1. “The Itch” – Brother O’ Brother. Stripping some of the Black Keys-esque arena-rock sheen from their guitar-and-drums approach ends up with a raging, distortion-laden tune that has The White Stripes on speed-dial. Ka-pow.
2. “The Dusty Song” – Sebastian Brkic. Brkic creates a swooping, diving panorama that relies just as much on creaky-voiced MeWithoutYou-style indie-rock as it does acoustic material.
3. “Ridiculous” – Mleo. Surprising vocal and instrumental range make this an impressive rock tune.
4. “Salvo” – CFIT. Serious music that reaches for the seriousness of Radiohead, the swirling development of shoegaze, some airy aesthetics of chillwave, and an overall sense that none of those influences take away from the inventiveness of the work.
5. “What’s Pesto” – The River Fane. Ominous clicking and clacking undergird this menacing, pondering, powerful indie rock track that’s anchored by thunderous piano chords and wavering vocals a la Thom Yorke.
6. “Rubbernecking” – Frog. Fresh off their triumphant Kind of Blah, Frog re-released their debut. This track points toward the ragged enthusiasm and vocal intricacies that made the guitar rock of KOB such a charm.
7. “End of Something” – Febria. This tunes’ an omnivorous beast, as prog, math-rock, laid-back ’70s psych, jazz, and guitar heroics blend together into a mindbending stew. It’s not as hectic as The Mars Volta, but it’s maybe in the zipcode next door.
8. “Golden Threads From the Sun (excerpt)” – yndi halda. This bit of a tune from a larger post-rock work points to the scope at which yndi halda feels comfortable: massive. As such, there are some group vocals, Sigur Ros-like distortion explosions and frantic drums, strings, and generally all manner of thing going on. Here’s to maximalist post-rock.
9. “Thank You For Your Time” – Citizen Shade. Soulful and dramatic, this piano-led romp starts off quiet and ramps way up.
1. “Sync” – Cloud Castle Lake. If Sigur Ros ate a marching band and a prog rock outfit, they still probably couldn’t make this genre-exploding post-rock track. This is some of the most eclectic, beautiful songwriting I’ve heard in a long time.
2. “L.A.M.P.” – A.M. Stations. If you’re on the train that post-rock doesn’t have enough of punk’s energy, then this pounding instrumental track will leave you clapping.
3. “Blood Mirage” – Crown Larks. If you’re concerned that post-rock isn’t weird enough, then Crown Larks’ fractured, wild, sprawling tunes will comfort you. This is one of those bands where you feel bad for all the instruments involved because of the intense, atypical sounds being wrung out of the poor pieces of metal, wire, wood and cork.
4. “Steady Waves” – Cross Record. Pensive and dark, gentle and harsh, like Bowerbirds on an electro bender (even though it feels like these may be all organic instruments manipulated in unusual ways).
5. “Open Season” – Youth Model. Muse would be proud of the move to layer a 1950s PSA about the atomic bomb over the intro to this dark, theatrical rock song about paranoia. Actually, Muse would be proud of pretty much everything in this song.
6. “Coshh” – The Vryll Society. Here’s a highway song for a cosmic, religious, post-consciousness realm.
7. “Take My Hand” – Palmas. And if you go surfing in that cosmic, religious, post-consciousness realm, you can flip on this perfect soundtrack.
8. “Golden Lion” – The Besnard Lakes. ’70s rock’n’roll updated to sound tight and modern, but with just enough guitar haziness to be a little reality-fuzzing.
9. “One Block Bar” – Rett Smith. Here’s some electric blues that don’t sound like The Black Keys. The gritty, urgent noise here is much more earthy and raw than the stadium-rockin’ Keys.
10. “Bruises” – Bells and Hunters. Do you need a stomping, riff-heavy rock track in your life? Of course you do, especially if it has great female vocals on top of all that.
Do you ever just turn on a song and immediately feel happier–even lighter, perhaps? That’s the way I felt when I first listened to the opening track off Hanna Kostamaa’s self-released EP Spectrum. Even though the subject matter of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is not lighthearted, the sounds of the song filled my ears with whimsy.
The San Diego-based Kostamaa plays with rock instrumentation and pop melodies to create a sound that’s all her own. Spectrum combines this indie-pop/rock sound with very realistic lyrics that seem to say, “even though life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, our instrumentation can be.”
