It’s somewhat astonishing that it’s almost time for Christmas music already. I almost threw a moratorium at this one (no Christmas music until at least November!), but then I listened to it twelve times in one day. I figured somewhere around the 7th or 8th listen that I was probably socially obligated to tell people about this tune that I was getting so much enjoyment from.
Hailing from my old stomping grounds of Opelika, Alabama, Martha’s Trouble sets off more nostalgia for me than that which strictly comes from their poignant rewrite of “White Christmas.” The easygoing folk arrangement has warm edges that seem to evoke the warmth and glow of a candle sitting in a window at Yuletide. The gentle electric guitar reverbing off the full acoustic strum and delicate banjo creates the comforting, enveloping atmosphere that you want to imagine Christmas will be.
The tune itself is quite different than the original: the new melody has a great deal less theatricality than the traditional. That overt drama is replaced by a subtle intimacy, an easygoing comfort that really sells the tune. The arrangement backs it up: the song begins, lives, and ends at the same speed and volume. It feels like a slice of life, as opposed to a over-produced Christmas tune. What else can you ask for in a Christmas song?
It seems that rock’n’roll and lust are inseparably intertwined (the term “rock’n’roll” was originally a bawdy phrase, for example). With a name like “Suddenly Naked,” it would be easy to imagine that The High Divers‘ roots rock tune was the latest in a long line of seduction tunes. Hold on to your hats: it’s actually the opposite.
Yep, this one is an anti-lust jam: “Trying to resist you / when suddenly you’re naked on the floor / begging me to kiss you / I don’t want you anymore.” Is it a relationship gone sour? Is it an uneven friendship, where the expectations have become widely disparate? Is it something even more complicated? The lyrics before the crux of the tune don’t overdetermine it, which works great in the context of the song’s intriguing sound and structure.
The High Divers’ sound is generally an energetic vintage-inflected indie-pop-rock party, but this tune sees them getting more pensive (as is appropriate to the lyrics). The song builds from mumbly, dejected quietness at the beginning to a high point of sonic outrage midway through and out through a long instrumental section that closes the tune. The walking-speed tune has some vintage guitar moments right at the high point of the song: the guitar strumming snaps to attention in a decidedly old-school way. But it never feels “retro”–it feels like The High Divers have integrated tons of sounds into their own unique brew.
To that end, there’s also some serious soul vibes going on in the vocals of the central section, right in there with St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. But the rest of the tune feeds more on the roots-rock template with some gentle psych keys thrown on top of it: this is a gritty sort of vibe without getting too abrasive in the overall mood. (It helps to keep the keys high in the mix during the long instrumnetal section/outro.) It’s a subtly complex tune–there’s no verse/chorus/verse structure to lead the listener. Instead, the shifting melodies are the only guide. It’s an excellent tune that begs you to play it again.
Shoegaze, psychedelic folk and southern gothic rock are among the many labels given to Thayer Sarrano’s music. When I listen to Sarrano’s latest album Shaky, one phrase comes to mind: hauntingly beautiful. With an array of mystical sounds and an unshakable voice, Thayer Sarrano carves out her unique spot in the music world with her latest LP Shaky.
Born and raised in Georgia, Thayer Sarrano’s southern side subtly shows itself in Shaky. In the song “Crease,” a distinct southern gothic rock sound comes out through both her vocals and instrumentation. There’s a little twang in Sarrano’s voice not noticeable in most of the other tracks off the album. “Crease” opens with what sounds like a Southern-style steel guitar which continues throughout the song. The heavy drums and other ambient sounds also make this track not just an example of her southern influence, but specifically a southern gothic one.
Sarrano’s use of eerie sounds paired with noisy guitars and partially distorted vocals also makes much of her album Shaky a prime example of what is known as shoegazing or shoegaze. “Aim” begins with a heavy electric guitar creating the “wall of sound” characteristic of shoegaze artists. Sarrano then layers her voice on top of the guitar. The best part of the song is Sarrano’s lead into the chorus: with each repetition of “higher,” her voice goes higher as she takes her listeners up to a psychedelic dream land, where ethereal “ooh’s and ah’s” repeat. As the song progresses, drums and other random instruments fill out the sound and add a certain level of spookiness to the song, making you feel slightly uncomfortable in the best way possible.
Sarrano’s album may be titled Shaky, but her voice is utterly unshakable. Some songs like “Aim” downplay her voice, while others serve to highlight Sarrano’s ethereal vocals. “Glimpses” spotlights her voice by having less of a “wall of sound.” In some parts of the song, her voice stands alone with very soft synth in the background. Through hearing her voice loud and clear, I realize that her voice hits low notes in a very sultry manner, just like Lana Del Rey. The more the tracks linger at her voice, the more they ooze with sensuality. Sarrano’s voice is probably my favorite part of the album.
