On this date six years ago I began this website with a rudimentary understanding of web publishing and a fist-full of press contacts acquired through a bit of music writing and a brief if bizarre tour through Virgin/Capitol Records. I remember feeling, even then, ambivalent about how long I would write the site or if - far more likely - I would lose interest in a few months, dropping it like so many halfway affectations and hobbies of the American bourgeoisie. Six years and 1,211 posts later, here we are at the end.
Writing on this website taught me to write. I was, by no means, a "hack" when this began, and I am, by no means, an excellent writer now, but somewhere in those few thousand paragraphs I wrote here over the last six years, I figured out the beginnings of a voice, refined a few chronic errors, learned to swear less and then began swearing again. I got political exactly once, my first attempt at a longer music/culture piece. Of all the musicians I tried to break to an audience before they were popular, I am most proud to have stood against "Stop and Frisk" in 2011, long before it became the basis of an NYC Mayoral campaign. It is an undeniable tautology, but I wouldn't be here this way without having written for this website. It was never about making money, and I rejected advertising, even back in 2011 when the web-stats indicated I was relevant enough to court. A profit model could not possibly reason through a labor of unsexy love.
Writing on this website introduced me to enormously great musicians, many of whom happen to be great people. Taylor Rice of Local Natives, Jon Lawless of First Rate People, John Ross of Challenger, Blair Gimma of Blair and Future of What, Kyle Wilson of Milagres, Mikel Jollett of Airborne Toxic Event all gave their time and energy graciously to keeping up with me and allowing me into their process a bit, and I tried my best to give words to their wonderful music. There are so many others that there isn't time or space to list here.
I thank my friends for whom this website was originally intended, and I thank my readers. Not so much the 700,000 of you that ended up here one way or another, most by accident or for a few seconds from the Hype Machine, but the few hundred of you strangers who were my regular readers. I never knew the wide majority of you, and only a few of you ever wrote to me personally. Still, I wrote for you. Seeing the few hundred people who stopped by every day made me want to write, ideally to write something better than most blogs I read. I tried writing everyday and mostly failed. You stuck with me, and I appreciate it immensely, invisibly, from far away.
If you want to keep in touch with me, email@example.com will still work - though at some point the PR emails may necessitate a switch toward something else - and I'll still maintain @32feet as my Twitter handle, though even this will seem quaint in five years when Twitter isn't a thing anymore.
Julian Barnes has this awesome quote about death in my favorite book, A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters. He writes, "I dreamt that I woke up. It's the oldest dream of all, and I've just had it." Of course, you don't realize the line is about death the first time you read it - which is another one of those truisms about human experience: there's no way to consider endings from beginnings. I would like to believe I am more clear-eyed than most on this front, but there was never time or space to consider what would happen when I stopped wanting to write 32ft/second or what it would feel like to write these words saying goodbye.
It was always about gravity or some other inexorable, ineluctable force. We would return; the beginning and the end would become themselves again. As Kierkegaard noted, the problem with life is that it is lived forward and understood in reverse. We are always cast backwards toward our future. Or as Britt Daniel sang, "I'm writing to you in reverse." I felt that way too sometimes. This was a diary of my late 20s and early 30s, what I liked and when I liked it and what I sounded like then. This both is and was that. Make sure you dance and sing, no one's gonna tell and there's no film in that camera. This is the dream of waking up.
A pleasing platitude lies at the center of Y.O.U.'s debut single, "Heavy Crown". Mastermind Elliott Williams opens to a bass line and a yelping vocal loop, and his first lyric is appropriately an aphorism from the title. This type of circus pop, unwinding itself and spiraling across the dance floor of the imagination, barely holds together, threatening collapse, even as Williams coos, "Everything will be just fine." The final addition of a guitar bridge and synthetic horns in the final 30-seconds brings "Heavy Crown" to rousing, heaving finish. In the words of Williams' last lyric, "You will find everything you've been looking for."
