The White Whales build a bit of Americana-pop that slams and slides between giddy alt-country influences, mainstream indie rock and bits of punk. On the immediately satisfying "Flowers," from the band's debut LP, Lakestate, lightning guitar pick-ups and a racing snare chase each other around a buried vocal that recalls the best parts of the Pela/We Are Augustines catalogue. More broadly, the White Whales paraphrase the type of pop that the National made so deservedly famous. The elegy here - and there always is a fair share - is straight fatalism; we will all die. The lyrics damn this existential darkness at the center of modern life, "when I go bury me in flowers," and mourn the geographic and temporal markers that fail to help us grapple with the passing of time, "the river bleeds into the sea/a century has ended." Lakestate is full of these sorts of moments, deep sadness recast as triumphant moral-victory anthem, surely one of the best truly independent rock debuts of the year.
Forthrightness is the new obfuscation, at least according to brother, bedroom pop outfit John & Garry. Comprised of brothers John and Garry, the duo makes winsome 1990s guitar pop on debut demo "Hide Away." For fans of the Lemonheads and the most upbeat moments of the Red House Painters, with maybe a twist of Frightened Rabbit for purposes of updating, the brothers craft a tidy little rock song with its footnotes solidly in the tradition of great college radio. It is relentlessly simple. Perhaps this is too straight a line in age of misdirection, but the brothers in the bedroom are fully free from these questions.
An arrangement delicate and rich enough to put Justin Vernon's Volcano Choir on notice, Jose Gonzalez returns as Junip with latest single, "Walking Lightly." Both expansive and discrete in the same moments - no one does big and little as well as Gonzo - "Walking Lightly" is a hushed acoustic progression festooned with little percussive pick ups and, eventually, enough layers to bury the listener in a wall of careful sound. It could be the repeated title lyric, a manta with gathering insistence, but the urgency builds very near to irony. We aren't treading carefully at all; we might even be marching just a little.
Other than opening for Icona Pop on a fun but strange one-off bill, this was NO's "first proper show in New York," their lead singer told an increasingly crowded Glasslands on Friday night. Other than this admission, a special moment for its novelty as firsts are, the particulars of NO's debut on the New York scene were undeservedly banal. Glasslands, even with its newly bourgeois veneer (a bouncer, a rope outside), still lies in the gentrifying industrial wastes of South Williamsburg and fire codes under two hundred. With one great EP already released and an a certainly excellent full-length record to come, this was hardly the conquering entry to New York that this band will likely receive the next time they return to the confines of the city. For those in attendance at Glasslands, or those who caught NO at Mercury Lounge the following night, they had an opportunity to see the moment before the moment, a band about to about to be more broadly popular than either audience or performer entirely predict at a half-full Glasslands on a summer Friday night in August.
The band opened with the pounding, "In Another Life", a song that models the band's methodolgy of big second movements and anthemic choruses. As the song explodes into its finishing kick, the band, a surprising six-piece, churns behind their three guitars, bass, drums and vocals. It's a reversed dramatic irony; they know something that we do not, and each of these arrangements will have a surprising and furious twist. The band motored through single, "What's Your Name," with its prophetic lyric, "Get ready, I'm on my way," EP-track, "There's A Glow" and new songs, "Monday" and "So Scared." Sounding an awful lot like the National, a comparison the band is surely tired of, each arrangement is firm and angular, the band channeled more post-punk than their heretofore recorded material reflects.
Closing with old favorite, "Stay With Me," new song, "North Star," "Long Haul," before a final song that was unannounced and unknown to most of the audience, NO proved a depth and breadth of catalog that both surprised and impressed. They won't return to Glasslands. This night emerged as strictly developmental, a band designed and built to transcend itself in this moment. There was a measure of sadness then, these the fans who would help the band grow, who would be the initial body of their later success, but who might never again see them this close, this available, half-full on a weekend night.
A playful bass line, one that at least winks at Men At Work's "Land Down Under", provides the foundation for Manor's dreamy single, "Architecture". It holds a rich if oblique sadness, vocalist Caitlin Duff lilting silky over an arrangement spinning loops in the air while Nathaniel Morse pounds away on his bass. This mixture of the ethereal and the grounded offers "Architecture" something of a beautiful cross-purpose, two entities in coterminous agreement and disagreement. Morse and Duff, above all, show a gift for winsome, dreamy pop, like a Metric song caught sleepy just before dawn or weighed down with enough cold medicine to blur the edges.
Two tableaus: Open to a field after a friend's wedding, various disheveled white people dance furiously to the RAC remix of Foster The People's "Houdini". It is likely to be late, and most of these people do not necessarily like Foster The People. Someone yells, "If you can't dance to this, you can't dance to anything"; the field goes wild. Scene two: The RAC play Brooklyn Bowl. In an unknown series of escalating dares, one friend slaps another in the face. What is the meaning of this? No one knows; it's the power of the RAC. And finally, what began as the Remix Artist Collective, an act that used to spin at terrible LES bars like the Skinny, looses itself on the world with a full length record. First single, "Let Go" is a comparative slow jam featuring Kele of Bloc Party and MNDR of, well, MNDR. It would easily be the best Bloc Party song in six years if Kele weren't merely a guest here. The hook spins and weaves, one of the best of the year. It isn't necessarily a burner - the RAC has surely saved some heat here - but it contains that ineffable and immutable quality of all great pop music, the kind of thing that turns a field into a dance party, the kind of thing that slaps in the face.
