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.]
1. “Never Learn” – Young Romance. No matter what arrangement you set around a great pop melody, the song will succeed: Young Romance support a can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head vocal line with Sleigh Bells-esque guitars mixed with a pop-rock band’s sense of movement and punk’s sense of closure (it’s barely over two minutes). It’s a winner.
2. “The Right Way” – Cassorla. A mash-up of minimalist electro-pop and bright-eyed, enthusiastic guitar-pop results in an unavoidable, must-listen tune that bears more than a passing significance to the Steve Miller Band (I know, weird, but this is a totally a compliment).
3. “Drawing Space” – Grounders. Unassuming, flowing-yet-punchy guitar pop with a sufficient amount of reverb to call up late ’60s or late ’00s–take your pick.
4. “Feel Alright” – Lime Cordiale. At some point in the process, someone said, “You know what this needs? Some fat horns.” And so it was, and thus an excellent pop song was born.
5. “By the Highway” – The Gorgeous Chans. Can we get this band on tour with Lord Huron, stat? Their tropical/folk/indie mash-up is a perfect blend of aspiration and relaxation. They have an excellent horn line going on, as well. A band to watch.
6. “High and Low” – Bird Dog. Enthusiastic ’50s-inspired pop-rock with old-school back-up vocalists: is there anything more summery?
7. “I’m Not the One” – The Susan Constant. The cheery, poppy element of ’90s college rock is alive and well in this tune that’s lyrically reminiscent of Death Cab’s “Someday You Will Be Loved”: big drums, big hooks, big fun.
8. “Car Alarms” – Coma Girls. Here’s a skewed/re-appropriated ’50s-style ballad with Conor Oberstian vocal theatrics; somehow, the fusion seems meant to be.
9. “Lonely and Blue” – Black Vincent. If genres were placed on a map, Black Vincent would be hanging out on the interstate highway between country and ’50s rock while trying to find the exit to go visit The Walkmen. Dejected clanging of guitars and drums meet yowling vocals to turn out an impassioned performance.
10. “Black Snake” – The Down Home Band. Radio-ready Southern Rock with distinct classic rock vibes. Also, mad props to the mixer, who cranked that bass in the mix. This thing rocks in a long hair, flannel, old-school way.
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 first half of this list is marked by songs that rock out really hard. The second half is marked by songs that are outside your normal arrangements.
Rock Out / Quirk Out
1. “Station Wagon Apocalypse” – The Outfit. I’d just like to point out that this incredibly-named garage-rock tune is not even the best name on the two-song EP. (That would be “Tyrannosaurus Surfboard,” YOU’RE WELCOME.) As to the tune itself: Big drums, big guitars, big vocals, big fun.
2. “Be Cool” – Cancers. Cancers is the missing link that makes me think Sleigh Bells might not have been robots from the future and instead were just really, really hyped up ’90s kids.
3. “Last Forever” – Fenech-Soler. As a bassist myself, I appreciate it when a song is so thoroughly dominated by bass that the guitar and keys just kind of follow along. When those songs are also jubilant dance tracks with irresistible shout-it-out vocals, well. Well, well.
4. “Metronome” – The Yuseddit Brothers. There was a brand of ’90s grunge/slacker-rock that took pride in sounding like it was kind of underwater. This low-slung groove has that fuzzy-edged production value to match the not-so-ambitious tempo and tone. Chillax, y’all.
5. “Bright Eyes, Black Soul” – The Lovers Key. Sometimes I hear a song outside of genres I usually cover and think, “WHOA WHY DON’T I LISTEN TO THAT GENRE MORE.” Probably because I’m hearing an elite artist, but I don’t know. Anyway, The Lovers Key has me interested in aggressive Blue Eyed Soul with some serious motown horns stacked up on it. This makes me think of a James Bond movie. Can’t really explain that either.
6. “All in a Day’s Work” – Horizontal Hold. As a mid-point between rocking out and quirking out, I submit Horizontal Hold, which is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies at the moment.
7. “You Are My Summer (feat. Coleman Hell and Jayme)” – La+ch. This is a perfect electro-pop tune. In musical world that I ran, this would be the big hit of the summer. It’s got Icona Pop infectiousness and Cobra Starship restraint. What’s not to love?
8. “Old K.B.” – The Solars. Speaking of motown influences, here’s a piano-pop tune fronted by a guy who sounds like Jack White that features organ and horns. This thing grooves way more than piano-pop fans are probably comfortable with. THAT’S OK!
9. “Unrevenged” – Floating Action. Rubbery bass, ethereal background vocals, driving percussion? Clearly indie-pop, but not any like you’ve imagined recently. Has me all stoked for the album.
10. “I’m To Blame” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. After sending us a folky tune for the first single, the second one is a incredible mash-up of jazz trumpet, Radiohead vocals, Muse craziness, and a totally rad guitar solo. It is, in a word, different.
11. “It Doesn’t Even Matter” – Onward Chariots! If the Kings of Convenience had more quirky pop arrangements, it might end up something like this.
12. “Rockingham” – Kasey Keller Brass Band. 58 seconds of found sound, gentle synths, and meandering acoustic guitar paint a sonic picture extremely well. Very cool stuff here.
