I’ve got a lot of singles to catch up on. All these that I’m posting over the next few days have been sent my way over the past two months.
Electro / pop
1. “it was gone” – Orchid Mantis. Somehow combines found sounds, heavily processed vocals, insistent synths and stuttering drums into great clouds of sound. It’s a gem.
2. “Iron & Wood” – Quinn Erwin. Erwin, of the brilliant Afterlife Parade, turns his impeccable songwriting talent toward synth-driven pop-rock. The results are just as dynamic and exciting as his band’s forays into anthemic guitar rock and artsy post-rock. The lyrics, the vocal melodies, and the arrangement just all work together like clockwork.
3. “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” – Summer Heart. The song title and band name are perfect for this tune that balances wiry energy and dreamy vocals to create the soundtrack to a carefree summer afternoon.
4. “Go” – Sunday Lane. Lane isolates the chorus and lets that hook live on its own, letting the rest of the song draw its energy from the perky declaration, “Where we gonna go?”
5. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Sonic texture is something I don’t call out that often, but this electro-pop track has some really nice layering of disparate sounds that give the tune a compelling sonic consistency.
6. “We Are Golden” – Nova Heart. Burbling synths, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass riffs, a buttery smooth mood, and luscious vocals make this mesmerizing electro-rock jam an easy fit for the dancefloor or the rock club.
7. “Broken” – Featurette. The herky-jerky rhythms of this tune rub up against the silky synths to create that juxtaposition that plays so nicely in electro: the jagged smooth, the spiky soft.
8. “Shake It Loose” – Astronauts, etc. If you need any suave, svelte, seductive babymaking music, this tune has my vote.
9. “Beachside” – Heather Larose. This acoustic-pop song makes me want to dance in my computer chair. ‘Nuff said.
10. “Tied Up” – Level and Tyson. Scandinavians have the most eccentric lenses when it comes to pop music: we’ve got Surrounded-style distorted vocals, walking-speed acoustic-vibes, ’90s-esque drum beat and some humming background vocals. The results are unique, to say the least.
11. “Lovers Can Be Monsters” – Roger Harvey. Harvey bears the burden of having a voice and genre similar to Ben Gibbard’s, but it would be a shame to pass up this addictive, oddly tender indie-rock track due to unasked-for similarities. I want to listen to this over and over.
The acoustic guy/girl duo is an old, old form, but the beauty of intertwined vocals almost ensures that it will never fall out of use. Laura and Greg‘s Forever For Sure lives happily and easily inside the bounds of that genre, delivering chipper, charming indie-pop songs. The easiest comparison is the Weepies, with whom they share a predilection for precise, staccato rhythms and stark framing of individual melodic elements. But where The Weepies are titularly mopey, L&G are more sprightly in tempo and mood.
While opener “Muscle Memory” and the title track make use of wistful guitar and fragile voice, tracks like the handclap-laden “Pennies” and the woozy ’50s charm of “Fireflies” evoke the enthusiasm of Mates of State. “Undertow (water waves)” is a strummy tune that draws off some country vibes, even. But it’s in their intimate moments that they shine brightest: “Same World” is a joy to behold, with their two beautiful voices blending and swirling over a meticulously picked guitar. Muscle Memory is fresh, vital, and warm, the sort of work that makes you forget about the difficulties and injustices of life for a while. Who doesn’t want that?
On the other end of the spectrum from Laura & Greg in the indie world is The View Electrical, a dreamy band that can drift around calmly or ratchet up to post-hardcore thrashiness (complete with screaming).
The trick they pull off in Roseland is making all of their motion feel seamless: opener “Haunted by a Dream” turns a cascading acoustic guitar line into a lead guitar line by lifting it in the mix above groove-laden drums, treble-heavy pad synths, and grumbling bass. Within a few more seconds it has exploded into multiple vocal lines (including a scream) before closing. They may throw the kitchen sink at this record (the second song opens with a glitchy electro-pop clicks, the third with four-on-the-floor dance-rock beats, the fourth with delicate acoustic picking), but the strong engineering job and distinct vocal approach keeps this from being a mishmash.
Where the mixing pulls out all the stops to lend coherence to the sound, the vocals float along blithely, seemingly unconcerned by the herculean task that they’re given. Leading a band with the ambitions of The View Electrical is not easy, but the vocalist does it. My favorite of his approaches is somewhere between Surrounded’s whisper-singing (“Haunted by a Dream”) and Sigur Ros’s aria-esque delivery (“It Was Time”); it’s airy but grounded, breathy but solid. It ties together the many parts of The View Electrical’s sound neatly. Even when a more direct tonal approach is called for in songs, the singer seems to corral the disparate parts of the sound and marshal them in the listener’s defense.
Towards the back half of the album things get a little more straightforward and aggressive. “Death and the Young Man” is laden with aggressive beats, dropping out the lightness of the first few tracks; “In My Defense” and “Protect Us” are dissonant and heavy. Still, even in tunes as minor-key and ominous as “Protect Us” there’s a break from the gloom in the way of a dreamy guitar layered on top. The band returns to the Surrounded-esque rock/dream-pop by the end of the record, showing the minor-key sections to be part and parcel of their omnivorous approach: the thrashy, post-rock/post-metal moment of “We Won’t Stay” is dropped right into the middle of one of their most beautiful (9-minute!) songs. It’s similar to how Sigur Ros uses heaviness, but that doesn’t make it feel any less impressive or unexpected.
Roseland is an extremely ambitious record that succeeds on many levels. If you’re into thoughtful music that doesn’t bother with labels (indie-pop, indie-rock, electro, post-rock, post-metal), you’ll get a lot of listens out of this record.
I’ve sung the praises of pop-punk many times before (including quite recently); still, it’s moved into a legacy spot in my heart. I cover the occasional single and video, but covering full releases is rare these days. But you can’t leave your sonic or physical friends behind (isn’t this the moral of all early 2000s pop-punk/emo?), and thus I’m here to tell you that Dan Webb and the Spiders‘ Perfect Problem is rad. If you’re into snare-heavy pop music with enthusiastic melodies and excess adrenaline played very loudly, you should look it up.
Perfect Problem hits right in my sweet spot: pop-punk that has enough meat to not sound like an airy pop-rock tune a la Boys Like Girls but enough melodic bonafides to stay away from ragged hollered/screamed vocals a la the Menzingers. Even the tougher vocal performances here (“Night Games,” “The Neighborhood”) rough up the tone a bit but never sacrifice a charming melody or ubiquitous, spot-on high harmony. Even crunchy songs like “Moment,” which was recorded by inimitable Steve Albini, balance the brittle distorted guitar chop and thundering back-line with other generic influences: there’s a ’50s-pop influence in the rhythmic patterns, guitar solo, and soaring chorus vocal line. It’s these subtle influences and recording flourishes that give this a volume and depth separating it from streamlined, radio-friendly pop.
The highlight is the title track, which combines all of the best parts of Dan Webb’s sound together: infectious melodies, charging guitars, harmonies, and an upbeat vibe. If you’re into pop-punk with just the light scrubbing of grit, Dan Webb is on your team.