1. “Silverlake” – Underlined Passages. The dreamy indie-pop of UP’s previous work is traded for a punchy indie-rock model; Michael Nestor’s vocal lines are still flowing and smooth, but the now-more-crunchy-than-jangly guitars and snappy drums give this tune a new-found pep.
2. “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow;” – Glacier. Dense, heavily distorted, pounding guitar chords set the atmosphere for this 13-minute post-rock/post-metal epic, but there’s a lot more going on in 13 minutes than just chug (including a found-sound clip of an old time voice reading the end of Matthew 9).
3. “English Weather” – Fick as Fieves. British rock that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines, propelled forward by an indomitable syncopated guitar riff.
4. “Like Lightning” – Cosmo Calling. Fun vocal rhythms and melodies take the lead on this indie-pop-rock track. The guitars are neat and accompany well, but this one is all about the staccato, syncopated vocal delivery.
5. “Canary” – Holy ’57. There’s a certain type of major-key, drums-first vintage groove that reminds me of fuzzy home videos of summer in NYC during the ’60s and ’70s. People are rollerskating. A dude is playing a trumpet on the corner. There’s a hazy glow around everything. This indie-pop song sounds just like that (even includes a trumpet!).
6. “I Can’t Say No” – The Crayon Set. Smooth, appealing acoustic indie-pop with some fuzzed-out guitar and shimmering synths adding color. The chill vocals fit perfectly over the backdrop.
7. “Bedford” – Too Many Zooz. If you’re into Moon Hooch’s mad sax blast, you’ll be equally thrilled by the sax-trumpet-drums maelstrom that is Too Many Zooz. This video sees them bringing their incredibly infectious rhythms and powerhouse melodies to the NYC subway–at 3:33 in the morning. Stuff like this just happens at 3 a.m. in New York, I guess?
8. “Keep the Car Running” – Silver Torches. If Bruce Springsteen had emerged in this era, this might be what like he would have sounded like: surging drums, melodic piano, yearning vocals, and a serious-yet-warm atmosphere. Just a great tune.
9. “International Dreams” – Farm Hand. A rubbery, loping electronic beat underlines distant, almost-droning vocals for a tune that sounds like “My Girls”-era Animal Collective in a sleepy (yet still happy) mood.
10. “Like Going Down Sideways” – Cut Worms. Lo-fi tape hiss, Beatles-esque songwriting impulses, and “eh-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-perfect” performances make for an endearing tune.
11. “Old Fashioned Way” – Todd Kessler. Ah, yes. A calm, gentle folk love song talking about slowing down and looking back to the old fashions. It doesn’t get much more folky than this, y’all, and it doesn’t get much more chill.
12. “Enjoy It While It Lasts” – Easy Wanderlings. Strong female vocals lead the way through this easygoing folk tune. The video has an actress gallivanting around in a field, which is a pretty much perfect analogue to this wistful, nostalgic tune.
Benevolus’ “Go” starts off with a bang: a cymbal splash sets off a rhythmic, hypnotizing guitar strum and rumbling percussion. These two elements drive the mood for the whole tune. The percussion sounds like it’s being really hammered out, but with soft mallets: this gives it an earthy, organic sort of feel due to its lack of sharp edges and snapping hits. This unusual percussion choice makes it actually more a feature than the guitar, as the mesmerizing, consistent guitar strum forms a foundation for the drums and the vocals to play around on top of.
Composer Ryan Beppel’s vocals jump in the fray in a dramatic way as well: Beppel multi-tracks his voice to make himself sound like an enthusiastic, energetic choir. His penchant for hollered, punchy exclamations and wordless melodic runs match the wide-open feel of the percussion. Beppel’s work has been likened to Animal Collective crossed with Fleet Foxes, and that’s a totally appropriate call. “Go” is an adventurous, impressive track that really puts a best foot forward. I’m intrigued to hear more by Benevolus; the creative approach to using standard songwriting elements points to the emergence of a unique new songwriting voice.
The video for “Go” is also intriguing–Beppel runs through the streets of a snowy NYC like a modern-day George Bailey, but the ending of the video leaves it a bit uncertain as to his goals and the results of his quest. It’s beautiful to see the Big Apple in all its snowy glory, and you get an interesting little tale along the way.
Slim Loris hails from Stockholm, Sweden, but you’d never be able to tell based on their sound. They play folky Americana with Shins-esque indie-pop leanings, which should perk up the ears of any longtime reader of this blog. The best example is “Clean as a Whistle,” which blends a tambourine, banjo/acoustic guitar strum, and a Paul Simon-esque flute for an incredibly satisfying verse. The chorus kicks it up a notch, adding in a tom drum, a french horn, and perky background vocals that you will want to shout along with. It’s the sort of the song that makes me sit up and take notice.
