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January Singles: 1 (Of a Personal, Historical Nature)

1. “Immigrant Warrior” – Sunny Jain. My personal goal this year has been to listen to at least one artist from every country in the world. I did some research and put together a personal Spotify playlist to help achieve this goal. I’ve found that I really like soca and Eastern European brass band music. This last newfound interest in Eastern European brass band music meshes neatly with discovering Sunny Jain, whose brass band work draws on “shuddering walls of post-rock guitar, howling tenor sax, the persistent thump of Indian brass band music, rhythms from Punjab and southern Pakistan, film soundtracks from around the world, and swaggering West Coast rap.” In this track, there’s propulsively bass (tuba?) motion, thrilling melodies, and a great rhythm section. It’s an amazing, excellent track.

2. “Still” – Dan Roseboom. In contrast to saying “I’m purposefully working on listening to music from around the world,” I feel like jazz itself is coming for me. Jazz seems potentially comprehensible to me, but it hasn’t unfolded yet; I haven’t found the right jazz style or artist that makes it click yet. Roseboom’s solitary, lonesome jazz trumpet performance here is something I can recognize and grab on to–something that transcends genre and gets to the heart of conveying emotions through melody. That jazz aficionados will recognize the tradition is important, but even those who can’t recognize it can take much away from this lovely tune.

3. “Tony Sendo” – Underground Canopy. Speaking of jazz, I love it when it’s mashed up with other things I love: Jazz, hip-hop, and downtempo vibes come together in a smooth, solid slice of keys-led instrumental work.

4. “Electric One (Part B)” – Elkhorn. An electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, and an electric bouzouki in a 7-minute improvisation that manages to meld a ton of complexity into an almost-meditative, reverent piece. Last year I was into organ drone for the first time, now I’m into bouzouki improvisations. If you’re checking in for the first time in a while, I’m not really a folk-pop guy anymore, I’m as surprised as you are.

5. “Echo Chamber” – Adam Hill. Just kidding, I’m totally still a folk-pop guy. (I’m just much more expansive.) Adam Hill’s got the whole troubadour-folk thing on lock, calling out the ills of the world as he seems and calling people to (secular) repentance: “It’s time to start feeling good about feeling good about feeling good about feeling good.” His vocal performance is ace. Shout-out to the saloon-style piano that caps this all off.

6. “To My Brain” – Aryl Barkley. I used to be a punk-rock guy, but the occasional introspective acoustic track from pop-punk bands got me into quiet acoustic music; The New Amsterdams emerging from The Get Up Kids was formative for me. I can still revel in a beautiful acoustic track such as this delicate-yet-confident whisper-folk tune from Aryl Barkley. Barkley really makes me believe it, really sells the whole thing with a careful touch on the vocals and guitars. It’s a very comforting track.

7. “Sweet Sweet Remedies” – The Pistachio Kid. Before I was a punk-rock teenager, I sang in choirs. I mostly listen to instrumental music these days (because I mostly listen to IC music while I work; at home I mostly listen to songs about dinosaurs.), but vocal music was my first love; a pure vocal tone with thoughtful harmonies will still get me. The Pistachio Kid has taken what would have been a great indie-pop song or maybe folk song and turned it into a sun-dappled a cappella track that I can’t listen to without smiling. A cappella may not be your thing, but this is real high-quality work of the form; I think you’ll be into it.

8. “How Much Homework” – Nimrawd. I once was a school kid myself, before I was a singer or a punk rock kid of any of that. This track incorporates the sounds of schoolkids playing as part of the loping, live-bass-and-synths piece. It’s a fun piece that defies genre expectations and labels; it’s just good composition. I look forward to this full record.

 

The Sinatras

Lisa has been holding down the fort on reviews lately, as I’ve been hammered with work in my day job. In lieu of new music, I have a few posts that I’ve been sitting on that are unlike most IC posts. Now would be a good time to unleash them, though! I’m clearly not getting anything else done. This below list of fictional artists started as a joke between several friends and I, thinking about all the ways that names of bands can often tell you what genre they belong in. So, without further adieu: all the Sinatras.

