1. “Nu Erotic Ghost” – Stray Echo. Swinging sweetly high, then dipping into pools of sticky low, “Nu Erotic Ghost” is a bedroom track bound to set your Valentine’s night aflame in the most soulful way possible.
2. “Say A Prayer For Me” – RÜFÜS DU SOL. This reminds me of a track that would be played during a Bora Bora beach DJ set in Ibiza. With easygoing, chill-step soundscapes and relaxing vocals that simultaneously pump euphoria into the air, “Say A Prayer For Me” has positive vibes riding in each note.
3. “Perfect Ten” – NEWTIMERS. A minimal, seductive R&B/pop combo brought to you by a sizzling Swedish duo. With purposeful percussion and smooth vocals that take their time, NEWTIMERS spaces out each lovely element in this track so that listeners can appreciate every. single. detail.
4. “Midnight” – Lane 8. The next time you’re driving and feel the need to enter a trance of melody, calm, and pure spellbound stupification, pick this ambient electronic jam as your soundtrack. Hit play just as you’re rounding the corner and have a view of mountains, the ocean, or any vastness.
5. “Modern World” – Future Elevators. Whirling, trippy instrumentation and hollow vocals echoing fantasies of living in a modern world, this sexy track is distant, beautiful, at times sad, but mostly sounds like it was recorded in another galaxy.
6. “Needs ft. Andrew Ashong” – Submotion Orchestra. I always appreciate a song that is comfortable with its pacing and “Needs” is just that; it blossoms as you listen, from meditative guitar lines and stunning electronica into jazzy, festive piano and horn sections.
7. “Burn” – James Supercave. Walking a sharp line of psych pop and unmistakable groove, James Supercave has meticulously picked the ripest fruit from each genre, with Passion Pit-esque vocals, Cake funkiness, and a clean, light buzz.
8. “Harmony” – Joe Wells. Combining dizzying, 120-proof dancefloor rhythm with anise-flavored synth, “Harmony” is absinthe in song form.
10. “Run Like Hell” – Alex Bent + the Emptiness. Too spaced out to be a mash-up, but daring enough to combine Wu-Tang and Nine Inch Nails in a single track, “Run Like Hell” is dark, different, and captivating.
11. “Ratnapur” – At The Psychedelic Circus. “Ratnapur” sounds like the background music at an ayahuasca brewing ceremony.
12. “14” – Kilmanjaro. “14” flashes, shines, and sparkles like an astral lighthouse on a dark waterfront, if the lighthouse beamed streams of cobalt, lime-green, and purple; a lightshow on the ocean.
13. “Rayon” – Letherette. Crisp, chilled, classic house track that will hopefully be lobby music come 2020.
14. “Phone” – Tom Low. Fresh and bright, “Phone” merges modern-day electronic with vocals that sound like the Beatles are making an appearance on this Liverpool native’s title cut.
15. “Reminder” – Moderat. From Moderat’s upcoming EP Reminder, this title track is known to cause lucid dreaming, mysterious fires, sudden time lapses, and severe goosebumps. Proceed with caution.
16. “Maquinaria del Tiempo” – Whitney Winston. Labeled as LatinTronic, this track is experimental, ambient, and has enough Spanish vocals that “Maquinaria del Tiempo” is an example of how electronic can be manipulated and formed to meet any culture’s profile.
17. “Matadora” – Sofi Tukker. Tukker pushes the boundaries of electronic like she’s the Hierophant of the whole genre, slipping us tracks of pure mystic gold and letting her wise artistry show the world how magical electronic can be. Now that I know “LatinTronic” is a thing, we need that label slapped all over this hot, steaming, brimming-with-life track.
