1. “A Laughing Heart” – Steve Benjamins. I am a sucker for steel drums and horns; Benjamins includes both in this jubilant party of a song. If you were waiting for a song to kick off your summer appropriately, let me suggest this one.
2. “I Confess” – Cody Hudock. Hudock possesses the rare skill of being able to sound dramatic and chill at the same time. His skyscraping vocals bring the theatrics (in the best of ways), while a lazy piano and moseying drummer keep the vibes relaxed. The end ratchets up to a big, satisfying conclusion, but for a while, being suspended between the two moods is quite an experience.
3. “Take Your Time” – Night Drifting. The vocal melodies and the gentle, airy synth inclusion take this slightly fuzzed-out acoustic indie-pop tune to the next level. He’s on a rolling release schedule, so hit up his Bandcamp frequently for more music.
4. “I Hope You Hear This On the Radio” – Will Bennett & The Tells. Bennett and company barely keep all their enthusiasm contained on this folk-rock blaster; and if the band is that excited, how can the listeners not get excited? Great stuff here. I love songs that sound like the drummer is about to take off into space.
5. “Completed Fool” – Hollis Brown. Soul is hot right now, and Hollis Brown has some crunchy, electric-guitar-heavy soul ready for those who are all up on the Nathaniel Rateliff train and want more. Brown and his band have a month-long residency at Berlin in NYC, so if you’re around, you should hit that up.
6. “Take That” – CRUISR. Punchy, grooving electro-pop that sounds like MGMT fused to Vacationer.
7. “Drop Your Sword” – Joy Atlas. The fact that this electro-indie-pop song works is amazing: it’s an abstract, angular sort of thing, full of claps and snaps and keys and high-neck bass notes. It’s held together by Imogen Heap-esque vocals and its own internal logic. It made me press repeat just to try to figure out what happened.
8. “Talk About Us” – The TVC ft. Jayme Dee, Connor Foley. The lyrics and the huge, rubbery bass synth give off a hugely ’80s vibe, but in a pleasant way. I feel like I’ve been transported to the montage sequence of a dramatic ’80s teen movie, the part where things have gone south but the protagonists are collecting themselves and gearing up for the final confrontation. tl;dr raaaaaaaaaad.
9. “The Fear” – Amaroun. Amaroun’s engaging vocals power this churning indie-pop/R&B tune.
10. “Elizabeth” – Stephen Hunley. Some serious adult alternative vibes going on here, augmented with some bluesy cred in the arrangement (check that wurly).
“Rosebush”– Goldlight. I love it when a song starts off deceptively simple and progressively builds towards its climax. I enjoy the artist’s unique voice, but the driving beat and knockout instrumentation steal the show here. Listening to this track makes me want to blast it in my car, roll the windows down and drive fast– not many tracks stir that up within me.
“Tired”– Ashley Shadow. The layered instrumentation and unassuming vocals pair beautifully. The strong driving beat also makes this track another potential car-song, but maybe I’d drive a little slower.
“Cave”– Katie Zaccardi. This dark and brooding track combines Zaccardi’s strong voice with hard-punching lyrics that tell a poignant story about the tug and pull of toxic relationships. The guitar up-stroke even makes an appearance!
“White Noise”– Swells. I am feeling the groovy vibes of this tune. Soulful female vocals get me every time.
“The Wolf”– ALLA. This string-heavy song oozes with eerie. The repetitive lyrics and rhythms make it seem simple, but the string-plucking alone exposes the track’s complexity.
“Help Yourself”– Bryde. Bryde’s powerful, Vanessa Carlton-like voice continues to entrance me. The hard-hitting lyrics and full-bodied instrumentation keep me coming back.
“Bedbugs”– Amaroun. Amaroun’s unique alt-folk sound is akin to brilliant artists like Bjork and Jesca Hoop. You won’t want to miss taking a ride with Amaroun and her “Bedbugs”.
