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.]
After a long, slow climb, Jason Isbell has hit the burners: five years ago I saw him in a dive bar in Auburn, Ala., and just last month I declined to see him again in a 2700+ person venue in Durham. He has officially made it. If you’re looking for your next up-and-coming dive bar Americana champion, I volunteer Edward David Anderson. Anderson’s Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessionsdoes everything you want an Americana record to do and then some.
Americana starts with the voice, and Anderson’s is great: a smooth, comfortable tenor delivered just right. His melodies fit in between Isbell’s gravitas and Nathaniel Rateliff’s infectious enthusiasm (see “Silverhill” for more on that idea). The tunes surrounding the vocals are spartan and carefully arranged to not clutter anything: there’s not much you can do to help a melody so pure as “Cried My Eyes Dry,” so the band backs off and lets Anderson sing it. This is their approach almost everywhere, except for the hustlin’ crime tale “Jimmy & Bob & Jack” that’s closer to a rock arrangement than anything else here. And it’s the right approach, because Anderson himself is the centerpiece, whether he’s singing over a gently rolling banjo in “Hidin’ at the Hollow” or leading the back porch picker “Sadness” (surprisingly cheery). The songwriting is just right there.
Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions offers up spot-on vocals-centric Americana songwriting. It does its thing and does it well. If you’re looking for more Southern songwriting pathos in your life, here’s to Edward David Anderson.
Archie’s EP by Aryl Barkley is an intimate release that combines the intense focus and breathy vocals of Elliott Smith with the fingerpicking of early Iron and Wine. “High on Inhibition” is a tune right out of Sam Beam’s wheelhouse, a tender major-key rumination on the past. The fingerpicking is just lovely, fitting beautifully with the whispered vocals. The minor key and gentle strumming of “Inside the Playhouse” speak Smith’s language, pondering something heavy without ever becoming heavy itself. “Two of the Ten Best” closes the three-song EP with a tune which includes ghostly background vocals over minor-key fingerpicking, something like a mash-up of the two previous tunes into something that starts to point toward his unique strengths. The ghost of Bon Iver holds out somewhere in the distance, but this last track is where Aryl Barkley really starts to put his name out there. I look forward to hearing more from this Aussie.
Haleiwa‘s Palm Trees of the Subarcticcombines acoustic guitar, Scandinavian dream-pop, and the occasional post-rock touch to create songs that feel bright, fresh, and cinematic.
The trick is that they’re cinematic in a low-key, indie-movie type way, not is a surging melodrama sort of way: “Wall of Blue Sky” feels like a pensive roadtrip scene, while the quiet expansiveness of standout “Seals and Sharks” points more in the direction of the “personal revelation” scene. The blend of acoustic instruments, electronic sounds, and live drumming is arranged and mixed perfectly, creating warm pieces that feel effortlessly pulled off. Just check out the title track or “The World Beyond” for a seamless melding. “All Sparked” focuses more on a flowing acoustic guitar line, which makes the song one of my personal favorites.
Haleiwa’s unique blend of sounds puts it in the same league as The Album Leaf, Teen Daze, and Grandaddy, but different from each of those. Palm Trees of the Subarctic is an exciting work that should be celebrated.
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.
Cassorla‘s The Right Way is a quirky vision of pop music that draws on ’80s radio pop, skittering lo-fi electro-pop, and early ’00s bedroom pop like Aqueduct (new album coming soon!). I’ve already compared the title track to Steve Miller Band (and found out via Twitter that indeed, SMB is an influence); similar to ’80s pop giants, Cassorla creates wide sonic spaces by playing with reverbed vocals, electronic rhythmic elements, piano (“Our Power”), and herky-jerky starts and stops.
The electronics here, though, aren’t huge synths, but low-key beats reminiscent of The Postal Service et al. This isn’t electro-pop in any modern sense: it’s pop music that happens to engulf elements of electro, along with guitar, piano, and miscellaneous bouncy noises (“Be On”).