Sivu considerably alters the conceits of his first singles on latest, "Can't Stop Now". Settling into a churning and maudlin hook, "Somewhere out there we lost ourselves," sounding an awful lot like Jens Lekman, Sivu salvages any moroseness with a stirring downbeat. It's unspecific - Where did we lose ourselves? How does one know, in any sense, if one is lost? Why is the chorus so steeped in determinism? - but brilliant pop is often generic. Sivu sings, "retracing our footsteps on the floor", maybe an epistimological approach to figure out how we got here, but it's also our code for how to dance our way into the abyss, his best and final edict.
A whirring and plaintive hook sits at the middle of Jon Lawless' most recent work as Swim Good, "Grand Beach". Featuring guest turns from S. Carey, of Bon Iver fame, and Daniela Andrade, Lawless isn't interested in heading for the dance floor, instead taking the listener to the backyard under a constellation of synths and echoing vocals. The central question, "Would you swim far if you had the right lung?", represents an oblique interrogative, something stuck between the self and the other, a Kate Chopin-level question about how far any of us is willing to go when caught in a bind.
John Ross' Challenger project has been churning out the best electro-pop in New York City for three years now, and latest single, "How Terrorism Brought Us Back Together" is no exception, save a marginal move from the synthesizer left to the "full band" middle. The first single from coming sophomore LP, Back to Bellevue, the song is rooted in a melody that unintentionally eludes to recent Foster the People non-jam "Coming of Age", but Ross instead finds something darkly provocative here. The vocal enters late, the first lyric a dangerous cocktail of colloquialism and mutuality. Ross is his confessional best manipulating a phrase like, "Let down by the low hanging fruit, ducking counts for something, I don't know about you." The electro-pop soft edges are hardened here, the most "full-band" sound from Ross to date, maybe the final step in an argument about the terror of unity.
Austere and crushing, Maybug's debut demo "Slipping Gears" slides along under the power of an electric guitar and a brittle tenor vocal. The hook, an obliterating downcast, "I'm not ashamed to say I've been slipping gears/ this past year," describes what the artist calls a time of "personal failure". Cribbing from the Jeff Buckley playbook, the arrangement unwinds expectedly, not delivering a third and final chorus because, we assume, even though we're listening, this isn't really about us.
Taking the stage north of 12:30, a time that was, "the latest show [they've] ever played" according to lead-singer and part-time conductor, Bradley Carter, Echo Park denizens NO arrived in a New York market they are still in the process of conquering. Bridging the gap between Saturday night and Sunday morning, a crowd fueled by liquid courage and plunging inhibitions sang along with the band's post-National jams (what to do in a facsimile of the fake empire?) - one of those rock concerts that makes the viewer think: "Why aren't these guys absurdly famous?" and "I know why these guys aren't absurdly famous yet." in the same moment.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with the music, one of the general absurdities of seeing bands in 2014, because the music itself represents a titanic slice of indie rock. NO is a six-piece, a gut feeling of one-too-many. The arrangements were tight and sizeable, Carter flourishing his hands - he doesn't play anything but in a different way than Matt Berninger doesn't play anything - as the band proceeded in and out of breaks. Carter alighted to the idea of being our David Blaine for the evening on songs like "Long Haul" and "Another Life": He knew how the tricks went, but it doesn't hurt to raise ones eyebrows and hands as if to say, "Not bad, right?" at the critical moment of the reveal.
Will the indie rock world have room for one more at the table, for a band that easily could be called Mistaken For Strangers and tour the country as a National cover band? It's an unfair metric for a good group of musicians sporting a strong crowd late on Saturday night. They should reasonably be playing at Webster Hall with the Augustines and Frightened Rabbits of the world; there is little difference in market or quality. The group vocals, and there were a lot of them, moved the audience and band together. Whatever the future holds, there are worse things to be than a hotly buzzed band from LA playing downtown in New York, and New York, as well as the rest of the country will be hearing and seeing a healthy measure more of them as the continue to snowball through 2014.
