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Tag: Grizzly Bear

Quick Hits: Wooden Wing / The Brokenmusicbox

Wooden Wing‘s Love or Something Similar owes an equal debt to fingerpicked pop-folk and Paul Simon: it’s hard to imagine that this EP exists without the influence of either. The tight, bright tunes have such an easygoing, open feel that I was surprised to find it the work of a quintet. I would not have been surprised to hear it was a guy/girl duo, as two vocalists trade off. Both Ted Gerstle and Mel Senftle have earnest, guileless voices that give a boost of goodwill to folky tunes that could otherwise have been moody.

Wooden Wing is fond of employing pad synths sweeps to bridge the gap between optimistic and despondent (“Bubblegum, “Finish First”), which is a space where Paul Simon spent a large part of his career. So it’s unsurprising that the title track sounds like a long-lost Rhymin’ Simon track, with perky rhythms, polyphonic acoustic guitar lines, and a lot of syllables offhandedly cast into unexpected spaces. It works beautifully, pointing the way toward a bright future for Wooden Wing if they keep writing and growing. Chicagoans, take note: they’re in your neck of the woods.

The heat bubble that engulfed most of the United States for a couple weeks has broken, so it’s been raining almost daily here in Austin. That’s perfect weather to listen to The Brokenmusicbox‘s A Life Less Underground, a heaping helping of wistful, lush, Pacific Northwest indie-folk. The album isn’t strum-heavy; the band depends strongly on vocals and piano to create the mood (although drums and guitar are definitely a part of the sound). With the main push focused on sonorous vocal melodies, the rest of the instruments are turned down in importance; this results in a very consistent release.

There aren’t many instrumental performances to point out in A Life Less Underground that stick out (although the instrumentalists are all talented), because the overall feel of the album is more important. It’s a rousing success on that front: you may not remember the names of any particular tune (except the sparse closer “California Year”), but you’ll know the album was beautiful. Still, opener “We Will,” “My Heart” and “Never” all have charms that set them apart as highlights. Fans of Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear will find much to love here.

The 21st Century’s wide-eyed, bohemian indie-pop enchants

I love it when a specific scene has an identifiable sound. Sometimes I don’t like the specific sound that is happening, but I love the idea that people kicking around ideas among themselves over a long period of time will come up with iterations, similarities and variations that push toward the sum. And there almost always is a sum, even if it’s something seemingly unquantifiable like an artistic movement: the pinnacle of a form does not appear on the first try, by anyone. Rockin’ the Suburbs was nowhere near the first piano-pop album, nor Ben Folds’ first rodeo; it just happens to have assimilated all the ideas that had been kicking about in a particularly excellent way.

All that to say this: the lush orchestrations, wide-eyed lyrics, group vocals and bohemian charm make The City by The 21st Century sound very much like a Pacific Northwest indie pop band (The Morning Benders/Pop Etc, Grizzly Bear, Local Natives – although they’re from LA). And instead of that being a bad thing, it’s a great thing. “We Are Waiters” has familiar elements like plunking piano and big group vocals, but they invite the listener in so the band can drop the intoxicating chorus. I had the chorus on loop in my mind for days after I heard it the first time, and that’s incredibly rare for a guy who listens to music all day.

The band makes its living on gleeful tunes that incorporate guitar noodling, horns, organ solos and a well-developed sense of space. These songs may have a lot going on, but they’re not crowded: the production allows for everything to breathe. “The Good Things (Act I and II)” is the best example of this, as the band throws the kitchen sink at the tune and it still doesn’t feel as heavy as a power-pop trio with a huge guitar riff. “A Funeral March (The State of Our Parade)” is another melodic highlight, filled out with lyrics about the meaning of life (no, for real). “The Parisian Translation” gets its Decemberists on in the melodic structures, but not so much that it feels like a rip-off. It’s just incredibly fun. (And yes, there’s French spoken in the song!)