Blank Sinatra – Puddle of Mudd mentored them
Clank Sinatra – on tour with Nine Inch Nails
Crank Sinatra – dubstep 4 life
Dank Sinatra – acoustic guitar, cajon, and stand-up bass
Drank Sinatra – Trying to get Lil Jon to listen to his mixtape
Frank Sinatra – actually Frank Sinatra
Flank Sinatra – actually a livestreaming video game player
Gank Sinatra – goofy, nerdy indie pop
Hank Sinatra – Nashville’s finest
Jank Sinatra – Biggest influence: Weezer
Lank Sinatra – Tall, skinny, and very into Death Cab
Manx Sinatra – Female rapper?
Planck Sinatra – Science-obsessed minimalist techno
Prank Sinatra – on tour with They Might Be Giants
Qank Sinatra – Sun Ra-style wild instrumental space stuff
Rank Sinatra – Weird, spooky solo art rock act
Sank Sinatra – R&B bangerz
Shank Sinatra – golfcore
Stank Sinatra – also on tour with TMBG
Skank Sinatra – the inevitable ska band
Spank Sinatra – spiky hair early ‘00s pop-punk
Tank Sinatra – easily the most metal name on this list
Thank Sinatra – twee tunes on an ukulele
Wank Sinatra – provocateur Prince knockoff
Yank Sinatra – trying to be part of Daddy Yankee’s posse

Singles: April Closing

1. “Wiwasharnine” – Mdou Moctar. A jangly, enthusiastic, fully engaging performance of Tuareg guitar and vocals. If you like any African-inspired indie music, here’s an excellent example of the real deal.

2. “Marjorie” – Reddening West. A haunting, immersive folk track that yet manages to keep the endearing folk-pop melodies in the instrumentals and the vocals. There’s a lot of space here, as if it were recorded in a very tall building such as a church; that sort of grandeur gives the track a blend of the intimate haunting melodies of Blind Pilot and the sweeping expanses of the Barr Brothers.

3. “Down by the Water” – Abigail Lapell. Here’s a beautiful, pure, clear-as-a-bell Americana track reminiscent of Gillian Welch. The lead and harmony vocal performances are breathtaking.

4. “Even in the Tremor” – Lady Lamb. My favorite proggy, ambitious singer-songwriter streamlines her sound a bit but still emerges with a uniquely contoured song that fits somewhere between punk rock, singer/songwriter, and artsy indie.The song bobs and weaves and dances and pounds and wavers through all sorts of moods. Fascinating.

5. “Live to Love” – Further North. If you have ever been a Relient K fan, especially of the first four records, you’ll love this straight-up-and-down early ’00s pop-punk track. It punches all my pop-punk buttons.

6. “If Only” – Streets of Roya. I’m all about slow-burn dance-rock tracks. This one features a deeply emotional vocal performance, a sweet bass line, and a solid dance-rock drumbeat (when it comes in). That the guitars never move out of U2 dreaminess makes this song even more dope.

7. “Let Go” – Saxsyndrum. There’s a saxophone, synthesizers, and drums in this track (get it?). These are blended into a low-key, dusky dance groove that ratchets up to a club-ready chorus that contains a solidly chantable vocal mantra. The post-dub wub that burst in around four minutes creates a highlight moment.

8. “Hard of Hearing” – Radical Face. As a card-carrying Postal Service lifer, I love electro indie-pop in all its forms. This one splits the difference between indie-pop, synth-pop, and whisper-folk to create a deeply hummable, very melancholic sorta-dance tune (and the video proves it!).

9. “Memories of Nanzenji” – Mark de Clive Lowe. Some jazzy saxophone noodles over some classy Rhodes work to form the basis of this song, but this isn’t just a jazziest. There’s a dense gravitas to this work that transcends the experimental, adventurous vibes trying to break out and ties it to an introspective vibe. There’s a lot going on here, but Clive Lowe corrals it all together into a thoughtful, carefully constructed, at times even mellow experience.

