Rich and somber, Alice Boman's "Waiting" emerges from behind its bedroomer aesthetic as both heart-sick and morose. All about departures, Boman crafts misdirected emotional syllgysm like, "I want you more than I need you / I need you so bad," leaving the listener with tape fuzz, a mournful piano progression and a series of projected, searing memories. This is Boman's pain, not ours, but the imagined pathos is striking. Her debut EP, Skisser, Swedish for "sketches", is full of this type of communicable trauma, like a female-fronted and vastly darker Youth Lagoon. It's hard to imagine Boman waiting on anything or anyone - even as the central image of her signature track - when she is so obviously in the process of arrival.
Fists raised against an obfuscated enemy, youth in the vagaries of revolt, Eliza and the Bear continue to craft their everything-is-happening-all-the-time pop on latest single, "Friends". The shout-along vocal refrain, "I've got friends, I've got family here," is both reassurance and battle cry, a protective outrage and a communal love in the same breath. The high-fret guitar works adds an element of drama as the band storms through a taut little arrangement, like being dropped into the second-half of a song from the first Arcade Fire record. Eliza and the Bear are poppier by a large margin, an ebullient horn continuing to announce their arrival, for it is only a matter of time before these songs seemingly about everything are seemingly everywhere.
A meditation on the ephemeral, Dinosaur Bones provide a slow-drive, Strokes-on-opiates jam on latest single, "Spins In Circles". Unfolding in layers, the initial conceit of a languid bass line and Sunday afternoon drums expands into a fully-rendered arrangement, fuzzed-out guitars meandering in figure-eight form before gaining down-stroke intensity. "It won't be long till they're all long gone" mumbles singer Ben Fox. It's a three-minute pop song; what could be more fleeting?
A miasma of grey English austerity, Lanterns On The Lake's, "Another Tale From Another English Town", from second LP, Until The Colours Run, represents a model of restraint and contained eruption. Really a song in two halves, the first initiates the cold expanse of the band's power, eventually building to crashing conclusion, a meditation on a regional claustrophobia, singer Hazel Wilde's silent alarm vocal intoning, "It's getting hard to breathe round here, to think round here." The second half is markedly more muted, Wilde washing over and over on the same lyric, "We don't want to fight, we want the quiet life." Both pretty and spare, "Another Tale From Another English Town" fades into a hammock of guitar fuzz and chimes.
One of the best bands coming out of LA over the past few years, Happy Hollows return in advance of their next record, Amethyst, with "Galaxies", backing the already riveting and retrofitted "Endless". The band's new sound features a more synthesizer-heavy backdrop coupled with strong baselines and the beautiful hurricane of singer Sarah Negahdari's vocals. Negahdari, most recently playing bass on tour with Silversun Pickups, charms at the top of the room on "Galaxies", leaning into the duet as a sea of swirling guitars spin around her. The Fleetwood Mac influence - and Negahdari confirmed this isn't just critical speculation - is less easy to spot on "Galaxies" than it is on "Endless", but the guitar acrobatics give a mild hint, discrete objects held aloft, a spinning infinity. If modern rock and alternative radio producers have an ounce of vision, "Endless" will be at radio by the end of the summer and Amethyst will be making its case for one the best independent rock records of 2013.
If there is still power left in independent music, it is surely in moments like the opening to Misterwives' latest release, "Coffins". Vocalist Mandy Lee sets herself as both brittle and resolute against a tiny keyboard progression. A nondescript tragedy in slow motion, "Coffins" opens its lens in a sort of broad elegy, sorrow in strings, melody and lyrics. This represents a useful counterpoint to some of the band's upbeat electronics on previous single, "Kings & Queens", Lee here turned from the dance floor to the pulpit on lyrics like, "How do you soften / the thought of carrying coffins."
For New Yorkers, the band plays Mercury Lounge this evening.
Playing a languid form of the outsider pop that has recently charmed audiences with its deftness and lilting harmonies, Modern Merchant, a Brooklyn four-piece, offer their voice to the chorus on "Like Minded". A bit like Local Natives set in a sultry lounge scene, the band crafts a sparse guitar lick to offset the languorous vocals, eventually soaring with the addition of synthesizers at the edges. The arrangement glides along without obvious friction, a pleasant male-female duet announcing the second movement, a mildly more urgent take on the original conceit, rich and moving harmonies set against a stirring progression. More than just one song, the band's most recent EP, For The Fields, is as good an extended player to come out of Brooklyn this year, offering odes to Grizzly Bear and the aforementioned Local Natives, without feeling a bit derivative.