“Love Dust feat. Mercy”– Christopher Pellnat. I am absolutely captivated by this juxtaposition of seductive Lana Del Rey-like vocals and circus-esque instrumentation. It feels uncannily like a 19th century cabaret, with an accordion to boot!
“Speak”– Expert Timing. The sweet female and unadorned male vocals contrast great with the heavy electric guitar and drum kit instrumentation. This is one punk rock track to rock out to.
“The Lost Ones (featuring Leah Hayes)”– The Gifted. Fun, playful, even includes whistling–everything you want an indie-pop song to be. There’s something about the vibrant sound and catchy lyrics that make me feel that this track could be an anthem for a generation.
“What Became of Laura R?”– Heavy Heart. Summoning their inner MGMT, this track begins and ends with a slew of screaming kids. As the song progresses, Heavy Heart’s rock and roll vibes liken to that of the Silversun Pickups– breezy, laid-back rock and roll. –Krisann Janowitz
1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.
2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.
3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.
4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.
5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.
6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.
7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…
8. LA Takedown– LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.
9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.
10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.
11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.
12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.
13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.
1. “Find My Way” – Jinja Safari. The sort of exuberant, gregarious pop music that seems unavoidable and unhateable. Tropical vibes, mid ’00s MGMT-esque melodies, and overall fun had by all.
2. “Petrichor” – Light Music. This one’s the sort of indie-pop-rock tune that rides a great vocal hook, intricate-yet-fun arrangements, and sheer ebullient charm to great heights.
2. “Visions of Plumerias” – Rudy De Anda. Wistful, lazy, slow-motion days now have one more song for the soundtrack: De Anda’s vintage pop sounds just retro enough without getting tribute-band-y.
3. “Guess You Never Thought of It That Way” – Theo Berndt. Overstuffed, zinging, exuberant, vocals-and-instruments-in-the-same-melody pop songs aren’t the exclusive products of Scandinavia, but it sure seems like they have a big claim on the territory. Theo Berndt is a band from Sweden, and thus parlay their mandate into a wildly entertaining track that just keeps throwing more stuff at you.
4. “Virginians” – IOLA. It’s always fun to hear a song go in a completely different direction than I expected. This indie-pop tune goes from 0-60 and back in a most satisfying way.
5. “Trisha Please Come Home” – Advance Base. Lo-fi ideals and hi-fi production co-exist in this meandering, endearing tune from this post-Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project.
6. “Eye to Eye” – Astronauts, etc. More and more indie-rockers are coming around to how funky, soulful, and fun R&B can be. It’s working its magic on me too: I’ve not historically been huge into R&B, but this track is a sweet jam that sounds amazing.
7. “Our Bodies” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Affectionate, big-melody ballads can eat a whole lot of elements from different genres and still be recognizable: this one pulls in some tropical vibes, R&B grooves, and indie-folk instrumental arrangements.
8. “A Dead Man’s Song” – Roger Lion. Joe Pernice and Budo (Macklemore) come together to create a head-bobbin’ down-tempo tune with ’90s Brit-pop and trip-hop influences.
9. “Gunsmoke” – Ancient Warfare. A good transition can make a song: Delicate, traditional piano taps leads smoothly into the huge, noisy, guitar-bound chorus. The moment works.
10. “Ghost Legs” – Dreamcoat. Some band names are just ways to differentiate one entity from another, but Dreamcoat’s name fits the sound of this tune perfectly: a round, warm, gently rolling indie-rock tune grounded by unobtrusive pad synths and lightly accented by slapback guitar and distant vocals. It feels like I could wrap myself up in this and go to sleep–hence Dreamcoat.
11. “Parliament” – Sunday Lane. Insistent bass notes create a pleasing tension against Lane’s gentle, patient vocals. In a parallel development, a skittering electronic beat pushes on careful piano chords. The resulting tune fits together like a puzzle, somehow turning out a surprisingly cohesive dream-pop whole from a variety of parts.
