Colony House has impressed me repeatedly in the short time they’ve been around, but this takes the cake. They’ve made the studio video (which I am usually bored by) into something exciting and vibrant. It helps that “Waiting For My Time to Come” is an excellent tune that combines U2 melodies with low-slung roots-rock precision, then throws some horns and a choir of friends at it. They won’t have to wait much longer with songs like this one. Can we get NeedtoBreathe on the phone?
Amy Correia is still incredible, just in case you had forgotten. This live cut of “City Girl” is way fun. Also, note that she’s playing a tenor ukulele slung like a punk rock guitar.
Kylie Odetta has pipes similar to Adele and lyrics like Lady Gaga, making this a pretty appealing piano-and-vocals performance.
SXSW is currently taking over the North American music world, but I’m not there this year. To deal with this sadness, I have largely ignored what’s going on out there in Austin. So here are a bunch of tracks by bands that may or may not be showcasing at SXSW.
1. “It Takes Over” – Dream Curtain. I like chillwave so much that I wrote an academic paper about it. Dream Curtain loves chillwave so much that the project keeps making hazy, woozy, reverb-heavy, summery slices of wonder.
2. “Strange Feeling” – Panama. The ’80s influence is strong with this one. Piano, synths, a move-your-feet beat? It’s all happening on this yacht, y’all.
3. “Mountain (Alternate Version)” – Driftwood Miracle. What was a churning, heavy emo track is transformed into a lounge-y, chilled-out track with wah guitar and silky keys. It’s suprisingly fun and only a bit cheesy.
4. “Conquer It All” – Afterlife Parade. U2 and Coldplay influences abound in this upbeat indie-rock track, but it’s far more enjoyable than Coldplay’s “Magic.”
5. “Clearhead Real” – Plateau Below. Starts out a chill, spare guitar-pop track, turns into a big ‘ol guitar-rock stomper. (Bonus: The album art is a striking representation of the sound.)
6. “Bad News” – Slinger Francisco. I listened to a lot of Tooth & Nail Records pop-rock in the early 2000s, and Slinger Francisco takes me back to those heady days of MAE and Watashi Wa. Pop-rock arrangements with an emo heart and pop-punk vocal melodies.
7. “Cruel to Be Kind” – The Worriers. Alternately sneering and jubilant, hyperkinetic Aussies The Worriers come off like a Southern Hemispheric answer to The Vaccines.
I’ve been listening to Roy Dahan‘s The Man in My Head for several weeks, and I’m still struggling to pin it down to words. It’s a solo project that feels like a full-band effort, as the overall mood of the tracks is more important than any single musician. David Gray would enjoy the seriousness and gravity of these tunes, but the album still has upbeat, inviting moments like “Crush.” It’s chill and relaxing, but with a sense of tension running throughout each tune.
I guess the best descriptor is adult alternative singer/songwriter, but that sells it short in so many ways. “Nothing But Miracles” starts out with a gentle, burbling fingerpicking guitar line before expanding into a wide-open chorus: “You’ll see / there’s a beautiful place to be / and I wonder if you’ll see at all.” The subtly urgent “Farewell” pulses with restrained energy, while “Maze” has a cascading, U2 sort of vibe. The album hangs together beautifully, but doesn’t obscure the high points within it. You can play this one as a full album or pick songs out of it for your playlists. That’s rare.
Dahan’s beautiful music is tough to explain but easy to love. If you’re into things as diverse as Counting Crows, Bright Eyes, Matt Nathanson, Ray LaMontagne, or The Decemberists, you’ll love Roy Dahan’s The Man in My Head.
1. “It’s All Over Now” – Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Vintage-style New Orleans jazz/rag doesn’t get much more fun that this. I mean, spoons!! You know you love this already.
2. “Break Away” – Afterlife Parade. AP’s triumphant indie-rock is sounding more and more like U2 by way of The Killers with every release, and I’m totally down with that. You hit those soaring group vocal lines, and I don’t care who you sound like. Sing it.
3. “Silver Boys” – Holyoak. Do you wish that Grizzly Bear was a little less obtuse? Maybe that Fleet Foxes was a little more direct? Holyoak delivers the goods.
4. “White Noise” – The Hand in the Ocean. Heavy on the folk, lite on the indie; heavy on the warbling vocals, lite on Bon Iver beauty-croon; heavy on the banjo, lite on the kick drum.
5. “Ghostflake” – Owls of the Swamp. This piano-led, indie-folk take is as delicate and gentle as the title would suggest.
6. “Vermona” – Take Berlin. Formal pop songcraft and singer/songwriter fare are coming closer and closer together, as the rambling Bob Dylan impulses of yore are turning more toward Paul Simon’s beautiful structuralism. This track’s guitar and analog synthesizer show off that shift.