But they’re not a one-trick pony: opener “Fear of Flying” is a jubilant indie-pop tune composed of hectic percussion, bouncy organ, steady guitar strum … and timpani. It sounds effortless, just like “Clean as a Whistle.” If you want even more than that, “I Will Forget” and “While I Breathe” are quiet tunes driven by slow, stately piano. In “Domestic,” a gorgeous female alto voice is introduced as a counterpoint to the male tenor vocals. The charm of Slim Loris is that all of these sounds cohabit Future Echoes and Past Replays without sounding disjointed or erratic. The band inhabits all of their sounds, making them sound natural.
The overall effect of Future Echoes is an impressive one: it can easily stand up beside other indie-pop albums from much more well-known bands. Not every track is a home run, but there are a ton of high-quality tracks. If you’re a fan of thoughtful indie-pop with lively arrangements but also a pensive side, I highly recommend checking out Slim Loris.
Way Yes‘ Tog Pebbles is the sort of thing that comes along, blows my mind, and leaves me wondering what to write about. Tog Pebbles‘s unique sound blends tribal rhythms, shimmering guitars, horns, and impressionistic vocals to create a unique sound. It’s like a more grounded Animal Collective; instead of having a mystical quality that AC has, Way Yes has a concrete feel. It’s as if I am walking through a jungle, matter-of-factly, instead of with wide-eyed wonder. Maybe I’m sneaking a few glances of wide-eyed wonder every now and then, but mostly, you know, this is a thing that happens. It’s beautiful and excellent, but it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary (at least to the members of Way Yes). To us, of course, it’s kind of mindblowing, which is why I’m breaking from my usual reviewing methods and going all Pitchfork on this review. EXTENDED METAPHORS EVERYWHERE.
I could tell you about the individual songs, but the album is so tightly written and organized that I feel it would be largely useless. Furthermore, the band doesn’t have to get away from their core sound very often (because their core sound is so unique): if I described each of the songs, it would largely be the same descriptors. But the melodies are excellent, the moods are exquisite, and the songs are wonderful. If you’re into unique sounds but hate the phrase “world music,” then Way Yes has an album that will make you jump. Totally awesome.
Some bands don’t acquire fanbases as much as they create converts. Bands like The Tallest Man on Earth, The Mountain Goats, or Animal Collective all have some feature (nasal voice, nasal voice, oddball tendencies) that make them unpalatable to the general population. But for those who do get it, the passion is intense: not only is there a new, distinct musical sound to be loved, the built-in community of people who get what most people don’t is a boon. I’m ready to meet the rest of my people in the Dolfish camp, because Max Sollisch’s I’d Rather Disappear Than Fade Away is definitely not for everyone.
However, Dolfish is for me, because Sollisch combines the fingerpicking mastery of The Tallest Man on Earth, the emotive yawp and highly literate lyrics of The Mountain Goats, and atypical song structures to create an absolutely gripping sound. I never can figure out if calling a person a songwriter’s songwriter is a compliment or not, but those who have written songs will be able to appreciate the complexity, quality and sheer risk that Sollisch takes with these songs. Opener “Grown Ups” rambles pointedly through five minutes of odd chords, sporadic fingerpicking, and deliberately affected vocals; it’s a beautiful, unusual, intriguing song that only Dolfish could have come up with. While his strumming pattern gets far more standard and his vocals are tamed a bit in follow-up “The One Who Burns the Coffee,” he creates a deeply detailed, esoteric narrative in two minutes, reminiscent of The Mountain Goats’ best work.
None of the twelve songs here are longer than 3:30, and none of them need to be: they shine like gems without having to beat repetition into your head. Occasionally drums and electric guitar appear (“Lucky Caller,” “Don’t Kick Me When I’m Down”), but mostly it’s an acoustic affair. Highlight “There Must Be Something Wrong With These Shoes” calls up old-school Bob Dylan, while “All That Keeps Us on the Ground” is pure Tallest Man on Earth-style fingerpicking bliss. I could keep going on about I’d Rather Disappear than Fade Away, but you should just check it out. It’s a treasure trove of lyrics, songwriting and unique vocal performances. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, this will be an incredible find.
