Slim Loris hails from Stockholm, Sweden, but you’d never be able to tell based on their sound. They play folky Americana with Shins-esque indie-pop leanings, which should perk up the ears of any longtime reader of this blog. The best example is “Clean as a Whistle,” which blends a tambourine, banjo/acoustic guitar strum, and a Paul Simon-esque flute for an incredibly satisfying verse. The chorus kicks it up a notch, adding in a tom drum, a french horn, and perky background vocals that you will want to shout along with. It’s the sort of the song that makes me sit up and take notice.
But they’re not a one-trick pony: opener “Fear of Flying” is a jubilant indie-pop tune composed of hectic percussion, bouncy organ, steady guitar strum … and timpani. It sounds effortless, just like “Clean as a Whistle.” If you want even more than that, “I Will Forget” and “While I Breathe” are quiet tunes driven by slow, stately piano. In “Domestic,” a gorgeous female alto voice is introduced as a counterpoint to the male tenor vocals. The charm of Slim Loris is that all of these sounds cohabit Future Echoes and Past Replays without sounding disjointed or erratic. The band inhabits all of their sounds, making them sound natural.
The overall effect of Future Echoes is an impressive one: it can easily stand up beside other indie-pop albums from much more well-known bands. Not every track is a home run, but there are a ton of high-quality tracks. If you’re a fan of thoughtful indie-pop with lively arrangements but also a pensive side, I highly recommend checking out Slim Loris.
Way Yes‘ Tog Pebbles is the sort of thing that comes along, blows my mind, and leaves me wondering what to write about. Tog Pebbles‘s unique sound blends tribal rhythms, shimmering guitars, horns, and impressionistic vocals to create a unique sound. It’s like a more grounded Animal Collective; instead of having a mystical quality that AC has, Way Yes has a concrete feel. It’s as if I am walking through a jungle, matter-of-factly, instead of with wide-eyed wonder. Maybe I’m sneaking a few glances of wide-eyed wonder every now and then, but mostly, you know, this is a thing that happens. It’s beautiful and excellent, but it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary (at least to the members of Way Yes). To us, of course, it’s kind of mindblowing, which is why I’m breaking from my usual reviewing methods and going all Pitchfork on this review. EXTENDED METAPHORS EVERYWHERE.
I could tell you about the individual songs, but the album is so tightly written and organized that I feel it would be largely useless. Furthermore, the band doesn’t have to get away from their core sound very often (because their core sound is so unique): if I described each of the songs, it would largely be the same descriptors. But the melodies are excellent, the moods are exquisite, and the songs are wonderful. If you’re into unique sounds but hate the phrase “world music,” then Way Yes has an album that will make you jump. Totally awesome.
Relient K, who I have unabashedly and unapologetically loved since the year 2003, are back with a new song. “Lost Boy” is a charming tune that lyrically sounds like “Must Have Done Something Right” v2 and musically sounds more chipper than they’ve been in a long, long time. And there’s whistling. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT.
Koji‘s Crooked In My Mind is a strong full-band singer/songwriter album that reminds me musically of The Mountain Goats’ last few albums. (In case you’re new here, that’s high praise.) The opener “Chasing a Ghost” is the best of the tracks on the record, as it pairs a charging acoustic guitar line with a wry-yet-earnest vocal delivery. The energy comes from a pop-punk affiliation (Koji is on punk label Run For Cover Records), and in summer, that’s what I want. Mr. Darnielle’s pensive existential ruminations are for the fall. Check out Crooked in My Mind if you enjoy beautiful, swooning strings in your acoustic indie-rock.
Is Copeland enough of a legend that I can use them as a touchstone referent for other bands, three years after they’ve broken up? I hope so, because that’s the band that I thought of when I was listening to these two EPs.
The Knitted Cap Club‘s three-song The Antidote EP is surprising for several reasons. The first two tracks of the EP are reworked versions of tracks from previous album The Weeping Tree, which I praised as a “stately” and “structured” record. TKCC loosens up some of the formality on the new versions of “Eight Thirteen” and “Tarot Cards and Tea Leaves,” allowing for more flowing, emotive takes on the tunes. The latter really shines, as the airy, gentle energy of the track calls up those Copeland references.