Thayer Sarrano’s sublime voice paired with her eclectic instrumentation move my soul in uncanny ways. Shaky has a mysteriously dark feel, making it not the best album for a party. Instead, if you desire an album to take you away to an entirely new world, then look no further. Thayer Sarrano’s Shaky whisks its listeners away to the land of honest, macabre dreamscapes. You will never want to leave. —Krisann Janowitz
“Diamond in the Rough” – Dr!ve. This weekend I was out at Kibitz Room, and the boogie-down vibe of the red-velvet-lit d!ve bar, where a 99-year-old David Bowie lookalike sat sipping bourbon, could be described with this synth-pop, funk-dr!ven jam. As light as the instrumentation is, there is soul and richness in the brown liquor-warmth of it all.
“Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit. The nine-piece indie band brings it on like a crop top-wearing ‘90s chick with sticky sweet vocals, an attractive string section, and sexy rock qualities.
“Highly Emotional” – Benjamin Verdoes. F**k. This really is strikingly emotional. Longing, pulling, swirling soundscapes paired with echoed vocals that sound like they’re galaxies away, how could it not be?
“Air” – Clas Tuuth. An electronic breeze of hand claps, light, feminine vocals, and a natural easiness of sound.
“Two Bodies” – Flight Facilities (Henri remix). All he needs is five minutes, and all I needed was a half hour to pick myself up off the floor after hearing this gorgeous remake that emphasizes suave European vocals with string, piano, and of course, that tempestuous house beat.
“Heart of Glass” – Korr-A. Had to give a shout out to last weekend’s Los Angeles Mad Decent Block Party with this colorful, pop-trap dance party track. Korr-A is that chick people hated on in high school because she was just so much damn cooler than they were.
“Groove Squared” – Ghost Lover (Steve Hope remix). Powerful piano, blubbering bass, and minimalist vocals bring Barcelona-infused vibes that make me sad to see summer go.
“Chicago Warehouse Party 1995” – Thee Koukouvaya. If this had a video, it would go something like this: Aliens zap you up into a multi-dimensional, techno-laced, time-barren universe and then drop you back down through the atmosphere, tumbling towards Chicago, and crash you through a stained glass warehouse ceiling onto the tranced-out, upward arms of dancing strangers.
“Burred Lens” – Arts & Crafts (WIN WIN remix). Burred Lens brings crispness to the Arts & Crafts original that once gets going, rhymically zigzags down an angel-white powdered vertical. Hint, hint, 2:07.
“Arch” – Rough Year. Bringing a raw realness that only a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love could deliver, trans artist Rough Year texturizes grit, spooky vocal snippets, and demonic percussion for over eleven minutes of an experience as deep and dark as those Philly potholes.
“Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” – Alek Fin. James Blake-esque vocals with severe electronic sensuality it’s not hard to be magnetized to. I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’d imagine the movie should have went something like this…
“Say My Name (Fakear Remix)” – Odesza (feat. Zyra). Fakear’s fresh remake of the Odesza hit is sophisticated, adding a new filter of flyness achieved through twinkling synth, diamond-encrusted vocal bits, and subtly brilliant drops. This is a crisp remix that’s been released in appropriate unison with the autumnal equinox.
1. “Plastic Skateboard” – Brave Baby. It’s rare that a sound comes along that has its own internal logic and consistency. I could namecheck (Fleetwood Mac, Suburbs-era Arcade Fire, mopey mid-’00s electro, etc.), but ultimately their indie rock sound stands on its own. Impressive.
2. “Scar” – The Lonely Wild. Setting up a distinct feeling an inhabiting it is a sure way to hook me, and this rock tune gives us the sound and shape of desperation.
3. “Modern Times” – VSTRS. A killer drummer will always stand out, no matter where he or she lands: this minor-key rock track gets its propulsive energy from the frantic drumming. With the vocals, synths, and loping bass pulling the opposite direction, the drums still push this track onward relentlessly. The tension creates a great tune.
4. “Dear California” – Water District. It’s been almost twenty years since Bush and Incubus were cool (!!), so it’s time for their close-up. This chilled-out track calls up the best of those polished alt-rock slackers.
5. “Young Burns” – Fine, It’s Pink. Like a cave of wonders, this tune starts off with an icy, sparse electro intro before unveiling rooms of soaring, impressive indie-rock sound.