Sounding exactly like what he says it is, Ben Khan's latest single, "Youth" represents a yelping treatise on being young, one of the best songs of 2014 thus far. The vocals rob their hush from Vernon, but the aesthetic (other than the gun sound effect, which is, of course, all MIA) is largely an M83 universe where the synthesizers head for the sky like Icarus. Despite its rich hooks, "Youth" isn't easy, a stutter-step beat that recalls something vaguely tropical without the attendant warmth. Khan finds the best of what the indie rock R&B world is capable of producing: a lean, dark, sensual world where hope lies in the fleeting glimpses of the things themselves in our peripheral vision.
One of the best dream-pop songs of last year, Pure Bathing Culture's "Dream The Dare" goes further into the sky and ether as John Ross remixes as Challenger. The essential guts of the hook remain, even as Ross hollows everything else out and sends it spinning in the air. A story in two halves, the second movement crescendos on the lyric, "It's a cage, your chest", one of the best mixtures of independent and dependent clauses in lyrics about feeling independent and dependent. Ross hits us with a classic Challenger drum fill and launches the halting first idea into full bloom. By the end, we're stuck in a feedback loop again, pretty as it may be, just what Pure Bathing Culture were thinking when they sang, "Give me forward motion, love."
With a melody in the verses that rides just outside of the austere brilliance of Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," Night Panther return with the sleek synth number, "I Want You To Know". The track is the lead song off the band's just released (and aptly titled) Kiss EP. While baiting the listener to sing, "There's so much a man can tell you, so much he can say," the band continue to sharpen their brand of nostalgic keyboard symphony. The friction coefficient nears zero as the arrangement slides along under its own power. The final movement slows before a stirring, chirping conclusion, all sunshine and synthetic horn punches into the future.
This review runs first and with much better pictures on Bowery Presents House List.
Mysterious London outfit Jungle, a synth-funk project that remains sonically faithful to the implied wild in its name, took the stage as none other than themselves at Mercury Lounge last night for their second-ever U.S. show. The band has remained largely anonymous and didn’t even appear in the XL Recordings–sponsored video for their debut single, “Busy Earnin’,” and their Soundcloud avatar is a collection of cartoon jungle animals. Some of this image making rang appropriate for a band about to descend on SXSW with the seemingly self-possessed knowledge that they are about to be a very, very big act. In real life, as the kids say, Jungle arrived as an actual human five-piece, hustling to the stage under the cover of darkness—their anonymity preserved for one last instant—to the sounds of the jungle over the PA, squawking birds and a recorded voice-over: “Our friends from the jungle have finally found a cure.”
It was a band doing a band. The narrative slammed backward into the counternarrative: The bassist wore a Members Only jacket with the word jungle written in lowercase across the back. The lights came up and it was time for the band to be a band. Sounding exceptionally tight and in complete control, Jungle opened with “The Heat,” a song, like many of their tracks, that features sirens. It’s a musical street drama with a 1970s filter, a blaxploitation movie as done by four dudes and a girl from London, Shaft coming to indie-rock circles. As the evening unfolded, the group’s prowess for making dance music never fought actively with this crafting of narrative, the performance-art component never obfuscating the fun. With an intro that also featured sounds of the police, Jungle played “Lucky I Got What I Want” before running through “Crime” and “Drops.”
The set closed with the stunning single “Busy Earnin’,” easily one of the best contributions to late-night people everywhere in 2014, the soundtrack for a never-was cop drama in which the audience openly roots for the criminals, and the appropriately imperial “Platoon.” The latter unwired in spectacular fashion, Jungle unleashing their technical, stylized selves with focus and intensity. The goal was to transport the listener somewhere humid, fecund and dangerous, a more committed version of the music that briefly made Miike Snow famous. Afterward, Jungle, as they slid back down the sidewall of Mercury Lounge, were headed in two directions at once: To take the listener to their terrifying wilds and to come out of the woods to run rampant through civilization.