13. “Shadow’s Song” – Foxes in Fiction. Chillwave + Owen Pallett? TOTALLY THERE, MY FRIENDS.
Cameron Blake, who recently released an album, got inspired by Edward Snowden and wrote an artistic defense of privacy on the Internet called “The Ballad of Edward Snowden.” It’s not just protest; it’s also a really beautiful song.
MonaLisa Twins have studied the art of ’60s pop, and boy do they have it down. Throw in a crowd-sourced video, and you’ve got a cheery 2:28 to get you through those days.
Cheery post-rock acrobats Pan are releasing a new EP. Here’s a trailer for it. I’m stoked.
I can’t figure out if Sleigh Bells are destroying pop music or remaking it in their own image or both. Still, “Bitter Rivals” is pretty catchy! On the other hand, I don’t even know what I think about the video. Negative points for the Tyrann Mathieu jersey though.
The Vaccines’ first album scratched an itch I didn’t know I had: hooky, buzzy, speedy rock that fell between pop-punk and pop-rock. Since finding what I didn’t know I was missing, I’ve been loving the style ever since. (I must sadly admit that I am remiss in not having checked out their recent follow-up yet.) So it was with great joy that I came across Automotive High School, which plays a similar brand of hooky, buzzy rock.
The band’s Demo 2 kicks off with the perky “Look. It’s Gone.”, which marries playful verses to a driving, insistent chorus. The high vocals and treble-happy guitars in the former section both give off a charming vibe, which turns ominous and desperate for the chorus. They nail the transition between the two moods, as well as making each chorus feel a little more dark than the last. It makes for a striking tune that grabs attention. “Wonder Sings” ratchets up the playfulness, with the lead riff sounding like a children’s sing-song melody being blasted through a Sleigh Bells speaker. Closer (I know! I was sad too!) “Planks” is more like the first tune than the second, sticking to a mid-tempo romp vaguely reminiscent of Menzingers’ unusual quiet/loud structures. There’s still a bit of sing-song in the vocals, which works perfectly here.
This three-song demo couldn’t have piqued my interest more. I want to hear more Automotive High School, stat. If you’re into loud, fun, buzzy rock, you’ve got to hear this band.
Fusing the rhythms of The Tallest Man on Earth to the full arrangements of modern folk-style indie bands like The King is Dead-era Decemberists, Sukh’s “Kings” is an immediately comfortable and lovable folk gem.
Ra Ra Riot has me dancing like a fool to Prince-style falsetto in my office. Also, the phrase “robot hearts” appears. Yes. Yes, indeed.
Ugly Kids Club has been a bit of a chameleon, exploring mega-fuzzed out pop a la Sleigh Bells in as many ways as they can. “Get It All” gives their crunch a bit of new wave touch and a bit of AFI-style anthemic gloom.
You may have heard that Sleigh Bells is releasing a new album. If it can’t get here fast enough for you, some Sleigh Bells-esque noise-pop action is available in Ugly Kids Club‘s “Diamond in Your Fire.” You’ll hear SB’s influence all over it, but when the melodies are this infectious, who cares? The video itself is really weird; just go with it.
While we’re on the subject of strange videos, here’s TimPermanent’s “Busy” clip. The song itself is a burbling indie-electro tune that owes The Postal Service a debt of gratitude. The video is something else entirely.
I’m reviewing fewer and fewer bands with the word “hardcore” in their genre name, but I don’t abandon friends. A Road to Damascus‘s video to “What a Waste of Breath” shows off their pop-punk/hardcore in a tour video: if you’re not down with the genre, it’s worth jumping to 1:45 to see a five-second clip of the bassist pulling off a one-handed cartwheel on stage while holding his bass. I don’t see that every day.
SoundCloud has reached 10,000,000 sound creators, which is a pretty impressive number. The guys behind the project have created a Story Wheel to tell the history of SoundCloud. It’s a pretty fun little slide-show and presentation, and it’s only a few minutes long. Story Wheel is a pretty cool little app/program as well – I hadn’t heard of it until this came in over the wire.
Sometimes bands form to ride the crest of a trend. Sometimes the trend catches up to a band that was already there. The latter is the case for 28 Degrees Taurus, whose jangly/dreamy/psychedelic female-fronted songs fall neatly between Beach House’s dreamy haze and Sleigh Bells’ skronked-out, ultrarhythmic pop noise.
Anchored by the knowledge that they’ve been doing this since 2005 and didn’t just form to catch the trend, you can enjoy the good songs on All The Stars In Your Eyes. And they are good. They aren’t as immediately catchy as Sleigh Bells, but they aren’t as slow as Beach House. There’s defined rhythm, full guitar work and upbeat tempos, but the vocals tend more to dreamy bits and pieces than staccato bursts of notes.
It’s a combination that works really well. This, admittedly, is not my favorite genre of music, but I can recognize talent where it lies, and it lies here. 28 Degrees Taurus has carved out a niche in indie-rock, and they kick it in that spot for 12 tracks. If you’re up for that, then you’ll enjoy it. If you think that reverb is the worst thing to re-occur in music since The Darkness tried to bring back hair metal, well, this isn’t for you. But know that it’s a preference thing, and not a quality thing: these tunes are well-written, energetic and engaging. Rock on, 28 Degrees Taurus.
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.