The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.
1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.
2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.
3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.
4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.
5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.
6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.
7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.
8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.
9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.
10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.
11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.
New Lungs‘ Lanterns is an incredible release that ties together the best parts of post-rock, serious indie-rock and optimism. I know it seems like these things would not mesh conceptually, but New Lungs does a bang-up job combining them.
Look no further than “Concrete” for your example, where a tom-heavy rhythm anchors a speedy, rhythmically complex guitar/bass fusion. The surprisingly bright guitar and bass tone drop out without warning and give way to an a cappella chorale. Just out of nowhere, you know? Because that’s what we do here. Just about the time you get used to it, they blast off into a punk-inspired section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Deep Elm post-punk circa ’05 release. To signal the second verse, they throw in an 8-bit video game noise low in the mix. Not obvious, but totally there. Are you guys reading my mind or something? In short, “Concrete” is almost certainly going to be on my “top songs of the year,” even if it was released three days before 2013 started.
The rest of the five-song release, while not as mind-blowing as “Concrete,” has much to praise. “A Wallflower (The Price of Being)” uses a math-rock-inspired riff as the lead on the track, but wraps it in a warm, friendly guitar tone. It’s dizzying in its execution, and it’s not as sterilized as some technical math rock can become. (This same sort of incredible guitar work appears in the spunky “Euro.”) The bass and drums follow the guitar around, snaking through time changes and mood changes at the guitar’s whim. It all works beautifully. The vocalist is also throwing down the best vocal line outside of “Concrete” while this is all going on. Yes. This band knows what is up when it comes to songwriting.
Steven Hyden suggests in his piece on Muse that we’re headed for “a future where all music sounds like everything at once.” If mind-bending music like New Lungs’ is the result of having all genres accessible to us at all times, I’m all for it. I could use a few more shiver-inducing moments like “Concrete”‘s unexpected chorale in my music-listening life.
Speaking of “all genres at once,” Swedish spazz-rockers Cyan Marble have dropped a new EP. Maya is almost twenty minutes of frenetic, whiplash-inducing rock spread out over three tunes. Comparisons to the Mars Volta will abound, both for the sky-high vocals and the penchant for pairing absurdly technical sections of math-rock with melodic ideas yanked from every imaginable permutation of rock music. Still, with MV gone, it’s good to see someone carrying on that spazz-rock torch.
If there’s a breakout star of the EP, it’s bassist André Hayrapetian, whose intimidating chops are put front and center in “Purple Testament.” Instead of providing incredible work in the background as he did in previous EP Mirror, Hayrapetian carries the whole 7-minute tune with his rhythmic, melodic riffing. Now that Cyan Marble has established itself with two solid EPs of extremely intriguing rock, I’m interested to see where the muse takes them next. They’ve got the ambition and the chops to create some really incredible things, so we could be in for an impressive ride with Cyan Marble.
The Parmesans were one of my favorite discoveries in 2012, which makes me thrilled to hear a new batch of their quirky, Californian bluegrass tunes so quickly. The Smell of Silence is a worthy successor, delivering both a light atmosphere and serious musicianship. If the five-song EP’s title didn’t tip you off, the moniker of “Heinous Pit of Death” and the wolf howls in “Delirious Dream” should alert you: this isn’t self-serious revivalism. They are serious musicians, however, showing off their vocal and instrumental chops in melodic and interesting ways (“Spicy Cigarette,” “See For Yourself”). Their vocal harmonies are especially top-notch in the beautiful “Walls for the Wind,” a setting of a traditional Irish blessing. The Parmesans’ uncluttered, earnest approach fits the sentiments perfectly, resulting in a perfect closer for the EP. The Smell of Silence is a joy to hear.
Radio-friendly pop-punk has so dominated the high-tenor vocal range that it’s a tough fight to make that style vocals sound good in any other genre. But The Sun and the Sea make it work excellently in the indie-pop-rock of Vega. TSAS’s sound is much closer to the spacious, moody pop of Mae’s Destination: Beautiful, a personal favorite. There are crunchy electric guitars, tasteful electronic inclusions and soaring vocal melodies, but a more ambiguous, mature mood is the focus here. “Waves” and “One by One” employ towering crescendoes, while “Valiant” and “We Deal in Illusions” strike a more contemplative tone to get their message across. Some may hear this merely as pop-punk, but I think it’s got too much nuance to be lumped pejoratively in that category. If you’re interested in the work of indie-pop-rock like John K. Samson, I think you’ll like Vega very much.
I heard that The Mars Volta broke up the other day, and I had a moment of silence for the loss of a spazzy, idiosyncratic band willing to follow its own vision. Cyan Marble has a better plan to celebrate TMV’s disappearance than silence: a three-song EP that follows in Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s very large footsteps. Mirror EP has everything you could want: crazy breakdowns, astonishing bass work, drastic mood changes, wild juxtapositions, even sky-high male vocals. Cyan Marble has its chops on display, but it also shows that it can write a compelling tune: “Monoceros” strikes a solid rhythmic and melodic groove and is easily identifiable as its own tune. The parenthetical after Mirror EP is (Demo), so this is only the beginning for this math/post/whatever-rock band, and I’d say they’re very worth keeping tabs on.
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.