The first half of this list is marked by songs that rock out really hard. The second half is marked by songs that are outside your normal arrangements.
Rock Out / Quirk Out
1. “Station Wagon Apocalypse” – The Outfit. I’d just like to point out that this incredibly-named garage-rock tune is not even the best name on the two-song EP. (That would be “Tyrannosaurus Surfboard,” YOU’RE WELCOME.) As to the tune itself: Big drums, big guitars, big vocals, big fun.
2. “Be Cool” – Cancers. Cancers is the missing link that makes me think Sleigh Bells might not have been robots from the future and instead were just really, really hyped up ’90s kids.
3. “Last Forever” – Fenech-Soler. As a bassist myself, I appreciate it when a song is so thoroughly dominated by bass that the guitar and keys just kind of follow along. When those songs are also jubilant dance tracks with irresistible shout-it-out vocals, well. Well, well.
4. “Metronome” – The Yuseddit Brothers. There was a brand of ’90s grunge/slacker-rock that took pride in sounding like it was kind of underwater. This low-slung groove has that fuzzy-edged production value to match the not-so-ambitious tempo and tone. Chillax, y’all.
5. “Bright Eyes, Black Soul” – The Lovers Key. Sometimes I hear a song outside of genres I usually cover and think, “WHOA WHY DON’T I LISTEN TO THAT GENRE MORE.” Probably because I’m hearing an elite artist, but I don’t know. Anyway, The Lovers Key has me interested in aggressive Blue Eyed Soul with some serious motown horns stacked up on it. This makes me think of a James Bond movie. Can’t really explain that either.
6. “All in a Day’s Work” – Horizontal Hold. As a mid-point between rocking out and quirking out, I submit Horizontal Hold, which is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies at the moment.
7. “You Are My Summer (feat. Coleman Hell and Jayme)” – La+ch. This is a perfect electro-pop tune. In musical world that I ran, this would be the big hit of the summer. It’s got Icona Pop infectiousness and Cobra Starship restraint. What’s not to love?
8. “Old K.B.” – The Solars. Speaking of motown influences, here’s a piano-pop tune fronted by a guy who sounds like Jack White that features organ and horns. This thing grooves way more than piano-pop fans are probably comfortable with. THAT’S OK!
9. “Unrevenged” – Floating Action. Rubbery bass, ethereal background vocals, driving percussion? Clearly indie-pop, but not any like you’ve imagined recently. Has me all stoked for the album.
10. “I’m To Blame” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. After sending us a folky tune for the first single, the second one is a incredible mash-up of jazz trumpet, Radiohead vocals, Muse craziness, and a totally rad guitar solo. It is, in a word, different.
11. “It Doesn’t Even Matter” – Onward Chariots! If the Kings of Convenience had more quirky pop arrangements, it might end up something like this.
12. “Rockingham” – Kasey Keller Brass Band. 58 seconds of found sound, gentle synths, and meandering acoustic guitar paint a sonic picture extremely well. Very cool stuff here.
13. “Shadow’s Song” – Foxes in Fiction. Chillwave + Owen Pallett? TOTALLY THERE, MY FRIENDS.
Here are some neat things that are happening in the music world.
Singer/songwriter Aaron Hale (whose music IC is quite fond of) is now part of The Orphan Care Network as the head of artistry and advocacy. Helping orphans through art? I would say that’s pretty much in line with everything I want to be about. He is currently booking house shows in the Texas/Arkansas/Tennessee/Alabama area. If you want to host/attend a house show, get more information, or support him financially, you can e-mail him at email@example.com.
Andrew Judah is the best singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of (and I hadn’t heard of, until recently). He’s put up all his incredibly complex, unique and engaging work for free on Bandcamp so that you can get to know him better ahead of his upcoming release Monster (which I am absolutely thrilled for). So if you don’t feel like supporting artists but wants lots of music, this one’s for you!
Julianna Barwick and Dogfish Head Brewery are two of my favorites at their respective games. (Julianna Barwick might be the only person in her loop-one-voice-into-dozens game, but the approval still holds!) They’ve teamed up to make a beer and an EP named Rosabi; the EP includes the sounds of the beer being made. The beer, however, does not come with a download of the album (wishful thinking!). You can pick it up wherever Dogfish Head is sold; it just went on sale 6/20, so hopefully there’s some left at your local store of choice.
Youtube just got way more music-friendly: Paste and Music Vault are now hosting their own channels. The Music Vault contains Daytrotter sessions, as well as a veritable treasure trove of historical finds. Go nuts, y’all.
