1. “Whistling Your Name” – Cadence Kid. Even in the inundated field of electro-pop, some things still stand out: Cadence Kid’s staccato opening synth salvo here grabs attention, and the chorus solidifies the interest.
2. “Are You Real” – The Gifted. There’s some seriously funky bass lines going on in this otherwise smooth electro-pop jam. Happy Friday.
3. “Never Gonna Learn” – Ded Rabbit. The Vaccines + Tokyo Police Club = “Never Gonna Learn.”
4. “Hello, N.S.A.” – Rock, Paper, Cynic. A hilarious power-pop parody of a love song (and of our current political state) that chooses as its object of affection the National Security Agency. To catch the attention of the beloved, RPC mentions just about every potential word and phrase that might catch the attention of the agency. Don’t try this at home?
5. “Chasers” – The Academic. The Academic continues that never-ending stream of UK outfits keeping that guitar-rock dream alive, following Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, and the like.
6. “Downstairs” – Castlebeat. The helter-skelter guitar of hyperactive indie-rock meets the drum machines and synths of ’80s new wave to create an oddly dancy, fun track that seems familiar in all the right ways.
7. “Why” – Amongst All. Brash, upfront pop-punk in the early ’00s style: “Feeling This”-era Blink and the like. If you love new bands that take you on memory trips without being derivative or boring, this track should push the buttons for you.
8. “Derby Girl” – The James Rocket. Jangly, ’90s-style indie-rock that sounds more like indie-pop today. Whatever name you call it, it’s quirky, jumpy, and fun. TJR is the sort of band that good-naturedly makes self-deprecating Guided By Voices jokes.
9. “Decisions” – Fire Hot Opera. I don’t usually cover this sort of funky, soulful work, but there’s something electric about the combination of vocalists, the jazz-inspired instrumentation, and the energy of the track that just draws me in.
10. “JAKL” – Bellwire. Slacker rock has never sounded so tight and fresh: Bellwire manages to sound both immaculately put together in the arrangement and lovably shambolic in the lyrics and vocal performance. Radness.
11. “Holiday (Feat. Caroline Mauck)” – Don’t Chase Felix. Sometimes you just need a breezy, sunny, lovely pop song about going on holiday. Have a great weekend, y’all.
1. “Who Are You” – The March Divide. Jared Putnam turns to formal popcraft, creating a splendid little perky acoustic pop tune. Somewhere between “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and a Shins song, this tune is a lovely surprise.
2. “I’ll Be True” – Crockett Hall. Standing in front of a big Stax Records sign, a raw, rough-throated reverie with soulful, mournful horns in the background.
3. “Low Hymnal” – Told Slant. The dark flipside of twee shows its sleepy, anxious head here. This song is somehow both tiny and expansive in how it sounds.
4. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. Like a less hyperactive version of Dan Mangan, Smith has a bouncy, chipper flair to his troubadour folk.
5. “Vanishing Shores” – Tom West. Here’s a big, Australian indie-folk singalong with gentle, marimba-esque arpeggiator below it. Hard for me to dislike anything with that description.
6. “C’Mon and Sing” – Chaperone Picks. While we’re on the topic of singalongs, here’s a song about singing along. A rootsy, bass-laden guitar strum creates the structure and most of the arrangement for this not-quite-folk-punk tune, and the results are smile-inducing and foot-tapping.
7. “Burning Bridges” – 2/3 Goat. Led by a clear, bright, strong female vocal, this alt-country tune has a killer chorus that stuck in my mind.
8. “Francesca” – Thurdy. Sometimes you need a gentle, kind ukulele instrumental in your life.
9. “Windfall” – Kalispell. The majestic folk spaciousness of Bon Iver paired with striking, disarming, immediate tenor vocals creates a unique, deeply enjoyable atmosphere. The arranging and recording engineering here are truly remarkable.
10. “Curse the Road” – Austin Miller. The easygoing shuffle of a old-school country song meets careworn vocals to create a tune reminiscent of Rocky Votolato’s early work.
11. “Rattlesnake” – Fog Lake. An appropriate band name to fit this hazy, swaying tune. There’s some angular guitar and some abstract sounds thrown in for good measure, but other than that this is grade-A strength walking-speed bedroom pop.
