Only You :: "Love Is Making Me Tired"

These warm throw-back guitars have, by this point in 2012, a rich history. Beth Consentino and Best Coast carved out a little empire for things that walk and talk like some lost surf-rock fantasy from the 1950s. Of course, they are now featured in national advertising campaign for a computer operating system. The fantasy relies on being utterly unremembered and completely, conspicuously modern. Only You, another Los Angeles musician, sounds a bit more committed to reversing the clock, drawing a bit more directly on Roy Orbison. "Love Is Making Me Tired" opens with the lyric, "You're the truth/I'm a liar," the only bit of duplicity in a song that packages a wonderfully layered chorus with singer Rachel Fannan's heart-breaking vocal. The pathos lies on the floor somewhere, and the chorus takes each step downward to find it. Fannan is somewhere near the top of the room, backed by those warm and forgotten guitars, wailing into history.

Listen :: Only You - "Love Is Making Me Tired"


INK :: "Ink Goes On"

An exercise in layering, INK's "Ink Goes On" is a whirling bit of cutesy pop. The methodology is pretty clear, hooks spinning in infinity, loops of backing vocals, and a chorus that turns in on itself; the circle is bit twisted, but, ultimately everything comes back around. The arrangement recalls some of the work of Merrill Garbus, though INK draws far less on anything exotic running south, instead favoring a sort of controlled cacophony of chimes and hiccuping arrangement accents. "Ink Goes On" is meant to both transcend itself and end up exactly where it started, the pulsing and ethereal backing vocals that begin the song are also at its end, a fading in and fading out of perfect geometry.


PAPA :: "Put Me To Work"

Organ and piano conspire in the direction of something dangerous on PAPA's best single yet, "Put Me To Work". Barely longer than 2:30, the arrangement finds its legs in a final movement, including an episodic moment of brief withholding, a breath in the pounding piano and drums before a resumption of the assault. It is a perfect mirror for a lyric about being a "shadow boxing champ" dropped earlier in "Put Me To Work", a late arrangement bob-and-weave, all contained in an outright storm of keys, guitars and percussion.


Fever Kids :: "Play Hard"

Sparse and warm, Athens' Fever Kids craft a brand of pop that inspires comparisons to a considerably more gendered version of the xx. Replacing the androgyny of the dark-shirted, downcast kids from London with firm femininity, Fever Kids build a sultry and winsome melody on "Play Hard", a quietly angular backdrop and a female vocal built like a wrecking ball. The lyrical references are oblique, like the arrangement, implying a bit of pursuit, including but not limited to some particularly sordid asides and maybe the single grimiest reference to a meeting in the bathroom since the Strokes. "Play Hard", unlike these reckless addendums, sounds painfully restrained, a whisper for when you feel like screaming.


The Ampersands :: "Try This"

Buzzing power-pop shuffles through a sea of keyboards and fuzz on the Ampersands' first single, "Try This" from second LP, This Is Your Adventure Too. Recalling the abrasive and infectious pop of a band like the Features, "Try This" evolves from its lead keyboard line, a drunken circus melody, into memorable chorus where a female vocal emerges from behind the curtains to provide the central interogative, "Why don't you try this or you'll never know?" It's circular logic, to be sure, but the come-hither, nearly fecund tone of the chorus sets itself against the stomping and granular verses, a pleasant dichotomy. Like the instructions of the refrain, the listener is sort of helpless in the face of the hook, drawing gravity from splashy high-hats and even a bit of cowbell.

Listen :: The Ampersands - "Try This"


On The List :: A.C. Newman @ Bowery Ballroom [10.22.12]

[Ed.note: This review runs live and first on Bowery Presents House List. On an unrelated note you may notice our publication is back to posting its own crappy cell phone photographs which is a real underdog story.]

Two days after the close of the CMJ Music Marathon, the celestial music solstice marking the independent-music calendar’s embrace of unknown and rising stars, The Bowery Ballroom reserved its confines for one of the Old Guard. Carl Newman, playing as A.C. Newman behind his third solo record, took the stage as the Establishment, a man prodigiously talented enough that he began releasing solo material to accent his work with his larger and more well-known collective, the New Pornographers. The question was: What made this not the New Pornographers? Newman seemed almost self-consciously aware—this is a singer who proved he remembers his fans’ different haircuts from show to show and year to year—of being simply an alternate version of his parent band. And apart from that band, he was, in some sense, a more intimate version of himself. Neko Case was replaced on tour with the resplendent bangs of Megan Bradfield, and Newman opened with “I’m Not Talking,” the first single from Shut Down the Streets, a definitively separate take on the power pop that made the singer deservedly famous.