The four-song set passes by warmly, capped off by “Start Your Engines.” The closer elevates the beats (humorously, but not entirely incorrectly, tagged as “trap”) to the prime spot of the tune, with a laconic guitar line taking a backseat. Cassorla unspools a Beck-ian speak-sing on top of the brew, giving another lens through which to read these songs. Regardless of inspiration or point of connection, those with a yen for mid-tempo, unassuming pop music will enjoy The Right Way.
My love affair with chillwave is somewhat my like my continued dedication to the reverse-chronological blog form: I loved it when everyone else loved it, and then I still loved it when it wasn’t cool anymore, and then I loved it when most people had stopped talking about it either way. Haring‘s Late Night Dream almost certainly has been assigned cooler descriptors than chillwave, but it fits so squarely in the sonic center of what the genre was/is about that I can’t help but say so. From the loopy, warm synths to the gentle underlying beats to the patient melodies to the overall summery mood, this could have been right there with Washed Out in the heyday.
The title track plays with needly synth notes in a way evocative of Teen Daze; “Floating Out to Me” inserts a section of frantic rhythms before dropping back to tubular-sounding synth grounding. The opening of “All I Can Give” turns trumpeting, grainy synths from celebratory to hazy/pensive with a neat arpeggiator crescendo. It resolves into a but of a thumping beat, which is cool–this is where whatever term people are using these days may get applied. Vocals are given a turn in closer “Time (feat. La Petite Rouge),” which returns to the sonic equivalent of floating on your back in a sunny pond. All the tunes here are commendable, but this one’s layering and vocal melodies make it particularly memorable. Haring’s Late Night Dream is a luscious, relaxing EP.
I’ve loved Teen Daze for a while now, because I have a deep and abiding affection for chillwave. Chillwave as a genre has splintered, with adherents linking up with genres they more fit with as their sounds mutate.
Teen Daze stayed firmly with the chillwave thing until A World Away, where he goes full electro on us. The six songs of A World Away draw heavily on arpeggiators, rhythmic patterns, reverb-heavy ’80s synth sounds, and clean lines to get the job done: the results are long tunes that place their lot with subtle change in repetitious themes. Opener “Sunburst” pairs some slow-moving chillwave bass against a neatly organized arpeggiator for a best-of-both-worlds mix; closer “I Feel God in the Water” drops the aggressive pulse and returns to the gently moving warm vibes that characterizes the earliest of chillwave tunes.
But in between, tracks like “Another Night” and “Than” smack listeners in the face with aggressive beats from the first second, assimilating them into a clubby mentality immediately; both tunes adjust and change over their 6 and nearly-9-minute runtimes, but the change in modus operandi is clear here. There’s still chillwave influences throughout, but Teen Daze is striking out in another direction on this release. Future work will let us know if this is the final form, or if the sound will keep changing.
1. “Keys in the Lake” – Hillström and Billy. This Swedish indie-rock track starts out at a level of enthusiasm that many songs crescendo to. It grows from there, if you can imagine that.
2. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Authentic drum sounds power this M83-meets-Interpol-meets-Air jam.
3. “This Picture’s Old” – Stereogramm. Arpeggiator-heavy synth-pop from the “faster faster faster” school of thought, tempered with a relaxed vocal delivery that creates a fun tension. In lesser hands it could have been goofy, but instead it’s endearing.
4. “Young Oblivion” – Memoryy. If the giddiness of MGMT could have been tempered by the darkling sheen of The Naked and Famous, we’d have had this jubilant track earlier than we do.
5. “Wherever You Are” – New Arcades. If you’re looking for a huge, synthy pop track, here’s a strong candidate.
6. “Me vs. I (Rimski Bronski Mix)” – Hannah Schneider. Schneider is a neo-classical/electro/singer-songwriter somewhat in a more-recognizable-Bjork vein. This remix gives her sound bounce, lift, and vaguely African rhythms for a really fun time.
7. “Part of the Problem” – Trey Mumz. With a name like that, I’d expect auto-tuned R&B slow jamz. Instead, it’s auto-tuned psych slow jamz. Mad skillz.