18. “New” – Fontine. “New” moves like thick sludge, wrapping itself around your waistline and steering you to dance. It is intense and heavy, an unstoppable dance pop force you’re hypnotized to give into. —Rachel Haney
Lee Reit‘s self-titled record is largely played on a nylon-stringed guitar. In addition to adding a gentle sonic quality to the tunes, those strings import Spanish and Latin American connotations to the nine songs included here. When Reit’s evocative vocal tone and narrative vocal delivery are added in, the result is an engrossing, calming album full of intriguing tunes.
Opener “Dream Another Night” gives a good look at Reit’s guitar playing and his suave, subtly dramatic baritone vocal tone. The rolling fingerpicking is underscored by an insistent, shuffling, brushed drumbeat that would fit in a country tune; the constant press forward creates a tension against the guitar line and Reit’s easygoing vocal delivery. That tension holds even when Caitlin Marie Bell takes the mic for a verse; it’s a pleasant sort of push and pull that engages me in the tune.
There are Spanish vibes in “Dream Another Night,” both sonic and visual. The sonic ones aren’t as pronounced as they are in later songs, but the choice of all-white clothes for the band in the video gives the clip a light, airy feel that makes me think of relaxing languidly in a Spanish vineyard. (We’re honored to premiere the video above today!) “The Pleasure of the Fall” has a dusky Spanish nightclub vibe–not Ibiza, but 1920s literary expat Spanish nightclub. (The distant trumpet and sighing strings reinforce the initial thought.) “Visions of Eternity” amps up this style by incorporating Dylan-esque, cryptic, religious/political/social commentary and ratcheting up the minor-key drama. “Thanks for the Lessons” calls back to that Spanish vineyard, while also pointing toward Parachutes-era Coldplay work.
Most of the tunes on the record benefit from the control Reit has of his voice. “The Pleasure of the Fall” allows him to accentuate different points of the narrative by modifying the register and tone of his voice, from light and high to low and serious. It sounds like a simple transaction, but it’s not: there’s a significant, mysterious gravitas that he’s able to conjure up with the vocal shifts. He’s also great at delivering phrases and words, filling particular ones with meaning just by inflecting them in a certain way (“Thanks for the Lessons” and “Grace Alone” in particular, although it’s evident everywhere).
It’s not all Latin American vibes–“Grace Alone” is folky, even with hints of blues and gospel vibes. The fast-paced, keys-laden “Here, As in Heaven” has a speak/sing, Lou Reed/CAKE thing going on, which presents a very different angle on Reit’s songwriting. But in general, this is a walking-speed, unhurried album. “Wheel Within a Wheel” and “Shangri La,” the chronological center of the record, are flowing, relaxed tunes that make me want to go on a low-stress beach vacation–they’re indicative of the overall response I have to the record.
Lee Reit’s self-titled record is one that can be appreciated for its beauty immediately and for its subtlety over multiple listens. Like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (although in a very different milieu), Reit has developed his voice to be a fine-tuned instrument for delivering melodies and lyrics that stick in my head and keep me coming back. You could cover a Lee Reit song, but you wouldn’t sing it the way that he does. That’s a distinctive mark. If you’re into slowcore acoustic (Mark Kozelek, Songs: Ohia, Mojave 3) or thoughtful acoustic work (Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, Jason Isbell), you’ll enjoy Lee Reit’s work.
I’m always listening to music. I listen to so much music that I have two strands of listening going at any one time–the stuff I’m reviewing and the stuff I’m listening to for fun. It’s been this way since I was in high school: I once spent six months listening to nothing but CAKE in my spare time. (It’s a good thing I have two arms of this project.) In short, my love for CAKE is deep and abiding. If you’ve read this blog recently, you know that my love for alt-country is just as deep (although categorically not as abiding, as it hasn’t been around for a decade yet.) So if there’s a band that combines CAKE and alt-country, it’s a sure bet that I’m going to be all over that.
Embleton‘s It Did Me Well does just that, including a re-contextualized cover* of “Sad Songs and Waltzes” amid a set of tight, lush, upbeat alt-country songs reminiscent of Dawes and Ryan Adams. The nine songs here form a cohesive whole that shows refined songwriting and arranging skills on the part of bandleader Kevin Embleton.
