1. “Backseat Pressure (Summer Dregs Remix)” – Dirty Blonde. I don’t know what filter, patch, or setting Summer Dregs used to augment the piano here, but it sounds unique and just plain cool. The rest of the arrangement plays out with the best lessons learned from both EDM and indie-electro pop. A thoroughly satisfying jam.
2. “Time Traveler” – Emeryld. A squiggly electro-pop verse arrangement unfolds into a delicate, moving chorus. Then the post-chorus instrumental section explodes into a Postal Service-style soaring electro-indie-pop bit. It all is held together by Emeryld’s perfectly-fit vocals.
3. “On a Bus” – Baseball Gregg. Bouncy, charming, a little goofy, but grounded enough by a rattling percussion line to not float off into untethered whimsy, this indie-pop tune is the audio equivalent of a gap-toothed smile on a sunny day.
4. “Trails” – Sisters. Somehow manages to sound exactly like 1985 and 2016 at the same time: the trumpeting synths, the arpeggiator press, the way-up-front vocal mix, the whole nine yards. Is it Paul Simon? Yes? Arcade Fire? CHVRCHES? Who can say?
5. “Colors” – Honest Men. Everybody needs a bouncy electro-pop jam in their life every now and then. You can’t really roll the windows down in a lot of places right now, but if you’re still in a place where you can…
6. “Close to Be Close to Me” – Echo Ladies. My general formula on popular music 1980-1989 is “closer to the ’80s = farther from my interest.” There was just a lot going on in that era that didn’t connect with me: gated drums, giant towers of guitar reverb, icy moods, and lots of medium-speed tempos. Somehow, Echo Ladies took all those things I hated about ’80s pop and turned them into a really sharp, enjoyable electro-pop tune. The vocal melodies really pop in this one.
7. “Half a Billion Miles” – Vagabond Specter. Space-rock was always kind of hanging out just off-screen. Sure, David Bowie did his thing, and yeah, there was that early ’00s moment where space-rock got real serious, but in a lot of ways we haven’t mined all we can of space-rock. (There’s also The Lovely Few, who are holding it down.) Vagabond Specter gives us a version of space-rock that sounds like what a spacefaring roadtrip song might sound like. It’s all burbling synths, headbobbing percussion, and soothing vocals. Rad.
8. “Red Roses” – Leisure Tank. This female-fronted indie-rock track has ominous overtones all over it, from the powerful vocal performance to the charging full-band coda. Sounds like an early Elbow track on steroids.
9. “Manta Ray” – Sam Brockington. Lightly funky, rhythmically interesting, and blessed with a bouncy bass line, this indie-rock tune rattles, dances, and sways its way through the three-minute runtime.
10. “Cupid’s Drunk” – Danny Starr. Fans of Oasis will find much to love in this acoustic-rock tune, especially Starr’s vocal melodies in the chorus.
11. “Staying Together” – ATTU. Combines mopey bedroom pop with unassuming dance-rock to create something that’s not either thing. It’s friendly but not exactly warm; it’s approachable but not saccharine; it’s fun but not giddy. It floats, but it’s not wispy. I could go on.
12. “By the Ocean” – Kid Indigo. Chipper acoustic melodies, a refreshingly earnest mood, and a subtle cool make this song into a smile-inducing charmer that’s reminiscent of early Jason Mraz work. (Remember when he was the coolest? I do.)
13. “Dreamers” – Delafaye. The mood Delafaye sets fits the title perfectly in this one, as the soft reverb and carefully-selected instrumental tones give this acoustic-led track a dreamy indie-pop feel. It’s a little more alt-country than Grandaddy, but it’s in the ballpark.
14. “Boulders” – Lucas Laufen. Pop in the way that Damien Rice and Jose Gonzalez are pop–not exactly folk, not adult alternative, but distinctly drawing on formal pop traditions in an acoustic vein. The “Quiet is the New Loud” folks would be all into this for sure. Laufen’s vocals fit excellently with the arrangement.
