Brother Moses‘ sophomore EP Legendsbuilds on their debut Thanks for All Your Patienceby upgrading the sonics of their rubbery, laidback, Spoon-meets-Pavement indie-rock. Their debut EP was almost preternaturally chill; Raymond Richards (Local Natives) gives their sound some punch, while not losing their goofy, waltz-through-it-all charm.
The easiest place to see this is in “Older,” the lone track present on both EPs. The opening synth has become fatter, the drums are more resonant, the tempo is slightly sped up, and the guitars are brighter. The overall effect is like cranking up the saturate knob on a picture: it’s the same thing, but bigger, brighter, and warmer. Elsewhere, the saturation holds in the form of more reverb (the guitars on “Time to Leave”), more ambiance (“Crazy Eyes”), and more expansive songwriting touches (“Pretend”). Some tracks sound like post-punk; some sound like Vampire Weekend chilling way, way out. Throughout, the band is playing with what they can do in a studio, experimenting with what exactly the sounds in their heads can be with a lot of equipment at their disposal.
Closer “Please Stop” is probably the furthest push of their experiments, putting all of their sonic elements together into one track. Mashing all of their ideas into one place results in a tune that doesn’t quite sound like anyone: James Lockhart’s lolling drawl amps up to an anthemic soar over an indie-rock band that has thoroughly ingested modern indie music and spit out their own distinct version of it. It’s a fantastic tune that is more than the sum of its parts–and the parts are all pretty great on their own.
Legends is a brief six songs, but the growth and development from their first EP shows that they’ve got a lot of ideas. Brother Moses has got a great thing going, and you should jump on that.
Strangers by Accident‘s five-song EP establishes the male/female duo as somewhere between the wistful, major key acoustic pop of the Weepies and the spartan acoustic delicacy of Joshua Radin’s early work. They can get a little bit noisier than either outfit (“Straight to Space,” “Borderline”), but their sweet spot is a bright, clear, open sound garnished with a twist of sadness (or two).
“Steal” is the opener and the tone-setter, with a single acoustic guitar, a tambourine, two vocalists, and ambient guitar marking out the sonic space that the duo explore for the rest of the EP. Standout “Borderline” opens as the quietest track: the lyrics are poignant and unafraid to take on the darkness in the world, like a Rocky Volotato song. It grows to one of their noisiest, with a raucous electric guitar line crashing in intermittently. “Busted Heart” and “Hold Me Down” are both just great acoustic pop songs; sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a really great car. If you’re into the Civil Wars, The Local Strangers, or other classy male/female duos I’m not familiar with, you’ll love Strangers by Accident.
O by Holy ’57 owes an incredible debt to the carefree first two albums of Vampire Weekend. The four tracks here are all sun-drenched and wrapped in the swaying-yet-choppy rhythms that Ezra Koenig and co. virtually trademarked. Holy ’57 trades out the helter-skelter guitar runs for tropical synths, making a sound even more upbeat and sunshiny than VW did. The songs bounce, leap, skip, and twirl their way through my speakers, making it impossible not to smile.
The topics fit with the vibe: “Venice, CA” is about having youthful adventures in the titular city, “220.127.116.11” deals with a breakup and/or social failures by a nostalgic longing for the ’90s, and “Jep Shuffle” builds its chorus around a dance (although it doesn’t tell you how to do the Jep Shuffle, just that it exists). That last track is the unavoidable track: it’s a nigh-on-perfect summer pop song, with verses that build, a chorus that pays off in spades, and rhythms that make me want to move. It’s a sin that this song isn’t everywhere, because it is awesome. Those looking for a song to close out their summer with need to look no farther than O, where there’s at least one (if not three!) tunes that can do that for you. Awesome.
Deer Scout‘s customsis a slight, intimate object: Dena Miller’s four-song EP barely breaks 10 minutes. But in those 10 minutes, her unadorned songwriting makes a statement. She opens with “holy ghost,” which is nothing more than delicate guitar picking, earnest alto vocals, and beautifully complex lyrics. Fans of the dense stylings of Lady Lamb will see similar sparks here. The song is beautifully balanced: there’s not much to it, but it all sounds vital and immediate. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go.
“little state” and “up high” feature strumming more and have more of a distinct song structure, recalling Waxahatchee’s early stylings. Although there are referents, Miller’s vocal melodies are put together in her own way (the interval jumps on the chorus of “little state,” the confident delivery of everything in “up high”); she is establishing herself as a songwriting voice here. The short set closes with “train song,” which splits the difference between the dense lyrics and fingerpicking of the opener and the concrete song structures of the center two pieces. Her voice is excellent here as well. Fans of women singer/songwriters, intimate sketches, and minimalism will find much to love in customs.
