I live in the Phoenix area now, which means that my predisposition towards seasonally-themed music is suffering from a seemingly perpetual summer. It’s almost October, dang it, and it should be fall. Joel Madison Blount‘s “Inner Monologue” is a tune helping me get into that autumnal spirit.
“Inner Monologue” is a dusky, twilit tune with a bit of a split personality. The verses are downcast, summoning feelings of urban nightly gloom. (The lyrics about middle-of-the-night doubts help this mood along.) The chorus, though, is all soaring lines, yearning guitars, and hopeful lyrics: “release your burdens / let it go / just let it go.” This section has just as much ’90s Oasis-esque Brit-pop in it as it does contemporary acoustic work.
Ultimately, the back-and-forth mirrors some of the alternating cold and warmth of fall. Fans of Gregory Alan Isakov will immediately gravitate toward the tension-and-release nature of the work and the cloudy-yet-tight arrangements.
“Inner Monologue” comes from Our New Moon, which drops September 29. You can pre-order it here.
1. “Saturday” – SPORTS. This evanescent (1:13!), earnest, perky garage-rock track hits all the right notes and touches a chord in me. It’s the perfect mix of enthusiasm and grit. Father/Daughter Records is on a roll.
2. “Vultures” – Delta Mainline. Call it Spiritualized at its most arch or acoustic-based ’90s Britpop (Oasis, The Verve) at its most early-morning woozy–this track is a memorable one.
3. “Wall Ball” – Art Contest. Any band that can make math-rock accessible and hooky is greatly to be praised. Art Contest’s impressive technical chops are only overshadowed by their incredible songwriting ones. This song is an adventure.
4. “There’s No Love” – We Are Magnetic. It’s summer, so I need a continuous stream of brash, upbeat dance-rock tunes. This one plays out like a less yelpy Passion Pit, complete with a giant chorus anchored by a soaring melody and backed with a choir. Get your dance on.
5. “Pistoletta” – North by North. Imagine My Chemical Romance had a little more rock and a little less theatrics, or think of late ’60s/early ’70s rock, right as glam was breaking out and wasn’t really there yet. Soaring vocals, rock drama, and crunchy guitars sell it.
6. “Get on the Boat” – Little Red Lung. This female-fronted outfit calls up Florence and the Machine comparisons through its adventurous arrangements (check that booming cello), minor-key vibes, and front-and-center vocals.
7. “Then Comes the Wonder” – The Landing. An ecstatic mishmash of handclaps, burbling synths, piano, and falsetto vocals creates a song that makes me think of a half-dozen disparate sonic influences (Foals, Prince, Fleet Foxes, and the Flaming Lips among them).
8. “Dust Silhouettes” – CFIT. Glitchy electro-pop noises give way to psych-influenced guitar and vocals, all stacked on top of an indie-rock backline. It’s a head-spinner in the best sort of way.
9. “Take Me Away” – Late Nite Cable. The chorus in this song is the electro-pop equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after two days of rain.
10. “ONE” – Moving Panoramas. Sometimes I wonder what people are listening to when they’re walking down the street with headphones in. This feels like it could be one of those things: a walking-speed indie-pop-rock song with excellent bass work, down-to-earth vocals, and a little sense of wonder.
11. “Alien Youth” – The Albino Eyes. Calls back to the time when synth-rock meant The Cars: the zinging, charming synths over slightly-smoothed out garage-rock is nostalgic in the best of ways.
12. “Strangers” – Balaclade. Balancing guitar crunch with feathery vocals makes this an engaging post-’90s-indie-rock track.
13. “Falling” – Here We Go Magic. This warm, swirly, electronics-laden pop-rock tune calls to mind School of Seven Bells, if their sound was a little more tethered to acoustic instrumentation.
1. “Make Me Wanna Die” – White Reaper. If Oasis had been playing at 40 bpms faster and way thrashier, you’d end up with this catchy, snarling, fun track.
2. “Hard 2 Wait” – Iji. My first thought when I get a pseudo-disco tune is not, “Oh yeah, that’s my jam.” But somehow, Iji has won me over with this charming retro nugget. It helps that the disco is fused to a San Fran indie-pop sort of sensibility.
3. “Punk Band” – Conrad. Actually a synth-pop band with some chillwave inflections and post-punk rumbling bass singing about a punk band. Joins “The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton” in the “odes to other genres” genre. It’s pretty great.
4. “Oh Josephine” – Vienna Ditto. Pulling back from their brittle ways, but not their noir drama ones, Ditto delivers a smooth, sultry indie-rock cut with a hint of trip-hop glamour to it.