1. “Devil Yellow Sun” – Small Town Glow. If the emotional indie-rock of Frightened Rabbit had been born in the grunge-laden ’90s, it would have been as gloriously slackery, goofy, and relatable as this tune.
2. “Fossil” – Readership. The present or future ghosts of Modest Mouse, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Arcade Fire, and Spoon dance to the beat of this impeccably crafted, relentlessly endearing indie-rock tune. It’s a rare tune that ends way before I wanted it to.
3. “You Know It’s True” – Quinn Devlin & The Bridge Street Kings. Van Morrison has been popping up in my life a lot recently. Whether it’s in essays, songs, or Spotify recommendations, Van the Man is calling my name. Is this a getting older thing? Is this like classical music? Whatever it is, here’s some earthy-yet-ethereal blue-eyed soul that carries that Van torch forward. Also there’s some Hall & Oates in there? I mean that in the most positive way possible. You know what, ignore all that. It’s just a great song.
4. “Be There” – Buddha Trixie. Hectic/loping, quirky/formal, exuberant/laidback, manic/careful; there’s a lot of duality going on in this joyous indie-pop tune.
5. “there’s nothing better” – Eugene Gallagher. A beautiful, tender, herky-jerky love-song that feels like Delicate Steve’s burbling enthusiasms mixed with a male version of Kimya Dawson’s vocals. (I think you’ll forgive the seemingly ridiculous comparisons once you hear it.)
6. “Bow Down” – TD Lind. Protest folk at its vocal belting, harmonica-toting, major-key best.
7. “The Swim” – Case Conrad. One of those alt-country tunes that balances on the edge of so many things (is it a singer/songwriter tune? is it about to go full-on rock? are the vocals about to explode?) that it keeps the listener on her toes the whole way. Surprisingly, it’s deeply satisfying through all the tension. A fantastic tune.
8. “Melting” – Lindy Vopnfjord. Have you ever walked up a forested mountain near dusk? The beauty of the setting sun unveils a sort of ominous beauty, where the unknown is both gorgeous and dangerous. Those tensions are encompassed in this acoustic/electric minor-key folk tune.
9. “Aelia Laelia (Edit)” – Christopher Chaplin. I can give this complex, complicated piece one of my highest compliments: it defied easy conventions, making me ask, “What is this?” Part post-rock, part ambient/industrial electronic, part neo-classical performance, part operatic vocal songcraft, this composition bends the boundaries. Chaplin is really inventive and engaging here.
10. “Bombs” – EDGES. Reverb can serve to obscure, but it can also make things more intimate, as if you’re sitting next to the musician in a huge church. This acoustic tune is the latter, as the patient guitar and gently yearning vocals create a sense of closeness and warmth amid a giant building.
11. “Like a Funeral (Joel Rampage Duet Remake)” – Erik Jonasson. There will be approximately 1,000,000 slow-jam electro ballads released this year, but I would wager that maybe five will make me want to cry. This heartbreaking, expansive tune is one of them.
12. “She Floats” – Van-Anh Nguyen. Ambient by dint of crackles, breaths, and distant noises that run throughout, this delicate, piano-driven piece evokes a seaside boardwalk in the early morning.
Last time I checked in with B. Snipes, he was singing a pristine, delicate folk tune about death taking him on a tour of a city. So it was quite a surprise to find that American Dreameropens up with a wide-open, convertible-top-down, vintage American pop-rock tune. It’s a double surprise to realize that it’s the title track. (“We’re going somewhere new, y’all!”) I may miss folky B. Snipes, but his new direction is just as satisfying. If you’re into American pop, 1950-now, you’ll be all over this record.