The title track expands on TKCC’s previous sound by adding piano and electric guitar into the mix. The drums give a loose sway to the song, and that mood stands in stark contrast to the very structured rhythms and tones of The Weeping Tree. Meagan Zahora’s vocals retain their classy quality while allowing a little more spontaneity and passion into her measured delivery. I think the new approach works wonderfully, and I look forward to hearing more songs in this vein from the band.
The Seldon Plan’s That Time You Dreamed [EP] is quite appropriately titled, as it calls to mind the way that Copeland could wring rock songs out of hazy, dreamy guitarwork. The songs clamor and clang, but never lose sight of that warm melodic core. From the meandering title track to the heavily rhythmic “Setting the Scene” and perky closer “Revelation 1.0,” the tracks are consistently welcoming. The Seldon Plan has a firm grasp on what they’re trying to accomplish in these nine minutes, and they succeed at those goals. If you’re a fan of dreamy indie-rock circa 2003, you should head on over to The Seldon Plan’s Bandcamp.
Mike Dillon Band features a guitarist/bassist, a drummer, a trombonist, and Mike Dillon on percussion and vocals. They play an unclassifiable mix of punk, ska, hip-hop, jazz, rock and more. I don’t want to waste any more words trying to explain it:
Lightning Dust’s video for “Diamond” is the epitome of a video style that I really like: a meaningful clip that doesn’t get too obsessed with cinematic perfection and instead portrays the song well. Just watch:
Metaform’s post-dubstep minimalist electronica is really cool sounding. The video for “In My Mind (I Will Wait)” features the producer in a trashed, abandoned building, which fits in an odd sort of way.
Volcano Choir, one of the quickly-becoming-innumerable projects that include Justin Vernon, is back. Check the trailer for the Repave, which includes vocals from Justin Vernon that sound way more earnest than his falsetto-heavy Bon Iver work. The album drops September 3.
One of the most arresting pitches I’ve heard in a long while was from the songwriter of Filbert, who announced in his e-mail that “My only hope is to run out of free downloads on our Bandcamp!” Well, Daniel Gutierrez, I hope that I can help you meet that goal. Chronographic is a high-quality album that deserves all that and more.
I introduced Filbert to a group of my friends under the tag “Modest Mouse + Jeffrey Lewis + backpack rap + Bon Iver = Filbert,” and I’m standing by that assessment for this review. The core of Filbert’s sound is a dreary acoustic strum not all that different than Bon Iver’s cabin output, but the sound takes a hard left with what’s layered on top of it. Gutierrez has a humble, mumbly voice very similar to the vastly underrated Jeffrey Lewis, but he uses it to announce earnest musings on the often-ignored, normal bits of life (a la backpack rap) instead of Lewis’ surreal scenes. The final identifier (Modest Mouse) comes along in the arrangements, which skew toward the meandering and wandering–similar to the quieter moments of Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
It’s an absolutely glorious, riveting amalgam. Gutierrez and co. hold attention not through electrifying riffs or overtly clever turns of phrase, but through intricate, intimate tunes. Gutierrez includes several long clips of children talking to him and playing music as intros and outros, which give the whole album a distinctly “bedroom project of thoughtful, loving dad in his spare time” air. With folk’s recent self-importance in the era of Mumford and Sons saying big and important things to big and important audiences, it’s quite refreshing to hear an album that’s not targeted at the masses, but the Mrs. This one isn’t a world-conquering statement or important announcement, which paradoxically makes it both of those things. It’s not like slacker chic, where we’re celebrating largely unceremonious things; instead, it’s those guys who kept doing what they loved finally getting their due.
Songs like “Headphones” and “Breath” show that there are indeed some musical chops at play beyond the humble lyrics. The former builds to a desperate, striking conclusion via a slow but persistent crescendo; the latter creates a tune off a memorable guitar line and a surprisingly complex percussive section (complete with essential tambourine). “Breath” ties that commendable arrangement to a perfectly matched lyric set about weariness: “My legs won’t let me get out of the shower / … I just want to let the water hit me for a little while longer.” Yo, if we haven’t all been there, right?