The opening quartet of tunes says a lot about the record: Opener and title track “It Did Me Well” introduces a crunchy electric guitar riff before settling down into an easy-going acoustic strum. That pattern is soon filled out by wavering pedal steel, distant drums, and Embleton’s impassioned high baritone/low tenor voice. It’s a walking-speed jam that instrumentally reminds me of the Jayhawks and vocally calls up comparisons to the controlled drama of Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith. “You’re Not Ready” introduces a harmonica to the mix, taking a lighter tack than the electrified previous tune. Embleton goes for the pop melody in the chorus, showing off some chops there.
The third track is that CAKE cover. Sonically, it’s not that much different than the original, but it’s pulled from its ironic context (CAKE is not an alt-country band) and placed into an earnest one. Surrounded by other country tunes, it takes on a poignant air that was hard to find in the midst of the irony-laced original. It’s a very clever move on Embleton’s part. The fourth track is lead single “Leaving for Good” (IC premiered it), which slots the pedal steel in the lead spot and creates a gentle tune around that keening, mournful sound. The drums still give the song pep and punch, but the emotional qualities of the lyrics and vocals come front and center. It shows off a different angle of the Embleton sound.
The rest of the album continues to develop the balance between crunchy riffs (“Punches”) and gentle arrangements (“Her Name Was Grace”) while displaying an emotional quality through the vocal lines and the melodies (“Only Begun,” “Mountain Time”). Fans of harder edges on their alt-country (Drive-by Truckers, et al) might find that not to their liking, but fans of Dawes’ ruminations on life and love will love it. If you’re into the past or present Laurel Canyon sound, you’ll be all up in this. It Did Me Well drops March 10–you can pre-order it at Embleton’s site.
*Post-publication, I was informed that “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is originally a Willie Nelson tune, which means that Embleton re-re-contextualized it. As I only knew about the CAKE version when I wrote the review, I’m leaving the text the same. Sorry, Willie. Sorry, Trigger.
We’re getting to the point in history where long band names like Day Laborers & Petty Intellectuals are necessary. Instead of shrugging and repeating the “what’s in a name” platitude, it’s worth taking note of DLPI’s moniker. The indie/country/folk band puts great thought into its complex, verbose lyrics on this self-titled album; the Bright Eyes-esque profusion of religious musings in “The Beginning” echoes both Oberst’s memorable turns of phrase and penchant for ratcheting up to a frenzied delivery.
The highly structured chaos of Bright Eyes’ “Road to Joy” is a good RIYL for DLPI in musical as well as lyrical qualities. Every part of the sound is recorded with precision and clarity, moving in the opposite direction from Iron & Wine’s hazy folk sounds. Opener “What’s the Meaning of This Magic?” includes galloping drums, dramatic trumpet, sweeping violin, and vocals somewhere between the self-assured delivery of Cake and the apocalyptic fervor of Modest Mouse. The whole thing fits inside an ominous alt-country frame. It’s a vastly intriguing opening salvo, for sure.
“Irene, Goodnight” is a similarly dark but less overtly country tune; “What the Hell Happened?” is bouncy enough in the bass and acoustic guitars to be considered poppy. (If you’re into 4H Royalty’s work, you’ll be into this track.) But the core of the album is “The Beginning,” which uses all of the tools that DLPI puts forth to their best effect. Start there, for sure. This isn’t singalong folk-pop, yet it’s very involving.
Day Laborers and Petty Intellectuals’ self-titled album is quite impressive. The recording is immaculate, the songwriting is impeccable, the lyrics are strong, and the moods are enveloping. What else are you waiting for? Go get this one.
Bel Argosy aptly labels itself as pop-rock-punk; the three words (and their various mashups: punk rock, pop-rock, pop-punk) are all mixed up in most “electric guitars and sung vocals” music these days. The six songs on Let’s Hear It For Bel Argosy incorporate mid-tempo guitar crunch, pretty straight rhythms, and varied vocals.