After the blast of AM radio that is the opener, Snipes throws down a tune that’s an Isbell-style country rocker in the verses with a sunshiny ’50s pop chorus. It comes off a bit like Ivan and Alyosha’s work. The middle of the record hearkens back to a time when Roy Orbison was huge (“Amy, in Chicago”), country was turning into rock via pop music (“Sweet Eleanor”), and unironic sentiment was cool (“Easy Things,” which has a spiritual sibling in Jason Mraz’s non-rapping work). If you love the Avett Brothers at their most pensive, “Completely” will scratch an itch that probably hasn’t been touched much since “Murder in the City.”
The record is smooth, clean, clear, and deeply listenable. It’s a pop record shorn of the high glitz that the wall of sound and its children would put on the pop sound. They don’t make ’em like this much anymore.
But right when it seems like B. Snipes is ready to cap off a timeless-sounding record, he makes another shift. “Red White Blues” is a gentle yet concerned rebuke of political polarization couched in a tune that sounds like a mix of Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, and the Arcade Fire. That’s a lot of referents to pack into one song, but there’s a lot of song to go around. It’s the easy highlight of the record, made all the more impressive because it still manages to hang with the rest of the record in mood despite being completely different thematically. The sonics here are louder, but they’re still in the same, very American vein. (Which is funny, because The Arcade Fire is Canadian.) The tune provides a fitting bookend to the opener, which puts faith in being an American dreamer; “Red White Blues” is full of practical exhortations about what we need to do to keep being American dreamers.
American Dreamer is an American pop record through and through. It draws from earlier eras of pop’s history but makes statements about our current condition through them. The songs are fun, pretty, interesting and thought-provoking. How much more can you ask for in a pop record? This is great work. Highly recommended.
1. “Plastic Skateboard” – Brave Baby. It’s rare that a sound comes along that has its own internal logic and consistency. I could namecheck (Fleetwood Mac, Suburbs-era Arcade Fire, mopey mid-’00s electro, etc.), but ultimately their indie rock sound stands on its own. Impressive.
2. “Scar” – The Lonely Wild. Setting up a distinct feeling an inhabiting it is a sure way to hook me, and this rock tune gives us the sound and shape of desperation.
3. “Modern Times” – VSTRS. A killer drummer will always stand out, no matter where he or she lands: this minor-key rock track gets its propulsive energy from the frantic drumming. With the vocals, synths, and loping bass pulling the opposite direction, the drums still push this track onward relentlessly. The tension creates a great tune.
4. “Dear California” – Water District. It’s been almost twenty years since Bush and Incubus were cool (!!), so it’s time for their close-up. This chilled-out track calls up the best of those polished alt-rock slackers.
5. “Young Burns” – Fine, It’s Pink. Like a cave of wonders, this tune starts off with an icy, sparse electro intro before unveiling rooms of soaring, impressive indie-rock sound.
6. “Dirty Deli” – Creature from Dell Pond. An alternate vision of post-punk: jazz-inspired rhythms, dissonant chords, speak-sing vocals, occasional dance-rock dalliances, and a careful use of space. This tune scrambles along to its own idiosyncratic vision.
7. “Going Home” – Stomatopod. It’s a great-sounding old-school punk song. What else do you need?
Canadian indie-pop band Groenland’s debut album The Chase sets this six-piece powerhouse on an island of their own. Every track delivers a different experience for the listener to take in. From deep contemplativeness to cheery exuberance and everything in between, The Chase is an emotional, instrumental, and vocal adventure.
The album does not have one consistent mood, and in that way it perhaps represents the array of emotions we all have. Take the moody, heavy “Immune”: the lyrics explore the inner back and forth occurring within the heart of someone in a passionate relationship. The line that most stands out everytime I press replay is, “I’ll shoot my brains out again if you come back around/ But I won’t suffer the blame to watch us go down.” Although the visceral image of shooting one’s brains out is very negative and dark, the lyric exposes that not only is this a pattern, but it is one that is painful to replay. So although it causes the person pain for the relationship to start up again, it causes equal pain to see it end. How many of us can relate to this masochistic/love-sick pattern that “Immune” explores?
