1. “Undercover” – Lane 8 (feat. Matthew Dear). How can one not resist the amorous Matthew Dear lyrics, “Dancing with you, undercover/Feels like there are no more lovers, lovers, lovers, left to discover”? This beautifully melodic house track embodies that magnetic energy pulsating between your mouth and the person’s lips you’re desperately trying not to kiss.
2. “World Away” – Kasbo. There are some songs in which the artist has injected emotion of the highest degree. Kasbo’s ambient, thrilling, intoxicating “World Away” is just that; the drops literally take your breath away, and the pulse pulls and pushes all at once.
3. “Turn Your Back” – Colder (Patrice Bäumel Remix). I imagine my alien abduction to sound like this: a nebula of disorienting static and electronic pulsing that jolts me towards a black hole of deep house, where I’ll likely never return.
4. “Claim” – Jojee. “You don’t want my heart/You just want to claim me,” Jojee sings over catchy, indie pop that automatically enlists this track in the army of college ladies’ pre-game ballads.
5. “Step 2001” – Wiley feat. Zomby. If you have yet to listen to UK-based rapping, this should be the track to take that virginity. With industrial-sounding production that pops and grinds, like gun shots in a videogame, and tarantula-like vocals that dart with alarming speed, this is grime at its finest.
6. “Baila Como Yo” – District 78. Does this belong in the opening credits of a Western spoof, or a trap-inspired, Latin dance party? “Baila Como Yo” is like a Dillon Francis moombahton track during a birthday party, but with a piñata bursting open with bass when it drops to the floor.
7. “Take Two” – Dave Eleanor feat. Marena Whitcher. If you have a fetish for ____ pauses and heavyweight bass music, you’ve found your match in the slow-mo, dim-lit rattlesnake ring with “Take Two.”
8. “Someone in the Sky” – AFFKT feat. Sutja Gutierrez. Dizzying, disco-like vocals, and lively piano over a techno beat somehow gave me the best song deja vu I’ve ever experienced. It was like I heard this in a dream before…
9. “Kimono” – Submotion Orchestra. “Kimono” sounds like droplets dripping and ricocheting within a vibrating, electronic cylinder; majestic, wind-chilled, and mysteriously exotic; an electronic rainstorm.
10. “On the Shore” – Luke Top. With brawny, retro-styled vocals similar to The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Luke Top’s dream-pop track should be served chilled with a lime.
11. “The Parade” – Band of Gold. Alternative, Norweigan duo Band Of Gold radiates supreme optimism in this catchy, ‘90s-esque anthem. With a theme about determinedly “getting to the core,” this track should accompany your drunken scribbling of New Year resolutions.
12. “Love Dies” – Club 8. From the newly-released album Pleasure, “Love Dies” glimmers with a spacey pop sound, teenage nostalgia gliding through effortless female vocals, and a lullaby beginning that, instead of building, stays elegantly reserved in high altitude.
13. “Occasional Magic” – Yppah (Ulrich Schnauss Remix). Lush, frond leaf-type music, perfect for soaking in the natural hot springs of Costa Rica or lighting up in the comfort of your back patio, “Occasional Magic” twinkles and pulses with gorgeously hydrated sounds.
14. “Magic Johnson” – Max Graef & Glenn Astro. From the recently-released Magic Johnson, this throbbing title track has a Flying Lotus vibe, with its groovy bass and stylish synth work. The track creates bounciness and a chill-out atmosphere simultaneously.–Rachel Haney
Boston-bred T e e n e n d e r fuses indie, pop-punk and 80’s elements, culminating in a young-American-just-trying-to-get-laid sound, similar to the one popularized by late 90’s pop punk/alternative rock bands. If you’re looking for something reminiscent of your first sip of beer or those basement hangouts where you nervously inhaled Cheetos and proceeded to make out with a braces-wearing classmate, then the duo formed by brothers Brian and Chris McKenna will hit the spot.
Twinkling, synth-studded opener “checks+crosses” jabs a spunky, upbeat groove, sending me back to those Music Express carnival rides that made the Top 40 sound suddenly awesome. Passion Pit-esque vocals hit it off with The Killers’ retro poppiness. Half-way through, the sonic pairing joins forces with a jazzy horn section, resulting in a feel-good epicness that shimmers throughout the rest of the EP.
But it’s “nitetrap” that emits a heart-racing, cheeks-blushing angst through a catchy chorus, breezy vocals, and a handclap that cheers our pretend couple on. Lyrics like, “It’s a seductive drug…Your sweet reaction gets me high” give this track a caramel-sticky-crushin’ theme. “nitetrap” is that summer camp love, the song you could lose your skinny dipping virginity to.
