A pleasing platitude lies at the center of Y.O.U.'s debut single, "Heavy Crown". Mastermind Elliott Williams opens to a bass line and a yelping vocal loop, and his first lyric is appropriately an aphorism from the title. This type of circus pop, unwinding itself and spiraling across the dance floor of the imagination, barely holds together, threatening collapse, even as Williams coos, "Everything will be just fine." The final addition of a guitar bridge and synthetic horns in the final 30-seconds brings "Heavy Crown" to rousing, heaving finish. In the words of Williams' last lyric, "You will find everything you've been looking for."
Sivu considerably alters the conceits of his first singles on latest, "Can't Stop Now". Settling into a churning and maudlin hook, "Somewhere out there we lost ourselves," sounding an awful lot like Jens Lekman, Sivu salvages any moroseness with a stirring downbeat. It's unspecific - Where did we lose ourselves? How does one know, in any sense, if one is lost? Why is the chorus so steeped in determinism? - but brilliant pop is often generic. Sivu sings, "retracing our footsteps on the floor", maybe an epistimological approach to figure out how we got here, but it's also our code for how to dance our way into the abyss, his best and final edict.
A whirring and plaintive hook sits at the middle of Jon Lawless' most recent work as Swim Good, "Grand Beach". Featuring guest turns from S. Carey, of Bon Iver fame, and Daniela Andrade, Lawless isn't interested in heading for the dance floor, instead taking the listener to the backyard under a constellation of synths and echoing vocals. The central question, "Would you swim far if you had the right lung?", represents an oblique interrogative, something stuck between the self and the other, a Kate Chopin-level question about how far any of us is willing to go when caught in a bind.
John Ross' Challenger project has been churning out the best electro-pop in New York City for three years now, and latest single, "How Terrorism Brought Us Back Together" is no exception, save a marginal move from the synthesizer left to the "full band" middle. The first single from coming sophomore LP, Back to Bellevue, the song is rooted in a melody that unintentionally eludes to recent Foster the People non-jam "Coming of Age", but Ross instead finds something darkly provocative here. The vocal enters late, the first lyric a dangerous cocktail of colloquialism and mutuality. Ross is his confessional best manipulating a phrase like, "Let down by the low hanging fruit, ducking counts for something, I don't know about you." The electro-pop soft edges are hardened here, the most "full-band" sound from Ross to date, maybe the final step in an argument about the terror of unity.
Austere and crushing, Maybug's debut demo "Slipping Gears" slides along under the power of an electric guitar and a brittle tenor vocal. The hook, an obliterating downcast, "I'm not ashamed to say I've been slipping gears/ this past year," describes what the artist calls a time of "personal failure". Cribbing from the Jeff Buckley playbook, the arrangement unwinds expectedly, not delivering a third and final chorus because, we assume, even though we're listening, this isn't really about us.
Taking the stage north of 12:30, a time that was, "the latest show [they've] ever played" according to lead-singer and part-time conductor, Bradley Carter, Echo Park denizens NO arrived in a New York market they are still in the process of conquering. Bridging the gap between Saturday night and Sunday morning, a crowd fueled by liquid courage and plunging inhibitions sang along with the band's post-National jams (what to do in a facsimile of the fake empire?) - one of those rock concerts that makes the viewer think: "Why aren't these guys absurdly famous?" and "I know why these guys aren't absurdly famous yet." in the same moment.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with the music, one of the general absurdities of seeing bands in 2014, because the music itself represents a titanic slice of indie rock. NO is a six-piece, a gut feeling of one-too-many. The arrangements were tight and sizeable, Carter flourishing his hands - he doesn't play anything but in a different way than Matt Berninger doesn't play anything - as the band proceeded in and out of breaks. Carter alighted to the idea of being our David Blaine for the evening on songs like "Long Haul" and "Another Life": He knew how the tricks went, but it doesn't hurt to raise ones eyebrows and hands as if to say, "Not bad, right?" at the critical moment of the reveal.
Will the indie rock world have room for one more at the table, for a band that easily could be called Mistaken For Strangers and tour the country as a National cover band? It's an unfair metric for a good group of musicians sporting a strong crowd late on Saturday night. They should reasonably be playing at Webster Hall with the Augustines and Frightened Rabbits of the world; there is little difference in market or quality. The group vocals, and there were a lot of them, moved the audience and band together. Whatever the future holds, there are worse things to be than a hotly buzzed band from LA playing downtown in New York, and New York, as well as the rest of the country will be hearing and seeing a healthy measure more of them as the continue to snowball through 2014.
Sounding exactly like what he says it is, Ben Khan's latest single, "Youth" represents a yelping treatise on being young, one of the best songs of 2014 thus far. The vocals rob their hush from Vernon, but the aesthetic (other than the gun sound effect, which is, of course, all MIA) is largely an M83 universe where the synthesizers head for the sky like Icarus. Despite its rich hooks, "Youth" isn't easy, a stutter-step beat that recalls something vaguely tropical without the attendant warmth. Khan finds the best of what the indie rock R&B world is capable of producing: a lean, dark, sensual world where hope lies in the fleeting glimpses of the things themselves in our peripheral vision.