7. “Broken Arrows” – Tracy Shedd also shows off her formal songcraft skills, adding in a touch of ’50s pop vocal flair to the precise acoustic strumming and melodicism.
8. “The Kids and the Rain” – Alex Tiuniaev. New classical piano composer Tiuniaev opens his album Blurred with this moody, atmospheric, scene-setting solo keys piece.
When I Used to Be a Sparrow‘s Luke appeared last year, I praised its “interesting and unique” take on indie rock but complained that they pushed the “anthem” button too often. The duo has corrected that oversight on You Are an Empty Artist, creating a more intimate collection of tunes that yet resists navelgazing. These songs weren’t written as stadium crushers, although they might turn out that way if the band’s passion, composition chops and infectious melodies have anything to say about it.
The chiming guitar tone and soaring, U2-esque guitar melodies from Luke are largely retained but modified in a critical way: instead of being thrown way up in the mix, the guitars take an equal seat with the vocals and rhythm section (“Spring Knows Where You Live,” “I’ve Got the Feeling We Are Not in Kansas Anymore”). This creates an egalitarian atmosphere in the arrangements, letting the listener’s ear roam about. By taking the focus off one thing, they put the focus on everything. Songs like “I’ve Got…” live up to that treatment, as the rhythms, melodies, and intricacies are a joy to listen to. But by keeping the pace quick and focusing on singable vocal melodies, the songs don’t ever veer toward guitar noodling.
The insistent pace and excellent chorus of “Cannonball” mark it as a highlight, while “Always the Runner” stands out by slowing the pace down and showing off a different side of the band. But from opener “Laura” to closer “July,” I Used to Be a Sparrow doesn’t disappoint. Their instrumental palette is still largely stable throughout, and I’d love to hear them experiment with some more sounds in future releases. But as it stands, You Are an Empty Artist does a good job of meeting its own ideals and eschewing vapidity in its work. That’s a worthy coda to any review.
Independent Clauses is somewhat of an alternate universe when it comes to music reviewing. I rarely cover the hip bands, often love things no one else does, and generally attempt to be true to what I hear. If there’s a radar to be on or under, we’re hanging out on a different screen altogether. This is more by happenstance than choice: I never set out to be contrarian. And I don’t feel like a curmudgeonly naysayer of popular music, as you’ll see tomorrow. I just have a different lens than many people. Here’s the view from that lens.
16. Elijah Wyman/Jason Rozen’s collective output: Tiny Mtns/The Seer Group/Decent Lovers. What started out as the artsy electro-pop project Tiny Mtns split into a heavily artsy electro project (The Seer Group) and a heavily artsy pop project (Decent Lovers), with the two splitting the tracks between them. Except when both kept a track and reworked it to their likings. Did I mention that this one time, one of these guys gave the other a kidney? Now you see why they get one mention.
I’m showing up late to The Naked and the Famous’ album Passive Me Aggressive You because I agreed with the naysayers who thought “Young Blood” sounded like second-rate Passion Pit. But since I ran across the much more subtle and interesting “Girls Like You” and “Punching In,” I’ve been hooked on the band’s sound. I even like “Young Blood” more, because I know that it’s backed up with nuance, as opposed to cash-in, rip-off glee. Official apology complete.
Bands that can pull off glee and nuance with equal passion are of deep interest to me, which is why TNATF and I Used to Be a Sparrow both have been piquing my interest recently. The duo named I Used to Be a Sparrow hails from Sweden, composed of IC fave Andrea Caccese (Songs for the Sleepwalkers) and Dick Pettersson. Caccese brings thoughtful post-rock/dream-pop influences from his previous work to their debut Luke, while Pettersson contributes an upbeat indie-rock aesthetic reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit. The result is an optimistic, energetic, beautiful album with plenty of room to grow.
The album has a lot of musical touchpoints: the churning post-rock of Sigur Ros has some pull on the sound, while the heavily rhythmic beauty of their lead singer Jonsi’s work figures in (“Lovers on the Moon”). The optimistic mysticism of ’80s U2 (optimysticism?) influences some of the guitar work (“Cambodia,” especially), while the passionate charge of Scott Hutchison’s Frightened Rabbit is unavoidable to mention (“Cambodia,” again). Their more anthemic turns call up Kings of Leon and U2 again.
So is this a derivative mess? No, not at all. The touchstones never devolve into aping another’s sound, because the dream-pop, post-rock and indie-rock ideas are all pulling on each other at the same time. The best example of this is the title track: “Luke” starts off with a wall of squalling guitars and feedback before fading the noise into a dreamy, patterned electronic rhythm and four-part vocal chorus. The background drops out, leaving just the transcendent vocals. It’s an odd tune, but an endearing one, because the vocals are just so good. The song ends, seguing into “Give It Up,” which is an acoustic track of sorts.
