Drunk on its own falsetto, Blood Cultures debut single, "Indian Summer" weaves in lazy figure-eights before unleashing bombastic synth stabs that provide a menacing low end. It is this combination of the lighter than air - synths that feel like they'll float away - and the absolutely crushing - "I'll have to let you go, let you go" - that makes "Indian Summer" one of the strongest debut demos of 2013. It is the Knife's "Heartbeats" gene spliced with Passion Pit, the silky harmonies of bands like Grizzly Bear thrown in for good measure. A&Rs should sit up in their chairs and wonder what it would take to sign this heretofore anonymous New Jersey resident, quite possibly the next big thing to break in 2014.
This review runs first and with great photographs from Sean O'Kane at Bowery Presents House List blog.
Frightened Rabbit and Augustines are nearly mirror images of each other: one Scottish, one raised in the wilds of Brooklyn, each driven to find salvation in ripping guitar-drum-and-bass rock songs. Augustines frontman Billy McCarthy, who is leading the third iteration of the band once known as Pela and then We Are Augustines before landing on their current nomenclature, admitted as much at a sold-out Webster Hall on Friday night, when they opened for their Scottish counterparts. “I’m gonna miss them so goddamn much,” warbled McCarthy about Frightened Rabbit in his trademark gravel-flecked baritone. The parallels were obvious under the sweeping stage lights, both groups pitting themselves firmly against the forces of modernity, trying to recapture a world of unfiltered misery and saviors, a time when people loved people enough to be destroyed by them.
There wasn’t an ounce of irony in either band. Augustines played “Cruel City,” a song about being miserable in New York City, and the single from their upcoming second full-length, and McCarthy yelled, “That was for you!” to wild applause. The audience didn’t exactly come for misery, but rather to experience the redemptive power of an emotive past, to bathe in the pain of others for whatever that would be worth. As if unifying their purpose, Scott Hutchinson, lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, joined Augustines on “Headlong into the Abyss,” a song that either band could have penned.
Frightened Rabbit took the stage backed by their monstrous half-crucifix-half-telephone-poll backdrop that has become the band’s iconography. While the saving was strictly lyrical, a fan in the 10th row stared down Hutchinson and mouthed every word to the opener, “Holy,” seemingly unaware of the other 1,500 people in attendance. Frightened Rabbit followed the tune about divinity and personal failings with “Modern Leper,” another vaguely biblical reference and the song that broke the band firmly into mainstream indie rock six years ago.
The band sounded explosive and tight, marching through “Nothing Like You” and “Living in Colour” before playing one of their first releases, “Old Old Fashioned.” “This is a dancing song,” said Hutchinson, the arrangement’s sea-shanty chord progression erupting from the fret board on his guitar. Of course, it wasn’t just a dancing song—it was about getting back to an old, lost world, a song about waltzing around the living room with a woman who might well hold the power to make you utterly miserable. The redemption would be in older patterns. Frightened Rabbit then played “December’s Traditions,” about the exacting power and misery of these yearly rituals. It wouldn’t even matter that Hutchinson climbed into the venue’s balcony late in the set, because Frightened Rabbit
and Augustines had already crawled backward in search of salvation in something old.
First Rate People's debut long-player, Everest, will be released 5 November, a monolith of pop music years in the making. The two lead tracks, "Dark Age" and "I Bet You Won't Get This Joke At All", are both previously released singles, leaving track three, "The Sweet Hereafter" as the first new material the world will hear from the band. A miasma of synth stabs and club echos, "The Sweet Hereafter" bubbles and stutters with a calculated self-assurance as singer Liam Sanagan describes the difficult architecture of a long-distance romance. Sanagan mourns, "a couple missteps, a mistake you never would have guessed" before Mary Cassidy descends on the track like a terror bird. Inverting classic gender roles with an electro-feminism, Cassidy interrogates, "Would you keep me company/Would you cook for me/would you comfort me/if I put your ass on a flight for free/with the money I got for school?" You'll be singing, "put your ass on a flight for free" days later, the best immortalization of scholarship money misused in pursuit of long distance love. The arrangement surges like a Zube Tube underneath Cassidy, Sanagan returning with a secondary hook before the synth loops head for the sky. It is instantly catchy, forecasting the deep and rich pop sensibilities of Everest and the bright future for this band.
The arrival of the synthesizer apocalypse approaches one day closer on the bombastic and hook-riddled slam, "Gold" from Los Angeles band Sir Sly. Out on a fall tour, the band takes the song and its live act to Brooklyn Bowl this Thursday night, October 24, with support from the ebullient Magic Man and Bel Heir, and we're giving away two free tickets to a lucky New York reader. To enter either: 1. Email 32feet(at)gmail.com with "SIR SLY Contest" in the subject heading or 2. Tweet a link to this post with a tag @32feet. Entries must be posted by 3pm EST tomorrow. We'll select and notify the winner by tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. Thursday's show is 21+ and doors are 8pm.