10. “Schluss” – Bunkr. Math-rock technicality fused with post-rock emotion and post-hardcore intensity creates a remarkable track. That so much sound comes out of two people is massively impressive: the band uses looping and layering to maximum effect here.

11. “Something Out of Nothing” – Urchin. Kit-based breakbeats, modulated vocals, burbling guitar, and some soul vibes all get cooking to make something that sounds like a ’90s funk track sped up and time-travelled to the future. Very neat.

12. “Prince William Sound” – Mark Vickness. Smooth, soothing solo acoustic guitar work with tons of variations and developments on the sound throughout the five-minute run-time.

13. “New June” – Ryan Dugre. In contrast to Vickness’ long, flowing work, Dugre’s efforts here are short, mysterious, unsettled solo guitar work. The conclusion is ambivalent–it feels like a conclusion, but it also carries the uncertainty of the piece with it. A very interesting piece of work.

14. “Circle” – mouse on the keys. A delicate, airy, even jazzy piece of full-band instrumental music explodes into a full-on post-rock onslaught of distorted guitars. The conclusion of the song brings these two ideas together, mashing jazzy rhythms and melodies with the texture and tone of distorted post-rock for a novel, innovative experience.

15. “Ody at Sea” – Erik Wøllo. Wafting, wavering, gently pulsing ambient with no percussion whatsoever – just the dreamy, gentle, subtle variations of wispy synth layers. Truly ethereal.

16. “Feel the Love” – Prins Thomas. Mellow disco revivalism at its finest, but with an modern, airy quality to the synths and vocals that anchor it in the now.

Singles: More Indie-pop

1. “Superficial Feeling” – Written Years. This song covers all the bases, stealing bits of electro-indie-pop, big-moment indie-rock and M83-style indie-dance. The song also does pretty much everything right: The arrangement is a slow-burner that heats up to maximum, the vocals are right-on, and the overall effect is perfect.

2. “Future Me Hates Me” – The Beths. I love the deliciously-fuzzy guitar tone and the impressively strong vocals in this power-pop/pop-punk tune. The ascending main guitar riff is also ace.

3. “Number 5 Radio” – Fairburn Royals. In the fine tradition of breaking the fourth wall, this stellar tune is a power-pop song about how to write a power-pop song (in five simple rules). The song itself follows its own rules, and the resulting song is indeed really excellent. Highly recommended.

4. “She Calls” – Tenderfoot. I’m a sucker for a good whoa-oh-oh vocal line, and this tune has a great one. The rest of the song is a catchy, upbeat pop-rock song that’s a lot of fun.

5. “Spoil With The Rest” – Ryley Walker. Transforms from a purveyor of pastoral folk to an explosive indie-rocker with folky leanings–it’s like when The Dodos transformed themselves from frenetic mathy duo to a more dense outfit. Walker’s voice is still relaxed and relaxing, but his electric guitar does the talking here.

6. “Necessaries” – Many Voices Speak. The band here uses reverb to turn the song into an intimate experience instead of to create space; there’s lots of wobbly sounds, bouncing notes, and the like, but it all sounds like a blanket wrapped around me instead of a giant cloud. The loose, unstressed vocals create even more of that warm feel, giving this low-key dream-pop song a magnetic aura.

7. “Blue Love” – JOYNER. Sometimes a chorus pops up and just washes over me with such unavoidable confidence that it compels me to write about the song. The rest of the tune is a thoroughly fine low-key electro-influenced indie-pop tune, but that chorus is just perfect.

8. “Undone” – Greta Isaac. Chipper, friendly, and enthusiastic are all things I look for in a great indie-pop tune. This tune nails it: the arrangement is perky everywhere, the melodies are easily accessible, and there are tons of enthusiastic choral vocals in the chorus. The light electro-pop/glitchy touches make it even more exciting. Here’s one for your summer lists.

