1. “Nu Erotic Ghost” – Stray Echo. Swinging sweetly high, then dipping into pools of sticky low, “Nu Erotic Ghost” is a bedroom track bound to set your Valentine’s night aflame in the most soulful way possible.
2. “Say A Prayer For Me” – RÜFÜS DU SOL. This reminds me of a track that would be played during a Bora Bora beach DJ set in Ibiza. With easygoing, chill-step soundscapes and relaxing vocals that simultaneously pump euphoria into the air, “Say A Prayer For Me” has positive vibes riding in each note.
3. “Perfect Ten” – NEWTIMERS. A minimal, seductive R&B/pop combo brought to you by a sizzling Swedish duo. With purposeful percussion and smooth vocals that take their time, NEWTIMERS spaces out each lovely element in this track so that listeners can appreciate every. single. detail.
4. “Midnight” – Lane 8. The next time you’re driving and feel the need to enter a trance of melody, calm, and pure spellbound stupification, pick this ambient electronic jam as your soundtrack. Hit play just as you’re rounding the corner and have a view of mountains, the ocean, or any vastness.
5. “Modern World” – Future Elevators. Whirling, trippy instrumentation and hollow vocals echoing fantasies of living in a modern world, this sexy track is distant, beautiful, at times sad, but mostly sounds like it was recorded in another galaxy.
6. “Needs ft. Andrew Ashong” – Submotion Orchestra. I always appreciate a song that is comfortable with its pacing and “Needs” is just that; it blossoms as you listen, from meditative guitar lines and stunning electronica into jazzy, festive piano and horn sections.
7. “Burn” – James Supercave. Walking a sharp line of psych pop and unmistakable groove, James Supercave has meticulously picked the ripest fruit from each genre, with Passion Pit-esque vocals, Cake funkiness, and a clean, light buzz.
8. “Harmony” – Joel Wells. Combining dizzying, 120-proof dancefloor rhythm with anise-flavored synth, “Harmony” is absinthe in song form.
10. “Run Like Hell” – Alex Bent + the Emptiness. Too spaced out to be a mash-up, but daring enough to combine Wu-Tang and Nine Inch Nails in a single track, “Run Like Hell” is dark, different, and captivating.
11. “Ratnapur” – At The Psychedelic Circus. “Ratnapur” sounds like the background music at an ayahuasca brewing ceremony.
12. “14” – Kilmanjaro. “14” flashes, shines, and sparkles like an astral lighthouse on a dark waterfront, if the lighthouse beamed streams of cobalt, lime-green, and purple; a lightshow on the ocean.
13. “Rayon” – Letherette. Crisp, chilled, classic house track that will hopefully be lobby music come 2020.
14. “Phone” – Tom Low. Fresh and bright, “Phone” merges modern-day electronic with vocals that sound like the Beatles are making an appearance on this Liverpool native’s title cut.
15. “Reminder” – Moderat. From Moderat’s upcoming EP Reminder, this title track is known to cause lucid dreaming, mysterious fires, sudden time lapses, and severe goosebumps. Proceed with caution.
16. “Maquinaria del Tiempo” – Whitney Winston. Labeled as LatinTronic, this track is experimental, ambient, and has enough Spanish vocals that “Maquinaria del Tiempo” is an example of how electronic can be manipulated and formed to meet any culture’s profile.
17. “Matadora” – Sofi Tukker. Tukker pushes the boundaries of electronic like she’s the Hierophant of the whole genre, slipping us tracks of pure mystic gold and letting her wise artistry show the world how magical electronic can be. Now that I know “LatinTronic” is a thing, we need that label slapped all over this hot, steaming, brimming-with-life track.
18. “New” – Fontine. “New” moves like thick sludge, wrapping itself around your waistline and steering you to dance. It is intense and heavy, an unstoppable dance pop force you’re hypnotized to give into. —Rachel Haney
1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.
2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.
3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.
4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.
5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.
6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.
