1. “Hero” – Starlight Girls. If you mashed up Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac with modern indie-pop sensibilities, you’d have this powerhouse of a pop song. This is the most infectious, irresistible groove of 2016 so far.
2. “Hang On To Yourself (David Bowie Cover)” – Ancient Cities. Bowie didn’t play much of a role in my personal musical development (I was introduced to him in my 20s), but his shadow looms large over many musicians. Ancient Cities drops a worthy tribute to Ziggy here.
3. “Boys That Sing” – Viola Beach. Sometimes the melody, the lyrics, and the vibe just come together for a great pop tune. Puts a smile on my face.
4. “Crazy Eyes” – Brother Moses. BroMo returns with a breezy, peppy tune that builds on their slacker-rock foundation with some scrambling drums, driving bass and twirling guitars. The compelling vocal tone and delivery are as powerful as ever.
5. “Youth Dies Young” – Til We Have Faces. Well here’s something interesting: A major key indie-rock song that thinks it’s an arpeggiator-heavy electro-jam which builds at the speed of a post-rock tune. By the end it’s almost a Here We Go Magic tune. Totally rad.
6. “Fundamental Ground” – TW Walsh. I don’t use the term “floating” that often, but this indie-pop tune has a lot of the elements that you might associate with floating: lazy rhythms, slightly washed-out vibe, hazy elements chilling out in the background of the tune, a vocal line that seems distant-yet-close. It’s beautiful, in a weird way.
7. “Sometimes (One Night)” – The Golden Peppers. Here’s a tight soul arrangement, blanketed with horns and infused with indie-pop vocal melodic flair. Just can’t get enough Nathaniel Rateliff?
8. “Lucky One” – Why We Love. It seems that the major-key, jangly pop-rock tune is not only immortal, but thriving. Everything about this is fun.
9. “Unicorns Get More Bacon” – Marc with a C. The giddy, funny, absurd, fourth-wall-destroying power-pop of Marc with a C is in fine, fine form in this 3-and-a-half minute jam.
10. “Glad to Be Alive” – Memoir. Draws from funk, reggae, and ’90s pop without camping in any of them, this grounded-yet-bouncy tune is led by neat vocal syncopation and and a mood that just brightens a room.
11. “Touch” – Guard. A hypnotic keys melody and a head-bobbing beat make this into the chillest of remix-ready club tunes. Ibiza beaches for this version, Ibiza clubs for the inevitable reworks.
12. “Still Life” – I.W.A. Blissful chillwave, the likes of which I don’t get to hear very often. Just gorgeous stuff here.
13. “Don’t Complain/Don’t Explain” – Bare Mattress. Like a more existential version of The Postal Service, this unassuming indie-pop-electro track sneaks its way into ears and heart.
14. “Glass” – Howard. This is like the indie-electro/post-dub version of a dystopian movie in which everything looks kind of right but is slowly revealed to actually be dystopian. In other words, the slow burn works great.
15. “I Don’t Want to Know Her Name” – Amber Quintero. Lilting, easygoing, spacious bedroom pop that finely balances lyrical intimacy and wide-open pad synth landscapes.
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.
1. “Holy Ghost” – Michael Flynn. Flynn spent more time in the Radiohead school of electronica than in the club, it appears: Haunting, hooky, high falsetto.
2. “Time Between” – Bear in Heaven. I think we have reached the point where classic rock and indie rock are essentially the same. We could put Bear in Heaven on tour with like half the bands from the ’80s OR The Steve Miller Band and it would be totally cool. This song rules, by the way.
3. “Retro” – After Party. Autotune meets gospel towering meets pulsing electro. Get your slinky dance on.
4. “God’s Oscillator” – Vial of Sound. PROTIP: If you want to catch my attention, namedrop LCD Soundsystem in your press release. Vial of Sound’s new track features some ex-LCD musicians, even though it sounds more like Daft Punk.
5. “I Never Knew” – Wonderful Humans. Big synths, big melodies, airy harmonies: it’s the formula these days. And it still works.
6. “The Dancer” – Villiers. This dark synth-pop track rides the line between ominous and sultry.
7. “Fancy” – Starlight Girls. WHOA, THEY WENT DISCO. FULL DISCO.
8. “My Heart” – Werebearcat! It’s a ballad! It’s a slow jam! It’s an indie electro track! It’s Superman!