Many of us also know the taste of desire and the hopefulness that comes with believing in something. “The Chase” encompasses the optimism that comes with believing in yourself. Whatever job, love-interest, life you’re chasing after, “The Chase” represents the playful self-assurance that comes along with the quest. The song provides a very different mood that “Immune,” with lyrics like, “You may think you are done with us/ But it’s only just begun” paired fittingly with playful, old-school Mario video game sounds playing in the background. Through lyrics and other aspects such as instrument pairing, each song on the album places the listener in a different emotional state.
The instrumentation of The Chase is an adventure in and of itself. There are piano-heavy tracks (“Our Last Shot,” “Our Hearts Like Gold”), ukulele-led songs (“Don’t Fix Me Yet,” “Superhero”), and appearances of full orchestra (“La Pieuvre,” “Immune”). The varied percussion, particularly in the drums and tambourine, add flavor to many of the songs. The instrumentation found in The Chase contains depth and scope similar to Arcade Fire’s Funeral-era thick instrumentation. It’s a tough standard to be graded against, but Groenland takes it on with this album.
Groenland’s lead singer Sabrina Halde has an uncanny ability to change the feel of the song, just by how she changes her voice. Halde’s voice has depth and soul akin to soulful artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. “26 Septembre” and “Superhero” both show off this deep, powerful side of Halde’s voice: on the bridge of “26 Septembre,” she goes up and down the scale on just one syllable. “Our Hearts Like Gold” exposes the softer side of Halde’s voice, as she is a bit whisperier for much of the song. Halde allows her voice to sound strong at moments, but she quickly returns to the softer, more delicate side of her voice. As a result, the song ends sweetly and gently, unlike the more powerfully soulful endings found on the album.
Listening to Groenland’s The Chase is certainly an adventure. The lyrics explore many delicate human emotions that we often don’t give enough time to. The diverse instrumentation gives every track a different feel, and Halde’s vocals can bring your spirits to the highest of heights. I highly recommend purchasing Groenland’s The Chase: its diversity will be sure to give you a unique, exciting listening experience. —Krisann Janowitz
1. “Parking Lot Palms” – iji. This tune is a breath of fresh air: a gentle, lightly reverbed road song that fits quietly and warmly into your life. Is it the arrangement? The melody? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes me calmer and happier.
2. “California Song” – Patrick James. James might be from Australia, but he’s got his finger of the pulse of the breezy West Coast. This acoustic-led pop-rock song throws back to the ’70s and ’80s, calling up not just longing for the coast but nostalgia for the past. Doesn’t get much more sentimental than that.
3. “Comeback” – Cherokee Red. Recipe for a great beach song: Mash a surf-pop backline together with smooth, welcoming vocals and burbling melodic elements. Totally chill.
4. “Street Lights” – Mon Sai. A swift piano and cymbal-heavy drum kit create a helter-skelter pop vibe that gives way to a Pet Sounds-esque chorus: in other words, it’s a great pop song.
5. “Mind Your Manors” – The Bandicoots. Perky, summery, head-bobbin’ indie-pop-rock a la Generationals.
6. “Bracelets” – Mini Dresses. Basically a female-fronted, slow-jam version of a Generationals pop song: loping bass line, vintage guitar reverb, tabourine shake here and there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have another, waiter.
7. “Park It” – Karina Denike. Give me that ’50s girl pop (complete with honking saxes), then amp up the attitude in the lead female vocals, and you’ll be near Denike’s creation here.
8. “You Don’t Know Me” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Everybody needs a shoot-for-the-stars, acoustic-led epic anthem, the type that Arcade Fire don’t make anymore.
9. “Right Talk” – French Cassettes. The ability to emerge from a dense section of noise into a perky, clear melody is a skill that will always be in season, from Paul Simon to The Strokes to Vampire Weekend and the Vaccines. French Cassettes put their skills to good use on this bright, confident guitar-pop track.
