[Elevator 2012] :: Bands On The Rise

A recurring feature of music journalism this century is the mindless prediction of who will "blow up" in the following year. This always feels a little odd coming from mainstream outlets like Rolling Stone, Spin and the BBC. A little like Fox News complaining about the "mainstream media", you think, but you are the mainstream media. If these artists are appearing in your pages, Spin Magazine - let's shatter the fourth wall here - they are already "blowing up". In fact, you're helping that happen. Which means, the only people you can trust on the eve of the 2012 calendar year are relatively small publications with no specific skin in the game and no control of the outcome. That's us. See how we did last year and with regard for the bands that might just make it real this year, in no specific order, your Elevator Bands of 2012 after the jump.


32ft/second's 2011 Rarities Collection

We hope you enjoyed our week long feature on the Top 50 Songs of 2011.  In addition, we've put together a group of 2011 rarities, songs that you might have missed as the B-side to a single release, a remix, a radio session, a cover, or a live show that ended up in our iTunes this year. We listened to thousands of individual songs in 2011 and occasionally we came across something not everyone got to hear. Some songs are more obvious, things you certainly will have heard in one form or another, and some are deeper cuts. It's like Behind The Music for a blog that already spends its time on music that hardly anyone listens to. After the jump these are those songs:

Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: Number One : The Decemberists - "Why We Fight"

All six studio albums by The Decemberists' were released during American involvement in Afghanistan. Five of the six LPs made their debut since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The band grew up as the American empire collapsed. But it was this second conflict - one even hawkish foreign policy experts joined rock bands in calling, at the very least, gratuitous - that singer Colin Meloy would swear was not the explicit inspiration for lead single, "Why We Fight", from the band's sublime 2011 release, The King Is Dead. However, even this denial rejected something of the obvious. It was a protest song, just not a simple one. Living in the dark side of an empire is complicated and fraught, as Meloy knew well. After all, this was a generation who unmemorably turned to the equally blighted corners of John Kerry and Green Day's American Idiot in the fall of 2004 to reflect their anger and political will. There would be no "Ohio", no "Fortunate Son" for these kids, no simple call to arms against calls to arms. There would be "Why We Fight", a song that took two sides at once, a song for the year one American war ended while another raged on. A song about war that did the impossible, it could be writ small. A song about politics, corruption and international conflict that could just as easily be about the minutiae of any fractured human relation, any personal struggle. Our wars are complex, Meloy suggested in 2011, and so are we.

The song's macro focus, its dealing in contemporary war imagery, represented the finalizing of a tectonic shift for Meloy and the Decemberists. The band moved away from its early metaphorical, playful politics toward a more overt form of messaging. Always steeped in the political left, the band derived their very name from a group of revolutionaries who attempted liberal reform in Czarist Russia during the winter of 1824. But, the thrust of their first few forays into the subject of war were romantic and strictly lyrical. "The Legionaries Lament" and "The Soldiering Life", from the band's first two records, addressed war as drama, as near irony, firmly over-wrought and intentionally so. Meloy set a tack against this use of war as a historical plaything in the opening lyrics of "Why We Fight". Consider, "Come the war, come the avarice, come the war, come hell" as either crippling invocation or journalistic assessment, but certainly a stricter indictment when set against the earlier maudlin notion of a French Legionarie yearning for Paris. Meloy began playing with these darker images of war on 2005's "Sixteen Miltary Wives". This too was a song about death in Iraq. It was a more tragic and, importantly, a more narrow statement than "Why We Fight". The politics of the Decemberists hadn't changed, but they gained a new richness.

Meloy began to problematize the supposed anti-war sentiment in the cloud-clearing chorus of "Why We Fight". The narrative fires inward as the arrangement takes two grand, galloping steps, launching itself into the air on the title lyric and its corollary, "why ... we lie awake at night". As tacit explanation of "why we fight", Meloy explains, "when we die, we will die with our arms unbound". This robust and unrestrained vision of human conflict posits something richer than the politics of an empire in decline. This was, suddenly, bigger (or smaller) than drone strikes and troops sent abroad and cultural relativism; this was you lying awake at night. This was the listener not sent to their death, but readily, freely, unbound, fighting to live. Our reasons for war were complex, but personal struggles against staggering odds were equally so, Meloy artfully placing both sentiments side-by-side not as an endorsement of international conflict but as a reflection of the importance of more intimate divisions.

The song's final lyrics complete the fusion of the personal and the political. Meloy beckons the listener with the fecund, "Come to me, come to me now, lay your arms around me" before returning to the title lyric and his final dose of fatalism, the motif, "Come hell." For the Decemberists, there is little we can do to change the arc of American foreign policy, save continue to struggle with and against one another. If the song opens with a big narrative, "Why We Fight" closes with an intensely personal image, not specifically of death or of any one conflict, and noticeably not playful. Meloy takes us to the edge, places us in a final embrace and then welcomes the coming disaster, whatever it may be, critically defenestrating any idea that this is only about Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall St., an illness or a broken marriage. "Why We Fight" was about courage first and conflict second.

There is finally the matter of the song's outro, a front porch jam between band member Jenny Conlee and the owner of the studio where the band recorded The King Is Dead. It is an improvised ditty, made up on the spot, about the owner's dog, a hurt paw, and a trip to the vet. Meloy had no way of knowing that it would be Conlee who would miss most of the band's 2011 tour dates fighting breast cancer. Her struggles are immortalized in the final moments of "Why We Fight". This was no example of prescience, rather about the applicability of Meloy's narrative. Without losing its sharp edges, "Why We Fight" paired easily with a diverse set of particulars. This was the year things got complicated and Meloy was in our bedrooms late at night, staring at the ceiling with us. The war was the backdrop, the empire was a setting sun, but the struggles were all our own.


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 5-2 [The city is my church]

 Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011, no band may appear twice. Each post title contains a lyric from one of the ten songs to follow, a hint and a hook that stuck out clearly in this group. Today, we count down 5 to 2.

5. Bon Iver - "Calgary"

Justin Vernon risked being punchline after his debut LP, For Emma Forever Ago. He gifted the listener a close-up view to a heartbreak which, in its very title, rang as chronological as it was intensely destructive. There was brutality in it to be sure, a type of riveting, car accident pathos from which the listener could neither turn from nor away. The question was not whether Vernon could rhapsodize his own pain, but could he do anything else? Bon Iver returned with a self-titled record with a markedly different directionality. "Calgary" was the first promotional release, a melting melody that showed Vernon as no less broken in 2011, though his sound had evolved in time with his lyrics. The bridge showed an assault of a different kind, all of Vernon's internal disasters, ones his listeners watched with such brutal voyeurism, turned finally democratic. We weren't watching him self-immolate anymore, we we were with him. The lyrics regarded a storm on a lake, and Vernon artfully placed us beside him, a tiny wail, "little waves our bodies break", the most evocative and fractured lyric of 2011. These inland bodies of water contained a certain mandate, he suggested, even their tiniest, lapping waves holding equally the power to break and be broken. These human dramas, small and local though they are, hold the same authority, not just to break Justin Vernon in public, but to destroy us all together. As Vernon closed, "the demons come, they can't subside", it was more than just the author who would be haunted.