7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…
8. LA Takedown– LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.
9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.
10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.
11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.
12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.
13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.
1. “Run With Me” – Heather LaRose. A great pop song that has that Imagine Dragons / Magic Giant / Lumineers type of enthusiasm tinged with minor-key drama. You’ll be humming this one.
2. “New Minuits” – Tri-State. This low-slung rock tune escaped from some preternaturally chill realm: it’s smart, cool, moody, lyrically clever and vocally impressive without breaking a sweat.
3. “Nothing to Say” – WOOF. THAT BASS LINE. (Also, this a burbling, frenetic, arpeggiator-decorated mid-’00s indie-pop-rock tune. Tokyo Police Club would be proud.) SERIOUSLY THOUGH. THAT BASS.
4. “Take Me To a Party” – Sweet Spirit. “I’ve got a broken heart / so take me to a party” hollers the lead female vocalist over energetic, fractured rock music that sounds suitably unhinged.
5. “Corduroy” – Redcast. Gosh, there’s just something irresistible about a fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed pop-rock group with equal parts Beatles, twee indie-pop, and The Cars references.
6. “Soldiers” – Swim Season. Everything about this track makes way more success when you realize that it’s about to be summer in the band’s native Australia. This summery electro-rock jam slinks, sways and swaggers its way into your ears.
7. “Movies” – Captain Kudzu. Meticulous slacker pop seems like a paradox, but Captain Kudzu’s carefully crafted tune here sounds excellently like it’s not trying too hard. Foresty, moody vibes track with the easiness, making it an intriguing song.
8. “Captive” – WYLDR. Temper Trap + Passion Pit + a dash of Colony House = radio gold.
9. “Every Day” – Dream Culture. Here’s a funky psych-rock nugget with one foot firmly in the ’70s and one in outer space. The tension between grounded riffing and free-floating atmosphere pulls at each other in all the right ways.
10. “Hey Little League” – Michael Daughtry. John Mayer’s suave alt-pop touch collides with some tight ’90s pop-rock vibes to turn out this tune.
11. “Time to Share” – Model Village. Grows from a delicate pop tune to a surprising, swirling post-disco tune without ever losing a gentle touch.
12. “You Have Saved Our Lives, We Are Eternally Grateful” – Wovoka Gentle. Chiming voices float over shape-shifting synths, bouncy guitars, and an overall joyous mood. It’s kind of like a female-fronted Freelance Whales, only weirder in the best possible way.
1. “Hopeful” – Bear Mountain. A little bit of Passion Pit, a little bit of Vampire Weekend, a little M83, and you’ve got one of the best dance-pop songs I’ve heard all year.
2. “Entomologist” – Luxxe. Shades of Jason Isbell’s evocative voice creep in here, placed in the context of a perky-yet-mature pop-rock tune. It all comes off with impressive cohesion.
3. “Buoy” – The Band and the Beat. If you wished that Mates of State used analog synths all the time, you’ll be way into TBxB’s gentle, warm, female-fronted synth-pop. The tune just wraps itself around my brain and comforts it.
4. “Understand” – Photoreal. It seems wrong to describe this pop-rock tune as “muscly,” but it feels like a streamlined, beefed-up version of Generationals’ catchy indie-pop work.
5. “Au Naturel” – Holy ’57. The frenetic blitz of a major-key sugar rush will never get old. This tune has everything I’m looking for in a pop tune.
6. “Lodestar” – Starlight Girls. The disco vibes are impeccably done and the vocals are tight, but–for my money–this song is 100% about that bass work. It’s melodic, funky, tight, and just plain irresistible. A knock-out.
7. “Storm” – Bright Whistles. Sometimes I’m concerned that I’ve abused the term “quirky,” because something always seems to come along that was quirkier than the last. Suffice it to say, “Storm” by Bright Whistles is like what The Flaming Lips could have been if they kept on the Yoshimi path, or what all genres of indie-rock sound like in a giant blender, or (stay with me on this one) what an OK GO music video would sound like if the video itself were transformed into audio that reflected the clever, enthusiastic, enigmatic visuals. In other words, it’s pretty rad.
