1. “Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music. Is this indie-rock? Post-rock? Electronica? All of the above? All I know is that this gorgeous track is one of my favorite songs of the year.
2. “Our Little Machine” – Last Good Tooth. The lyrics here sound straightforward till you read them a second time; the dense, melodic sounds here are similarly deceptive, unveiling their details as you listen repeatedly.
3. “The Closing Door” – LVL UP. Balances Weezer-esque guitar-wall crunch with “aw, shucks,” nose-in-a-book indie-pop for a unique, pleasant tension.
4. “Brother in Arms” – Annabelle’s Curse. The smooth easiness of indie-pop meets the complexity of indie rock while the spectre of alt-country hangs over it all. Taking the best of multiple genres and creating something new is a worthy goal, and Annabelle’s Curse knocks it out of the park here with a great tune.
5. “Modern Language” – Postcards from Jeff. Intertwined flute and guitar open this nearly-seven-minute indie-rock title jam from PfJ’s new record. It’s the sort of arrangement that balances delicate sounds with the drum-forward enthusiasm that makes a great live track.
6. “Answered Prayers” – Terribly Yours. This quirky indie-pop tune includes the fattest bass sounds and thickest groove I’ve heard in the genre this side of Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” The song floats along like a tropical breeze on a vacation where you’re really and truly not worrying about going back to work.
7. “New Colors” – Kennan Moving Company. Sometimes you need that blast of horns in your life, no matter if you’re a soul tune or a pop-rock tune (as this one is).
8. “Glory Days” – 1955. The high-drama indie-rock (equal parts early ’00s Hives, early ’00s Elbow, and Cold War Kids) is perfectly tuned to be in one of those adventure-laden Heineken ads (and their spin-offs–what’s up with those Kohler ads?). In other words, it’s the sort of way-too-cool thing you want to score your life’s soundtrack.
9. “Swings & Waterslides” – Viola Beach. Straddling the line between Hot Chelle Rae’s radio-pop-rock and Tokyo Police Club’s left-field take on the same, this tune pushes all the right buttons.
10. “Porch” – Long Beard. All emo-inflected indie-rock bands want to sound effortlessly nostalgic, but few of them hit the mix of guitar tone, vocal reverb, walking-speed energy, and gentle melodicism.
12. “New Vibration” – ALL WALLS. Grumbling guitar distortion and a chiming guitar riff collide with falsetto “oohs” to make a funky/poppy/fun track that would make Prince jealous.
13. “Rock N Roll Disco” – James Soundpost. Do you need a primer in how to write timeless pop-rock music? If so, listen to this tune and learn how to write a no-nonsense guitar line, sing a catchy hook, and rip off a guitar solo. Rad.
“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.
Athens, GA is a huge music town with a lot of history. This means that there are iconic pieces of architecture that are getting lost, destroyed, or run down. Nuçi’s Space is working to restore a historic steeple in Athens that’s associated with R.E.M. (first show ever was there!), Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many other Athens bands. They’ve got a pretty huge crowdfunding goal to make this happen, but they also have some incredibly awesome rewards: clothes from Of Montreal, the pylons from Pylon, etc.
Sleeping at Last has started a company called Emphasis that allows bands to make one-of-a-kind t-shirts based off a band’s lyrics. The shirts include designs as well, so it’s not just words on shirts. This is incredibly cool for bands that have very wordy music (The Mountain Goats! Please sign up! Please!) to connect with their fans. So if you’re a fan or a band, jump on this.
Along those lines, Noisetrade has expanded their services to include fan accounts, which makes a lot of things really easy that were somewhat complicated before. I’m pretty excited about that. I love Noisetrade, and I’m glad to see them grow.
And finally, the RunHundred for November! —Stephen Carradini
This month’s top 10 list makes three things clear:
#1. Iggy Azalea isn’t going anywhere. The Levi’s model and rap phenomenon shows up in the list below with two different collaborators—Rita Ora and Jennifer Lopez.
#2. Calvin Harris is quickly becoming the face of electronic dance music. He also turns up twice this month—in a pop hit alongside John Newman and a club track with Alesso and Hurts.
#3. 128 beats per minute (BPM) is the Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris of tempos. By that I mean it’s omnipresent. Seven of the ten songs below are within a few beats of this tempo.