9. “Baby” – Basement Revolver. I’m not much into rock songs with heavily distorted guitars these days, but Basement Revolver infuses their songs with so much pathos and desire that it’s hard to not empathize with vocalist Chrisy Hurn. Hurn can belt with the best of them, but her quiet voice is equally as controlled and equally as devastating. The band’s ability to match Hurn’s urgency without turning into a punk rock outfit is further impressive. Just an absolutely bang-up job on this indie-rock tune. Fans of Silversun Pickups will love this.

10. “ABOP” – tunng. Have some low-slung electro-pop from this veteran outfit. There’s an X factor here that comes of having a lot of years in the game–a lot of people can make electro-pop with acoustic leanings, but not many can make it stick.

11. “Favourite Song” – Pizzagirl. The caption on this video says “For best results listen in 1987 at night,” which is spot-on self-awareness. The big synths, the gated snares, the vocal tone, the vocal melodies, it’s all pitch-perfect late ’80s synth-pop. I’m particularly fond of the vocal melodies.

12. “Never There (for bassooning and Crooning)” – Some Professional Help. This almost exactly what it says on the tin: it is a spoken-word-and-bassoon version of CAKE’s “Never There.” As a fan of CAKE and weird conceptual ideas (and how much more a weird conceptual idea involving CAKE), this is hilariously great. Some Professional Help is also a folk-punk-ish band, but this one is literally just Scott Alexander spoofing the spoofers who are CAKE. Please avail yourself of this song.

Mid-April Singles: 1

1. “I Love You Like a Brother” – Alex Lahey. Not a trick–this song is actually about Alex’s totally appropriate (“Just like I oughta”) fraternal affection. The lyrics are shouted above buzzing, fuzzed-out guitar and punchy drums, ultimately landing this track somewhere between pop-punk and power-pop. High praise: Alex Lahey knows how to write great guitar songs.

2. “Terribly Popular” – Marc With a C. Marc contributes a smart, funny satirical take on Taylor Swift and/or Tumblr culture via a chunky, chant-able power-pop tune. If you like power-pop, nerd culture, or satire, you probably are already hip to Marc with a C–but if not, he’s got a new record out called Obscurity that’ll be to your taste.

3. “I Like Taylor Swift” – Coach Hop. We’re equal opportunity here at IC on the T-Swift front. If you loved early ’00s pop punk and early ’90s Weezer, you’ll love the sonic aesthetics, the spot-on vocal melodies, the humorously earnest lyrics, and, oh, basically all of it.

4. “Head Down / Heart Up” – Towers and Trees. A blast of fun from the first goofy image of a pixelated arcade racing game to the final falsetto over the last crunchy power-pop chord.

5. “We Almost Failed, Brian (Epilogue II)” – Cubs Refrain. There is so much deliciously perfect melodrama in this soaring-higher-than-skyscrapers electro-pop tune that I can’t namecheck the probably-very-uncool-artist-that-I-love which it makes me think of. The bass synths provide the frame for the awesome arpeggiator and super-great vocal melodies. The message here: Just revel in a great pop song.

6. “Lydia” – The Magic Lantern. The Magic Lantern delivers a carefully considered, subtly dignified, self-assured folk tune in the great tradition of Paul Simon and followers. (Those who love Fionn Regan will also find themselves swooning.) It’s the sort of perfect vocal performance that speaks volumes without raising its volume.

7. “And Still I Question” – Chaperone Picks. Already a master of the lo-fi recording and distribution aesthetic, Chaperone Picks has one-upped himself/itself and distilled the songwriting into the essence of the songwriting and no more. This song is 63 seconds long, but it says everything it wants to say and does everything it wants to do. It leaves me wanting more, which is a compliment for anyone, no matter how long the track. RIYL: gritty ’90s lo-fi indie.

8. “Uncertain” – Robert Deeble. Deeble’s made so much music under the radar that he has fully developed his own oeuvre. This tune has all the Deeble staples: walking-speed tempos, airy arrangements, a heavy mood, subtle melodies, and Deeble’s feathery voice. The tune comes together beautifully, with a lovely set of strings in the chorus giving the tune extra oomph. This one comes from a record about a complex, difficult adoption, which gives the tune even more emotional weight.