8. “Summertime” – The High Divers. Bands are always making odes to that sunniest of seasons, but this one really nails it: a touch of Vampire Weekend, a splash of Hamilton Leithauser’s vocal gymnastics, and a whole lot of good-old-pop-music. Dare you to not smile.
9. “Two Weeks” – HIGH UP. File this powerhouse tune under “Muscle Shoals Soul/Funk,” right there next to Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
10. “Burning Candles” – Disaster Lover. It’s like I walked into a room where Disaster Lover’s vision was already fully employed: not so many songs capture and modify the aural space that they’re deployed in. The whirling/somewhat chaotic percussion and synths that are woven together to create this here/there/everywhere piece of work are wild and yet inviting.
11. “We All Decided No” – S.M. Wolf. This is, at its core, a pop-rock song. It is a very weird, arch, theatrical, blown-out take on the theme, but it’s in there. This is basically what I imagine we’re trying to capture with the idea of indie-pop: pop songs that just aren’t radio material in this universe, but only because it’s an unjust universe.
Boston-bred T e e n e n d e r fuses indie, pop-punk and 80’s elements, culminating in a young-American-just-trying-to-get-laid sound, similar to the one popularized by late 90’s pop punk/alternative rock bands. If you’re looking for something reminiscent of your first sip of beer or those basement hangouts where you nervously inhaled Cheetos and proceeded to make out with a braces-wearing classmate, then the duo formed by brothers Brian and Chris McKenna will hit the spot.
Twinkling, synth-studded opener “checks+crosses” jabs a spunky, upbeat groove, sending me back to those Music Express carnival rides that made the Top 40 sound suddenly awesome. Passion Pit-esque vocals hit it off with The Killers’ retro poppiness. Half-way through, the sonic pairing joins forces with a jazzy horn section, resulting in a feel-good epicness that shimmers throughout the rest of the EP.
But it’s “nitetrap” that emits a heart-racing, cheeks-blushing angst through a catchy chorus, breezy vocals, and a handclap that cheers our pretend couple on. Lyrics like, “It’s a seductive drug…Your sweet reaction gets me high” give this track a caramel-sticky-crushin’ theme. “nitetrap” is that summer camp love, the song you could lose your skinny dipping virginity to.
Pop party track “noheadrush” takes a slightly different stance, warning, “Be careful what you’re craving/She’s not sugar.” At the EP’s end, Baerstronaut gently pumps the original with enough helium until his remix reaches a bouncy playfulness, making for a total roller rink vibe–disco ball and all.
As we tend to save the best for last, “badangel” is a standout on the EP. Dark alt-pop energizes this track from the start; by adding that tinge of malevolent naughtiness through intensified synth and pulsing rhythm, T e e n e n d e r continues to evoke slick casualness. “badangel” is like being in the coolest detention ever.
The duo has brought back the freshest qualities of the ‘80s and sweeped in enough of a modern sound for this EP to be decadeless. If I could describe T e e n e n d e r as anything, it would be passing your license test on the third try and heroically speeding off in your mom’s minivan with the speakers giving all they’ve got. –Rachel Haney
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.
Terrible Terrible’s recent EP Get the New Computer is the illustrative, 1960s Hawaiian-style label on Kona Brewing’s Island Hopper variety pack. Like, if you picked up a case of it, this EP may just start spilling out of its cardboard handle holes. Get the New Computer is a unique blend of indie rock, baroque pop, and futuristic elements, making for an unforgettable meshing of retro surfer music and techy swag.
