Ever since last spring, the Brooklyn slow-jammers Wet have spun simmering arrangements of hook-laden R&B. On "No Lie", out next month on a Columbia imprint, the formula grows considerable darker than winsome debut track, "U Da Best". A digital drum-snap hits like a blinking light at the end of the world as vocalist Kelly Zutrau surveys the wreckage of a bombed out relationship. These failures were laid bare on "U Da Best" too but the veneer was also considerably brighter. "No Lie" colors everything dark red, lyrics bleeding from multiple mortal injuries. The brightest spot is a melodic ode to TLC's "Scrubs", here on the lyrics "but I've had enough, you put me on and on and on" mirroring "hanging out the passengers side of his best friend's ride" of the seminal 1999 super hit. But this is no playground, or girl-power anthem. "No Lie" freezes and smolders in the same instant, delicate and crushing at once, Zutrau both fragile and resolute. The final lyric provides a measure of escape velocity: "I've had enough," as the arrangement winnows away.
The latest from Swim Good is a buzzing slow-jam collaboration, "Lobby" with Atlanta production wizard Go Dreamer. "Lobby" tweaks and nods through its opening section, lyrical nods to overdosing, the Meatpacking District and the most dedicated meditation on the role of hotels in the nocturnal social scene since R. Kelly's "Ignition [Remix]". The second movement, just over two minutes in, essentializes and refines the idea, Swim Good pulling out just four notes around which to build a languid and pretty conclusion. It's the slow-dance that comes after the slow-dance that ended the party.
Daytona, a New York three-piece, head relentlessly south on latest single, "The Road." With poly-rhythms in guitar loops and the lightly break-beat drums, "The Road" chases some of the Local Natives/Foreign Born/Lord Huron world-pop end of the independent rock pool. "The Road" recalls the melody of Talking Heads "Nothing But Flowers" so much that you can almost hear Byrne moaning "You got it, you got it" at the edges. The tropical-pop ode is surely reverence, or a bit of accidental genre derivation. Daytona's "The Road" is quite excellent in its own right, an irrepressible bit of pop to warm the corners.
In a combination of some of the riot grrrl pop of Le Tigre and the mid-tempo progressions of bands like Fleetwood Mac, Annalibra, a four-piece from Des Moines, offer an anti-anthem on "Battle World." Embracing the uncertainty of the tiny universe they create here, vocalist Anna Gebhardt asks, "Who am I/and who are you/and how did we arrive here?" It's their "this is not my beautiful house" moment, the drums just beginning to lift off the downbeat, the rich middle section of "Battle World" with its driving guitars and Gebhardt's brave alto working its way through the maw. Undamaged by this uncertainty, the band settles on "Who cares where the world came from?", each word hitting nearly in time with the snare drum, an insistence bread on some fringe brand of Midwestern existentialism. The hooks, Gebhardt's lilting voice, emerge as immediately singable, a short rock song that demands to be replayed and chanted along with. As the band suggests with its blithe nihilism: Who cares where this came from?
With a name that sounds like a Josh Radnor movie, a mash of unpunctuated colloquialisms, Brooklyn's Great Good Fine Ok disburse a synthetic pop that shoots into the sky on debut single, "You're The One For Me." The opening lyrics, "hit 'em with a little bit of crazy/hit 'em with a little bit of love," before the song's engine has really even turned over, describe the architecture here: equal parts absurd and earnest. The chorus is the money-maker, a Michael Angelakos-indebted parabola of soaring vocals and ebullient keyboards, the title lyric set against the edict: "Show me where the love is grown." Pretty, catchy and ridiculous, Great Good Fine Ok embody this brand of pure pop escapism in archetypal fashion. It isn't a think-piece, it doesn't need to be. It's only discomfiting if you look down or around, or, stupidly, consider too deeply something meant to be glossy veneer.
Wild Ones alight to boxing up heartbreak into little pop songs. On latest single, "From Nothing" from their delicate and charming debut LP, Keep It Safe, the blinking synths and mild down stroke guitars coalesce behind the adorable vocal of Danielle Sullivan. It isn't a world of good answers, Sullivan cooing, "It ain't lit up" about the sorts of existential darkness that lies at the core of so many human relations. No one has hit this disjointed juxtaposition so well since Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley churned out similar sounding music in the early 2000s. The arrangement of "From Nothing" unravels in the bridge before rewiring back toward the final refrains, a layered duet of Sullivan's voice done twice, crystalline delicacy about the dark little centers of the universe.
Belgian Fog. On most recent track, "You Drive Me To Madness" singer Robert Dale glides into his falsetto in a chorus that chirps between the same five notes. It's the type of modulation endemic to the best hooks, this one drowned in the soft glow of clipping vocals and tumbling keyboards. Between previous single, "Wait For Help" and "You Drive Me To Madness" it's a wonder that Dale isn't already signed and working on a debut full length effort. The end result of his most recent one-off pulses as a magically real universe - he calls it "another dimension" - of pleasant and fantastical orthogonals, the distance spinning towards and away from the listener in equal measure, a promise of things to come.
Almighty Rhombus refuse to be fascinated by obfuscation. On spirited little single, "Blank" the band builds a temple to a small idea, a little over two minutes, shabby guitars and a plaintive bass line mix easily with the silky harmonies and pleasant hook of the chorus. The band sings, "I don't know anything about you/ I'll never know/Walk out the door" a revisionist ode to a time when it wasn't so important to have it all figured out. The song ends, appropriately, without even finishing the signature lyric, the gooey harmonies already having done their work.