4. Phantogram - "Don't Move"

It wasn't hard to feel existentially lost in 2011. It was so easy to know what something wasn't, but so much harder to know what anything was. Deconstructionism and semiotics had formally finished what sarcasm and irony had always known: No one had any idea what was good or bad anymore. Phantogram reflected on this dichotomy, finally waxing the brilliant denouement, "this is starting to fuck with my head." While, "Don't Move" never drew itself as a cultural commentary, it certainly was built to reflect this bizarre polarity with its chorus of, "All I know how to do is shake, shake/keep your body still, keep your body still." It was the dance track that told you to "stay the fuck still" (my words); it was the horn punch that dared you to move from your seat. You certainly flinched. All this came from a narrator that told you she wasn't your "your nervous feeling" or "your drinking partner" or "your paranoia" or even "your fortune teller". She wasn't anything to you, she insisted. And yet, "Don't Move" was everything in 2011. Richly contradictory, "Don't Move" told you to do one thing while making you do another. You loved it with that knowledge that this type of affection was flawed. It was organically and aesthetically delicious while acknowledging, of course you would feel that way. It was the most self-aware pop song of the year, but, then again, you knew I would say that, didn't you?

3. Tune-Yards - "Bizness"

In a world of lowest common denominators where the unofficial manta can suitably be, "Always new depths", it is hard to make pop that tumbles downward but elevates all the same. Merrill Garbus and her fantastic project Tune-Yards did exactly this on "Bizness", the best song from one of the year's best releases, w h o k i l l. Easily reaking new ground, Garbus looped her stunning voice once, twice, three times and four as the backing of "Bizness". Behind break-beat drums, Garbus' signature vocal sang out like an alarm, so full of pain, so confessional ("please, at least answer me this"), so unequivocal. In places she was fragile, begging for her life and claiming victim-hood, but even these states of being soared into new echelons against a rising arrangement of horns and tumbling loops. Each movement unveiled a new layer, and each obbligato fell down the scale like it had become unhinged from the top part of the staff. "Bizness" never felt weak or wilting. Quite the contrary, Garbus closed the song's final movement screaming into her own cacophony, a brave vocal fighting against arrangement risen around her like all these terrible, beautiful crashing waves. If the parts perpetually fell around her, "Bizness" was equally, relentlessly pointed up.

2. M83 - "Midnight City"

You realized right away that it was about nothing. M83's "Midnight City" did not have a grandiose second meaning, a rich subtext, an activist stance to be uncovered. The lyrics were as muffled as they were effectively meaningless. It was pure aesthetics. The picture it painted remained rich, dark and titillating, as the very title suggested. Wailing away on a dopamine synth hook, the most singular and memorable sound of 2011, M83 etched a series of visual metaphors that took the listener on a high-speed night drive through hyper-modernity.  Further even, "Midnight City" did more than seemingly emerge from some screaming neon downtown scene, it created that place. If it was about nothing, it was also from nowhere you recognized. The stylistic references of the 1980s were so solidly updated, futurized even, that strands of DNA proved labyrinthine. Picturing "Midnight City" was somehow easy, but describing it to anyone else was the rub. It was everywhere and nowhere. It sounded like a lot of things you had heard before and, again, like nothing else. And this was the success of "Midnight City", a profound dislocation in the context of the familiar. As M83 mastermind, Anthony Gonzalez rode his own hook into the late night hours, he took the listener with him, a blurry architectural tour of a place you'd never been. The lyrics and the meaning proved unimportant, the song's center successfully hollowed out to allow us inside, the purpose to be absorbed by simple osmosis, a thing you could feel coming through your skin.


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 10-6 [We all got old at breakneck speed]

Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011, no band may appear twice. Each post title contains a lyric from one of the ten songs to follow, a hint and a hook that stuck out clearly in this group. Today, we count down 10-6.

10. Florence and the Machine - "Shake It Out"


Florence Welch went for broke in 2011, and by this I mean she was as willing to use cliche, simile and bad metaphor as I was in the first clause of this sentence. On "Shake It Out", her bombastic and soaring single, she featured turns of phrase like, "regrets collect like old friends", "pound of flesh", "it's always darkest before the dawn", "dragging that horse around", "damned if I do and damned if I don't", "shot in the dark" and, again, "it's always darkest before the dawn". The song was a veritable Mad Libs of familiar figures of speech; it almost read like an athlete's press conference. But, it was specifically Welch's ability to traffic in such common tropes, updating them with her stunning vocals and top-of-the-room melodies, that made her so instantly relational on her second album. Some 27 months ago she was a bizarre woodland sprite playing the Bowery Ballroom, but in 2011, Florence blew away the concept of a sophomore slump with a common touch. If it was her mild weirdness, a Kate Bushness, a nearly garish individualism, that initially attracted label executives, it was her ability to speak to everyone in applicable generalities that made "Shake It Out" and Ceremonials so brilliant. Always fiercely internal, Florence previously kept the world away with a once-in-a-generation voice and by being almost religiously different. In 2011 she spoke to all of us at once, keeping us out by letting everyone in.

9. The Strokes - "Under Cover Of Darkness"


Angles was the album The Strokes had to make, and it sounded like it. Far from being a traditional "comeback" record, whole portions of the album felt workman-like, as if the very weight of the five album deal from RCA hung over every note. This wasn't exactly the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Casablancas checked out of the studio, or maybe the band turned on him; it didn't necessarily matter. Like a punch-drunk prize fighter, The Strokes got it together, not for an album, but for a song. "Under Cover Of Darkness" possessed an uncommon urgency in its opening angular riffs and its half pleading, half promising pre-chorus lyric, "I'll wait for you", a hook that most bands would take as the refrain to their first radio single. The Strokes, finding some of their old magic, pushed the "Good Enough" to be "Great", and the chorus itself was an explosion of ratatat drums and Casablancas' only passionate moment on the record as he bid goodbye to his "adversary and friend". The psychology was rich. Was this the band's goodbye to itself? Was it an admission of how hard Angles was to make? This doesn't even address the lyric about "everybody singing the same song for 10 years." Just how burdened the band was with an acute self-awareness, we'll never know. It was a tired album after a five year layoff, a strange contradiction, but for "Under Cover Of Darkness" it didn't matter. It was the song they had to have and did.