12. “Everything” – Cavalry. First it made me feel like the first rays of dawn coming over the horizon, then like a gem opening up to the light for the first time, then the great expanses of wide canyons and huge mountains. It’s indie-rock that uses the same instruments you would expect, but their sense of wonder and careful restraint make this an incredible track.
13. “Ruelle (feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off in beautiful piano-based minimalism, grows to dramatic post-rock grandeur, then drops off to develop again.
The Gray Havens‘ Ghost of a King is a strikingly diverse record; the duo’s work previously has fallen into piano pop or folk-pop realms, but Ghost sees them expanding their core sound to include cinematic pop-rock, ambient art tunes, and even electro-pop. Their expansion of borders doesn’t diminish at all their continuing maturity in the folk-pop realm, as the album contains some of the best folk-pop tunes they’ve ever written. In short, Ghost of a King shows growth in every area, and that results in an incredible album.
The two points of entry are pretty obvious on this record: “Shadows of the Dawn” and “Diamonds and Gold” both gave me shivers. I don’t get goosebumps very often, and I can’t think of the last time that I got goosebumps twice in one album. “Shadows of the Dawn” is a folk-pop tune that is imbued with a well-tuned sense of the dramatic–the verses are delicate yet taut with tension, while the memorable chorus opens up the song to release the tension. But it’s the triumphant, jubilant counterpoint choral vocals in the third chorus that dropped my jaw. While Dave Radford holds down the lead vocals, a choir led by Licia Radford exultantly sings wordless arias that point toward the transcendence the lyrics call for. I’m doing an injustice even trying to describe it. You have to hear it to understand how affecting and effective it is.
“Diamonds and Gold” is, surprisingly, their full-on electro-pop jaunt, but it’s thoroughly a highlight of the record. Folkies who try to go electro often result in embarrassing facsimiles of the genre, but “Diamonds” hits all the beats of a electro-pop song flawlessly. It’s hands-down the best electro-pop song I’ve heard all year. Dave Radford nails the attitude that you need to have in electro-pop, confidently swaggering his way through a giddy synth atmosphere. “They say we’re crazy / that’s fine / they say we’re out of our mind / well tell’em, tell’em alright / alright / if the world is all we got / then alright, alright / but it’s not,” Radford states, pointing again to the transcendence that is a deep theme of the record. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the excellent background vocals, again–The Gray Havens really know how to maximize a vocal performance.
Other tunes point in different sonic directions. “Band of Gold” is a romantic, married-person folk-pop tune along the lines of the Lumineers and the Oh Hellos; you’ll be singing along shortly. The title track, “This My Soul,” and “At Last, the King” have a sort of minor-key cinematic cast that reminds me of Imagine Dragons’ great pop tune “Demons”; “Take This Slowly” employs wide-open, organ-seared, major-key folk reminiscent of Josh Ritter’s “Kathleen” (and oh, is it fun). “A Living Hope” is a two-minute tune built on a base of cascading piano notes that crescendos to a haunting climax full of synths, pounding drums, and distant autotuned vocals. It’s a remarkably ambitious track to put on a folk-pop record, recalling some of Gungor’s more adventurous compositions in scope.
Ghost of a King is a remarkable achievement. It’s the rare album with clear heights supported by a large number of high-quality tunes. There’s not a lot of chaff on this record, which is doubly impressive for the wide range of sounds included on the record. The Gray Havens are hitting a stride here, and I am excited to see where they go from here. Right now, though, I’m picking my jaw up off the floor and enjoying Ghost of a King thoroughly. Highly recommended.
William Sol’s brainchild Prana Crafter serves up yet another mind-melting Prana Crafter album with Rupture of Planes. The album consists primarily of mysteriously seductive instrumental tracks that always leave you wanting more. For most of the album, Prana Crafter entices you; places you in a trance; and then, when you least expect it, kicks you out of your state. Until, that is, the next track begins. Rupture of Planescombines brilliant guitar work with raw vocals and poetic lyrics to create a truly existential experience.
William Sol is the best guitar player I have heard all year. Whether acoustic or electric, the guitar work in this album is jaw-dropping. At times the electric guitar oozes sex appeal (“Forest at First Light,” “Rupture of Planes,” “Mudra of the Mountain Throned”) akin to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar style. In other songs, Sol goes the more intricate route with both his electric (“Diamond Cutter of the Jagged Mountain,” “Moksha of Melting Mind”) and acoustic (“Vessel,” “Tara, Do You Remember the Way?”) guitars.
