Brother Moses‘ sophomore EP Legendsbuilds on their debut Thanks for All Your Patienceby upgrading the sonics of their rubbery, laidback, Spoon-meets-Pavement indie-rock. Their debut EP was almost preternaturally chill; Raymond Richards (Local Natives) gives their sound some punch, while not losing their goofy, waltz-through-it-all charm.
The easiest place to see this is in “Older,” the lone track present on both EPs. The opening synth has become fatter, the drums are more resonant, the tempo is slightly sped up, and the guitars are brighter. The overall effect is like cranking up the saturate knob on a picture: it’s the same thing, but bigger, brighter, and warmer. Elsewhere, the saturation holds in the form of more reverb (the guitars on “Time to Leave”), more ambiance (“Crazy Eyes”), and more expansive songwriting touches (“Pretend”). Some tracks sound like post-punk; some sound like Vampire Weekend chilling way, way out. Throughout, the band is playing with what they can do in a studio, experimenting with what exactly the sounds in their heads can be with a lot of equipment at their disposal.
Closer “Please Stop” is probably the furthest push of their experiments, putting all of their sonic elements together into one track. Mashing all of their ideas into one place results in a tune that doesn’t quite sound like anyone: James Lockhart’s lolling drawl amps up to an anthemic soar over an indie-rock band that has thoroughly ingested modern indie music and spit out their own distinct version of it. It’s a fantastic tune that is more than the sum of its parts–and the parts are all pretty great on their own.
Legends is a brief six songs, but the growth and development from their first EP shows that they’ve got a lot of ideas. Brother Moses has got a great thing going, and you should jump on that.
Seth Nathan‘s Swimopens up with a fuzzed-out blast of ’90s indie-rock in “Four Corners,” building on the discography he’s created recently of fractured indie-rock fusions with various other genres. The rest of the album streamlines out some of the genre mash-ups, focusing on an updated Pavement/Guided by Voices sound. With the music streamlined, it leaves room for Nathan’s attention to turn toward lyrical concerns for most of Swim. “How did you still love me / when everything was wrong in my head?” opens up second track “Pieces of Jade.” The rest of the album could be subtitled Love in the Time of Mental Illness, as Nathan takes the listener on a tour of what love looks like in the midst of “everything was wrong in my head.”
Nathan is remarkably open and detailed about this period of his life, whether that’s the flute-laden psych-pop of “Diagonal” declaring a Mountain Goats-esque couple paralysis (“we’re stuck in a tangle / or a strangle / we can’t handle”), the loping “Sealed My Fate” trying to make sense of a relationship “crashing down,” or the country-esque “This Big Old House” unspooling a rebuilding narrative with an ominous ticking clock in the background. It’s a deeply personal album, but not in the claustrophobic way that many records can be when they try to go this route. The one exception is the title track, which closes the record with a brittle, intense solo acoustic performance that caps the story of the record in an inconclusive, loose-threads sort of way. If you’re into indie-rock albums that are genuinely trying to do things that you can’t do in a regular rock format (that was the goal once, no?), you’ll find a lot to love in Swim.
1. “New Survival” – The Medicine Hat. Taut, tightly-wound indie-rock verses open up into an expansive, melodic chorus. The whole thing is reminiscent of a female-fronted Bloc Party, if they were slightly less neurotic. They don’t make ’em like this very often. (editor’s note: this band changed its name to Ellevator after this post was published.)
2. “More” – Queue. A slinky, winding bass line and gently staccato percussion power this indie-rock tune that would make Wye Oak jealous.
3. “Four Corners” – Seth Nathan. Brash, noisy, immediate garage-y indie-rock that owes as much to Pavement as it does to The Vaccines. The attitude-filled vocal delivery is on point, and the whole thing comes off like a charm.
4. “You” – Wall Sun Sun. Two nylon-string acoustic guitars, two drummers, and nine-part harmonies compose the entire arrangement here. While comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree are sort of inevitable, they sound more like a ’50s girl-pop band fused to an acoustic version of Vampire Weekend. Which is to say: “whoa, this is the jam.”
5. “Birthday Blues” – Team Picture. If Frightened Rabbit got mixed up with a krautrock band, they might turn out a churning, lightly-psyched-out, major-key, six-minute rock jam like this one.
6. “Black Gold” – HOMES. Is this a dance-rock song (those rhythms!)? An indie-rock song (those vocals!)? A Southern rock song (that riff!)? Yes and no and all. Whatever it is, it rocks.