8. The Smith Westerns - "All Die Young"


Seeing The Smith Westerns at Pitchfork two summers ago would never have lead anyone to believe the band was capable of the awesome, funeral pop of "All Die Young". They were young and entirely unimpressive then. By 2011 their status as distinctly "youthful" remained unchanged though the qualitative distinctions about their sound had shifted. "All Die Young" was a throwback single on a throwback record, the opening organ chords and wistful guitars calling some blurry nostalgia of the type that is so easily projected by the listener. It was a slow-dance, at least at first, a languid Box Step through the end of a lazy summer. But the arrangement altered for the final third, an upbeat syrupy sing-a-long rooted in the title lyric. It wasn't a recommendation that we, or they for that matter, die, but it was that kind of blissful fatalism that can only happen in your late teens and early twenties. In days of increasing weight and seriousness, it was a carefree melody and a sense that we would all be alive or dead together. Youthful sentiment mixing easily with an uncommon musical sophistication, the latter free from any trappings of age.

7. The Vaccines - "Wetsuit"

London's The Vaccines were one of those rare rock acts that created backlash before their debut LP ever arrived in stores. Perhaps a product of an increasingly reactionary and fast-moving music journalism climate, the Vaccines emerged from nowhere with "If You Wanna", a sketchy mediafire download sent in the fall of 2010, and were roundly criticized by that very winter. Still, the band's debut LP, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? was one of the best rock debuts in recent memory and certainly one of the best rock records of 2011. The final single from the record, "Wetsuit" was the destillation of all that made The Vaccines so relevant this year. Singer Justin Young warbled platitudes about youth, introduced for the first time as suggestions and later appropriated as louder, anthemic orders. The song finishes with fist-raising aplomb and lyrics about salvation and purity, the kind of patriarchal generalities that so many rock songs begin and end with. Of course, even reading this, if you are determined to hate The Vaccines there is little anyone can do about it. In all probability, you hate their path to the seven spot on this list, to their record deal, to their festival gigs, as much as you hate their music. You also hate their music. Your vengeance is swift, we get it. But, The Vaccines charmed us in 2011 because they seemed in on the joke. Yes, their rise was mercurial. Yes, their record possessed obvious influences. But, if you hated them, the backlash was their creation. They made you do it, like them or not.

6. The War On Drugs - "Come To The City"

It takes a special band and a special song to have you yelping along on the first listen. It was an aesthetic reaction, done without thought or consideration, a visceral slice of sensibilities you did not know or did not remember you had. Perhaps the War On Drugs had you at the menacing, rolling drums that begin "Come To The City", seeming to move and spread like a cloud bank rising in the distance. Maybe they had you when you thought, "Shit, this reminds me of a U2 song that I used to love." Or maybe it was just a hymn of urbanization that hooked you, like so many, to follow their directions and end up in the city. The arrangement built a wall of sound that allowed the lyrics and melody bounce off it, sing from the top of it, hide behind it. The thrashing guitars and relentless drums were the story as singer Adam Granduciel wailed and yelped lyrics about "rambling" and "moving", one of those American stories about trying to find home between where you're from, where you've been and where you might belong. It ended in series of unintelligible moans from behind the guitars, the final edict being the first one: You will find yourself in the city, young man. You knew it the first time you heard it because it was a sense you always had; move forward, move on. Go forth and go now.


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 20-11 [You could be my luck]

Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011, no band may appear twice. Each post title contains a lyric from one of the ten songs to follow, a hint and a hook that stuck out clearly in this group. Today, we count down 20-11.

20. Kyla La Grange - "Walk Through Walls"

In a hospital waiting room last January I opened an email from the publicist of a heretofore unknown British singer, Kyla La Grange. It was singer-songwriter stuff, I thought. In short, this would be instantly detestable. And then, like the great Eli Cash suggested, what if it wasn't? What if a tiny blonde girl with a guitar wrote the single biggest chorus of 2011?  "Walk Through Walls" was built for the sky, winking influences to Kate Bush (see: "It's the year of Kate Bush" joke, on going, 2005-present) and so full of life that it could not be ignored. "Walk Through Walls" suggested an ability to transmute physical spaces which was exactly what the waifish La Grange did in 2011. But she didn't just walk through these barriers, she began by destroying all of them.

19. Capital Cities - "Safe and Sound"

No one had more fun in 2011 than Capital Cities and their horn-heavy, electro-single, "Safe and Sound". It was a slam the first time you heard it, instantly singable, ebullient and entirely sunny. But this was back in June, before M83 would use a huge sax in their biggest song, before the Rapture would do the same on their promotional single. If it was going to be the Year of Unironic Use of Brass/Woodwinds In Pop, Capital Cities had the jump on everyone.

18. St. Lucia - "All Eyes On You"

St. Lucia is going to absolutely kill you in 2012 with a debut EP due out just after the first of the year. In 2011 the tropical single "All Eyes On You", a song that could easily slip into a Tom Cruise montage from the first half of Cocktail, came burning out of speakers and headphones with an aural portrait of something equatorial (even the band name notwithstanding). "All Eyes On You" was built on a series of lazy bass pick-ups, enough synth and keys to bankrupt your local Guitar Center and a hook so breathless and modular it fit into your heart and mind like a lost puzzle piece. Though the visual metaphors were all Caribbean, you were only taking a vacation from the rest of the synth-bands you thought you liked before you heard this.

17. BIGKids - "Drum In Your Chest"


I will confess I know next to nothing about BIGKids other than they send great personal emails and their single, "Drum In Your Chest" got more plays in a week than half the other music I listened to this year. The song was so damn simple, three or four lyrical couplets and a driving and metronomic chorus. The lyrics address our certainty that our breathing is controlled unconsciously, suggesting the sublime, "Will you remember to take another breath/when your heart's beating like a drum in your chest?" You chuckle. Of course, you would remember to breathe. Goofy, you think. But this is before the four-minute-twenty-second sprint that is "Drum In Your Chest", a single strong enough to make you reconsider basic bodily physics. Thus the stakes are set: you might not necessarily survive this. The band, I presume, welcomes this, a single built to dance to, a single built to kill.

16. Beirut - "East Harlem"


"East Harlem" is a swimming trip through Beirut's Zach Condon's magically real universe on the Upper (and he means higher than you're used to) East Side. It was a much more credible take on Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" narrative. Here, he is a downtown boy, but that doesn't mean what you think either, and Uptown has been retrofitted to be Spanish Harlem. The moment to watch in "East Harlem" is the arrangement shift at the 2:10 mark, a swinging engagement full of horns and the ever-present, foundational piano progression. Condon looses himself on a series of couplets that begin with, "the sound", suggesting it is tone alone that can save us. Sound. It is your breath at the door, he says. It is what will bring him home. Sound, he presumes, still has power, and in the second movement of "East Harlem", Condon presumes absolutely correct.