Great Good Fine Okay, positions the band for a major or major-indie signing with a company like Columbia or Frenchkiss and a very big 2015. Great Good Fine Okay exists in a universe where "Sleepyhead" never died or passed through to the other side of the cultural zeitgeist, "Not Going Home", either a tacit or explicit statement of the band chasing this feeling into the horizon. An ebullient synth line (there is no other kind in 2014) that recalls the 1975's "Chocolate" provides the backdrop for a glossy arrangement that reiterates this stylistic and lyrical intransigence: "I'm not going home," which, of course, like everything, is going to the beat.
In search of directness, viscerality even, the airy indie rockers, Flyte, release latest single, "We Are The Rain". Maybe declarative statements represent freedom in a world of interrogatives and conditionals, equivocations and prevaricators. The chord progression tumbles in titular fashion, synthesizers becoming literal or figurative rain, something of the same winking forthrightness as the band's debut single, 2013's outstanding, "Over and Out" (Get it, we're called Flyte, "Over and Out"; get it, "We Are The Rain", the synths are the rain and we are the synths, get it.). This breeziness is charming, and honesty is always becoming the new irony.
This review runs first on the Bowery Presents House List.
Last night at Mercury Lounge you could have run directly into the future with the New Zealand band Broods making their debut New York City appearance. Two of the vice presidents for alternative and New York radio promotion from Capitol Music Group stood in the back, almost unavoidable if also hidden in plain sight. Representing the two pathways forward for the band—alternative radio and heavy-rotation at Top 40—a Capitol signee at the close of last year, these two wizards of the radio dial likely control as much of the group’s future as a major commercial act as the duo themselves. It was hard to avoid this sense of becoming from a group that by virtue of sharing producer Joel Little, Oceania and a digital snare drum, recall something of the mercurial, stupefying success of Lorde.
R&B aesthetics in alternative circles may well be a bubble, but Capitol has already doubled down on brother-sister-act Broods. Although for the 200 new converts packing the room, theirs was a different sort of business, a chance to buy low on—to buy intimacy from—a band seemingly about to head for your radio dial and living room. This was like listening to Chvrches in Glasgow two years ago or Lorde in Brooklyn last spring. Everyone arrived chasing some form of the future. Broods opened with “Never Gonna Change,” Georgia Nott’s vocals oozing fecundity if not outright sex, a mixture of footnotes from Dido to Imogen Heap. The sound registered somewhere between the aforementioned Ella Yelich-O’Connor and James Blake—slow-dance music for kids who hate to slow dance. Broods moved through “Pretty Thing” and “Sleep Baby Sleep,” the first owing much to Moby’s Play, the second featuring stirring vocals that would easily be at home on No Angel.
The closing movement of the set, a pithy eight songs, was highlighted by “Taking You There” (think: Avicii’s “Wake Me Up filled up with cold medicine), “Coattails,” another Dido-indebted jam, and “Bridges,” the song that earned the Capitol Records signing. “Coattails” featured the lyric of the evening, “a hit between the eyes,” before the whirring downbeat engaged, one of those literal and figurative direct hits that lays the foundation for buildings like Capitol’s 5th Avenue headquarters. Despite only one more day in America, Nott said they loved it here and would return. The feeling proved mutual, this much was obvious. Nott and the audience were both right, the set closed with a quiet new number, the future lying inside for a moment before it moved out there to Houston Street and into the American commercial night.
For this, you will have to work. Aptly titled Small Wonder, a Brooklyn band fronted by Henry Crawford, build a miniature metamorphosis on "Until I Open My Wings", the lead single from the band's coming LP, Wendy. The track opens to the brittle dawn of a vocal from Susannah Cutler - the first layer - the singer intones, "Each day my heart grows fonder / so one day I'll be you small wonder," name-checking the band in question and unleashing the idea of tiny brilliance that carries the arrangement to its crashing finish. The lyrics describe all states of becoming: moss growing on stone, rocks paving roads, butterflies, lovers in bloom, a song that snaps itself to full posture and then breaks into a run after the five-minute mark. It recalls the best parts of Loney Dear, a world where everything waits for a moment before being what it will be.