1. “Keep It Coming” – Topher Mohr. It’s hard to write a timeless pop song, but Mohr has put together a wonder of a tune that feels like it could have come out of the ’70s AM Radio scene or the mid-’00s MGMT-esque pop stuff. It’s just a great track all around.
2. “Ice Fishing” – The Cairo Gang. The sort of guitar-rock tune that splits the difference between classic rock, Beatles pop, and San Fran garage rock with ease. Between God? and Burger (and its many offshoots) Records, it feels like we’re in a genuine moment for hooky garage rock.
3. “Sugar Coated” – Jessie Jones. It sounds like everyone, from the bassist to the drummer to the vocalist, is having fun on this hooky garage-rock track.
4. “Timepiece” – Ripple Green. Classic rock guitar and vocals meet a radio-ready modern pop chorus, putting a foot in each world.
5. “Dusty Springfield” – The Fontaines. A little bit of indie-rock, a little bit of ’50s girl-pop, a whole lot of catchy.
6. “Long Way Down” – Vienna Ditto. Minor-key surf-punk? Why not? Vienna Ditto own it, complete with whirring organ, honking saxes, and frantic tom rolls.
7. “Big Bright World” – Jeremy Pinnell. This is about as authentic as country gets: western swing rhythms, weeping pedal still, deep-voiced sadness, and a narrator with a former(?) drug problem. Still, the sun shines through, just like the title suggests.
8. “The Night Before” – No Dry County. You don’t have to sound like Bob Wills to catch my ear with a country tune; this modern country tune has a great melody, a solid arrangement, and an evocative vocal performance. It’s like a country Jimmy Eat World, maybe.
9. “Soaring” -WindfallFound. Post-rock of the beauty-inclined variety, complete with distant, processed vocals, Appleseed Cast-style.
10. “She Knows It” – Shannen Nicole. Goes from “ooh” to “whoa” in no time flat: starts off as a dusky torch song, then amps up to a thunderous torcher by the end. A formidable performance.
11. “The Gold Standard” – Marrow. The Hold Steady’s wry, jubilant mantra “Gonna walk around and drink some more” drops the jubilant part here: this low-slung, slow-build indie-rock tune has a woozy calm that belies the sort of difficult, composed walking that comes of one too many drinks.
Here’s the last drop of tunes from January. On to February!
1. “Bad Blood” – Fred Thomas. This is the indie rock equivalent of an LCD Soundsystem song: deep bass groove, highly emotional lyrics in a speak/sing milieu, unexpectedly hooky melodies from unusual places. It’s basically the promise of indie rock 1979-1992 coming to fruition. Damn.
2. “Story of My Life” – Martin Sexton. Yes, this is a One Direction cover. It basically sounds like One Direction covered Martin Sexton. Yes. You need this in your life.
3. “Soul Shine” – Sam Joole. In addition to smooth singer/songwriter stuff, Joole does reggae. I don’t cover reggae, but this one is so smooth and includes such infectious horns that it stole my heart. Mad props.
4. “Bells and Buzz” – Matt and the McCues. If you were listening to early ’00s indie-pop (verses), ’90s alt-rock (chorus) and bass-heavy ’80s indie-rock (breakdown!) on three stereos at once, you’d end up with this track. It’s an unusual stew, but Matt and the McCues make it work.
5. “If Only” – Ships Have Sailed. If you’re looking for pop-rock with an artsy bent (but not too artsy, you want to sing along, right?), Ships Have Sailed is showing themselves as a solid bet. Get your head-bob and hum on with this great track.
6. “Following the Plan” – Bellwire. Noisy, jangly guitar-pop with Guided by Voices vibes and unironic “whoo-hoo-hoo!”s in it: who can ask for more in a pop song?
7. “Upside Down” – Lime Cordiale. If The Killers, MGMT and Muse all collaborated on a track, they couldn’t come up with something more towering than this.