9. “Oh Deep Water” – Great Peacock. Fans of Dawes will resonate with this spacious, well-developed Americana track. The vocal performance is surprisingly grand and very effective.

10. “Small Talk” – Maria Kelly. Dang–this is a knockout quiet tune. Kelly exerts total control over her affecting vocal performance, the somber arrangement, and the vulnerable mood. The results are “knock me over with a feather”-good.

11. “Time Immemorial” – The286. Shades of The Old ’97s, The Beatles, and the tender moments of the Avett Brothers color this lovely, vintage ballad. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a harpsichord hiding somewhere in this tune, but it may just me appreciating this entry in the long craft tradition of pop songwriting that could reasonably include a harpsichord.

12. “Desert Song (a lullaby)” – Swimming Bell. Layers and layers of vocals and reverb create a sonic equivalent of the aurora borealis over a delicate, spartan guitar. This is majestic.

13. “Fragment II” – boerd. Minimalist techno that’s not quite ambient, this piece skitters along with low-key beats and subtle piano to create a chill, exploratory atmosphere that makes me think of Boards of Canada.

Mid-March Singles 1: Upbeat

1. “Glue” – Bugs. We’re not to the summer yet (unless you live in Arizona), but here’s an early vote for you Summer Jam lists. There’s some early ’00s indie-rock guitars going on (back when major key versions of grunge guitar patterns was the hot thing), some attitude-filled vocals that nod to pop-punk ideals (but not too much), and fantastic background vocals that really make the song. Fans of Brand New’s first record or bands like The Fratellis will be real into this.

2. “Starcrossed Lovers” – The Fratellis. Speaking of: Oh hey, The Fratellis! It’s good to hear from you again. This one has a little more emotional weight than the never-going-to-retire-that-one-live hit of “Chelsea Dagger” and less frantic antics than “Flathead,” but it has way better falsetto in the chorus and boasts a neat strings section in the chorus. Some people just know how to write pop songs, you know?

3. “Other People’s Houses” – American Film History. There’s a fair bit of ’80s nostalgia that I just don’t subscribe to–I was never into giant synth soundscapes, and most new wave doesn’t give me that happy kitsch feeling. So it’s with surprise that American Film History’s updated version of ’80s pop strikes a chord with me. Sure, there’s a lot more emotional depth than most ’80s music, but that alone isn’t it–there’s some excellent melodies, some strong arranging, and just all-around good vibes. Also, I feel no shame spoiling this for you: the video is horribly sad and made me sad. Go with that knowledge.

4. “Foundations” – Pilod. Slowcore acoustic music is a genre that I leave and return to repeatedly: there’s something entrancing about the angst-laden, repetitious minimalism. Sometimes it just feels right. Pilod’s “Foundations” isn’t quite as long or as slow as some of the slowcore you can find, but the long pauses between guitar strums, simple rhythms, and emotional vocal delivery all resonate with my expectations of the genre. There’s a little more electric guitar than you would otherwise expect, but the song lopes its way to a totally great emotional climax (as one would expect). Fans of Songs:Ohia and the like will be into this.

5. “hey (pixies)” – lost valley. I don’t often mention covers on IC, because it has to be 1. a good song 2. re-envisioned in a unique way for me to get on board. Usually covers fail one or the other requirement, but lost valley’s trip-hop-influenced post-dub take on a Pixies tune is a mindbendingly good time. There are flashes of Odesza’s melodic elements, but the tune is mostly stacatto and choppy, hopping from one idea to the next. Very intriguing.

6. “Long Way Home” – YESES. This tune has some definite War on Drugs-esque psych influences, but they are tempered with a liberal dose of Interpol-esque post-punk rhythms, rhythm guitar tone, and dour vocals. Those two poles push and tug on the song from multiple angles, creating productive tension that elevates this above the pack of a very trendy genre right now. (Being above the pack in anything is great, but being above the pack in a “very right now” genre is super-great.)