In the end, no matter which way he plays the guitar or whether it is acoustic or electric, Sol’s guitar work stands strong as the star of this psychedelic rock album. The interplay between the electric and acoustic guitars within songs like “Prana Crafter’s Abode” and “Mudra of the Mountain Throned” is playful yet competitive; it’s as if the two are in competition to see who can stand out the most. My vote is on the thunderous electric guitar.
Although less than half of Rupture of Planes contains vocals, both Sol’s voice and his lyrics are noteworthy aspects of the album. I love Sol’s voice; it’s very rustic and Eddie Vedder-esque. The lyrics are also breathtaking. One of my favorite tracks off the album, “Forest at First Light,” shows off Sol’s tender voice with thoughtful lyrics and some of that beautiful acoustic (and a bit of electric) guitar work. The nature-focused lyrics of “Forest at First Light” ooze poetry with such morsels as “the swimming song of the birds and the trees/ riding on the luminous breeze.” Sol creates these brilliant images with his words and his instrumentation.
Rupture of Planeswill take you on a ride to a place you never dreamed you’d go. But when the album ends, you will want to take that awe-inspiring ride again and again. If you have never experienced Prana Crafter’s psychedelic rock, you are in for a treat.–Krisann Janowitz
“Californian Sun” is the opening song off Little Lapin’s sophomore album, Holding Out for the Kicks. This track is breezy alt-country at its finest.
The soulful electric guitar and overall beachy instrumentation contrast smashingly with Little Lapin’s twangy yet theatrical voice. “Californian Sun” forces me to sway; it’s just that kind of song.
The second track, “Gratuity,” echoes the instrumentation of the first, yet slows things down a bit. Here, the acoustic guitar is the star of the show. In both tracks, unassuming male vocals pair perfectly with Little Lapin’s lovely voice and intimate lyrics; think Iron & Wine.
Based on these two tracks, Holding Out for the Kicks will be a sweet-tempered summer album, set to release July 16.
My life has been very noisy on the academic, professional, and personal fronts for a few months. Amid the clatter and bustle of changes and projects and decisions and concerns, I’ve come across Ryan Dugre‘s Gardens. Gardens is a haven of calm and respite amid the modern hustle. The solo guitar record has a zen-like focus and a clarity that make the music incredibly soothing to a harried mind.
Opener “Parade” shows off his electric guitar’s round low-end tone and precise, delicate treble tone; the two distinct voices create a conversation, even though they’re both coming from the same guitar. The songwriting here is very subtle and calm; there’s no clutter, no erratic motions, and very little chaos. “Mute Swan” continues this theme, adding reverb to the treble to create an even clearer distinction. It sounds like audio origami–complex and angular, but only when looked at up close: from afar it seems beautiful, unified, and peaceful. “Only to Leave, Only to Please” is a ballad of sorts, as it employs this bass/treble distinction to create a melodic structure that is almost lyrical.
Other textures appear on the record as well. “Down By Old River I Lie” has more of a pastoral cast, while “Pindrip” does sound very much like pins dripping from a tall height onto a hard surface. (“Pindrip” is played on acoustic guitar instead of electric; Dugre’s work clearly points out how different the two types of guitar can sound.) “Elliot” employs the bass / treble interplay on the acoustic guitar to great effect–it isn’t as calming as the positively serene “Parade,” but it’s definitely close.
Gardens is a lovely record that is a beacon of peace in a storm of chaos. Instead of showing off how fast or how complex he can be, Dugre employs his guitar skills in such a way that they can be enjoyed in a peaceful setting. It’s very hard to make complexity sound elegant and simple, which is what Dugre has done here. Do your ears a favor and check this 10-song album out.
If you’re in NYC, you should check out his Gardens release show at Manhattan Inn with IC faves Jonah-Parzen Johnson and Dave Miller, which happens tonight at 10 PM. He’ll also be touring and gigging after that around the Northeast and NYC, so you’ll have chances to hear this if you can’t get there tonight. —Stephen Carradini
“Wo Sind” – Klaus Johann Grobe. Psychedelic jazz-funk cut “Wo Sind” is a German-grown hallucinogenic in song form.
“Together feat. Clarens” – Douchka. Like a pair of patent red pumps, this track click-clacks into a gorgeous marble room of tessellated synth floors and a crackling fire in the far corner. Check out “Don’t Leave” while you’re at it.