So where does the line draw between inhabiting a sound and retreading a sound? I think the difference lies in each person’s desire for the genre, just like I mentioned yesterday: The 21st Century’s game is the same as Friends of Mine. (This style of indie-pop is just as divisive as country, and I would guess mostly for the same reasons: two parts backlash to its related culture, one part resistance to the idiosyncrasies of the sound). The 21st Century takes an established sound and builds something inside it; those with a low threshold for the genre’s quirks won’t get this and feel that it’s just some more of that stuff, while those who love the genre will enjoy the new entrant into the field.

Given that ideas ruminate and kick around, the entry of another band into the field allows for another possible group who could come up with the definitive statement (or statements!) for this genre. If you’re a fan of the type of music that The Morning Benders purveyed on Big Echo, this one’s going to make you sit up and take notice.

Colorfeels' lush indie-rock wears many masks

ColorfeelsSyzygy is pretty much a primer of indie rock circa 2011: Grizzly Bear’s rustic qualities (“Pretty Walk,” “Be There”), Fleet Foxes’ harmonies (“Mirrored Walls”), Vampire Weekend’s triumphant afro-beat rhythms and textures (“Unplanned Holiday”), alt-country (“Fun Machine”), Bishop Allen’s quirky enthusiasm (the clarinet in “Fun Machine”), Generationals’ perky bass contributions (everywhere) and The Dirty Projectors’ free-flowing song styles (everywhere again). Thankfully, the band eschewed the currently en vogue garage rock recording style for an immaculately clear one.

It’s this pristine engineering that saves this from being a pastiche; even if you’ve heard all of these sounds before, they sound incredibly gorgeous coming from Colorfeels. The clarinet and piano on “Be There” may call up notions of everyone from Wilco to the Beatles, but the sound is so striking that you may not care (or even really notice). This is true of almost every tune — with the exception of “Zenzizenzizenzic,” whose shameless Muse appropriation feels totally out of place. I really enjoyed Syzygy on my first listen, but several minutes later I couldn’t remember anything about it except that I wanted to hear those pretty songs again. And they are very pretty.

After a half-dozen listens with the same ending thoughts (which is saying something — this debut is an hour long), I realized that Colorfeels has no signature. This album is gorgeous and almost infinitely malleable, but there’s not a single thing that screams COLORFEELS WAS HERE!

It should be noted that there aren’t any gimmicks to make it look like the band has a stamp (see aforementioned garage rock). For this they should be lauded; they are not hiding anything. They are what they are, and they let you hear that. That is admirable.

Syzygy is a mesmerizing indie-rock album that wears a lot of masks. Whether or not this was the intent is something only the members of Colorfeels can say. But I would love to see a group of instrumentalists and songwriters this talented explore one area of songwriting more thoroughly and place their stamp on music. It’s comforting and familiar, but there’s more to music than that.

She Bears' brand of loud indie-pop is original and wonderful

She BearsShe BearsI Found Myself  Asleep is an excellent album that’s hard to pin down. The songs have the detailed, interlocking flourishes of Grizzly Bear-esque indie pop, but they are often overrun with supercharged drumming and distorted guitar. Even when this happens, the vocals remain peculiarly affected: they’re yearning, but not yelpy in the least. They’re not especially high, but they’re not especially low, either.

The vocal melodies have the long, drawn-out notes of morose singers, but the melodies aren’t the depressing ones of The Cure. The lyrics are depressing at times, but the melodies don’t sound that depressing. The songs retain instead a feeling of wide-eyed loss: an optimism that gets more muted with harsh colors of reality with every passing song.  Occasional bursts of euphoria bust out of the downwardly morose proceeings: sometimes for a piano riff, sometimes for a whole song.

Grandaddy would have liked to tour with She Bears, because the bands have similar “parts murky/parts pristine” recording styles. But She Bears doesn’t sound like Grandaddy that much; it’s just the closest marker I could think of in my extensive music-listening comparatives.

In short, She Bears’ I Found Myself Asleep is totally original and thoroughly fascinating. Appropriating things found everywhere else, they’ve crafted the parts together into a batch of songs that is mesmerizing, thrilling and engrossing.