It is both metaphor and cold reality to be the 8:30 band on a Friday night. You're just starting out, and everyone knows it, whether they know you or not. Skyes, a Brooklyn four-piece, with ambition that easily outpaces their current Q-rating, took the stage at Cameo Gallery without saying a word. Singer DA Knightly would thank the crowd after the night's penultimate song, introducing the band for the first time, maybe unnecessarily. The set spoke for itself.
Any discussion of the rising stock of a band like Skyes begins and ends with Knightly. Toting what may well be the best voice in Brooklyn, she is a mixture of mad scientist - punching keys on one of the two iPads on stage while also playing a keyboard - and organic sprite, seemingly possessed by the nature and power of the band's arrangements, maybe even by her own voice. Opening with the propulsive, "Secondhander", this writer began to do the math: This is likely their second or third best song in their own estimation, still with hit-in-waiting "A Girl Named Jake" saved for the latter portion of the set. Labels should sit up in their seats and take notes. To my eye there weren't industry people in the audience (always look at the back: too well dressed, maybe a leather jacket if they're in their 40s, usually talking through some part of the set), but there will be in the future. The sound that came through the admittedly splashy acoustics of Cameo proved big enough to fill far larger rooms, a throwback to industrial pop bands like Garbage and Metric, a stadium-sized aesthetic playing in room that fire codes around 100.
The middle of the set dragged a bit, and the band should look to free Knightly from her keyboard duties, but the closing three songs would evangelize anyone. Running through "A Girl Named Jake", "Burden" and an as yet untitled closer large enough to sink Williamsburg into the East River, the band announced its arrival with its departure for the night. On record, "A Girl Named Jake" sounds like a Kate Bush research project, updated for the 2014 listener. In person, the sound is bigger and more ambitious, Knightly hitting intermediate pitches with deftness and sophistication. When she finally introduced the band, a bit of superfluity when you're playing mostly to friends and friends-of-friends, the scattered audience of beards, shoulder bags, and asymmetrical hair cuts already knew. It stood as an introduction nonetheless. She and the band should get comfortable with this part, the introduction; they're going to be meeting a lot more people.
Belgian Fog, begins to discuss the architecture of this problem on latest single, "Loveless Way". The argument proves as unequivocal as the opening lyrics, "It's easier to stay with you than search for someone new/ I'd rather let it be than have to find someone right for me." What follows is an exegesis on the power of mediocre partnership; it might as well be called "The Sound of Settling". Dale can't possibly believe all this, or at least that's this writers opinion, and "Loveless Way" stands in the specific hope that the singer's assessment is dead wrong.
Opening with unsettling Kate Bush vocal synths, Brooklyn four-piece Skyes bursts onto the scene with their debut single, "A Girl Named Jake". Easily one of the better singles of the year, vocalist DA Knightly unleashes withering professional blight on lyrics like, "After shows, drink 'til you die" and "As your days go by, just cope 'til your young body dies." Suffice it to say, if the synths don't kill you in the final movement, Knightly is interested in your metaphoric and literal death throughout "A Girl Named Jake". The stunning last go, a stuttering re-imagining of the chorus, sends Knightly out of over a bed of buzzing low-end electrical wires and the keyboard obligatos that nearly made you say, "It's in the trees!" at the outset.
Given that most American high school students are assigned The Great Gatsby as part of their junior year English curriculum, it is appropriate that an immensely precocious singer, Eloise Keating, only 17 and a Brit, has already written a song inspired by the novel. Aesthetically, it's part Kyla La Grange - you could make an argument for Lana Del Rey, but why? - and part early Ellie Goulding. The arrangement roots in unexpected steel drums and an austere piano progression, featuring Keating's lilting croon, scooping between pitches in the chorus like a little ship buoyed by the waves. It's a beautiful and promising introduction to Keating, an artist who still might be a year away for the American music consumer, but who will certainly beat on backwards into the future. Fitzgerald's novel regards the specific terrors of the lost self, the inability to recapture the past, the deep sadness of now. Keating, conversely, lays firm claim on what is to come.