Soundsupply continues to hone their niche in the punk/emo/hardcore world by featuring Say Anything and the beloved-by-pop-punkers Allison Weiss. (Allison Weiss is also beloved by Independent Clauses for being one of the most forward-thinking businesspersons in music.) Go get tons of music for relatively cheap and support artists!!
It was bound to happen at some point: a service called ARENA has busted out a “rent-to-own” plan for music. I have no idea whether this will catch on, but there is a quantifiable difference between a song I played once for research and listening to “Wild One” by Flo Rida 30 times because I run to it. Will keep you posted, if anything happens because of this service.
Speaking of running, IT’S TIME FOR THE RUNHUNDRED MONTHLY LIST!!! —Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs for July 2014
This month’s top 10 list plays host to an eclectic bunch of established and upstart musical acts. On the international front, you’ll find a reggae hit from the Canadian band Magic and a platinum single from Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. Elsewhere country artists Jarrod Niemann and Lady Antebellum document their nights on the town. Finally,you can check out the latest from newcomers Tune-Yards and Charli XCX alongside chart regulars Katy Perry and Shakira.
No matter where your interests lie on the musical spectrum, there should be something for you below. So, if you’re looking for a few new tunes to liven up your summer workouts, this month’s playlist will give you 10 great places to start.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn
Clara Barker‘s songwriting is impeccable on Fine Art and the Breslins. The Isle of Man (!) resident’s folk and acoustic indie-pop tunes have a classic songcraft flair about them; she breathes life into rhythms and arrangements that would seem like tropes in others’ hands.
She’s able to do this in part because of charming moods: it’s just fun to listen to tunes like “Angel” and “Love (Fill My Heart).” Both are happy songs that make me bob my head, clap my hands, and sing along. Are the strum and percussive patterns familiar? Yep. But that’s what makes it so immediately lovable. She also dabbles in melancholy, Verve Pipe-style Brit-pop (“Dodging Bullets,” “Seth’s Song”), which is a nice change of pace.
Her lovely voice also helps get through any complaints about formal songwriting. Her perky, buoyant voice gives her a bit of a manic pixie dream girl vibe. It puts her in league with other beloved indie singer-songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson and She and Him. This is nowhere as prevalent as “The Bees Song,” which is a twee love song that includes a toy piano (or similar sound). In short, Clara Barker’s songs are comfortable, lovable, and fun to listen to. I’m behind anyone who can hit that trifecta.
Bon Iver may sparked a surge in mopey folk singers (whom I love, let it be known), but it’s good to know that there are still bands who think that folk music is wild, crazy, and a little dangerous. Push play on The Loose Canyons‘ Strivers’ Row and you’ll get immediately introduced to the raucous “If We Don’t Know By Now,” which sees the band blasting forward with train-whistle rhythms, energy galore, and a slicing harmonica. The next track lets the guitarist rip off a blazing guitar solo in-between gruff, growling vocals. Tom Waits lite plus The Low Anthem? Yes please.
Even when the band slows things down they retain that ragged flair. “My Tendencies” is technically slower and led by a female vocalist, but this just means that they sound like they’re luring you into a back alley somewhere. And they still manage to get an overdriven guitar and wailing harmonica into the arrangement.
By the time you get to “7th Day,” the vocal-centric, harmony-friendly, even sweet tune seems like it’s coming from some other band. It shows the impressive diversity of Loose Canyons; they can fully inhabit their moods and shed them just as quickly. They circle the wagons for a final track, where all the moods (tenderness, gruffness, instrumental prowess, vocal-centricness) come together. “John Lennon” is a pretty impressive track, if only for the amount of things it crams in. I’m still partial to those raucous first two tracks, but that’s a personal preference thing. The Loose Canyons are great on each of these five songs, and you’d do well to check them out if you’re into folk music.
Colony House has impressed me repeatedly in the short time they’ve been around, but this takes the cake. They’ve made the studio video (which I am usually bored by) into something exciting and vibrant. It helps that “Waiting For My Time to Come” is an excellent tune that combines U2 melodies with low-slung roots-rock precision, then throws some horns and a choir of friends at it. They won’t have to wait much longer with songs like this one. Can we get NeedtoBreathe on the phone?
Amy Correia is still incredible, just in case you had forgotten. This live cut of “City Girl” is way fun. Also, note that she’s playing a tenor ukulele slung like a punk rock guitar.
Kylie Odetta has pipes similar to Adele and lyrics like Lady Gaga, making this a pretty appealing piano-and-vocals performance.
Strand of Oaks’ “Shut In” starts slow, but once it gets going the song and the video complement each other perfectly. I cried a little.