It doesn't get any more essential than, "You're the only one I can be myself with," as Ryan Pollie, the brain child of Los Angeles Police Department sings on "The Only One". Leaving such little room for error - the title lyric narrows the listener to one and one only - the shabby guitar progression and the lazy bass line add up to a crushing ode the unnamed recipient of this musical love letter. It's Ketamine surf-rock, a languid meditation on the self and another, the arrangement finally picking up momentum in the final movement before washing away to nothing.
This review runs live and first on The Bowery Presents House List blog.
John Roderick and Sean Nelson, the two founding members of the lapsed and debatably defunct band the Long Winters, took the stage at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom on Friday night under the auspices of a reunion that maybe was and maybe wasn’t. They had gathered to play their seminal sophomore record, When I Pretend to Fall, just six months past its 10-year anniversary. Roderick was in his usual biting form, cracking sardonic jokes about fans’ online relationship with the band: “Now the fans can go home and express their displeasure on the Internet. Back in the old days, you just had to go home and suck it.” Nelson, an on-again-off-again member of Harvey Danger, nodded approvingly as those in the audience chuckled.
Most revealing was when Roderick paused to answer questions later in the set. As fans yelled for the next Long Winters record, he sarcastically demurred, replying that it was on a hard drive on his desk and “every once in a while I adjust the EQ mix on one of the toms and then I wait another year.” There was no mystery to the set list for the band or the audience. It was When I Pretend to Fall from front to back, beginning with the familiar standard “Blue Diamonds” and running through favorites “Shapes,” “Cinnamon,” “Stupid” and “New Girl.” Roderick stepped in often with his trademark banter, remarking after “Blanket Hog” that he’d written it about a disastrous romance only to later realize “that it was, in fact, I who was the blanket hog.”
Most winning was his story accompanying “Stupid,” one of the band’s most wrenching songs. Roderick relayed the tale of trying to track down a Princeton, N.J., record-store clerk he’d met, only to discover she’d moved to California. So, he wrote “Stupid” for her, about which Sean Nelson sarcastically remarked: “And I’ll play this song at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom 10 years later to show you.” Roderick seemed to respond to this brand of forward and backward reflection in the middle of “Prom Night at Hater High,” asking, “How did I get old?”
But it was Nelson who got the last word during the “New Girl” breakdown, gently ribbing Roderick for unoriginality by singing the chorus from Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and then the English Beat’s “Save It for Later” over the song’s chord progression. Roderick laughed. It was two older tunes laid over a slightly newer one, all more than a decade behind us—gray hair in Roderick’s beard and on Nelson’s head—near the end of CMJ, a festival about restless, relentless newness. For a night, it was all in the past.
Slow and hushed, like a Velvet Underground jam whispered by Elliot Smith across a pillow, Forced Random builds a tiny tower of bedroom pop on "No Words". The lyrics center on remembrance, the dual power and weakness of words circling a rhyme scheme that anchors on the hook "before". A simple organ progression labors next to a plaintive guitar line: slow, sad and uncompromising. The physical world of "No Words" is small but the imagined one proves dense and difficult, a Wes Anderson montage waiting to happen, a universe of small victories and ever greater losses.
Chirping somewhere between Animal Collective and Tanlines, Beaty Hearty builds a sweat-box of tropical pop with latest single, "Lekka Freakout". It isn't quite a lethal dose of peyote in the jungle but the chant-along vocals ebb and flow with a magically real physics. A few crucial touchstones - "He doesn't sing too well" - provide the immutable architecture for a world that is otherwise melting down the walls and spilling outside under a multicolored sky.
It is a feature of both the synthesizer fever of the past few years and the crippling hype of modernity that causes so many artists to look down at their keyboards and think, "Somewhere in you is the five note sequence that can rocket me to fame." But it's a pop math problem: In what order should those notes go? Which of those thousands of possibilities will be the magical panacea that will launch a career from the depths of a regional club scene, a college campus, or a bedroom. The dream proves powerful. Just ask MGMT, who largely made their career on the four or five note hook of "Kids". Progeny of Los Angeles, Lincoln Jesser answers the question immediately on "We'll Be Fine", a quick stutter-step of electro-pop that will remind the listener of the very excellent debut solo EP from the RAC. Of course, this is all a trope; we've all seen it before. But even this expectation does little to remove the charm from the ebullient hooks and subtle, creeping sadness of "We'll Be Fine". As Jesser sings, no matter the odds or the history of synthesizer pop, "still we try."
Slow Machete's "Grey Eyed Bird" emerges from a cacophony of samples to coalesce into a brilliant, organized architecture. The project is a mixture of six Haitian vocalists and DC-based producer, Joseph Shaffer. The outcome is something that is equal parts Lord Huron, Pela (the vocals especially recall the "The Trouble With River Cities") and Tune-Yards. The difference here is the moral authority, not exclusively Western, Developed-World artists doing Developing World pop. The globe trotting proves decent and equitable, not the unintentionally exploitative pseudo-imperialism of a band like Vampire Weekend. Given that Arcade Fire's coming record is said to be inspired by Haitian rhythms, it makes sense to get closer to the essence, a project in which Slow Machete appears to be actively engaged.
