1. “Step into the Darkness” – Said the Whale. Sometimes an indie-pop just emerges full-formed, bursting out of the sea with sophisticated arrangements, catchy melodies, intriguing lyrics, and smooth production. Easily one of the best pop songs I’ve heard so far this year.
2. “The Worst in You” – Tyto Alba. Slow-burning track that opens up as a moody indie rock before expanding into a pounding rock conclusion.
3. “Bone Collector” – Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge. A unique acoustic guitar duo creating unique, rhythmically intriguing instrumental music.
4. “Demons” – I.am.hologram. This inventive, satisfyingly unclassifiable 9-minute journey is triangulated from points in post-rock, blues/folk guitar, and indie rock.*
5. “Smash and Grab” – Christopher Giffard. A funky, jazzy, left-hand-heavy instrumental jam that had me head-bobbing from the get-go. There’s a lot going on in this piece, so stick around for the development.
6. “Sal” – K O L T B A C H. Slinky, lithe, and deliciously low-key, this instrumental electro jam is perfectly arranged for maximum effect without hitting any cliches.
7. “Souvenir” – Oh Geronimo. If you’ve ever been in a band that broke up, you’re going to want to listen to this acoustic ballad in a dark room away from people. It nails how I felt when band members moved on; honest, raw, and heartbreaking.
8. “Fancy Footwork” – Les Bohem. Good news for people who love sad news: this is pristine sad music. Consider: this chipper-sounding tune is one of the happiest on the whole double album. If you love sad things, you need to get on this immediately.
9. “Proverba Infero” – Mouse Dog Bird. Slowcore minimalist tendencies, but with the vocals front and center instead of off in the corner somewhere.
*Full disclosure: The PR agent for I.am.hologram, Lisa Whealy, writes for Independent Clauses.
MD Woods‘ Young and Vain, Vol. 2 may describe the lifestyles of characters with the titular qualities, but it approaches the studies from a world-weary perspective instead of an impetuous one. The alt-country band, led by the whiskey-soaked voice of Nicholas Moore, comes off desperate and ragged in its moods, like Damien Rice on the alt-country frontier. It should be noted that these are strictly compliments: tunes like “Vomit” make being emotionally wracked seem like a noble idea, if not a desirable one. The melodies are compelling, the lyrics are tight, and the song styles are varied–there’s definitely a lot going on despite the general timbre of the lyrics.
The arrangements compliment the emotional damage by being surprisingly tight: from background vocals to swooping strings to rock-steady drums, the band provides a framework for Moore to get unhinged in. The bright, clear recording and engineering make the final product more accessible, providing a clean window to see the band through. The results are compelling mix of major key and minor key tunes that you can sing along to and enjoy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way.
It’s easy to put Gregory Pepper‘s Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! in the ICYMI category, because if you blink you’ll miss it: Pepper blitzes through 10 songs in under 14 minutes. This uncommonly aggressive approach to the “hit it and quit it” songwriting mentality creates an album of perfect melodies that appear once or twice, lodge in your brain forever, and then disappear into the next tune. The post-Weezer pop-rock that blazes its way through your eardrums is undeniably, irresistibly pristine: “Crush On You” and “Smart Phones for Stupid People” are fuzzed-out midtempo glory; “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All?)” is a pseudo-metal pop-rock stomper; “Come By It Honestly” is an “Only in Dreams”-esque slow jam and the longest tune on the record, tipping the scales at 1:40.
But it’s not all Weezer-esque crunchy guitars. Pepper has an idiosyncratic vocal and melodic sensibility that delivers highly sarcastic and ironic lyrics in an earnest pop-rock style reminiscent of It’s a King Thing, only without the breathy sweetness. Pepper is singing straightforward melodies that still manage to bend my mind, as the endlessly fascinating, gymnastic opener “Welcome to the Dullhouse” shows. But it’s not enough to just create wild melodies, clever tunes and ironic lyrics: occasionally all the sarcasm drops and reveals pretty raw honesty as an extra layer to the tune (“I Wonder Whose Dick You Had to Suck?,” “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All?)”). It’s a lot to ride on songs that barely (or don’t) break 60 seconds, but Pepper masterfully handles the incredible amount of things going on. It’s not easy to edit yourself down to the bare bones and still deliver a multi-layered experience that’s both fun and deep, but Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! is that rarest of albums that pulls it off. If you’re into indie-pop-rock, you need this one in your life.
I try to keep up with what’s cool in indie rock so that I’m not constantly namechecking the Hives and Death Cab for Cutie, but keeping up with what’s going on in alt-rock is way harder for me. As I was casually reading through Spin’s (biased, subjective, etc.) list of 50 best rock bands right now, I was pleasantly surprised to see Paramore up at number 9. I thought they had been lumped in with Flyleaf as lame, but I was wrong! (Is Flyleaf cool?) Which is great, because I feel totally guiltless comparing Tyto Alba’s Oh Tame One EP to a more mood-heavy Paramore. Melanie Steinway’s vocals soar and roar in front of an alt-rock backdrop that isn’t as gritty as everyone’s favorite indie grunge band Silversun Pickups (check the arpeggiated guitar on “Passenger”) but isn’t as post-rock-flavored as bands like Athletics.
Instead, they prefer to mix artsy rhythms and nuanced guitarscapes with rock song structures: “Deer” mixes a carefully patterned rhythm guitar line with a moseying lead guitar line that echoes back to The Photo Album-era Death Cab before exploding into guitar theatrics for the chorus (of sorts). The careful picking of the lead guitar line in “Divide” juxtaposes with groove-heavy bass and drums (but not as dance-tastic as in standout “New Apathy,” which is simply impressive) before building into the most memorable chorus on the EP, driven by multiple vocal melodies interacting. It’s the sort of work Tyto Alba excels at: twisting your expectations of what a rock song should do without totally overhauling the model. If you’re into thoughtfully distorted guitars with some groove-heavy elements, Oh Tame One will fit nicely in your collection.
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.