15. We Are Augustines - "Chapel Song"


Like Pela,before it, We Are Augustines do their best work introducing a lyric and then repeating it with increasing degrees of insistence. On "Chapel Song", the best song off their great 2011 LP, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, the band channels its origins as the aforementioned Pela, a group who once made a mountain out of saying, "Yeah, there's an undertow, but it ain't got me" twice in a row. This go round, We Are Augustines exploded "Chapel Song" into a repeated voice-quivering pathos around images like "shaking like a leaf" and "lying through my teeth". You have to say it twice, at least, and louder the second, to make it all work. The final edict, more recently appropriated by a company selling outerwear on television, "tear up the photograph/'cause its a bright blue sky" repeats no less than five times, each more meaningful than the last. We assume you'll need to listen to this at least as many times.

14. Dreamers of the Ghetto - "Tether"

The inevitable march of the drums in Dreamers of the Ghetto's seminal album closer "Tether" feels almost fatalist. The song directs itself less six-feet-under and more miles high. The resignation of the central lyric, "it's just another door/tether on the other side" belies the vitriol and energy in the vocals and arrangement. The edge appears at the song's midpoint where those marching drums attach with an abrasive down-stroke guitar chord. The synthesizers wash over the song's architecture at the 4.40 mark, maybe the single finest and biggest moment in music in 2011. It is spacious and grandiose as the band wails to the finish line, but neither of these qualities feel a bit out of place or even dishonest. In the end you were supposed to arrive here anyways.

13. Cults - "You Know What I Mean"

Cults asked listeners if "You Know What I Mean" in 2011 and they found mostly people did. Using conversational platitudes as song titles isn't new, but the Cults version connected to a bombastic and effusive single. Sure, the melody was cribbed from the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" and, yes, they were one of those bands that went from a few blog posts to a Columbia Record deal in no time flat, but what made "You Know What I Mean" great had nothing to do with hype or criticism. The swinging snaps and wailing vocals would appear nowhere else. It was fragile and reactionary in the same breath, brittle and resolute. It was, ultimately, something intensely familiar.

12. Fucked Up - "The Other Shoe"

As a sense of foreboding seized our collective consciousness, Damien Abraham and Fucked Up cut through the fuzz and penned a song about "The Other Shoe" where the main lyric was, "We're dying on the inside". It was still hardcore, the band hadn't changed drastically since the seminal Chemistry of Modern Life broke them from relative obscurity in 2008. This, "The Other Shoe" was their thesis statement for their punk opera LP, David Comes To Life, a song that mixed big arena drums, delicate female vocals, screaming choruses and huge soaring guitars. In short, no one went more for broke than Fucked Up in 2011, making a great record about a fictional lightbulb factory (you can't make this up) and absolutely slaying on "The Other Shoe". The key part of, "We're dying on the inside" was that Abraham didn't make it a terminal diagnosis; they were marching orders and a call to arms.

11. Dry The River - "New Ceremony"

From the same East London folk scene that birthed Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale and Laura Marling came Dry The River and their surging single, "New Ceremony". It was acoustically rooted, to be sure, but the song found its sea legs at the 1.30 mark when the pre-chorus spun, seemingly, out of nowhere with elevating strings and a vicious hook. This was only portentous of the chorus itself, a top of the room melody built to break most vocalists, a refrain that dumped its personal effects on the table, turned its pockets out and said, "This is all I've got." This was the sort of song that rhymed "prison kiss" with "dying wish" without batting an eyelash. There was something to be said for this brand emotivism in 2011 with no critical voice necessary.


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 30-21 [The world will unfold all around us]

Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011, no band may appear twice. Each post contains a lyric from one of the ten songs to follow, a hint and a hook that stuck out clearly in this group. Today, we count down 30-21.

30. The Jezabels - "Endless Summer"

This was the year and the album where the Jezabels washed over the American consumer like a rogue wave. Well, it didn't happen, but it wasn't for fault of "Endless Summer", an alternately austere and bold piece of pop music. Singer Hayley Mary cast herself in the sharpest form of relief, the single best voice of the year, a vocalist entirely unrestrained and simultaneously in total control.

29. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen"


The mix of electronics and silky vocals gave Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. an easy entry point to the pop listener of 2011. Building on a successful 2010 EP, the band returned with a well received full length (just ask Paste Magazine) and a track five, "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen" that blew the collective doors off. Or maybe it was the roof, a musical convertible with the power to pick up the breezy, send the clouds home early and sound sunnier than anything else you heard this year. The chorus was full of woozy "nahs" and lyrics like "You don't know how your caged bird sings". It was, of course, critical of a world too focused on aesthetics, even if the aesthetics here were fantastic.

28. Typhoon - "Summer Home"

Sometimes it is a lyric, even just one, that sticks out so squarely it makes the whole song ache with relevance. For Typhoon on "Summer Home" it was the soaring and fragile, "it's how we start over" set on repeat in the bridge. The band attempts to follow its own recommendation, stripping the arrangement down to nothing, before building it again, though never returning to the edicts of the bridge. It was a delicate brand of folk music that Typhoon pulled off in 2011, built at once for destruction and again for framing, its edges serrated but not ill suited to construction.

27. Friska Viljor - "Larionov"

Friska Viljor rarely makes any sense to the American audience. The name intimidates us, this before we even get to a song title we don't recognize. Can't you name yourselves after an animal like these American/Canadian bands do, we think? But, Friska Viljor don't care, and they're making the most fun music in the world right now. "Larionov" is an explosion of horns and kick out the windows drums. "You know the answers to the beating of my heart", they sing as their arrangement absolutely explodes around them, and maybe you reconsider how you felt about the consonants in their name and you go pick up their recent album.

 26. Youth Lagoon - "Afternoon"

Youth Lagoon, like Beirut before him, is a precocious, multi-instrumentalist from a part of the country that most Eastern Indie Music Elites label as good for American Indian Art to be used as a t-shirt design in Williamsburg. But the American West couldn't hold this bedroom collection, and "Afternoon" was so full of rich melodies and nostalgia that it didn't feel a bit indulgent or dishonest. Youth Lagoon is really just a kid, but then again, so was Condon.

