1. “Crickets” – Some Army. Some Army sounds seamless here, as if every instrument were playing together as one. That’s a credit to their mature, strong indie-rock songwriting, excellent arranging, and immaculate production. Quite a track here.
2. “Flashback” – Astral Cloud Ashes. If you’re into MeWithoutYou, you’ll have a strong connection with ACA’s approach here: speak/sing vocals over a moody, brooding indie-rock backdrop.
3. “Ticks” – Vienna Ditto. This wildly inventive track requires some oddball words to be strung together, but here goes: sassy ’50s girl pop meets Spaghetti Westerns outside an arcade inside a dark carnival. Sometimes it is like dancing about architecture.
4. “The Joke” – Islands. A thrumming, inviting electro beat meshes with a claustrophobic mood and somehow keeps the song from going full dance-rock; big Bloc Party vibes abound.
5. “Johnny” – Basement Revolver. It takes a lot to get me interested in a mid-tempo garage rock song, because there are so many in the world. Basement Revolver’s perfectly-turned vocals, well-done guitars, and excellent build-ups result in a song that balances vulnerability and confidence neatly.
6. “Woman” – Dear Life,. Quirky, crunchy indie-rock with a multitude of influences that create interesting moments when I least expect them.
7. “Real” – Grace Joyner. Joyner’s lilting voice and engaging chorus hooks suck me in, and the bass/synths arrangement keep me swaying along to the rest of it.
8. “Young Green Eyes” – Leaone. This feels like a male-fronted version of a lost Adele song in its dramatic sweep, use of vocals, and general expansiveness. Could be poised for a big breakthrough.
9. “Even If” – Jesse Owen Astin. So it’s sort of a ballad, but there’s an electro-pop edge in Astin’s vocals that keeps this a little more raw than a ballad would otherwise be.
10. “I’m a Sea Creature” – Color Majesty. Space Age Bachelor Pad music meets some Pogo-esque glitchy vocals to result in another really smooth track. [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available. =( ]
1. “Hot and Bothered” – Tameca Jones. Funky female-fronted soul with a touch of disco and a whole lot of sass.
2. “Be Your Man” – Rah Rah. Despite the title and the chipper power-pop included in the song, it’s actually a break-up song from the guy doing the dumping. Ouch, but at least we can dance along.
3. “When the Day is Fresh and the Light is New” – The Wooden Sky. You want some straight-ahead power-pop that you can feel good about? Of course you do.
4. “The Move” – Michael Persall. We can keep updating that ’50s/’60s perky pop sound forever, and I hope we do. The horns, clapping, and general enthusiasm here really seal the deal.
5. “Give Up the Ghost” – Legends of Et Cetera. Synthy new wave/power-pop a la the Cars with an alto female vocalist and a roaring chorus? Sign me up.
6. “Break” – Jesse Owen Astin. Blink and you’ll miss this indie-electro empowerment jam–if you need a stomping tune to get you through a tough thing from the indie spectrum, here you are.
7. “I Feel This Place” – Goldensuns. I never get why some people put only hazy, fuzzy old-school Super 8 footage on their music videos, but if Goldensuns did that for this song it would make perfect sense and I would love it. Languid, ethereal, nostalgic, and yet right on the current waves.
8. “White Flags” – I Used to Be a Sparrow. Andrea Caccese and co. pack a lot into this tune: charging guitars, soaring vocal lines, wiry instrumental sections, memorable melodic parts, and more. I’m always excited to hear more IUtBaS music, and this song is no letdown.
9. “Ode to the Spring” – Crocodile. If Bombadil’s quirky-yet-earnest approach to songwriting collided with Pet Sounds, the results would be similar to this acoustic-led track that balances psych wandering with straightforward acoustic pop.
10. “I Could Never Say No” – Heather LaRose. Here’s a fun modern pop song with solid vocal and synthesizer melodies. LaRose knows how to write a tune that sticks.
11. “Cobwebs” – Fell Runner. This one’s got a ton of atmosphere, as the indie-rock tune gives off the vibe of a meandering trip down a dark, foggy night street.
12. “Sigil of Forgiveness” – Kaito Gigantia. Any description of this song is going to be somewhat deceptive: R&B keys, trumpet, and whispered vocals power this tune, but this deconstructed/experimental take on the genre is like no R&B track you’ve ever heard. For adventurous fans.
Pop, Light and Dark
1. “Just What I Needed” – Wonderful Humans. Whatever the opposite of “reign of terror” is, WH is on that path. Their seemingly endless stream of high-energy, ’80s-inspired dance-pop singles continues with this tropical track.
