Slam Donahue :: "C'mon C'mon"

Rooted in a shambling acoustic guitar progression that feels lifted from a Spoon cut, Slam Donahue's latest, "C'mon C'mon" is their most urgent and needy track yet. Lyrics wax philosophical about loving the chase, an urgent plea to "talk about this," while the undercurrents still secretly hope for something unrequited. It is a divided if not entirely incoherent meditation. "I want to lose you and then pursue you," confides second verse, as a the break-beat arrangement flexes and breathes underneath. The final plea is to "talk about this," a thoughtful aside for a band who primarily has produced carefree, party-first jams. This, in the final analysis, a love song for the kids who have been out too late and loved too little.


NO :: "What's Your Name" and "Eleven Eleven"

"Get ready and I'm on my way," promises the lyrics of NO's newest single, "What's Your Name." It works on two levels, a lyric truth and the current state of affairs for one of the most promising unsigned American rock bands. Somewhere between the National and Pela, NO are product of the people who were left to grow up in this fake empire. The bands growing up in the ashes of this system won't have the luxuries of the ones who rode the horse down. The guitars charge ahead, an undercurrent of real menace in the bass, while the drums on "What's Your Name" are schizophrenic, languid splashing tams in one moment and ratatat snares the next. It all adds up to an undeniable sense of becoming, that this might not be exactly that thing, but it is very nearly there. This is another double-truth, this seven-inch double single for White Iris Records is only a precursor the band's true full length due next year.

The Happy Hollows :: "Endless"

Like Fleetwood Mac roughed up and taken downtown, the Happy Hollows and mercurial lead singer Sarah Negahdari return with lead single, "Endless" from a new EP forthcoming this fall. "Endless" elevates behind Negahdari's effortless vocal control, pitching through octave size tweaks in the song's first lyrics and finally slipping into a dull roar, a moan that serves as the chorus, the melody slipping through steps, modular and like the title, endless. The guitars are of the winsome post-punk variety giving "Endless" this sort edgy Stevie Nicks quality, a buzzing, neon take on "Everywhere" transported to Silverlake and left to fend for itself. While Negahdari, one of the most charming women in indie rock, goes on tour with Silversun Pickups as their replacement bassist, consider "Endless" a very welcome return for her main band and the forecast of great things to come.


Toxie :: "Newgate"

Shambling out of Memphis, Tennessee, Toxie are blowing the doors off the post-punk tropes with their debut single, "Newgate." It is full of confessional lyrics like, "We're all waiting to die," spoken in a hush at the back end of the chorus like a quaalude taken with Le Tigre's "See you later ..." on "Deceptacon." The little, whirring chorus lands on a driving downbeat, soaring synths and grungy guitars, reprising the fatalist lines about waiting for death. It's over in less than two-and-a-half minutes, a slice of tiny life and possibility, no matter how much the lead female vocal yearns for a personal cataclysm.

Toxie plays Cake Shop on August 30.

Ethan Daniel Davidson :: "The Dogs Howl, The Caravan Moves On"

It's rare but not impossible to see crushing punctuation in a song title. It easily could have been a semicolon, upping the ante on the whole project, but here, the comma becomes a terrible arbiter of limits, "The Dogs Howl, The Caravan Moves On" operating like the indifference of the universe itself. A comma has rarely been this alone, holding two independent clauses together with a sort of agonizing disdain. For Ethan Daniel Davidson and his first recording in seven years, the isolation of the title becomes the isolation of the music. Rooted primarily in a downcast organ progression, Davidson adds little flecks to the periphery, prickling little guitars and his hushed baritone. It is the ultimate slow-drive, elements of Leonard Cohen at the edges, appropriate for a song about packing up and turning your eyes against the sentiments of departure. It is austere and lush at once, completely reserved in its lyrical construction while the arrangement is plaintive and pretty in its own morose universe.

Listen :: Ethan Daniel Davidson - "The Dogs Howl, The Caravan Moves On."
Listen :: Ethan Daniel Davidson - "Ain't The Man I Used To Be"


ON AN ON :: "Ghosts"

"There are spirits coming," confesses the first lyrics of ON AN ON's stunning long form single, "Ghosts." Comprised of down stroke guitars, a shabby progression that screams a certain resignment, and a tightly rolling snare, "Ghosts" possesses some of the same end-of-the-world aesthetics that make the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" such a charming apocalypse. This song, however, is not so tidy, evolving into a haunting duet between male and female vocals before a final, distended movement, a nearly two minute outro that ends in a sighing collapse. This is supposed perfection for a song full of promises like, "I'll never forget you," a little test of infinity's boundaries: the five minute pop song.