25. Auditorium - "Sunday"

If you are planning on getting in a relationship in New York City in the next few months, listen to Auditorium's "Sunday". Hell, this song is so sweet, you might end up dating it. Realistically, it describes a rosy-hued picture of life on Prospect Park West, marching up toward Grand Army Plaza and the Great Lawn with a cup of excellent coffee in hand, all in perfect time and harmony. This is your shift at the Co-Op set to music; this is your life but better.

24. We Barbarians - "The Wait Is Over"

Having seen their live show twice now, it is undebatable fact that We Barbarians are the best rock band playing in New York City right now. On their most recent EP, "The Wait Is Over" slotted at track two, a combination of glossy pop hooks and big guitars. The band bears inexact comparisons to early We Are Scientists, but their energy is different, an explosion of resurgent vocals and thrashing breakdowns. If this is modern barbarism, we will throw open the gates of the city and let the invaders in. But then again, they're already here and they're already dominant.

23. Polarsets - "Leave Argentina"

In the year that closed LCD Soundsystem's official career, bands like Polarsets proved that: 1. the cowbell was still very much alive and 2. Dancing in rock music was not as dead as James Murphy's band. "Leave Argentina" was an absurd trip to South America, full of references to "debonaire" sensibilities, nudity and, predictably, cocaine. The final movement put the listener inside the machine as the band screams about feeling drunk and glamorous. It didn't bring indie rock back to the club - it was already there - but it moved it onto the dance floor and made it do the windmill.

22. The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Barnes' Yard"


One of those albums that is so firmly in our collective rear view mirror by December, it would be easy to forget that Rural Alberta Advantage released a record this year and even easier to forget that the best song on it wasn't the promotional single, "Stamp". "Barnes' Yard" surged unexpectedly from the speakers, a breathless and aerobic exercise in acoustic pop. As usual, the final denouement lay in Nils Edenloff turning his neck into turnpike of surging veins, screaming into your iTunes with no regard for your safety or his own.

21. Stricken City - "Some Say"

If there was one band that absolutely should have made more noise and sold more records before their demise, it was certainly Stricken City in 2011. "Some Say" was the band's last single before going on permanent hiatus and their last chance to convince you to buy one of their records. The song was divided into a few distinct movements, a soft open, a crackling first third, and an outright explosive final act. "Some Say" was post-punk with an updated ethos but, more likely, it was the song and the band that you missed.


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 40-31 [And I went down, I went down hard]

 Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011, no band may appear twice. Each post contains a lyric from one of the ten songs to follow, a hint and a hook that stuck out clearly in this group. Today, we count down 40-31.

40. Milagres - "Glowing Mouth"

We make a lot of jokes about modern independent rock sounding like someone took one too many cold pills. Milagres sat just on the edge of sea sick with "Glowing Mouth" - and maybe think of this as more recovery than desire to plumb the depths - a bit of Dramamine pop, spinning, tippy and a little weird. But, the refrain, "Son, you better get used to believing in things that you can't see", a fractured falsetto, stuck out as one of the best of the year. The other side of the couplet was about things seen and said in the dark, a perfect analogy for buzzy, slow-drive pop song, all florescent lights and fog on the car ride home.

39. French Films - "Pretty In Decadence"

Even a band from Finland with a name about foreign cinema like French Films wore their influences on their sleeves in 2011. "Pretty In Decadence" cribbed style notes out of all the great post-punk pop bands, tipping its cap to Original Gangstas like Robert Smith while managing to put contemporary bands like the Drums on notice not just for plagiarism, but for bad plagiarism. The guitars were warm and bright and the chorus was a shout-along affair with a rich and meaningless edict about "stay[ing] this way baby". We figured, it's been this way since the early 80s, no one is changing.

38. They Might Be Giants - "Can't Keep Johnny Down"

They Might Be Giants were the band I came to terms with in 2011, fully admitting that they were the favorite band of my childhood. It wasn't that I had somehow forgotten all those memorized lyrics and melodies, but TMBG finally released an album that reminded me of how I felt in 1996 when Factory Showroom landed in my mailbox and I refused to take it out of my portable CD player. "Can't Keep Johnny Down" was as playful as indie rock would get in 2011 with lyrics about soiling your drawers and addressing haters as "all the dicks in this dick town." They Might Be Giants were back, and I was back with them.

37. Polica - "Lay Your Cards Out" 

When in doubt, do something dark and sordid. Polica, a Minneapolis band with an affinity for shadowy electronics and loop pedals, found a slice of utter brilliance with "Lay Your Cards Out". In essence, it was a pep talk with lyrics about "getting your head right" and the eponymous title lyric's encouragement to be straight forward. The vocal was one of the most sultry of 2011, a woman asking for honesty and telling you to get your shit together at the same time, at once entirely vulnerable and totally uncompromising.

36. Friends - "Friend Crush"


Friends will be the band who slays your 2012 in a way you always hoped Lykke Li would but never did. "Friend Crush" was their first proper single, a loose bass line and maracas covering a pleading vocal and a chorus about being in love with your best friend. It was murder, slowly done, a long form improvisation piece about gaining proximity by factors of half, each time getting closer and closer but never, ever getting there.

35. Jonquil - "Mexico"

Jonquil's "Mexico" rang as a slice of the tropical pop that so dominated the last few years of independent rock music. These references were more obvious; hell, the title was "Mexico" and the sound was as warm as the water would get this year. The band is set to release their full length in 2012 and "Mexico" will be on it, a hand warmer for the winter and all these spinning melodies, like some pinwheel, that only belong somewhere hot and breezy.  

34. Priory - "Lady of Late"

Priory's "Lady of Late" was the song I sung to myself most in 2011. The melody had that natural adhesive quality, lyrics and melody firmly stuck on the first listen. The guitars pulled from the 2004 Modest Mouse catalog, but the surging background vocals and the lyrics about some girl who absolutely kills you made these memorable moments. "I went down, I went down hard", sings vocalist Brandon Johnson, a combination of word and tone that never left your brain after you heard it. 

33. Bad Lamps - "Never Know The Difference"

Bad Lamps surged out of the gates with an excellent first single, "Never Know The Difference". It was snappy, little pop song about a "little, spotty British girl", a bit of electro-pop with a basic foundation and brilliant execution. It was simple to be sure, an insistent drum loop, a bit of guitar and an arrangement rooted in a series of three elevating chords, but, this simplicity allowed for an impressive series of hooks to spill from verse and chorus alike.

32. All Tiny Creatures - "An Iris" [feat. Justin Vernon]

All Tiny Creatures captured Justin Vernon for the hook of their delicate, spinning single, "An Iris". This collaboration might quite rightly leave you questioning: Does All Tiny Creatures really think they're Kanye West? While the band and Mr. West only shared a collaboration with Vernon in common, "An Iris" was built on a twirling guitar loop, an arrangement that recalled some of Clock Opera's original material and remix work. The directionality of the recording spun around in your headphones, Vernon and the band switching left and right channels as if in orbit around your skull.  

