A ton of great singles have come my way in January, so I thought I’d put them all in one big post arranged quiet to loud. Enjoy!
1. “Pacific (Acoustic)” – Indigo Wild. Were you looking for a rolling, intricate, acoustic mountain jam? Like Fleet Foxes if they were less hazy, this will make you long for the pines.
2. “Anna” – Daniel G. Harmann. After graduating his solo project The Trouble Starts up to a full-on rock outfit, Harmann gives old-school fans a few tracks that hearken back to his early, dreamy days. His trembling, soaring voice over spare guitar chords is just wonderful to these ears.
4. “Slow & Easy” – Scott H. Biram. Less gospel and more ominous vibes mark the second Biram single off Nothin’ But Blood. It’s still incredibly engaging, what with the crisp production and Biram’s voice.
5. “Celeste” – Ezra Vine. If you’re of the opinion that you can never have enough hand claps, whoa-ohs, and happy melodies, raise your hand. Then lower that hand and click on this peppy, wonderful tune.
6. “Girl Don’t Fight It” – Phone Home. Optimistic, keys-heavy, proggy indie-rock in the vein of Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, and others. It’s giddy and heavy and intelligent!
7. “Planets” – Little Earthquake. Peppy acoustic-pop + massive MGMT synth melodies = this unique song.
9. “Violent Shooting Stars” – Robot Princess. Mostly RP is a heavy, exuberant, video-game-infused garage-pop band (WEEZER FOREVER!!). This track puts them more in a pensive mood (at least for them) before ratcheting up to some stomping guitars. Get your power-pop on, dudes.
10. “Bird in the Water” – The Trouble Starts. Harmann’s band, throwing down pop-rock a la Snow Patrol. This would be fun to hear live.
11. “Tangle” – Acid Fast. Starts out with a nostalgic, emo-esque half-time section, then blasts off into a punk rock second half. The melodies bounce off those basement walls with almost more cymbals and passion than you can handle.
My three favorite types of music are absurdly happy (Anamanaguchi), extremely sad (Damien Jurado), and cerebral (The Mountain Goats). Pan combines absurdly happy and cerebral in their post-rock, and it’s just a wonder to behold. Their new EP Meta Major! is exactly as optimistic as that title would suggest, and that’s excellent.
The five-piece instrumental band (the usual suspects and a violin) recorded this 15-minute EP live, so the four tracks feel more like movements of the same song than individual songs on their own. That’s also excellent; the live recording lends a pounding energy to the tracks, and the individual movements ensure that they didn’t go nuts trying to record a 15-minute tune in one flawless take. As it stands, the recording is pretty impressive: the guitars soar majestically, the rhythm section provides strong counterpoint, and the violin caps it all off as the link between melody and rhythm. It’s overall a very impressive achievement: fans of Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, should start at the beginning and listen all the way through (with special attention paid to “Miracle Mile”).
RCRDS‘ Summer Aches EP is also a 15-minute experience that flows together as one track. Where Pan goes for the exuberant, RCRDS goes for the cerebral: their mash-up of indie-rock, trip-hop, and a dark form of chillwave ends up being akin to artsy, instrumental hip-hop. The songs are composed primarily of live bass, washed-out vocals, effects-heavy guitars, and non-intrusive beats that work together to give the recording a distinct feel. It’s not obviously sad (like singer/songwriter fare can be), but it carries a sense of the forlorn in it. It’s a gripping moment when “Release” strips down to thrumming bass line, staccato beat, and pitchshifted vocals at the end of the song; that striking bass work continues throughout the release. As I mentioned, the whole album feels like one cohesive work, which is a strong quality to have in work like this. Recommended for those into Clams Casino, Balam Acab, et al.
Smash cut to the next scene: Gifts or Creatures plays thoughtful alt-country that draws heavily on traditions that emphasize songwriting over virtuoso performances. It’s not a bad comparison to say that Yesteryear Western Darkness sounds like a Wilco-ized version of The Civil Wars, although that’s selling their talents short in the service of quick reference.
“Relicts & Ghosts” and “Gospel of Glaciers” spin two sides of the same tapestry: the former sets the core motion of the dual vocals and thoughtful lyrics in a walking-pace alt-country idiom, while the latter slows things down with a Wurlitzer and weeping pedal steel. The Low Anthem blows out the ends of their sound way more, but the impulse to cover a wide range of sounds without leaving alt-country altogether is similar in the two bands. Highlight “Blind Pigs” features memorable melodies, a dreamy mood, and protest lyrics; “American Pockets” couches similar discomfort with the state of things in a comfortable alt-country tune. Gifts or Creatures aren’t into riffs or attitude-filled ragers, but they sure know how to write a song that cuts to the bone. Fans of bands as disparate as Over the Rhine, Wilco, Damien Jurado, and The Lesser Birds of Paradise would do well to check out Gifts or Creatures’ Yesteryear Western Darkness.
My love affair with enthusiastic, optimistic, instrumental punk/prog/post-rock (which I’ve been calling o-prog) began when I heard The Programme in 2005. The band’s lone album is still one of my favorites. So when Fang Island came along and blew the cover off the genre in the public’s eye, I was ecstatic. A wave of bands came to light who were (and had been) doing similar things under the cover of no one caring. And So I Watch You From Afar, All Tiny Creatures, Adebisi Shank and more have all come up on my radar since FI blew up. And now, Mental Architects is in that space as well.
Mental Architects‘ appropriately titled album Celebrations skews more toward the guitar acrobatics of Adebisi Shank than the punked-out work of ASIWYFA and Fang Island. But the band also puts more oomph behind the sound in terms of volume and distortion than All Tiny Creatures’ minimalist, sparkling constructions. “Launch the Avalanche” has a straightforward rock base before they add a layer of mysterious guitar; “Here is Where, Where Better” pairs a herky-jerky post-punk riff with the unusual rhythms and time signatures of post-rock. They can throw down when they want to, and no one would complain that it’s not rock. But they also love polyrhythms (“When Sound Turns Into a Person He Becomes One of Us,” oh wow) and tension-building (“Caves of Keys”). There’s a lot going on in this release. Side note: the humorously titled “Meth-rock” seriously sounds like the frantic sort of music I’d expect to hear in a Megaman video game.
As I was listening to these incredible tunes, the idea of the cover song came up in my mind. In pop music, it’s relatively simple to play someone else’s song: you learn the chords, put a spin on it of your own, and off you go. But with Celebrations, covering would be more along the lines of classical music: you’d have to really try to play this. And that’s a great thing. I love to hear a band making technical, interesting, challenging work for themselves that ends up being a ton of fun for listeners. It makes Celebrations a great listen, because even though I couldn’t often tell what was going to come next, I knew it was going to be delightful. And that’s the best type of release.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.