8. “Pins” – Natalie McCool. Like a grittier Lorde, McCool is on the fast track to a lot of people knowing who she is.
9. “MAD” – Honey & the 45s. Funky, sassy, soulful, gripping: this band knows how to make that old-school soul live.
10. “Spat Out Spit” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Lady Lamb is endlessly fascinating in her lyricism, song construction, and arrangements. Her newest track is no disappointment on any of those fronts.
11 “Hammer and a Nail” – Vienna Ditto. This slinky, enticing, cinematic track is like soul and film noir all wrapped into one. Awesome.
12. “Paying” – Sarah Bethe Nelson. If you’re a fan of long, minimalist folk-type tunes OR singer/songwriter women OR despondent rock tunes from the ’70s OR good things, you’ll be all up in this.
13. “Safe” – Emily Ann Peterson. Raw, deep emotion expressed in a piano-and-vocals one-take, complete with hall gorgeous reverb and all.
14. “Electric” – Föllakzoid. Y’know, I’m usually not into Chilean deep groove, psychedelic, bass-heavy dance vibes, but this one sucked me in and kept me going for twelve minutes. Twice. Going on a third time.
1. “Keys in the Lake” – Hillström and Billy. This Swedish indie-rock track starts out at a level of enthusiasm that many songs crescendo to. It grows from there, if you can imagine that.
2. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Authentic drum sounds power this M83-meets-Interpol-meets-Air jam.
3. “This Picture’s Old” – Stereogramm. Arpeggiator-heavy synth-pop from the “faster faster faster” school of thought, tempered with a relaxed vocal delivery that creates a fun tension. In lesser hands it could have been goofy, but instead it’s endearing.
4. “Young Oblivion” – Memoryy. If the giddiness of MGMT could have been tempered by the darkling sheen of The Naked and Famous, we’d have had this jubilant track earlier than we do.
5. “Wherever You Are” – New Arcades. If you’re looking for a huge, synthy pop track, here’s a strong candidate.
6. “Me vs. I (Rimski Bronski Mix)” – Hannah Schneider. Schneider is a neo-classical/electro/singer-songwriter somewhat in a more-recognizable-Bjork vein. This remix gives her sound bounce, lift, and vaguely African rhythms for a really fun time.
7. “Part of the Problem” – Trey Mumz. With a name like that, I’d expect auto-tuned R&B slow jamz. Instead, it’s auto-tuned psych slow jamz. Mad skillz.
8. “Me, Liquor & God” – Night Beds. If you go electro, you better know what you’re doing. Night Beds does a good job of keeping his melodic gifts on display while transitioning from soaring country to club-friendly, arch electronica.
9. “Sudden Acts” – Temple Invisible. Portishead-style trip-hop vocals meet witch house-style synths: a dark rave ensues.
10. “Raise the Gate (ft. Body Games)” – T0W3RS. First rule of electronica: know when to get out. This two-and-a-half-minute slice of ominous vibes and slinky rhythms hits it right on.
11. “Reykjavik, January 2015” – Teen Daze. My favorite “started as chillwave” outfit is now augmenting their core sound with the icy/warm tension of pensive melodies and pushing rhythms. The result is a beautiful piano-led tune.
It’s a dreary, sleet-filled day here in North Carolina. I’m holed up writing end-of-semester papers and listening to Seer Group‘s EP Love Me Back. Seer Group would not necessarily seem the best fit for an icy, unforgiving day, since their perky, quirky electro-pop verges more on the abstract MGMT side than the stark, minimalist trip-hop side.
But there are connections: the gorgeous, flowing, 7-minute “To My Surprise” features both rhythmically mesmerizing vocals from Elijah Wyman and a swirling, instrumental string coda. It’s still very much electro-pop, what with the clicking/clattering beats and the astronomy-influenced synth burbles, but there’s a trumpet in that mix. There’s some real warmth amidst the swirling tune. It’s keepin’ me warm over here. “Just Wait a Little Bit” also appeals to that cinematic, swoon-worthy, fleshed-out sort of electronic ideal.