7. “Far Away (Saudade)” – Marsicans. The vocals are not usually the most intriguing part of British garage rock, but there’s a quirky, lovely section in the middle here where Marsicans goes a capella. It just totally makes the song. Also the bass playing is rad.
8. “Shapes” – Old Mountain Station. Low-slung, low-key indie rock a la Grandaddy, shot through with big guitar distortion a la post-rock bands. High drama music, but not in an overly theatrical way.
9. “The Absolute” – Jackson Dyer. Starts off as a Bon Iver-esque dreamy jam with lightly neo-R&B vocals, but we get some post-dub groove dropped in and some super slinky guitar on top of that. By the end, I’m groovin’ hard and genre labels don’t matter much to me.
10. “Metropole Des Anges Pt. 1” – EH46. Speaking of post-rock, here’s a slowly unfurling piece that’s heavy on drone and distortion/static. The counterpoint is a delicate keyboard line that evokes the elegance of water dropping on heavy vibrating machinery. The sonic elements bend and contort over the nearly-six-minute length, but the mood remains consistent.
11. “Falling Sky” – October’s Child. Heavy on pad synths, this electro song threatens to explode from dream-pop to electro-jam but never does. Instead, they wash sounds over the listener and sing of “reverie.”
12. “Collapse” – ILY. The pressing movement of techno combined with the mysterious, laidback chill of Postal Service-electro pop creates a very summery jam.
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.
Angela James – Way Down Deep. James’ voice is the star of this rich, elegant collection. Her strong, clear, bright alto leads the way through sparse but not stark environments, occasionally striking out with not much more than a gentle, distant guitar. She goes completely a capella in the evocative title track, a bold, risky move that pays off gloriously. She effects a regal stance through these tunes by calling up mental images of the torchy lounge singer, the world-weary blues singer, and the old-school country diva–sometimes all within the same song: “Dirty Moon” mixes 1800s saloon-style piano with early ‘1900s ragtime and jazz instrument soloing.
The album moves expertly through combinations of smooth jazz, alt-country, and modern singer-writer, showing tasteful, thoughtful touches no matter which genre is dominant in a song. (Check the wonderful jazz instrumental “Salt Town.”) But even though the arrangements are great, James is at her best when she lets it be stark and quiet: “I Should’ve Known,” “Lost and Found,” and the title track are majestic and masterful. The deft, impressive songwriting of Way Down Deep is the perfect vehicle for James’ remarkable vocal talents while still being engaging in its own right: there’s not much more you can ask of an album. And it’s classy as anything, too. Highly recommended.
Quinn Tsan – Good Winter. Bon Iver established brittle, distant, forlorn sounds as the definitive winter soundtrack; Quinn Tsan falls a bit afield from that vision by injecting warmth and immediacy into the vocals and instruments while still retaining the stark, austere singer/songwriter vibe. Songs like “Bedrooms III” perfectly capture the conflicted feel of sitting by a warm fire on a dark, cold night–your hands are comfortable, but the cold is creeping up your back. “Oh! The Places We’ll See!” delivers a similar vibe, but with a bit more of a sea shanty air. The title track of this six-song EP is actually the least wintry, as Tsan appropriates a lilting vocal style and a gentle-yet-perky instrumentation more similar to Lisa Hannigan, Regina Spektor, or Ingrid Michaelson. It’s an interesting, enveloping EP that establishes Tsan as someone to watch.
Sloth – Still Awake. Sloth is pretty perfectly named for a rock band that combines a pronounced Pavement streak in the vocals and guitar with a shuffle-snare alt-country. It’s a situation where the best of both worlds come together: the endearing slacker ethos of early ’90s indie-rock meets the fresh-faced sounds of ’90s alt-country in tunes like “Matador Scarf” and “No Places to Be.” Scuzzy guitar drops into the background of tunes, mumbly vocals wander around with wry amusement written all over them, and overall good vibes permeate everything.
Even tunes that lean more to one side of their genre mix are fun: “Cheer Up Charlie” is devoid of alt-country and plays up the pseudo-funky chill that white boys were (are) all about; “This Dashboard Looks Like the Rest of Our Lives” is a bent take on trad country, while “Dark Dark Dark” is as close to Jayhawks as Sloth gets. But it’s opener “Smug Rock” that shows the best way forward for Sloth: a space somewhere between the two genres where they can put their stamp on the sound. Just like most early ’90s indie-rock, Sloth’s work is just plain fun to listen to: delightfully quirky, unexpectedly exciting, and altogether impressive.
