1. “Friends” – Marsicans. Marsicans appeared fully-formed writing masterful indie-pop-rock songs. I have no idea how that happened, but we’re all beneficiaries. This one manages to get heavy on the lyrical content and yet still manages to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard since … uh … “Swimming” by Marsicans.
2. “My Roommate Is a Snake and the Landlord’s a Bat” – Gregory Pepper and His Problems. If the conceit of Sleigh Bells is “hardcore guitars tamed by pop melodies,” the conceit of Pepper’s new album Black Metal Demo Tape is “sludge metal guitar and indie pop melodies.” This particular track starts off as a doomy dirge before transitioning into a early-Weezer power-pop tribute to metal. It’s a fun ride the whole way through the track. The rest of the album is equally inventive, charming, and gloomy (sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but also sometimes not).
3. “Weathering” – moonweather. Fans of the acoustic work on Modest Mouse’s Good News album will love the unique vocal style and swaying, shambling, enthusiastic folk arrangement of this tune. The lilting, floating horns/string arrangement is excellent.
4. “€30,000” – Emperor X. If John Darnielle had collaborated with Pedro the Lion in between his All Hail West Texas and Tallahassee days, the results would have sounded as enigmatic and engaging as this incredible track. It’s almost pointless to tag this with genres–it’s a thoughtful, passionate, wild indie-pop (okay, I did it anyway) track.
5. “Unbroken Chains” – WolfCryer. If you’re not listening to WolfCryer yet, you’re missing out on some of the most vital, important folk songs being sung today. Baumann’s vocal delivery, vocal melodies, and lyrics are all top-shelf in this weary, burdened protest tune.
7. “I Won’t Rest Until” – Brianna Gaither. Following in the vein of Moda Spira, this tune seamlessly blends electro-pop synths, instrospective singer/songwriter piano, soulful vocals, and indie-rock drums for a thoroughly modern-sounding take on serious pop.
8. “We Notice Homes When They Break” – Loyal Wife. An earnest, charming love song that’s part alt-country (via the blaring organ), part indie-pop (through the vocal tone and vocal melodies), and part singer/songwriter (through the lyrics).
9. “Hold On” – Midnight Pilot. The title track to Midnight Pilot’s latest EP is a distillation of their Paul Simon-meets-Americana sound, a yearning piano-driven ballad augmented by lovely fluttering strings and capped off by a beautiful male vocal performance. The vocal melodies in the chorus are catchy and sophisticated, a balance rarely struck well.
10. “Alone with the Stars” – Ofeliadorme. Portishead-style trip-hop with a heavy dose of spacey/ambient synths for atmosphere. The video is in black and white because the song sounds like it is in noir tones.
11. “Eternally” – Julia Lucille. Fans of the complex emotional states of Julianna Barwick will find much to love in this track, which has similar focus on wordless vocals (although not looped and layered ones) to convey the dramatic, almost mystical mood. This track does have a full band supporting Lucille’s voice, and the band’s patient, thoughtful accompaniment creates a dusky evening for her voice to wander through.
12. “Islands III” – Svarta Stugan. Instead of releasing a video, this Swedish post-rock outfit released a video game. Set in a gray, bleak warzone environment, the game has elements of Helicopter Game and a side-scrolling space shooter. (It’s fun!) The song itself is a slowly-moving, minor-key, guitar-heavy post-rock piece of the Godspeed You Black Emperor! school. The game and the song really mesh well–it was a great idea.
I love alliteration, so here’s some of that in this mix of MP3s.
Acoustic April Mix
1. “Honeycomb Heart” – True Gents. A magnificent chorus powers this indie-folk tune from a unique Scottish outfit.
2. “Leave Me Where I Want to Be” – Safe Haven. Front-porch intimacy flows through this combination of New Orleans jazz and Appalachian Americana.
3. “Grew Up Here” – The End of America. Appalachian harmony and a rootsy instrumental arrangement make this an irresistible nugget.
4. “Maybe It’s Best” – Justin Heron. Shuffle snare, bright guitar tone, and whispery vocals? Yup, I’m in.
5. “Sharks!” – Common Shiner. This band’s website is SayNoToBadPop.com. That’s awesome. Their acoustic-fronted power-pop echoes Something Corporate and Motion City Soundtrack.
6. “Pretty Face” – Among Giants. I love the vocals here: raw, passionate, and real.
7. “Playing Pretend” – Joshua Steven Ling. The deeply saddening passing of Jason Molina has gotten me back into slow-moving, quiet, morose recordings and their particular type of beauty.
8. “The Lionness” – OfeliaDorme. On that note, here’s a beautiful cover of my favorite Jason Molina song.
9. “Myopic” – Jura. Transcendent beauty that invokes The Album Leaf’s sense of patience.
I’ve covered French duo Charlotte and Magon since January 2011, and I’ve been mesmerized by their pensive, mysterious indie-rock that draws just as much from trip-hop and Fleetwood Mac as it does any current band. Life Factory is their first full release, and it delivers on the promise. Charlotte’s alto voice commands the stark, crisp tunes with easy authority, and the whole project comes off with a dramatic flair. They can go a bit overboard on the drama in places (“Dice,” “Shellshock”), but tunes like “Motoroïde” and “Black Horses” are excellent songs that make me excited for the future of this band.
Italian band OfeliaDorme is the perfect companion to Charlotte and Magon, as the bands share similarities in sparse, stark mood and atmosphere. The veterans in OfeliaDorme make Bloodroot a standout by not wasting a single moment: every bit is thoughtfully considered, causing the tunes to seem effortless. (Isn’t that always the way?) Vocalist Francesca Bono sits atop the mix, delivering her vocals in a straightforward, almost entrancing voice. Her voice melds equally well to spacious, gloomy tunes (“Brussels,” “Predictable”) and upbeat pop moments (“Ulysses,” “Stuttering Morning”), which results in a nicely varied group of songs. It’s a credit to the band’s songwriting skill that the album still holds together well as a unit. Bloodroot is an album that you can put on and enjoy in its entirety. If you’re into music that makes small arrangements sound gorgeous, this one’s for you.
Swedish outfit E321 adheres more closely to the post-rock idiom than the two previous bands, but they still keep a candle for gloomy, spare atmospheres on three-song release Among the Trees. Opener “The Naked Sea” builds from a lone guitar playing forlorn melodies to a heavy rock section, complete with spoken/yelled vocals that give it a vaguely post-hardcore vibe. “They Call Us Human” and “Among the Trees” follow a similar pattern, but make the quiets quieter and the louds louder. The band shines when it’s turning morose moments into aggressive ones, although E321 doesn’t go all the way by attempting Isis levels of earsplitting clamor. Instead, the band dials in to their comfort zone and turns out really effective, evocative tunes. If you’re into things that have a post- attached to their name, you should check out E321.
Signals to Vega is from Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is interesting because A. it breaks the streak of international bands in this post and B. I once spent a weekend marooned there because of a car wreck. I hold no hard feelings against the town, but if I did I think STV would help exorcise them. This duo does aspire towards the towering metal/post-rock fusions of Isis, as the 10-minute-long lead track “Fear Not the Cycle of Life” alternates between poignant sections of twinkling beauty and roaring double-pedal excursions. The band does both well on Into the Arms of Infinity, as they never lose sight of the melody in the crush of hugely distorted background guitar. No vocals on this one; you’ve just got lots of trilling, soaring guitar to admire. This will make answering e-mails sound way more dramatic and important.
The video for Anne Marie Almedal’s “Winter Song” takes the title literally, placing Almedal in a snow-laden forest and having her wave her arms around a bunch. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear the song out: it’s gorgeous.
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.