At first a lilting piano-based arrangement, Wolf Colony's "Beauty" finally turns over at the midpoint. Snapping snare and a muted tribal, "hey" vocals connect to craft the backbone of a meditation on ineffable beauty. The final word, "Aphrodite" offers more than a hint of the band's designs, an urgent and looping whisper about the symmetry and complexity of the beautiful, the desire and impossibilities of possessing it.
Vancouver Sleep Clinic sounds a great deal like Wisconsin superstar Bon Iver, a fact that will either call you to the wunderkind from Brisbane or will succeed in driving you from first single, "Vapour". Ethereal vocals and whispering keyboards mix with a bright acoustic guitar, eventually creating a charming final movement that feels both full and barely there in the same moment. Mastermind Tim Bettinson aches on one of the few unmistakable lyrics, "Where the heart is/is never a home," the kind of whip-smart derivation which, in this case, doesn't feel a bit forced.
Social Studies, a San Francisco outfit, find a roots-y tear in the Beach House dream-pop fabric. Natalia Rogovin sounds both fragile and resolute in the more propulsive moments of "Paint", vaguely provincial, against the backdrop of a meditative keyboard arrangement. Finally spilling over in the song's last minute, a guitar line chases the blinking keys at the top of the room, Rogovin marching away beneath doing a Victoria Legrand impression without a shred of irony or any bad footnotes.
The Sundays never died, they just reanimated years later as Night Flowers' latest single, "North". A plaintive guitar and vaguely menacing bass line only hint at the pathological danger contained in the vocals of Hester Ullyart. An ethereal and fading dream, she soars out over a chorus of increasingly chunky guitars, still bent on the sky even as the arrangement darkens beneath her. "North" represents a visual simile in sound, a filtered and highly-stylized montage of scenes spent driving through cities in Western Europe, a halcyon youth in form and function.
Growing a pleasant IDM-inspired creation out of the same sonic territory that Tune-Yards so dominated two years ago, Brooklyn's Salt Cathedral build something both angular and vaguely tropical on latest offering, "Move Along". Friscalating guitars follow sparse bass lines, the whole arrangement held together by Juliana Ronderos' fecund, crystalline vocal. Ronderos masters the stepped pitches of the song's latter half, chirping up and down with aplomb while whirring drum loops race behind her. Distant at times, but entirely charming, "Move Along" grows, lives and dies in the three-and-a-half-minute confines of the most basic pop songs.
Jon Lawless returns for the second-single, "Summer Solstice" as Swim Good - the previous effort "Totally A Mess Wild" has functionally disappeared from the Internet. "Summer Solstice" is a snapping synthesizer jam, an upbeat UB40 keyboard riff mixing with a whirring drum loop. With the addition of yelps and the synth horns that showed up all over the First Rate People demos back in 2009, Lawless has here built something entirely ebullient. Lyrically referencing a year-later-on "Solstice", Lawless drawls, "I think I used to play favorites back in 2010/I think I used to play favorites and now I'm doing it again." While absolute clarity is absent in a statement like this, it is the gift of the singer to make it feel relevant anyway, a singable hook about not growing out of old habits. Soon enough, played favorites or not, "Summer Solstice", like the ever collapsing days it describes, evaporates into well-remembered nostalgia.
St. Lenox is all lounge-singer-gone-right. On "Just Friends", band mastermind, Andrew Choi, sprays soulful vocals about a failed relationship ("I never could hold my tongue/you never could hold your liquor") over one of those 1970s keyboard progressions that screams of washed out bedrooms and pixelated afternoon television. The R&B vibe hangs as the corners, but the other influences are hard to place, an arrangement that denies easy treatment. The chorus, and the whole thing is one catchy melodic transition to another, finds Choi asking for time to get over this lost love as his voice turns heartbroken on lines like, "Go it alone, suffer on just a little bit longer ... Need a little more time to let it go". It's immensely memorable, a hook you want to sing and sing again, a brilliant slice of pop in a tiny package.
Pure Bathing Culture exceed these references and footnotes on "Dream The Dare", the band's most expansive and fully-rendered work to date. Mixing sweeping guitars and the liquidity of a dripping drum sample, the vocals rise beneath the listener on lyrics like, "Give me forward motion." The melody is downright baroque: decent, delicate and measured. As the chorus peppers back and forth between pitches - the kind of tonal modulation that makes pop music so immediate and so pleasing - vocalist Sarah Versprille suggests a transcendence of limitations, a sort of transmutation of the "withered words" and caged chests that we hide in and behind. Vaguely existential in the grand humanist tradition of "feeling everything all the time", Pure Bathing Culture builds a mountain of dreamy pop on "Dream The Dare", one of the best hooks and best songs of the year.
