The derivatives market on Justin Vernon yielded Vancouver Sleep Clinic, a precocious 17-year old from Brisbane, and a debut single, "Vapour" over this past summer. New single, "Collapse" chases the cord of the Bon Iver lamp back the wall, offering chilly harmonies and a soundscape that well belongs at the bottom of a bottle of cold medicine or in the background of a 19th century European Romantic landscape painting. Austere in places, lush in others, "Collapse" stutters along with blinking keys and singer Tim Bettinson's brittle falsetto. It's a damn wasteland as Bettinson sings, "We've been outgrown", a passing dalliance that pays its respects to the beauty of the the ephemeral and the fleeting.
A sweetly seasick and slow-whirling color wheel, Real Life Charm stutter their way through debut single, "De Caux". The aesthetic immediately recalls a glossier Alt-J, though, initially the murderous lyricism of "Breezeblocks" is replaced with a midnight serenade looking up to your window - lines like "I want to frame you like a project". Fatalism creeps in at the corners dealing largely with intractability as the band sings a chorus of, "You can't change us/now for the better/now and forever." But plaintive guitars turn dark as the vocals follow the lyrical content through the floor: "you lay still whilst I drown", they sing in group agreement. These metaphors prove survivable, a docent wrapped in a pleasing melody and a stirring first encounter.
A dreamy tide sweeps over Yohuna's bedroom slow-jam, "Apart". The song builds a tiny guitar and keyboard palace, a miniature and slightly cloying Beach House that will remind the listener of the cough-syrup anthems of Yohuna collaborator, Emily Reo. In a universe like "Apart", distant and vaguely drunk the panorama of its own small geography, the smallness and the compartmentalization can feel appropriate, even familiar. You've been here before, you think, like slipping into an old sleeping bag or stepping foot into the kitchen in your parents' house after a long hiatus. For all its small world, "Apart" isn't really about distance as it is about overcoming it.
Sure, indie rock's torrid romance with R&B is fleeting, but applying critical filters won't crack through the soft glow and slow burn of Shy Girls' stunner "Second Heartbeat". It represents the early onset nostalgia of the generation of kids who were teenagers in the 1990s, a passing, if pleasant, fever dream. "Second Heartbeat" is a memory of middle school dance that never happened: everyone instantly poised, badly unironic iconography reclaimed as cool, the profound lack of mutual discomfit. "Second Heartbeat" is playing somewhere in this memory as you edge closer to the girl/guy who sits down the table from you in Ancient Civilizations; you clutch each other and are instantly the two realest 13 year olds in human history. The chorus spins off into a neon sky, the DJs lights dance against the curtain behind the stage of the auditorium, but this is all much cooler and relevant in your retrospective mind's eye. "Second Heartbeat" is best left there, a memory of time that never happened and the concurrent desire for a contemporary experience to rival the invention.
London five-piece, Eliza and the Bear chases the last glimmers of the pop-folk revival, injecting slices of bombast in the propulsive second movements of their creations. On latest single, "It Gets Cold", a plaintive guitar melody (Is there any other kind here?) and an infectious shout-along vocal combust into a final, triumphant iteration of the hook. The sound is big and the impact just as heavy-handed, the title lyric recast from meteorological observation - "It gets cold" - to symbolic paint brush: This place is an emotional ice palace. The final lyrics, "I kept walking 'til I find some light" are both moving and oblique, the kind of thing that ends up on a yearbook page, rife with all types of meaning if you seek to place it in these wide open spaces. It is also moving in the wordless fashion of stupidly ambitious pop, a dumb grin for the Prestige even when you know exactly what's coming.
Opening with the supposed sanctimony and bombast of a pipe organ, Night Panther render a mild new twist on their procedural, sexy synth-pop on latest single, "Pleasure To Meet You". It runs down hill, the ascendancy of the keyboard progression and the tumbling, gravitational brilliance of the chorus. Each iteration of the hook drops further, a baroque resolution to some blithe nihilism. It's a Passion Pit jam taken back to the pre-modern, synthesizer tricks and crystalline vocals standing in as the rococo flourishes of a forgotten age. "It just makes me feel distant," they sing as the soaring architecture of "Pleasure To Meet You" collapses back to earth, the brief divinity of pop music.
Behind the breezy melody of Swim Good's "Sandviken" you might find the stakes are high. A 90s club-keyboard progression (which bears some resemblance to the one on "Act More Stupidly") and a kick-drum downbeat belie the hints of claustrophobia - "the hole in the wall is where I left you" - and the restless identity politics, "I'm not the same me". By the time the clap track hits in the second half, the ebullience inveighs against the darkness, a head-nodding three act play that ends with the edict, "I will never put my hope in any other". According to Swim Good mastermind Jon Lawless, these compositions are limited to one day to write, which explains a bit why he might not need to rely on anyone else when he not spending his days in the beautiful Democratic Republic of his other main avocation, First Rate People. "Sandviken" is the third in a string of excellent recent singles from Swim Good, a testament to these highs and lows, a journey into the darkness of the self.
An opening drum-guitar mixture that recalls Radiohead's "Creep" and a male vocal that took its graduate work at the Matt Berninger School of Moral Victories, Fancy Werewolves unleash one of the best unsigned rock songs of 2013 on "Ghosts of Detroit". Male and female vocals intertwine in figure eights, a nighttime slow-drive through the blighted afterglow of an American wasteland. Inspired by the on-going beauty and tragedy of the titular city, "Detroit", the band urges us to "Shut up, get in", to join them for a drive downtown, a lyric fecund for its brutality if nothing else. The arrangement swells and washes on the chorus, a Gothic architecture, soaring, austere and dark. Put simply: you won't hear a better rock song from a band you haven't heard of yet in 2013, a stunning and promising debut from the wilds of post-industrial modernity.
The sound of coming down in 2013 has turned toward the sultry, electronic R&B It's the new late-night, early-morning blend of burned neon and winnowing melody. Broods, likely headed nowhere but a major label, channel some of the snapping success of artists like Lorde - in fact, Brood's "Bridges" was produced by Lorde collaborator, Joel Little. "Bridges" is an absolute smoker, twisting and smoldering on the title lyric, a meditation on self-destruction, "We're burning all the bridges now". Like Imogen Heap lost in a London Grammar arrangement, it's a slow dance for an age without slow dancing, late-night music for kids who never go to sleep.
Bear Hands return single, "Giants" spills out of the gate with a ratatat alacrity. The half-rap-half-sung verses recall the metronomic lyrics of Cake's "The Distance" but lost in an amphetamine blur, colliding over and over with the chorus and its invocation, "I'm loving you more". Spiriting the listener away on the back of self-assured bombast, Bear Hands sound every bit like the exciting criminal element they describe in one of the opening lyrics, "never been to jail 'cause I never get caught". A dance-floor heater with no express ideology or recommendation, some songs just want to watch the world burn.