if you just ignore the words, it’s another cheery ’90s pop tune. (On second thought, maybe the goofy lyrics are just part and parcel of her commitment to the style.)
Janet Devlin’s Running With Scissors is a carousel of delights: no matter which song you pick, it will take you for a warm, lovely trip. If you’re into acoustic pop, you should know about Devlin.
1. “Why” – Rathborne. Helter-skelter drums, bass that’s just trying to keep up, jagged guitar sprawling everywhere, aggrieved vocals leading the charge? And it’s done in 2 minutes? Sign me up for garage rock 101, Rathborne. Teach me.
2. “Jawbone” – Dogheart. Sometimes the melody and vocals are so good that it doesn’t really matter what genre the song is. Dogheart’s good-natured garage rock will have people of all sorts humming along.
3. “Suckcess” – Michael Rault. Lo-fi rock with just the right amount of fuzz to get your adrenaline, but not so much that you can’t tell what’s going on. A strong dose of pop ideals (and pop history) put this one over the top.
4. “Boomerang” – Ships Have Sailed. Big fat pop songs are great ways to get through wet, cold Tuesdays in February. Ones that have vibes like The Killers are even better.
5. “Six String to My Heart” – Purple Hill. If The Hold Steady were more alt-country instead of classic rock, they might have sounded like this organ-laden, vocal-driven mid-tempo rock tune.
6. “A Whole New Shape” – Happyness. Remember when Yuck and Smith Westerns were big because they were playing neo-grunge with an indie flair? Happyness is on that train too, and they deserve as much attention as the aforementioned.
Brooklyn Doran’s jazz-standards vibe brings a classy aura to Lake Street Dive-esque charm. The band knows how to hit it and quit it, as Doran and her crew mesmerize in less than two minutes.
Mann Friday are trying to get the booker at Glastonbury to book them by dedicating a video to her. “Say Yeah (Emily Eavis)” might mark the only time that the booker of a festival has been immortalized in song. The acoustic-fronted pop-rock song is pretty great too.
Jen Chapin’s “Gospel” pays homage to historical and current protest movements around the world.
Acoustic fingerpicking; versatile, powerful female vocals; an intimate performance–what more could you ask for? Courtney Marie Andrews is impressive here.
Ryan Culwell’s “Red River” is a desolate, stark, moving tribute to the people and land of South Texas. Shades of Jason Isbell, but for a different people.
As they say on Imgur, “Always upvote Cancellieri.”
Mike Evin’s “Have I Ever Loved?”: simple concept, masterful execution. It’s A beautiful clip that accomplishes being funny, charming, heart-warming, and haunting all at once. Top-notch work here.
The Great Escape’s heavy soul tune “All I Think About” has a neat video conceit. I love it when something fun happens that I wasn’t expecting.
Natalie Prass’s “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” is a clever concept and a deconstructive criticism of makeup, beauty, and women’s identities as constructed by society. Don’t believe me? Check it:
I’m not gonna lie: Moon Duo’s “Animal” is one of the weirder videos I’ve ever seen. It features a dandy-style skateboarder skating on things that are not skateboards. It’s cool, in a “I’m not totally sure what’s happening” sort of way.
Powerdove’s “You Can Make Me Feel Bad” does the collage video right, providing an off-kilter, slightly-unsettling mix of images that portray the feel of the abstract, avant garde acoustic song.
1. “Just Like Moonlight” – Inner Outlaws. Mad respect for any band that puts the bassist at the forefront of the tune. Michael Cacciatore’s lumbering low-end powers this wide-open indie-rock soundtrack to the city at night, which is a deft mix between sparse environments and blown-out arrangements.
2. “The Devil” – Michael Feuerstack. There’s a certain amount of guts it takes to tell the bassist to play straight eighth notes for an entire song, as it naturally turns the song into a highway jam. Feuerstack’s road anthem is perhaps a demolition derby jam–an indie-rock song amped way up, reminiscent of the roiling, raging loudest moments of the Mountain Goats.
3. “A Little Ditty” – Sleaford Mods. There’s nothing quite like UK blue-collar rage taken out in spoken-word fury over a chugging post-punk backbeat. It feels timeless and fresh at the same time.
4. “Stationary Life” – Blis. Twinkly emo, yelpy vocals, references to parents’ house, underlying good-natured energy/aggression: Deep Elm would have been all over Blis. a decade ago.
5. “Dead or Alone” – Lull. “How loud can we play something and still make it sound sad?” “I don’t know, man. Let’s start from the noisiest and get quieter till we’re there.” In other words, shoegaze, indie-rock and emo revival all smashed together into mopey, angsty goodness.
6. “Heavenstay” – Shana Falana. Reverb-drenched, guitar-sculpted dream-pop reminiscent of School of Seven Bells, Ponychase, or other artists who try to engulf people in the sound of dreams.
7. “Open Water” – Lade. Trip-hop and The Verve-style Brit-pop collide in a twilight mix.
1. “Muscle Memory” – Laura and Greg. Do you miss the Weepies? Laura and Greg’s precise, delicate picking and close harmonies are augmented by just the right amount of indie affectation to end up with a totally charming outcome. This is sort of song that sticks in your brain and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait to hear where they go from here.