In terms of working out, 128 BPM’s dominance in pop music means that–if you can find an exercise routine that approximates this pace–you’ll never be short of new workout music. If you’ve already got fixed a routine, you can swap in any of the songs from that range and see how they fit. If not, you might try walking, kickboxing, or a bootcamp-style workout—all of which are good matches for this speed.
Whatever this month’s top songs lack in tempo variety, they make up for in the genre variety thanks to a woozy remix from Tove Lo, some Australian folk from Vance Joy, and the fervent rock of Walk the Moon. Whether it’s the eclectic mix that draws you in or the four-on-the-floor beats, there’s something here that will invigorate your workout.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
Calvin Harris, Alesso & Hurts – Under Control – 126 BPM
Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care (Cole Plante Radio Remix) – 128 BPM
Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance – 128 BPM
Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow (Justin Prime Remix) – 128 BPM
Pitbull & John Ryan – Fireball – 125 BPM
Calvin Harris & John Newman – Blame – 128 BPM
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Captain Baby combines Indian vocal stylings, Bloc Party’s guitar rhythms, and LCD Soundsystem’s rubbery bass. Sugar Ox opener “I Say You” features songwriter Asher Rogers singing in a lilting, soaring, Indian-inspired vocal line over LCD’s signature thrum-thrum-thrum bass line and some twinkly guitar work, creating a haunting yet still comforting mood. It’s difficult to imagine those two moods together, but it’s difficult to imagine Captain Baby’s music (unless you’re Asher Rogers, apparently). It’s also difficult to capture in words, so I’m going to keep this short and refer you to the singles.
“Bury Your Head” and single “Forest Charm” pick up the pace with Bloc Party’s helter-skelter drum/bass/guitar style–if you were into Silent Alarm, you’ll find much to love here; Bloc Party also toed that line between tension and catharsis. But where Bloc Party stayed firmly in a “midnight on an urban freeway” vibe, Captain Baby strays into some Of Montreal joy occasionally. The quirky, frenetic songwriting quality of Tokyo Police Club also gets roped in every now and then (second single “Row On”).
It’s a fair bet that when I have this many RIYLs in a review, I’m struggling to encapsulate something truly unique and interesting. Captain Baby displays a vision not often captured with Sugar Ox; what’s even more impressive is that it doesn’t have to dip into the avant-garde to do it. (You can still dance to this!) Sugar Ox is commended to anyone who seeks out adventurous and challenging music that is still fun.
Dingbats is the fourth & newest album by Athens, Georgia’s Casper & the Cookies. This album is a fun romp through a cemetery late at night (the lanterns would give us away), a secret crush on a hundred year old man (the one from work with the pickup truck) … an atrocious notion of swallowing the ocean.
Back to the full-band swing of 2006’s The Optimist’s Club, the Cookies are hitting it straight out of the park–a long fly ball, all gloves flipped on hips–with Dingbats. The album opener, “Improvisamente Ardito,” walks the listener through the fears and fun of deciding to do something “one more time” (the ringing, resounding, sing-it-all-week reverberation). One more album from C & the Cs? Yes, please, with walnuts and jimmies this time. Quickly, we have to get to the show!
Jason NeSmith (former of Montreal contributor) offers the strongest song with “Lemon Horses.” The sheer bravado is felt fully in this tune: the runt–changed forever, hazed, picked up off the ground by the back of his belt–becomes the big talker. Jason tells us a story of being pulled over on the way to the show…about being a big shot in Athens, about getting high on animal spirits, about being powerful. Blowing smoke in a cop’s face, he could have anything in the back of the tour van, so what do YOU want it to be? Ballads are hard to pull off without hearing a “shave and a hair cut… that sucked” at the end. This is a truly well-delivered story. The words fit the music so masterfully and vice versa. Experience this song!
Kay Stanton (current Supercluster contributor) offers another one of her ultra-real, super-exciting pop gems with “Jennifer’s House.” It sounds a bit like “Meredith,” a Kay song from the Cookies’ third album, Modern Silence, but this tune serves up more details. Why does this person stink, Kay? Why do you still love them? What is giving up worth?
This reviewer’s favorite song is “Thing for Ugly.” While having a great sense of humor in that it’s about what it’s about (one’s kink being ugly people), the song delivers a lot more. Jason’s best vocals, where he sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook, lie here. This is a lost Squeeze song for sure: the early UK Squeeze. It’s like “Out Of Control” with a Nels Cline Singers, electrified sewer grate breakdown from the other side of the moon… not Earth’s. Way out there: Callisto. The Cookies throw out some more memorable thought-bites, “Where’s your sense of humanity? Somebody’s got to love them!” Good fun.
