1. “The Itch” – Brother O’ Brother. Stripping some of the Black Keys-esque arena-rock sheen from their guitar-and-drums approach ends up with a raging, distortion-laden tune that has The White Stripes on speed-dial. Ka-pow.
2. “The Dusty Song” – Sebastian Brkic. Brkic creates a swooping, diving panorama that relies just as much on creaky-voiced MeWithoutYou-style indie-rock as it does acoustic material.
3. “Ridiculous” – Mleo. Surprising vocal and instrumental range make this an impressive rock tune.
4. “Salvo” – CFIT. Serious music that reaches for the seriousness of Radiohead, the swirling development of shoegaze, some airy aesthetics of chillwave, and an overall sense that none of those influences take away from the inventiveness of the work.
5. “What’s Pesto” – The River Fane. Ominous clicking and clacking undergird this menacing, pondering, powerful indie rock track that’s anchored by thunderous piano chords and wavering vocals a la Thom Yorke.
6. “Rubbernecking” – Frog. Fresh off their triumphant Kind of Blah, Frog re-released their debut. This track points toward the ragged enthusiasm and vocal intricacies that made the guitar rock of KOB such a charm.
7. “End of Something” – Febria. This tunes’ an omnivorous beast, as prog, math-rock, laid-back ’70s psych, jazz, and guitar heroics blend together into a mindbending stew. It’s not as hectic as The Mars Volta, but it’s maybe in the zipcode next door.
8. “Golden Threads From the Sun (excerpt)” – yndi halda. This bit of a tune from a larger post-rock work points to the scope at which yndi halda feels comfortable: massive. As such, there are some group vocals, Sigur Ros-like distortion explosions and frantic drums, strings, and generally all manner of thing going on. Here’s to maximalist post-rock.
9. “Thank You For Your Time” – Citizen Shade. Soulful and dramatic, this piano-led romp starts off quiet and ramps way up.
Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.
Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.
“Enigmatic” is not usually a positive word to describe a release; I try to avoid any sort of word that conveys my confusion about things in an album. But there’s a deeply enigmatic streak that runs through Frog‘s Kind of Blah: speedy vocal rhythms bump up against hectic guitar noise, moods change on a dime, sounds come out of nowhere, and the songs generally keep their own counsel. Kind of Blah resists easy classification, making it an indie-rock album of merit that is very much worth your time.
Frog is a duo, but it makes recorded noise on a much grander scale than four arms might command at once. The general base is a sort of jangly indie-rock with bite, but the layers are really what make the sound come into its own. The most immediate element is Dan Bateman’s loopy, reedy, nasally (but not uncomfortably so), yearning vocals. Bateman always seems to be lunging for something: a high pitch, a remarkable amount of syllables in a line, a long-held note. His acrobatic, enthusiastic, idiosyncratic voice is both the price of admission and the payoff: if you’re into quirky vocalists, Bateman contends with the greats in both confidence and using what he has to the best of his ability.
The instrumental layers that fit between Bateman’s voice and Thomas White’s drums are remarkable as well. There’s all manner of guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), analog-sounding synths (“Everything 2002”), glockenspiel, and found sound recordings. The diversity of sounds meets the diversity of moods: Bateman and White take us through frantic garage rock (“King Kong”), mid-tempo slacker rock (“Photograph”), pastoral indie-rock (“Wish Upon a Bar,” “Judy Garland”), and slow-building pensive tunes (“Irish Goodbye”). This isn’t an album that indiscriminately stomps the distortion pedal: Frog is interested in creating a lot of different textures, and they achieve that goal.
As fits with such a diverse album, my two favorite tunes from the record do very different things. “Everything 2002” is a quiet tune that pairs a swift-moving picking pattern with gentle vocals, fragile synths, and an overall chill mood. The tension between fast and slow is expertly held together, resulting in a beautiful tune. “Judy Garland” takes the sort of rolling picking pattern that might be present in a bluegrass tune and recontextualizes it by fitting in gauzy synths and an unhinged rapid-fire Bateman vocal ramble. Then they drop in a dance-rock drumbeat, the catchiest vocal hook of the album, some glockenspiel, artsy guitar riffing, and vocal scatting. How it all holds together I can’t explain even a little bit, but I want to listen to it over and over. I’m telling you: enigmatic.
Frog’s Kind of Blah is anything but: it’s one of the most complex, “blink and you miss it” albums I’ve heard in a long time. If you’re into albums that will challenge you but also pay off at the end of the work, look up Kind of Blah. Albums like this don’t come around that often.
So even in this packed musical world, some band names have slipped through the cracks. Thus New York duo Frog have come to have a four-letter name, kind of like when The Killers found out that no one had taken that band name. (And really, of all the bands in the world, the one led by Brandon Flowers probably shouldn’t have been the one to get the name The Killers.)
But Frog fits their name a little better: “All Dogs Go to Heaven” starts out with the sound of swamp fauna (crickets, cicadas, even a frog or two, I would guess). Their gentle guitar strum comes in over the found sound, creating a pastoral pastiche. The summer sounds give way to drums that lead the listener through some loopy-in-the-best-way guitar pop. “All Dogs Go to Heaven” is thus a deeply enjoyable track, a perfect tune to drive or walk to.
The video for “All Dogs” echoes the themes of motion that I head: a train ride is the main image throughout the piece. I’m usually not into old video montages, but this one fits the nature of the song pretty perfectly. Sometimes a perfect connection between image and sound can transcend the methods used, and such is the case here.
The main character stumbles through a train car as Dan Bateman mumbles a rapidfire collection of words, while the smash-cut transitions in the song fit perfectly with the video transitions. “All Dogs” isn’t the sort of video I usually feature, but it’s the sort of video that fits exactly with the song it’s supporting. May we all be so lucky.
“All Dogs Go to Heaven” is the opening track off Kind of Blah, which comes out May 25th on Audio AntiHero Records (Pre-order). You can hear the single “Judy Garland” here.
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.