Opener “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is the shining single off this EP. The keyboard intro is very reminiscent of the beginning of “Cherry Tulips” by Headlights–in fact, Headlights is a really great comparison to this release. The quirky pop sound of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” and “Lost in a Dream” contain the same whimsical instrumentation found in many Headlights songs. Both artists fill their instrumentation with the electronic keyboard, funky bass lines, and beachy Californian guitar. Hanna’s voice even sounds very familiar in tone and style to Erin Fein’s. Unfortunately, Headlights has disbanded; luckily we have Hanna Kostamaa to keep their sound alive!
The other two songs on the EP, “Claustrophobia” and “WIldfire,” have much more of a indie rock feel akin to The Black Keys. “Claustrophobia” begins with a light drum beat and quickly points our attention towards a truly funky bass line. On top of the drums and awesome bass line, Hanna layers a slightly chaotic electric guitar that takes off on solos which ooze rock ’n roll sex appeal, similar to what Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney tend to do. “Wildfire” then begins with the sexy electric guitar that “Claustrophobia” left off on. Hanna’s experimentation with badass rock ‘n roll instrumentation delightfully keeps Spectrum from being an innocent indie-pop EP. The way Hanna fully enters into two different worlds- the rock and the pop- and makes them both her own in Spectrum that really makes the unique sound of the EP stand out.
Hanna’s darker lyrics also inhibit Spectrum from being a happy-go-lucky pop collection. Even “Lost in a Dream” is not as innocent as its name and instrumentation sounds. Instead of “Lost in a Dream” being an angelic love song–which is what I originally thought it was–it speaks a much darker message.The track opens with “Meeting by the swings/ Innocence and its dream” and I thought, aww–how sweet, a love song! As the song progresses, the chorus hit me with a reality check–this song isn’t about gaining love, it’s about losing love. The chorus repeats throughout the song: “Hold on, where are you going?/ We didn’t agree that it was finished for you and me/ Hold on, why are you going?” I then realized that the first few lyrics were actually what she later describes as “Clinging onto the few good things.”
The sweet-sounding instrumentation of “Lost in a Dream” continues to the end of the song, leading us to the final, despondent lyric: “Hold on, why are you gone?” It’s as if the playful, dream-pop sound of the song is meant to lead us astray just as much as the “few good things” led her to think that maybe there’s a chance that the relationship doesn’t have to end. But all good things must end at some point.
The very realistic, human lyrics pair with the quirky indie-pop/rock vibe in a wonderfully paradoxical way. It is beautiful hearing a budding artist play around with sound, resulting in an EP that’s entirely unique. Hanna Kostamaa’s Spectrum is a great example of what it sounds like for an artist to have fun with her music and not worry which subgenre to perfectly fit into. It’s just good music. And good music should be appreciated. —Krisann Janowitz
The outfit can play the pop game with great aplomb, as the hooky riffs and consistent kick drum of standout single “Number One” and “The Winning Side” attest. However, they can also get down into some dirty, dirty blues riffs (“Two Guns,” “Keys to the Kingdom”) and low-slung, gritty rock (“Blacked Out Windows”). When they bring their pop chops to bear on those muddy, murky influences, things get seriously interesting: the title track grooves hard but also has that warm glow throughout which keeps things in the pop realm.
It’s tough to keep things in the “top down, wind-in-my-hair” mode when the lyrics are so seething with bitterness towards ruined economies at the hands of the rich & powerful, but they manage the balance. From the down-and-out vignettes of opener “Number One” to the religious imagery of “Let the Love Go Down” to the apocalyptic sketch of acoustic closer “Plow Song,” every song is an economic protest in one way or another. (I don’t usually put a lot of stock in album titles, but this one is perfectly named.) If you wish that The Black Keys had gotten grittier instead of going stadium-rock on us, The Sideshow Tragedy will perk you up. If you’re into protest music that can get your adrenaline pumping, you’ll be all over this, too.
Second-wave/late ’90s-early ’00s emo can occasionally (rightly) be associated with uncharitable, uninviting navel-gazing, but Football, Etc.‘s Disappear EP transcends the worst of the stigma by keeping a dreamy pop sensibility firmly in view.
The four-song set shows off the hallmarks of the genre–gauzy guitars, twinkly melodies, drums reminiscent of punk, tidy arrangements, small number of musicians–without lapsing into homage or parody. The fact that you can hum along with “Sunday” points to an important aspect of their pop-music ethos; the fact that the EP opens with Lindsay Minton’s voice on “Sunday” points even more strongly in that direction.
