Seth Nathan‘s Swimopens up with a fuzzed-out blast of ’90s indie-rock in “Four Corners,” building on the discography he’s created recently of fractured indie-rock fusions with various other genres. The rest of the album streamlines out some of the genre mash-ups, focusing on an updated Pavement/Guided by Voices sound. With the music streamlined, it leaves room for Nathan’s attention to turn toward lyrical concerns for most of Swim. “How did you still love me / when everything was wrong in my head?” opens up second track “Pieces of Jade.” The rest of the album could be subtitled Love in the Time of Mental Illness, as Nathan takes the listener on a tour of what love looks like in the midst of “everything was wrong in my head.”
Nathan is remarkably open and detailed about this period of his life, whether that’s the flute-laden psych-pop of “Diagonal” declaring a Mountain Goats-esque couple paralysis (“we’re stuck in a tangle / or a strangle / we can’t handle”), the loping “Sealed My Fate” trying to make sense of a relationship “crashing down,” or the country-esque “This Big Old House” unspooling a rebuilding narrative with an ominous ticking clock in the background. It’s a deeply personal album, but not in the claustrophobic way that many records can be when they try to go this route. The one exception is the title track, which closes the record with a brittle, intense solo acoustic performance that caps the story of the record in an inconclusive, loose-threads sort of way. If you’re into indie-rock albums that are genuinely trying to do things that you can’t do in a regular rock format (that was the goal once, no?), you’ll find a lot to love in Swim.
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.
Here’s the last drop of tunes from January. On to February!
1. “Bad Blood” – Fred Thomas. This is the indie rock equivalent of an LCD Soundsystem song: deep bass groove, highly emotional lyrics in a speak/sing milieu, unexpectedly hooky melodies from unusual places. It’s basically the promise of indie rock 1979-1992 coming to fruition. Damn.
2. “Story of My Life” – Martin Sexton. Yes, this is a One Direction cover. It basically sounds like One Direction covered Martin Sexton. Yes. You need this in your life.
3. “Soul Shine” – Sam Joole. In addition to smooth singer/songwriter stuff, Joole does reggae. I don’t cover reggae, but this one is so smooth and includes such infectious horns that it stole my heart. Mad props.
4. “Bells and Buzz” – Matt and the McCues. If you were listening to early ’00s indie-pop (verses), ’90s alt-rock (chorus) and bass-heavy ’80s indie-rock (breakdown!) on three stereos at once, you’d end up with this track. It’s an unusual stew, but Matt and the McCues make it work.
5. “If Only” – Ships Have Sailed. If you’re looking for pop-rock with an artsy bent (but not too artsy, you want to sing along, right?), Ships Have Sailed is showing themselves as a solid bet. Get your head-bob and hum on with this great track.
6. “Following the Plan” – Bellwire. Noisy, jangly guitar-pop with Guided by Voices vibes and unironic “whoo-hoo-hoo!”s in it: who can ask for more in a pop song?
7. “Upside Down” – Lime Cordiale. If The Killers, MGMT and Muse all collaborated on a track, they couldn’t come up with something more towering than this.
8. “Pins” – Natalie McCool. Like a grittier Lorde, McCool is on the fast track to a lot of people knowing who she is.
9. “MAD” – Honey & the 45s. Funky, sassy, soulful, gripping: this band knows how to make that old-school soul live.
10. “Spat Out Spit” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Lady Lamb is endlessly fascinating in her lyricism, song construction, and arrangements. Her newest track is no disappointment on any of those fronts.
11 “Hammer and a Nail” – Vienna Ditto. This slinky, enticing, cinematic track is like soul and film noir all wrapped into one. Awesome.
12. “Paying” – Sarah Bethe Nelson. If you’re a fan of long, minimalist folk-type tunes OR singer/songwriter women OR despondent rock tunes from the ’70s OR good things, you’ll be all up in this.
13. “Safe” – Emily Ann Peterson. Raw, deep emotion expressed in a piano-and-vocals one-take, complete with hall gorgeous reverb and all.
14. “Electric” – Föllakzoid. Y’know, I’m usually not into Chilean deep groove, psychedelic, bass-heavy dance vibes, but this one sucked me in and kept me going for twelve minutes. Twice. Going on a third time.
So, it’s the first date of tour. Defend Yourself is fresh; SeBADoh is ready. They come out triumphantly with “Beauty of the Ride,” a crowd-winner. Between the first two songs, Lou Barlow realizes he’s resolved to always have a bottle of water on stage, and he is without. Jason Lowenstein doesn’t know any jokes as Lou leaps backstage. I offer up, “Jason, Jason, ask them if they heard about the fire at the circus.” Jason bites, offers the set-up, and waits for me to hand over that sweet punch line. Groans already mount. “It was in tents.” Lou is back: “Magnet’s Coil.” It’s one of those more intimate shows with about 200 or so weeknight indie-goers braving the snow and hangover tomorrow–way worth it!