6. “Dirty Deli” – Creature from Dell Pond. An alternate vision of post-punk: jazz-inspired rhythms, dissonant chords, speak-sing vocals, occasional dance-rock dalliances, and a careful use of space. This tune scrambles along to its own idiosyncratic vision.
7. “Going Home” – Stomatopod. It’s a great-sounding old-school punk song. What else do you need?
1. “Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music. Is this indie-rock? Post-rock? Electronica? All of the above? All I know is that this gorgeous track is one of my favorite songs of the year.
2. “Our Little Machine” – Last Good Tooth. The lyrics here sound straightforward till you read them a second time; the dense, melodic sounds here are similarly deceptive, unveiling their details as you listen repeatedly.
3. “The Closing Door” – LVL UP. Balances Weezer-esque guitar-wall crunch with “aw, shucks,” nose-in-a-book indie-pop for a unique, pleasant tension.
4. “Brother in Arms” – Annabelle’s Curse. The smooth easiness of indie-pop meets the complexity of indie rock while the spectre of alt-country hangs over it all. Taking the best of multiple genres and creating something new is a worthy goal, and Annabelle’s Curse knocks it out of the park here with a great tune.
5. “Modern Language” – Postcards from Jeff. Intertwined flute and guitar open this nearly-seven-minute indie-rock title jam from PfJ’s new record. It’s the sort of arrangement that balances delicate sounds with the drum-forward enthusiasm that makes a great live track.
6. “Answered Prayers” – Terribly Yours. This quirky indie-pop tune includes the fattest bass sounds and thickest groove I’ve heard in the genre this side of Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” The song floats along like a tropical breeze on a vacation where you’re really and truly not worrying about going back to work.
7. “New Colors” – Kennan Moving Company. Sometimes you need that blast of horns in your life, no matter if you’re a soul tune or a pop-rock tune (as this one is).
8. “Glory Days” – 1955. The high-drama indie-rock (equal parts early ’00s Hives, early ’00s Elbow, and Cold War Kids) is perfectly tuned to be in one of those adventure-laden Heineken ads (and their spin-offs–what’s up with those Kohler ads?). In other words, it’s the sort of way-too-cool thing you want to score your life’s soundtrack.
9. “Swings & Waterslides” – Viola Beach. Straddling the line between Hot Chelle Rae’s radio-pop-rock and Tokyo Police Club’s left-field take on the same, this tune pushes all the right buttons.
10. “Porch” – Long Beard. All emo-inflected indie-rock bands want to sound effortlessly nostalgic, but few of them hit the mix of guitar tone, vocal reverb, walking-speed energy, and gentle melodicism.
12. “New Vibration” – ALL WALLS. Grumbling guitar distortion and a chiming guitar riff collide with falsetto “oohs” to make a funky/poppy/fun track that would make Prince jealous.
13. “Rock N Roll Disco” – James Soundpost. Do you need a primer in how to write timeless pop-rock music? If so, listen to this tune and learn how to write a no-nonsense guitar line, sing a catchy hook, and rip off a guitar solo. Rad.
1. “Wolf Wife” – Jenny Ritter. I can’t be the first person to mention this, but I’m doing it anyway: we need to get Jenny Ritter and Josh Ritter on tour together. Her evocative modern singer/songwriter tunes push past folk stereotypes into timeless, need-no-terms realms–just like that other Ritter.
2. “Always” – Jake McMullen. McMullen sets the scene with low, slow, poignant guitar; once he’s let you know where we’re going, he reaches out of the speakers and grabs my ears by the lobes with his evocative voice and downhearted vocals. It’s a remarkable tune that has that slowcore X factor which commands my attention.
3. “Wolves” – Guilford. Breaking a ten-year pause, Guilford returns with a beautiful, rolling slowcore track. Some synths mark a slight change in sonic palette, but the apple doesn’t fall too far from the historical tree: you’ll still get pensive, thoughtful tunes with some unusual chords woven in.
4. “In the Garden” – Cicada Rhythm. Lilting, creaky, rootsy, Latin, classic, classical, and altogether immersive, this you-gotta-hear-it track charts its own course. Here’s to more of this.
5. “Summer Night” – Tree Machines. It’s not easy making complexity sound organic and effortless, and Tree Machines pull off that feat via a remarkable indie-pop track with a variety of tricks up its sleeves.
6. “Your Story (feat. Jessie Payo)” – Distant Cousins. There’s still plenty of room in folk-pop for a great melody, earnest vocals, harmonica wails, and woodsy vibes.
7. “Helping” – Nathan Fox. A bluesy, grit-infused voice meets a chipper, whistle-led pop tune about helping each other. I can’t help but smile while hearing this song.