Frantic vocals + crunchy blues rock riffs + gender politics = gold. Brother O’ Brother will get compared to The Black Keys and the White Stripes; it should be comparison, not demeaning. Great stuff here.
Some look at the state of the world and say there are too many love story narratives. I look at the same things and say there aren’t yet enough.
Sabers has the rare ability to rock without stomping the fuzzbox too hard or too often. It’s a trait they share with indie legends Spoon: rock is in the attitude, not the delivery. They rely on groove, tone, and mood to do the work for them, instead of speedy tempos, massive walls of sound, or crashing drums. I mean, Sic Semper Sabers starts out with a walking pace tune called “Armchair Warriors” and follows it up a track punnily called “Money Eddie.” This is a band that knows what it is about.
Don’t confuse: Sabers has chops galore. It’s just that they approach those chops from a casual perspective, preferring a bleary-eyed, Velvet Underground take on things as opposed to a Rolling Stones style. There are some who may not even call this rock, and quote the chill “Ever Eyeing” to say it’s indie-pop or something. I rebut with the surf-rock riff and distorted vocals of follow-up “Puppet.” The production job here softens edges, to be sure, but I’m betting you that Sabers gets plenty loud live. I also bet their hooks (instrumental and vocal) are just as good live as they are on tape.
I’m a big fan of bands that have energy, songwriting skills, and restraint. It shows good taste to know you can blow the doors off and yet don’t. It leaves the listener with some mystery. Sic Semper Sabers is an impressive album that establishes Sabers as an intriguing band to watch.
Candysound also rocks in an unusual way, combining the instrumental setup of garage rock, the raw energy of folk-rock, and the production values of dream-pop. Candysound’s intricate arrangements feature staccato rhythms that never become brittle, complimented by passion that never translates to general heaviness. The songs feel light and engaging, even though they’re all going at it full force.
This is nowhere as present as in the title track of Now and Then, a 1:43 slice of exuberant Candysound style. The song opens with a humble throat clearing before gentle but swift fingerpicking and whispered vocals come in. After 30 seconds, the band arrives: thumping toms and cymbal (no cymbals), intriguing walking bass, female BGVs. After 30 more seconds, the band ratchets up: the cymbals start to blow up, the vocals turn into hollers, and the guitar distorts (but without chord mashing). After 30 more seconds, it ends with a bang and interludes to the next tune. It’s a fascinating, exciting track that establishes a solid instrumental style for the band.
Throughout the rest of the album, elements that appeared in “Now and Then” show up. Single-note riffs and toms make for great fun in “Anything”; things get positively mathy in “Turned In.” But the band never loses touch with relatable hooks and melodies: when the post-rockish “Instrumental” gets heady, there’s a companion for it in the smooth mood and charming vocals of “Keep Up.” “11:11” gets heavy; its follow-up “Beacons” has a chill vibe.
Candysound has a sophisticated, mature sound: they know what they want to accomplish, and they’re very good at it. I haven’t stated any RIYL bands, because Candysound makes it easy to explain what the songs sound like. Each element of the sound is developed and clear. It’s a really fun album to listen to, and an commendable achievement. Here’s to more from Candysound!
Ships Have Sailed tries to accomplish a lot with its Someday EP: pop-rock, alt-rock, and acoustic pop. Of those three, the pop-rock is admirable, and the acoustic pop is solid.
Opener “Midnight” is a slick, hooky, irresistible pop-rock track reminiscent of The All-American Rejects (whom I love), while “Bring You Down” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in any genre all year. The latter benefits from a “give ’em what they want” arrangement: it sets you up to want certain moments, then delivers in spades. Can’t ask much more from a song, really. These two tracks are worth checking the EP out on their own: they show a pop songwriting skill that I hope to hear more of.
The two acoustic pop tracks are nice as well; the male tenor vocals handle the change of pace nicely, and the songs are worthy changes of pace. Closer and title track “Someday” brings the two genres together: it starts off as an acoustic pop tune reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional before bursting into a pop-rock song reminiscent of Angels and Airwaves (although with a lower-pitched vocalist). It’s a fun tune that wraps up a fun EP. I’m really intrigued by the songs that Ships Have Sailed has put out there on the Someday EP; three of them are really polished, tight, and memorable. I look forward to hearing more!
The Main Chance‘s album Lunagraphy is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been listening to it for weeks, and it’s been hard to describe it other than that. Will Gosner’s singer/songwriter tunes have the unassuming confidence that marked the earliest Iron and Wine recordings: they’re beautiful, moving, and memorable with seemingly little effort. His low, comforting voice tumbles from his throat gracefully, and his gentle fingerpicking flows without tension or difficulty.