On The List :: Conveyor @ Glasslands [8.23.12]

Brooklyn's Conveyor was the most verifiable real thing that took the stage at Glasslands this Wednesday evening. Surrounded by cloth flowers of the same vintage as the venue's famous fabric cloud backdrop, the band was further shrouded by a different non-textile obfuscation. The cloud machine below the stage, the one that trades CO2 for fake fog - and not in a metaphorical Cuckoo's Nest sense, this is real fake fog - began belching out its sorry product. It covered Conveyor in a second fake cloud, one around and one behind, fake flowers to stage left and stage right, making the band easily the most intentional object on stage. They had also asked Bill Murray to be their merch guy, a joke that sort of wasn't a joke. This was appropriate for a homecoming show, a very real return for a band who has been out on the road behind their very good, self-titled debut record.

The show was something of a high-wire act: two, three, four and sometimes, five part harmonies hung above sparse and occasionally explosive arrangements. Sounding a bit like Grizzly Bear playing Wolf Parade cuts, and this isn't even entirely fair because Grizzly Bear is about to rapidly redefine their legacy and the better parallel is ARMS, Conveyor opened with "Short Hair," a song about girls with angular hair cuts and bad attitudes. Playing mostly songs from their debut record, the band loaded the back half of the set with, "Mom Talk," "Mukraker," and "Right Sleep" in quick succession, each showcasing a penchant for delicate arrangements and erupting interludes. It was the central lyric of "Mom Talk," the explanatory, "I was away," that soared out over an expectant crowd. It was, after all, a show all about returns.


A.C. Newman :: "I'm Not Talking"

A.C. Newman has softened considerably since his abrasively poppy solo record, 2004's The Slow Wonder and his early New Pornographer's concoctions. For illustration, and this is an arbitrary comparison to be sure, cast  "All For Swinging You Around" from Electric Vision against  "Valkyrie At The Roller Disco" from most recent Pornographer's LP, Together. The recent vision is substantially less electric, full of keys, organs and mandolin, Newman turning toward the folk sensibilities of his band mate Neko Case's solo efforts. Latest single, "I'm Not Talking," the first from Newman's forthcoming third solo LP, Shut Down The Streets trends in the same direction. It is a heart breaker, unsurprising from a song writer who turned something as simple as Christine crashing on your floor into an emotional genocide, but, "I'm Not Talking" is largely a soft sell duet between Newman and Case - what separates this from being a New Pornographers song existing in name only. The letdown, always the soul of Newman's inverted pathos, is still in play, an existential promise of silence until such a time as the narrator can be redeemed, making this a softer punch but a punch all the same.

Listen :: A.C. Newman - "I'm Not Talking"


Bon Iver :: "Beth/Rest" [Work Drugs remix]

In what has to be one of the best remixes of 2012, long-time favorite Work Drugs turn their silky synthesizers on the vocal stems of Justin Vernon's "Beth/Rest." While the soul of "Beth/Rest" still lies in Vernon's mind - it was, after all, what he called "the most important song" on his sophomore LP - it has been artfully redone, a back beat and a stilted vocal loop taking Vernon's Karate Kid-era throwback and turning the car downtown and toward the lights of the city. The final movement is all extrapolation. Work Drugs take increasing control of the arrangement until the conclusion is beautiful and only faintly attached to the original composition. Not surprisingly, the last lyric is a new addition, "This our turn now," the perfect thesis statement for such benevolent musical imperialism.

You can vote for the Work Drugs remix in the Bon Iver Remix contest here.


sootytern :: "Get It Sorted"

"It's often lovely," the last lyric of UK band sootytern's "Get It Sorted" rings against the edges of an arrangement that features an unholy and ebullient alliance of ukelele and mandolin. It risks being a bit cute even if it, thankfully, never is. Even hidden beneath the twee veneer is a tiny post-punk song that in its final movement chases up the fret board for the highest iteration of hi-fi stringed instruments, an ode to shoegaze with tools that fit in a backpack. It is the type of self-actualized pop that reminds this writer of a combination of the leanings of Mumford and Sons - the choice of traditional folk instruments to create what are, ostensibly, pop songs - and Stornoway or an unplugged and considerably happier Frightened Rabbit. For all their repetition of the final lyric, "Get It Sorted" isn't often lovely, it always is.


