The outfit can play the pop game with great aplomb, as the hooky riffs and consistent kick drum of standout single “Number One” and “The Winning Side” attest. However, they can also get down into some dirty, dirty blues riffs (“Two Guns,” “Keys to the Kingdom”) and low-slung, gritty rock (“Blacked Out Windows”). When they bring their pop chops to bear on those muddy, murky influences, things get seriously interesting: the title track grooves hard but also has that warm glow throughout which keeps things in the pop realm.
It’s tough to keep things in the “top down, wind-in-my-hair” mode when the lyrics are so seething with bitterness towards ruined economies at the hands of the rich & powerful, but they manage the balance. From the down-and-out vignettes of opener “Number One” to the religious imagery of “Let the Love Go Down” to the apocalyptic sketch of acoustic closer “Plow Song,” every song is an economic protest in one way or another. (I don’t usually put a lot of stock in album titles, but this one is perfectly named.) If you wish that The Black Keys had gotten grittier instead of going stadium-rock on us, The Sideshow Tragedy will perk you up. If you’re into protest music that can get your adrenaline pumping, you’ll be all over this, too.
Second-wave/late ’90s-early ’00s emo can occasionally (rightly) be associated with uncharitable, uninviting navel-gazing, but Football, Etc.‘s Disappear EP transcends the worst of the stigma by keeping a dreamy pop sensibility firmly in view.
The four-song set shows off the hallmarks of the genre–gauzy guitars, twinkly melodies, drums reminiscent of punk, tidy arrangements, small number of musicians–without lapsing into homage or parody. The fact that you can hum along with “Sunday” points to an important aspect of their pop-music ethos; the fact that the EP opens with Lindsay Minton’s voice on “Sunday” points even more strongly in that direction.
Yes, there are some chilled-out tunes that focus more squarely on the lyrics, which some may not like. But the melodies and the mood make it very worth it for me. If you’re into dream-pop or the emo revival, sign up with Football, Etc.
Laura Joy‘s Between Our Words is a light, airy, sun-dappled collection of acoustic songs. Joy takes a singer/songwriter’s introspective approach to lyrics, but the bouncy bass of “Takes a While” and cheery organ of “Phoenix” keep things from feeling too cloistered. Those two songs in particular should be played outside on a walk in the park during a mid-’70s cloudless day. “Courting Disaster” is an acoustic pop tune that is potentially the perkiest cut ever to have “disaster” in the title.
Joy’s unaffected, straightforward voice helps create the unassuming air as well: throughout the five songs, Joy sounds down-to-earth and approachable due to a pleasant eschewing of vocal theatrics. Even when things do get a little more dramatic in the fingerpicked title track and troubadour-esque “Moving On,” Joy still situates herself in vocal and instrumental arrangements that don’t go for huge sweeps and maximum catharsis. Instead, she writes comfortable, relatable, small songs. It’s a refreshing turn to hear things not need to be pushed to their brim. Laura Joy’s Between Our Words is a quiet, light EP that makes an outsized mark for its weight.
Here’s a batch of MP3s that I have been long remiss in posting. Also, happy Good Friday to you.
On the Fly
1. “A Warning of Sorts” – CHIRPING. Are we ever done with slick, well-produced, cheery indie-rock from Swedes? No, never. Put on your dancing shoes.
2. “Number One” – The Sideshow Tragedy. Did The Black Keys ever sound sinister? The Sideshow Tragedy has honed the blues-rock guitar/drums duo to a fine point here, packing in energy, melodies, dynamics, and (yes) even some sinister vocal vibes. Whoever can’t get behind a good tambourine needs to get this tune in front of them.
3. “Retro Bastard (KKBB Remix)” – Blood Sport. Kasey Keller Big Band turns out a remix of a song I’ve never heard, resulting in a complex pastiche of zooming digital sounds, heavy bass lines, complex drumming, and hollered vocals. Somehow, it turns into a herky-jerky dance tune, the sort of thing that mid-to-late ’00s dance-rock bands would have jonesed after. Intricate yet danceable, Artsy yet poppy? Turn that up.
4. “Sovereign Gore” – Casual Threats. Jamming post-hardcore’s dissonant aggression, post-punk’s wiry experimentation, and Interpol-esque dour melodies into one track is a tall order, but Casual Threats pull it off with confident aplomb.
5. “Unknown” – Lylit. If you have a way with a “whoa-oh,” you’re going to do well in today’s pop scene. Having an infectious groove that rides the line between dramatic and decidedly happy helps too.
6. “Lost is Found” – Perdido Key. In an age of no-nuance EDM, it’s refreshing to hear a club-ready tune with some atmosphere and restraint. It’s no surprise that it hearkens back to the ’90s–but not too much–to get that feel.
7. “Caves” – Sea Bed. Bouncy, rubbery keys give this dance tune a cool underwater feel, in addition to the boots’n’cats techno beat. (What up ’90s! Two in a row!) The vocal melody is infectious as well. This is way cool.
8. “He’s Heating Up” – Homeshake. So, this comes from an album that’s celebrating ’90s NBA basketball, which is a fantastic idea. Homeshake’s homage sounds like some unique alternate-universe version of Prince: feathery falsetto, vaguely funky mood, and affected sense of drama.
9. “Time For a New School of Alchemy” – ticktock. Glitchy electro had an idiosyncratic sort of beauty to it. This track harnesses bleeps, burbles, and chopped up sounds in the service of traditionally beautiful work that falls somewhere between ’80s synth-pop and modern bedroom chillwave.
10. “Mother of Maladies” – Marrow. I don’t know what it is about keyboards that can ground a funky song so well, but the wurlitzer gives this churning, whirling indie-rock piece a bit of solidity.
11. “Great Divide” – Humming House. Having great “whoa-ohs” helps in folk-pop too, as Humming House knows. Vocals reminiscent of The Avetts’ power this energetic, enthusiastic gem.
12. “When I Rise” – Diamondwolf. Percussion is real important in alt-country, and the stomp-clap drumming makes the mood here. The zinging pedal steel and heavy acoustic strum help too, making this into a powerful stomper of a tune.
13. “Ghost Town (Acoustic)” – Justin Klump. Klump’s voice has some of the trembling passion of Needtobreathe’s Bear Rinehart, but it’s set in a poignant, sentimental acoustic pop arrangement featuring cello and gentle banjo.
14. “Strong” – The Paper Shades. In the midst of this hurried and harried world, we need gentle singer/songwriter duos to tell us to “slow it down.” Unspool your stresses and let the gorgeous waves break kindly over you. Here’s to those who are still carrying the torch of calm.
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.