1. “Swimming” – Marsicans. This song dropped April 22, and summer officially started the instant it did. It’s all the best parts of The Vaccines, Vampire Weekend, Tokyo Police Club, and The Drums thrown into one indie-pop-rock amalgam. As a result, Marsicans have created one of the most exciting singles of the year so far, if we judge by the amount of spontaneous dancing it has inspired in me. Totally looking forward to more from Marsicans.
2. “Going Going Gone” – Bows. One summer of my life is captured in the memory of Chairlift’s “Bruises,” which I spun a lot. “Going Going Gone” has that same sort of effortless charm, breezy songwriting, and hooky melodies, so I expect to find this one on my summer playlists a lot.
3. “Love Will Come Back to You” – Two Year Vacation. A sunny, electro-pop tune anchored by a whistling melody (or a whistling-esque synth) and a buoyant sense of summeriness.
4. “Martyrs” – Living Decent. The mixing work here keeps everything in this pop-punk-inspired indie-rock tune feeling open and airy. Vic Alvarez’s vocals mesh neatly with a chiming lead guitar to create a mature yet smile-inducing track.
5. “Last Forgiven” – Luke Rathborne. That snappy snare sound just makes me want to hit the road and roll down the windows. The yelpy vocal melodies and handclaps make me want to sing and clap and have fun right along with Luke. A great summer jam.
6. “Pasadena” – Young Mister. A song about California that sounds just about as bright and shiny as California. If you were a Phantom Planet / The OC person, this one’s for you.
7. “Vampires” – Spine of Man. Beachy, yacht-y, ’80s-inspired indie-pop that’s heavy on reverb, baritone vocals, and the best type of nostalgia.
8. “Squeeze” – Foxall. This is the friendly type of folk punk: the “everyone gather round the guitar” vibe spills out of the speakers. I can hear this being played around a fire on a summer evening at a campsite somewhere.
9. “Barcelona” – TRY. Ah, Spain, another of the iconic Summer destinations. The chorus of this indie-pop-rock jaunt includes a breezily sung “Bar-ce-loooooooo-na,” which is just perfect for the city and the carefree, jetsetting vibe of this song. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
10. “Things That Get Better” – Boy on Guitar. This female-fronted acoustic indie-pop tune is one for the pessimists: the lyrics marvel at the fact that things have gone well. Walking-speed accompaniment and floating background vocals round out this lovely track.
11. “Fountain of Youth” – Shapes on Tape. Will we see a resurgence of wah-guitar funk and pop now that Prince has left us? If so, Shapes on Tape are at the front edge of the curve with a funky electro jam, complete with guitar reminiscent of Prince’s work. (Or maybe we’re all just thinking more about Prince these days.)
12. “Circadian Rhythm (Edit)” – I.W.A. The tension between cosmic-sounding pad synths that open this and the thrumming synths that follow it set up this chillwave electronic tune excellently. It’s reminiscent of Teen Daze’s best work: melodic, evocative, and interesting without going maximalist. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
1. “Pigtails” – Sean Magee. This is the sort of throw-your-hands-in-the-air pop that makes 13-year-olds think of Bastille and 30-somethings think of the Ben Folds Five. This is just too fun. The video is also incredibly fun.
2. “I Really Love You” – Gibbz. Humongously catchy chorus, almost-equally-catchy verses, perky drum machines, crunchy guitars for emphasis, and the ability to sing curse words at the top of your lungs. HELLOOOOO SUMMER
3. “Can’t Stop Moving” – Sans Parents. An escapee from the mid-’00s moment where ’60s garage, dance-rock, and indie-rock all converged and became stuff like The Caesars. The chorus is just rad.
4. “Sport’s Drinking Again” – The Sharp Things. Next up in the “things I didn’t ever think I’d sing out loud” category: “I’m drinking again / alleluia.” Add in jubilant choir, triumphant trumpets, chamber orchestra, and full rock band, and you’ve got this enormous three-minute wonder.