7. “Angry Seeds” – Narwhals. If you split the difference between the manic indie rock enthusiasms of Frightened Rabbit and the sensible, down-to-earth vocals and arrangements of The National, you might end up somewhere near where Narwhals did on this track. It’s huge that this song doesn’t ape either band, but creates something new and interesting out of the influences.

8. “Happiness” – Callum Pitt. This has a very cheerful acoustic folk/pop chassis with a big, enthusiastic indie-pop body on it–I’m reminded of Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and mid -’00s indie-pop bands like Annuals. Very fun.

9. “She Waits” – The Gray Havens. tGH has grown from a perky piano-pop duo to something much more vast. This particular track shows off a newfound patience in arrangement–layers of piano and strings slowly accrete in a pattern that echoes the emotions of the titular chorus phrase. Dave Radford’s vocals are some of the most confident that he has delivered, and the song itself is something unique and passionate. This is deeply impressive, highly mature songwriting. If you’re into Viva La Vida-era Coldplay, your eyes will get wide.

10. “Tour Guide” – Cheri Magill. Magill’s website says “music for moms” on it, but it could also say “music for parents” or “music for people who know kids” or “music for people.” This piano-pop tune is starkly beautiful, mostly eschewing percussion in favor of the piano’s own rhythm. Magill’s vocals are strong and clear, just as the strings are. Fans of female-fronted piano work will enjoy this quite a bit. The song is the title track on an album all about parenting, which should come with a different sort of parental guide on it–namely “if you are a parent, you will probably cry while listening to this album.”

Early November Singles 1

1. “Boys Will Be Boys” – Stella Donnelly. The spartan songwriting here gives a perfect contrast to Donnelly’s powerful vocals. The song itself is a knockout without even considering the lyrics; pairing the song with her harrowingly honest lyrics about rape creates a tour-de-force moment for Donnelly and what should be a deeply sobering reality check and call to action for all men (myself included).

2. “Maria También” – Khruangbin. This unclassifiable, incredibly cool instrumental track features elements of Middle Eastern music, some vaguely surf-rock overtones, and found sound celebrating the role of women in pre-1979 revolution. The band notes that the video continues the celebration of that time and place via the performances of “a large network of artists, singers, dancers and songwriters who have been either exiled or silenced since the revolution.”

3. “Seattle” – Strangers by Accident. SbA has expanded from an acoustic folk duo to a folk-rock four-piece on the EP this cut comes from; this track, fronted by female and male vocals, features punchy drums, a speedy tempo, and even a mini guitar solo. But the highlight moment of the track is a breakdown to two vocals and an acoustic guitar, just like the old days–they haven’t abandoned their roots. It’s a strong hello to a new sound.

4. “So Kind” – Kat Myers and the Buzzards. Fans of easygoing West Coast country and female vocals will have a blast with this track. The tune slowly grows from a small tune to a rip-roaring country-rock track led by alternately blazing/delicate electric guitar and Myers’ confident vocals.

5. “Sail on the Water” – Molly Parden. A silky, suave ’70s-inspired singer/songwriter track that calls to mind Fleetwood Mac and other purveyors of dreamy, mystical work.

6. “Dominika” – Jordan Klassen. Somewhere between the woodsy folk of Fleet Foxes and the pristine folk arrangements of Mutual Benefit lands this lightly funky, somewhat proggy (!) folk tune. The video is a magnificent slice of ’90s tribute/parody.

7. “Shadow” – John Hufford. Timely and timeless, this acoustic track incorporates historic vocal harmony styles, contemporary lead vocal melodies, and never-gets-old synth/xylophone combo to create a song not quite folk, not quite indie-pop, and totally impressive.