There’s only seven songs in the unassuming Chronographic, and those small aims are part of the charm. It’s a mesmerizing, enveloping release that draws its power from the fact that it’s not trying to be a rock star move. This is not an indictment of the band’s effort: the arrangements are great (check the inventive “Race Cars and Chocolate”), performances are spot-on, and the production quality is immaculate. It’s just that the unpretentious, non-ironic vibe of the tracks really shines. Here’s to all those who do their thing without fuss or concern for what others think. Here’s to celebrating that. Here’s to Chronographic, which is definitely on my short list for end of year lists.
- Trip to Las Vegas OR Orlando (airfare and 2-night hotel stay)
- Gift card for a free men or women’s haircut at any Bird’s Barbershop locations (Austin, TX)
- Children’s Drum Kit from Austin Bazaar
- Your choice of vodka or rum from an Austin distillery (21+)
- Gift card to Austin’s Pizza
- 4 hours of Remote Technical Support ($180 value) for PC/Mac business or residential from QuickStart Business Services
When I first heard Graceland by Paul Simon, I was originally very confused. I wondered, “This is the same guy who wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘The Boxer’?” But I got used to amalgam of unusual musical stylings with Simon’s confident vocal melodies and insightful commentary on middle age. Peter Galperin‘s A Disposable Life had me thinking the same thoughts: “Bossa nova lounge music? About cell phones?” But after some adjustment to the sound, I’ve come to appreciate its uniqueness. It’s certainly not for everyone, but Galperin brings a fresh perspective to the table.
A Disposable Life consists of eight songs that wrap tightly around the theme of consumerism in American life. While the lyrics can occasionally feel jarringly specific in their references, the overall scope of the tunes is prescient and interesting. (It’s not all doom and gloom, either, which is nice.) It’s a solid group of lyrics, which is a something one should expect from an album that so clearly screams “this is a pop album”–albeit a weird one.
The songs don’t hide their lyrical content: the songs are shaped around Galperin’s vocal delivery. This is where Galperin’s idiosyncratic approach works for and against him: in true lounge style, the vocals have a casual, even smaltzy air to the delivery. This is honest to the style and also a continuation of the lyrical themes: the is-it-painfully-earnest-or-mocking veneer of the delivery fits perfectly with consumerism’s conflicted premises. This tension shown most effectively in “There’s No Future” and the title track, which are protest songs (of a sort) that poke at the problems we could cause for Earth with our consumerism in a totally straight face. The cognitive dissonance of the lyrics with the cheery bossa nova sounds forces me to think about the tunes and what they mean. That’s a win.
The music, like I noted earlier, is pretty standard lounge and bossa nova: lots of sprightly pianos, gently strummed acoustic guitar chords, and rim-clicking percussion. It’s not a very common sound for indie-pop singer/songwriters to pick up, which makes it interesting on that front. In addition to the protest songs (which skew more “serious” in their musical construction), there are some genuinely fun songs. “Bubblewrap” is an ode to the plastic poppable that sounds the most like Graceland, with a vaguely African beat and perky instrumentation. “(No One’s) Better Off Dead” punches the cheese button in aping chill ’50s and ’60s pop, even opening the track with a cascading harp. It’s a goofy track, but it’s hard to not smile knowingly. Irony is still kind of fun, you know?
A Disposable Life is a quirky, weird, interesting album. It’s not for everyone, because there are few who are going to immediately think oh snap I’ve been waiting for somewhat ironic bossa nova protest songs. But if you’ve got an adventurous listening habit, Peter Galperin is doing some fascinating work. I’d suggest checking it out.
David Ramirez is very quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters. It’s not just his engrossing baritone voice or powerful melodies, nor is it solely his intimate production. Those are all reasons that David Ramirez is at the top of his game. The reason he’s beating out others and being at the top of the game is his willingness to take on unusual topics with a refreshing candor. The five songs of The Rooster feature touching love ballads, a breakup song, and some outlaw country remorse, but highlight “The Forgiven” talks about the struggles of being an artist in a new light.
Among his fingerpicked notes, Ramirez announces,
“They love me for be honest/they love me for being myself/but the minute I mention Jesus/they want me to go hell/And it’s hard to find the a balance/when I don’t believe in one./When you mix art with business/you’re just shooting an empty gun.”
I’d quote the rest of the song for you, because it’s beautiful, passionate, and poignant, but you should just listen for yourself. As a Christian who works primarily not in Christian arenas, this song resonated deeply with me. It is heartening to hear Ramirez struggle with the whole of himself as part of his songwriting, and that struggle is worth my highest stamp of approval.