While Newman’s solo career and shows remain distinct, the bond between singer and audience blurred from the start. Newman resembles his fans, and his fans resemble him, a coincidence that probably isn’t one. Middle-aged men with close-cropped hair and thick-framed glasses who knew all the words to “On the Table” and “Secretarial,” songs that Newman, a middle-aged guy with close-cropped hair, sang back (or first) with no sense that snake might have been eating itself. Of course, Newman, arguably the best ear and pen for rugged pop songs since Stephen Malkmus, paid this only passing mind. Following the whistled bridge of “Drink to Me, Babe, Then” the crowd applauded, and Newman, recognizing this recognition of some minor bit of brilliance commented, “It’s one of the great marvels of modern man, how I whistle in key,” pausing only to add, “Proof that there is a God,” much to the delight and murmuring of his hyper-literate and (possibly) largely atheist fan base. It was a bit of faux self-aggrandizement, a bit of sarcastic evangelism, a joke only these people could fully appreciate—a joke they themselves might have made.

Newman closed the main set with “Come Crash,” his best love song and one he “wrote for my wife, two years before I met her,” and “Miracle Drug.” The band returned after a stomping bit of encore applause to play “Strings” and “Town Halo,” the latter producing the closest moment to transfiguration behind pounding keys and its shuddering bridge. It was, of course, what these people came to see, a singer apart from his band, perhaps even a little closer to his fans than he, or they, would be entirely willing to admit. So he returned to his earlier comment, a quick eulogy for a fan’s Mohawk, now shaved off, a previous haircut cataloged and remembered by the singer. The fan yelled, “Things change,” although he and Newman were both still here.

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


Soda Fabric :: "Antonia"

An endless summer of warm guitars, Soda Fabric's debut single, "Antonia" combines both surf-pop and the angularities of post-punk. It appears, from the traffic on their Facebook page, that Soda Fabric is from Israel, though the band claims to be from "Atlantis", a winking nod to the watery hooks and thick reverb of "Antonia". Sounding a bit like a more holistic take on the coastal bombast of French Films, the band has another, even better single, "Wrong Flight" waiting in the wings, an encouraging sign for such a young group. The success of both lies in the creation of chasing melodies and shout along good-time choruses. "Antonia", finally winds up on the lyric, "she's so in love," a crashing conclusion and a few gasping guitar spikes, a shortening of days and the final breaths of summer.


Olympic Swimmers :: "Knots"

A ripping little arrangement, Olympic Swimmers' single "Knots" rolls along on a firm bass line and the fractious vocals of lead singer Susie Smillie. At times "Knots" speaks in the language of dream-pop, winsome guitars locked in an ethereal struggle for existence, while at others Smillie's voice breaks upwards into a crystalline falsetto and recalls, bizarrely, a less thrashing Ritzy Bryan of Joy Formidable. Scottish pop sensibilities - Olympic Swimmers, another in a long line of great Glasgow bands - color the edges, everything a bit shrouded in a reverb and touches of fuzz, but with enough clarity to describe the architecture of moral victories in grey cities so twisted and tangled, you might reasonably never find your way out.

Listen :: Olympic Swimmers - "Knots"


Waylayers :: "Magnets"

An enormous introduction, East Londoners Waylayers breach into the pop view finder with latest single, "Magnets." With shades of the chillwave fever - hell, they even say "I feel fields all around me," which is more than enough for Earnest Greene to cry, "Derivation!" - and shades of the angular pop music of Foals and Two Door Cinema Club, "Magnets" is an upbeat and unselfconscious record about connection and connecting. Ostensibly concerning finding "magnets" within and getting in touch with the "fields" all around us, Waylayers stomp their way to the conclusion only after creating a digital layer of the electrons that swirl around us, the invisible vibrations that make the world hum. "Magnets" is an absolute burner, snapping down-beat and spaceship guitars, a single built to pull with a sort of impossible and unseen gravity.