Vocalist Blair Gimma, having formerly released a brilliant LP as Blair, now carries her synthesizer project Future of What (a thee-piece featuring Sam Axelrod and Max Kotelchuck) toward the release of their own debut record, Pro Dreams. Debut single and first track, "The Rainbowed Air" represents an unmitigated slow-dance, Reading Rainbow-synthesizers working and resolving under Gimma's whispering vocal. You pull your significant other closer knowing intimacy is the play, even if the geography before you represents pure fantasy. Gimma sings, "Let's try to get it right," before later refining, "It's okay to care about something that isn't even there," one way of approaching the magical realism of the band's sound and a world of "The Rainbowed Air". In this sea of colors, Gimma and her band spin world where, "if we have something to love, then we have nothing to hide," a nice idea to hold more tightly.
A recording project of 19-year old Archie Faulks called Tenterhook debuts first demo "Stereo" today. The aesthetic is Justin Vernon-pop, the layered harmonies of Bon Iver mixing easily with a bit more bombast. Pleading for the dual channel stereo sound becomes the organizing metaphor here, Faulks' brittle tenor soaring out over lyrics like, "Lying in my bed but I'm sick of solo." The central idea is hard to miss: music equals human relations, and both sound immensely shitty on only one channel of audio. And, if Tenterhook asks for connection with another on "Stereo" - and this could be a lot of other people in short order as the arrangement lifts off in the final third giving potential label suitors a sense of what this kid could do in the future - the listener, the second channel, enters into union with him without pause.
Mr. Little Jeans, born Monica Birkenes, has been waiting to blast into the pseudo-stardom of a low-level major label artist for a few years now. In quick succession she will release Good Mistake today as an EP and Pocketknife, her debut LP on March 25 on a Capitol Records imprint. "Good Mistake" represents the tropes of recent Swedish social democracy pop: a bit short of Robyn, a bit more carefree than Lykke Li, organized for the dancefloor where compliance is required, and it also feels good to comply. The best and most lasting lyric, "your secret's safe with me" is here an utter falsehood, as Birkenes coos her way through a chorus that is built to spread, a spectre haunting Europe and beyond, a sort of last Pop International; dancefloors of the world unite.
If you enjoyed the work of Chairlift but suggested to your close acquaintances that you wanted something a bit more ebullient, maybe even a little cloying, Brooklyn's Clintongore (easily the best band name of the year) storm your postal code with debut single "Watch Out". A saccharine and relentlessly treble arrangement holds a string of electro-pop hooks and lyrics that would make Ben Gibbard suitably blush. Singer Sierra Frost sings lines like, "Watch out, I like playing with fire" and "Know it's been awhile since we talked on the phone", the type of adolescent and post-adolescent tropes that make immensely satisfying pop music, a standard for which, "Watch Out" certainly qualifies.
A fuzzed-out slow-drive, Los Angeles Police Dept offer up new single, "Waste". Like a mixture of Yuck and the Pixies "Where Is My Mind", "Waste" heads nowhere specific, churning through layers of fuzz to arrive at lyrics that largely play on the title like, "waste of my time". The last half features the band's architect, Ryan Pollie clipping out toward the top of his range. This might well be an anthem, but it isn't interested in making the listener feel especially comfortable.
Mirah first made her appearance in my listening catalogue sometime ten years ago on a mixtape from a person with whom things were extremely complicated. The inclusion of "Recommendation", still one of my top five break-up songs for its mixture of vulnerability and blithe feminism, proved to be a crusher - a lyrics like "let's go sit under the apple tree" becoming dreadfully important despite the lack of apple trees in the immediate vicinity. Returning with a new record and the first look, "Oxen Hope", Mirah is still lodged firmly in the bedroom, small arrangements with bombastic flourishes, perhaps updated here with the addition of vocoder in the second half. If Liz Phair was the archetypical feminist of the mid-1990s, shouting her complicated grungy anthems from the rooftop, Mirah was the master of the intimate in the 2000s, a quieter kill. Still at it ten years later, she sings on "Oxen Hope", "Seems like the future is always going to have its way". Her return is statement of agency enough.
