1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?
2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.
3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.
4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?
5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.
6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.
7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.
8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.
9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).
10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale. Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.
11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.
12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.
13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.
14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.
1. “Marina and I” – The Gorgeous Chans. The syncopated guitars, perky horns, and enthusiastic attack of this track took all of 1 second to steal my Vampire Weekend-loving heart.
2. “The Fringe” – Sego. If you miss James Murphy slurring into a microphone over rubbery bass and insistent dance grooves, Sego is LCD Soundsystem’s musical, lyrical, and spiritual successor. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.
3. “Even Fireworks” – Pushing Static. This electro-pop/dance-rock fiesta makes me want to crank the volume knob way up.
4. “Island” – Hey Anna. If Braids drank a Red Bull and went to a beach party, they might come up with this fragile-yet-peppy indie-rock track.
5. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. Their previous work is chaotic, fractured, ecstatic, and mind-bending; this track sands down some of the eccentric flair and reveals the ecstatic rock band at their core. (The fact that their beating heart sounds like Prince is perfect.) Everybody clap your hands.
6. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs. The sort of melodies that I’d expect from a emo-focused band fused in to a huge punk-rock/pop-punk/power-pop stomper. It just works perfectly.
7. “Sleep Talk” – Diet Cig. The idiosyncratic indie-pop quirkiness of the Juno soundtrack + confessional pop-punk + female vocals + intimate lyrics = excellent track.
8. “Island Kids” – Holy ’57. Sometimes a chorus just works so perfectly that it feels like I’ve know it forever. The perky tropical indie-pop builds through the verse to a speak-sung chorus that just knocks it out of the park. Re: your summer parties.
9. “’82” – Death in the Afternoon. This electronic cut is a lot more breathy, chill, and smooth than I thought death would be.
10. “Good” – Ehmandah. This, right here, is a modern day (some might even say musically progressive) gospel tune. Get in on this infectious, irresistible vibe. Everybody clap your hands.
11. “Sugar Dream” – Valley Shine. The band’s press photos capture them lying on a bed of brightly-colored candy and showered with an absurd amount of confetti. These are excellent visual representations of their Beatles-on-a-sugar-high sound.
12. “Reach Out” – The Bone Chimes. The arrangement of this orchestral-folk-rock tune is clean, bright, and carefully organized: the band builds anticipation from the first reverbed guitar note to a big conclusion.
13. “Sensual People” – Lylas. If hypnotic groove is one of the things you seek in an indie-rock tune, Lylas’ dense textures, ostinato rhythms, and slowly-unfolding song development will catch your ear.
14, “Up of Stairs” – James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg. Watching two talented athletes go against each other can excite, but only rarely does that interaction produce beauty. It’s much more likely when two talented musicians play off each other, which is the basic premise of this track: two incredibly talented acoustic guitar players push each other and come up with relaxing, impressive acoustic gold.
15. “Repeat” – Sye Elaine Spence. An unconventional acoustic strumming pattern and a strong focus on Spence’s enveloping voice create an immersive, unique experience.
Falcon Arrow‘s Tower is a soaring, powerful, instrumental, drum-and-bass post-rock duo that ranks as one of the best of the year. Now don’t get tricked into thinking this is drone or anything. This album is one of the most acrobatic post-rock albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. Bassist Matt Reints modulates his bass playing several octaves out of normal bass range, making tunes that have heavy, grooving bass foundations and incredible treble-end melodies. It’s astonishing what Reints can wring out of one four-string bass. (The press photo has him playing a four-string. For real. As a bassist, I can’t even believe that this is possible with essentially the same instrument I have.)
Reints is not just a fantastic technician armed with modulating pedals and loopers; he’s a brilliant melodist. And since he’s a bass player, he knows how to use the low-end not just to support the treble, but to interlock with it to create sums bigger than the parts. Finally, since he’s a bass player, there aren’t chords anywhere on this album: everything is done through cascading single-note runs and super-sludgy single note crushers for some grounding. In short, Matt Reints has taken on the job of being the guitarist and the bassist in one of the more complex post-rock bands I’ve ever heard. I have no idea how he remembers everything. I really don’t. Also Dav Kemp plays drums. (Sorry Dav. Bassist geeking out over here.)
You can pick any of the 11 songs on this roughly 40-minute album and have your mind blown, but my two favorites are “Aldebaran Serpent” and “Cantina Empire,” which form the 13-minute heart of the record. (They’re really into sci-fi; JUST ONE MORE THING TO LOVE.) “Aldebaran Serpent” starts off with some crushing, distorted bass, punchy snare hits, and some syncopated bass drum patterns. After inoculating you into the groove, Reints starts tossing off heavily-reverbed runs of high treble notes, creating a gorgeously full sound. Then he modulates up another octave and starts playing even faster, essentially turning his bass into a synthesizer. If your mind’s not blown, I don’t know what will do that for you. “Cantina Empire” leans more heavily on Reints’ traditional instrumental chops, using a swift, clean bass guitar line as the foundation. Kemp supports neatly with some punctuated, staccato drumming. They eventually do drop in a distorted low-end and a reverb-heavy top line; the riff at 1:30 is one of my favorite on the record, especially when put in the full context of the song. It’s an impressive song.
Tower is nothing short of astonishing. It’s gorgeous and impressive on its own melodic merits, but it’s even more mindblowing that two people (and only two people) composed all of this and perform it live. If you’re into post-rock of any variety, you will be blown away by Falcon Arrow. They’re just absolutely incredible.
Dylan Gilbert is a man of many talents. He’s been tirelessly releasing music since 2005, reinventing himself at every turn. Currently he fronts the manic prog/punk/surf outfit Hectorina and abruptly drops impressive acoustic-based solo albums. His latest offering of the latter is Shaken, an 8-song set that relies heavily on his ability of his voice to sound wildly outraged and outrageously wild.