Bogan Via :: "TES"

Brooklyn by way of Phoenix (or something) Bogan Via continue to craft their love-sick synth slow jams on latest single, "TES". "Strange how it kills," mourns singer Madeleine Miller as an arrangement of synthesizer stabs and bass unfolds like a chemically compounded version of Beach House. The lonesome lyrics and the Dramamine-paced BPM add up to something completely broken and more than a little pretty. Miller sings at herself in a duet of layer vocals, occasionally adding band-mate Bret Bender in something that resembles Mates of State or Matt and Kim if either duo broke up and continued to make music in spite of and in homage to their lost relationship. Keyboards, like little lasers, point to the scene of the damage. Miller coos, "pray for better luck tomorrow," even though the best of what's around is already here.

Listen :: Bogan Via - "TES"


Haerts :: "Wings"

Like the parable of Icarus - a story with such aching implications five years ago and such troubling realities today - the notion of flying too high has always rooted itself in a delayed fatalism. It poses a reconsidered ambition. It reminds us of the thin air up there, the men who died on Everest and the people who dreamed too big or read The Great Gatsby with too literal an eye. Haerts, a band with slightly stronger than wax wings and a single of roughly the same name, "Wings", aim themselves directly into the stratosphere, or the end of Armageddon, or the career arc of Passion Pit - hell, you can pick the visual metaphor here - a sort of silly and precious desire to transcend themselves in a single moment. "Wings" becomes form meeting function, an act that is a soundtrack to itself and vice versa. With production duties handled by the indomitable St. Lucia, the guitars are warm and the hooks glide as if in zero gravity, no sense that this projectile of ambitions will prove problematic, or any notion that when up this high, you would ever have to come down.


Isle of Rhodes :: "Ocean"

In an unscientific study it was discovered that only three or four Americans hate the song "In The Meantime" by Spacehog. Put another way: mid-90s alternative rock, the last evolutionary moment before mainstream rock and roll was hijacked by Korn and Limp Bizkit, never really died. It is a gone and mildly unremembered era, a time when "Wonderwall" was the single best rock song ever written and people, honestly, wrestled with and parsed visual metaphor like, "slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball." Brooklyn's Isle of Rhodes makes music in a similar aesthetic, and "Ocean", the lead track from the band's debut All Rivers and Oceans, sounds like something that could easily have dominated college and alternative radio formats in 1994, and maybe even 2012. It would need a radio edit, to be sure, as its five-minute run time would only have been rivaled in length by Blur's "Girls and Boys" (cut down from 4:50 to 4:18 for US single release, which, unsurprisingly went to number four on the US modern rock chart in '94). But, "Ocean" has a hell of a chorus - "We want an ocean" - a soaring and catchy hook that sticks on impact, something so repeatable that you could easily forget that Isle of Rhodes records as a two-piece, neither of which is a guitar. "Ocean" represents a gorgeous slice of nostalgia when John Major and Bill Clinton shook hands and the Atlantic Ocean was only a puddle to be jumped by the next great rock band that sounded like this.


September Girls :: "Danny Wood"

Irish skuzz-poppers, September Girls craft a brand of music that lies somewhere between Tennis and early Dum Dum Girls, just as cloying as it is a bit dangerous. Menacing bass and fuzzy guitars give way to a bouncy chorus of call-and-response vocals, the kind of thing that would be utterly adorable if not for the persistent threat of rock and roll at the periphery. "Danny Wood" is the kind of demo music you dreamed all the cute girls in your neighborhood were recording in their basements and garages. September Girls are way too cool for the dance but never too cool for dancing.


Letting Up Despite Great Faults :: "Bulletproof Girl"

Letting Up Despite Great Faults are something of a one-trick pony. They craft these post-chillwave jams for listeners tied intimately to the notion of grinding and pretty failures. "Bulletproof Girl" is no different with lyrics like, "I can see every word bounce off you" and "If I fall, would you take me down?". The keyboards glow with intentional florescence, an arrangement of growing insistence that arrives at the band's best chorus, rising to the hum of highway noise and a final conditional, "If I find my way back ... ." The girl in the title is immaculate, not privy to nicks and dings, the object of getting lost and realizing only too late that you had no weapons against her.