Jason swears mid-set that they put a lot of time into learning the new songs as they bom-bom all askew. I heard only two or so off the new album; “State Of Mine” definitely caught my ear. “License to Confuse” knocks off the kids’ knit caps. They clobber with a lot more from the you-love-that-song-because-you-know-it back catalog. It is a brilliant, short-but-sweet set from one the most revered bands in the business. Encore: “Skull.”
If there was any kind of mistake made at this show, it was Jason, Lou, and Bob’s choice to follow their opener, San Diego’s Octagrape. Because THEY RULE! They come out on the stage like someone just murdered an alien with oranges on the ceiling. Escape! Square-wave time bombs… half-bird half-doctor, fuse lit underwater by flare to explode pomegranates into goose feathers and lice. Probably the best band I’ve seen take over a stage in a long, long time!
More importantly, their new album, Red UFO, is so interesting and arresting… ah! I just can’t stop listening to it. It is by far the best thing to come across my desk… and then eat the desk, and whine all day about how its name is now Desk and how small the holes in the screen door screen are.
There are NO straps on their guitars; they’re jumping off amps like 1994’s Justin Trosper and landing like 1999’s Eric Paul on Prince’s perfectly woven 1999-gold-sequin tapestry rendering it confetti. Miles runs the voodoo down.
You can say that they sound like a Truman’s Water tributary that indeed leads to larger, more expansive, permanent things. One might say it’s the second coming of Brainiac with mind-melds hourly, making sure all craniums are crammed with silly-string nightmares. Some might say they fall right in between the unabashed abandon of the weirder Guided By Voices vignettes and the living-like-it’s-summer, psycho-swell of Kill Atom Smasher-era Pitchblende. Um … they are a great opening band.
The tour continues with both bands in the US until February 25th. Then, Sebadoh is off to Australia and New Zealand in March. —Gary Lee Barrett
When you’ve been in music for a while, nuance and subtlety become more important to you. This is true for listeners and creators; although I can still appreciate a mighty guitar riff, I find myself entranced by complex lyrical turns and less obvious arrangements. Tri-State is a band composed of people who have been in bands, and you can tell from the songs they write. These pop-rock tunes, while poppy, are not constructed as instant hits. These are measured tunes, tunes that take their time on little guitar bits (“All Different,” “Back Before”) just because. This unhurried, “let’s give this some space” method is much like that of IC fave The Brixton Riot.
Tri-State’s tunes unfold in pleasing ways: “Back Before” creates an ominous mood that builds and builds, while follow-up “Country Squire” toes the line between pop-rock and alt-country. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all; the songs feel like outworkings of the same thought process. If you’re into ’90s indie-rock (Pavement, Guided by Voices) or mature songwriting that appreciates with multiple listens, you should give Tri-State’s self-titled EP a spin.
Kira Velella‘s gentle voice is the primary feature of her singer/songwriter tunes, and for good reason. Her second soprano/alto voice commands the arrangements, sucking the listener in. “Lover, Move” and “Barn Swallow” both feature strong instrumental songwriting that is totally eclipsed by the endearing confidence of Velella’s voice. She accomplishes the rare feat of encapsulating confidence and vulnerability in a single performance, which keeps me coming back to the tunes.
This uncommon tension buoys the six-song Daughter EP, making it consistently interesting to the invested listener. The wintry arrangements accomplish a second improbable feat: the Damien Jurado-esque characteristic of feeling both lush and sparse at the same time. It gives Velella’s vocals both the forefront and a space to inhabit; it is easy to imagine Velella in a video clip of a snow-covered field for any of these tracks. The mood here is strong throughout tunes, giving a polish to the release. All told, this is an impressive debut offering from Kira Velella.
Categories can be stultifying and abrasive, but they are helpful starting points for conversation. Saying that U137 plays post-rock is mildly helpful to get the conversation started, but saying that the band plays “pretty” post-rock (Moonlit Sailor, Dorena, The Album Leaf) instead of “heavy” post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Tyranny is Tyranny) is far more descriptive. You’re going to hear a lot of arpeggios, humongous crescendoes to jubilant melodies, and ethereal synths in Dreamer on the Run. If you’re into that, then the 40 or so minutes you spend listening will be breathtaking.
It’s not the sort of album where one particular track sticks out: it’s simply a forty-minute excursion into a beautiful section of the world. If you’re feeling down about the government shutdown, gun violence, poverty, or any other modern malaise, Dreamer on the Run can help you forget that for a few minutes and remember that there are so many beautiful things in the world to comfort you. This, simply put, is a gorgeous record.
I think every music scene has a local hero. Here in Norman, Okla., it’s Hosty. Hosty has a standing Sunday night gig at the coolest bar/venue in town until “the end of time,” according to the management. If you live in Norman and you haven’t been to a Hosty show, it’s because you’re underage or ignorant. And I have known young’uns to stand outside the venue just to hear it. So really, it’s only the ignorant that don’t love Hosty, because to see him is to love him. He (because he and his music are almost inseparable at this point) is that awesome.