It’s not all deep thoughts about the role of the songwriter: “Fire of Time” is a gorgeous song about the redemption that people can help each other find, while “Glory” is just a beautiful love song. Each of these are treated in the stark, riveting style I mentioned up top. In short, The Rooster is high on the list for best EP of the year, because there’s nothing here that isn’t in top form. If you like the singer/songwriter genre and haven’t heard of David Ramirez yet, you need to fix that immediately.
There’s two ways to get on my good side: put a new spin on an old genre or make that old genre work perfectly. The Naked Sun have taken the latter approach to alt-country, pulling together all the old tropes of the genre and making them sing on the four-song Space, Place and Time EP. The usual suspects are here: acoustic guitar, organ, pedal steel (or its electric guitar approximation), and earnest tenor vocals with a bit of raw timbre. The thing to celebrate in The Naked Sun is its arrangement of these tried and true parts, creating memorable moments and melodies out of a deep genre knowledge.
“Debbie Deist” is a country waltz like I would expect to find in an old-time saloon: howling vocals over jaunty piano, a simple drumbeat, and multipart harmonies. When the emotive guitar solo kicked in, I was totally sold. That’s not virtuouso egoism, that’s heart and soul, my friends.
The gentle “Cosmic Winds” calls up comparisons to modern folkies, while the guitar hook of “Fatigue” pulls the song in a bit more artsy direction than traditional alt-country. Still, it feels comfortable within the EP and the genre, like old hands pushing the boundaries a little before settling back into the know-’em-by-heart verses. “Rough Diamond” closes out the set with a flowing, contemplative piece. It’s a strong four-song set, and one that fans of alt-country will find themselves drawn to. No flash, no frills, just strong, strong songwriting.
Winter in Alabama consists of 45 degrees and raining. Spring in Alabama consists of 65 degrees and raining. I think it’s understandable that it took far longer than usual for me to break out of my wintry folk cocoon and get back to rocking. But with Minneapolis trio Citroën around, there’s no way to not love rock. The four-song Anachronaut shows off the impressive songwriting skills of this bass-heavy outfit.
Opener “Shifting Sands” harnesses an impressive Queens of the Stone Age-type bass riff to power a wiry, propulsive groove that QOTSA so often misses these days. “Shore” amps up the groove elements of their sound, letting the bass lines drive the song; “Terminal Bliss” strips out almost everything but the bass and some minimal percussion to create an ominous, unforgettable tune. As a bass player, it’s incredibly fun to hear the low end being treated as an equal player in the sound. It gives the tunes a unique vibe that works in their favor: even if no one pointed out that the bass has an unusually important role, you’d be able to tell that something was different in this sound.
Citroën doesn’t view rock as a vehicle for electric guitar antics, but as an expression of three people all working together to create a unified sound. As obvious as that seems, it’s a rare take on the genre that deserves praise. I look forward to what they put out next.
The striking rhythms and herky-jerky guitar work of “Ghost Strokes on the Bell” hooked me on PBD‘s When Everyone Is Getting Wise. The band describes themselves as prog, but it sounds to me like Joan of Arc’s post-punk freakouts, math-rock, and post-Vampire Weekend indie rock. The duo relies heavily on drums as the foundation for the spazzy riffs, but bass guitar also plays a grounding role in keeping the sound from floating away in esoteric guitar noodling.
Male vocals provide the element that brings the whole thing together. They are occasionally melodic and beautiful (“Turn Over Your Hand”), but most often used as a rhythmic instrument that ties the divergent parts together. I like the vocals most of the time: can something that I can’t sing along with be called catchy? Or maybe just “enigmatically mentally repeatable”?
The short length of the songs (All under 4:06, most under 3:00) also helps. The bite-sized tunes still have an incredible amount going on: PBD is more interested in abrupt song shifts than smooth transitions, allowing each second to be content instead of segue. This makes for completely unpredictable song structures; add that to the unpredictable riffs, and you’ve got a unique listening experience. PBD’s When Everyone Is Getting Wise is a fascinating indie-rock album that will be thrilling for adventurous listeners.
Stephen Carradini writes far too many words about music you may or may not have heard of. Sometimes he takes pictures of aforementioned bands.