Rarely have I had so much fun listening to a longhear than when listening to Lullatone‘s Thinking about Thursdays. The twee instrumental outfit, already an IC fave, recently compiled their “a song every Thursday in 2016” project into one big album of 52 songs. Their twee instrumentals are brilliant as ever, but their expanded sonic palette is what makes this album so wonderful.
Lullatone excels at making child-like music, turning toy pianos, music boxes, ukuleles, flutes and other small-sounding instruments into delicate and charming tunes (mostly in major keys). Their basic sound is something like The Album Leaf’s tender expansiveness mashed with Wes Anderson’s distinct, precise nostalgia. Openers “trying something again (again)” and “a photograph from the day you were born” stick to this script, creating memorable entries in the Lullatone oeuvre. This type of chipper, bright, clever song appears throughout the album; collectively, they are proof that Lullatone has mastered their craft and yet not exhausted it.
Things get even more exciting as they spread their wings. “how frost grows” signals a widening of their sonic scope, as a slurring, glacial, distorted guitar creates a desolate post-rock landscape. “cooped up at home with a fever and a tape loop” is just that: a hazy, tape hiss-laden fever dream that reminds me of a vocal-less version of The Microphones. “two turn tables and a casiotone” is a fun riff on the titular concept, while follow-on “how i broke my parents’ record player (when i was five)” is even more beat-heavy, landing somewhere between instrumental hip-hop and The Postal Service. “aboard Korean Air flight 742 to Seoul” continues what is ultimately a four-week beat fancy, adding stuttering snares and a melodic hook to a cherubic synth.
Things get even more exciting from there: “puddles full of petals (of Sakura)” combines harp, East Asian melodic ideas, and video game soundtrack drama (one of two back-to-back Asian sonic entries); “father-son adventures” has a jaunty, spry electric guitar line that will please any fan of major key post-rock a la Delicate Steve or Fang Island; “concrete waves” is filtered through a dense, stylish mesh of DJ Shadow. Other referents (real or imagined) include Matt and Kim, klezmer music, elevator music/vaporwave, and chillwave. I won’t spoil all the surprises (there are 52 songs!!), but suffice it to say that this is a great collection with almost no dead weight. Beyond the lovely individual songs, there’s a subtle joy in listening to a whole year of someone’s creation in what seems like chronological order, tracking through the seasons with the moods and titles of each song.
Thinking About Thursdays is that rare release that combines serious composition, thoughtful moods, intriguing instrumentation, quality sonic diversity, and out-and-out fun. It’s an incredible release, and it’s one of my early contenders for album of the year. Highly recommended.
I don’t post a lot of videos, but when I don’t post the few that I find interesting for a long while, I end up with a ton of them. So over the next few days there will be a lot of videos. Even rarer that posting videos is posting lyric vids, but I couldn’t resist these three for various reasons.
Falcon Arrow made a lyric video for “Landing Party.” But wait, you might think, Falcon Arrow is an instrumental band. You’re totally right. The lyrics are from Lisa Loeb’s “Stay.” Draw your own conclusions.
The Weather Machine took honorable mention for album of the year in 2014 with an album that came out in 2013. So it’s with great enthusiasm that I can announce that they’ll have a 2015 album, named Peach. The first peek is a lyric video for “As Long As We Get Along,” which is what I imagine Josh Ritter would sound like with an electric guitar turned all the way up.
Kangaroo Knife Fight’s lyric video for “It’s You” has impressive typography, a sweet color palette, and a mood that fits with the epic-leaning pop-rock song.
Indie-dance legends Matt and Kim have a new song called “GET IT.” This is all you need to know.
The title of Challenger‘s The World Is Too Much For Me is an apt interpretation of both its lyrics and music, but in opposite ways. The lyrics throughout the album are about the byproducts of modern life: fear, desperation and confusion over an amorphous other. The size of the world and its problems are conspiring to overwhelm the lyricist, but the lyrics fight back with a commitment to hope. The music, on the other hand, is more manic than morose, invoking the sounds of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Peter Gabriel’s catalog and ’80s synth pop. Songs like “Takers” sound like the output of people who can’t get enough of everything, who have music just spilling out the ears.
Challenger knows its way around a pop hook, creating incredibly memorable tunes like “Are You Scared Too?”, “Don’t Die,” “Life in the Paint” and single “I Am Switches.” But each of these tunes drag some melancholy into the songwriting, to give the highs an extra edge. Good always looks better when it’s beating evil. And so it goes with Challenger, who are at their best when playing with the juxtapositions of light and dark. But it’s all done in a framework of electro-pop that will put a huge smile on your face. The World Is Too Much For Me is easily one of the best releases of the year, recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful, happy music.
Oh Look Out‘s Orchestrated Fuzz is also titled well: the latest from the geek-friendly power-pop band relies heavily on arrangements and album structure. Last year’s Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright was dominated by riffs and melodies, causing each song to stick out as its own piece of the puzzle. Orchestrated Fuzz is intended to hang together as one giant experience, like the soundtrack to a video game binge session.