I just spent the better part of two weeks going through a house move and a computer crash. (Why do these things so often tag team?) As a result, I’ve got a very eclectic mix of tracks that I’m into right now. Usually I try to put some sort of theme together, but this one has it all. Good luck!
The New House Highs and Lows
1. “Icarus” – Silver Firs. If Grizzly Bear and Givers joined forces, I still don’t know if they could pull off this track. It’s like a more woodsy version of Architecture in Helsinki, which is my way of saying, “A+ LISTEN IMMEDIATELY.”
2. “Dean & Me” – jj. If you want to know what the world has come up with in 70 years of pop music, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example track than this one that incorporates vintage songwriting skills (even with a throwback reference!), traditional lyrics (with some existential twists) and sounds that are completely now. Just brilliant stuff.
3. “Blue Eyes” – The Rosebuds. You probably need some giddy, jangly, ooo-filled guitar pop in your life. The Rosebuds provide.
4. “You’ve Already Won” – Slow Buildings. Classic garage rock bass line, tambourine, and half-speed/mopey chorus make for a way fun tune.
5. “Scott Get the Van, I’m Moving” – Cayetana. If you’re not on the Cayetana train, that’s because it’s quickly becoming a bullet train and it’s hard to jump on those. But seriously. Cayetana’s female-fronted punk is blowing up just about as fast as they can get their sound into ears, so you should be on that.
6. “Hold Me Like the Water” – The Radio Reds. You want some churning, claustrophobic punk rock? You got it, chief. The Radio Reds’ latest track makes me feel like I’m in a cramped basement getting my younger self’s demons out through moshing and yelling all the words that the Radio Reds actually are singing. You know what I’m saying.
7. “Valkyrie” – CURXES. If the brittle tones of Sleigh Bells got somehow danceable, CURXES would show up at that party fashionably late and with a slightly higher-end alcohol than was expected of the soiree.
8. “All I Want” – SW/MM/NG. Remember in the ’90s, when one version of indie-rock was rock’n’roll music made with no pretenses of being radio-friendly or traditionally poppy? SW/MM/NG’s earnest, endearing, yelpy slacker psych is a band that escaped the Pavement vortex and made it forward in time 20 years.
9. “Another” – Greylag. Led Zeppelin had that way of sounding wild and adventurous in their acoustic tracks, and Greylag has that same feel. This exciting acoustic-fronted tune has that rolling, ongoing feel of travel.
10. “Rise Up For Love” – Sister Speak. I love dance-pop and EDM in moderation. I would love to see more classic pop songcraft on the radio, starting with Sister Speak’s beautiful, mature, classy, catchy tune right here. It just feels right in my ears, and it would sound so right on my radio.
11. “Pop Ur Heart Out” – Salme Dahlstrom. Have you ever wanted a female Fatboy Slim? Doesn’t matter, Dahlstrom fills the role with aplomb. Seriously, try to not think about “Praise You” during this tune. It’s impossible. I love it.
12. “Everlasting Arms” – Luke Winslow-King. Southern gospel is kind of like Western swing: distinct sound, not that many adherents. Luke Winslow-King is makin’ that traditional sound cool again, and I’m fully on board with this.
13. “Together Alone” – Hollie April. You ever have that moment where you hear a voice for the first time, and it knocks you back a little bit? Hollie April has one of those amazing voices that make me sit up and take notice. Keep watch.
The Forty Nineteens from Temecula, California, create a bathing suitable (though cut off blue jeans) backdrop for a straight-up, rocked-about, garage-door-up chill out. Spin It is an album at the heart of maximizing summertime, utilizing nighttime, taking all bets before ring time. They’ve made a classic-sounding album: a whiskey sour made with The Makers and Copper Blue Sugar. Like a classic album offering, they even cover a song, The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”
What strikes me is that Spin It is so ridiculously similar to one of my favorite albums, the self-titled Durocs record. The Durocs in 1979 covered Gene Pitney’s “It Hurts To Be In Love” on their consummately sequenced, rock/soul throwback. Both bands are from California. The Durocs’ hit “Lie To Me” : The 4019s’ hit (this reviewer’s pick) “Can’t Let You Go” :: squeezing oranges : making orange juice. There is no second Durocs album, but there is a first Forty Nineteens album, which I went feverishly searching for as soon as I heard Spin It.
Three sentences on a true ache: Jenny’s at her figure drawing class, but she wants to be at the smoked-out, punk-band-stickered, freshly bleached, checkpoint-tiled Toilet Club. The Forty Nineteens are playing with Old 97’s and The Delta 72. There are going to be a lot of good numbers.