With the exception of the gentle closer, this is an exercise in shout-folk from beginning to end. The ominous title track opens the lot, but he quickly moves away from trying to sound scary and embraces the persona of a person outraged at his misfortune. You can read this just from the titles of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Another Beast Washes Ashore” and “This Woman’s Gonna Put Me in the Ground.” His voice and powerfully strummed guitar (those poor guitar strings) come together to create compelling tunes that aren’t exactly Andrew Jackson Jihad, but something pretty near it. Sean Bonnette of AJJ has a nasally voice that he pairs excellently with frantic guitar strum; Gilbert has a very traditionally attractive voice that he just thrashes against the wall of life’s troubles like a dusty rug. Both are very impressive, it should be noted.
Gilbert does two covers here: the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.” The former takes a song many people know and pours all the mourning that’s actually there in the lyrics into the vocal performance. The latter tries to infuse the weary misery of the track (again) that’s already there in the lyrics. These are pretty much required listening; the source material for both are some of my favorite tunes of all time, so it’s impressive that Gilbert can take both and breathe fresh life into them. Gilbert’s an astonishingly talented songwriter and performer, and you’d be remiss to not know of his work. Shaken should be your introduction if you’re unfamiliar.
Babes describe themselves as sad and horny. I think “Dad” sticks more on the sad side of the spectrum, but the video is quirky enough to keep out of 100% mopeville. It’s now just, like, 75% mopeville.
“Daisy Garden” by The Provincial Garden is also seriously depressing, but the visuals are gorgeous while doing it. The song is lovely as well.
Spazzy, hectic rockers Hectorina show their particular brand of wild, frantic rock’n’roll in a 10-minute live clip. If you’re into theatrical, artsy, off-kilter, I-have-no-idea-what’s-coming-next music, Hectorina should be your jam.
1. “Zeek and Axl Rose” – Automotive High School. The softer side of AHS’ fuzzed-out pop/pop-punk is just as hooky in a completely different way. The band is quickly moving up my “to-watch” list for 2013.
2. “Graveyard” – LVL UP. I keep a special place in my heart for video-game inspired music, and LVL UP’s punked-out geek pop is right in that space.
3. “Not a Riot” – Permanent Makeup. A wiry, low-slung, yelled punk tune with a neat guitar solo. No, for real.
4. “An Inter-dimensional Spat for the Right to Walk Away the Victor” – Hectorina. Not for the faint of heart or ear, this is a math/garage/post-punk/pop tune that is complex and almost entirely unique. If Queen and The Mars Volta got together, they’d both agree on this. Maybe.
5. “Hurricanes, XO” – Beat Radio. Is there ever not a market for enthusiastically fuzzed-out pop tunes?
6. “Come On. Stand Out.” – 7Bit Hero. A giddy slice of Australian electro-pop.
7. “Fame is for Assholes (Feat. Chiddy)” – Hoodie Allen. It finally happened.
8. “Tiny Kiss” – Hey Anna. This indie-pop tune is whimsical and propulsive, with memorable guitar work.
9. “Sandblonde” – The Bear & The Sea. I am here to state that I never stopped loving chillwave.
Awkward Age‘s self-titled 7″ is four tunes of straightforward three-man pop-punk. It takes less than eight minutes of your time, because Vic Alvarez and co. don’t mess around. They throw down hooky guitar riffs, wicked bass lines, rapid-fire drumming and melodic vocals. But it’s not all chord-mashing; they find the time to kick in an unexpected breakdown during “In Montreal,” and there’s a tiny guitar solo in “You Can’t Deny This,” and … okay, the rest is chord mashing. And it’s great, because they know that you don’t have to pad the run-time to improve the quality. If you love pop-punk without girlishly high vocals, try out Awkward Age.
From Dick Dale and “Wipeout” to the Pixies and the San Francisco garage-rock explosion of late, surf-rock has been the ground zero of some wild, wild music in many eras. Charlotte’s Hectorina continues the tradition, mixing surf, prog, punk and garage rock into a zany amalgam. The band’s Hey Hey Safety Man EP crams all of that into three slices that (also) clock at just under eight minutes.
In that span, they find time for three drum solos (one in “Beware of the Red Ape,” two in “K-Town Makes a Comeback”), frantic howling (“Beware”), a straight-forward rock bit (the opening of “Dirty Carl’s Majestic Barba”), and noodly experimental guitar bits (everywhere). By the time you wrap your head around everything that’s happening, it’s over. They say they’re writing a “double-album rock opera entitled Collywobble sometime later this summer.” I can’t even imagine what they’ll come up with to fill a canvas that large, but after this EP, I’m willing to stick around and see. If you’re up for something different, give this one a shot.
Greek rockers The Finger have been releasing song after song from their upcoming full-length album, and title track “I Don’t Believe My Eyes” is the latest. The dark, mysterious tune has a great groove going for it, meshing well with the alto female vocals. The slinky, forceful bass melodies power the song through to the big pay-off—and it is big. You should be looking forward to their album.
Developing: Dylan Gilbert, whose career Independent Clauses has been following for years, is prepping a rock opera with a new band named Hectorina. The band has released two of the tracks at their Bandcamp, and it’s safe to say that they’re heavy on the rock. There’s a ton of different influences thrown in, so this could get very interesting.
New year, new run: I’m going for the New Orleans Rock’n’Roll (Half) Marathon in March. I know, I was astonished that such a thing existed too. Apparently “alternative, classic and punk rock to blues, jazz and soul” will be played at every mile. This sounds like the greatest idea ever. And I’ll need some workout music, so here’s RunHundred‘s top tracks from December: