1. “Dark” – Birds of Night. Dark is the massively impressive synthesis of Springsteen’s road-readiness, Arcade Fire’s sweeping drama, and The Walkmen’s trebly guitars and keening vocals. This is an impressive rock tune.
2. “Cooler” – Sancho. Why does some Weezer-esque rock push my emotional buttons and others not? I have no idea. But I heard the guitars, the vocals, and the start-stop moment that clinches the thing in this song, and I just got all mushy inside.
3. “Warrior” – SATE. If this jet-fueled, towering-guitar rocker doesn’t get your blood moving, I don’t know what will. There’s enough soul, sass, and vocal theatrics in this track to power four or five lesser tunes.
4. “Legend” – Parlement. If the sound of summer is a big, fat Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff, Parlement has a song for you. The straightforward, stomping rhythms are about as far from that other Parliament as you can be.
5. “I’m Dying on the Square” – Break the Bans. Thrashy, hoarse-throated protest punk from a Russian national that starts out with spoken words clips (that I can only assume are political/news clips)? This is pretty much what punk is for, y’all.
6. “Modern Phenomenon” – Northern American. Big, comforting synths welded to a downtempo rock song that sounds like it’s been through the Radiohead/The National/Bloc Party school of music.
7. “Optimists” – Mittenfields. Glammy, theatrical vocals can make anything sound more glam than it is–Mittenfields is laying down the rock, though. Check that sweet guitar solo.
8. “Mirror North” – Whoop-szo. Starts out all quiet and ponderous, but it ratchets up to a brittle, abrasive post-metal roar pretty quickly. If you’re into soft/loud/soft, jump on it.
9. “Cowboy Guilt” – Torres. The clear winner of SXSW this year, Torres was unknown to me before the event and absolutely everywhere afterwards. This tune, which deftly balances a minor-key gravitas and quirky melodic capriciousness, shows why she’s the big thing in indie-rock right now.
I celebrated the sober moments of Kris Orlowski‘s Fremont Abbey EP as “tunes that a man could make a career out of purveying,” while downplaying the more upbeat sections. I hate to write the same review twice, but I have the same response to Orlowski’s Warsaw. The gravitas imported into the darker tunes makes them memorable; the amorphous qualities of the happier tunes render them pallid.
“Way You Are,” the early release from this four-song offering, is a slow-building force. Instead of his previous acoustic guitar and strings, Orlowski employs a low-distortion, maximum-low-end electric with a bass/drums rhythm section to create an earthy, low-slung sound. The rumbling toms and treble-less guitars combine into a powerful beast, which is then given a direction by the haunting vocal performances of both Orlowski and his back-up singers. The arrangement is impeccable, and the overall effect is dramatic and immediate.
I would have titled the EP Way You Are, because “Warsaw” is a pleasant but undifferentiated tune that tells me nothing about Orlowski as a songwriter except that he has a fondness for pedal steel that extends beyond country music. “Soldier On” is a mite better, in that it employs a similar guitar tone as “Way You Are,” but there’s not really anything else to praise or insult about it when considering the force of “Way You Are” and “Oh No.”
The distant organ and spacious arrangement of “Oh No” evoke high points of the best dusty, wide-open-landscape tracks. The insistent drumming pushes the weary single-note picking ahead, while Orlowski holds dreary court with his vocals. The acoustic guitar is placed low in the mix, foregrounding the tension between the urgent and laconic. It’s like Bruce Springsteen on a Walkmen kick (but far too peppy for it to be the reverse, even if it is on the darker side of things), and it’s worth a second listen.
There’s something to be said for the fact that “Way You Are” and “Oh No” both break the 5:30 mark, while “Soldier On” and “Warsaw” both clock in exactly at 3:38. Orlowski is still playing both sides of the coin, but I have yet to be sold on his more perky stuff. His darker material shows a much closer attention to atmosphere, texture and arrangement; it engages me as a listener.
If Orlowski can bring that level of detail to his pop moments, they would be just as good as his heavier singer/songwriter material—it just hasn’t happened yet. Here’s to hoping that happens; “Way You Are” is really, really good. Grab that song here for free.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.