1. “The Itch” – Brother O’ Brother. Stripping some of the Black Keys-esque arena-rock sheen from their guitar-and-drums approach ends up with a raging, distortion-laden tune that has The White Stripes on speed-dial. Ka-pow.
2. “The Dusty Song” – Sebastian Brkic. Brkic creates a swooping, diving panorama that relies just as much on creaky-voiced MeWithoutYou-style indie-rock as it does acoustic material.
3. “Ridiculous” – Mleo. Surprising vocal and instrumental range make this an impressive rock tune.
4. “Salvo” – CFIT. Serious music that reaches for the seriousness of Radiohead, the swirling development of shoegaze, some airy aesthetics of chillwave, and an overall sense that none of those influences take away from the inventiveness of the work.
5. “What’s Pesto” – The River Fane. Ominous clicking and clacking undergird this menacing, pondering, powerful indie rock track that’s anchored by thunderous piano chords and wavering vocals a la Thom Yorke.
6. “Rubbernecking” – Frog. Fresh off their triumphant Kind of Blah, Frog re-released their debut. This track points toward the ragged enthusiasm and vocal intricacies that made the guitar rock of KOB such a charm.
7. “End of Something” – Febria. This tunes’ an omnivorous beast, as prog, math-rock, laid-back ’70s psych, jazz, and guitar heroics blend together into a mindbending stew. It’s not as hectic as The Mars Volta, but it’s maybe in the zipcode next door.
8. “Golden Threads From the Sun (excerpt)” – yndi halda. This bit of a tune from a larger post-rock work points to the scope at which yndi halda feels comfortable: massive. As such, there are some group vocals, Sigur Ros-like distortion explosions and frantic drums, strings, and generally all manner of thing going on. Here’s to maximalist post-rock.
9. “Thank You For Your Time” – Citizen Shade. Soulful and dramatic, this piano-led romp starts off quiet and ramps way up.
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.
The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.
1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.
2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.
3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.
4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.
5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.
6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.
7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.
8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.
9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.
10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.
11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.
It’s been a while since I did a horizon column, but this is where I put all the bands that are just a few steps away from being great. These bands have potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing them recognize it.
Pyne’s Songs that Start With ‘C’ came to my attention because Jaymes Pyne is also the lead singer in the chaotic post-hardcore band Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, which I enjoy. Pyne’s solo work is acoustic-based, sort of in the folk genre, so it’s a departure from what I first heard from him. The biggest strength and pitfall is the vast number of things going on in the album: opener “Corpus Luteum” has a ominous mood and acoustic riff that calls up Tom Waits or The Black Heart Procession, while following track “Right Time” is an upbeat folk strummer with a shuffle snare and airy sung vocals. Third track “Life” is country-esque fingerpicked tune. Several songs are piano-based, to great effect.
“Resolve” has an anthemic cast to it that is exaggerated by Pyne’s best falsetto impression of Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons). It’s the falsetto that he sticks with most throughout the album, and that makes this a divisive listen. If you’re on the side of theatrical falsettos, you’ll love the tunes where it happens. If not, you’ll be more on the side of tunes like “Holden’s Song” or “Indentured Together,” where Pyne sings full out against forceful strums. (I find the latter style far more appealing, but that’s a personal aesthetic preference.) But the experimentation is always interesting, so I’m looking forward to where he goes next.
I gave Dead Sea Sparrow‘s Hymns EP its own post because I was intrigued by its ambient elements. For the three-song Love and Lovers EP, the duo turns toward more traditional folk/pop song structures. This is a turn I like, since I cover mostly folk. “The Amateur” is a vocals-heavy tune that has the melodic structure and sway almost of a lullaby; “On Your Way” has an emotional desperation despite its calm sound that recalls Damien Jurado. Opener “The Gun” is the most complex track here, but it’s also the least engaging, as it obscures the simple joys that make the next two tracks so memorable in a morose mood. But Dead Sea Sparrow is definitely working with a good set of ideas here, and I look forward to see what they do with a little more than three songs in seven minutes–if this is the genre they stay in for a while.
Swedish songwriter Sebastian Brkic is a prolific artist, recording 38 songs over 7 releases in under a year. I came across his latest three-song EP 3, which features tunes that are all exactly three minutes long. The tightly constructed tunes fall into a genre that’s tough to peg: the high drama and soaring vocals of pop punk take center stage, but the soundscapes are darker and far more lush than those of three-chord mashers. He also throws in some synths and electronic work for good measure. That leaves Brkic’s songs somewhere between Coheed & Cambria, The Decemberists, and Dntel, which is indeed an odd mix. If that’s an intriguing idea, you should check out Brkic’s work.
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.