Yes, there are some chilled-out tunes that focus more squarely on the lyrics, which some may not like. But the melodies and the mood make it very worth it for me. If you’re into dream-pop or the emo revival, sign up with Football, Etc.
Laura Joy‘s Between Our Words is a light, airy, sun-dappled collection of acoustic songs. Joy takes a singer/songwriter’s introspective approach to lyrics, but the bouncy bass of “Takes a While” and cheery organ of “Phoenix” keep things from feeling too cloistered. Those two songs in particular should be played outside on a walk in the park during a mid-’70s cloudless day. “Courting Disaster” is an acoustic pop tune that is potentially the perkiest cut ever to have “disaster” in the title.
Joy’s unaffected, straightforward voice helps create the unassuming air as well: throughout the five songs, Joy sounds down-to-earth and approachable due to a pleasant eschewing of vocal theatrics. Even when things do get a little more dramatic in the fingerpicked title track and troubadour-esque “Moving On,” Joy still situates herself in vocal and instrumental arrangements that don’t go for huge sweeps and maximum catharsis. Instead, she writes comfortable, relatable, small songs. It’s a refreshing turn to hear things not need to be pushed to their brim. Laura Joy’s Between Our Words is a quiet, light EP that makes an outsized mark for its weight.
Here’s a batch of MP3s that I have been long remiss in posting. Also, happy Good Friday to you.
On the Fly
1. “A Warning of Sorts” – CHIRPING. Are we ever done with slick, well-produced, cheery indie-rock from Swedes? No, never. Put on your dancing shoes.
2. “Number One” – The Sideshow Tragedy. Did The Black Keys ever sound sinister? The Sideshow Tragedy has honed the blues-rock guitar/drums duo to a fine point here, packing in energy, melodies, dynamics, and (yes) even some sinister vocal vibes. Whoever can’t get behind a good tambourine needs to get this tune in front of them.
3. “Retro Bastard (KKBB Remix)” – Blood Sport. Kasey Keller Big Band turns out a remix of a song I’ve never heard, resulting in a complex pastiche of zooming digital sounds, heavy bass lines, complex drumming, and hollered vocals. Somehow, it turns into a herky-jerky dance tune, the sort of thing that mid-to-late ’00s dance-rock bands would have jonesed after. Intricate yet danceable, Artsy yet poppy? Turn that up.
4. “Sovereign Gore” – Casual Threats. Jamming post-hardcore’s dissonant aggression, post-punk’s wiry experimentation, and Interpol-esque dour melodies into one track is a tall order, but Casual Threats pull it off with confident aplomb.
5. “Unknown” – Lylit. If you have a way with a “whoa-oh,” you’re going to do well in today’s pop scene. Having an infectious groove that rides the line between dramatic and decidedly happy helps too.
6. “Lost is Found” – Perdido Key. In an age of no-nuance EDM, it’s refreshing to hear a club-ready tune with some atmosphere and restraint. It’s no surprise that it hearkens back to the ’90s–but not too much–to get that feel.
7. “Caves” – Sea Bed. Bouncy, rubbery keys give this dance tune a cool underwater feel, in addition to the boots’n’cats techno beat. (What up ’90s! Two in a row!) The vocal melody is infectious as well. This is way cool.
8. “He’s Heating Up” – Homeshake. So, this comes from an album that’s celebrating ’90s NBA basketball, which is a fantastic idea. Homeshake’s homage sounds like some unique alternate-universe version of Prince: feathery falsetto, vaguely funky mood, and affected sense of drama.
9. “Time For a New School of Alchemy” – ticktock. Glitchy electro had an idiosyncratic sort of beauty to it. This track harnesses bleeps, burbles, and chopped up sounds in the service of traditionally beautiful work that falls somewhere between ’80s synth-pop and modern bedroom chillwave.
10. “Mother of Maladies” – Marrow. I don’t know what it is about keyboards that can ground a funky song so well, but the wurlitzer gives this churning, whirling indie-rock piece a bit of solidity.
11. “Great Divide” – Humming House. Having great “whoa-ohs” helps in folk-pop too, as Humming House knows. Vocals reminiscent of The Avetts’ power this energetic, enthusiastic gem.
12. “When I Rise” – Diamondwolf. Percussion is real important in alt-country, and the stomp-clap drumming makes the mood here. The zinging pedal steel and heavy acoustic strum help too, making this into a powerful stomper of a tune.