Emily Reo has one of the best bedroom albums of 2013, and maybe one of its finer efforts period with her latest LP, Olive Juice. Like its namesake, Reo's laptop jams - think Grimes meets Beach House - emerge as punch-drunk and unsettling. The use of auto-tune is decidedly unironic as her glitchy, pretty symphonies spin from her fingers. On "Peach," she channels the melody from Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' 1960 single, "Stay," updated here with an anxious and drugged out modernity. The chorus is a beautiful mess, the loops and electronics fighting each other to the point of near dissonance, Leo stuck in layers at the center, nearly buried in the hum. Rival for the best song on the record, "Coast" stutter-steps its way through seven-and-a-half minutes that are as good as any released this year. There is opportunity cost to be sure, but everyone should be listening to these songs and this record. It holds the power to transmute, full of contemporary sorrows and sticky melodies.
Hints of Real Estate and Elliot Smith creep at the corners of Polly Hi's latest 7" single release, "Mouses." It is breezy pop music, little guitar pluck eddies spinning lugubriously back on themselves. The vocals, all three or four layers of them, are similarly drenched in echo, generating the image of a sunny and somber afternoon that ends before it explodes. "Carousel" represents a more focused creation, more linear and less corkscrew. The result is no less satisfying, though for anyone who invested in Oh, Inverted World or Chutes Too Narrow, the arrangement may cut too close to home. Both tracks reveal a sophisticated and talented song writer in mastermind Sam McDougle, a band that surely deserves more attention for these two ear worm melodies.
Four-piece Flyte, purveyors of 1980s throwback pop, channel a slow-drive on latest release "Words Come Easily." All build up and no payoff, the band hollows out the chorus, giving the title lyric negative space in which to ricochet. It's all a reversal: a pop song about the effable, the facility of language rather than the difficulty of it. The melody hints at the opening moments of Alphaville's "Forever Young," but this is a more than forgivable footnote. Bombast is never courted here, a lasting and shocking prestige never emerges, the drums never really kick in; it's just this, something easy to describe.
Wolf Alice continue their assault on the fuzz rock pantheon with slow jam, "Blush." A brittle and slow opening gives way to feedback-drone pathos, singer Ellie Rowsell repeating the meaningless and meaningful hook, "punch drunk, dumb struck, happy happy." It unwinds like slow-dance Smashing Pumpkins, reverb-heavy guitars sluicing backwards as the dreamy Rowsell mummers "happy" like a mythical panacea. Her final indictment, "curse the things that made me sad for so long," this, the last dance of dire times.
Brooklyn's everything-is-happening-all-of-the-time dreamy post-punkers, the Meaning of Life soften the edges of the existential on "Laura V." In what could easily be the song structure of a Silversun Pickups song, the band kicks out the windows with break-beat drums and racing strum pattern. The vocal winnows its way through to your ears, ethereal and unremembered, coming on like a lucid and feverish dream. An acoustic guitar provides the texture, perhaps the grounding even, keeping the arrangement level in the background, making the unreal, real. The pick ups are lightning, the hooks gentle, a pleasing nihilism. What does it all mean? Likely nothing, likely everything.
The deployment of "to be" as a helping verb in the title of High Hazel's single, "Hearts Are Breaking" obfuscates some of the crime. Who is breaking these hearts, and how is it done? It also implies something of the moment, not "Broken Hearts" or the cautiously prescriptive, "Hearts Break", instead, in the ever unfolding now, "Hearts Are Breaking", an anonymous and complicated negligence. Sure, it sounds a lot like the Smiths, the most obvious comparison for this Sheffield four-piece. Inside this derivation there lies something of the timeless as the band wistfully works its way through lyrics like, "even in skies of different hue/I won't forget you" as plaintive 1950s rock guitars weave their way around the hook. Ultimately, High Hazels craft a mixture of the resurgent present amid winking odes to the past, a balance of time and tense.
A big, psyched-out circus tent, Children of Pop's "I Know" slams forward on the back of big guitars and a head-trip chorus, "Take control of your mind." Maybe it's the seeming lack of a preposition that engenders an aesthetic of absolute immediacy, the word, "of" smashed and then lost in the urgency of the hook. Maybe in the spiraling world of the refrain, there isn't time for grammar; maybe there isn't a need. Like the Flaming Lips blended with Death From Above 1979, "I Know" is an edgy and memorable jam, built for the sky and the losing of the self in it.
As with their previous work, Angelinos Wildcat! Wildcat!, the trick here is done as a scale model, everything in seeming miniature, an arrangement large and small at once, a ship in a bottle. The snappy and winsome "Garden Greys" roots itself in the band's quintessential keyboards before spinning off into the sky in the chorus and in the final movement. It shouldn't necessarily work in the era of crushed attention and messianic expectations; something so discrete should be ignored, but sounding like a college radio Passion Pit, Wildcat! Wildcat! refuse this calculation, demanding attention and scope without seeming to demand it at all.
The most delicate pop in the world emerges from the mind and hands of Ed Riman, the architect of Hilang Child. Giving nods to Bon Iver, early Rogue Wave, and Fleet Foxes, Hilang Child builds a Jenga tower of silky vocals and seemingly distant instruments, all so precariously placed and tenuously settled that it seems the whole thing could collapse in a moment. But it holds together with a specific and gentle gravity, the glittering flourishes of "Gold Isle," a worldly pop song equal to anything in the Justin Vernon universe. Amid all the fragility lies a central firmness, a timelessness even, and just because everything feels like it might break doesn't mean it's broken.