Departures :: "Pillars"

One of the best post-punk debuts of 2012 comes from Departures, a Canadian five-piece drawing on the tradition of Echo and the Bunnymen and early Bloc Party. "Pillars", a bass-heavy, shout-along affair, is eerily reminiscent of Kele Okereke's didactic vocals and roughed-up arrangement for "The Answer," though minus the final crashing conclusion and such a biting aphorism as, "you could talk a little less." The guitar leads on "Pillars" rip and charge as sharp angles behind dark lyrics like, "I don't want for you to see" and a surprisingly catchy chorus. It's all been intentionally buried in layers and layers of fuzz, but the melodies emerge from the haze, a haunting series of zombie hooks left to run roughshod over your zip code.


The Zolas :: "Observatory"

The Zolas rely on their ability to find a cloud-clearing chorus in their mixture of indie rock tropes and exceptionally hook-driven piano arrangements. On "Observatory", the second promotional release following one of the catchiest songs of 2012, "Knot In My Heart", the band is again at their methodical and occasionally weird work. "Observatory" is ostensibly a song about a stick-up in the midst of a break in, though it certainly chases down some increasingly bizarre pathways ("I want to read your book but I don't want to break the spine" and "We know we're living in a tumor/we know we're living in a coral reef") as the arrangement unfolds. It all boils toward the chorus, a bit of Spoon with the edges softened, an ebullient little slice of pop that will stick in your head immediately and for days.


Interview :: Alt-J [10.2.12]

Hotly-tipped UK band Alt-J, currently out on tour supporting past 32ft/sec interviewee's GROUPLOVE, shot some emails back and forth with us about their love of trainers, what the hell is a "Breezeblock" and what happens when someone, or everyone, starts comparing your band to Radiohead in 2012. Our questions and their answers after the jump.


On The List :: Sun Kil Moon @ Music Hall of Williamsburg [9.29.12]

[Ed.note] This review runs live and first on Bowery's House List blog. There is also no video or imagery from this show by anyone, anywhere, which is, if you think about it, sort of amazing in 2012. Kozelek fans live in the moment.

Mark Kozelek has already written this review. Without being overly meta, this is to say that he is both in on the joke and knows everything you might say or write about him. We all know this even without listening to his most recent thesis statement, “Sunshine in Chicago,” a song about being a musician getting older who used to play in a sort of famous band and is now a sort of famous solo artist, with all the niceties aside. The singer, alone onstage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, referenced exactly this notion while telling a protracted story about an incident from the previous evening in Philadelphia: 45-year-old Kozelek had made a broken pass at the 23-year old daughter of a fan, 58, who had invited the singer out to dinner with the family. Kozelek asked the daughter to dinner instead, and the father was incensed. “I don’t play Christian Rock,” said Kozelek. “My music is about death, depression, trying to get laid and not getting laid.”

There were chairs in the venue, and the lights came nearly all the way down as the singer took the stage amidst a reverent hush. Kozelek, dressed in a dark dress shirt and jeans, sat alone with his guitar, two bottles of water and a Becks that he would accidentally spill (and might have been nonalcoholic if the basement bartender can be believed on these sorts of vagaries). “One of the few pleasures I have,” Kozelek offered as maybe nonalcoholic Becks foamed from the neck of the salvaged bottle. He opened with Modest Mouse’s “Four Fingered Fisherman,” with the lyric “It doesn’t matter anyway”—spilled beer, not getting laid, sitting in chairs at a rock venue were all forgivable mistakes. He followed this with an original, “Moorestown,” which you could argue is the best song ever written about New Jersey by someone other than Bruce Springsteen. Kozelek settled in and girded himself for a set that was to be as long as a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, obliterating the audience in his quiet way on the night’s fourth offering, “Missed My Heart.”

Kozelek had not arrived here to save anyone, but the audience already knew this. On “Elaine,” a tune from his most recent record, Kozelek murmured, “Wish I could help you with your problems, but, babe, I’ve got enough of my own.” It is true for his audience, too, as he encouraged two fans to box after they yelled rival song titles from the wings. He may as well have tried to fuck their daughters. Everyone seemed to grasp this completely. Kozelek closed with “Cruiser,” a favorite, but the night was better summed up by his “UK Blues,” a song about being miserable on a European tour, with each new place, Finland, Denmark, London, Belfast, featured in the chorus. “Belfast, Belfast,” sang Kozelek, but it could have been “Brooklyn, Brooklyn,” just another stop on the singer’s moveable feast of earnest sadness. These are things everyone already knew but came to see anyway. Kozelek didn’t play “Sunshine in Chicago,” partly because he didn’t need to.