8. “Me, Liquor & God” – Night Beds. If you go electro, you better know what you’re doing. Night Beds does a good job of keeping his melodic gifts on display while transitioning from soaring country to club-friendly, arch electronica.
9. “Sudden Acts” – Temple Invisible. Portishead-style trip-hop vocals meet witch house-style synths: a dark rave ensues.
10. “Raise the Gate (ft. Body Games)” – T0W3RS. First rule of electronica: know when to get out. This two-and-a-half-minute slice of ominous vibes and slinky rhythms hits it right on.
11. “Reykjavik, January 2015” – Teen Daze. My favorite “started as chillwave” outfit is now augmenting their core sound with the icy/warm tension of pensive melodies and pushing rhythms. The result is a beautiful piano-led tune.
This was the year of the EP. I received way more EPs than albums this year, which made choosing this list harder than choosing the albums of the year. While there’s a whole post waiting to be written about why EPs are the present and future of music, for now it’s enough to say that the music in these EPs stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the work in albums. The EP should not be considered an inferior format; it can pack quite a lot into its shorter run times. Here’s to the EP.
10. Where I Belong EP – Quiet Stories. An eclectic EP of diverse songwriting styles; some hushed and intimate, some boisterous and brash. Constant: melodies galore.
9. House on the Mountain – Teen Daze. My favorite electronic artist gets a little more analog, but doesn’t lose any chillwave-y charm. Quirky, beautiful, peppy.
8. Sweet Virginia – Sunny Jim Brown. Pensive, thoughtful, raw folky songwriting that just sounds gorgeous.
7. Twin Forks – Twin Forks. “THAT’S A LOVE THAT! CAN’T BE BROKEN! THAT’S THE STING OF! A HEART CUT OPEN!” Yes.
6. Where Eyes Don’t Go – The Gray Havens. It was the year of the guy/girl folk-pop duo, and The Gray Havens were one of my favorites. Leaning toward the pop side, Dave and Licia play jaunty, fun tunes that will get you to sing along. Neatly balancing whimsy and seriousness, they stole my heart.
5. The Rooster – David Ramirez. If Ramirez’s deep, resonant baritone doesn’t touch you, the deeply romantic lyrics will. Absolutely gorgeous.
4. The Long Ride Home – Wolfcryer. A man and a guitar is an old recipe, but you don’t have to use a different recipe if the ingredients are high quality. Matt Baumann’s songs rely heavily on his emotive voice and passionate guitarwork, resulting in spacious, wide-open tunes that are perfect for long solo drives. A very strong opening salvo.
3. Somewhere Near the River – Little Chief. In a Mumford world, it’s good to play full-band folk. But it’s hard to stand out while doing so, which is why Little Chief caught my attention. Their nuanced songwriting and great cello work set them apart from the ever-growing pack of folky bands.
2. Creeping Around Your Face – Novi Split. One of my favorite songwriters from the earliest days of IC releases a four-song wonder that shows off all his talents. Precise arrangements, effortless melodies, heartrending poignancy, and covers that he takes complete control over. His is a truly singular vision, carving out space in a crowded field to demand attention.
1. For Tomorrow Will Worry About Itself EP – Fiery Crash. The culmination of a massive year that saw Fiery Crash put out five releases, this 7-song EP is the best of Josh Jackson’s work yet. Rolling folk tunes meet songs adorned with fuzzy reverb. New songs, reworkings, and hymns share space. Throughout it all, Jackson delivers earnest musings with real gravitas. This could be the start of something incredible.
I love Teen Daze, and I’m stoked that we get a new album so closely to his The House on the Mountain EP. Glacier will drop October 1, but until then we get “Ice on the Windowsill,” which pairs his beautiful, smooth chillwave with rattling beats to create a really nice mood. It’s like when you’re riding on a bus: everything is objectively going by quickly, but it feels slow because you’re not physically moving or controlling the vehicle. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. Highly recommend.
(I’m almost done moving, so I’ll be back on the reviewing schedule soon.)
