The 1975 :: "Chocolate"

Major label veneer is equal parts drawback and payoff, a duality that Manchester, UK band The 1975 ride right down the back of on latest single, "Chocolate". Relentlessly poppy, "Chocolate" pumps with the type of ebullient energy that Phoenix channeled on "Lisztomania", all but daring you to hate it for appealing to such a wide audience; they challenge you to charge them with - what? - too much ambition? Sure, it's easy to make a crack about Kings of Leon here, angular little jabs about what a dumb song "Sex On Fire" is, or how "Use Somebody" set rock music back at least two decades. "Chocolate" features at least one line that indicates a certain self-awareness, a salvaging of the commercialization impulse, "Think about what to do/think about what to say/think about how to think," a downright meta-critical analysis of the pop trope, in some sense setting us free from thinking too hard about what it all might mean on our end. They know; we're all in on the joke. This all goes a long way round to say, "Chocolate" feels less than credible the entire time it's on you stereo, but you absolutely won't turn it off. Contained in a lyric, it is: "Her hair smells like chocolate," a primacy as visceral as it is appealing.

The 1975 plays Mercury Lounge on 3.27 for a show that will be very sold out.


Sivu :: "Better Man Than He"

The evangelical overtones - lines like "we'll find faith in the most magical of places" and "touch Christ in impending doom" - almost overwhelm the quality of the music on Sivu's debut single, "Better Man Than He". It's a post-Mumford world, after all, and independent rock stands as a secular vanguard against the bait-and-switch proselytizing of a certain East London folk act, one who still, rather remarkably, contends they aren't Christian. But, Sivu doesn't give to such easy reduction. He claims no religious foundation, his references to religious traditions merely attempts to name and place the indefinite space of life's grand existential questions. "Better Man Than He", recorded with Alt-J producer Charlie Andrews, betrays a similar delicacy, a flickering piano and friscalating snares. It is self-consciously pretty, a song about terrible darkness that resounds with unstoppable elegy.


Interview :: Local Natives [1.28.13]

Local Natives seized us the first time we heard them on the eve of their performances at SXSW in 2009. This festival appearance, in addition to a stunning first record, Gorilla Manor, got the band signed to Frenchkiss and cemented them as the West Coast's version of Grizzly Bear, purveyors of a distinctive and worldly pop. The band should readily transcend all of this on sophomore release, Hummingbird. I traded some emails with singer Taylor Rice about the band's democratic nature, working with Aaron Dessner of the National, and tracing the band's roots to the living rooms of their teenage years. Our questions and his answers after the jump; Hummingbird is out tomorrow and can be found just about everywhere.


High Safari :: "Hey Hombre!"

Alternating between angular, sunny guitars and chunkier power chord breaks, High Safari, a London duo, craft a bit of breezy pop on "Hey Hombre!". Maybe just south of twee, bits of the tropical seep from the pores of the arrangement. go-go percussion flourishes accented with lyrical exhortations like, "Won't you come with me?" and "I wish I was stuck in Thailand." It is escapism, plain and simple. The final act, a layered build out of the bridge, features the edict, "in the sunshine" set against something that sounds suspiciously like, "not coming back," cementing the emigre recommendation. About getting away, and certainly not thinking too hard about it, High Safari present the listener slices of the south for un-dilated winter days.


Dead Mellotron :: "Weird Dreams"

Sure, it takes 45 seconds of distant guitar highway noise for Dead Mellotron's "Weird Dreams" to get underway, but eventually it unfolds in the tradition of slow-drive singles like Washed Out remix Small Black's "Despicable Dogs". The first drum hits even recall moments of "Where Is My Mind?" for their shared shrugging sense of the impending disaster. This most definitely isn't the part where you feel better; it's where you learn to live with feeling worse. "Weird Dreams" rings with bits of both shoegaze and dream-pop, airplane hanger acoustics and underwater reverb, a world full of buried vocals and snapping drums.


The Traps :: "Calypso"

While the fundamental conceit of The Traps' "Calypso" faults on two levels - 1. It draws on Homer's Odyssey, a historic stay-away when it comes to independent rock bands and 2. It owes ludicrously to Phoenix - the song still succeeds against these steep odds. Perhaps, these twin absurdities conspire to create a sort of charming escapism, a buzzing bit of synth rock, the band describing Calypso as a "lioness" as their arrangement heaves and tweaks behind them. This isn't a think piece, the moral ambiguities of the original text left firmly on the side, no relativism of what it meant to be the title track woman, keeping her protagonist for just long enough, only to be turned down for the indomitable and too-trusting Penelope. These, we suppose, are needless revisions, and "Calypso" is so obviously supposed to be fun, full of sunny guitars, keyboards and shouting vocals.