The Reflections :: "Summer Days"

Los Angeles band, The Reflections outline a tidy bit of nostalgia on debut single, "Summer Days." Like so many before them, there are hints of fatalism at the edges of their remembrance. To be so wistful on a recording is to admit you stand in the face of the dying world, or a dying world, a summer that turns carelessly to fall and then relentlessly into winter. "Summer Days" is a glossy pop song, pulsating organ chords and a serious acoustic guitar, a soft spot for thinking about girls who are no longer around and whatever else slipped through our collective fingers.


On The List :: Erika Spring @ Mercury Lounge [8.15.12]

(Editor's Note: This review runs live and first on the Bowery Presents House List. And also the above photo is not from last night's show because this publication's high tech photography equipment makes this publication's phone restart when you try to take a shitty cell phone picture.) 

You have never seen the Mercury Lounge stage this empty. Two figures, a furtive blonde and her lanky male guitarist took the stage with no drum kit, no loop pedals; amplifiers pushed back against the wall. The famous THIS IS NOT AN EXIT sign looked something approaching lonely as Erika Spring, of Au Revoir Simone, slid to the stage. Spring, née Erika Spring Forester, would later admit it was a challenge touring behind a five-song EP. “It’s hard to fill up the space,” she said as her carefully curated crowd chuckled in kind. It was exactly this sort of set, a bit spacious, empty even, and a bit full of Spring’s restless and beckoning alto breakdowns.

Spring opened with “Happy at Your Gate,” a song that features her buried and beautiful voice. Next she rolled into promotional single “Hidden,” off her self-titled EP. It was her best song and the most well known. Of course, given her anxiety about filling the set list, it was unsurprising she played a Eurythmics cover, “When Tomorrow Comes,” with the kind of eponymous chorus that absolutely ripped through the heart of those in the weeknight audience, both begging to get home to sleep and hoping they wouldn’t have to go to work.

The night closed with “Six More Weeks,” with Spring in her zebra-patterned tank top and leopard-patterned cardigan, a mix of animalistic cross tracks that only half betrayed the slow jams slipping from the public address system. Laughing, Spring called one song in the middle of the show her “’90s prom song,” before smiling wryly and moving on. It was sparse, to be sure, but Erika Spring is something to behold—knobby knees, the kind of woman who sailed a thousand music blogs if nothing else.


Blonde Summer :: "Robots on Command"

Could you love a machine? What if you already do? Blonde Summer's "Robots on Command" is substantially more bizarre than debut single, "Slow Days Fast Company." The latter was a slamming summer single, the former and more recent, "Robots" is a sort-of love letter to androids wrapped in a pulsing Wolf Parade-style arrangement. The existential questions are largely left out, the sort of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? investigations that lead, seemingly, inexorably to movies like The Terminator and The Matrix. What happens when they wake up? Will they love us or hate us? The bridge features a nearly fecund, purring lyric, "Don't go home to where you're from/space can wait," which is about as close as you can come to making a pass at a machine in modern pop music. This unity of man and machine is marked by the metaphor, "volcanoes and water coming together," a destructive love story for people who can't remember the last time their iPhone wasn't within an arm's reach. It seems like love or some kind of digital serfdom. Or maybe, it's the soundtrack for the moment you ask for directions and your phone says, "Why?"

Listen :: Blonde Summer - "Robots on Command"


Cold Showers :: "BC"

When everyone got sad it meant no one got really sad anymore. Depression became the new uncouth, so common it was borderline impolite, and a huge drag as so many other Americans learned to play next to the abyss. Everyone was having such a good and bad time, Brett Easton Ellis could write a novel about it. After all, depression is at an all-time high, tripling in the last two decades. We, literally, are three times as sad as we were in 1992. It's easy to feel divided about this. Cold Showers do their best interpretation of the downcast New Order aesthetic on lead single, "BC," which is just as frigid as a group of angular guitars and washing synthesizers can be in a solidly post-1980s age full of misplaced optimism and kids in florescent tank tops and face paint. Our profound cultural sadness, the old stomping grounds for bands and artists of all ilks, has been replaced with a permanent adolescence where everyone has both a really great and a really terrible time. Everyone and no one feels sorry for themselves, but no one feels bad for anyone else. Empathy is at an all-time low. So lead lyric, "oh, woe is me," represents a brand of stylized and entirely morbid moroseness we have largely forgotten. It hangs a pallor over the whole affair, a downcast notion only enforced by its repetition. Like the darker New Order singles - "Isolation" is decent point for comparison - there is no dynamic shift between verse and chorus on "BC," just a slicing orthogonal of refrain into the vanishing distance. It is a world unto itself, just enough for you to feel bad about yourself and someone else at the same time.