I still remember seeing the Jezabels at CMJ in 2010, the band that arrived at the festival with the best recorded material and the best chance of latching on with a major. Of course, they didn't, and it wasn't the fault of the live show, singer Hayley Mary operating as a force of nature on shitty PA systems across Brooklyn and the basements of the Lower East Side. The band won't play the 2013 iteration of CMJ but releases latest single, "The End" as their return to recording and return to form. "The End" is breathless ride through Mary's upper register, glowing synths and racing guitars providing the antidote for lyrics like, "You gave me your hand/ I gave you dirt." This here-it-is-you-get-nothing sentiment rings triumphant through the chorus, emerging with a clear sense that "The End" is essentially about closing the loop on one epoch and beginning another. Mary sings, "I want to know," and we all do too.
Wheezing, golden synths weave their way into view on Attu's latest single, "Don't Sleep". From there winsome guitars set themselves as the lead against a break-beat box-step percussion. The aesthetic emerges as clear and clouded at once, a pretty bit of electronic pop with no aspirations beyond itself.
Gems vocalist Lindsay Pitts on "Medusa", the title track from the band's forthcoming EP. The irony of this sort of temporal recidivism is obvious: Gems isn't sliding backwards; nothing is escaping them. "Medusa" is the sort of dreamy R&B pop that the independent music community has found so compelling over the last three years, a little snapping down-beat eventually opens its oculus to a sun-soaked, blurry chorus. The lacuna between refrain and verse find a male vocal in rhythmic spoken word as Pitts sails above everything in a piercing head voice. It is the most rich and complex moment of "Medusa", the next movement for a band already masters of their own time.
Channeling bits of the chord progression aesthetic of Arcade Fire's "Ocean of Noise", Los Angeles duo Boardwalk meander languidly through latest offering "Crying". A simple existential crisis lies at the center: "There's no use in trying/ when I can't stop crying," sings vocalist Amber Quintero. The rhythm guitar plods ahead even as a second guitar line emerges to solo in the bridge. It's wholesale elegy, a discomfiture running deep enough to throw a late afternoon chill over the whole arrangement. The sadness would be crushing if the malaise weren't so complete, and the power of "Crying" is its paralysis.
Leeds dream-pop post-punkers Blessa return with the soaring, "Between Times". Channeling bits of sawing guitars and echoing reverb, the arrangement climbs to meet vocalist Olivia Neller's halcyon head voice as she breaks into crystalline relief, singing, "tell me something more." The first trip through this progression proves innocent with each successive refrain proving more and more expansive, the lens oozing open as the guitars head to the top of the fret board and the room. It's a convincing fantasy world, as Neller sings in a telling admission, "I thought I dreamed you."
The Zolas, purveyors of one of the best songs of 2012, "Knot In My Heart", return with one-off "Invisible". It's a bit of power-pop bombast slamming into the chorus with dark bubble gum rhymes like, "When the nighttime crashes it/ look around beside you, babe, we're your friends/When you need some oxygen, jump into the fire with us." The fatalism is strictly lyrical as the guitars race downward against the drums in an escalating series of dares. Like their previous work, no band in independent rock writes hooks with as much punch and as few apologies as the Zolas. The final movement lifts off the ground shooting the metaphors about fire off somewhere in the sky.
One of the best, and most unexpected, songs to come out of the community of unsigned artists in 2013 is Evan Andree's "Falafal". The phonetic get-around in the title is an analog for "Feel awful", the song's real title lyric. Breathy synthesizers and plaintive guitars open and close the arrangement, the middle full of Andree's affected falsetto. It's a plea for common ground, even if the common ground is troubled: "I want to share something with anyone else," he sings before spinning into the sky under the power of the song's chorus, "I feel awful, feel awful/ Won't you feel awful, feel awful with me?" Objectively, it isn't the most inspiring edict, but the hook is an electric mixture of Arcade Fire tropes and Oberhofer execution, a refrain with snapping downbeat and soaring, singable, four-note signature. It will be in your head for days, demanding repeat, a towering pop monolith to the depths of codependent misery.
Mixing buzzing synths and a top-of-the-room chorus, Glasgow band, Giant Fang construct an arena-sized generation polemic on "Golden Age". The cribbed notes from the M83 catalogue are obvious, winsome keyboards meandering through the neon backdrop of a post-John Hughes wasteland. Equally apparent is the homage to "Wake Up", a song that informed so much of what came in the decade since its release. By now we know the trick, our co-dependence mirrored in the group vocals of the hook, the meaning of our largely invisible struggles lionized in a rousing collection of "ohs". Giant Fang courts this aesthetic, singing, "We were the sons of the golden age," a place where it was hard to describe the meaning of our actions, but they sounded enormous.