5. “Bibleblack (demo)” – Autumn Owls. That sort of ominous, artsy, glitchy rock that Radiohead burst into the public consciousness is on display here. AO is following up on their debut of dark, melodic indie-rock with a new album later this year (after their lead singer recovers from–oh no!–a mugging). [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
6. “Asleep in the Pine” – Birds of Night. Do you remember that moment when Band of Horses was the biggest thing going? Birds of Night totally do.
7. “Aleph” – Battle Ave. The band’s raw, frantic rock has met atmosphere and jangle since we last heard it, resulting in less panic and more mumbly confidence (is that a paradox/oxymoron?). New York cool permeates this tune, even though Upstate New York is part of their story instead of the city.
8. “Singing Tower” – R. Ring. Two rock vets team up for a poignant, delicate acoustic lament. Seems like if you can write a song somewhere, you can write a song in a lot of places.
9. “Kote’w Te Ye” – Beken. Sometimes a song comes along that’s so fresh, warm, and bright that it just lifts the clouds of whatever’s going on. The raspy, gravitas-laden voice of Haitian Beken, who sings in Kreyol, is accompanied by an easygoing group of male singers, tom-heavy percussion, and a lively acoustic guitar.
Lotta good stuff trying to cram its way into 2013! Here’s a varied mix.
1. “No Sleep Tonight” – Family Cave. The precision of indie-pop, the aesthetics of indie-rock, and the mood of indie-folk create an incredibly intriguing tune. Watch for Family Cave in 2014.
2. “Keep It Together” – Decent Lovers. Not a cover of a Guster tune, this DL jam is ironically pretty separated and hectic. It’s held together by a strong mood and a deep internal rhythm. Elijah Wyman is getting better and better at this really unique style of pop.
4. “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” – Miles Hewitt. Reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s protest rock, Hewitt combines old and new into a hypnotic mix.
5. “Belfast” – William Steffey. Takes cues from Oasis with dashes of Portishead and Blur, this tune sounds completely British but is totally from Chicago.
6. “Heartbreakers” – Tomorrows. The Jim Ivins Band rebrands and revamps, moving from an adult-pop template to sounds more akin to Anberlin’s early modern rock. The prominence of vocal melodies has not changed, which is good.
7. “Love Is Not Allowed” – Gap Dream. Obligatory Eno namecheck. Aside from that, this is a gorgeous, swirling mass of analog-sounding synths, modulated vocals, and electronic drums that makes me swoon.
8. “Get In It” – Nyteowl. Funky, spacey, mostly-instrumental R&B. “Do you want to get in it?” Yes. Yes, I do.
9. “Get Down Baby” – Blacktop Daisy. You’ve got to hand it to a band which unabashedly labels its music disco. No violins here, but those harmonies!
10. “Can’t Let Go” – Black Checker. This pop-rock-punk tune comes from an EP called Fast. Yup, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
11. “The Ah Ah Song” – Stand Up and Say No. I miss the days when The Flaming Lips made jubilant, illogical, bright pop tunes. This joyful, exuberant pop-rock tune is exactly that.
12. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Magi. This Bill Withers cover is minimalist lo-fi glory: the distant recording, the raw passion in the imperfect vocals, the deep sense of mood.
Most ’90s radio rock was just really loud and distorted pop songs. Somebody probably would have noticed eventually that Boston’s “More than a Feeling” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were pretty similar, but Nirvana self-disclosed this by at least once singing Boston’s words and melody over their song.
And while some a lot of ’90s bands took rock way too seriously, some simply wrote great songs; the ones that figured out rock was pretty much loud pop were among the best at this (Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, sometimes Bush) and the absolute worst (Candlebox, Creed, sometimes Bush). Live, on the other hand, took rock very seriously, and they made awesome music too. This isn’t an exclusivity clause.
Still, really loud pop songs make Junebug Spade‘s Extra Virgin Olive Oil my favorite straight-up rock’n’roll release of the year. It takes a lot to get me psyched about ’90s-inspired rock, but a good starting point is a killer melody, and JS has those in spades. Both the guitars and the vocals layer on the catchy, and the results are dynamite. When both of those elements come together on “Slow Your Roll,” it’s clear that Junebug Spade understands this: guys wanna rock, girls wanna shimmy, and everyone wants to sing along, either at the show or in their car. They provide the goods for all of that. This band makes everyone happy. That, my friends, is admirable.