The best of the tunes here are idiosyncratic like “Luke.” “Smoke” starts off with a chiming mellophone, introduces some interesting rhythmic patterns, and then augments the construction with a stomping, four-on-the-floor drumbeat. “Lovers on the Moon” builds from an acoustic guitar and distant “ooo” into a unique tune complete with shakers, toms, and screaming guitar. “Give It Up” builds an acoustic track out into a darker mood, again with fitting drumming and evocative guitar.
When I Used to Be a Sparrow pushes the “anthemic” button too often, though, things start to get less easily discernable from each other. “Copenhagen” and “Life is Good” sound a lot like each other; “Hawaii” is not that far off. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re repetitive. (Of the three, “Life is Good” sounds like the original, and the other two the copies.) “Moby Dick,” one of the more memorable vocal melodies on the album, owes a debt to the Passion Pit/The Naked and the Famous school. (Which, I suppose, is a good or bad thing, depending.)
Caccese is starting a habit of doing one-off projects, but I hope this is one that he sticks with. The things that he and Pettersson bring to the table make for a unique blend of nuance, passion and enthusiasm. With some more songwriting under their collective belt, I Used to Be a Sparrow could be something really great. Tunes like “Luke” and “Lovers on the Moon” already prove that their vision is an interesting and unique one. Here’s to hoping they refine and mature it, because I would love to hear more of this.
J. Quinn Erwin is the first Horizon artist to drop the tag, and he’s done so with impressive speed. It was just July that I was wondering where Afterlife Parade would go from its impressive but scattered debut, and three months later he’s clarified his position — with an exclamation point.
Erwin has gone the anthemic route over the subtle track on Rebirth, and it’s a bit of a revelation. There are strong suggestions of U2, Kings of Leon and Springsteen here, but Erwin makes the markers point to his tunes instead of away to those other guys’ works by meshing the easily categorizable elements with unusual, complex arrangements. That is exactly how you play those cards. High five.
The title track appropriates new-millennium U2 excellently, underlying the “woah-ohs” and terse melodic action with a rumbling energy that connects it to the other seven tunes here. “Black Woods, White Beach” is where Erwin really gets going, however. He deftly meshes raw emotional power via the vocal tone and melody with triumphant, Funeral-era Arcade Fire crescendos in a way that was missing from Death.
Erwin shows shades of his exuberant songwriting ethos throughout, whether in the giddy “Sequoia,” the clever minor/major pull of “Devil’s Dirt” and the fitting closer “Maypole.” These songs are bursting with interesting things to talk about, but that would strip the joy of discovery from you. Yes, it is that good.
Rebirth truly lives up to its title. Afterlife Parade now has a recognizable sound and the makings of a distinct songwriting vision that’s more than a gimmick. There are no clunkers on Rebirth; furthermore, there are no easy picks for “best tune.” They all have their own treasures. I expect big, big things from Afterlife Parade. I also expect you to go check out this album.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the best sitcoms on TV right now because it’s nothing but a sitcom. It has a laugh track, quirky characters, and pretty much one situation for the entirety of its existence. In this era of mockumentary sitcoms, dramedies, and other innovative comedy programming, the best comedy is one that doesn’t break any rules. It just does the old rules really, really well.
Bottle Up and Explode‘s Kingsley is the audio analogue of The Big Bang Theory. Bottle Up plays mid-tempo indie-rock that’s well-informed by ’90s pop and ’00s indie-pop melody structures. There are guitar solos (check it, “We Just Want a Party”), Strokes-ian jangle (“Summer in the South”) and tension-laden sparse sections that recall U2 and Bloc Party (“Breakfast”).
What it all adds up to is “Axiomatic,” which features an upbeat riff and perky drumming overlaid with a twinkly guitar line in the verses before blasting into a synth and “yeahiyeahiyeah!” chorus. It’s the sort of song that you swear you’ve heard before, but know you haven’t. It’s the sort of song that propels an EP to the front page of Purevolume.com.
But the songwriting isn’t the only feature that sets this apart. If a song is one part what you wrote and another how you played it, Bottle Up has both sides covered. The tunes here are pulled off with a swagger that sells it easily. Vocalist Chris Cargile has a voice that conveys emotion and enthusiasm without losing the sense of cool that is fundamental to his timbre and Bottle Up and Explode’s sound. Cargile doesn’t sound disaffected, he sounds measured — excited when it’s exciting, chill when it’s chill. Yes, like the name.
The six-song, seven-track Kingsley (“Axiomatic” gets an acoustic version) is a blast to hear. Bottle Up and Explode is in firm control of its sound, and that allows them to do thingswith it instead of be at its mercy. Summer may be ending, but parties don’t, and I can hear “Axiomatic” at your next (and next and next) shindig. Jump on this.
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.