1. “I Touch My Face in Hyperspace Oh Yeah” – Devin James Fry. You shouldn’t need my encouragement to listen to a song with a title so enigmatic and intriguing, but if you do, the fiery, wild-eyed psych-folk-rock is just as immediately engaging and mind-expanding as the title.
2. “Cheap Shades” – Chris Staples. Staples tosses off lyrics in this gentle, walking-speed acoustic tune as if they were easy to come by, as if they weren’t complex and unique and deeply thoughtful. This doesn’t sound like the Mountain Goats at all, but fans of John Darnielle will hear the lyrical kinship (even if the music is closer to Sufjan’s Michigan than anything TMG has put out, except maybe Get Lonely). If you’re of the age and vintage that 238’s “Modern Day Prayer” is tattooed on your consciousness, get prepared to have your mind blown: this is that Chris Staples.
3. “Can’t Undo This” – Heather Bond. It’s tough to do a dramatic, introspective ballad without getting formalist or maudlin. Bond balances gravitas and vulnerability to come up with a searing, poignant, piano-driven tune.
4. “Take You Away” – The National Parks. Handclaps, pizzicato violin, punchy horns, and bright-eyed guy/girl vocals buoy this cross between orchestral-folk-pop, party-friendly indie-pop-rock, and even some disco vibes (!). Weighty genre labels aside, this is a cheery, thoughtful tune that does more than bash out chords on a well-trod road.
5. “Ida” – El Tryptophan. Was Pet Sounds an orchestral explosion of the Phil Spector sound? If so, “Ida” could fit in the chronological and sonic space right between ’60s girl-pop arrangements and Brian Wilson’s masterpiece (with some Velvet Underground thrown in for good measure). [Editor’s note: El Tryptophan is now known as Gryphon Rue.]
6. “Pink Lemonade” – Monogold. Sometimes the title is all you need to know.
8. “Kids” – Dara Sisterhen. Somehow manages to blend country, ’50s pop, and folk-pop into one breezy, carefree tune perfect for your next road trip.
9. “The Script” – The Treacherous French. Almost any accordion-laden acoustic tune is going to come off like a sea shanty; the washboard percussion, enthusiastic high-tenor vocal performance, and “whoa-ohs” solidify the notion.
10. “Willingham” – Echo Bloom. Somehow combines the murky sounds of a forest, high-drama noir vocals, indie-rock slinkiness, and ghostly aura. Wildly inventive.
11. “Little Dreamer” – Charlotte & Magon. Delicate electric guitar, gently dramatic vocals, and an overall sense of lazy Saturday mornings.
12. “Gotta Wanna” – Gun Outfit. I turn the key and the engine hums. I turn out of the gas station and back onto an empty Arizona highway, headed back toward California. The insistent drumming underscores my sense of motion, but the vocals and guitar lean back to make sure that everyone knows it’s not all that urgent. We’re gonna hang out and enjoy ourselves when we get there; we’ll enjoy it on the way, too.
13. “Hold Hands for Dry Land” – Oryx and Crake. The gleeful community feel of Funeral was part of what made it so engaging: Oryx and Crake develop that same sort of group vibe in this punchy-yet-thoughtful melodic indie-rock track. Anyone named after a Margaret Atwood novel is asking for your full attention–they reward, both musically and lyrically.
I was having lunch with a friend my age (mid-20s) a few weeks ago. He got a bachelor’s degree in music and now works as the music director at the church I go to. The topic veered toward orchestral music, which my friend lamented as dying. “I go to the symphony, and I’m the youngest person there by 30 years!” he said with frustration. And it’s true; composers aren’t the sexy, rebellious Liszts of old; hipsters don’t flock to traditional classical works. Still, there are people working in the idiom, and I don’t think we’ll sound the last playing of Mozart any time soon.
The Noise Revival’s Nathan Felix is the latest in this movement of young composers working to create full orchestral work, releasing his debut symphony The Curse The Cross & The Lion today. It is indeed a full symphony of almost a half-hour’s length. This isn’t pseudo-soundtrack music, although there are some moments reminiscent of good film scores. No, this is a consistent piece of music that takes full attention and full energy to enjoy. There are nuances. In some ways, I had to listen with a different set of ears than my usual “indie-pop” ones; there are different goals, different textures, different ways of being. There’s a heartbreaking oboe solo that stands out amid “V. Don’t Give It Up,” which is one of the most beautiful and powerful sections in the piece; that’s not going to happen in indie-pop all that often.
I’m not qualified to assess this symphony against other classical music, but I can say that it’s incredibly rewarding to listen to for those who don’t listen to a ton of classical music. If you’re into orchestral music, have an adventurous ear, or just like beautiful things, then The Curse The Cross & The Lion should be on your to-hear list.
I idolized the Beach Boys instead of The Beatles growing up, so Pet Sounds is a monument in my musical development. Even as a teenager, I was able to grasp how incredibly difficult everything was on that album. So it’s fairly ambitious to cover the whole album in an indie-pop/indie-folk idiom, as the bands on Mint 400 Records set out to do. (That’s a direct download link, btw.)
The Duke of Norfolk (whom I manage) kicks off the album with a singer/songwriter-esque take on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” setting the mood for the rest of the album. The One & Nines conform their Motown soul bent into a passionate version of “I’m Waiting for the Day,” while Fairmont’s stand-out rendition of “God Only Knows” is probably very close to what Brian Wilson would have done in the power-pop idiom. A few of the tracks delve heavily into lo-fi arrangements and performances, so fans of that genre have plenty to love as well. It’s free, too! Enjoy Mint 400’s Pet Sounds.
So, while we’re in the spirit of full disclosure from yesterday, here’s another one. Gary Barrett, who is the Gary B of Gary B and the Notions, has written for Independent Clauses even more recently than Nate Williams has. Doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions about his record, but it does mean that they’re not totally sterilized. I mean, no one’s really objective these days. So passe.
Anyway. Gary B and the Notions just released New Twist and Shout, and it’s an incredibly appropriate title. Barrett has a strong affinity for ’50s pop, and he creates his own fractured and twisted version of it on this album. Barrett nicks the big pop swing and a chord progression straight out of 1954 in “Unannounced,” drops some creepy organ and oddly dissonant guitars over it, and turns it loose onto the world. “Jenny” has a bit of a surf-pop vibe to it (although I’m pretty sure Brian Wilson and Co. never accused anyone of being “Motherf****** who want to dance and get out of control”). “Hall and Oates” has a bouncy pop feel to it, similar to the girl-pop of the era (anything-ettes).
If the subverted and repurposed ’50s songwriting doesn’t turn you off, Barrett’s vocals might. Barrett has what can be best described as a Northern drawl; he lets syllables hang a long time, sings odd vocal lines, and generally does whatever he wants. The tone is a bit nasal, but not so much that he doesn’t have low notes. It’s just enough to drive a listener crazy on repeated listens. It’s really unique, but it’s an acquired taste.
The highlights here are “Sally,” “Jenny” and the dark “New York Jet Set Trash,” which was exciting because it was different that the rest. The honky tonk of “Landscapes & Skylines” also stands out, providing a punch of energy toward the end of the album.
If you like the ’50s revisited and don’t mind Gary Barrett’s distinctive, unusual vocals, you will like New Twist and Shout. If either of those things don’t happen for you, it’ll be unlikely that you won’t enjoy this.
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.