While the tunes pop out less at me in this one, the overall sound is still strong: buzzy guitars and retro-sounding synths are undergirded by big drums and capped off by JP Pfertner’s high-pitched (but not annoyingly so) voice. The songs all run into each other, with opener “Velcro Wolf” snapping off as “Or Be Destroyed” kicks in. Things continue in this vein throughout, to good (aforementioned) effect. Lead single “Monster Fiction” is a standout, as the melody is a killer hook; “Monotone Hurray” sticks out because its awesome title leads me to remember the song. It’s worth noting that the whole thing has a lovably bedroom/garage feel to it; in a world where everything is rushing to sound professional, it’s nice to hear something that sounds lovably like a human made it. The handwritten online zine (!) also adds to that feel. Fans of Weezer, Math the Band, and Matt and Kim will all find much to love in Orchestrated Fuzz.
Also reppin those ’80s hard is Ponychase, which takes the arch synth-pop of Tears for Fears and other hyper-emotive bands of the era and uses it for modern ends. The self-titled EP combines towering synths with twinkling guitar, sparse percussion and Jordan Caress’s commanding but not overbearing voice to create a timeless, otherworldly sound. The modern lyrical cadence and vocal melody structure are what sink their teeth into me, as the joyful synth blast that opens “Believer” is elevated by Caress’s strong vocal performance.
While “Believer” is the most upbeat (and most striking) of the tunes, the rest of the songs on the six-song EP aren’t slouching. Opener “Cup of Hearts” employs many of the same sounds to a more pensive effect, while “Two Times” sounds almost beachy. “Brainwasher” closes out the EP in grand fashion, delivering the best melody of the bunch amid heavily gated snare and Caress’s voice at its torchiest. “Brainwasher, come set me free,” she pleads, and it’s a request that the EP can answer, should you ask of it: just let the sound wash over you. Ponychase’s unique sound is markedly different than other synth-indie-pop, and that’s a great thing.
There are plenty of male/female duos that have gotten by being cute and/or mysterious. The guy and girl in Destroy Nate Allen are not aiming for either: they’re mostly aiming for awesome. As an earnest, self-aware, fun, thrashy, acoustic folk/ska/punk band, they easily achieve it in With Our Powers Combined. If you’re into scream-it-out positiveness, you’re going to eat this up whole.
The duo has more in common with the technicolor hyperactivity that is Math the Band than the grooving pop of Matt and Kim, but fans of the DIY passion and enthusiasm of either band will find themselves loving the all-out attack of “We Talk Occasionally on the Internet” and “Boobie Bar.” The set-up for both songs is pretty simple: fast tempos, emphatic guy/girl vocals with a focus on creation instead of perfection, manic drums and guitars, and an overall feeling of undiluted excitement. This is especially interesting, considering that both tunes are about ostensibly sad things: “We Talk” celebrates a past friendship while lamenting the current distance, and “Boobie Bar” earnestly pleads for people to not go down to the strip club because “if you want a real relationship you won’t get far.”
That’s another thing that separates Destroy Nate Allen from other hyperactive duos: they’re absolutely earnest about everything and honest about their lives. Life is tough, but it can be defused by celebrating through music: “Distracted Nate-O-Bot” is about setting boundaries so that they won’t procrastinate; “Emergency” extols the virtues of spousal communication in handling difficult situations; “Hospital” sings the praises of a titular institution that removed a burst appendix from the female half of the band (as well as Catholic Charities, who paid for the procedure!). This sort of honesty is more often found in somber acoustic singer/songwriter fare, not in organ-driven punk throw-downs. And that’s what makes With Our Powers Combined so awesome: honest and earnest songwriting need not be the province of music that you can’t sing along with and dance to, and Destroy Nate Allen is making sure of that.
Not that they don’t have an acoustic song or two: “I Need to Know” even features a banjo. But it’s their insanely energetic, electric tunes that I remember most, because I love hearing them be real, straightforward, positive and still rocking. On that positive note: There are two really beautiful love songs here (“Chick Flick,” “Almost Out of Texas”). I vastly prefer them to most maudlin sap, because, well, … I’m repeating myself. Suffice it to say that the breathless enthusiasm of this review mirrors that of Destroy Nate Allen’s, and that you should go listen to their album immediately. It’s so, so good.
I’ve been enjoying the new school of rappers throwing down lyrics on top of indie-rock tunes. From Chiddy Bang to Drake to Hoodie Allen (and, ok, the WTF Childish Gambino), they’re popping up everywhere. I love it.
G-Eazy is a rapper in that style. He has two singles kickin’ about the interwebz: The Tennis-sampling “Waspy” and “Good for Great Remix” of Matt and Kim’s track off Sidewalks, which I raved over a couple weeks ago.
“Waspy” is more of a production job than “Good for Great,” as G-Eazy (who produces his own beats) chops up “Marathon” by Tennis and puts a heavy beat behind it. It’s still recognizable as “Marathon,” which is cool, but the production leaves enough space for the rapping without the song seeming cluttered. The lyrics present a romance between a “punk kid” and a rich “WASPy girl.” The breezy Tennis track evokes an air of Ivy League privilege, making it a perfect fit for the lyrics.