A fuzzed-out, mid-tempo jam, Keebo's most recent offering "Follow" sounds exactly like what you might think. The chorus, relying heavily on the title lyric, chases itself between lead and backing vocals. Glittering lead guitar is offset by a feedback heavy low-end, a sum-total that sounds like Beth Cosentino trying to cover "Cut Your Hair"; and this is more of a compliment than it might sound.
With a brashness usually reserved for rap music and the wide-screen bombast of the title sequence of a Bond flick, Brooklyn's Lolo rips the doors off the industry with debut single, "Weapon For Saturday". Channeling dense visual metaphor - other than the title lyric she suggests she is, " the baddest car in parking lot", "the house that fell on the bitter witch", "the corporate guy with the biggest tip", "the fastest horse in the Derby race", and this doesn't even address Lolo's most reaching comparative lyric, "I'm only the face of every woman" - the singer manages to tangle with a restless becoming, the attempt to be everything menacing at once. It works. A bit campy, to be sure, the surging strings and the 3am Adele impression, but "Weapon For Saturday" is that rare piece of major label pop you hear before it becomes major label pop. If this proves to be the path for Lolo, this will be the sound of the takeover before the takeover.
Chris Laufman, the keyboard mastermind behind the bedroom jams of Wise Blood, settles the listener into an immediate claustrophobia on "Alarm". The first lyrics, "I can't think/Someone's sitting right in front of me/I need some personal space," become the hook, a modern dystopia full of crossed fingers, local news reports about arson, tense and dissonant woodwinds in the bridge. For an artist that digs obfuscation (see every promotional photo ever) as much as illumination, it makes sense that a song that sounds this breezy would cover such terribly anxious ground. "Alarm" has the potential to unsettle at a gut level, though a saxophone loop and Laufman's laconic vocal indicate that all isn't lost, even if the walls, ceiling and floor appear to be closing in.
All unfiltered bombast on "Dream Machines", Big Deal drape themselves in a blighted, shouting fatalism. "Dream Machines", slamming with double-tap drums and a boy-girl duet sounds like Joy Formidable (and it's worth noting that Big Deal are the heirs to this throne) covering a Stars joint, dream-pop holding a long kiss goodnight with shoegaze. One of the biggest songs of the year, it's a world of moral victories and letdowns, as singer Alice Costelloe leads from above with lines like, "Nothing here is built to last / what you wanted and what you chose / you can't have both." Instead of a shrugging conclusion, there lies triumph in the big, crunchy chord progression and Costelloe's duet with partner Kacey Underwood. Finding both union and beauty in the noise, singing to one another, "What's mine is yours is yours is mine," before concluding, "We'll grow our hair / cut our ties." As the arrangement surges around them, we presume these two are planning to leave everything but each other.
Built on a simple guitar progression and a reliable snare drum, Island Boy launches "Heart Attack" into an echoing stratosphere of pop. It adds complexity, a chorus that explodes out of the speakers like the best parts of the Small Black catalog, all whipping synthesizer drums and vocals drowning in layer upon layer of reverb. The final movement grows no bigger than the original conceit, it merely reaffirms the idea: a long slow jam for someone with far too much to think about. Like the cover art, it is a flight over water, pensive and relentlessly existential.
With an ode to the synth and bass pick-ups of the Killers' "Human", Waylayers produce a similar progression with remarkably more muted results. "The Hook" is all pent up aggression, lyrics about resignation not transmutation, a shrugging and pretty, "give into the fault lines", as good a visual metaphor about geology as you'll get in 2013. While the arrangement, soaked in ethereal synthesizer and guitar, never fully takes off, never delivers the moment of explosion that the listener might suitably be expecting from all this build up, "The Hook" proves interested in something a bit more midtempo. The last line of the chorus reflects this quiet escapism, "I'd rather live my life inside my dreams." There will be no slamming conclusion, no miracles here, just the rigid and relentless plate tectonics grinding slowly beneath our feet.