10. “A Single Case Study” – Palávér. Some of the most infectious guitarwork I’ve heard in an indie-rock song recently is paired up with low, swooning vocals.t’s kind of like an alternate-future Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
11. “Wasted Youth” – Friday Night Trend. If you never stopped loving Jimmy Eat World, this track will satiate all your aggressively jangly rock needs. It’s got punk elements throughout it, but there’s no avoiding the Jimmy connection.
12. “Easy” – Readership. Some power-pop is head-down, bash-it-out-and-let’s-go-home rock. Readership is the opposite: wide-open, staring-at-the-clouds style. Big guitar chords, in-your-face vocals, and an overall upbeat atmosphere.
1. “Dark” – Birds of Night. Dark is the massively impressive synthesis of Springsteen’s road-readiness, Arcade Fire’s sweeping drama, and The Walkmen’s trebly guitars and keening vocals. This is an impressive rock tune.
2. “Cooler” – Sancho. Why does some Weezer-esque rock push my emotional buttons and others not? I have no idea. But I heard the guitars, the vocals, and the start-stop moment that clinches the thing in this song, and I just got all mushy inside.
3. “Warrior” – SATE. If this jet-fueled, towering-guitar rocker doesn’t get your blood moving, I don’t know what will. There’s enough soul, sass, and vocal theatrics in this track to power four or five lesser tunes.
4. “Legend” – Parlement. If the sound of summer is a big, fat Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff, Parlement has a song for you. The straightforward, stomping rhythms are about as far from that other Parliament as you can be.
5. “I’m Dying on the Square” – Break the Bans. Thrashy, hoarse-throated protest punk from a Russian national that starts out with spoken words clips (that I can only assume are political/news clips)? This is pretty much what punk is for, y’all.
6. “Modern Phenomenon” – Northern American. Big, comforting synths welded to a downtempo rock song that sounds like it’s been through the Radiohead/The National/Bloc Party school of music.
7. “Optimists” – Mittenfields. Glammy, theatrical vocals can make anything sound more glam than it is–Mittenfields is laying down the rock, though. Check that sweet guitar solo.
8. “Mirror North” – Whoop-szo. Starts out all quiet and ponderous, but it ratchets up to a brittle, abrasive post-metal roar pretty quickly. If you’re into soft/loud/soft, jump on it.
9. “Cowboy Guilt” – Torres. The clear winner of SXSW this year, Torres was unknown to me before the event and absolutely everywhere afterwards. This tune, which deftly balances a minor-key gravitas and quirky melodic capriciousness, shows why she’s the big thing in indie-rock right now.
“Without A Care” – Turn to Crime. The insistent arpeggiator, the squawking guitar, pushing drums, and repetitive nature of the song make this perfect road rock’n’roll. Also the topical matter, now that you mention it.
“Killer Flamingo Báy” – Flamingo Bay. Manages to be raw and snarling while still also conveying droll boredom with the subject matter. In essence, the most rock’n’roll stance you could take, according to the Vines and Cage the Elephant.
“Loose People” – Sans Parents. This feels like a garage rock song jammed together with a melancholy Beach Boys track, but as if those two things have been waiting to be put together forever.
“Get It Out” – Two Sheds. Lumbering, towering, yet oddly good-natured rock that seems to be trying to engulf its lead singer entirely.
“Struck Matches” – Bop English. It says “English” on the tin, but this cross between roots-rock and Styx is about as American as classic rock stylings can get.
“The Devil Got to Go” – The Through & Through Gospel Review. If Of Montreal ever got conscripted for a prison chain gang work crew…
“All the Time” – Nai Harvest. You look like you need some good, straight-ahead power-pop in your life.
“City Livin’” – Round Eye. Frantic, zinging, careening punk from China. What’s not interesting about that?
“One More Life” – Shy For Shore. I suppose if you hate electro-pop, it’s this sort of thing that you rail against. But I don’t know what’s wrong with high drama, big synths, and yearning vocals–if you’re looking for subtlety, just turn away. If you’re looking for that big moment: feast on, friends.