G-Eazy’s rhymes are solid, and his flow is just ragged enough to be interesting. It’s not too erratic, but it keeps attention.
“Good for Great Remix” scrubs most of the vocals from the track and drops G-Eazy’s lyrics in. There is some extra rhythmic production, but it mostly beefs up what was already there. I love Matt and Kim, so I like the remix, even though the lyrics aren’t my favorite. It’s your standard “fuck school, go live life” set, which isn’t my favorite rhetoric (woo grad school!).
G-Eazy has some solid production skills, but I could stand to see his lyrics move above the standard rap motifs. Right now his production talent far surpasses his lyric choices (but not his rapping ability; the boy can rap).
If you’ve heard a Matt and Kim album before, this review won’t help you much: I’m about to gush about Matt and Kim, just like you did to all your friends the first time you heard about them.
But seriously, there’s so much to gush about. If you’ve never heard a Matt and Kim album, you absolutely must fix that oversight (as I did with Sidewalks). If the ubiquitous “Daylight” from Grand turned you off, I exhort you to give M+K another chance. And that one chance, if I were making the decisions, would be “Where You’re Coming From.”
“Where You’re Coming From” is everything that’s wonderful about this band. The melodic riff is a series of staccato jabs from a keyboard. The drums pound with a euphoric, jaunty rhythm that complements the separated riff. Matt jumps in with a memorable vocal line in his quirky vocal style. Kim sings some backups in the chorus to make the song even more epic. The song keeps building until it seems it can’t hold any more tension, when it simply explodes into a dance-rock frenzy. You will be hollering “Where You’re Coming From” as you dance in wild circles; if not, you might be dead.
“Silver Tiles” has a similar feel, as the bombastic toms crush through the mix unapologetically. The chorus, honed over years of Matt and Kim playing it live, is the very definition of anthemic. “Ice Melts” employs a marching band, as if their sound wasn’t huge and gleefully messy enough already. “Cameras” drops with a swagger (and, again, that marching band!) that makes me want to strut down the street with it as my personal theme music.
The only place where Matt and Kim go wrong is when they abandon their idiosyncrasies for more normal songwriting tactics, as they do on “AM/FM Sound” and “Good for Great.” Neither tune is bad, but they don’t live up to the promise of most M+K songs. They don’t have the ecstatic spark that sets Matt and Kim apart from every other synth/drums duo out there.
“Red Paint” and “Wires,” though? Totally redeeming of the errors. They overcompensate almost, as both could not be written by anyone else. They’d probably be thrown out as weird demos by Hot Chip, but they work perfectly as Matt and Kim tunes because of their jarring bizarreness. Standouts, even.
This album already made my top ten of the year, because its exuberant take on indie rock made me smile more than any other release this year (although Tokyo Police Club and OK Go came close). Matt and Kim aren’t super technically proficient, but they are magnificent at making dance-punk-pop-whatever. Love it, love it, love it.
Independent Clauses has always been a strange beast. I never intended it to be a music blog; I wanted it to be the starting point of a Pitchfork-style website or a Paste-style magazine. So when we did things differently, my thoughts ran thus: “Who cares? We weren’t trying to be like them anyway.” That’s why we would run best-of lists in February, eschew posting MP3s and publish very long articles.
But as people go, so do dreams. Just like mortality isn’t such a terrible bag if you’re ready for it, neither is the death of dreams. Independent Clauses is never going to be the size of Pitchfork, Paste or even Delusions of Adequacy (whom I have worked for and dearly love). And that’s perfectly okay.
To that end, it’s starting to look more and more like an MP3 blog over here, as I am accepting what Independent Clauses has become and embracing it. I’m considering getting some extra hosting for 2011 and throwing down d/ls to applicable tunes on posts. I’m also going to redesign this site as an mp3 blog, then not touch the aesthetics till 2012. I’m also going to start using the first person pronoun instead of the third person. It’s just me here now.
Also, I will cover more Pitchfork-level indie music than I have previously. Independent Clauses used to focus exclusively on undiscovered music, and I will still devote much of my time there. One does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, after all; there will just be more Frightened Rabbit and The Mountain Goats in the bath.
As part of the transition, I will be posting two best-of lists this year: one overall best of, and one of releases Independent Clauses reviewed this year. In the future, I will post one list. Without further adieu, here’s the overall top ten best releases this year.
4. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire. Music world dominance: headlining Madison Square Garden, nominated for album of the year, taking number one on the Billboard Charts. Even if I didn’t like this album it would be in my top ten. It’s a pretty great album, though, even if it does have a few too many ripoffs of The National on it.
5. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem. Indie world dominance: James Murphy prophesied his title and then backed it up with tracks that made it so. Easily my favorite LCD album, and “You Wanted a Hit” is vying for “favorite LCD song” status.
6. The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens. The man can do whatever he wants and still turn out pure gold. This is easily the most mind-blowing release of the year: it’s hard for me to listen to in heavy rotation because it’s so complex.