“Belle Below Dagger” has some laconic, ’90s-style, speak-sing vocals not all that different from Cake; “Late to Give Up” has more high-pitched, hectic, traditionally punk-rock-styled vocals. “The Lie,” which only takes 1:43 of your time, still doesn’t do it in a very speedy way; mid-tempo guitar music ratchets up to noisy punk-rock banging and then quits quickly. The overall feeling is one of easy enjoyment; the band is having fun, and you should be too. Yes, if you’re a fan of fun and friendly bits of pop-rock-punk like Superchunk, The Weakerthans, or other bands in that vein, you’ll find much to enjoy in Let’s Hear It for Bel Argosy.
There’s already a genre called post-rock, but I think that’s not thinking big enough about the term. Post-rock implies an ideology shift, a movement past whatever “rock” meant. While the genre that includes Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Tortoise, and Mogwai definitely was one of the earliest adapters of the “after rock” mindset, their cinematic music should not be allowed to lay claim to the whole of the term.
I hope we get to a day where every band is “post-rock,” and no band subscribes to the hollow myths of “rock” as they were once sold to us. The part of the rock mythos that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the big rock move: the idea that a big guitar riff is its own explanation. (Think of “Immigrant Song” or “Thunderstruck” for the best examples of this, or any hair metal song for average to poor examples of this idea.)
The antithesis of the big rock move is thoughtful consideration of how riffs work together with other things as part of songwriting, not necessarily to rock less, but to mean things. In a sense, thoughtful consideration of riffs may even cause them to rock more, because “meaning something” often produces a more real emotional connection with listeners than a big rock move and thereby heightens the pleasure of experiencing the riff.
Here are three bands that are thinking about how riffs combine with other things to make meaning, even though none of the three would be in the “post-rock” genre. (There are also a whole boatload of sociological ideas associated with the “rock star” that I’m thrilled to see go the way of the buffalo, but they are for another day.)
Autumn Owls‘ Between Buildings, Toward the Sea is a spiritual descendant of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Radiohead’s masterpiece subverted big riff rock by making the monster guitar licks serve the moods they wanted (mindless and frantic in “Paranoid Android,” grating and brittle in “Electioneering”), and Autumn Owls do the same thing. The angular, slightly dissonant guitarwork in opener “Semaphores” fluctuates between nervous uncertainty and frightened certainty, situating the listener right in the middle of Autumn Owls’ ideas. Autumn Owls’ instrumentals and vocals have a symbiotic relationship, with the oft-deadpan vocalist coming off like Cake frontman John McCrea fronting an apocalyptic art band instead of sardonic pop one.
The music, vocals and lyrics can’t be separated: the album is full of frightened surprise (see the lyrics and heavy guitar entrance in “Unconvinced”), malaise (note the gently rolling sounds and “ignore the tension” line in standout “Kiss the Wine”), and ominous confusion (the spiky, tense “Quarantine”). When they let the guitars go, they do so for a reason; when the drums rattle, there’s a reason for that. They don’t do things simply because that’s what rock does; they’ve put thought into every last bit of this album.
Between Buildings, Toward the Sea is an incredibly constructed record, full of intricate patterns and delicate touches. Whether it’s a guitar glitching (and there’s a lot of that), a voice being modified, or deceptively pretty melodies being eerily contrasted (“The Arched Pines”), Autumn Owls know what they’re doing. This is easily one of the best albums of the year.