Blessa :: "Unfurl"

An expansive and pretty bit of dream-pop, Blessa, a Sheffield band, build a monument to risk on "Unfurl". Singer Olivia Neller emerges from a wall of guitar reverb and loaded bass with a brittle and brilliant vocal, breaking in and out of her upper register on the song's memorable refrain. When the chorus hits, Neller seems less to sing than to overflow in a series of rapid-fire syllables and tones. Organized chaos, "Unfurl" is barely constrained to its own architecture, a song spinning near the edge of falling apart. This is, perhaps, the prestige, the risk, the twist and the reveal. The band hints at danger and a crushing sadness, only mildly rearing at the precipice. Neller remains compelling from the ebbs and flows of the arrangement, willing to bloody her nose and lip for our circumspection.


Youth Lagoon :: "Dropla"

Youth Lagoon began as a bedroom recording project that grew long and large without ever losing its sense of intimacy on 2011's stunning LP The Year of Hibernation. It was a general specific, a record so widely loved and with which everyone expressed a different, sort of personal connection. Returning with the first single from sophomore record, Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon evolves toward something more expansive on "Dropla". The arrangement clanging away and unfolding into a uninterrupted stream of sounds that border on cacophony, the aesthetic trembles on the outer marker of chaos. "You'll never die" is the edict, the motif and the high water point. Nearly tipping six-minutes, Youth Lagoon swells his sound noticeably here, a good sign for the potential for sustained magical realism on Wondrous Bughouse. The listener, in the end, is left washing away with the sounds of the old, lo-fi keyboards with which Youth Lagoon bored his way into so many hearts and music collections.


Night Panther :: "Fire"

Night Panther initially sounds a lot like Princeton on latest single, "Fire", a restrained baroque piano progression that unleashes into a full synthesizer jam in its second movement. Previously, the band aimed itself at glossy and sensual synth arrangements, and "Fire" represents an evolution, the first movement tied to a pretty piano and string arrangement and a swooning lyric, "there's a fire under my nose." However, "Fire" proves relentlessly expansive, finishing with a kitchen-sink flourish where Night Panther channels the most satisfying moments of the Scissor Sisters catalog: big piano chord resolutions, synth horns, falsetto vocals. In short, it's a circus tent break up song, the last lyrics, "it's time for me to move on."


First Rate People :: "You Won't Get This Joke At All"

First Rate People storm back with the dialogical single, "You Won't Get This Joke At All". Always able to cobble together diverse influences, sometimes forcing the ideas for two songs into a beautiful and catchy cacophony, "You Won't..." opens with synth punches that are equal parts Passion Pit and Britney's "You Drive Me Crazy". Of course, the twist comes with the addition of a dialed-back and pretty acoustic guitar progression and Anna Horvath's singular vocal. One of the best voices in independent music, Horvath is heartbreaking and heartbroken on lyrics like, "There are streets and there are signs / there were worse and better times," a neo-Dickensian understanding of an emotional trauma in our particular modern moment. Her last line, "across these gender lines / I need you," the arrangement returning to the breezy acoustic guitar on which it originally torqued, suggests a profound tensile strength, a durability even. If these two song ideas can be firmly blended into one arrangement, these broken relationships might too survive. "You Won't" is one of the first great songs of 2013 from a band certain to breakthrough this year.


Local Natives :: "Heavy Feet"

Local Natives long ago cornered the market on big group vocals. Each arrangement seemed to swell on human power alone, the spacious guitars and signature pounding tams subordinated to the nearly physical lift of a group of voices racing over the longer, curved, top part of the wing. "Heavy Feet", a track from their excellent sophomore LP, Hummingbird, is a treatise on the type of love and loss that seems to crest in the mid-20s. The chorus is full of claps, a post-apocalyptic lyric, "after everything," and drums that speak the influence of the production of the National's Aaron Dessner. It is a high tide and a washing away, two and three part harmonies colliding to the finish in a race to get us all finally up in the air.


Hilang Child :: "Chaturanga"

The NPR-pop of Hilang Child recalls the most life-affirming moments of bands like Fleet Foxes and Stornoway. Debut song, "Chaturanga" features vocals that are at once warm and cold, echoing against a sparse piano progression that somewhat relentlessly opens its lens wider and wider until expansive "ahhs" bring the song's whole universe into focus, a gigantic and somehow undistorted fish-eye. The Hilang Child EP, First Writings is available for free download through the band's Bandcamp.