1. “New Survival” – The Medicine Hat. Taut, tightly-wound indie-rock verses open up into an expansive, melodic chorus. The whole thing is reminiscent of a female-fronted Bloc Party, if they were slightly less neurotic. They don’t make ’em like this very often. (editor’s note: this band changed its name to Ellevator after this post was published.)
2. “More” – Queue. A slinky, winding bass line and gently staccato percussion power this indie-rock tune that would make Wye Oak jealous.
3. “Four Corners” – Seth Nathan. Brash, noisy, immediate garage-y indie-rock that owes as much to Pavement as it does to The Vaccines. The attitude-filled vocal delivery is on point, and the whole thing comes off like a charm.
4. “You” – Wall Sun Sun. Two nylon-string acoustic guitars, two drummers, and nine-part harmonies compose the entire arrangement here. While comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree are sort of inevitable, they sound more like a ’50s girl-pop band fused to an acoustic version of Vampire Weekend. Which is to say: “whoa, this is the jam.”
5. “Birthday Blues” – Team Picture. If Frightened Rabbit got mixed up with a krautrock band, they might turn out a churning, lightly-psyched-out, major-key, six-minute rock jam like this one.
6. “Black Gold” – HOMES. Is this a dance-rock song (those rhythms!)? An indie-rock song (those vocals!)? A Southern rock song (that riff!)? Yes and no and all. Whatever it is, it rocks.
7. “Far Away (Saudade)” – Marsicans. The vocals are not usually the most intriguing part of British garage rock, but there’s a quirky, lovely section in the middle here where Marsicans goes a capella. It just totally makes the song. Also the bass playing is rad.
8. “Shapes” – Old Mountain Station. Low-slung, low-key indie rock a la Grandaddy, shot through with big guitar distortion a la post-rock bands. High drama music, but not in an overly theatrical way.
9. “The Absolute” – Jackson Dyer. Starts off as a Bon Iver-esque dreamy jam with lightly neo-R&B vocals, but we get some post-dub groove dropped in and some super slinky guitar on top of that. By the end, I’m groovin’ hard and genre labels don’t matter much to me.
10. “Metropole Des Anges Pt. 1” – EH46. Speaking of post-rock, here’s a slowly unfurling piece that’s heavy on drone and distortion/static. The counterpoint is a delicate keyboard line that evokes the elegance of water dropping on heavy vibrating machinery. The sonic elements bend and contort over the nearly-six-minute length, but the mood remains consistent.
11. “Falling Sky” – October’s Child. Heavy on pad synths, this electro song threatens to explode from dream-pop to electro-jam but never does. Instead, they wash sounds over the listener and sing of “reverie.”
12. “Collapse” – ILY. The pressing movement of techno combined with the mysterious, laidback chill of Postal Service-electro pop creates a very summery jam.
1. “The Road” – John John Brown. It’s an impressive skill to breathe fresh vitality into musical staples. John John Brown makes a beautiful concoction out of folk fingerpicking, sawing fiddle, and gentle tenor vocals.
2. “Does She” – Caroline Lazar. Someday I’ll get tired of a thumping kick drum under a fingerpicked acoustic guitar line, but not today: Lazar’s folk pop is bright, charming, and fun (handclaps!). [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available.]
3. “Offering” – Mischief Night. The recording style on this acoustic track makes it feel both cavernous and intimate; the vocals soar in the near distance, while the drums and casio tones are close at hand. The lyrics are intriguing, as well.
4. “I’m Not the Good One” – Ossayol. The delicate fingerpicking is perfectly counterpointed by a violin throughout. The chorus here just nailed me to the wall with its emotive power.
5. “Christine” – Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls. An ode to beautiful young women who grow old that balances rueful, pensive concern with an internal energy which pushes the track forward.
6. “Lucid Dreams” – Ego Death. A trembling, quiet performance that evokes solitude.
7. “We Both Know” – Andrew Butler. The pristine, precise arrangements of Andrew Bird, but now with significantly more emotions in the lyrics and vocal delivery.
7. “No God in Mexico” – Danny Whitecotton. Danny Whitecotton is continuing the long tradition of windswept, wide-screen folk troubadour storytelling with political undertones admirably. The sound itself is along the lines of Isbell’s quieter stuff instead of being a folk strumfest.
8. “Liars” – Gregory Alan Isakov. Isakov has expanded from his intimate, cryptic tunes of yore to being back by the Colorado Symphony on this tour-de-force. (The lyrics are still enigmatic in an evocative way.)
9. “Single” – Frith. The walking-speed tempo and distinctive melodic percussion sound of this comfortable, easygoing pop track give it a pleasant “Someone I Used to Know” feel.