The title track starts off like some frantic arcade game player pinging their avatar around a neon screen and adds clanking in the background that had me imagining factory workers welding metal. Synthesized builds are quick to rise and fall, and by the time we hear a child’s voice counting off numbers, it’s like we’re waiting for a live rocket to launch on a black and white television set. “Get the new computer,” is the repeated phrase, a cassette tape recording whose human voices are eventually washed out completely by digital sounds. In just over four minutes, Terrible Terrible tells the tale of the Industrial Revolution mutating into the Tech Revolution.
“Dog Days” transports us to a shoreline a few decades back with its drifting, dreamlike melodies. The twangy guitar, East coast beach bar percussion, and splatters of synth underscore the four-track journey of two contrasting time periods melting together. The vocals paddleboard atop that wave of instrumentation, gently riding above it.
Beachy groove spills over to “Between a Breath,” but with a jam-band feel that has me dying to see a Terrible Terrible live set. The swaying, layered vocals are Passion Pit-esque, but the vibe–and all of Get the New Computer, for that matter–leans more toward the indie groove of Real Estate. “Oh, what a mess I’ve made,” the vocalist sings breezily and with saddened realization of past mistakes. He had me wondering if this is more self-reflective than necessarily asking for forgiveness. Groovy guitar lines push it forward, giving that sense of “what happened, happened,” but heavy percussion is what keeps it grounded in contemplation.
Bubbling, twinkling guitars set an amber-colored shade on “Tasting the Marrow,” where lines like, “You never sleep at night and speak with the grace of a carnivore” and “Close your mouth, you animal” provide a deliciously weird edge to the EP. The vocals are distant-sounding, but sensual. Jazzy percussion comes out to play, and I kept waiting for some classic finger snapping to take things fully into that 1950s boy band sound. But instead, synth leads us out, re-emphasizing that two-worlds-collide theme.
Terrible Terrible has a way of making me feel nostalgic about something I’ve never genuinely experienced; the advent of color TV, pocket-sized transistor radios, tortoise Ray-Ban aviators. But Get the New Computer has added another dimension to that dream; a synth-driven electronic soundscape, ready to blast into the future. —Rachel Haney
Double albums are a massive endeavor in every sense of the word. They take a long time to write, record, listen to, and review. All of these things are relative: it does not take as long to write a double album as it does to listen to one, but it does take much longer than average to review a double album than it does a single one.
So Mon Draggor is probably wondering why I keep saying “soon! soon!” in relation to this review, especially since I love the album so much–it should be easy to write about something you’re really into, right? But these things take time, even (especially?) when I’m reviewing a dense, textured, complex, beautiful album such as Pushing Buttons / Pulling Strings.
Further complicating the work of this double album is that there are two different genres: Pushing Buttons is a nine-track electro-rock album reminiscent of The Naked and the Famous, Passion Pit, and Bloc Party. Pulling Strings‘s nine tracks are more organically oriented, although the electronic elements spill over into the indie-rock more than the indie rock spills over into the electro.
Take “Painted Wings,” which is most electro cut of Pushing Buttons. There’s a bit of Muse’s high-drama vocals, sweeping soundscapes made by layers of distant synths, and massively reverbed percussion booms. There’s a “whoa-oh” section. It’s a slow-jam club banger of the cosmic variety, instead of the sensual variety–it feels like outer space.
“Armageddon Baby” has many of the same elements, but with more straight-ahead EDM/trance beats and energy. Opener “Everyone Runs” fits Passion Pit stabs of synths over a wubby, pulsing bass for a tune that would make fans of the aforementioned and Imagine Dragons happy.
I know it’s not cool to invoke Imagine Dragons, but they know how to write an infectious pop song. So does Mon Draggor. The vocal melodies throughout both albums are the sort that stick in your mind. Richard Jankovich’s vocals have the high-pitched tone that can firm up into perfect pop melodies or get yelpy into ecstatic/aggrieved howls (see Bright Eyes). The ease with which the songs go through your ears and into your mind is a credit: it’s hard to write 18 songs that are all distinct enough that the listener remembers them. Sure, I can hum individual tracks like “On Your Own” because of the soaring vocals, but keeping a whole double album going is a rare skill. I don’t want to skip tracks here, and that is a rare thing in the double album.