8. “Throw Ourselves In” – Marsicans. Marsicans’ run of fantastic is unprecedented in IC’s hallowed halls–I’ve now covered six straight Marsicans singles, and they’ve all been amazing. This one has some ’00s pop-punk yells thrown into their peppy indie-guitar-rock for good measure. Everything else (insanely catchy melodies, big guitars, impeccable song structure) is still there. If you haven’t jumped on the Marsicans train, you need to do it as soon as possible. Preferably yesterday.

9. “Moments” – Everywhere. Dance-rock is tough to assess–sometimes over-the-top is great (think The Killers) and sometimes understated is boss (think Cobra Starship). This smooth, sleek track passes the basic test (“do you want to dance”) and also passes the higher bar (“is there something beyond a big dance beat going on”) with flying colors via an M83/Capital Cities-esque atmosphere.

10. “Superhero” – Fuzzystar. Power-pop that’s mellowed somewhat by indie-pop vocal aesthetics–but there are some mathy/emo-esque guitar theatrics to kick it back up a notch. Overall, it’s a fun, engaging pop tune.

Late September Singles 2: Indie-pop and more

1. “Salgado” – ALTRE DI B. Somewhere between the punchy riffing of Cage the Elephant and the attitude-heavy enthusiasm of The Vaccines lives this exciting tune. The extended coda is surprising and hopefully indicative of left-turns in the future.

2. “Hold On” – Leisure Club. For those who miss the old Vampire Weekend, look no further for your latest fix. It pushes almost all the buttons and feels so good.

3. “Turtledoves” – Gingerlys. The cloudy guitars of late ’00s SanFran garage rock are put to different use here, paired with pop-punk drumming and relatively straightforward indie-pop vocal melodies. The results are an unusually propulsive haze that collapses triumphantly and unexpectedly at the finish line.

4. “The Lord Giveth and Taketh Away” – Chaperone Picks. Lo-fi guitar strumming a la early Mountain Goats, big overdriven guitar that calls up ’90s indie heroes like Guided by Voices, and a drop-dead end to the two-minute song create a mystical union (a unified belt, if you will) of multiple strands of lo-fi indie.

5. “Oom Sha La La” – Haley Heynderickx. If Lady Lamb weren’t quite so prickly and prone to ’50s vocalizations (either for ironic effect or in true earnestness, who can say?), she could have written this loping, quirky, deeply engaging indie rock tune.

6. “Beholden” – Canon Blue. Anyone missing the chipper tones of Givers or who loves when Lord Huron plays huge pop songs will love this grooving, steel-drum-inflected folk-goes-indie-rock tune.

7. “My Heart, Your Heart” – Trevor Hall. I don’t know how Hall makes such a beats-driven indie tune sound organic and human, but whatever he does, it’s totally effective. This is immersive.

8. “Look Up” – raener. This de-constructed indie-rock tune is one part James Blake silkiness, one part menomena controlled chaos, and one part LCD Soundsystem abstract danciness. Despite its inherent coldness in the choppy, brittle arrangement, there’s an inviting nature to the tune. Very interesting.

9. “Warm (ft. Frankie Forman)” – Speakman Sound. This snaky, slinky, low-slung electro tune has features a real violin, real drums, and layered vocals; it almost sounds like a Local Natives tune, or a very distant cousin to a Fleet Foxes tune. I was astonished by it.

 

The Good Graces: Set Your Sights

So now that I’ve been running Independent Clauses for more than 14 years, I’ve been following some of the same artists for years–some for the better part of a decade. As a result, I tend to feel like these artists are my friends, just by dint of hearing so much of their music. I feel the emotions they sing about more deeply. Love songs are more exciting and breakup records are harder to hear, because I like the people involved in the records (even just from hearing their records over time).

The Good GracesSet Your Sights is a breakup record, and it tears me up pretty good. It’s a tough record, because the older you get, the harder the breakups get (“Too Old for This”). The Good Graces’ Close to the Sun was the very first record I ever premiered, so I feel some kinship with Kim of TGG, even though we’ve only met in person once. So if this review sounds a little different than my normal reviews, that’s because it is a little different.