5. “Nonnie” – Flaural. I don’t get out to many rock shows these days, but Flaural’s psych-rock has enough whimsical, Alice in Wonderland indie-pop sensibility in its guitar melodies that it hooked me.
6. “Ethics in Gaming” – Marc with a C. Marc is always able to wring meaningful lyrics out of goofy, sometimes-esoteric pop culture in his well-developed fourth-wall-breaking style. Then he marries those lyrics to ridiculously catchy power-pop. Everyone wins.
7. “Dream Catching” – Fell Runner. Like a deconstructed Vampire Weekend, Fell Runner slo-mos their way through effervescent pop. It is uniquely ear-catching.
8. “Burn Baby Burn” – Stevie Cliff. Prince would be proud of this sly, funky, sexy jam.
9. “High” – Breaking Heights. Sometimes you need a walking-speed, head-bobbing Brit-pop-inspired tune. Stay tuned for the surprise halfway through.
Louis Landry‘s JJ vs. the Digital Whaleis, in a word, ambitious. The album re-situates the story of Jonah from “its roots in Christian, Jewish and Islamic culture” and comments on the “constant barrage of electronics, media, and technology which surround us all” by interpreting all of that as the whale. (The press also mentions Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi and Pink Floyd’s Animals as RIYLs.) So right off the bat, there’s points for conceptual boldness from this corner. The album that results is a largely major-key indie-rock festival that incorporates an incredible amount of sounds and instruments.
By pointing this out as a rock opera, it leaves the standard bounds of reception: JJ vs. The Digital Whale is held together by a repeated motif, the overarching story, and a spirit of adventure instead of any dedication to a stable genre. “Ride the Whale” has some Prince-ian funk going on; “Nothing No One Nowhere Blues” is a grumbling, stomping delta blues; “Ismi Azum” is a near-ambient instrumental rumination that fuses acoustic and electronic; “YOU’VE GOT eWHALE” is a marching, instrumental theatrical reminiscent of (yep!) Yoshimi. It wouldn’t be complete without a sea shanty, so “Ribs and Terrors” gives us a duet between a traditional accordion and a wiry synth before Landry’s voice comes in.
The remarkable thing about JJ is that even though the album has wide-ranging interests, the album never goes awry. Landry is able to corral all the sounds into the sonic framework he’s developed. Now, it’s weird, but it’s a rock opera about a modern re-telling of an ancient tale as understood by our current electronic issues. This never had a small horizon. By the time “Sunbound” rolls around, a six-minute slow-building acoustic-based indie-rock tune with a backing choir, nothing seems out of place at all. If you’ve got an adventurous streak and appreciate musicians with big ideas, then Louis Landry’s JJ vs. the Digital Whale will be right up your alley.
Kris Orlowski references Jonah as well in “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” the opener on The Gershwin Sessions Vol. 1. After that Porgy and Bess tune, folkie-turned-indie-pop/indie-rock musician Orlowski focuses his attention on Gershwin’s love songs in this loving tribute to the early 1900s songwriter best known for Rhapsody in Blue.
The six-song collection treats these tunes with piety, largely retaining their form, structure and vibe (particularly in the strings). The update lies in Orlowski’s voice and delivery, as well as the inclusion of guitar in the largely piano-driven originals. Orlowski’s confident tenor gives a warm sheen to these tunes, and the guitar contributes a modern vibe that pushes against the romantic strings in a productive tension. Those smart touches combine with the rest of the arrangements to create tunes that are both clever and honest: the material never strays too far from the source, but these songs feel differentiated enough to justify their existence. The biggest difference comes in closer “Things Are Looking Up,” which features a much sparser arrangement than the rest. The subtle motion of a gentle electric guitar strum and the engineering of the bass push this in a more modern pop direction, which is just lovely. Elsewhere, “Love Walked In” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” are particularly neat. If you’re a fan of the old and the new, Orlowski has implicitly promised more than one collection of this work–get excited.