Here’s some adjectives and where to find them. Frantic: the vocals in “Omni” – a cracked trip in all directions. Huge: the keyboard in response to the group vocals in “Sleep Defense.” Compelling: whoever’s speaking in “When The Moon Was In Command,” the album closer. This album delivers a lot of interesting (like new lifeforms discovered in Antarctica) and fun [like an all super-villian rollercoaster that becomes a cannon at the end: POW! (into the Sun)] songs that a lot of ears should hear. Bullet point: Their last three albums were great; Dingbats is even better. It comes out on vinyl, CD, & digitally on February 25th co-released by Wild Kindness Records (Pittsburgh, PA) and Stuff Records (Athens, GA). –Gary Lee Barrett
The five-piece, self-proclaimed “post-modern rock band” Stellar Vector are set to release their debut full-length album, A Flock of Cowards, in April and it would be well worth your time check it out. While the Minneapolis-based group claims to be creatively influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, I can’t help but feel that fans of more recent bands like Of Montreal, Muse and the Cold War Kids will all find something they like in the sound of A Flock of Cowards. The album has a playfulness similar to Of Montreal but also a raw vibe similar to Death Cab’s “Meet Me at the Equinox.”
The synthesizer-infused, 12-track album starts out blasting “Buffalo Jump” with clean, ear-tingling guitar riffs that channel classic rock yet combine strong, edgy vocals that add a modern tweak. The second track,”Lacking Self-Control,” is a fantastic example of a musical narrative. One moment you are tapping your foot to a near reggae beat; then the chorus hits, picking up the pace and lending to a more commercially-appealing alternative rock sound. In a sense, the instrumental work really allows you to “feel” the story behind the sound as the song progresses.
The band is very upfront about their narrative-driven, lyrical styling. I could almost hear a hint of Ben Folds in their upfront and at times sarcastic lyrics. There is an especially strong lyrical resemblance on “E.D.” with lines like, “No I don’t wanna be your friend/but I know that I can’t pretend/I’m a pretty damn good actor baby.”
A favorite surprise on the record was the incorporation of a few keyboard-driven melodies on songs such as “Titanic Work Ethic” and the fun little album-ending tune, “The Not So Hidden Song.” Clearly the song titles alone should be enough to get the potential listener a little intrigued as to what this group is really about.
As you listen to the record, you can’t help but feel your ears smoothly move in and out of the different decades of rock. They have mastered the art of taking the best from the past while looking to the future. They embody a post modern success.
Overall, Stellar Vector has succeeded in achieving a truly high-quality independent album. A clean and polished recording is already putting them miles ahead. They have the kind of sound that could really get a film music supervisor excited, as great soundtrack music. Keep an eye out for these guys. I have a feeling they won’t be staying in the Midwest for long.
Once in a while, something comes across my desk and I just don’t know what to make of it. That was definitely the case with Alley of the Ignots by The Psycho Nubs.
This duo from Richmond, IN, made up of Brandon Owens and Nich Shadle, is simply bizarre. The music is a mix of garage punk with a sort of high-voiced bubblegum pop that I found to be completely inscrutable. I’ve listened to the album several times, trying to determine what it is that I find so off-putting about this album.
First, I tried looking at the music. Instrumentally, the band is very solid. They follow a tried-and-true pop-punk formula that, while not entirely original, definitely works well. It’s hard to critique Owens’s or Shadle’s individual musicianship, since they both play guitar, bass and drums and sing for this album. They both show competence in this regard.
Then, the I realized the vocals were grating on my nerves. The band sticks with a high-pitched, wavering style somewhat reminiscent of Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes (a band that I really don’t like). That, combined with lyrics that seem to be trying to be witty and funny without quite pulling it off, make for music that I simply found annoying. Not all the songs are that bad, but many of them are.
I will admit, I really did like the song “PBR Me.” It’s catchy and it’s about one of my favorite social beers, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged.
All in all, I simply couldn’t get into Alley of the Ignots. I’m sure fans of Of Montreal and other bubblegum pop bands might find stuff to enjoy in here. It wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not for you.
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.