Bishop Allen’s The Broken String is one of my favorite albums of all time, but the quirky indie-pop band dropped off my radar a bit in the last few years. They haven’t released a full-length since 2009, although they’ve been keeping busy doing other things that musicians do.
Well, they’re back with the appropriately titled “Start Again.” It’s a summery pop-rock tune that keeps the underlying earnest calm that made them so lovable while adding some pep (and distorted guitars!). The song is way fun (check that sweet art), and it’s thrilling to hear Bishop Allen again. Seriously looking forward to Lights Out, which drops August 19 on Dead Oceans.
Appalachian seems too provincial, Americana seems to vague, vintage is euphemistic, and old-timey seems pejorative, but Old Belle‘s music fits all those adjectives. The San Francisco outfit is really good at creating that atmosphere that is so difficult to describe. From the earnest lyrics about love and loss to brash melodies and distinctive harmonies, Old Belle strikes the right chord on their self-titled album.
Lead vocalist Tonya Newstetter brings the perfect amount of sweetness and attitude to the tunes, which the rest of the quartet fills out in enjoyable, comfortable, comforting style. This is the sort of album where “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” rounds out the collection; if you’re into that, you’ll love Old Belle’s self-titled debut.
I don’t post many videos, because I want them to have a good story, beautiful images, and an excellent song. James’ most recent video has all of them–it’s the best video I’ve seen all year so far. Shivers. All the shivers.
Still, if you have a killer song, you can override all my desires in a music video. The Collection is beginning to ramp up their press push for the album that I helped Kickstart last year. “The Gown of Green” is an incredible first track off a breathtakingly beautiful record.
Sometimes you can get away with having just really pretty art. That will hook me too. Broadwing has some sweet pencil art going on here.
The video doesn’t have to be complicated to be wonderful: this single-shot slo-mo film from The Middle Names is just excellent in portraying the song.
I get way more adult alternative submissions than I cover, which makes it surprising that people keep sending me AA releases. But every now and then, one bubbles up to the top and knocks my socks off. Lindsey Saunders‘ Nothing Normal EP is that rare AA release.
Lots of people can sing, and lots of people can write great songs. It’s rarer than you’d think to find people who do both. Saunders’ strong, clear alto fits on top of strong, tense songwriting with easy command. In opener “Change My Mind,” she powers through the chorus with attitude, passion, and control–another set of adjectives that are not often invoked together. Saunders moves from Goo Goo Dolls-style pop to country/soul on “Make or Break Us,” and it’s a neat turn. The chord-based guitar work here is surprisingly tight and complex, resulting in another memorable track. “That Way” shows some intricate finger-style guitar work, revealing yet another facet of her sound. Throughout all of this, Saunders’ strong voice leads the way.
If you’re into strong female singer/songwriters, Lindsey Saunders should be on your watch list. She’s unapologetic about her vocal and instrumental sound, which is a rare quality. There are still moments that lean too heavily on radio-friendly tactics (the chorus of “We’re Never Thru” especially), but Saunders’ songwriting voice is in there, trying to break out. Give it some time, and Saunders could be a really special songwriter.
There’s also rock’n’roll in the summer, for those of us who like it a little heavier when the sun is shining.
Oh So Summery (and Loud)
1. “Right on Time” – The Addies. You might turn down the volume before you hit play: this chunky slab of guitar-rock takes off at full blast before dropping into a groove of sorts.
2. “Brix-tone” – Mangoseed. Reggae + Rage against the Machine = whoa bro.
3. “Forgiveness” – Turn to Crime. The song name and band name seem incongruous, but whatevs. This is a refreshing bit of laid-back rock’n’roll that makes me think of Velvet Underground.
4. “Human Imitation” – Rayne. We’re going to look back in 20 years and realize that, while there were more popular bands, Muse was the most important band of the generation. Those soaring piano lines! High drama! Mmm. Anyway, Rayne knows how to write a high-drama ballad, which is what you get here.
5. “i am laid back no pressure” – pjaro. Some of that late ’80s/early ’90s post-hardcore churn, some of that mid-’90s indie-rock malaise, some punk hollering/singing–pjaro is a clever, interesting rock band.
It’s getting better and better outside, so my ears are getting more and more attuned to those summery tunes.
Oh So Summery
1. “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” – Kishi Bashi. He’s on Joyful Noise Recordings, which sounds like a 100% perfect fit. This ridiculously happy and catchy tune will get stuck in your head. HAPPY SUMMER Y’ALL.
2. “Sweater Weather” – Challenger. If John Ross gets any more inspired by the ’80s, I’ll have to start questioning where he’s hiding his time machine. But for now, enjoy this blissed-out synth-pop, complete with gated snares and stuttering percussion fills.
3. “Dead Man’s Pose” – Old Smokey. Almost as excited as Kishi Bashi is Old Smokey, a folky outfit that features no guitars but 3000% enthusiasm. This is not your average folk: brass and clarinet counter throughout when the members of the band aren’t group-hollering. It’s just wonderful.
4. “Let’s Get Started” – Dylan Gardner. OH SUMMER YOU ARE ALMOST HERE. I will celebrate you with a guitar-pop tune by a flop-haired teenager with pop chops. I only thought of Hanson like once. Mostly the Beatles. But some Hanson. No Bieber though.
5. “Halo” – DamnRight! There’s always room in my heart for chillwave-inspired electro fun.
6. “I Spy” – Michael McFarland. I love Train, so take this as nothing but a compliment when I say that this track falls somewhere between Train and old-school Guster.
7. “Old Foes” – Yaquina Bay. Orchestral folk is not generally known for its easygoing vibe, but Yaquina Bay creates just such a mood here.
8. “Morning Light” – Andrew Judah. I’m not sure how Judah came up with the idea to get steel drums and banjo together, but it sounds incredible. I am extremely excited for this upcoming record–it promises to bend genres all over the places.
9. “Terrible Love” – Moda Spira. Latifah Phillips takes a different angle on The National’s slow-burner, but it’s no less dramatic or powerful at the end.
10. “Right In My Arms” – Exzavier Whitley. Like early Iron & Wine, this is deeply calming fingerstyle guitar that cares more about the mood than perfection of performance. Gorgeous work.