The basic elements of this band are nothing new: a songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Bassist Kyle Mayfield is high in the mix, which is a standard ’90s move that provides a nice counterpoint to the melodies. The drummer wails away. The guitars go after it in the aforementioned awesome way. Vocalist Peter Seay caps off the sound with a slacker-tastic vocal delivery that makes it sound like he’s totally not even working that hard to deliver these songs. It’s not the sterilized/rote vocal performances that sometimes took over radio rock; there’s a non-southern drawl to his vocal, and it fits perfectly over the tunes.
All five tunes are money, but “Public Display of Affection” takes a perky, Strokes-ian riff and totally morphs it with a mega chorus. “Slow Your Roll” employs an awesome tempo change and a wicked slide guitar riff (!) to close out the EP. “Aborigine” has Blur all over the guitar line, and I love it, because Seay’s voice is nothing like Albarn’s, so it sounds like an homage and not a rip-off.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is entertaining all the way through. For a guy who doesn’t cover hardly any straight-up rock anymore, this is a pretty dramatic statement. Fans of rock shouldn’t sleep on Junebug Spade.
Retrospectives and “Greatest Hits” albums are an iffy proposition. Record labels have proven to not be very effective at gauging which songs are worthy, while bands themselves haven’t done much better. Thankfully, Neil Sabatino (he who is Fairmont, along with whoever else is in the room at the time) understands what makes his band excellent.
Sabatino’s recognition that great vocal lines, hooky guitar riffs and concise songwriting are Fairmont’s strong suit makes Retrospective easily the best collection of Fairmont tunes yet. And that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.
The new “White Light” kicks off the set, and its Brit-rock undertones (Oasis!) are almost as surprising as the continuing shift back toward acoustic-led songs. The Meadow at Dusk EP featured acoustic guitars in an upbeat manner, but I can’t think of an album employing them to this level of seriousness or import since 2003’s Anomie. This, to me, is less of a throwback and more of a welcome home party: Anomie is the release that caused my much younger self to gush, “The members of Fairmont are on their way to becoming indie rock gods in the eyes of the public. I know they’re already immortalized in my mind.”
Regardless of this statement’s truth (I have reviewed every Fairmont release since Anomie favorably, if not exactly in as glowing terms), my early exuberance missed a fundamental element of Fairmont’s ethos: Sabatino and co. is more like the Mountain Goats than Death Cab for Cutie. Thoughtful songs with bitter-yet-clever lyrics dominate the proceedings here, as the songs primarily stick in the guitar-rock area of the spectrum. These songs, while occasionally going for the big pop hook, most often stay in the sleek, slick, low-to-the-ground mode.
However, Fairmont takes a swing at this theory by putting “Being & Nothingness” as the second track of the album and the first real “retrospective” track. Transcendence had a demonstrably theatrical bent, and this was best embodied in the 5:29 of “Being & Nothingness.” There are sleigh bells, choirs, lots of turns in the songwriting and a huge build-up to the end. The song feels far more personal than other Fairmont tunes, as the embattled bitterness is dropped for a more wounded anger over the loss of naivete. I have no idea whether it has any more connection to Sabatino than the violent escapist fantasy “At the End of the Movie,” or if the appropriated genre lends more “connection” to the tune, but for whatever reason it’s most immediately jaw-dropping song Fairmont has penned.
It’s little like the rest of the tunes on the album, but it’s the best one, and Fairmont acknowledges that. That’s gutsy and admirable, as evidence of how thoughtfully constructed this retrospective is.
The rest of the 50 minutes unfolds in a very enjoyable manner. Fairmont has gone through many iterations in the past ten years, and many of them are well-represented here. The Meadow at Dusk EP contributes two tunes that bring a levity to the album via calmer songs and the contributions of a great female vocalist counterpointing Sabatino. The cover of “Melt With You” (which IC featured on its 7th birthday EP!) is downright chipper. The rockers “Sometimes I’m Bitter,” “The Monster You’ve Become” and “Suspicion Haunts the Guilty Mind” are spread neatly throughout the album as anchors.
Retrospectives and greatest hits should serve to give people an intro to a band, and Fairmont‘s Retrospective: 2001-2011 will do exactly that for the uninitiated. For longtime fans, it accomplishes the rare feat in accumulating a great deal of the songs I actually want to hear from Fairmont. (I would have included “Happiness is a Million Miles Away,” but if I only have one quibble, that’s impressive.) If you’re into guitar-rock, thoughtful lyrics, Jean-Paul Sartre references or uniquely catchy songs, you’ll want to check this release.
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.