Even though Seer Group remains firmly committed to artsy, abstract weirdness, there are some genuinely hypnotic, clubby tunes going on here. “Wind” might not have a four-on-the-floor beat, but the marimba-esque keys play off the pulsing, grinding beat to create that sort of slow-motion banger that you might find in a dimly-lit club. The title track is actually pretty close to a mid-tempo club jam without any verbal gymnastics on this part: hit it up. It sounds right. “Kicking In” includes some increasingly frantic rapping that gives the mid-tempo tune a wild, crazy feel. It’s a pretty wide range of sounds Jason Rozen and co. cover here.
If you’re into artsy electro, experimental hip-hop, or unclassifiable weirdness, Seer Group latest collection of jams will pique your interest for sure. Big ups.
Afternoons‘ Say Yes is a fun, nostalgic indie-pop album that knows how to hit pop high notes with indie nuance. The album seems plucked out of the mid ’00s, when the populous-friendly psych of The Flaming Lips’ At War with The Mystics and the dance-heavy electro of MGMT were having their moments. (For good reason: If you check their convoluted history, it sort of was.)
The album has that sort of gentle production wash over it that softens every edge and warms (almost) every mood. Opener “Graffiti Artist” has a chant-able vocal hook (one of many) and a propulsive but not too aggressive synth hook (also one of many). The killer cut is the stomping, boisterous, utterly infectious title track, which drops second–the vocal melodies are magnetic, the rhythm is just-right, the chorus has people hollering “say yes!”, and the whole thing comes off as a pro-adventure anthem. Yup, sign me up for that.
“Saturday Morning” and “Bored Teenagers” bring in softer vibes that recall Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s work, while touches of the high-brow work Grandaddy did appear throughout. “Gloria” and “Love is a Western Word” are two more upbeat tracks worth noting. The back part of the album gets darker and creepier in both lyric and sound, making it less interesting to me, but the first part of the album is so infectious and joyful that it’s worth checking out just for that. Say yes, indeed. Stream the album here.
1. “Lighthouse” – The Burgeoning. One of the most intriguing singles I’ve heard all year, this track combines the ambient uppers of chillwave with the melodic structures of Vampire Weekend and the frantic fury (and guitar noise) of a punk band. It’s a fresh, amazing combination. I’m looking forward to hear more from The Burgeoning.
2. “The Next Morning” – The Drafts. The energy and enthusiastic guitars of The Vaccines meet a reserved, pensive vocalist for a charming, infectious tune that you’ll want to hear multiple times.
3. “Where I Go” – Pistol Shrimp. If Passion Pit, MGMT, and Anamanaguchi had a basement dance party, this bangin’ tune would be the result. Pop gold, right here.
4. “Heartracer” – Cosby. Synth-laden, big-pop ’80s revivalism is going great this year. This fits right up there with Challenger for the best of the bunch.
5. “Recurring Dreams” – Shivery Shakes. The carefree nature of whistling in a ’60s surf-pop influenced tune gets me every time. You like The Drums? You’ll love this.
6. “Promises” – Barreracudas. If you make a metaphor that includes arcade games (specifically Donkey Kong), I will be immediately more endeared to you. Fun, poppy garage-rock here.
7. “Speed Date Yr Way to Fame” – Sweet Deals on Surgery. Starts off a thrashy, screamed, frantic punk song before taking a momentary break in pop. Then in blasts off again.
8. “Name on a Matchbook” – Springtime Carnivore. ’60s girl pop gets a slight sonic update, but the soul of this tune really begs for an -ettes suffix.
9. “Head Down” – The Ocean Party. Jangly ’80s indie-rock meets airy ’80s synth-pop. The peppy, fun results are less ’80s and more ’00s than you’d think.
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.