This particular breakup record is unusual because it’s told from the perspective of the person doing the breaking up. Usually we hear the jilted lover, but the emotional complexities of doing the breaking up are on display here. (Moral of the story: It’s still emotionally difficult to break up, even when you’re the one doing the leaving.) “7-Year Sentence (Going to Hell)” is the centerpiece of the record, an alt-country ballad that lays out the difficult complexities of the break-up with unusual, unflinching candor. It’s pretty heavy stuff.

The song itself is way more fun than the lyrics, even if it’s a minor-key ballad; the band is in top flight (as they are throughout the record) from the booming bass lines to the zinging lead guitar to the choir singing the last chorus. The tune perfectly fuses alt-country gloom with indie-pop enthusiasm. It is not as weird as it sounds.

Elsewhere, TGG throws down pop-punk-esque burners (“Remember the Old School,” the country-punk-inflected “Take Heart”), high-quality indie-pop tunes (“Too Old For This,” “Porchlight”), the indie-folk the band has honed (“Out There,” “More Careful”), and a magnificent strings-and-voice elegy (“The Hard Way”). “The Hard Way” is another unusually candid exploration of the breakup, exploring the internal states that caused all this trouble (“I learn all my lessons the hard way / if I even learn them at all”). It is a beautiful tune melodically and instrumentally.

So, like I said. Breakups (and breakup records) get harder the older you get, and this one is no exception. But there are beautiful (and even fun!) moments amid the tough lyrics. The instrumental work here is top-notch, too. If you’re looking for a solid alt-country record, indie-pop record, or breakup record, this one will fit the bill nicely.

Highly Recommended Quick Hits: Builder of the House / Emperor X / Zach Winters

Builder of the House‘s Ornaments is way more Christmas in July than actually a December record. The acoustic album is warm, sunny, mellow, and happy. The tunes unspool at an easy pace, unhurried and unworried. If you’re in a bad mood and want to slowly rise out of it, I can’t think of a better record for it. The standout title track has a bit of Lord Huron in the melodic structure, while “When No One Is Here” feels like a mood-inverted Rocky Votolato song. Smooth, elegant, and yet crisp in its arrangements, this album just hits the spot for lazy summer days and aspirational winter ones. Highly recommended.

As jittery and frenetic as that last one was calm and relaxing, Emperor X‘s Oversleepers International is a feast for fans of that spot where pop-punk, alt-folk, indie-pop, literary studies, political science, and psychology intersect. In other terms, it’s as if late ’90s John Darnielle joined the Weakerthans instead of being compared to them.

“Wasted on the Senate Floor” is a verbal blitzkrieg married to a frantic acoustic-punk band; “Schopenhauer in Berlin” slows down the pace enough for the lyrics to be understandable but still requires you to look up who Schopenhauer is. Elsewhere, Emperor X goes all wacky Ben Folds (“Riot for Descendant Command”), references Anonymous and North Korea in a song called “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” (!!), and creates one of the weirdest travel journals ever (that also doubles as a breakup tune of sorts; it’s the title track, because of course).

Also there’s a techno-dance song and an ambient tune. The English town of Dorset and Vilnius, Lithuania are involved. The songs are crazy and memorable, musically and lyrically–what else could you ask for? Highly recommended.

Zach Winters‘ latest folk records were delicate-yet-intense constructions of great seriousness and import. On To Have You Around, Winters sounds downright loose. “Sometimes I Wonder” starts off in his traditionally ghostly acoustic vein, but turns into a more-than-subtly funky pop song by chorus. It is rad. “If the Sun is Shining” doubles down and gets a funky bass line on a stand-up bass and snazzily jazzy horns involved.

“Do You Really” starts off with the line “taking a shower with a known carcinogen” and proceeds to be a “chill out, stop worrying” song. “Love My Woman” is exactly what you would expect from the title and previous descriptions. Even the instrumental “Buffalo” has a chipper vibe. It’s a new look for Winters, and it’s a great one. If you’re looking for some acoustic-fronted, low-key-funky pop songs, look no further for a great time. Highly recommended.

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