2. “Promised Myself” – Kylie Odetta. There’s an “towering pop vocals” button in my soul, and it doesn’t get pushed by Adele that often (come on, 25!). Kylie Odetta writes those torchy, piano-led dramatic tunes and backs them up with soulful, belting vocals. (The video is an unusual mashup of the “’80s pop star in empty building” trope and Odetta hanging out in a coffeeshop; welcome to 2015.)
3. “The Secret” – Sam Joole. Joole’s got the old-school piano ballad down, and his tender, gentle vocals sell the tune beautifully.
4. “Memoria No. 1” – The Greatest Hoax. TGH offers up more downtempo ambient, but this time with a more electronic bent. More Album Leaf, less Ólöf Arnalds, all chill and wonderful.
5. “Stormy Grey Eyes” – Knitted Cap Club. Meagan Zahora of KCC pushes the “dusky, cabaret dramatic vocals” button, which is right next to the “towering pop vocals” button. This could have been written in the 1920s, which I feel is a major compliment if you’re going to be in this genre.
6. “Four Sisters Part One” – Lowland Hum. This one’s a duet, but the female vocals are no less arresting for being lead by a tenor vocalist. The intimate harmonies on the phrase “use your voice” couldn’t be more perfect in this acoustic tune.
7. “In the During of a Moment” – The Lowest Pair. This duet is lead by the female alto vocalist, with the man chiming in on harmonies. It’s a stark, hushed recording that seems like it could be happening just behind you; the room reverb warms up the whole performance and fits perfectly with the tune.
8. “Hands and Feet” – Lowlands. Vintage rock’n’roll music has been getting a lot of love recently: the ’50s rock vibes here are cut by modern indie-pop melodies in the chorus. It’s an appealing mix. (And yes, I put Lowland Hum, Lowlands and The Lowest Pair in the same mix because seriously how often does that happen?)
9. “Let It Burn” – Magic Giant. MG’s new single is just as hooky, infectious, and enthusiastic as their previous rave-folk tunes. It doesn’t seem like dance music and folk-pop could come together so perfectly, but that’s why you listen to music, right? It always surprises.
I don’t post a lot of videos, but when I don’t post the few that I find interesting for a long while, I end up with a ton of them. So over the next few days there will be a lot of videos. Even rarer that posting videos is posting lyric vids, but I couldn’t resist these three for various reasons.
Falcon Arrow made a lyric video for “Landing Party.” But wait, you might think, Falcon Arrow is an instrumental band. You’re totally right. The lyrics are from Lisa Loeb’s “Stay.” Draw your own conclusions.
The Weather Machine took honorable mention for album of the year in 2014 with an album that came out in 2013. So it’s with great enthusiasm that I can announce that they’ll have a 2015 album, named Peach. The first peek is a lyric video for “As Long As We Get Along,” which is what I imagine Josh Ritter would sound like with an electric guitar turned all the way up.
Kangaroo Knife Fight’s lyric video for “It’s You” has impressive typography, a sweet color palette, and a mood that fits with the epic-leaning pop-rock song.
Indie-dance legends Matt and Kim have a new song called “GET IT.” This is all you need to know.
Some bands fit easily into categories, and some bands are Wall-Eyed. Kentucky Gentleman is a seven-song, half-hour blast of sound that combines garage rock, folk-punk, a nortena-style horn line, and cabaret pop (that piano intro to “Cold Black Ink”) into one brooding, foreboding experience.
It’s got punk energy, nasally vocals, and a textured approach to songwriting that goes completely against any stereotypes you might figure for the first two elements. Maybe it’s like a less-glam, more-folk version of My Chemical Romance, but I’m stretching here. Wall-Eyed’s well-developed sound is just tough to explain, which sucks if your job is putting that sound in words. It’s great, however, if you’re a listener interested in unique and interesting sounds.
Opener “Wise County” and follow-up “Cold Black Ink” set the darkly manic stage with performances fit for an alternate-universe version of Conor Oberst’s unhinged side. “Exile” flips the script and drops a perky alt-country tune that wouldn’t be out of place next to “Another Traveling Song” on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It even includes whistling! “I Want to Wreck Your Car” later returns to the major key in a ’50s-inspired pop song, but mostly Wall-Eyed wants to purvey tunes of grit and dusk here. And when you’re good at it, more power to you.
“Holy War” amps up the volume of the horn line and uses it as a blaring, stabbing hip-hop-style marching outfit. The whole song is built off the fat, staccato rhythms, giving the tune an inescapable swagger. It’s only 2:12, but you know it’s there for all 132 seconds. “Red Marks” follows it up, and it sounds like a murder ballad (!). The band ties it all together with closer “The Long Folk Revival”: five and a half minutes of booming arrangements, hectic vocals, and ominous vibes. It’s impressive.
Kentucky Gentleman is a release that is far more consistent than my ability to write about it would purport. These songs all hang together in a tight cohort: this is very much an album. Wall-Eyed has a unique sound that they’ve developed to a fine point here, and that pays off for them and the listener. If you’re into adventurous, seedy versions of Americana, you’ll be thrilled to hear Wall-Eyed.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.