“The Thinnest Ice,” “In My Young Life” and “The End is Sweet and Near” calm me no matter what mood I’m in, which is a bold statement from over here. Gosner augments the staples of acoustic guitar and voice with occasional gentle arrangements, and he scores whenever he does. Lunagraphy is the sort of record that comes out of nowhere, bowls you over, and keeps you coming back for more. Gosner’s collection of songs here shows off an enormous talent that should take him places. I was astonished and thrilled by Lunagraphy; I think you will be too.
Arctic Tern‘s Hopeful Heart is a wonder to listen to as well. Songwriter Chris Campbell goes for the David Gray style of singer/songwriter tunes: writing deeply romantic tunes with delicate yet full arrangements. There’s also some Bon Iver drama, both in lyric and arrangement (but not too much).
Campbell’s trembling tenor leads the way, setting a mood of vulnerability for these songs. They’re heavily reliant on acoustic guitar and piano, but the ethereal background vocals of “Wax,” the delicate piano of “The Break & the Fall,” and the swooning violin of “In the Cold White” are all subtle touches that take these songs from good to wonderful. The five tunes of Hopeful Heart aim to be beautiful, and they all are; there’s not a slacker in the bunch. If you like romantic, beautiful songs from the likes of Sleeping at Last, Trent Dabbs, and similar artists, you’ll be in love with Arctic Tern. Hopeful Heart is one of the best EPs I’ve heard so far this year.
Having a gravelly voice gets you compared to Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits, depending on the amount of roughness. It’s not necessarily a fair comparison all the time. Bill Scorzari‘s Just the Same relies on his gravelly voice to power his folk/country tunes, but he uses it differently than the aforementioned fellows.
Opener “Eight of Nine (Just the Same)” shows how he fits his vocal tone into acoustic-led arrangements that also feature mandolin, organ, and shakers. The vocal melody is catchy, showing off a surprising and stereotype-breaking range. His lyrics are of the first-person storytelling persuasion, spinning yarns of life and loss and drinking. The album is quite long, giving fans plenty to hear; about half of the 13 songs are over four minutes or more. If you’re into storytellin’ folk, you’ll be into Bill Scorzari.
What we listen to says less about us than it used to, given the Internet’s ability to erode consistent listening patterns. But if what we listen to still says something about a person, then it should be noted that I am all about helter-skelter acoustic strumming with the most possible amount of words sung or spoken over it. If you throw down some la-la-las for a chorus, it’s all over. In other words, I’m all about literate folk-punk/indie-pop-rock like Jake McKelvie and the Countertops‘ Solid Chunks of Energy because so much is going on all the time.
McKelvie opens the appropriately titled 10-song salvo with “Mini Monster,” which sees the frontman singing as many words as possible over a pretty clean electric guitar, bass, and drum kit running at breakneck speed. Spitting everything from non-sequitur to Dylan-esque metaphor to puns to self-deprecating truth before bursting into a passionately jubilant “la” section for the chorus, McKelvie is either the motor or the sail. He’s the motor if you’re a fan of the “auteur with a backing band” theory, but he’s the one being pushed along if you’re of the “bands with band names are bands” school of thought. Doesn’t really matter which school you’re in, though–everyone can dance along to “Mini Monster” and feel good about themselves.
Elsewhere, McKelvie and co. get their Bright Eyes on, treating audiences to a quieter version of melodic machine gun vocal delivery. “Aside From Your Hair” is impressive not only for the number of words that are included, but for the fact that the band manages to wring a melody out of the delivery. The rhythm is possessing of its own, but the fact that you can sing along to certain parts is even more fun. “Woke Awake” has similar RIYLs, and is one of the most tender-sounding of the tunes. “Flock Hard, Lockhart” is a power-pop tune that relies more on gone-wild bass work and guitar riffing; “Time Is a Chew Toy” is beachy and kinda ’50s-ish, while still maintaining a brain-bending set of lyrics. “Lots and Lots and Lots of Money” is a straight-up punk song, ’cause why not close out the album that way?
Solid Chunks of Energy is a wildly entertaining album for lyric nerds and pop fans. McKelvie very clearly knows how to write a pop song and has decided to fill his with all sorts of unexpected magic. It just so happens that the magic happens with a very small set of instruments. Guy’s gotta tour somehow, you know? Fans of The Mountain Goats, Attica! Attica!, Bright Eyes, or other “wordy” singers of the indie-pop/alt-folk/folk-punk persuasion will have a new band to watch in Jake McKelvie and the Countertops.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.