We are proud to hold the world premiere of the latest double-sided single from Amity Beach, a band with a name that evokes one of the most famous tropes of summer - a marauding, homicidal shark set against the pragmatic and alarmist town sheriff. These are, after all, the two narrative thrusts of the season: societal moralisms in direct conflict with unrestrained id, anarchy at war with the social contract, a shark come to terrorize your town. Amity Beach manages to find a sweet medium here, structured pop constructions with nothing but brilliant carbonated chaos in the middle. On A-Side, "Sunday Nights to Infinity", Amity Beach finds itself at the intersection of slamming guitars and ebullient keys, a late-night anthem about backs pushed like bulwarks against mounting responsibilities. It is one part Surfer Blood, one part Fang Island - especially in the guitars in stomping second movement - like Los Campesinos, an attempt to sound like everything is happening all of the time. "Avalanches", the B-side, recalls Beulah, a horn-drenched summer jam engaged in perpetual lift-off. The band does nothing to declare a winner between these twin impulses to build and destroy, but instead of blindly rooting for the town, Amity Beach admits with two of the best songs of the summer that - just a little bit - we might be pulling for the shark too.
This review runs live and first on Bowery Presents' House List blog with great photos from Brian Reilly.
Last fall, New York magazine wondered if Brooklyn was finished. The cover story featured Barclays Center, a veritable spaceship of urban development that landed at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. But the arena as a new Brooklyn icon wasn’t truly finished until the National, a band whose Midwestern-displacement story mirrors many of the borough’s residents, took to its stage last night. As their fans—a bearded and craft-brew-swilling demographic hybrid of DIY and yuppie—clapped along, the band, avatars of Kings County’s mixture of aspiration and crooked shame, opened with “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” the sound of everything Brooklyn could and couldn’t be.
The early part of the set saw the National run through material from their latest, Trouble Will Find Me, mixed with songs from their previous two records, High Violet and Boxer. Playing “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Sea of Love” (before which they facetiously said, “We’ve played 35 venues in this city, and it’s great to be back here where it all started”), the National proved to be in sharp and slicing form, tumbling tom-tom drums colliding with Matt Berninger’s graveled baritone. The quintet then performed “Sorrow,” which they “knew better than any other” song, after playing it for six straight hours straight as performance art at MoMA PS1 just a few weeks ago. Somewhere someone bit into an artisanal sausage and washed it down with an IPA just as the song about being absolutely miserable forever rang through the rafters. It was Brooklyn, old and new, misery and joy, on display in the same moment for the band, clad in black and backed by a string and horn section.
Following a run of “Squalor Victoria” and “I Need My Girl,” the National ripped through “Graceless,” the down-tempo “Pink Rabbits” and “England.” The crowd waited for one of the five-piece’s signature tunes and perhaps the night’s defining moment, “Fake Empire,” a song ostensibly about the terrible mistakes of the second Bush administration but could just as easily have been applied to the coterminous power and hypocrisy of Brooklyn’s rise to cultural prominence. The band and their fans sang the title lyric with real vigor, staying out sort of late on a weeknight in the moment when Brooklyn found nothing left to do or prove.
In their most ambitious and expansive single to date, First Rate People layer the synth-stabs in equal measure to elegy on "Dark Age". Full of killer lyrics about a receding youth like, "We were moody and hopeful and green" and "I'm digging the claws in the feeling", the band describes a sort of dissatisfied hyper-modernity, the song's title, this "Dark Age" described as a note on a phone, rhymed with "new keys for a new cage". It's a generational polemic in form and function, lines about the "folly of youth" backed by a relentless synthesizer progression, a modern-sounding song about an unfolding ribbon of semi-bad times. The outtro, the song's closing group harmony, a nearly two-and-a-half minute mediation on the lyric, "I thought you were showing me a home," implies that this descent into darkness that they call aging, has done little to foster a sense of belonging.The listener is left with a few voices, a plucked guitar and an evaporating synthesizer, aging seconds in silence.
Long Walks On The Beach have been churning out bucolic, Polaroid pop for a few years now. A mixture of leading guitars and fish hook refrains, the band channels a sort of nostalgia that feels just washed out at the edges, a certain prettiness that can only exist after memory performs its grand editorial magic. "1st Times (You and I)" builds this type of artifice, lines like "All I needed was you", interpolated between an urgent drum loop and a leading guitar line that owes more to twee than anything else. A beautiful and forgotten world, the band opens the song in the simple past tense, "I saw you", a glance, here and after hermetically sealed against time.