8. “How It Fades” – Daniel Martin Moore. The gentleness of Joshua Radin’s early work and the concreteness of a piano/drums connection buoy this breathtaking update on the early-morning musings of James Taylor.
9. “The Fall” – The Native Sibling. It’s a pillow in audio form, until the female vocals come in and kick the song up several more notches. A dreamier Civil Wars? Please stay together, though.
10. “Calon Lan” – ChessBoxer. There’s something bright and pure about a rustic-minded bluegrass outfit playing a gorgeous traditional air; it gets deep in my bones and pulls the smile (and the nostalgia) out.
I’ve got a lot of singles to catch up on. All these that I’m posting over the next few days have been sent my way over the past two months.
Electro / pop
1. “it was gone” – Orchid Mantis. Somehow combines found sounds, heavily processed vocals, insistent synths and stuttering drums into great clouds of sound. It’s a gem.
2. “Iron & Wood” – Quinn Erwin. Erwin, of the brilliant Afterlife Parade, turns his impeccable songwriting talent toward synth-driven pop-rock. The results are just as dynamic and exciting as his band’s forays into anthemic guitar rock and artsy post-rock. The lyrics, the vocal melodies, and the arrangement just all work together like clockwork.
3. “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” – Summer Heart. The song title and band name are perfect for this tune that balances wiry energy and dreamy vocals to create the soundtrack to a carefree summer afternoon.
4. “Go” – Sunday Lane. Lane isolates the chorus and lets that hook live on its own, letting the rest of the song draw its energy from the perky declaration, “Where we gonna go?”
5. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Sonic texture is something I don’t call out that often, but this electro-pop track has some really nice layering of disparate sounds that give the tune a compelling sonic consistency.
6. “We Are Golden” – Nova Heart. Burbling synths, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass riffs, a buttery smooth mood, and luscious vocals make this mesmerizing electro-rock jam an easy fit for the dancefloor or the rock club.
7. “Broken” – Featurette. The herky-jerky rhythms of this tune rub up against the silky synths to create that juxtaposition that plays so nicely in electro: the jagged smooth, the spiky soft.
8. “Shake It Loose” – Astronauts, etc. If you need any suave, svelte, seductive babymaking music, this tune has my vote.
9. “Beachside” – Heather Larose. This acoustic-pop song makes me want to dance in my computer chair. ‘Nuff said.
10. “Tied Up” – Level and Tyson. Scandinavians have the most eccentric lenses when it comes to pop music: we’ve got Surrounded-style distorted vocals, walking-speed acoustic-vibes, ’90s-esque drum beat and some humming background vocals. The results are unique, to say the least.
11. “Lovers Can Be Monsters” – Roger Harvey. Harvey bears the burden of having a voice and genre similar to Ben Gibbard’s, but it would be a shame to pass up this addictive, oddly tender indie-rock track due to unasked-for similarities. I want to listen to this over and over.
So here’s something new and incredibly rad–Idjut Boys have recently released a record comprised of variations of their past music, spanning years of dub/disco sounds meant for British clubs and ‘80s partiers. The name of the collection is Versions, and it is a modernized showcase of the English dance music legends.
“Ambient Rab” sets us off on an acoustic journey similar to Explosions in the Sky. But its real purpose is in making a smooth transition to “Kenny Dub Headband,” where jazziness in the form of upbeat percussion and piano builds segue into a variation of finger-snappin’ funk. About a third of the way through, a thick, heavy bass section intrudes with a drop that washes the music into a bubbling, piano-driven groove. This bubbling action is heard again on the final track, “Le Wasuk,” where bass lines bead into a frothy dance rhythm.
Idjut Boys take an eleven-minute meditation/intermission of sorts with “Another Bird,” a track meant for campfire listening and transcendental experiences. Stacked with smokey guitar riffs and warped sounds that hum at the outskirts of heavy bass, the layering mastery of Idjut Boys is on fire here.
Vocals eventually emerge on “Going Down,” where a female vocalist repeats the question, “Why you going down to hell for love?” over upbeat, spacey indie electronica. Its club banger potential is unreal.
But the spaciness takes on another form when Jamaican dub elements walk in with a goofy smile on their face for “Lovehunter Dub.” The track’s tropical dub taste has hints of sweltering bongo drum beats; grumbling guitar lines; and gradual, unforeseen sci-fi dankness that–assuming this record has already been licked, filled, folded and sealed–bakes it up and prepares its listener for epic sparkage.
Idjut Boys’ layering of eclectic dub-heavy sound is what gives Versions depth and richness; it’s a honey-soaked baklava of an album.–Rachel Haney
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.