Cadence Kid‘s “Hold on Me” is a rare gem: it’s a summery tune with memorable instrumentation, breezy vibe, and a video that actually represents the mood of the clip. The indie-pop of “Hold on Me” falls somewhere between the easygoing flow of Vacationer and the slightly-more staccato pop of Generationals. Bass, tambourine, and vocals interlock neatly, as in a Generationals tune; the disparate parts come together to create a full piece. The satisfying, rattling kit drumming holds all the pieces together into a slinky mood, just as a Vacationer tune might. The overall effect is effortlessly sunny, a slice of summer carved right off the ocean breeze.
What’s even more remarkable about “Hold on Me” is that the video captures this mood. Jason Turbin and Ryan Houchin take the oft-used video clip montage idea and spin it to perfection: the clip weaves in shots of skateboarding, rollerskating, parkour, cliff jumping, gleeful dancing, hiking, and more. It’s basically a compendium of why summer is great, mostly shot in a warm, slightly fuzzy way that evokes the experience of good memories. It’s a wonderful video that perfectly complements the sound of the tune, which is a rarity. I almost never say this for video, but here it is: highly recommended.
1. “Hopeful” – Bear Mountain. A little bit of Passion Pit, a little bit of Vampire Weekend, a little M83, and you’ve got one of the best dance-pop songs I’ve heard all year.
2. “Entomologist” – Luxxe. Shades of Jason Isbell’s evocative voice creep in here, placed in the context of a perky-yet-mature pop-rock tune. It all comes off with impressive cohesion.
3. “Buoy” – The Band and the Beat. If you wished that Mates of State used analog synths all the time, you’ll be way into TBxB’s gentle, warm, female-fronted synth-pop. The tune just wraps itself around my brain and comforts it.
4. “Understand” – Photoreal. It seems wrong to describe this pop-rock tune as “muscly,” but it feels like a streamlined, beefed-up version of Generationals’ catchy indie-pop work.
5. “Au Naturel” – Holy ’57. The frenetic blitz of a major-key sugar rush will never get old. This tune has everything I’m looking for in a pop tune.
6. “Lodestar” – Starlight Girls. The disco vibes are impeccably done and the vocals are tight, but–for my money–this song is 100% about that bass work. It’s melodic, funky, tight, and just plain irresistible. A knock-out.
7. “Storm” – Bright Whistles. Sometimes I’m concerned that I’ve abused the term “quirky,” because something always seems to come along that was quirkier than the last. Suffice it to say, “Storm” by Bright Whistles is like what The Flaming Lips could have been if they kept on the Yoshimi path, or what all genres of indie-rock sound like in a giant blender, or (stay with me on this one) what an OK GO music video would sound like if the video itself were transformed into audio that reflected the clever, enthusiastic, enigmatic visuals. In other words, it’s pretty rad.
8. “Summertime” – The High Divers. Bands are always making odes to that sunniest of seasons, but this one really nails it: a touch of Vampire Weekend, a splash of Hamilton Leithauser’s vocal gymnastics, and a whole lot of good-old-pop-music. Dare you to not smile.
9. “Two Weeks” – HIGH UP. File this powerhouse tune under “Muscle Shoals Soul/Funk,” right there next to Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
10. “Burning Candles” – Disaster Lover. It’s like I walked into a room where Disaster Lover’s vision was already fully employed: not so many songs capture and modify the aural space that they’re deployed in. The whirling/somewhat chaotic percussion and synths that are woven together to create this here/there/everywhere piece of work are wild and yet inviting.
11. “We All Decided No” – S.M. Wolf. This is, at its core, a pop-rock song. It is a very weird, arch, theatrical, blown-out take on the theme, but it’s in there. This is basically what I imagine we’re trying to capture with the idea of indie-pop: pop songs that just aren’t radio material in this universe, but only because it’s an unjust universe.
Billy Shaddox‘s I Melt, I Howl contains sounds as fresh-faced as a Generationals pop song, as gently quirky as a Backyard Tire Fire jam, and as easily evocative as an Iron & Wine tune. To put it another way: Shaddox’s work lives in space created by drawing a triangle with points at good-natured AM radio rock, unpretentious folk, and earnest indie pop. His songwriting prowess shows through not in complexity, but in making simplicity sound just the way I want it to sound.