31. Best Coast - "Gone Again"

It was all chorus from Best Coast on one-off single, "Gone Again". A series of backing "oohs" and the imminently hooky refrain, "I know that you're gone again." The verses felt less like verses and more like B-melodies, like pre-choruses, as Best Coast singer Beth Cosentino sang about the reasons she should be happy (see: getting high) and the reasons she can't be (see: "you're gone again").


Top 50 Songs of 2011 :: 50-41 [They're setting fire to my face]

Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011 and no band may appear twice. Today, we count down 50 to 41.

50. California Wives - "Tokyo" 

Nothing felt more neon than California Wives' "Tokyo" in 2011. It was nothing but synths and guitars, a chorus rooted in a geographic tautology, "They're building houses and lights in Tokyo." The brilliance was relative and it was made manifest in the metallurgic guitar chords and keyboard progressions. It all felt like little dabs of mercury slipping around the surface of a table.

49. All The Apparatus - "Let's Go Ride Bikes"

All Apparatus appeal to anyone who enjoys the work of Los Campesinos and anyone who enjoys fun. But you don't need to be watching that "Grab Some Buds" Budweiser commercial to feel like even your most asinine behaviors hold a life-and-death importance. For this Portland band, it is the simple act of riding bikes outdoors that doubles as a thesis statement, a raison d'etre. It is youth in revolt; youth screaming a silly chorus; youth playing big horns, guitars and chimes. It is unanxious youth in an age of increasing anxiety.

48. Letting Up Despite Great Faults - "Sophia In Gold"

We were arguably more into Letting Up Despite Great Faults' cover art on their 2011 EP, a sepia toned shot of some girl's knees, than we were into their music. This is compliment to that girl's knees and "Sophia In Gold", a snappy little slice of electro-pop that reminds the listener of a more seriously heartsick Jimmy Tamborello. LUDGF finally quit on the girl, whoever she is, saying, "I can't say your lines for you." This is a final act, to be sure, and a good one at that.

47. Ducktails - "Hamilton Road"

Certainly the most underrated chorus of the year belonged to Ducktails, a Real Estate side project, and their song "Hamilton Road". Nothing sounded more like a lazy summer afternoon played over a broken stereo as the band mushed through the awesomely singable, "We sit by the water". It wasn't even two-and-a-half minutes, and it didn't need to be.

46. The Echo Friendly - "Same Mistakes"

First, The Echo Friendly isolate the guitars, then add a clap track and the most distant male and female vocals of the year. If it sounds obliteratingly sad, it is. They're talking to each other, ostensibly about, well, the "Same Mistakes", but it never feels conversational. These two parties divert and merge with each other like two lost sides of a double helix, intersecting for a momentary duet before chasing each other away again.

45. Deleted Scenes - "Bedbedbedbedbed"

We loved that Deleted Scenes gave the world such a head-nodding single in 2011 and we loved that they gave us the central lyric five times in a row. No one made a better case for the lack of a need for a space-bar as the band reflected on a woman who pulled their act together, cut their hair and made them get out of bed in the morning. It sounded like The Shins on too much cold medicine which was entirely great.

44. Gauntlet Hair - "Top Bunk"

Gauntlet Hair are one of those awesome college radio bands with a good gimmick (the reverb thing) and an uncommon boldness. "Top Bunk" snapped like their previous work, only this time it changed time signatures with the effortlessness of Art School Rock. It spun off the rails toward the end, grinding the echo-chamber to a halt. The original statement of purpose still stood: We can make huge music with three guys and an effects pedal.

43. The Radio Dept. "The One"

The Radio Dept. had their best year in history, releasing a double-disk compilation album featuring the previously unreleased, "The One" to go with a decade of singles. It was a slow-drive version of the band's usual cold keyboard, placed firmly on a reggae upbeat. This wouldn't be the same brilliance as "Heaven's On Fire" but it didn't contend to be so, more victory lap than finishing kick.

42. Yukon Blonde - "Fire"

If Family of the Year was going to break out in 2011-12, then Yukon Blonde was determined to be close behind, maybe even transcendent of their genre rivals. Both bands make pop with a distinctly Western feel, "Fire" featuring some slide guitar and an affinity for the apocalypse that you only find in musicians and certain circles of evangelical believers. Since the band qualifies as solidly the former and solidly not the latter, we assume their references to burning water and faces is purely metaphorical, but entirely sticky, a hook that lodged in your brain like it was its last day on planet earth.

41. Dominant Legs - "Hoop of Love" 

There is a world in which you can argue that Dominant Legs' "Hoop of Love" had the single best chorus of 2011. A shimmering slice of guitar pop, the song has a respectable pre-chorus, a vague portent to the take off that happens in the real refrain. Muttered asides about "keeping my mouth shut" blur into the completely elevating hook where the band yelps interrogatives about who will be the one to do a variety of things; they leave these questions unanswered. This fails to mention the bridge, an updated Belle and Sebastian inspiration, full of a flecking strum pattern and a final taxiing to the runway of "Hoop of Love".


Jethro Fox :: "Before"

Mixing some initial bombast, anxious guitars and a clap track, with an acoustic progression and background vocals cribbed out of the Local Natives notebook, Jethro Fox crafts a shimmering and brilliant first single, "Before". The best moment contained herein lies in the song's the bridge, a stop-gap between the second chorus and the last two. The vocals are pulled out and a Real Estate-y guitar line does a box step across the arrangement, at once refined and languid, before Fox hits us again with the refrain. The lyrics are simple and awestruck, "It's like nothing that I've seen before." And while you probably have seen and heard music that sounds and feels like this, you haven't heard it done this well lately. Fox makes himself immediately an artist to watch in the coming months as he progresses toward a debut LP, mixing some of his past-present tense mixing. Something maybe seen before and also not seen yet.



Deleted Scenes :: "The Days of Adderall"

It was in the winter of my freshman year of college that I saw the broad impact that phamacutical-grade amphetamines were making on my generation. After a night spent cloistered in my dorm having one of those conversations that college freshman so frequently have about nothing and everything, I arrived at breakfast an exhausted and unprepared wreck. It was exam week and I had spent the night not studying, rather predictably, in self-sabotage mode. Over runny eggs and weak small talk I glanced at my table-mate's nose where one nostril, like a pencil sharpener, was covered in the faintest ring of blue powder. This was Adderall, crushed up and divorced from its time-release function, mainlined into the bloodstream. The blue-nosed girl was unembarrassed, bushy-tailed even, and I was tired and unsurprised. This was the new face of focus. These are "The Days of Adderall" according to the glittering, swimming pop of DC's Deleted Scenes. Rooted in a harp loop, the band crafts a hymn for a generation of kids who haven't slept, a generation of kids who never needed to find hard drugs; they were prescribed by a licensed professional. Deleted Scenes root this contradiction in a bass heavy chorus, "I've got a logical illusion", repeated over and over, an anti-mantra for the children of the 1980s who took all the pills, crushed them up and drove until sunrise.