Pop party track “noheadrush” takes a slightly different stance, warning, “Be careful what you’re craving/She’s not sugar.” At the EP’s end, Baerstronaut gently pumps the original with enough helium until his remix reaches a bouncy playfulness, making for a total roller rink vibe–disco ball and all.
As we tend to save the best for last, “badangel” is a standout on the EP. Dark alt-pop energizes this track from the start; by adding that tinge of malevolent naughtiness through intensified synth and pulsing rhythm, T e e n e n d e r continues to evoke slick casualness. “badangel” is like being in the coolest detention ever.
The duo has brought back the freshest qualities of the ‘80s and sweeped in enough of a modern sound for this EP to be decadeless. If I could describe T e e n e n d e r as anything, it would be passing your license test on the third try and heroically speeding off in your mom’s minivan with the speakers giving all they’ve got. –Rachel Haney
So even in this packed musical world, some band names have slipped through the cracks. Thus New York duo Frog have come to have a four-letter name, kind of like when The Killers found out that no one had taken that band name. (And really, of all the bands in the world, the one led by Brandon Flowers probably shouldn’t have been the one to get the name The Killers.)
But Frog fits their name a little better: “All Dogs Go to Heaven” starts out with the sound of swamp fauna (crickets, cicadas, even a frog or two, I would guess). Their gentle guitar strum comes in over the found sound, creating a pastoral pastiche. The summer sounds give way to drums that lead the listener through some loopy-in-the-best-way guitar pop. “All Dogs Go to Heaven” is thus a deeply enjoyable track, a perfect tune to drive or walk to.
The video for “All Dogs” echoes the themes of motion that I head: a train ride is the main image throughout the piece. I’m usually not into old video montages, but this one fits the nature of the song pretty perfectly. Sometimes a perfect connection between image and sound can transcend the methods used, and such is the case here.
The main character stumbles through a train car as Dan Bateman mumbles a rapidfire collection of words, while the smash-cut transitions in the song fit perfectly with the video transitions. “All Dogs” isn’t the sort of video I usually feature, but it’s the sort of video that fits exactly with the song it’s supporting. May we all be so lucky.
“All Dogs Go to Heaven” is the opening track off Kind of Blah, which comes out May 25th on Audio AntiHero Records (Pre-order). You can hear the single “Judy Garland” here.
1. “Just What I Needed” – Wonderful Humans. Whatever the opposite of “reign of terror” is, WH is on that path. Their seemingly endless stream of high-energy, ’80s-inspired dance-pop singles continues with this tropical track.
2. “Summertime” – Ships Have Sailed. ShS are also on a hot streak: this latest tune is some combination of the Cars and All-American Rejects.
3. “Eternal Sunshine” – Memoryy. Yep, you can hook me with any invocation of steel drums. (They’re just so happy!) The rest of the track besides the chorus splits the difference between nu-disco and glitchy clicking–always fun.
4. “Too Damn Good” – JOA. The inimitable Jesse Owen Astin is back to making guitar-rock/electro-pop mini epics, and this one is a builder that grows to a huge apex and then fades away.
5. “She Speaks the Wave” – The Nursery. This song would have fit right in on radio when Interpol, The Killers, and The Bravery were all towering. Some real sleek, solid dance-rock here.
6. “Drive” – Ships Have Sailed. You know when Jimmy Eat World goes for a ballad but still gotta have the angsty energy? Ships Have Sailed power through this track with that same feel.
7. “Tears” – Prints. Dark, clubby electronic pop songs.are a dime a dozen, but Prints float above the pack by balancing your emotional needs with your club needs.
8. “Earth Not Above” – HÆLOS. Cinematic, evocative trip-hop mixed with some modern beats? Sign me up.
9. “Underlined Passages From Your Books” – Underlined Passages. Here’s some lush, walking-speed romance from members formerly of indie-rockers The Seldon Plan. Combining early ’00s indie-pop melodies with early ’00s emo guitar tone is a sweet spot these days.
I’ve been posting singles and videos from Colony House since January, because their alt-rock had that anthemic edge which usually portends great things. And while “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Silhouettes,” and “Waiting for My Time to Come” are great by themselves, they’re amazing when crammed together and packaged with 11 other great tunes on When I Was Younger.
“Moving Forward” is the sort of deep cut that bands realize is amazing late in the album’s cycle, haphazardly throw to radio, and manage to get a career-defining hit from (see “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers). It has a jubilant riff that turns into a revelatory, shiver-inducing “whoa-oh” coda; that arching melody is the sort that Coldplay at its Viva La Vida finest was putting out. It’s the type I wear out the repeat button over.