As I have written before, I loved and still love chillwave. I love the idea of optimistic, beautiful music that is unsullied by vocals. I love vocals, but the idea that we can have happy music that is also musically challenging is just wonderful. (It’s also why I love Fang Island.) Teen Daze‘s The House on the Mountain is about as good as I can imagine chillwave (or whatever we’re calling it these days) can be.
Single-named producer Jamison takes small melodies and builds them up with fluttery background synths, flowing guitar, and gentle beats to create deeply moving electronic pieces. Blissful is the word I would use to describe opener “Hidden,” but the low-end piano inclusions on “Eagles Above” puts a more pensive spin on the sound. “Classical Guitar” benefits from some great midi synths (as opposed to atmospheric pad synths), a heavier beat than usual and (yes) the titular instrument. While leaning toward the gentle euphoria of “Hidden,” it still forges its own path. (Is it heresy if I say it sounds like Owl City a bit? I swear it’s a compliment.)
The lead single and semi-title track “Morning House” combines the best elements of all three tracks, as it takes a unique rhythmic beat and melds it to atmospheric synths in an optimistic key. Fluttery synths and midi synths come in, giving a great amount of texture to the tune. It’s a beautiful, memorable tune: a star among stars.
If you’re sick of chillwave, sorry. I’m not, and The House on the Mountain is absolutely gorgeous. If you love blissing out, Teen Daze is here to help.
Kazyak used to be a groove-laden jam band of sorts, so it’s a bit surprising that they’ve reinvented as a alt-folk band. However, it’s not surprising that they’ve done it in a unique way, given that they came from another genre. This EP could bridge the gap perfectly between the forlorn For Emma, Forever Ago and lush Bon Iver, if Peter Frey were Justin Vernon. But he’s not, and we instead meet a Kazyak on See the Forest, See the Trees that tries to reunite disparate sounds that currently fall under the same name.
It’s a fitting title, then: the trees of the individual songs stand up, and the entire album fits neatly as a whole. A few tunes can be plucked from the runtime without injuring their effectiveness; others must be heard in context of the whole 26-minute piece. It’s a rare album that can pull off this trick, and it’s what makes me so excited about Kazyak.
The best combo move is opener “Pieces of My Map,” which introduces Kazyak’s love of atmospheric banjo, sweeping guitar swells, and lush arrangements. But amid the mini-symphony, the vocal melody cuts through, shining as the focus on the piece. This splits the difference between vocals-centric and arrangement-centric folk neatly.
“Part I: Rabbiting Fox” and “Part II: Pitch Thick” show off the arrangement-centric side of the sound, with dramatic melodies, intimate moods, and careful arrangements. The gorgeous opening 1;30 of “Rabbiting Fox” is some of the most engaging music on the album. The unique “Tar Baby” shows off the vocals by having the vocalist slide back and forth between falsetto and chest voice repeatedly to accentuate the lyrics. It is an unusual move that some may reject, but it definitely shows a creative mind at work.
Kazyak’s See the Forest, See the Trees is beautiful and substantial; the melodic qualities don’t get lost in the arrangements or vice versa. Instead, it stands as a strong testament to varied songwriting. I hope to hear more from Kazyak’s unique perspective in the future.
1. “Morning House” – Teen Daze. Chillwave ain’t the cool kids anymore, but it’s still the best genre we’ve come up with in a long time. Teen Daze makes some beautiful stuff here.
2. “2Star” – Decent Lovers. Fractured, funky, unique indie-pop-rock via autoharp? Must be Decent Lovers.
3. “Minute Maid” – Hustle Roses. Big, splashy electro-pop.
4. “Diamond” – Lightning Dust. Sometimes a track just jumps off the screen at me, and the moving simplicity of Lightning Dust’s latest, ’80s-inflected single is one of those. It’s reminiscent of Wye Oak, but more importantly it’s got that X factor.
5. “Cyclone” – Polytype. R&B with a futurist bent is not usually what I cover here, but this one blew me away.
6. “Get Healed” – Way Yes. Second single, second home run. Crooning lead vocals are tempered by plaintive female ones in a strangely tribal setting. Way Yes is doing way cool stuff.
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.