It all starts with Shaddox’s effortless tenor voice, which is often so at home it seems like he opens his mouth and notes just tumble out. They land in a comfy bed of leaves: from road-friendly, ’70s folk-rock vibes of the title track opener to the gently grooving rock of “Golden Coast” to the resplendent melodic acoustic guitar work of “Who You Were,” the arrangements here can’t be ignored. “Who You Were” in particular points out the fusion between his comforting voice and unassuming arrangements, as he takes an old chord progression and presses it into service of a nostalgic, yearning tune. With his voice, gentle keys, and some color electric guitar chiming off in the distance, old pieces feel fresh and bright again.
It’s that sense of brightness that most marks I Melt, I Howl. Even on the more downtempo songs, Shaddox makes sure that there’s light coming in around the edges. It gets its street cred not from being edgy or heavily imperiled in turmoil, but by employing traditional pop songcraft in an impressive way. This has elements of tons of American songwriting genres, as I’ve mentioned already–but it’s not a grab bag. The overall mood ties these songs together into an elegant collection. If you’re looking for the soundtrack to a charming summer trip, or a tender summer romance, you need to look into Billy Shaddox’s I Melt, I Howl (stream). It will stick with you.
1. “Parking Lot Palms” – iji. This tune is a breath of fresh air: a gentle, lightly reverbed road song that fits quietly and warmly into your life. Is it the arrangement? The melody? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes me calmer and happier.
2. “California Song” – Patrick James. James might be from Australia, but he’s got his finger of the pulse of the breezy West Coast. This acoustic-led pop-rock song throws back to the ’70s and ’80s, calling up not just longing for the coast but nostalgia for the past. Doesn’t get much more sentimental than that.
3. “Comeback” – Cherokee Red. Recipe for a great beach song: Mash a surf-pop backline together with smooth, welcoming vocals and burbling melodic elements. Totally chill.
4. “Street Lights” – Mon Sai. A swift piano and cymbal-heavy drum kit create a helter-skelter pop vibe that gives way to a Pet Sounds-esque chorus: in other words, it’s a great pop song.
5. “Mind Your Manors” – The Bandicoots. Perky, summery, head-bobbin’ indie-pop-rock a la Generationals.
6. “Bracelets” – Mini Dresses. Basically a female-fronted, slow-jam version of a Generationals pop song: loping bass line, vintage guitar reverb, tabourine shake here and there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have another, waiter.
7. “Park It” – Karina Denike. Give me that ’50s girl pop (complete with honking saxes), then amp up the attitude in the lead female vocals, and you’ll be near Denike’s creation here.
8. “You Don’t Know Me” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Everybody needs a shoot-for-the-stars, acoustic-led epic anthem, the type that Arcade Fire don’t make anymore.
9. “Right Talk” – French Cassettes. The ability to emerge from a dense section of noise into a perky, clear melody is a skill that will always be in season, from Paul Simon to The Strokes to Vampire Weekend and the Vaccines. French Cassettes put their skills to good use on this bright, confident guitar-pop track.
10. “A Single Case Study” – Palávér. Some of the most infectious guitarwork I’ve heard in an indie-rock song recently is paired up with low, swooning vocals.t’s kind of like an alternate-future Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
11. “Wasted Youth” – Friday Night Trend. If you never stopped loving Jimmy Eat World, this track will satiate all your aggressively jangly rock needs. It’s got punk elements throughout it, but there’s no avoiding the Jimmy connection.
12. “Easy” – Readership. Some power-pop is head-down, bash-it-out-and-let’s-go-home rock. Readership is the opposite: wide-open, staring-at-the-clouds style. Big guitar chords, in-your-face vocals, and an overall upbeat atmosphere.
7. “Worth Your While” – Wonderful Humans. Somewhere, Vangelis is rejoicing that his style is alive and well. Vintage ’80s synth-pop matched up with modern indie vocal lines and melodies. Awesome.
8. “Jack and the Giant” – A Love Like Pi. You know that lovely feeling when you’re about to drift off to sleep in the arms of someone you love, and all seems right in the world even if just for a moment? This is what that sounds like.