“Holy Fire (Radio Edit)” – Many Things. Due to its hypnotic ostinato piano line, U2-level bombastic production, and demands to “throw up your hands now,” this thumping-beat pop anthem is contractually obligated to be played only in stadiums and at least 10 feet above the heads of the floor audience.
“Build a Sun” – Wartime Blues. This outfit is trying to cram gleeful abandon into a tastefully restrained orchestral folk-pop band. The results are like Josh Ritter with old-school Arcade Fire creeping out from around the edges.
I’ve got a bunch of folk albums coming down the review pipe this week, so I’m naming them all Folk Thousand, because Guided By Voices was great at naming things.
“Listenable” and “enjoyable” sound like euphemisms for “I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” but Rogue Band of Youth‘s self-titled debut LP is immensely listenable and enjoyable. The North Carolina folk outfit have crafted an intimate, relaxed, casual-sounding collection of songs that fall somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.
Opener “Fair Shake” sets the stage of the album with tidy fingerpicking on top of a gentle strum before launching into three-part vocal harmonies. The band sounds completely comfortable here and elsewhere: “Smoke Screens” has an easy flow, while “Blind” has a propulsive energy reminiscent of Blind Pilot. The songs don’t stray from modern folk as a sound, but their songwriting is varied and interesting within those bounds, from country-inflected rhythms (“Daedalus”) to new-school Iron and Wine angst (“The West in My Eyes”). If you’re a fan of modern folk with pastoral vibes and enough angles to keep things interesting, Rogue Band of Youth should be on your to-hear list. You’ll enjoy it immensely.
Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant takes a more modern tack on new-folk, leaning toward the warm, rolling arrangements of Iron & Wine’s recent work. The opener sets the stage for this album as well, as “Oregon” includes some tender bass work; distant, lightly distorted guitar; double-speed drums pushing the tempo; and a beautiful crescendo to the end that turns into a huge wash of sounds. These are beautiful tunes.
These compositions sound more like songs than they do folk songs; the arrangement of these tunes is indelibly important, and if you covered them with another band they might not hold the charm they have now. This not just true of songs like “Oregon,” highlight “Lake Jocassee,” and the Mangum-by-way-of-Win-Butler awe of “Mount Pleasant.” It’s true of stripped-down tune like standout “Hold On Hurricane,” whose rapid fingerpicking meshes perfectly with singer/songwriter Ryan Hutchens’ fragile yet clear voice.
If there’s a single thing to point to in Welcome to Mount Pleasant that turns these arrangements from standard fare to the excellent collection they are, it’s the drums. The percussion throughout these tunes provides a spark that is often under-utilized in a post-Mumford world where straight quarters on the kick and snare are seemingly all that you need. The drum work here is complex and difficult, yet remains in the background, not stealing the show. It’s the little things that make the difference, and here it’s the drums.
If you’re into warm, enchanting, upbeat folk/indie tunes, you should definitely check out Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and quite possibly cheered, by the subtle beauty throughout.
1. “If There’s Time” – Odesza. Chilled-out post-dub with some trip-hop vibes. In other words, let’s jump in the car and be real cinematic about this.
2. “Parade of Youth” – Ponychase. The art for this track is a cassette tape, because this dreamy new wave/synth-pop jam is the sort of thing we were putting on plastic love notes to each other in the mid-’80s.
3. “Goldleaf” – RCRDS. Once existential dread hit the ’80s, then RCRDS’ ears perked up. Check out that analog bass magic.
4. “Start Something New” – Drawl. Then along came shoegaze, which was the other thing that the ’80s spit out besides grunge. The vibe here is golden.
5. “Flowers” – Humfree Bug Art. Killers + Funeral-era Arcade Fire = wonderful.
6. “The Photo Line” – Pale Houses. Remember the first time you heard “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie and it was the most important thing that had happened in the whole day? “The Photo Line” is like that.
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.