“Winter” puts a song on the back of a jaunty, saloon-style piano riff, then fills it out with maxed-out drums and big guitars. But because of the way it’s mixed, it doesn’t feel like a rock song. Instead, it’s the loudest indie-pop song in the world.

“What Morning Brings” stomps through its existence, but without the anger usually reserved for staccato riffs and thudding drums. This is definitely because of the upbeat piano and circus-style synths dancing through the tune.

“Surely This Time” features an egg shaker (or something similar) and the most desperate vocal line of the bunch. The piano and the vocals again save this from being a rock song. The theme runs throughout: She Bears is the loudest rock band in the world that I can’t listen to as a rock band. Even as “Found Myself Asleep” pounds its way through (from the very beginning!), I still chill to this. I put it on when I’m about to go to sleep.

This is no dig to the power of the album; “Planes” is emotionally gripping, while “Signals” and the intro to “The Misery of Sainthood” are beautiful. The rest of “The Misery of Sainthood” rocks out, to the envy of similar bands. “Victim of Circumstance” must have three or four distortion pedals happening at the same time.

What’s even more fascinating is that this isn’t simply a collection of tunes; if it were, this review would have been really easy to write. This review has taken forever because the songs are so perfectly meshed into each other. The peculiar mood that I explained at the beginning permeates the entirety of I Found Myself Asleep. It’s a thorough album that doesn’t disappoint in any way. I’ve never heard anything quite like She Bears, and that’s nothing but a compliment in this case. It means they occupy a space in my music library and heart that no one else can fill. Highly recommended.

Derecho contributes well to the Friendly Psychics catalog

Friendly Psychics Music is one of my favorite record labels of all time. It is basically composed of Chris Jones, John Wenzel, and their group of friends. People are occasionally grafted into the group, and each friend gets their own project name. The Jones/Wenzel aesthetic is extremely idiosyncratic, in that I could recognize an a FPM release in less than ten seconds, even if I’ve never heard it. Their vaguely psychedelic, fractured folk and indie rock is incredibly unique and difficult to break into, but it’s rewarding once you do.

Derecho is not far outside the FPM model. Dropped at 10,000 Feet features Dan Miller (a major player in the FPM catalog, although not as forefront as Jones/Wenzel) as the primary songwriter, with Jones on bass and Wenzel contributing on only two songs. Miller has a much more honed pop aesthetic than Jones/Wenzel, and that makes the songs on this EP some of the most straightforward indie-rock tunes that FPM has ever released.

It doesn’t mean they’re normal (I don’ t think FPM does normal), but they’re a lot more accessible than flagship artist Dishwater Psychics. Miller strums his guitar consistently (something that is taken for granted until you hear FPM artists that, well, don’t) and has driving bass and guitar to back it up. Miller’s vocals and lyrics are also much more caustic and bitter than Wenzel’s mournful baritone and overarching sense of disdain, giving the release a distinctly different attitude than other FPM releases.

The songs move quickly and induce head-bobbing, but the caustic delivery of the vocals may turn some off, especially in the self-loathing “Canadian Whiskey” (which, for the record, is my favorite type. I’m drinking some now, in honor). The highlight here is closer “Measured in Millions,” where Wenzel contributes vocals. Wenzel’s voice has become a part of my musical consciousness, but it’s almost always used in jarring and abstract atmospheres. Hearing it paired with the driving, reverb-washed indie-rock of Dan Miller’s invention is incredible. The two pieces fit together perfectly; if Wenzel had sung on each of the tracks on this EP, it would have been even better than it is now. Maybe that’s the next project?

Derecho’s Dropped at 10,000 Feet is a good turn for the FPM guys. It’s not my favorite release by them, but it certainly is high on my list. Reining in some of the more aesthetically challenging parts of the FPM ourve was a nice change. If you like cerebral indie pop (like Grizzly Bear, Beach House, etc) or off-kilter vocals (Modest Mouse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, etc, although Miller is nowhere near as grating as Alec Ounsworth), this should be one to check out.