1. “Hero” – Starlight Girls. If you mashed up Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac with modern indie-pop sensibilities, you’d have this powerhouse of a pop song. This is the most infectious, irresistible groove of 2016 so far.
2. “Hang On To Yourself (David Bowie Cover)” – Ancient Cities. Bowie didn’t play much of a role in my personal musical development (I was introduced to him in my 20s), but his shadow looms large over many musicians. Ancient Cities drops a worthy tribute to Ziggy here.
3. “Boys That Sing” – Viola Beach. Sometimes the melody, the lyrics, and the vibe just come together for a great pop tune. Puts a smile on my face.
4. “Crazy Eyes” – Brother Moses. BroMo returns with a breezy, peppy tune that builds on their slacker-rock foundation with some scrambling drums, driving bass and twirling guitars. The compelling vocal tone and delivery are as powerful as ever.
5. “Youth Dies Young” – Til We Have Faces. Well here’s something interesting: A major key indie-rock song that thinks it’s an arpeggiator-heavy electro-jam which builds at the speed of a post-rock tune. By the end it’s almost a Here We Go Magic tune. Totally rad.
6. “Fundamental Ground” – TW Walsh. I don’t use the term “floating” that often, but this indie-pop tune has a lot of the elements that you might associate with floating: lazy rhythms, slightly washed-out vibe, hazy elements chilling out in the background of the tune, a vocal line that seems distant-yet-close. It’s beautiful, in a weird way.
7. “Sometimes (One Night)” – The Golden Peppers. Here’s a tight soul arrangement, blanketed with horns and infused with indie-pop vocal melodic flair. Just can’t get enough Nathaniel Rateliff?
8. “Lucky One” – Why We Love. It seems that the major-key, jangly pop-rock tune is not only immortal, but thriving. Everything about this is fun.
9. “Unicorns Get More Bacon” – Marc with a C. The giddy, funny, absurd, fourth-wall-destroying power-pop of Marc with a C is in fine, fine form in this 3-and-a-half minute jam.
10. “Glad to Be Alive” – Memoir. Draws from funk, reggae, and ’90s pop without camping in any of them, this grounded-yet-bouncy tune is led by neat vocal syncopation and and a mood that just brightens a room.
11. “Touch” – Guard. A hypnotic keys melody and a head-bobbing beat make this into the chillest of remix-ready club tunes. Ibiza beaches for this version, Ibiza clubs for the inevitable reworks.
12. “Still Life” – I.W.A. Blissful chillwave, the likes of which I don’t get to hear very often. Just gorgeous stuff here.
13. “Don’t Complain/Don’t Explain” – Bare Mattress. Like a more existential version of The Postal Service, this unassuming indie-pop-electro track sneaks its way into ears and heart.
14. “Glass” – Howard. This is like the indie-electro/post-dub version of a dystopian movie in which everything looks kind of right but is slowly revealed to actually be dystopian. In other words, the slow burn works great.
15. “I Don’t Want to Know Her Name” – Amber Quintero. Lilting, easygoing, spacious bedroom pop that finely balances lyrical intimacy and wide-open pad synth landscapes.
There’s an emo revival on, which is cool, because I loved emo in the early 2000s. (My copy of Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good is permanently within arms’ reach on my desk.) I loved that emotional vulnerability, adrenaline, and beauty could all be appreciated in the same band. It became uncool there for a while to be earnest, but I’m glad that irony is at least allowing enough space in the culture to let earnest thought to regroup a little bit.
Sinai Vessel doesn’t call their music emo, but they do call it “punk for sissies.” Both descriptors are thick with positive, negative, and re-appropriated positive connotations, which is a perfect situation for Sinai Vessel’s complex music. Songwriter Caleb Cordes does instill his brand of pop-punk with thoughtful lyrics and twinkly guitar reveries common of emo, but neither of these feel self-indulgent or trend-following. The songs on profanity [ep] are very catchy while being thoughtful, retaining that adrenaline that I so treasure in emo. I love Damien Jurado, but sometimes I want to scream about my introspection. Sinai Vessel offers that.