“Underpass” – Asdasfr Bawd. What starts out as an intoxicating, exotic display of blunt, ferocious rhythm transforms into a complex track fueled by sexy, Parisian neo-disco vibes.
“Wasted On You (feat. ROZES)” – Louis Futon. From Foreign Family Collective, this future bass single’s emotive styling and gorgeous vocals propel a cleverly honest theme of questioning substance-induced love.
“Carried” – El Huervo. This future funk track sounds like ‘90s hiphop meets smooth jazz meets a Latin bar. It’s colorful and unapologetically hectic.
“Dok” – Kenton Slash Demon. These bass lines could dig their way to China.
“Stars” – Sego. A indie rock track that would belong on a burned CD mix titled “Pancake Breakfast on Sunday.”
“Town & Country” – Bibio. Bibio projects countryside warmth with his Jersey cotton vocals and flute-y, pastoral instrumentation.
“Goose” – No Hot Ashes. This single from Manchester indie/funk group No Hot Ashes starts with a Slightly Stoopid vibe and then glides into an upbeat sunniness perfect for the upcoming season’s sunset porch drinking.
“C (I:Cube remix)” – Prins Thomas. Like a crawling, corrupted disco, this remix by I:Cube taps into a dark labyrinth of funhouse mirrors and staticy synth at every corner.
“The Harmonist” – Antoine Diligent. This psych pop track soothes and sparkles with lulling vocals and whirling dream pop elements sure to whisk listeners away.
“Anchors” – Benjamin Muñoz. A song that sounds like an underwater electronic orchestra: heavy, dropping moods that float to the bottom of the ocean and quick, colorful bursts of vocals, like mermaids singing from closeby coral reef. The sonic texturing is fluid and beautiful, coming and going in waves.
“Yosemite Das (feat. Bagavan Das)” – The Rondo Brothers. This electro-organic cut combines worldly elements, such as short, soothing guitar lines and warm, lighthearted vocal bits that give it a wholesome feel. This is USDA-certified electronica.
“Utopia” – Digitalism. A sensational, summer-ready track molded of tropical-esque guitar lines and a clean synth varnish.
“Invisible Cities” – Iska Dhaaf. Like punk-reggae nights in a Los Angeles bar, “Invisible Cities” sounds like the kind of music that pairs with kitschy red lanterns, abandoned surf boards in the corner, and glasses and glasses of Michter’s whiskey.
“Aloha Blue Sky” – The Foreign Films. Honey-drenched soul, funk, and jazz come together for an oozing good time on just one of many sexy tracks on The Foreign Films’ latest Side 4.–Rachel Haney
Teeth Marks by New Dog is not a record that fits in with a lot of trends. The gorgeous, spartan, 10-song solo record from Anar Badalov is best consumed as a whole, doesn’t have a clear single, doesn’t traffic in huge melodies, unflinchingly documents modern ennui, and subsequently could not be considered “fun” in very many ways. However, it is the sort of record that enfolds me, transports me, and calms me. It has depths to be plumbed, sonically and lyrically. It rewards those who take time with it, as opposed to trying to digest it on the fly. It is a grower, and it requires you to wait. But it rewards those who delve into the record with a singular, intriguing, mesmerizing experience.
Badalov alternates between delicate guitar and careful piano to create the foundations of this record. (The exceptions are the gorgeously arpeggiated “3 a.m.” and the electric guitar of “Here All Days.”) Over those instruments he whispers, talks, wonders, ponders and even sometimes sings. He approaches vocals more like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen–there are some melodies, but melodies are not required to create indelible vocal performances. This dismissal of the standard rules opens up a lot of space for Badalov to create tunes: untethered from the expectations of melody, the verse/chorus/verse structure that supports big melodies goes out the window too.
As a result, the tunes sometimes have repeated sections, and sometimes don’t–sometimes the repetition is only a fragment of a thing. Instruments drop in and out of songs; sections lead to other sections and then don’t return to the first thing. It creates an air of mystery and excitement, even in the supremely downtrodden lyrical environment. There’s an idea around every corner; not in a hectic, herky-jerky sort of way, but in a “whoa, come look at this” sort of way. Check out “Lover’s Palm” for an example, or “Sudden Amnesia,” or “3 a.m.” to hear it in action.