So I’m getting caught up on MP3s too. Soon I will be back on schedule!
MP3 Drop 1: DANCE IT OUT
1. “Wear You Out” – Amerigogo. Punk-funk-party-rock with muscle, grit and old-school “we play our own damn instruments” passion. If you don’t want to dance to this, I’m not sure this blog can help you much on that front.
2. “Gold” – Half Sister. There will always be room in my heart for more girl-fronted power-pop, especially when it’s as crisp and surprisingly emotive as this. Tender is not a term given to power-pop that often, but more power to Half Sister for pulling it off.
3. “Small Pony” – Dott. Girl-fronted power-pop that features an impressive bit of drumming; if you’re on the Best Coast train, you’ll find much to love here.
4. “Get Down” – Like Clockwork. Somewhere between the Postal Service and Ke$ha lies this track and its catchy chorus. Cobra Starship? Maybe?
5. “TTYN” – SCRNS. Is Lorde on the front edge of something, or is she already causing? SCRNS has similarly minimalist electro production going on, and it’s similarly catchy and fun.
6. “Partners in Crime” – We Were Lovers. I don’t think I can ever think of rich, majestic, night-time dance-rock without invoking The Killers. So a female-fronted Killers it is, and I love it.
7. “My Song 9” – Nova Heart. Ominous, foreboding female-fronted indie-electro-rock with an excellent production job.
8. “Inhibitionist” – Starlight Girls. The line between campy horror and surf-rock has never been harder to find. Fun all around, whatever you think the sound is.
9. “Earthquake” – Passafire. The only reggae I know much about is Matisyahu, but Passafire caught my attention with this track: smooth vocals, great chorus, a bit of tough edge to the guitar.
10. “Moonlight” – Message to Bears. A hypnotizing, gently rolling tune that inhabits the space between artsy R&B and atmospheric indie-folk.
Now my SXSW fervor has kicked into high gear: I sent out the “Who’s playing SXSW?” e-mail to all the bands that IC has covered in the last four years. With some luck and good planning, I’ll be able to see a large number of bands with which I’ve previously only had a computer-mediated relationship.
I can’t wait to hear of more IC bands who will be kicking it at SXSW. If you’re going, hit me up with an e-mail (indieclauses[at]gmail.com) or a tweet (Scarradini). SXSW is crazy, and I don’t know who all I’ll be able to see, but I want to know who’s going to be there. Awesome.
I deeply enjoy Starlight Girls‘ self-titled EP, but I’ve thrown in the towel on three four different intros (and a conclusion!) because they all sucked. It’s been a long day that included a freelance writing assignment on boxing, which is not the easiest thing for me to write about. However, the day’s been made better by the Starlight Girls’ debut EP, which amalgamates tons of genres into surprisingly coherent and immediate indie-pop.
The five songs here are each enjoyable on the first listen, and that’s quite rare. This is a testament to the band’s tight chemistry and (I assume) strong work ethic, as they combine elements from all over the place to make their tunes work. The band is fond of whirring organs (a la the similarly monikered Starlight Mints), ’70s/’80s singer/songwriter moods (like Stevie Nicks, although it’s easier to say “sounds like Lissie and/or Tristen”), confident female vocals, bass-heavy arrangements that call up a bit of post-rock moodiness (The National, Del Bel), and surf-rock rhythms, among other things.
It’s fascinating that this grabbed me immediately, because I found that it’s a rather complicated amalgam once I sat down to write about it. While this deep analysis will make you feel good about liking the Starlight Girls’ seemingly simple tunes, you definitely don’t need it to enjoy the songs; just listen and you’ll like them. The EP is the definition of critical darling: it can be both a game of spot-the-influence or just enjoyable melodies and rhythms. That’s a tough balance to strike.
“Gossip” is the one with the feel-good surf-rock guitars and organ, while “Wallflower” is the one that could be an outtake of a Starlight Mints track, what with all the interlocking rhythms and melodies. “Wasteland” has a preternatural cool about it that comes from having a rhythm just faster than trip-hop. The chilled-out keys and vocals help the band toe the line between passion and stateliness that gives the tune and the whole album its desirable amount of tension.
Starlight Girls’ self-titled EP will appeal to lovers of classy, female-fronted indie bands that don’t sound like twee or Best Coast. I expect the band to make some waves in 2012.
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.