“Waiting For My Time To Come” is still great in album version–more whoa-ohs, horns, and general good vibes. In other places Colony House echoes an amped-up Black Keys (“2:20”), the Killers, U2, Imagine Dragons, ’80s new-wave (“Roll With the Punches”), and more. Those influences might read like a derivative mess, but they sound like a eye-opening wonder. I haven’t heard anything this immediately engaging and potentially career-launching since I heard .fun’s Some Nights. And we all know how that turned out. If you like fun, cheery alt-rock-pop music, you’ll love Colony House.
Americo‘s style of rock would fit neatly in with Spoon: the rhythms, melodies, and instrumental performances fit together in a very tight, almost clockwork-like way. As a result, their recent release I is a tight, polished EP instead of a frantic, shoot-from-the-hip garage-rock set of tunes. “Stylized” doesn’t mean a lot in its dictionary definition, but the music-world connotations of restless aesthetes crafting and honing sounds seems to (mostly) fit here.
I say “mostly” because the duo also has laidback vibes as one of the core tenets of the sound. Opener “Blastin’ Off” has a stuttering strum and a liberal use of space as its calling cards, not giant guitar antics. (You have to wait for second track “Sled” for those.) “Slingshot” has a ’90s slackerish vibe in the way the chords lazily morph into each other; “Perfect World” relies on rim-clicks and jazzy vibes. This is a band that has both chops and restraint–most bands don’t even have one of those things. (Some of my favorite bands are just fine without either one.) They can even get a little weird and experimental if you’d like (“Prizes”).
Americo’s I shows off a well-developed songwriting sensibility that will appeal to fans of thoughtful rockers. The duo has made it clear that they can rock out and a lot of other things. That versatility could blossom into a particular style down the road, or they could stick with the Swiss Army Knife approach. Either way, I is commendable.
Depending on your interest in the genre, Brother O’ Brother is either carrying on the tradition of or thoroughly indebted to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The guitar and drums duo rips through heavy blues rock stompers with screaming guitars, howling vocals, and basic drumming. The band’s self-titled record doesn’t let up for the 30+ minute runtime; there are no pop-friendly arena rock tunes or quirky acoustic ditties to break the mood. From the outraged opener “Without Love” to the last high-hat snap of “Mice & Men,” Chris Banta barrels, blasts, struts, strains, and powers his way through through riff-heavy tunes galore.
“Means to Be a Woman” is a highlight of the set. After its bluesy guitar intro reminiscent of the White Stripes, Banta lets his voice take most of the drama. He alternates between snarling speak-singing in the verses and outright howling in the chorus. If you’re into heavy guitars and moral indignation at how the media portrays women, you’ll be all over this tune. Throughout the album, Banta is interested in spiritual and moral themes; it gives another edge to the screaming guitars. Everyone needs some good righteous indignation over the injustices of the world now and then. If that sounds like a good time, Brother O’ Brother can hook you up.
For me, Feist set the standard for mature female-fronted indie-pop. Charming, interesting, and occasionally deep, Feist relies on traditional songcraft as opposed to tricks or gimmicks. (No hate: I love a good gimmick.) But there’s something classic about Feist, and anybody I can find to compare must necessarily be on top of their game. It’s incredibly impressive, then, that Grace Joyner‘s debut EP has a clarity of vision and excellence of performance that would put her in Feist’s category.
What Young Fools does best is convince me. Joyner’s songs sound mature, bright, and real. They don’t feel like ephemeral pop songs or ponderous singer/songwriter tunes; these are songs with weight and heft, but also a light touch. If Joyner didn’t apply to modern indie vocal melodies and styles, these songs could easily be confused for songs much older. Opener “Other Girls” features piano, gentle drumming, and flutes for color; “Young Thing” and “Be Good” have the pad synths and separated beats of an ’80s Police-style song. (“Holy” does sound like a Killers or Bravery track, but it’s an outlier.) Their traditional style, however, makes them endearing–not cliche. Joyner’s songs are excellent because they perfectly compliment the real star: her voice.
Joyner’s alto is awesome because it’s flexible. “Other Girls” sees her using in a near-formal capacity, full of trills, swoops, and vibrato. “Be Good” sees her adapt a speak/sing style, while “Love of Mine” shows off her poppy side. But it’s “Young Thing” that shows her voice’s versatility and unique qualities. The standout performance sees Joyner getting emotional without getting theatrical, which is an impressive feat. Using little shifts in tone and register, Joyner puts on an evocative display without going into Adele-style range. It’s impressive, and more than any other track makes me excited for Joyner’s future work.