And although acoustic guitar and piano create the framework, there’s a lot of distorted synths that enforce a sort of sonic isolation and grinding intensity to the otherwise chill tunes. The use of the noise in contrast to the relaxing arrangements accentuates the lyrics that alternate between very meticulous descriptions of modern ennui (“Here All Days,” “Home by Five,” “Nothing Has Changed”) and the intensity of regrets (“Joe Brainard’s Idea”) and fear of aging (“3 a.m.,” “The Party”). It’s just another carefully planned element of the album.
Teeth Marks is so completely realized that the album artwork is essentially what I would have made up for it if I had to choose it on my own: rich dark blues ripped by a sudden energy (in this case, a flash of lightning). I would have thrown a cityscape in there in substitution for the trees, but otherwise the album art evokes its contents beautifully. If you’re up for a singer/songwriter album that breaks the mold in a variety of ways, New Dog’s Teeth Marks will pleasantly surprise you.
1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.
2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.
3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.
4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.
5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.
6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.
7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.
8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.
9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)
10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.
11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts. [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available.]
1. “Hypachoi” – The Project. A thrumming distorted bass riff underlines this song, which moves from a spartan tune punctuated by clanking chains into a crunchy, towering, dramatic piece. The lyrics are a passionate re-telling of Christ’s death and resurrection. Happy Easter!
2. “Trucksea (feat. Dean McGrath)” – Nonsemble. This indie-pop chamber orchestra packs “Trucksea” full of fluttering strings, dramatic cello, grounding keys, perky drums. The vocals are the most modern thing about the tune, other than perhaps the confidence with which the difficult fusion is pulled off. This is an impressive tune that demands attention.
3. “Wildflower” – Shiloh Hill. Chipper full-band folk that starts with perky trumpet and brings in banjo like rays of sunshine coming out from behind a cloud. The chorus has an anthemic cast similar to The Decemberists, which is always welcome. This album looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Check out their Kickstarter.
4. “Dust” – Ryan Martin John, Todd Sibbin, and Tom West. Kind of like an Australian Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, this ominous track has a ’70s folk vibe, solid group vocals, and a dense, immediate atmosphere.
5. “I Know I” – The Tin Man. A pensive minor-key first verse leads into an ultimately hopeful, thumping folk-pop/alt-pop tune augmented by some distorted guitar providing some background grumble. Goes for a lot of drama and yet stops one inch from going over the top–an admirable skill.
6. “Same Boat” – Vanessa Forero. This is a swift, upbeat, smile-inducing folk-pop tune that doesn’t jump the shark in its arrangement (however, there are mermaids in the stead of Left Shark as part of the video).
7. “Million Miles” – Jesse Konrad. A calm strum, gentle guitar counterpoint, and a friendly organ push this track along in a very chill way.
8. “You Need to Hear It From Someone Else” – Protestant Work Ethic. Lazy horns play against a large choir, an autoharp, melodica, and assorted random percussion–the outcome is like a European version of Typhoon, all the way down to the passionate vocals.
9. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. A surging, major-key chord progression reminiscent of Dan Mangan, a fun organ performance, and a smooth vocal performance come together over a shuffle snare for a tune seems already comfortable and worn in, like a comfy sweater, when you first hear it.
10. “Marigold” – Neil Holyoak. Holyoak’s hazy yet gravitas-laden voice presides over this very carefully constructed folk tune, complete with pedal steel, mandolin, and reverb-washed electric guitar. It’s kind of like Dana Sipos’ work, but in a major key and more instrument-laden. Float away with this track.
11. “Love Is Like a Market Crash” – Thurdy. It takes a lot of work to sound casual. Thurdy’s laid-back, back-porch vibe permeates his baritone vocals, rolling guitar playing, and honest lyrics. It’s a tune that gives you back more than it asks of you.
12. “This Will Be Our Year – Zombies Cover” – Novi Split. David J’s magnetic, utterly gorgeous voice is in full flower here, matching his oh-so-lovely pipes with a “doo-wop meets old-school country in a subtle, spare modern bar” arrangement. It’s just great.
13. “Bed of Nails” – Logan Magness. “Tender” and “romantic” maybe aren’t the phrases most associated with alt-country, but this stripped-down, Isbell-esque acoustic ballad is both. Magness’s smooth tenor is a joy to listen to.
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.