I was searching for this application of the term post-rock when I reviewed both of Ithica‘s previous releases. Ithica creates beautiful tunes that float amorphously between genres: industrial beats, pretty synths, and deeply emotional vocal melodies create an unnameable amalgam. It results in beautiful, haunting music with real depth. St. Anselm’s Choir comes together flawlessly, as incisive lyrics are delivered by a vocalist with astonishing control of emotive tone and inflection over a brilliant soup of vocal samples, synthesizers, and drums. The songs are set up to have impact similar to rock songs, as “riffs” come in and then leave, giving way to verses and choruses. But the sounds that compose these structures are atypical, giving the tunes the unique quality of feeling altogether new and intimately familiar at the same time. I can’t speak highly enough about these six songs. Rare is the fully-realized vision that crosses my desk, but St. Anselm’s Choir is that unusual EP.
On first glance, The Foreign Resort‘s Scattered and Buried might seem an odd place to talk about the post-rock ethos: distorted bass and dark guitars abound. On the other hand, their sound is a Joy Division-esque new wave/post-punk one; both genres have a history of sticking it to the man.
But the thing that pointed out their diffidence toward the big rock move was how closely tied the vocal tone was to the timbre of the instruments. When the arrangement surges, so do the vocals; when the vocals tremble in uncertainty during “Lost My Way (2012),” so do the instruments. The frantic tempo and tough bass rhythms of “Buried” are mimicked by the vocals–or is it the opposite? That inability to determine which element is the most important is what makes this distinctly post-rock to me; the vocals aren’t serving the guitars, and the guitars aren’t serving the vocals. The song is all, and each of the elements contributes to that. This creates a wildly enjoyable set of tunes, from the fragile beauty of “Rocky Mountains” to the club-friendly synths of “Tide.” The remixes make the release even better. Highly recommended.
I’m driving approximately 1000 miles today, and I will almost certainly be rocking “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles” by the Proclaimers at least twice during that trip.
Some other road trip faves that will almost certainly spin:
1. Undercard by The Extra Lens, which I just picked up at Lawrence, KS’ Love Garden Records.
2. Graceland by Paul Simon, which I bought about a year ago at Oklahoma City’s Guestroom Records.
3. Letting Go of a Dream by Josh Caress, which is high on the list for my favorite album ever.
4. Rockin’ the Suburbs by Ben Folds, because I can sing every word.
5. Prolonging the Magic by Cake, because my brother’s girlfriend reminded me of much I love them earlier today.
Here’s to safe travels for everyone returning from their holiday travels over the next few days!
I love pop music. I proudly claim the All-American Rejects as fellow Oklahomans, I get down to We the Kings and Boys Like Girls, Snow Patrol are my boys, Gavin Degraw is the man, etc. etc. But it’s really, really hard to do well. That’s why bands appear for one good song, then disappear (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Anyone? Eh?). You have to be a genius songwriter or have an outside angle to hook people if you’re going to be in the pop/rock genre.
The Bright Light Motion is a band of good musicians. They write competent tunes that would fit in well on radio. But they don’t have an outside hook (Snow Patrol’s accent, peculiar instruments a la Cake or Yellowcard, theatrical songwriting twists a la Panic! at the Disco, dance beats a la everyone on the radio right now) to set them apart. Their four-song EP For All the Right Reasons passes pleasantly but not impactfully. The best moment comes in the end of “Wither,” where they drop out the guitars and bring in the choir of chanting hipsters, which segues into a neat whoa-o section with a cool synthesizer. They’re tried and true pop tricks, and BLM uses them to good effect. If it ain’t broke…
“Oceans Away” is a mid-tempo headbobber that shows off the vocals but doesn’t push any boundaries. “Love Wakes the Dead” starts off with a nice little riff and a vaguely danceable drum beat, but it crashes back into chord-mashing mode for the chorus and kills whatever momentum the band had built up creatively. The song serves as a sign that The Bright Light Motion has some songwriting chops waiting to be released; they just didn’t get into this EP.
There is not a thing wrong with The Bright Light Motion. The vocals are good, the recording is tight, the songs have melodies to hum, and there’s more than enough charm to go around. But it just doesn’t add up to anything out of the ordinary. And that’s the hardest curse to break.