13. “Ghost Town (Acoustic)” – Justin Klump. Klump’s voice has some of the trembling passion of Needtobreathe’s Bear Rinehart, but it’s set in a poignant, sentimental acoustic pop arrangement featuring cello and gentle banjo.
14. “Strong” – The Paper Shades. In the midst of this hurried and harried world, we need gentle singer/songwriter duos to tell us to “slow it down.” Unspool your stresses and let the gorgeous waves break kindly over you. Here’s to those who are still carrying the torch of calm.
1. “Away” – Heart Beach. Heart Beach is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies with this churning slice of plodding bass, washed-out guitar and yearning vocals. A+.
2. “Cavity” – Kuzin. Sometimes the vocal hook that seals it is in the verse, and so it goes with the yearning killer line of this track. You’ll be humming this one for a while.
3. “Gone Past” – Lore City. A lot of people want to invoke shoegaze, but few bands really inhabit the idea of the sound overwhelming a person in their entirety the way that Lore City does here. Slow movement, pounding drums, howling vocals, synth sheen over everything: this is how you create a wall of sound in 2015.
4. “He’s Not Real and He Ain’t Coming Back” – Twin River. The synth-laden, reverb-heavy soundscapes on this track recall the slow motion of the band’s titular geographical features. Let it wash over you.
5. “Wasting Time” – The Phantoms. The alt-rock drama of Anberlin meets Blur influences in vocal delivery for this high-contrast track.
6. “Dotted Line” – Bombay Harambee. Guitar rock with demonstrative, impassioned front men will always have a home. This particular brand makes me think of a slowed-down Arctic Monkeys.
7. “Fourth Quarter Funeral” – Velcro Mary. The thick, bassy guitars in this power-pop song fill up the track, but they never make the song feel leaden. Instead, the track moves sprightly along on a Foo Fighters backline and a snarly vocal line that never explodes.
8. “Universe” – Faith Healer. Some perky garage-rock with a mumbly female lead vocal creates a very cool vibe.
9. “Actual Alien” – American Culture. Scuzzy guitars; gated ’80s drums; distorted, nasally vocals. Sounds like a great entry into American garage rock culture to me.
10. “Time For Us to Move” – Full Trunk. We really should thank the Black Keys for re-popularizing blues rock. There are few ways to vibe harder than on a good blues-rock riff, like the one here.
I’ve been posting singles and videos from Colony House since January, because their alt-rock had that anthemic edge which usually portends great things. And while “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Silhouettes,” and “Waiting for My Time to Come” are great by themselves, they’re amazing when crammed together and packaged with 11 other great tunes on When I Was Younger.
“Moving Forward” is the sort of deep cut that bands realize is amazing late in the album’s cycle, haphazardly throw to radio, and manage to get a career-defining hit from (see “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers). It has a jubilant riff that turns into a revelatory, shiver-inducing “whoa-oh” coda; that arching melody is the sort that Coldplay at its Viva La Vida finest was putting out. It’s the type I wear out the repeat button over.
“Waiting For My Time To Come” is still great in album version–more whoa-ohs, horns, and general good vibes. In other places Colony House echoes an amped-up Black Keys (“2:20”), the Killers, U2, Imagine Dragons, ’80s new-wave (“Roll With the Punches”), and more. Those influences might read like a derivative mess, but they sound like a eye-opening wonder. I haven’t heard anything this immediately engaging and potentially career-launching since I heard .fun’s Some Nights. And we all know how that turned out. If you like fun, cheery alt-rock-pop music, you’ll love Colony House.
Americo‘s style of rock would fit neatly in with Spoon: the rhythms, melodies, and instrumental performances fit together in a very tight, almost clockwork-like way. As a result, their recent release I is a tight, polished EP instead of a frantic, shoot-from-the-hip garage-rock set of tunes. “Stylized” doesn’t mean a lot in its dictionary definition, but the music-world connotations of restless aesthetes crafting and honing sounds seems to (mostly) fit here.
I say “mostly” because the duo also has laidback vibes as one of the core tenets of the sound. Opener “Blastin’ Off” has a stuttering strum and a liberal use of space as its calling cards, not giant guitar antics. (You have to wait for second track “Sled” for those.) “Slingshot” has a ’90s slackerish vibe in the way the chords lazily morph into each other; “Perfect World” relies on rim-clicks and jazzy vibes. This is a band that has both chops and restraint–most bands don’t even have one of those things. (Some of my favorite bands are just fine without either one.) They can even get a little weird and experimental if you’d like (“Prizes”).