Grace Joyner’s first step out from background vocals position is an impressive one. Young Fools is an accomplished, mature, exciting release that displays impressive songwriting skills. If you’re a fan of Wye Oak, Feist, Waxahatchie, or even She and Him, you’ll find a lot to love in Grace Joyner’s work.
1. “It’s All Over Now” – Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Vintage-style New Orleans jazz/rag doesn’t get much more fun that this. I mean, spoons!! You know you love this already.
2. “Break Away” – Afterlife Parade. AP’s triumphant indie-rock is sounding more and more like U2 by way of The Killers with every release, and I’m totally down with that. You hit those soaring group vocal lines, and I don’t care who you sound like. Sing it.
3. “Silver Boys” – Holyoak. Do you wish that Grizzly Bear was a little less obtuse? Maybe that Fleet Foxes was a little more direct? Holyoak delivers the goods.
4. “White Noise” – The Hand in the Ocean. Heavy on the folk, lite on the indie; heavy on the warbling vocals, lite on Bon Iver beauty-croon; heavy on the banjo, lite on the kick drum.
5. “Ghostflake” – Owls of the Swamp. This piano-led, indie-folk take is as delicate and gentle as the title would suggest.
6. “Vermona” – Take Berlin. Formal pop songcraft and singer/songwriter fare are coming closer and closer together, as the rambling Bob Dylan impulses of yore are turning more toward Paul Simon’s beautiful structuralism. This track’s guitar and analog synthesizer show off that shift.
7. “Broken Arrows” – Tracy Shedd also shows off her formal songcraft skills, adding in a touch of ’50s pop vocal flair to the precise acoustic strumming and melodicism.
8. “The Kids and the Rain” – Alex Tiuniaev. New classical piano composer Tiuniaev opens his album Blurred with this moody, atmospheric, scene-setting solo keys piece.
So I’m getting caught up on MP3s too. Soon I will be back on schedule!
MP3 Drop 1: DANCE IT OUT
1. “Wear You Out” – Amerigogo. Punk-funk-party-rock with muscle, grit and old-school “we play our own damn instruments” passion. If you don’t want to dance to this, I’m not sure this blog can help you much on that front.
2. “Gold” – Half Sister. There will always be room in my heart for more girl-fronted power-pop, especially when it’s as crisp and surprisingly emotive as this. Tender is not a term given to power-pop that often, but more power to Half Sister for pulling it off.
3. “Small Pony” – Dott. Girl-fronted power-pop that features an impressive bit of drumming; if you’re on the Best Coast train, you’ll find much to love here.
4. “Get Down” – Like Clockwork. Somewhere between the Postal Service and Ke$ha lies this track and its catchy chorus. Cobra Starship? Maybe?
5. “TTYN” – SCRNS. Is Lorde on the front edge of something, or is she already causing? SCRNS has similarly minimalist electro production going on, and it’s similarly catchy and fun.
6. “Partners in Crime” – We Were Lovers. I don’t think I can ever think of rich, majestic, night-time dance-rock without invoking The Killers. So a female-fronted Killers it is, and I love it.
7. “My Song 9” – Nova Heart. Ominous, foreboding female-fronted indie-electro-rock with an excellent production job.
8. “Inhibitionist” – Starlight Girls. The line between campy horror and surf-rock has never been harder to find. Fun all around, whatever you think the sound is.
9. “Earthquake” – Passafire. The only reggae I know much about is Matisyahu, but Passafire caught my attention with this track: smooth vocals, great chorus, a bit of tough edge to the guitar.
10. “Moonlight” – Message to Bears. A hypnotizing, gently rolling tune that inhabits the space between artsy R&B and atmospheric indie-folk.
1. “If There’s Time” – Odesza. Chilled-out post-dub with some trip-hop vibes. In other words, let’s jump in the car and be real cinematic about this.
2. “Parade of Youth” – Ponychase. The art for this track is a cassette tape, because this dreamy new wave/synth-pop jam is the sort of thing we were putting on plastic love notes to each other in the mid-’80s.
3. “Goldleaf” – RCRDS. Once existential dread hit the ’80s, then RCRDS’ ears perked up. Check out that analog bass magic.
4. “Start Something New” – Drawl. Then along came shoegaze, which was the other thing that the ’80s spit out besides grunge. The vibe here is golden.
5. “Flowers” – Humfree Bug Art. Killers + Funeral-era Arcade Fire = wonderful.
6. “The Photo Line” – Pale Houses. Remember the first time you heard “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie and it was the most important thing that had happened in the whole day? “The Photo Line” is like that.
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.