Deleted Scenes plays Music Hall of Williamsburg with the awesome Bear Hands and Fort Lean this Friday night.


Lovers :: "How Beautiful You Are"

Is it a metronome or a heart monitor on the fritz? The first notes in Lovers' "How Beautiful You Are" plink out as a tiny, beeping loop. This emerges as the foundation, laying out just at the fringes, for a delicate, compartmentalized love song. The Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired melody - and it is the tonal stepping stones in the chorus that could easily be replaced with Jeff Mangum's howl - centers on the title lyric, a breezy acoustic guitar progression. Unlike Mangum's "Song Against Sex", this is lighter fare, more likely a hymn for human contact without feeling grimy or unduly salacious. The incessant loop from the song's opening never leaves, inspiring a sense that this is at once measured and musical and might also make your heart move a little out of time for the next two minutes plus.

Listen :: Lovers - "How Beautiful You Are"


Capybara :: "Late Night Bikes"

The recent resurgence of marketing youth culture took firm hold of commercial advertising, threatening to become an ingrained cultural value. If you weren't those shirtless kids dancing around a campfire with face paint on (wearing Levis), or taking a video-graphed (Flip Camera) road trip across the country (in a Honda Element), you were supposed to think you could be. Companies weren't marketing their products, but rather they were selling you a vision of yourself. It didn't hurt that the soundtrack to these ads was invariably a hooky, credible independent band. We were easily bought. But, these romantic generalizations - in essence, we are all independently wealthy, wear skinny jeans, are attractive and intensely creative - held a power that transcended mere dollars. It spoke to our most nostalgic selves. We have taken a late night walk down the double yellow lines of a deserted street. We have ridden bikes through the dead of night in Pacific Beach, San Diego. We have driven cross-country. We have smiled broadly in this sepia-toned movie made just for us. We are these people. Capybara not only might find their latest song, "Late Night Bikes" getting the sync-treatment (a Nissan Leaf commercial, perhaps) but they are absolutely rooted in the realities that make the above paragraph possible. "Late Night Bikes" sounds expansive and warm; it is catchy and, in places, perfect. It's road music for a generation of kids who have done nothing but move, sliding in long, languid figure-eights under a street light in a parking lot, down a lonely highway and through a few weird decades.
Listen :: Capybara - "Late Night Bikes"

Now, Now :: "Dead Oaks"

The terrifying hum of adolescence is easily forgotten by the adult world. And not the type of "teen movie" nostalgia where some terrible pop song blares as a bunch of fresh faced kids head to the beach in a Jeep Wrangler. The buzz of adolescence was that constant yearning, unsettled and uncertain, everything in mind and body running at 100 miles-per-hour. It was awesome; it was uncomfortable. Everything was new and important. I suspect you've lost any connection to this in a sea of expense reports, company emails, jobs that start relentlessly at the same time every day and a relationship that is the picture of stability. There was a time when you felt very differently. Now, Now, a band who recently signed to Chris Walla's Trans-Records, are allowed direct access to these moments of youth, at once energetic and anxious. "Dead Oaks" roots itself in a down-stroke guitar line, one that might remind you of "Since U Been Gone" if you listen to it right, before bubbling over into a chorus about not sleeping enough. The duet emerges as a perfect "up-a-third" pairing, making the band's stylistic references footnote somewhere between early Rilo Kiley and Tegan and Sara, a short burst of pop that fades as quickly as it arrived, rife with teenage sensibility. "Dead Oaks" rings heartbroken, love-sick and completely hopeful, a cocktail of emotions you may not have experienced since the Clinton years. It was that buzz, the radio static that never quieted, and when you closed your eyes that guitar line was still there, whether you wanted it or not.


On The List :: Dreamers of the Ghetto @ Mercury Lounge [12.8.11]

This review runs live and in color on the incomparable Bowery Presents House List Blog. Photo courtesy.

Romanticizing the awfulness of the American ghetto experience isn’t necessarily new, although perhaps the modalities have changed in 2011. Even Lupe Fiasco suggested that if urban life threatened any lionizing appeal, it was certainly outweighed by practical realities. Dreamers of the Ghetto entered themselves into this conversation with a stunning debut record, Enemy/Lover, and a fall tour in support of U.S. Royalty that stopped at Mercury Lounge last night.

The four-piece Dreamers evokes a certain grittiness that befits the moniker—they’re underdogs dreaming of getting out or they’re solid outsiders dreaming of what happens within in the walls and streets of the American ghetto. Either way, the band pits wailing guitars against detached synthesizers, alongside pathos-rich vocals. This combination transmutes the band into the rarefied air of aspirational visionaries, hope-in-unseen believers armed with instruments.

Dreamers of the Ghetto closed the night with the breathy, seductive chorus of vocals of “Connection,” “Regulator” and the band’s thesis statement, “Tether.” Each song featured a central lyric loudly repeated and launched like projectiles into the minds and chests of the assembled audience: “When you’re gone I know you’re with me” (“Connection”), “I love your face/ I think you’re striking” (“Regulator”) and the fantastic and final “It’s just another door/ Tether on the other side” (“Tether”). Somehow these dark dreams of American terrors became beautiful; love, loss and fear of the urbane metastasizing into wide-open hymns and singable refrains. It was a dark pathos to be sure, but pathos all the same.

Listen :: Dreamers of the Ghetto - "State of a Dream"
Listen :: Dreamers of the Ghetto - "Tether"


On The List :: We Barbarians and Tribes @ Mercury Lounge [12.8.11]

We Barbarians are the best band playing in New York City right now. The crowd at the Mercury Lounge on Thursday, an odd assembly of label heavy-hitters and interns from Island and Universal Records (a function of UK headliner Tribes), didn't at first embrace this reality and then couldn't help avoiding it. A&Rs in their leather jackets, ill-fitting jeans and awkwardly young choice of shoes began to tap their feet. The room filled around the sound that We Barbarians projected from the stage. They joked, as the seven-o'clock band, that they were glad the audience left so much room in the front, that awkward horseshoe that performers hate and crowds can't seem to help, because their bigger crowd was coming later. In a sense, they were correct. This is a band that has something much, much larger on the horizon, and perhaps if we have left some room, it is only for the moment. They played their entire Headspace EP and two other songs and like that, they were gone.