Americo’s I shows off a well-developed songwriting sensibility that will appeal to fans of thoughtful rockers. The duo has made it clear that they can rock out and a lot of other things. That versatility could blossom into a particular style down the road, or they could stick with the Swiss Army Knife approach. Either way, I is commendable.
Depending on your interest in the genre, Brother O’ Brother is either carrying on the tradition of or thoroughly indebted to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The guitar and drums duo rips through heavy blues rock stompers with screaming guitars, howling vocals, and basic drumming. The band’s self-titled record doesn’t let up for the 30+ minute runtime; there are no pop-friendly arena rock tunes or quirky acoustic ditties to break the mood. From the outraged opener “Without Love” to the last high-hat snap of “Mice & Men,” Chris Banta barrels, blasts, struts, strains, and powers his way through through riff-heavy tunes galore.
“Means to Be a Woman” is a highlight of the set. After its bluesy guitar intro reminiscent of the White Stripes, Banta lets his voice take most of the drama. He alternates between snarling speak-singing in the verses and outright howling in the chorus. If you’re into heavy guitars and moral indignation at how the media portrays women, you’ll be all over this tune. Throughout the album, Banta is interested in spiritual and moral themes; it gives another edge to the screaming guitars. Everyone needs some good righteous indignation over the injustices of the world now and then. If that sounds like a good time, Brother O’ Brother can hook you up.
Strand of Oaks’ “Shut In” starts slow, but once it gets going the song and the video complement each other perfectly. I cried a little.
Frantic vocals + crunchy blues rock riffs + gender politics = gold. Brother O’ Brother will get compared to The Black Keys and the White Stripes; it should be comparison, not demeaning. Great stuff here.
Some look at the state of the world and say there are too many love story narratives. I look at the same things and say there aren’t yet enough.
I compared Zack Walther and the Awe Hells‘ 15:51 EP to the folk-and-gospel-infused southern rock of Needtobreathe, and those comparisons hold true in their new Seduce the Backbeat EP. But they’ve cranked the dial on both ends of their sound, making the rock more rockin’ and the folk/gospel folkier and gospel-ier.
“You’re Going to Get It” is a straight-up Black Keys stomper (brittle fuzz guitar tone and all), while “Ode to Bailey” is 3:20 of a Walther-led a capella gospel choir. Both are vastly entertaining slices of their respective genres. “Crazy Town” is a southern rocker, while “Hole in the Desert” is an ominous, organ-led country tune that crescendoes up to something way louder than that. Walther’s commanding voice is the constant through all four tunes; his expert control over tone and range make him simply fun to listen to. If you’re into Needtobreathe, The Black Keys, or the heavier side of Zac Brown Band, you’ll love Seduce the Backbeat.
There’s something about the blues that speaks to everyone. Maybe it’s just part of being human to value a guitar’s raw power, or to feel something from the earthy, no-fuss qualities of blues. But whatever the reason, blues is an important American music genre, and The Teague Stefan Band’s recent release, Game of Life, is a great blues album.
There are also elements of rock and funk on Game of Life, but blues is still the most prevalent style by far. The three-piece group, with Teague Stefan on guitars and vocals, David Marder on drums, and Todd Warsing on bass, consistently delivers tight, guitar-heavy head-nodders. (Of course “head-nodders” is a word, don’t be silly!) And the best part? The scorching, uptempo momentum never falters. All throughout Game of Life, the aim is clear – The Teague Stefan Band wants you to rock with them. And I say – mission accomplished.
Game of Life opens with “The Leavin’ Blues,” an angry, bass-thumping song with a very catchy guitar riff. There’s also a guitar solo in the middle that might just melt your face if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s obvious throughout the album that Teague Stefan is a very talented guitar player.
The title track is a bit mellower, but still fits with the rest of the album’s high energy songs. Other standout tracks are the aggressive and forcefully funky “No Matter What” and the really bluesy, sexy closer “Dues.” (No, it’s not weird to call a song “sexy.”)
Fans of The Black Keys will love the minimalism of the instrumentation and fans of Led Zeppelin will appreciate the emphasis on guitar. But The Teague Stefan Band’s Game of Life would also be perfect for anyone who needs a little more tell-it-like-it-is, good old-fashioned rockin’ blues in their life. (That’s everyone.)
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.