8. “Safety” – Jasia. Starts out as not much: spare clicks and pops meeting some keening falsetto. But Jasia molds, shapes, and crafts the parts into a booming, M83-like track by the end. Whoa.
9. “Wyn” – Ashan. Do you need eight minutes of ethereal ahs over clicky chillwave-inspired electro? Of course you do. I can see myself both chilling out to this and getting my dance on in a real hip club.
So our Kickstarter is going splendidly, as we’re 84% funded after less than 48 hours of being open. The rapid success thrills and humbles me, as this little project (and by extension, I) have been the recipient of much generosity over the last two days.
But even with golden days about us, there’s still work to be done! Here’s a large mix of solid singles that have floated my way recently.
4: Laura Stephenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. There’s not a single bad tune on this album, you can sing along to almost all of them, and they pull off the “multiple genres but overarching mood” thing perfectly.
3: Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. Their cute pop turned into churning folk-rock overnight, and the effect is hair-raising and goosebump-inducing. There were few moments as dramatic as the full-band entry in “Song for You” this year; Faint Not was the only album that made me write the sentence “I forget to breathe.”
2: The Collection – The Collection EP. The melodies and instrumentation seem effortlessly perfect on this folk album. David Wimbish’s lyrics and deft and quick, delivered in a vastly adaptable voice that seals the deal. “Stones” is just a wonder.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
Each genre has embedded strengths that double as weaknesses. The best bands in a genre will deal will those issues, either by subversion, exaggeration or infusion of other genres.
Oh Look Out has solved the fundamental problem/feature of video game-inspired music (playful, but not emotional) by meshing it with current guitar-based pop-rock (emotional, not playful). The result is the fascinating, fantastic Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright.
Alright‘s approximately 25 minutes leaves more of an impact than albums much longer because it knows what it can and can’t do. No riff is beaten into oblivion, no chorus sung repetitively, no song lasting longer than you wish it would. This is economical songwriting, as one might expect from a songwriter — who goes only by JP — so influenced by electronics (Can we tolerate slow, overstuffed computers?).
The one-two punch is “Analogatron” and “Bass, Not an 8-Track.” The most complete of the songs here, they have distinct vocal melodies, memorable vocal performances, meaningful rock sections, quirky video-game contributions, and deliberate song flow.
“Analogatron” can be appreciated by structuralists and pop-lovers alike. It builds like a standard rock song, opening with bass and vocals before bursting into acrobatic distorted guitar lines. The song adds evocative synths, then ratchets it up to a big conclusion. On the other hand, both the vocals and the guitars are catchy as anything, hinging on the line “When I’m dead, I’ll play cassettes!” Heck yes you will.
“Bass, Not an 8-track” is even better. It’s a fist-pumping, clapping, stomping anthem of a rock song. I got shivers when, at the climax of the song, JP hollers “TAKE! TAKE ME BACK! BASS! not an 8-TRACK!” over a stomping guitar line and synth majesty. This is pretty much all I could ask of a rock song.
But it’s not all herky-jerky pop-rock. The stark “Short Waves” and “Implode Alright” bring to mind keys-laden bedroom pop experiments of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Daniel Johnston and more — but in a much less frustrating, self-indulgent demeanor and tone than much bedroom pop. They’re delicate, emotional, hummable and able to be put on a mixtape for a girl. This is pretty much all I ask of a pop song.
Also, the persistent, perky keyboards of “Kam” are absolutely legit.
Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright is on my shortlist for best pop-rock album of the year, right up there with Generationals’ Actor-Caster and Laura Stevenson and the Cans’ Sit Resist. Its emotional and playful elements balance perfectly, giving me songs that I can feel good about but also feel something in while singing/yelling along. Seriously, what else do you want? Free? Oh, well, it’s that too.
Just like IC puts out its year-end best-of list in February, my half-year best-of doesn’t hit until August. This list includes the music I covered while at the Oklahoma Gazette.
If you would like to see this list visually, I’ve created an Independent Clauses Pinterest page that also includes the best artwork that’s crossed IC’s path in 2011 and a list of best books about pop music.
16. Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox. ’80s dance-pop revivalism that captures both the playful nonchalance and wistful romanticism of the first disposable music era.