1. “Crickets” – Some Army. Some Army sounds seamless here, as if every instrument were playing together as one. That’s a credit to their mature, strong indie-rock songwriting, excellent arranging, and immaculate production. Quite a track here.
2. “Flashback” – Astral Cloud Ashes. If you’re into MeWithoutYou, you’ll have a strong connection with ACA’s approach here: speak/sing vocals over a moody, brooding indie-rock backdrop.
3. “Ticks” – Vienna Ditto. This wildly inventive track requires some oddball words to be strung together, but here goes: sassy ’50s girl pop meets Spaghetti Westerns outside an arcade inside a dark carnival. Sometimes it is like dancing about architecture.
4. “The Joke” – Islands. A thrumming, inviting electro beat meshes with a claustrophobic mood and somehow keeps the song from going full dance-rock; big Bloc Party vibes abound.
5. “Johnny” – Basement Revolver. It takes a lot to get me interested in a mid-tempo garage rock song, because there are so many in the world. Basement Revolver’s perfectly-turned vocals, well-done guitars, and excellent build-ups result in a song that balances vulnerability and confidence neatly.
6. “Woman” – Dear Life,. Quirky, crunchy indie-rock with a multitude of influences that create interesting moments when I least expect them.
7. “Real” – Grace Joyner. Joyner’s lilting voice and engaging chorus hooks suck me in, and the bass/synths arrangement keep me swaying along to the rest of it.
8. “Young Green Eyes” – Leaone. This feels like a male-fronted version of a lost Adele song in its dramatic sweep, use of vocals, and general expansiveness. Could be poised for a big breakthrough.
9. “Even If” – Jesse Owen Astin. So it’s sort of a ballad, but there’s an electro-pop edge in Astin’s vocals that keeps this a little more raw than a ballad would otherwise be.
10. “I’m a Sea Creature” – Color Majesty. Space Age Bachelor Pad music meets some Pogo-esque glitchy vocals to result in another really smooth track.
1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?
2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.
3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.
4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?
5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.
6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.
7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.
8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.
9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).
10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale. Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.
11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.
12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.
13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.
14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.
Slow Magic‘s How to Run Away combines chillwave and chiptune, two of my favorite niche genres, to create a whole album that lives in the tension between lush and staccato. “Hold Still” shows off the dichotomy best, where flowing synths and chill beats in the bulk of the song give way to a mini-dubstep coda with screamin’ single-note synths straight out of a video game somewhere.
Slow Magic does have songs that show off both sides: “Youth Group” sounds like Final Fantasy-inspired chiptune, while “Girls” is right in line with Pogo and Blackbird Blackbird in terms of chopped-vocals/smooth synths chillwave construction. But it’s the songs where the elements cross (and are augmented by insistent piano, as is often the case) where the songs shine. It’s not as high-energy as Anamanaguchi, but this isn’t sit-back-and-relax music either. It strives to make its own path, and that’s commendable no matter what genre you’re in.
Remedies also has some serious chiptune influences, but they choose trip-hop as their second ingredient. Slow Magic chooses upbeat, bright moods; Remedies chooses downtempo, midnight-blue moods to go along with high-pitched synths. The sounds from all your SNES dungeon gaming have found new life in Believers, re-appropriated in unique ways.
This is most clearly shown in single “Trap,” where the opening riff sends me back to Zelda: Link to the Past, while the dreamy synths and autotuned vocals take the song in a different direction. The vocals appear throughout the album, graduating the tunes of Believers from easily-classified electro jams to a more complex and rewarding description: a hybrid R&B/alt hip-hop project. “Time” is a particularly evocative example of their hip-hop grooves, while follow-up “Good Books” shows off their R&B chops in vocal melodies and spurned-lover lyrics. Chiptune, trip-hop, hip-hop, and R&B in a blender seems like a tough thing to imagine, but Remedies sounds surprisingly assured and mature in pulling it off.
ODESZA‘s In Return also has some R&B influences, particularly in the Shy Guys feature “All We Need” and the smooth instrumental banger “Kusanagi.” But it’s a side effect of ODESZA’s main mission: absorb every possible electro-based genre into its own version of what electronic music should be. Call it post-dub if you like, but there’s hardly a drop to be found here (even of the artsy version they originally came to prominence on). Instead, there’s flashes of clubby electro-pop (“Sun Models”), soundtrack-ready mood backdrops (“Sundara”), laconic electronic estimations of quirky indie-pop (“Memories That You Call”), and more. The opening of “For Us” sounds like the start of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing,” which is more compliment than not from this party.
By absorbing the lessons of many different strains of electronic music (including chiptune!), ODESZA has crafted an album that blows past all of them. There’s not a cloying or cheesy moment on this whole album, which is a testament to the group’s skill and nuance. (I love Anamanaguchi, because cheesiness is the point. When cheesiness is not the end goal, that’s when it gets problematic.) If you’re into electronic music, you really should be listening to ODESZA. For my money, they’re making the most interesting electronic music around.
5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.
6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.
7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.
8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.
9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.
10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.
11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.
12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.
13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.