When I’m not listening to stark folk, I love layered, textured, heavily-arranged music in any genre. But Summer Hours prove that there is still a place in my soul for a three-piece guitar-pop band. The 11 songs of Closer Still feature female lead vocals, guitar, bass, drums, occasional background vocals, and only rarely organ. Instead of layering the instruments, Summer Hours deliver a study in songwriting skill and the importance of guitar tone. With so few elements influencing the sound, the choice of guitar tone has a huge impact on how the songs end up. Guitarist Mike Bliss goes for a warm, friendly tone, creating an environment throughout the album that invokes the titles of the album and band perfectly.
From beginning to end, the album thrills in its chill, comforting way. From the walking-speed croon of “Brilliant Things” to the breezy bounce of “These Nights,” the album never falters. Rachel Dannefer’s vocals are unpretentious but not sloppy, showing that it’s possible to be earnest without resorting to garage rock tropes, contentious stances or total twee-ness. The music is beautiful in a wide-eyed wonder sort of way, but there’s just enough toughness in the sound to keep it from being cloying. “Organ Song” is the perfect example: Dannefer’s voice and an organ lock into unusual rhythms, giving an alternate hook to something that could have been an indulgent tune built on quirky, clever lyrics about imaginary boyfriends. Instead, it becomes a highlight of the album, displaying Dannefer’s melodic poise and lyrical skill in a memorable context. I foresee this ending up on my end-of-year lists, and would highly recommend it for anyone interested in chill guitar-pop/indie-pop.
With some trepidation, I’ve been getting into artsy electronica recently. I’ve loved The Postal Service since late ’03, but that felt like it was firmly ensconced in the indie-rock world because of Ben Gibbard’s connection to the project. Artists like Odesza and now The Suicide of Western Culture have much less connection to my stomping grounds. But I like their music nonetheless! Hope Only Brings Pain by TSOWC will catch the ear of any indie-rock fan with its almost absurdly hooky, upbeat instrumental electronica.
With such a downer album title, you’d expect this to be mopey, but it’s actually jubilant throughout most of the release. Opener “Remembering Better Times” frames a hyperactive, wiry synth line in a sweeping pad synth backdrop, effectively evoking the title. Single “Love Your Friends, Hate Politicians” is a straight-up party, with a stuttering intro and cascading melody line leading into a thumping tune that will get stuck in your head. “Spanish Republican Soldiers in French Retirement Homes” is a bit more pensive, but still retains an optimistic bent to the song. (This Spanish duo is champs at the whole “happy songs with sad titles” gambit.) The album’s overall enthusiasm and lack of instrumental diversity might grate on the non-initiated electronica listener, but fans of the genre will appreciate their experiments in unusual sounds and chord structures (“Two Lights at the Bottom of a Ravine,” “Oranienburger”). Very worth your time, even if it ends up not being your thing.