Eliza and the Bear :: "Brother's Boat"

Essex, UK band Eliza and the Bear have redrafted gravity on expansive and hooky single, "Brother's Boat." Like a distended and outraged Edward Sharpe, the band traffics in the same always-be-rising orchestral pop first outlined by Polyphonic Spree and later darkened and perfected by Arcade Fire. "Brother's Boat" is more electric guitar driven than any of the aforementioned bands, they are also a perfect "indie crossover," the kind that makes A&R's from Columbia think romantically how this song might look in the trailer for whatever becomes next year's Beasts of the Southern Wild or, better, as the closing 25-seconds of an advertisement for a Nissan automobile. An intern should be scrambling down the hall from their cubicle before the final chorus; this is that good. The two driving lyrics, "just let it go," and "you left your family home," are as brutal as they are oblique, that kind of general, life-affirming pop onto which the listener can project a multitude of personal specifics. By the final, crashing conclusion, it is not just the arrangement that touches its outer markers, it is a band more than ready to expand beyond itself.


Slam Donahue :: "Bug In The Sun"

The good times always run out, the fun always ends. The universe does its readjustment work like an absent-minded-but-now-very-angry parent returning home to find you on the garage roof drinking light beer. Get down from there. A girl you hung around with who was too cool, the stupidly easy summer job you had, your heater betting on football that winter, they each regressed to the mean. The universe isn't super attentive, but it also doesn't miss. One minute you're buying the home of your dreams, the next Lehman Brothers is taking on water and a global financial crisis is underway. Your mortgage broke the world. One decade you're an undefeated superpower, the next you've got too much debt in China and a foreign policy that would make Ruyard Kipling blush. Coming screaming from an imagined boombox, Brooklyn's Slam Donahue build "Bug In The Sun" as an ode the front side of this carefree living with a brief sideways glance for everything contained in this paragraph. A Brooklyn band with slamming guitars and hooks that catch like Burmese tiger pits, they try their best to paper over what anyone who has lived in New York City has felt: This can't possibly last. "We made some bad decisions, but everything always ends up fine," they wax before asking, "And I wonder if we get another shot?" The implication is what they already know, the last lyrics, "What's done is done is done."


Western Affairs :: "Iowa"

Iowa isn't a declaration of independence, no statement of rebellion, full of blighted triumphs. Like the rest of the American middle west, it is a profoundly liminal place, neither here nor there, a once proud frontier now tied to heavily subsidized monoculture farming or four decades of disappearing manufacture. Unless an avid reader of Kinsella's Field of Dreams, no American child fantasizes of growing up and moving to Iowa.Western Affairs, a dream pop band not from Iowa, address this sort of grinding sacrifice on their debut single that carries the name of the state in question. "Iowa" is soaring slow-drive pop, initially recalling the spacey keyboards of Milagres' "Glowing Mouth," still aimed at the sky but the part you look at when searching for moral victories. Lyrically, this is a depressing ride full of cold comforts like, "You gave it your best shot" and "You gave up your life to be with me," though it's unclear if the latter is an admonishment or a gratitude. This is the type of interstitial tension that carries a Washington, DC band to address Iowa, the setting for when things both are and are not.

Listen :: Western Affairs - "Iowa"

[via] Indie Music Filter


Howth :: "Secret Goldmine"

Ever since the collapse of the mercantilist economic systems of the late 18th-century, most intellectuals accepted the notion of national success in the marketplace was tied to more than accumulation of precious metals. Sitting on a pile of gold, or anything else for that matter, bucked the rules of supply and demand that governed these post-Enlightenment economies. And though it took nearly two centuries even Nixon took the United States off the gold standard in the 1970s with almost no fanfare. Now, the only fixation with gold arises from the far right wing, uber-Atlas Shrugged demagogues. But these are matters of national economic policy, not emotional, metaphorical geography. In these areas, Howth, a New Jersey folk band (How else can you explain both silky harmonies and slices of E-Street sax?) suggest the privilege in being "your secret goldmine" on their song of roughly the same name. The chorus is overlaid with a delicate female duet, indicating that being an outlet of emotional prosperity, in this sense, should be mutual. "Secret Goldmine" resounds as a beautiful and pebbled arrangement, set against hushed and downcast vocals, in moments sounding like a whispered Ra Ra Riot. Underpinning the whole matter is the notion of something scarce and rare becoming something private and kept, a love with enough kick to reverse of the last 200 years of economic philosophy.