Vondelpark’s Seabed draws liberally from R&B, downtempo indie-pop and chillwave to create “bedroom music” (whatever that means to you). What that means to me today is that I’m not getting out of bed after an incredibly long week, and Seabed is the perfect soundtrack to that laziness. From beginning to end, the trio of Londoners keep the sonic palette intentionally tight: dreamy keys, swirling synths, murky bass, gentle beats, and ghostly yet groovy vocals dominate the proceedings. This creates an extremely cohesive album that is more suited to whole listening than individual singles. Can you tell “Come On” apart from its predecessor “Dracula” or its follow-up “Always Forever”? Not really, not unless you’re trying. But that doesn’t diminish the power of Seabed; it enhances it. Few albums are written as experiences these days, but Seabed certainly feels like one.
One of the few tracks that doesn’t adhere to the strict instrumental palette is single “California Analog Dream,” which is literally an analog version of Vondelpark’s sound: real drums replace the beats, harmonica replaces synth, the keys are replaced by guitar, and the electric guitar that sometimes swoops in on the proceedings swoops on in. An arpeggiator and rhodes keyboard do come in later, but it’s still a striking change (and a great choice for a single, as it sticks out most). Seabed is a beautiful album that wrings majesty out of its hushed sonic qualities; it’s a remarkable achievement.
December is an inadvisable time to be releasing/submitting music, as bloggers are caught up in the “best of” cloud that descends over the month. But The Gorilla Press cut through the haze with their submission, which blasts off at the speed of the Foo Fighters. Nothing like thrashing drums, overdriven guitars and clanging piano to catch attention.
The assertive “On Fire” kicks off A Natural Thing (Unnatural to Me), which shows the Chicago five-piece in their finest indie-rock attack mode. But there’s a great deal of texturing and careful attention to instrument tone, which points to the band’s strong suit: a post-rocker’s sense of tension and restraint that allows The Gorilla Press to slink about as a muscled-up version of Local Natives or a Animal Collective-ized Radiohead (“The Night You Walked With Me,” “Whale in the Sea, Part 1”) when they’re not throwing down the rock.
Both of these comparisons are desirable, unless you’re one of those people who thought “My Girls” was too whatever or wishes that every Radiohead song was “Paranoid Android.” It’s not every day that a song like “To the Hills” comes along, balancing post-rock arpeggios with real muscle. They aren’t just crushing the distortion pedal; they’re laying down heavy grooves to get their power. It’s a refreshing twist that’s actually (kind of) like “Paranoid Android.”
The Gorilla Press‘s careful attention to the details of rocking results in A Natural Thing (Unnatural to Me) delivering the goods. With Chicago missing The Felix Culpa, a lot of bands are going to have to step up to the rocking plate; The Gorilla Press is a good first step toward coping with a Felix-less world. Fans of any variety of rock should take note.
Phosphenes by DC’s Imperial China just might be the next big thing! I cannot stop listening to this album! It comes out Valentine’s Day, 2010, as a split release between DC labels Sockets Records and Ruffian Records.
On first listen, I hear this kick-ass, big beat, Battles-type stuff woven through tight, Gang of Four-type post-punk. I am pleased with the release’s total lack of DC-ness (you know… discordant guitars and super-slick, phrase-perfect drumming). The only ring of DC is track three, “Bananamite,” which sounds like a Regulator Watts or Hoover dub jam. Except, this song takes a more Animal Collective, swirly direction toward the hypnotic and repetitive… which serves the album well.
Let me stress that the album is not all instrumental. I would say Imperial China’s vocals sound like Richard Thompson singing for PIL (which – totally an aside – takes me back to my original what if/where is… the band that sounds like Curtis Mayfield singing for Led Zeppelin?).
IC’s artiness is not pretentious. The production of the album has something to do with that. It sounds like a well-mixed, live performance… like a band doing exactly what they do. Imperial China could be huge really soon! They are making intense music, simply, with just three members. Nothing sounds forced; it sounds like they’re having fun. That’s all of the battle!
The drums are smart, block-rockin’, dancey without being disco. The electronics are well-chosen, and very ear-pleasing… intelligent ambiance. The bass is big-bottom dub-dance pump-thump. The guitar lines are based in Metal yet not all slathered in high-gain blubber. The guitars are also quite indie/punk not unlike Minutemen or something from, say, “A Place Called Today” by Hurl. Sorry to use so many “sounds likes” in this review, but Phosphenes took me to a good place!
The band: http://www.myspace.com/imperialchina
RIYL: Gang Of Four, June of ’44, Tortoise, Nice Nice, Trans Am —Gary Lee Barrett
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.