Tribes, a hotly-buzzed outfit from London took the stage next and it was immediately clear where the English press derived their fervor. In much the way that Silversun Pickups stuck their increment borer in the tree of American Alternative Rock, Tribes have done a similar thing with Alternative Britpop of the 1990s. The extraction reveals the tree's rings, the passage of time and how fresh and familiar the dulcet tones of 1996 can sound in 2011. For their first New York show, the band played their single, "Sappho" third, a song destined to survive and thrive on British radio and potentially jump the ocean. A pristine brunette in the front row, and more importantly someone who did not work for the band's label, knew all the words and moved herself to the center. For the purposes of monetizing, this is never a bad thing. Tribes closed the night with their second best song, "We Were Children", a song sporting the type of chorus the will quite rightly make famous, first sung lightly and then wailed at full volume. "These things happen", the band serenade us, "we were children in the mid-90s." And this, broadly defined, was true.

Listen :: Tribes - "We Were Children"
Listen :: We Barbarians - "The Wait Is Over" (Delta Spirit Remix)


Interview :: Dreamers of the Ghetto [12.8.11]

Storming out of Bloomington, Indiana spitting a brand of rock with more pathos than anything else you heard in 2011, Dreamers of the Ghetto arrived in New York last night for the first of two shows. Their record, Enemy/Lover rings as one of the finest debuts of the year, a mixture of gravel vocals, detached synths and slamming guitars. The band took a few minutes out to answer our questions about the things critics miss, the power of beer and Chinese food and if laughter counts as an enhanced interrogation technique. Our questions and their answers after the jump. Dreamers of the Ghetto play Mercury Lounge tonight with US Royalty. 


Polica :: "Lay Your Cards Out" (feat. Mike Noyce)

If you know well the distinct pleasure of evading the police in a foreign country, you know well that the first syllable is the critical one. You don't need to know German to know what someone screaming, "Polizei!" means. Likewise, "Policia" means something to you even when, linguistically, it maybe shouldn't. For Polica, a Minneapolis band with a sound that will remind you of a frustrated and sultry Phantogram, this is, perhaps, the point. This is identification done by aesthetic faculties, an instant moment of recognition, something vaguely transcendental. "Lay Your Cards Out" is a tidy little jam with ratatat drums down the stretch and a female vocal built for seduction on lines like, "take a moment, lay your cards out" and such simple axiomatic prescriptions as "get your head right". The arrangement builds and crashes around this vocal, alternately reserved and edgy. The reverb is unsettling, a different cocktail of mood stabilizers than Phantogram but no less interesting. Certainly a band to watch, a bit of menace, immediately recognizable like a siren screaming from a foreign car.

[via] Indie Music Filter


Seventeen Evergreen :: "Angels"

It will be hard to return to that moment in 2005 when Interpol's second LP, Antics, arrived in my mailbox. George Bush was just beginning his second term in office and like the rest of America's college students I was waiting out the cultural malaise by getting lost in a vaguely highfalutin vocabulary and a criminally low self-awareness. Needless to say, I loved it, the record. But as Interpol made themselves irrelevant, the aesthetic they carefully revived went begging in search of a new Dickensian master. Seventeen Evergreen could be exactly this band with lead single, "Angels", a dark post-punky meditation that would remind you of "Public Pervert", only if the torch-like guitars were turned into a broken lighter, flicking sparks over and over into a cupped and covered palm. It rings dark and detached, the kind of thing that wouldn't let you get close enough to make out its figure, let alone see its face. But, the nostalgia is for a band and a moment now gone, and the hopes of a new one, signed to a fantastic label, set to release their second record in the spring. That feeling of drifting, lost in a sea of guitars, hopes for the future set against terrifying geopolitical backdrops isn't new and it isn't supposed to be. You sense Seventeen Evergreen won't care about these comparisons and memories, but you will, a bit at least, before you move on to whatever happens next, sparks in the darkness and five-dollar words in your final research thesis.

Listen :: Seventeen Evergreen - "Angels"

Bowerbirds :: "Tuck The Darkness In"

It could be complicated, you see, not something like these trope-driven Hollywood stories where happiness or misery feel predestined, granted or given. The resolution of your internal disjoints could be a poly-narrative, something irritatingly post-modern, assigned and read in a 300-level Comparative Literature class; something you took to complete your minor in English and never totally enjoyed. But now this is your life. That story within a story, your reading for semiotic forms, your deconstructionism, you are left to reason it out. Bowerbirds, a folk outfit that doesn't always play folk music, suggest embracing even these darkest contradictions. The pseudo-intellectualism that robbed you of your aesthetic sensibilities, you will have to fold it in. The memories of your formative years, alternately dulcet and dark, will have to exist each. "Tuck The Darkness In" aims at exactly this moment, what they call "before the weight was on our shoulders ... before I knew time was such a swindler". Sure, it is death that hangs over all of us, the one lasting architect of narrative that even the most creative artists in the Western tradition couldn't kill. But Bowerbirds live in the moment between aging and getting old, a song that begins in the Andrew Kenny school of hushed folk and ends with a crashing conclusion that should make Fleet Foxes suitably embarrassed about their catalog. The conclusion? Death is upon us in every moment, yes, but even the most inescapable truths can be put aside, or better, brought close like the covers under our chins.

Listen :: Bowerbirds - "Tuck The Darkness In"


Tribes :: "We Were Children"

Last January the Vaccines stood on the stage of the Bowery Ballroom and played B-side "We're Happening". The chorus screamed the eponymous lyric. It was deathly appropriate for a British band about to storm the wallets and music libraries of US music consumers, especially because they knew something we did not: They had one of the best rock records of 2011. Next in line for this dramatic irony is Tribes, a London four-piece so steeped in Britpop it will make you dig up some old Suede record you haven't listened to since 1994. Though Tribes is considerably rougher than the aforementioned or Manic Street Preachers, bands that so defined the rise of the genre but weren't Oasis. On "We Were Children", arguably the band's thesis statement, Tribes chants, "Oh no, stranger, you're just like me/these things happen/we were children in the mid-90s." Now, loosely interpreted, this could apply to just about everyone you are friends with, one of those broad swaths of nostalgia that make you think about singing "Champagne Supernova", your first cheap beer and riding around in the backs of cars. It is instantly memorable, a series of modulated pitches that seep in with the the immediacy of a spilled drink in a shag carpet. You're almost helpless in the face of it. Or, put another way, this is happening.

Listen :: Tribes - "We Were Children"

The band plays Mercury Lounge and Glasslands (both with the stunning We Barbarians) next Thursday and Friday, December 8 and 9. Their debut record will be out in January.