Listen :: Howth - "Secret Goldmine"
Listen :: Howth - "Joseph"
Listen :: Howth - "Wind Blows Cold"


The Mean Season :: "Hearts"

In one of those lyrical turns of phrase that evokes Ben Gibbard's deconstruction of the glove compartment on "Title and Registration," Washington, D.C. band The Mean Season aim directly for the chest on lead single, "Hearts" from the band's eponymous EP. The "inaccurately named" thing here is love, or whatever the Western World approximates as love, something between Russell Stover heart-shaped candy boxes and the marriage plots that dominated literature and then reformed as women's magazines. The central couplet in "Hearts" is the destructive and deeply revisionist, "Who decided it was such a perfect symbol for love?/It's only an organ pumping your blood," as a tidy indie rock arrangement unfolds around a distant and resolute female vocal. There is no good answer to who chose our hearts as our avatars for our loves, but your gross, bloody, perfect little fist hammers in your chest, four chambers, each as necessary as the one beside it. You know, something to keep your fingers warm.

Listen :: The Mean Season - "Hearts"

Phantasms :: "Starboard"

Sounding a bit like the moment your daytime cold medication syncs with a too-big-to-fail cup of coffee, Phantasms unleash a buzzing and pretty single, "Starboard." The low-fi sonics prove almost too much, a sort of spinning nausea, before the chorus turns up and Sarah Atchison's lithe vocal marks the outline of a futuristic ("anachronistic" might work here too) take on the type of pop Beach House made deservedly famous. The outtro is a symphony of all these brittle Casio keyboards, marching in time to the snap of a packaged snare, a eulogy for something perhaps, a focused final movement from what felt, initially, like barely concealed cacophony. This is beauty, unconventionally framed.


Daytona :: "Undertow"

When Pela said, "yeah, there's an undertow, but it ain't got me" in 2007, the implied assumption was it would have gotten you by now. It was New York after all, an inverted version of Sinatra's "If I can make it there ..." thesis; if I can make it there, I'll be dragged out to sea. Pela, it is worth noting, is now We Are Augustines, opening for the Counting Crows, an undertow of an entirely different variety. Another Brooklyn band, Daytona, who sound a lot more like Beach Fossils, have a debut single with the same notion, "Undertow" and lyrics like "you'll never make it out alive" and "when the undertaker reads your palm and says, 'My son, you're going to die.'" The fear is tacit, even in the first movement where a waltzing tempo and fuzzy guitars collude to make it seem like all your Instagram photos are going to add up to more than solipsism, your twenties as a slow dance. The second movement is splashy, all flecking guitars and depressive lyrics leading to an updated Chopin's Awakening where the deadly current isn't in the water but you end up there anyway. If there's an undertow, it already has you.


The Lovely Bad Things :: "I Want You To Go Away"

This was the year that Beth Cosentino's love for the West Coast had her writing slow songs. California finally made the gittery, faux-edgy garage pop girl go soft. It was as pretty as it was unsettling. The Lovely Bad Things, who I presume take similar thesis-statement license with their name as Cosentino does with Best Coast, aren't there yet. Lead track, "I Want You To Go Away" means exactly what it says, emphasizing the notion of separation with unacademic dismissals like, "I don't give a shit." This line rhymes with the pedantic and satisfying, "I don't know what I'm searchin' for but I know that you're not it." Garage pop that refused to trade its edges, "I Want You To Go Away" is a soaring break-up song, written in the basement with a chorus that heads for the roof, backing vocals chasing up the same musical thirds as the thrust of the melody. The final tones are the echoing of fuzzy guitar reverb, the last sounds rattling around the contours of a relationship that is absolutely - with punctuation - over.

Listen :: The Lovely Bad Things - "I Want You To Go Away"