Carly Comando‘s Dreamlifehas two settings: slow and fast. The instrumental pianist best known for the deeply moving “Everyday” offers tunes that have rushes of single-note runs, rapid patterning, and arpeggiation (“Daydream,” “Dragonfly”) alongside those that go for the more stately emotions (“Procession,” “Birthday”).
The former are charged with excitement and passion, as they sound like running, leaping, and playing. The more solemn tunes are less immediate, as they are less similar to pop songs and more like classical compositions. The best side of her work comes out when both the gravitas and the enthusiasm come out at once, as in the middle of “Daydream” and the entirety of “Dusk.” Comando augments fluttering synth patterns with a heavy left hand on the bass piano keys to create a unique tension. The song builds and flows with the two vibes working together to create something larger than both. It’s in that melding that Carly Comando’s unique strengths as a composer are shown. This is beautiful, evocative, powerful music–you’ll be hearing this in places you don’t expect for years to come, so jump on it now and have the surge of recognition at movie trailers and advertisements of the future.
1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?
2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.
3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.
4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?
5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.
6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.
7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.
8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.
9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).
10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale. Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.
11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.
12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.
13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.
14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.
Devereaux’s LP Pineapple Flex gives off the same vibes as French action cinema, whose elements derive from Kung Fu flicks, Hollywood stunts, comedy, and Parisian crime shows. Picture a sonic retelling of La Femme Nikita, or even better, a badass electronic take on the Spice Girls minus the vocals, but with all of the spunky, flirty sexiness.
“Ponytails” begins with bells ringing, like the warning of an incoming locomotive. Then, drops a house beat that double-dutches into a line of a catchy vocals. The lyric “Whip your ponytail” summarizes the album’s party-twerking theme.
To evolve the Spice Girl metaphor even more, “Bikini” would be Baby Spice sucking on a lollipop wearing a tight blue mini-skirt. Funky, dreamy ambiance oozes an island-love groove, but it’s the Phil Collins-inspired percussion that swirls in an 80’s retroness.
Overall, there is a mix of glitchy, ambient, and flat-out fun tracks that seal the deal in terms of an eclectic record. “CoastsaoC” is the crunchiest, creepiest song, while the emotive guitar riffs, twinkling texturizing, and lucid vocals create a groovy soundscape on “Sell the Rose.” “Xenodehuir” is infused with piano, an escalating bouncy house rhythm, trumpets, and chiming guitar that had me feeling funky fresh. “Next to Neon” pulls it all together with a flirty, retro beat that screams Prince influence.
And please ignore the cliche, but it’s the little things that count. The drops Devereaux employs are bricks of gold; At 1:40, “Azúcar” drops with the sound of a trigger being pulled, and at 2:30 “Fashion for Sharks” drops into a grittiness that sounds…exactly like sharks chomping down on your expectations for a drop.
The vocals and lyrics, spritzed like confetti, are also what form Devereaux’s precise sound. While not featured on every song, the vocals that do appear are a pleasant combination of both male and female, with the female vocals often singing French phrases. The easy, deep breathiness of the female vocalist on “Hatchets” has a Lana Del Ray flair, and the snippets of conversation recorded on “Costarricense” highlight the subtle humor Devereaux slips into these tracks.
So the next time I go on a fast motorcycle ride along a winding, mountainous highway or decide to fight neighborhood crime wearing nothing but a bikini and brass knuckles, I’m listening to this. Full of bold energy, Pineapple Flex is an animatedly euphoric, at times violent, assault on epic electronic music. It’s hot-pink-grit good. —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.
Even though I love big, towering achievements of heavily orchestrated arrangement, in my heart I am most partial to singer/songwriters who sit down with one instrument (maybe two, harmonica counts) and sing their song. Wolfcryer, aka Matt Baumann, has been cranking out a stream of guitar/vocals or banjo/vocals EPs since 2013 that have been uniformly fantastic. His last offering in this set of intimate, The Prospect of Wind, is no different. Baumann’s husky baritone meshes with his full chord strums and occasional harmonica swoop to create humble, dignified, powerful tunes a la old school Joe Pug.
