1. “Into the River” – The Quick and the Dead. This exclusive download toes the line between power-pop and Old ’97s alt-country and includes a killer harmonica solo. Back to the Future Part Three was rad.*
2. “Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware. I am in a roadtrip movie. I am in an ’80s convertible. Johnny Delaware is riding on the back of the car and playing guitar, somehow standing upright at 60 mph. My feathered hair is flying in the wind. I feel like yelling “FREEDOM” into the air in a Breakfast Club sort of way, not a William Wallace sort of way. Did Molly Ringwald listen to Bruce Springsteen? She would have loved Johnny Delaware.
3. “Dybbuk” – Remedies. I am transported to a kids’ movie in the ’80s, where I am wandering through an enchanted cave. Something awesome or maybe terrible is about to happen. My hair is still feathered. My jean jacket is on. The viewers are holding their breath. Let’s do this.
4. “Lost Track of Time” – MTNS. The Antlers, How to Dress Well, Vondelpark, and MTNS would be an absolutely incredible soundtrack to a 16 Candles-type movie. You know it’s true.
5. “Electricity” -FMLYBND. It’s like M83, The Rapture, and The Temper Trap collaborated on an ’80s club jam. SET PHASERS TO STUN.
6. “The Day We Both Died” – Vial of Sound. I’m always afraid to namecheck Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem at the same time but screw it SET PHASERS TO KILL
7. “Told You Twice” – Milo’s Planes. Because sometimes you just need a thrashy, scream-it-out tune to blast in your car.
*I’m aware that BTTF3 came out in 1990, but let’s be real. 1990 was still the ’80s.
Some bands don’t acquire fanbases as much as they create converts. Bands like The Tallest Man on Earth, The Mountain Goats, or Animal Collective all have some feature (nasal voice, nasal voice, oddball tendencies) that make them unpalatable to the general population. But for those who do get it, the passion is intense: not only is there a new, distinct musical sound to be loved, the built-in community of people who get what most people don’t is a boon. I’m ready to meet the rest of my people in the Dolfish camp, because Max Sollisch’s I’d Rather Disappear Than Fade Away is definitely not for everyone.
However, Dolfish is for me, because Sollisch combines the fingerpicking mastery of The Tallest Man on Earth, the emotive yawp and highly literate lyrics of The Mountain Goats, and atypical song structures to create an absolutely gripping sound. I never can figure out if calling a person a songwriter’s songwriter is a compliment or not, but those who have written songs will be able to appreciate the complexity, quality and sheer risk that Sollisch takes with these songs. Opener “Grown Ups” rambles pointedly through five minutes of odd chords, sporadic fingerpicking, and deliberately affected vocals; it’s a beautiful, unusual, intriguing song that only Dolfish could have come up with. While his strumming pattern gets far more standard and his vocals are tamed a bit in follow-up “The One Who Burns the Coffee,” he creates a deeply detailed, esoteric narrative in two minutes, reminiscent of The Mountain Goats’ best work.
None of the twelve songs here are longer than 3:30, and none of them need to be: they shine like gems without having to beat repetition into your head. Occasionally drums and electric guitar appear (“Lucky Caller,” “Don’t Kick Me When I’m Down”), but mostly it’s an acoustic affair. Highlight “There Must Be Something Wrong With These Shoes” calls up old-school Bob Dylan, while “All That Keeps Us on the Ground” is pure Tallest Man on Earth-style fingerpicking bliss. I could keep going on about I’d Rather Disappear than Fade Away, but you should just check it out. It’s a treasure trove of lyrics, songwriting and unique vocal performances. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, this will be an incredible find.
Vondelpark’s Seabed draws liberally from R&B, downtempo indie-pop and chillwave to create “bedroom music” (whatever that means to you). What that means to me today is that I’m not getting out of bed after an incredibly long week, and Seabed is the perfect soundtrack to that laziness. From beginning to end, the trio of Londoners keep the sonic palette intentionally tight: dreamy keys, swirling synths, murky bass, gentle beats, and ghostly yet groovy vocals dominate the proceedings. This creates an extremely cohesive album that is more suited to whole listening than individual singles. Can you tell “Come On” apart from its predecessor “Dracula” or its follow-up “Always Forever”? Not really, not unless you’re trying. But that doesn’t diminish the power of Seabed; it enhances it. Few albums are written as experiences these days, but Seabed certainly feels like one.
One of the few tracks that doesn’t adhere to the strict instrumental palette is single “California Analog Dream,” which is literally an analog version of Vondelpark’s sound: real drums replace the beats, harmonica replaces synth, the keys are replaced by guitar, and the electric guitar that sometimes swoops in on the proceedings swoops on in. An arpeggiator and rhodes keyboard do come in later, but it’s still a striking change (and a great choice for a single, as it sticks out most). Seabed is a beautiful album that wrings majesty out of its hushed sonic qualities; it’s a remarkable achievement.
I have now officially recovered from SXSW. It’s time to get back to that inbox and cover those bands you will soon love. Here’s an indie-pop/indie-rock mix for y’all; this should brighten your day.
Brighter … Now!
1. “Come Back to Life” – Hospital Ships. Sometimes I hear a song and think, “Wow, I want to write songs like that.” Stunning quiet/loud indie-rock here.
2. “Roosevelt Hotel” – Cocovan. That chorus. I’ve been singing and dancing for a week solid. This woman knows her way around a thoughtful pop song.
3. “Way Yes” – Colerain. Can you have dance-friendly energy while being deeply pensive, even sad? And make all that beautiful? Colerain says yes, yes, we can.
4. “California Analog Dream” – Vondelpark. Remember the first time you heard Grizzly Bear? Or Bon Iver? My first listen of Vondelpark was like that: instrumental simplicity that somehow overwhelmed my ears like an enlightenment experience.
5. “Monday Morning” – Charles Mansfeld. Acoustic indie-pop with idiosyncratic vocals and a unique gravitas? The more the better.
6. “Jive Babe” – Mikhael Paskalev. Squash together the frenetic vocal fervor of King Charles with the buzzy guitars of the Vaccines and you’ve got a scrumptious recipe.
7. “Monday Morning” – Younger James. (Not a typo, this one is also called “Monday Morning.”) I heard the Strokes have a new coming out. I can almost guarantee that this tune will be better than whatever that foursome is putting out.
8. “Ode to the Summer (Radio Edit)” – Syd Arthur. Someone called this prog? I thought this intricate, melodic work was what indie rock sounded like in 2013? Things just got weird.
9. “Young Men of Promise” – Yellowbirds. What a great song title. The mid-tempo, vaguely garage-y indie-pop is strong, too.
10. “Open Arms” – Fletcher. Q: What if The Walkmen were happy? A: FLETCHER. Next question.
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.