Good Man by Audio-OK is a great idea that needs more work. The wiry art-punk that Audio-OK plays is filled out not with yelling or singing, but with CAKE-esque speak-singing. It’s like listening to a slowed-down, mellowed-out version of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, but with the guy from “The Distance” doing vocals instead of the freaked out howl of Kele Okereke. It is an incredibly interesting idea that I can’t wait to hear more of.
The problem is that while the band has figured out what they want to do, they haven’t clicked yet. The drummer, who was recruited very late in the songwriting process, doesn’t ever really gel with the band. He keeps fine rhythm, but he hasn’t picked up on the tight-knit unity of the bass, guitar and vocals yet. Tightly crafted songs like “Bad News” need to have a much tighter drum part than they currently do; that will come with age and experience, as the band grows into a cohesive whole.
Nevertheless, the creepy “The Good Man” works perfectly. The drums fit perfectly into the dark, rhythmic song, as dual speak-sung vocals create spoken harmony over some furious guitar and bass work. But it’s still the drums fitting in right as opposed to contributing. The same is true with closer “Higher,” although the heavier nature of the song allows for the drums to thrash a bit more and fit in that way. Power isn’t necessarily a substitute for complex and clear, but it certainly can be a nice stopgap for a while. “Higher” is the loudest track here, and it’s not one of the more unique ones, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Audio-OK has a great, unique sound that they can build on. They need to keep growing and writing material together, but they have the elements to make a really tight, unique album in the future. Right now, Good Man is the sound of a band in progress. There are some great tracks, but there are also tracks where greatness peeks around the corner, then hides again. Lots and lots of promise in this band.
The Jonbear Fourtet employs a rarely-used lineup: guitar, vocals, drums, trumpet. If this were a pop-rock band, we’d have Cake. But the trumpet is about all that connect Jonbear and John McCrea. Jonbear and his lads are a jazz band playing pop ditties. If I had a smoking jacket and a pipe, I’d probably slap the vinyl of Melt That Cold on my turntable and discuss weighty topics with my New Yorker-reading friends.
That is, except for the fact that the jazz occasionally turns into jubilation. The party-hearty mood that the Fourtet occasionally channels is fun beyond reason, and totally doesn’t fit with the bearded, philosophical stereotype that is called up on first take.
Now, this isn’t big band, swing-style jazz; you’ve already been told that there are only four dudes in the fourtet (Ben Folds, take notice). The jazz comes from the guitar, whose strum patterns and style are very specific to jazz; the jazz drumming; and the trumpet’s bright tone. The pop comes from the clearly pop-minded song structures and the hummable melodies in the vocals.
The Fourtet pulls off the mashup of jazz and pop very deftly, never getting too cerebral or too sugar-coated. This is doubly impressive when considering the lyrics, which are made up of cute images (the first three song titles are “Peaches and Puppies,” “Bumble Bee,” and “Mr. Spring”). It takes talent to take a serious medium and inject life (and irony) into it effectively.
And that’s exactly what they do for most of this album. Standout “Bumble Bee” uses the trumpet to great effect as the main melody-maker. This is a standard operating procedure for the Fourtet, as the guitar often carries the rhythm and structure of the song, but the trumpet’s presence is especially noted here. This a faster track, one of the more jubilant ones, and it’s a foot-tapper and a sing-along. There are crooners, like the sultry “Mr. Spring” and the dreamy closer “Snow Ice Cream,” where the vocals take front and center with their breathy, intriguing tone.
The only detractor on Melt That Cold is that with only three instruments (and maybe a second guitar here and there), the album starts to feel repetitive in the middle. The mood shifts and tempo changes help, but there needs to be a little more variety; the Fourtet needs to get some extra cameo instrumentalists on their next album to create a full experience.
For those of you who like something different, this should be the next thing to satiate your desire. It’s definitely without compare in my mind. I’m sure there’s someone out there doing stuff like this, but not many. An admirable and enjoyable effort by the The Jonbear Fourtet.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.