Anna Wiebe turns out a sweet slice of slow-drive folk on latest single "Don't Know How" from her recently released EP, Full of the Light. "Don't Know How" roots in a delicate duet, Wiebe's voice leaning in on itself as the arrangement builds behind her. The lyrics are didactic - "tell me what to eat" and "play me two more songs and go to bed" - fragile, "hold me nice and close", and resolute, "Don't want to tie knots or build bridges to you." What emerges is a complex framework, a love that is equal parts possession, possessed, freedom and choice, which allows Wiebe to pose the central question: "Maybe I don't know how?" This universe of hers is tough: twin desires to beat out other girls for your affections, and to let you make your own way back to her. Pretty and fraught, we're left with a beautiful exegesis of a potentially brutal thing.
Boy-girl, garage-twee drone opens the Bent Shapes propulsive new cut, "Big Machines", building to one of the best lyrics of 2013, "Things would be great if great things could stay that way." The furtive interplay between the band's three vocalists crafts a breezy summer jam, replete with a bit of wind-down interlude in the middle to cast the finishing kick in appropriate relief. Nothing massively inventive but nothing hopelessly derivative either, Bent Shapes sharpen their influences to a point on "Big Machines" and "Behead Yrself, Pt. 2". The latter is the lead track from their debut record, Feels Weird, due out August 20th on do-no-wrong Father/Daughter Records. Despite their initial contentions that greatness is fleeting, it would be remiss not to grant them, at the very least, the summer.
Rooted in a Reading Rainbow synth-loop, Luke Reed builds latest single "Rivers of Love" like a dreamy ripple. The arrangement unfolds evenly, a measured and echoing world full of perfect and magical physics. Maybe a bit of form meeting function, Reed wades through the title lyric, "Rivers of love / I have swam through" at a pace that would even try the patience of a word like "languid". It's all beautiful, watery stuff, a group of shimmering forevers pushed out on the surface, floating into the distance on a narrow ribbon of liquid.
Chasing the last glimmer in the fading afternoon of the Passion Pit legacy, Outsides, an electro-pop project from Kansas City musician Tim Ellis finds a bit of lingering brilliance on "Seesaw". A glittering syntheizer progression reminiscent of Capital Cities (you can sing "you could be my luck" at a more languid tempo over the opening chords) ends in an ineffable chorus, a lyrical and musical elevation as Ellis sings, "you go up and down like a seesaw." Perhaps reflecting on the unpredictability of a significant other, the singer finally resigns himself to "guess where you'll land." With an EP in the works for later in the summer, Outsides will soon be on the rise himself, a gift for ear-worm melody and the distant synthesizer victories in the tradition of the Small Black and others mining the digital sky for treasure.
Brighton's Lion Bark, a group of music school drop-outs, put together a carefully layered dose of throw-back pop on debut song, "Two Prongs". A simple slow-drive about a woman rife with terrible contradictions - the "Two Prongs" thing - Lion Bark showcase delicate harmonies that recall some of the recent work of Los Angeles band, Warships, the kind of thing that would only require a box-step and a harpsichord to reveal some of its The Mamas and the Papas' footnotes. Four of the band's five members are listed as possible vocalists, and this sounds more than plausible in the song's silky refrain. Melodramatic in moments, "Two Prongs" describes the trappings - and this word works on two levels here - of the terrible claustrophobia of human relations.
Like a slow-dance at the edge of space-time, or maybe you could make a case for a blissed-out ode to "Where Is My Mind", Londoners, Anto Dust take the listener into a beautiful, twisting orbit on latest single, "Eyeless In London". Largely the product of a modulated guitar riff, the arrangement glides up and down effortlessly, aided and abetted by the charming, distant vocal of the band's mastermind, Anto Cossu. Dream-pop with an emphasis on the subconscious, something nearly lost, "Eyeless In London" resounds as a night drive through halfway remembered sounds and places, itself, instantly memorable.
The surf-rock veneer of La Vega's "Key West" eventually gives way to a multi-layered chorus that pays ode to both the Strokes and the lunch-pail rock of bands like the Hold Steady. The refrain which kicks with one of the best pre-choruses of 2013, "It's almost way too late for you say that / it's almost way too late to even try", a languid vocal that recalls bits of Casablancas and a coupling of wailing guitar and an insistent piano backing that hints of Craig Finn. The refrain itself explodes on the back of this invocation with a vigorous defense of alone-ness in the heat and waning days of a summer. A rip-roaring good time, La Vega have given listeners one of the many sounds of the summer.