1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.
2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.
3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.
4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.
5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.
6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.
7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.
8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.
9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)
10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.
11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts. [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available.]
Bits and Bobs: Misc.
1. “We Are on the Hill” – Montoya. A fist-pumping indie-dance-rock anthem, complete with anthemic slogan to yell (which makes no sense out of context). I love the piano in this track.
2. “My Fortune” – Sameblod. I tried writing about this sunshiny dance-pop track, but it ended up with this anyway: Ah, what do I know. Just turn it up in your car.
3. “Ran Ran Run” – Pavo Pavo. Half languid, swirly San Fran indie-pop, half unassuming four-on-the-floor Mates of State-style indie-dance thumper. It works surprisingly well for the diversity.
4. “Por Cima” – Flavia Coelho. I don’t know, man, sometimes I just need some Brazilian bossa nova/rap funkiness in my life. I also enjoy not being able to understand the words or the subtitles on this track. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and not worry about it.
5. “We Will Be Palm” – Panda Kid. If you’re into Burger Records’ lo-fi, upbeat rock, you’ll love Panda Kid’s fuzzed-out, reverb-heavy, surf-influenced pop-rock.
6. “Nervous Breakthrough” – Bloodplums. Neuroses! Anti-authoritarianism! Politics! Religion! Big guitars! Snarling vocals! Does it get more pop-punk than this? Come and get it.
7. “High” – Puzzlecuts. Here’s some fun Post-Pavement slacker rock that combines relaxed melodies, laid-back arrangements and noisy guitars. It rambles and shambles along, cheerfully rocking.
8. “Golden Rat” – Cusses. I dare you to listen to that open guitar riff and not be totally sucked into this stomping rock song. That’s not even including the frantic, wild vocals of their female lead singer. Dynamite in a bottle. (Band is not to be confused with CURXES or Swearin’ despite (one definition of) their name–but man wouldn’t that make a great trio tour?)
9. “Eyes Lie” – Sebastian Brkic. I don’t know what to call minor-key rock that isn’t aggressive. Brkic’s new tune isn’t chill, but it’s also not aggro–it lives somewhere between cerebral and dreamy, somewhere between marching and swaying.
10. “No Justice” – Astronauts, Etc. I’ve been getting real into white-boy slow jamz recently, and this track has everything I’m looking for: a sensuous vibe created by mellow keys, smooth falsetto, unobtrusive percussion, and lithe bass. It’s not funky or aggressive, but it’s got movement and energy. It’s a tough balance to strike, but this track nails it.
11. “Good Will Rise” – Amber Edgar. This earnest acoustic tune knocked me back on my heels. The strings and trumpet in this tune don’t make the sound more expansive–they somehow make it more intimate. This is a powerful statement, musically and lyrically.
12. “Slow I Go” – Paul Doffing. This gentle, warm, optimistic fingerpicked acoustic tune calls up the kindest moments of James Taylor, which is high praise from over here.
I had so many MP3s lined up that I’m breaking them into four mini-lists over the next few days. Cool, huh?
We Love Dashes – Indie-Pop-Folk
1. “Carry Oceans” – Montoya. Sweeping, cinematic pop that uses reverb expertly to create mood. There’s some acoustic guitars, pad synths, earnest female vocals, and more. For a first track, this is an exciting start.
2. “Those Days” – Noire. Wistful verses blossom into a joyful, twinkling chorus: it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, or someone flicking open the curtains in a gloomy room. You’ll feel your hips move to this one.
3. “2004” – Sleepwalk Parade. That line between indie-rock, alt-country, and folk-punk is a thin one at times. Great melodies and vibe going on here.
4. “On the Rocks” – The Rural Alberta Advantage. RAA has always been pushed by insistent drums, but now they’ve added some churning keys to amp up the urgency. By the end of the tune it’s very nearly a dance-rock tune (albeit one with distant, delicate piano).
5. “Livin’ & Dyin (to Dream)” – Kory Quinn. This track has the x factor that the best raw, honest, clear-eyed alt-country singer/songwriters have. Is it the vocal tone? Is it the use of space in the vocal lines? Is the production? Is it all of them?