I am incredibly stoked to be premiering the Straight and Narrow Digital 45 from Band and the Beat today! It’s a perfect two-song set for a spring afternoon and evening (and it’s Friday, to boot!)
B&TB is a North Carolina-based indie-pop duo using analog synths to create perky, warm, smile-inducing tunes reminiscent of Mates of States’ electronic side. Tracy Shedd’s vocals lead the way, as her forthright tenor slides smoothly along the bed of pad synths, drum machines, and good vibes.
The digital 45 they’re releasing today contains twelve minutes of work in two tunes. The gently tumbling vocal melodies of “Straight and Narrow” and the more dusky, terse minor key action of “Jimmy’s Jam.” Both tunes are the sort to make me lean my chair back, close my eyes, and take a mental trip. The fact that the two tunes go different places in my mind is a bonus–both are strong examples of the sort of veteran, polished, easily-lovable work that the members of Band and the Beat are putting out early in their career.
The Band and the Beat‘s two-song single is a warm, lush blast. It’s a blast in the “blast of air” sense: the analog synths and drum machine create a surprisingly different atmosphere than the harsh digital synths I’m used to. (It’s also a blast in that it’s a lot of fun.) Even when the sound turns ominous, as it does about four and half minutes through the seven-minute runtime, the tune seems comforting. I keep wanting to say “warm blanket,” but gives short shrift to the tightly constructed arrangements and song structures. Freeflowing jams these are not, which is good–I’m not usually the guy trying to sell people on lengthy noodling (be it of the synth or guitar type).
No, “21” stays tight due to thoughtful songwriting and Tracy Tritten’s pristine vocals (of Tracy Shedd). Her soft alto/mezzo-soprano floats effortlessly over the seas of synths. Her voice is more playful in b-side “Buoy,” which fits with the lighter mood of the track. “Buoy” sounds like a lost Mates of State track, if they gave up the piano altogether and went full synth. It’s a friendly, smile-inducing song that features a bit of arpeggiated bass thump to break up the legato lines. “We were never meant to settle down,” Tritten claims, “Another trip and another town.” The song fits as a road song–perfect for the bit when the adrenaline of leaving has worn off and the enjoyment of the ride has set in.
“Get ready / suit up,” Tritten offers at the conclusion of “21,” and it’s a worthy mantra for the outfit as well as the listeners. I’m intrigued to hear more from The Band and the Beat, as their synth-pop is more than just cheery melodies. The complexity of the songwriting in “21” points towards strong offerings in the future.
If you’re in the Triangle of North Carolina, you’ll have a couple chances to see them live over the next week or so:
Nov 1. Durham. Duke Coffeehouse. w/ Free Pizza (Boston)
Nov 7. Chapel Hill. The Cave. w/ Tim Lee 3
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.