Each of the 8 tunes on the album have their own merits, so its nigh on impossible to single one out as the highlight. “Clay and Stone” shows off how he can keep a complex lyrical line going while strumming furiously; “Little People” shows off his troubadour storytelling. “The War” kicks off the album with a protest tune. But it truly is the title track that takes the cake: Baumann’s impassioned vocals, emotive banjo strumming (if you don’t know how that works, just listen), and memorable chorus keep this one on loop in my mind. If you want to catch WolfCryer before the train leaves the station, this is the last whistle. It’s on to bigger and better things from here. Highly recommended.
I just got married, so it’s profoundly dissonant listening to break-up songs. It’s even more odd when the breakup songs form an impressively heartrending album. Kite Flying Robot‘s Magic and Mystery starts out as a arpeggiator-heavy dance-pop album, but slowly unfolds into a narrative of how adults deal with (yet another) breakup. KFR’s synth-pop relies on staccato, separated synths instead of the huge swaths of noise that are en vogue in synthpop right now. This creates a sound that is inspired by the ’80s but also sounds other. References like Prince and ELO floated through my head as I listened; whether or not they’re accurate, the sound of this album isn’t business as usual.
Many songs here are fun and danceable (“Bad Girl,” “Criminal Supervixen,” “Belong to the Beautiful”), but the moments where KFR turns away from the club and gets introspective are surprisingly, almost uncomfortably raw in their musings. The title track and “So Goodbye” feature beautiful instances of songwriting, incisive turns of lyricism, and remarkably emotive vocal performances. Nikolas Thompson knows exactly how to control the phrasing of his lyrics and the delivery of those phrases throughout the album; when he uses those elements to pull heartstrings, the results are impressive. In that way, he’s not so different from Josh Ritter, and Magic and Mystery isn’t too far from The Beast in Its Tracks: an album of impressive songwriting trying to sort through the wreckage of a broken relationship in a dignified, mature, honest way. Kite Flying Robot has a lot going for it on Magic and Mystery; just, uh, keep your tissues handy.
Speak, Memory‘s Value to Survival is a 20-minute EP of punk rock-influenced post-rock; it’s the sort of work that Deep Elm Records would have been all about in the early 2000s. The tension of heavily rhythmic drums and melodic lead guitar lines will make fans of Mare Vitalis-era Appleseed Cast grin in recognition.
The trio doesn’t ever get abstractly mathy in its ambitions: where the work is technical, it is complex for a songwriting reason. The center of closer “Blue Jacarandas. Lavender Skies.” is a powerfully emotive piece of music as well as an intricate one; “Splenetic” is held together by solid bass guitar work and a warm, burbling guitar tone that keeps away from the cold brittleness of some math-rock runs. This may be anchored by guitar acrobatics, but they’re of the flowing and beautiful type–not the brute force, shock-and-awe style. It also helps that all but one of the six tracks falls under four minutes, and two fall under three. This trio knows how to hit a tune, work their magic, and then get out before it gets repetitive. If you’re more into snappy motions than slow-building crescendoes, the type of post-rock that Speak, Memory plays will excite you.
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
Fusing the rhythms of The Tallest Man on Earth to the full arrangements of modern folk-style indie bands like The King is Dead-era Decemberists, Sukh’s “Kings” is an immediately comfortable and lovable folk gem.
Ra Ra Riot has me dancing like a fool to Prince-style falsetto in my office. Also, the phrase “robot hearts” appears. Yes. Yes, indeed.
Ugly Kids Club has been a bit of a chameleon, exploring mega-fuzzed out pop a la Sleigh Bells in as many ways as they can. “Get It All” gives their crunch a bit of new wave touch and a bit of AFI-style anthemic gloom.
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.