There is an implied irony when your band name is Flyte and your first proper single is called "Over and Out". True to form, the Police and Talking Heads cribbing band fills "Over and Out" with flight imagery, a syncopated strum pattern chirping from the background. It's a breezy and satisfying summer single, the chorus sailing upwards on the back of silky harmony and the unfolding-ribbon-of-good-times aesthetic that denies the very existence of melancholy. The melody echos Maxine Nightengale's "Right Back Where We Started From" but this signifer - the disco tradition - is almost entirely hidden behind a satisfying series of New Wave footnotes. "Over and Out" represents a promising debut from this four-piece, a band bent on discussing elevation, both theirs and yours.
A marching down beat initiates Mothersday's "Shoulder Soldier" before echoing vocals and a distant acoustic guitar take the arrangement somewhere up in the air. The band mirrors the methodology of an act like the Beta Band, suggesting fuzz and difficulty at the edges of charming chord resolutions and buried-but-definitely-there hooks. The aesthetic is almost folksy, if it weren't quite so full of reverb and a terrified modernism. "Shoulder Soldier" unsettles and pleases in the same moment, a bit of outsider pop to delight and trouble the ear and heart.
A bit of dreamy post-punk emerges from Khabarovsk, Russia in the form of Parks, Squares and Alley's second single, "Forest". If it were even possible for a label like Captured Tracks to snap the 19-year old up, he could quite easily project to do a Robert Smith impression of the Youth Lagoon precociousness act of two years ago. "Forest" is a bedroom record with ambition, a snappy little chorus - "So many things that scare, living in the forest" - mixed with an incredibly sophisticated bridge that melodically echos the "I never ... " final movement of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside". Hard to believe and undeniably real, Parks, Squares and Alleys marches around upright in daylight and in full view of the town; the residents disbelieve their eyes - could that have come from there? But there are always strange, wonderful things coming out of the forest, or out of eastern Russia.
Britain's answer to Silversun Pickups, Wolf Alice release "She" from forthcoming debut EP, "Blush". Recalling the greatest moments of 1990s alternative radio, "She" rips along on fuzzy and chunky guitars, an empty breakdown that portends a screaming, crashing conclusion. Soaring above it all is vocalist Ellie Rowsell, a powerful slice of fecundity in the maw of electrical guitars, like a garage version of Ritzy from Joy Formidable. Rowsell represents the soul and power of the massive wall of "She", making this alleged woman at once dangerous and ineffable.
Recalling a cleaned up Nick Drake or a scrubbed Elliot Smith, Toby Singer chases down the same acoustic wide-screen pop that seems so well suited to sync with film. "Hard Beast" is built on the back of a tiny acoustic guitar progression, Singer's voice lilting out in some pleasant combination of firm and weak. Producers of independent film take notice of the chorus, the kind of the thing that should suitably end up in a trailer beside a pensive next-generation Gordon-Levitt or a vastly-improved Zach Braff. Singer repeats the chorus until it is a well-worn hook, the title lyric very nearly an analog for "heart beat", as the song moves methodically to its small and valuable conclusions, "the feature film is starting, give my regards to them all".
Low-end synth stabs menace below Mary Cassidy's smoldering vocal at the outset of latest collaboration with Jon Lawless, "Make It Do". Glittering loops enter into the conversation, effecting the image of slow-motion carbonation, bubbles rising to the surface of an arrangement built for languid jamming. Like so many of Lawless' contraptions, the vocals run at each other in figure-eights, or maybe it's a double helix, overlapping and daring each other in a slow-speed game of chicken, two pairs of headlights aimed at each other on the road that threaten destruction but never collide.
Philly's chamber-poppers Buried Beds return with a new LP, In Spirit, lead by stirring single, "Stars". A breezy guitar progression, accented with existential universalist lyrics, "like stars above us, we are all on fire", the arrangement eventually gives way to a big, baroque breakdown. Packing a piano peel-off that cascades down on the song's bridge, "Stars" finds a sense of identity and power in this middle movement. The band proceeds to unwire this collapse before rewiring it for one last dose of the song's memorable chorus.
For New Yorkers, the band plays Rockwood Music Hall this evening.
A spinning and home-spun arrangement, Kishi Bashi returns with "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!". His trade-mark string concoctions and plucks - a feature of his time as touring violinist for Of Montreal, as well as his stunning debut last year - appear only at the opening and closing of this A-side from coming 7" single. The rest of the track is an ebullient guitar progression colored with hand-claps and a winning hook. The arrangement's swimming qualities, awash in a sea of sonics, recall the Flaming Lips, Animal Collective and some of David Byrne's most confessional moments, a moment locked between theory and chemistry.
Brooklyn's Salt Cathedral continue their ethereal and brilliant output on latest release, "Fields". Vocalist Juliana Ronderos chases a jittery guitar line around, landing on a cascade of pitches with brevity and aplomb. Like a Foals arrangement transmuted south-of-the-border, pebbling guitars continue to build until the song's final movement when they strip away, leaving only Ronderos and the percussion. The guitars return - they always do - and "Fields" spins away into the sky on its own.
Instantly one of the best remixes of the year, John Ross of Challenger turns his talents on First Rate People slam, "Dark Age". Inverting the chorus and adding a slamming back-beat, "Dark Age", already considerable in scope, becomes a massive black hole, Ross placing Jon Lawless and company on the edge in some approximation of a blurry infinity.
Swim Good returns with another cruel summer single, "Act More Stupidly", a bit of meditative electronic pop.With a synthesizer-horn line that seemingly slips out the side of the mouth, its mournful layers commit themselves to building something elegiac. Maybe there are no victories in a world where the best you can do is sing, "Something's gonna come/you're young". The final movement, a soaring and wordless vocal, trapped at the top of the room finishes the argument: Pensiveness is out, "Act More Stupidly", even when it sounds this good.