10. “Zen Jam” – Joyriot. The title works: the tension between zen and joy is in full display on this mid-’00s indie-pop-rock track. There’s some Tokyo Police Club in there, maybe some Vampire Weekend, but all filtered through a chill, maybe even Death Cab-esque lens. Totally cool.
11. “Dance With Love” – Sam Joole. Joole forgoes his usual reggae vibes for Strokesian early ’00s indie-rock, complete with tambourine, distinctive strumming pattern, and slightly distorted vocals. It’s a blast.
12. “719 Desire Street” – Palm Ghosts. Jangle rock never dies, it just fits itself into the modern paradigm and moves on right along. This one’s a fun, sway-inducing, smile-creating song.
13. “Ten Lines (The Land Below Remix)” – MISSINCAT. I kept expecting this song to do stereotypical pop song things, and it always seemed to have a different corner for me to turn. Mad props for the unexpected in electro-pop.
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.]
1. “Pigtails” – Sean Magee. This is the sort of throw-your-hands-in-the-air pop that makes 13-year-olds think of Bastille and 30-somethings think of the Ben Folds Five. This is just too fun. The video is also incredibly fun.
2. “I Really Love You” – Gibbz. Humongously catchy chorus, almost-equally-catchy verses, perky drum machines, crunchy guitars for emphasis, and the ability to sing curse words at the top of your lungs. HELLOOOOO SUMMER
3. “Can’t Stop Moving” – Sans Parents. An escapee from the mid-’00s moment where ’60s garage, dance-rock, and indie-rock all converged and became stuff like The Caesars. The chorus is just rad.
4. “Sport’s Drinking Again” – The Sharp Things. Next up in the “things I didn’t ever think I’d sing out loud” category: “I’m drinking again / alleluia.” Add in jubilant choir, triumphant trumpets, chamber orchestra, and full rock band, and you’ve got this enormous three-minute wonder.
5. “Nonnie” – Flaural. I don’t get out to many rock shows these days, but Flaural’s psych-rock has enough whimsical, Alice in Wonderland indie-pop sensibility in its guitar melodies that it hooked me.
6. “Ethics in Gaming” – Marc with a C. Marc is always able to wring meaningful lyrics out of goofy, sometimes-esoteric pop culture in his well-developed fourth-wall-breaking style. Then he marries those lyrics to ridiculously catchy power-pop. Everyone wins.
7. “Dream Catching” – Fell Runner. Like a deconstructed Vampire Weekend, Fell Runner slo-mos their way through effervescent pop. It is uniquely ear-catching.
8. “Burn Baby Burn” – Stevie Cliff. Prince would be proud of this sly, funky, sexy jam.
9. “High” – Breaking Heights. Sometimes you need a walking-speed, head-bobbing Brit-pop-inspired tune. Stay tuned for the surprise halfway through.
EPs are becoming more popular than ever, and I love the trend: there’s no room for filler on an EP. As a result, a lot of artists brought their A game to the smaller format this year. Here’s to them:
1. Thanks for All Your Patience – Brother Moses. (Review) I spun this one the most often because the easygoing, almost effortless indie-rock vibe gave rise to some seamless, indelible melodies. Clean, tight, clever, and earnest, I gravitated to this one early and often in 2015.
2. On Separation – David Wimbish. (Review) Wimbish, frontman of The Collection, stripped out some of the intricate arrangements of his day job for a more intimate set of portraits that focused in on the lyrics. Elegant, haunting, and beautiful.
3. Loca EP – Valley Shine. (Review) Folk-pop can be a formula these days, but Valley Shine is all about exploding the formula with raw enthusiasm, brash melodies, and surprising pathos.
6. Regards – We are the West. (Review) A wisp of an EP that barely has time to meet you before it’s gone, but oh does it deliver: this Low Anthem-style Americana sounds like a warm blanket around my ears.
7. Joe Kaplow EP – Joe Kaplow. (Review) One of my favorite debuts of the year, as Kaplow showed off his versatility in several different acoustic-based styles. Looking forward to more from Kaplow.
8. Away, Away – B. Snipes. (Review) Another excellent debut that introduces Snipes’ low-slung troubadour singer/songwriter voice to the world, taking the lyrics of Rocky Votolato in a more Americana direction.
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.
1. “Marina and I” – The Gorgeous Chans. The syncopated guitars, perky horns, and enthusiastic attack of this track took all of 1 second to steal my Vampire Weekend-loving heart.
2. “The Fringe” – Sego. If you miss James Murphy slurring into a microphone over rubbery bass and insistent dance grooves, Sego is LCD Soundsystem’s musical, lyrical, and spiritual successor. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.
3. “Even Fireworks” – Pushing Static. This electro-pop/dance-rock fiesta makes me want to crank the volume knob way up.
4. “Island” – Hey Anna. If Braids drank a Red Bull and went to a beach party, they might come up with this fragile-yet-peppy indie-rock track.
5. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. Their previous work is chaotic, fractured, ecstatic, and mind-bending; this track sands down some of the eccentric flair and reveals the ecstatic rock band at their core. (The fact that their beating heart sounds like Prince is perfect.) Everybody clap your hands.
6. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs. The sort of melodies that I’d expect from a emo-focused band fused in to a huge punk-rock/pop-punk/power-pop stomper. It just works perfectly.
7. “Sleep Talk” – Diet Cig. The idiosyncratic indie-pop quirkiness of the Juno soundtrack + confessional pop-punk + female vocals + intimate lyrics = excellent track.
8. “Island Kids” – Holy ’57. Sometimes a chorus just works so perfectly that it feels like I’ve know it forever. The perky tropical indie-pop builds through the verse to a speak-sung chorus that just knocks it out of the park. Re: your summer parties.
9. “’82” – Death in the Afternoon. This electronic cut is a lot more breathy, chill, and smooth than I thought death would be.
10. “Good” – Ehmandah. This, right here, is a modern day (some might even say musically progressive) gospel tune. Get in on this infectious, irresistible vibe. Everybody clap your hands.
11. “Sugar Dream” – Valley Shine. The band’s press photos capture them lying on a bed of brightly-colored candy and showered with an absurd amount of confetti. These are excellent visual representations of their Beatles-on-a-sugar-high sound.
12. “Reach Out” – The Bone Chimes. The arrangement of this orchestral-folk-rock tune is clean, bright, and carefully organized: the band builds anticipation from the first reverbed guitar note to a big conclusion.
13. “Sensual People” – Lylas. If hypnotic groove is one of the things you seek in an indie-rock tune, Lylas’ dense textures, ostinato rhythms, and slowly-unfolding song development will catch your ear.
14, “Up of Stairs” – James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg. Watching two talented athletes go against each other can excite, but only rarely does that interaction produce beauty. It’s much more likely when two talented musicians play off each other, which is the basic premise of this track: two incredibly talented acoustic guitar players push each other and come up with relaxing, impressive acoustic gold.
15. “Repeat” – Sye Elaine Spence. An unconventional acoustic strumming pattern and a strong focus on Spence’s enveloping voice create an immersive, unique experience.
1. “Parking Lot Palms” – iji. This tune is a breath of fresh air: a gentle, lightly reverbed road song that fits quietly and warmly into your life. Is it the arrangement? The melody? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes me calmer and happier.
2. “California Song” – Patrick James. James might be from Australia, but he’s got his finger of the pulse of the breezy West Coast. This acoustic-led pop-rock song throws back to the ’70s and ’80s, calling up not just longing for the coast but nostalgia for the past. Doesn’t get much more sentimental than that.
3. “Comeback” – Cherokee Red. Recipe for a great beach song: Mash a surf-pop backline together with smooth, welcoming vocals and burbling melodic elements. Totally chill.
4. “Street Lights” – Mon Sai. A swift piano and cymbal-heavy drum kit create a helter-skelter pop vibe that gives way to a Pet Sounds-esque chorus: in other words, it’s a great pop song.
5. “Mind Your Manors” – The Bandicoots. Perky, summery, head-bobbin’ indie-pop-rock a la Generationals.
6. “Bracelets” – Mini Dresses. Basically a female-fronted, slow-jam version of a Generationals pop song: loping bass line, vintage guitar reverb, tabourine shake here and there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have another, waiter.
7. “Park It” – Karina Denike. Give me that ’50s girl pop (complete with honking saxes), then amp up the attitude in the lead female vocals, and you’ll be near Denike’s creation here.
8. “You Don’t Know Me” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Everybody needs a shoot-for-the-stars, acoustic-led epic anthem, the type that Arcade Fire don’t make anymore.
9. “Right Talk” – French Cassettes. The ability to emerge from a dense section of noise into a perky, clear melody is a skill that will always be in season, from Paul Simon to The Strokes to Vampire Weekend and the Vaccines. French Cassettes put their skills to good use on this bright, confident guitar-pop track.
10. “A Single Case Study” – Palávér. Some of the most infectious guitarwork I’ve heard in an indie-rock song recently is paired up with low, swooning vocals.t’s kind of like an alternate-future Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
11. “Wasted Youth” – Friday Night Trend. If you never stopped loving Jimmy Eat World, this track will satiate all your aggressively jangly rock needs. It’s got punk elements throughout it, but there’s no avoiding the Jimmy connection.
12. “Easy” – Readership. Some power-pop is head-down, bash-it-out-and-let’s-go-home rock. Readership is the opposite: wide-open, staring-at-the-clouds style. Big guitar chords, in-your-face vocals, and an overall upbeat atmosphere.
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.