Chris Pope spits his stories in your ear, laughs at you – a creep at the wet willie weary. Your eyes refocus. “Are you ten years old?” On his third EP, High Times, with his group Blonde Summer, he continues to lay down his prize prose in a distinct voice. This is what has set indie-rock apart since it was a thing. We know Lou Barlow’s lovelorn; we know Ted Leo’s aware. We want to be a part of these tales and feel that there’s a leader.
Blonde Summer jumps out of the storybook page so abruptly they take the fish bowl and doily down, too. I remember Scott Yoder bruised my brain on The Pharmacy’s “Choose Yr. Own Adventure.” I remember Ray Weiss rearranged my reason on Le Rug’s “Sex Reduction Flower.” I think Chris Pope has a similar spark for matching words with music and for taking the listener into his world without having to say “Pay attention,” “Look,” or “Listen.”
It’s like a day’s worth of bad advice bundled up, tucked, and waxed into a single Zuma Beach morning. The water is frigid and frightening. It takes the breath right out of you. It’s just a doorless Jeep ride home. You sit under covers for two hours, shivering… making no sudden movements. It’s a recovery. It’s like no cop is going to suspect the food delivery man who’s also a drug dealer. So, the plastic-bag cradled meal looks innocuous, and costs $10 more. But, it’s in there. Let’s get baked and shovel Lo Mein.
Three sentences on true ache: Jenny’s all caught up at her volunteer deal, covering turkey hands on a December bulletin board, when she really wants to be – ear buds in – subwaying home. She clicks on the Pre-X-Mas MegaMix, all warm songs: Pavement’s “Summer Babe,” Blonde Summer’s “Jim,” The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up,” The Apples In Stereo’s “Sun Is Out,” and on and on…. The guide lights careen by, accenting the spaces between on a trip usually only highlighted by the stop announcements.
Wreaths are Asbury Park, New Jersey’s new drone-dance space-out shoe-gaze outer-space chill-pill. These madman drummers have a sense of the history of this type of music: The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Warlocks. The band has a great grasp of how to deliver a song without succumbing to the urge to drown… in pools of big delayed guitars and tremolo bar dives. Their self-titled album is solid… no bummers. Feeling kind of older, I don’t want a rehash of records I’ve already put away. I want to have a crush on a band. I want to turn up the band.
The band loops and disintegrates through brimstone baritone – guitars and keys rushing and pushing. They build and build and let the calliope crash to the ground. Feather-headed gargoyles painted neon orange, bright bent whistles, and ornate cylindrical steel shrouds are strewn. No one picks up a single piece. The Designing Women of Asbury Park scoff and get back to it, struggling to muster just what flare will flip another non-ocean-facing condo, while the band members are watching the young girls dance.
At points conjuring Jim Morrison, Wreaths chant, “I Love Me, Dark Wizard.” At other points, Wreaths are just humming a lunar tune. They mid-song break… with fuzz guitar sludge, sloughing off to grow stronger roots. It can get dark with this type of music. The music on Wreaths is more hopeful. This band is currently sold out of their discs. Something is happening here.
Three sentences on true ache: She left the house this morning in pitch dark – Wreaths stuck on repeat… stuck in her iPod-docking wave machine… stuck in her head. Jenny has a brief lunch break… the kind one spends just rubbing temples. Powerhouse sandwich in mouth, she throws open the double doors, and she is blinded by the light.–Gary Lee Barrett
When you’ve been in music for a while, nuance and subtlety become more important to you. This is true for listeners and creators; although I can still appreciate a mighty guitar riff, I find myself entranced by complex lyrical turns and less obvious arrangements. Tri-State is a band composed of people who have been in bands, and you can tell from the songs they write. These pop-rock tunes, while poppy, are not constructed as instant hits. These are measured tunes, tunes that take their time on little guitar bits (“All Different,” “Back Before”) just because. This unhurried, “let’s give this some space” method is much like that of IC fave The Brixton Riot.
Tri-State’s tunes unfold in pleasing ways: “Back Before” creates an ominous mood that builds and builds, while follow-up “Country Squire” toes the line between pop-rock and alt-country. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all; the songs feel like outworkings of the same thought process. If you’re into ’90s indie-rock (Pavement, Guided by Voices) or mature songwriting that appreciates with multiple listens, you should give Tri-State’s self-titled EP a spin.