2. “Summertime” – Ships Have Sailed. ShS are also on a hot streak: this latest tune is some combination of the Cars and All-American Rejects.
3. “Eternal Sunshine” – Memoryy. Yep, you can hook me with any invocation of steel drums. (They’re just so happy!) The rest of the track besides the chorus splits the difference between nu-disco and glitchy clicking–always fun.
4. “Too Damn Good” – JOA. The inimitable Jesse Owen Astin is back to making guitar-rock/electro-pop mini epics, and this one is a builder that grows to a huge apex and then fades away.
5. “She Speaks the Wave” – The Nursery. This song would have fit right in on radio when Interpol, The Killers, and The Bravery were all towering. Some real sleek, solid dance-rock here.
6. “Drive” – Ships Have Sailed. You know when Jimmy Eat World goes for a ballad but still gotta have the angsty energy? Ships Have Sailed power through this track with that same feel.
7. “Tears” – Prints. Dark, clubby electronic pop songs.are a dime a dozen, but Prints float above the pack by balancing your emotional needs with your club needs.
8. “Earth Not Above” – HÆLOS. Cinematic, evocative trip-hop mixed with some modern beats? Sign me up.
9. “Underlined Passages From Your Books” – Underlined Passages. Here’s some lush, walking-speed romance from members formerly of indie-rockers The Seldon Plan. Combining early ’00s indie-pop melodies with early ’00s emo guitar tone is a sweet spot these days.
I’ve been expecting These Are All Things to come out for a little over three years, which is about a third of the time this blog has been around. So, when Like Clockwork (aka Jesse Owen Astin) finally unveiled it, I did what I do with all my long-awaited albums: I listened to it in my car, while driving. After the first listen, I had one thought firmly implanted in my head: What?!
I’ve known for as long as I’ve been listening to Like Clockwork that Astin has wide-ranging interests. He’s got modern rock, acoustic pop, dance-rock, modern pop and more in his pocket. I didn’t know which direction These Are All Things would go. The answer: all of them.
And that is one of the hardest parts to swallow about the release: it’s so varied that it barely holds together. If you threw three darts at a visual interpretation of the album, you would not hit songs that sound anything like each other. “Patience Patients” opens the set with an acoustic lead-in to a modern rock piece. “Keys” is a dark number with a pressing drum machine that makes me think of She Wants Revenge. “Oh My God!” traps one of the best pop choruses of the year inside a grating intro and long, spoken-word outro. “I Want a Family” is a gripping, devastating acoustic track that is the hands-down best song Like Clockwork has ever written.
And the whole album goes like that, dropping in and out of Astin’s interests at will. This diversity is almost certainly due to the fact that it came together over such a long period; there’s no sense of timeliness to the album at all. There are, however, thematic elements in the lyrics that tie it together.
Astin’s really concerned with love here, but not with the wishy-washy, infatuation love that the radio gets so hyped on. He ties his concept of love into religion, which is featured prominently in the lyrical matter. “Jesus Christ Crashing Star” features poet Trace William Cowen reading a poem that denounces God as dying with Santa Claus, and points to the omnipresence of love as what people are seeking. Astin’s grandmother gives her take on the outro of “The Dark,” while the last minute of “Oh My God!” is dedicated to a clip of a speech proclaiming that “there’s only one people, one nation, one religion, one ideology, and that’s love.”
“Jesus Christ Crashing Star” backs up to standout track “I Want a Family” as the emotional center of the album, putting the idea of “no religion but love” in the album’s crux (“No Other Word For Love” also has this sentiment).
There are also a few tunes that deal with a breakup, as well as thoughts on growing up. It seems that These Are All Things is Astin’s bildungsroman album; and as coming of age is never a neat and tidy process, perhaps the wide-ranging sounds on the release best mirror what was happening in his life at the time.
Another intriguing aspect of this album is this: I was given what amounts to the first draft. After hearing some thoughts on the record, Astin cut out several tracks (including the worst offender) and added the rock track “Be Your Man” at the end, which wraps all of his tendencies (rock, pop, emotionality, distorted guitar, acoustic guitar, even a touch of dance) into one song that completes the album perfectly. It doesn’t make the individual parts mesh with each other better, but it does bring a bit of togetherness to the whole work.
In the end, These Are All Things has several brilliant tracks (“I Want a Family,” the center of “Oh My God!”, “Be Your Man”) and a lot of good ideas scattered throughout a wildly diverse album. These Are All Things is an incredible title for the album, because each song feels like its own thing.
Astin released the album a song at a time over at his Bandcamp; I can’t think of a better way to experience this album than a song at a time over weeks. Try it yourself that way, and see what happens.