The majority of opener “cats” is actually not very punk-rock in its songwriting style; the mid-tempo tension is much more reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional or Death Cab for Cutie than The Wonder Years or Blink-182. The unassuming beginning allows for a shiver-inducing moment when the ratchet up to a pounding, hollering conclusion. “You mean everything to me,” indeed.
“Cuckold” reminds me of Say Anything in the vocal delivery and rhythmic style, while “Drown Around” makes good on the Pedro the Lion RIYL they sent me. (Longtime David Bazan collaborator TW Walsh mastered profanity.) “Flannery” invokes the Catholic author’s work and words to continue her conflicted feelings about the evil in the world and ourselves. It’s one of the most interesting lyrically and most enjoyable musically.
I’ve gotten this far without noting that David Wimbish of IC faves The Collection played brass, recorded, and mixed the record, but he totally did, and that’s awesome. Thoughtful lyrics, punk-rock adrenaline, David Wimbish, TW Walsh, and free? How can you pass this up? You shouldn’t. Sinai Vessel is an impressive outfit that I look forward to hearing more from. Highly recommended.
I am a big fan of compilations. Twenty or more bands to check out at once in a format that plays them end to end while I chill? Yes please. On Joyful Wings‘ compilation We Were Lost, We Were Freeis the best compilation I’ve ever heard, bar none. It even trumps Deep Elm‘s enormously influential Too Young to Die; seeing as I discovered my favorite song of all time via that comp (Appleseed Cast‘s “Fishing the Sky”), please know that I’m endowing an immense amount of praise in those words.
The reason it’s the best ever is because out of the 21 bands featured, there’s only two bands whose offerings I didn’t enjoy. Furthermore, I was inspired to go get more music from eight of these bands. Add in the fact that I already own music by three of these bands, and you’ve got an 11/21 conversion rate. That’s enormous for a comp. Mostly I find one or two bands off a comp that I enjoy enough to follow. These guys know what’s up when it comes to tracking a comp.
The bulk of the tracks here are gorgeous, flowing acoustic tunes; there are a couple indie-rock tracks, an indie-pop song and an excellent pop-punk tune by Chasing the Sky, but other than that it’s all acoustic. Holcombe Waller contributes “Risk of Change,” which has brilliant melodies, solid lyrics and a contained energy that makes the song infectious. I’ve listened to it 22 times already. I’ve also listened to “Umbrellas (Acoustic)” by Sleeping at Last 22 times; the track itself is gorgeous in its construction, and this acoustic version translates beautifully.
Carl Hauck‘s “To Coast” was written specifically for this comp, and its optimism through depression sets the tone for the whole album for me. Ikaik offers up a soul-crushing (yet still beautiful) tune that contradicts that last statement, as there’s little hope in the lines, “you can hate me/you have got the right/and when you leave tomorrow/don’t say goodbye/and don’t try to change my mind.”
TW Walsh (ex-Pedro the Lion) contributes a really nice change of pace with a goofy, upbeat tune; Tom Hoekstra reinterprets “Be Thou My Vision” excellently; Josh Woodward goes all Depression-era troubadour tales on us; Fireflies offers a beautiful “fields at dusk”-type piece; and Jeremy Larson leads off the set with an impeccable piece of melodic, cinematic pop.
If a 19/21 success rate and a 11/21 conversion rate aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that you get all that plus contributing five dollars to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation should pique your interest. Great tunes and a charitable feeling in your soul. At this point, your only question should be “why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?” and the reason for that is that I’m a jerk. and I’m busy. But mostly a jerk.
But seriously, get over to their Bandcamp page and download it. You will not regret it if you like acoustic music. It’s an absolutely incredible collection, and I absolutely can’t wait for their next project, which they’re already working on. I promise I’ll tell you about it quicker next time.
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.