Kira Velella‘s gentle voice is the primary feature of her singer/songwriter tunes, and for good reason. Her second soprano/alto voice commands the arrangements, sucking the listener in. “Lover, Move” and “Barn Swallow” both feature strong instrumental songwriting that is totally eclipsed by the endearing confidence of Velella’s voice. She accomplishes the rare feat of encapsulating confidence and vulnerability in a single performance, which keeps me coming back to the tunes.
This uncommon tension buoys the six-song Daughter EP, making it consistently interesting to the invested listener. The wintry arrangements accomplish a second improbable feat: the Damien Jurado-esque characteristic of feeling both lush and sparse at the same time. It gives Velella’s vocals both the forefront and a space to inhabit; it is easy to imagine Velella in a video clip of a snow-covered field for any of these tracks. The mood here is strong throughout tunes, giving a polish to the release. All told, this is an impressive debut offering from Kira Velella.
Categories can be stultifying and abrasive, but they are helpful starting points for conversation. Saying that U137 plays post-rock is mildly helpful to get the conversation started, but saying that the band plays “pretty” post-rock (Moonlit Sailor, Dorena, The Album Leaf) instead of “heavy” post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Tyranny is Tyranny) is far more descriptive. You’re going to hear a lot of arpeggios, humongous crescendoes to jubilant melodies, and ethereal synths in Dreamer on the Run. If you’re into that, then the 40 or so minutes you spend listening will be breathtaking.
It’s not the sort of album where one particular track sticks out: it’s simply a forty-minute excursion into a beautiful section of the world. If you’re feeling down about the government shutdown, gun violence, poverty, or any other modern malaise, Dreamer on the Run can help you forget that for a few minutes and remember that there are so many beautiful things in the world to comfort you. This, simply put, is a gorgeous record.
It’s important to remember that indie-rockers in the ’80s never called themselves indie-rock; the vast majority assumed themselves as part of the punk tradition. We’ve backfilled the term indie-rock on those bands that were playing their music independently. (I am as guilty of this as anyone.) But it’s no surprise that ’80s rock from the independent scene has a vastly different vibe than indie-rock as we know it now: they saw themselves in a line of rejects with no expectations placed upon them, while much post-Pavement indie-rock self-consciously views itself as part of the pop tradition. That latter trait isn’t always a bad thing, but it does curtail a certain amount of experimentation and idiosyncrasy.
Glimmermen claim to be playing Urban Post-Rock Blues (?), but I think what they’re trying to say is “we do what we want.” And with the removal of the restrictor plates, the Dublin trio is able to open the throttle wide for their four-song Satellite People EP. Their sound is tough to pin down in words, so I can’t blame them for picking an esoteric set of them to try some self explanation: the title track combines a rigid rhythm with a laissez-faire guitar tone and rambling spoken word vocals, while “I’ll Be” brings an ominous edge to the sound with some angular (but not harsh) guitar. Sounds normal until the big reveal: both of these songs have a shaker as the distinctive rhythmic element. “I’ll Be” has a harmonica. “Satellite People” sounds like bizarro Red Hot Chili Peppers or something, what with the “monkeys on the moon” reference. This is abnormal music.
Abnormal, but in the best way. The tunes have a rare pull that comes from not being able to easily classify their work. With few easy mentions other than, “that good old indie ethos, back when it was the punk rock ethos but not really anymore,” Glimmermen command attention. They reward the attention, too; this is genuinely fun stuff to listen to, partially because of its challenge and partially because they’re not afraid to yell “yeehaw!” in the middle of a song because they feel like it. Rock on, Glimmermen.
Restorations‘ self-titled album was one of my favorites of the year in 2011, and their A/B 7″ is impressive enough to be in the conversation for 2012, even though it’s a scant two songs. The tunes, appropriately named “A” and “B,” have all of the passion and power of their self-titled release while adding more creative songwriting tricks. This rock band doesn’t v/c/v; they swoop in and out with guitars, throw down raging sections of gruff sing-a-long, knock it down to build it back up, and more in the 10:17 that Restorations throws at you.
And it is hurled across the table at you; there’s a headlong fervor in these songs that comes from the fact that they’re really good at writing songs and playing their instruments. It sounds like they’ve not only done their homework, but they’ve been the homework. You can almost hear them building off old songs from their old bands, taking sudden corners that they wouldn’t have taken before, going over there when the established move is staying over here in this area. This is music that doesn’t feel like packaged, self-aware pop songs. These songs feel like an unstoppable overflow. A/B doesn’t seem calculated, it seems inevitable. How could you not want in on something that gripping?
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.