I want to keep touting Pushing Buttons, because I could (“Secret Science”! “We Found the Limit”!)–but I have to get to Pulling Strings before I start writing a tome. (That double album problem again.) Pulling Strings is a more relaxed affair, but it’s not quite folk. It has more affinity with The National, a band that’s quiet in their own idiosyncratic way and has the ability to get loud. The best example of this is “It’s Quiet Now,” which could be lazily called folk but has a lot more moving parts that create a unique atmosphere. The trilling, keening guitar is reminiscent of The Walkmen’s work, but the thrumming bass, gentle fingerpicking and delicate piano create a unique atmosphere. It’s a standout in regard to either album.
“Recon by Candlelight” starts with a similarly spacious arrangement of fingerpicked guitar and delicate piano before expanding into a beautiful tune that grows by adding more and more parts on top of each other. (That’s an electro song structure and arrangement style peeking through.) “Curtains” starts off with looped violin notes before layering vocoder on top; the giddy experimentation and unusual juxtapositions call to mind Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz, but in a darker sonic realm. The song eventually cranks up with drums and screaming guitar; it’s a moving, beautifully arranged tune. “Love is All Around” blurs the lines between the two albums, as electronic beats and fuzzy synths live in harmony with melancholy electric guitar. The eerie “Magic Shilo” does the same. They’re all excellent.
Pushing Buttons / Pulling Strings is that rare double album that’s worth every minute. Richard Jankovich is at the top of his game, delivering an astonishing amount of thoughtful, well-arranged work in two different (but subtly related) genres. If you’re into electronic pop or indie-rock with an electronic bent, Mon Draggor will scratch both itches in grand fashion.
Yo, “Steal the Light” by The Cat Empire takes a minute to warm up. Give it a second, though, because it turns into a triumphant, horn-laden, percussive Caribbean groove. Because they’re from Australia.
The clip for “Between Us” by Pistol Shrimp is beautiful non-sequitur set to a Passion Pit-esque thumper. Awesome.
Just Walden’s “Space Cadet” video is certainly saying something, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s a neat-looking video aside from parsing the deeper meanings.
1. “Lighthouse” – The Burgeoning. One of the most intriguing singles I’ve heard all year, this track combines the ambient uppers of chillwave with the melodic structures of Vampire Weekend and the frantic fury (and guitar noise) of a punk band. It’s a fresh, amazing combination. I’m looking forward to hear more from The Burgeoning.
2. “The Next Morning” – The Drafts. The energy and enthusiastic guitars of The Vaccines meet a reserved, pensive vocalist for a charming, infectious tune that you’ll want to hear multiple times.
3. “Where I Go” – Pistol Shrimp. If Passion Pit, MGMT, and Anamanaguchi had a basement dance party, this bangin’ tune would be the result. Pop gold, right here.
4. “Heartracer” – Cosby. Synth-laden, big-pop ’80s revivalism is going great this year. This fits right up there with Challenger for the best of the bunch.
5. “Recurring Dreams” – Shivery Shakes. The carefree nature of whistling in a ’60s surf-pop influenced tune gets me every time. You like The Drums? You’ll love this.
6. “Promises” – Barreracudas. If you make a metaphor that includes arcade games (specifically Donkey Kong), I will be immediately more endeared to you. Fun, poppy garage-rock here.
7. “Speed Date Yr Way to Fame” – Sweet Deals on Surgery. Starts off a thrashy, screamed, frantic punk song before taking a momentary break in pop. Then in blasts off again.
8. “Name on a Matchbook” – Springtime Carnivore. ’60s girl pop gets a slight sonic update, but the soul of this tune really begs for an -ettes suffix.
9. “Head Down” – The Ocean Party. Jangly ’80s indie-rock meets airy ’80s synth-pop. The peppy, fun results are less ’80s and more ’00s than you’d think.
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.