Tashaki Miyaki and their debut single, "Cool Runnings". Alternating between the baroque and the mildly grungy, the slow-dance jam opens with the optimistically fecund, "I see a good thing coming." The idea, the listener can conjecture, challenges us to get past our panic, to stop running from the things that might quite reasonably make us happy. The band sings, "I hope we're always lovers", before clarifying the idea, "if we stop running, we can try", making the title a grammatically incorrect instruction: "Cool Runnings", stop it, turn and face front, connect and engage, a beautiful edict in the Age of Moving On.
Critics can't decide whether to bet on the return of emo or the return of 1990s alternative rock. Baby Pink cast their creative lot with the latter on best-song-to-date, the reverb-pedal-heavy, "Cellar Door" throwing itself back to the British invasion of Oasis and Blur. Even their press photographs scream 1995. But will Baby Pink be TRIBES or the Vaccines, will they be Oasis or Spacehog? The final movement of "Cellar Door", the two most pleasing words paired in English, bodes well, the band rolling over the lyrics, "Just shake little baby, just shake for me" until it becomes marching orders, maybe even the sound of an old thing that could well be the next one.
The third glimpse at Milagres stunning new LP, Violent Light, "Sunburn" is one of the album's slowest songs, and, perhaps, most reflective of the band's interest in the intersection of the natural and the modern. Kyle Wilson's crystalline falsetto soars on the hook: "I'll be the bird flying up into the sunburn/ I'll be the zeros and the ones of your favorite picture," an Icarus-sized problem about our aspirations for measures of permanence, maybe a "hopeless fever", in what he calls "a world of plastic". The synthesizers wash over the arrangement like a dusting of pollen, a digital overripe quality of late spring with the world poised to bloom and explode in the same moment. We fly, our wax wings cast as the fragility and power of our ingenuity at once.
With a name that knowingly cribs their forerunners, the Sundays, Gothenburg's own the Sun Days charge ebulliently forward on second single, "You Don't Need To Be Them". It is relentless twee, a weightless chorus that rises expectedly but with no shortage of pluck as the eponymous lyric wails its way to the ceiling. If "Here's Where the Story Ends" makes you want to throw up in your mouth, this isn't for you, but this updated version of Harriet Wheeler's fecund vocal will be pleasing to almost everyone else. An empire of sunshine and moral victories for the tiny-fisted individual, "You Don't Need To Be Them" is an anthem for people who approach anthems with circumspection.
Secret Company's debut single, "Saviour" heads nowhere but up from the opening chords forward. The ebullient, Top 40 chorus provides a bit of pop candy, especially the tonal modulation (for the uninitiated, this is soul of modern pop music: the alternation between a few, three or four at the most, notes) in the upper register of front man Scott Revell. Our ears allight to the possibilities of this Noah and the Whale-style vocal, a bit heartsick, still able to transmute when pushed, and each time Revell reaches up to touch the pitch on the title lyric - "savior" and "save you", "worry" and "all a game" - we rise a bit with him, maybe waiting to see if he'll make it, or certain that another brilliant hook-driven moment lies just around the corner.
A mysterious three-piece from Brooklyn (is there anything better to be?), Prinze George have one of the best songs of early 2014 on the snapping, "Victor". With vocals that drive slow in the burgeoning morning light - one of the first lyrics, "you made a career of composure/she needs you to steer, she's hungover" - and synths that race in at double-time from the margins, you can make the argument that the entrance of the synthesizers at the 26-second mark is the best two seconds of music you'll hear this year. From there, call-and-response "un-huhs" (a super satisfying conceit for pop) rise from below and soaring vocals spin in larger and larger concentric rings in the chorus. The final movement doubles the snare, chasing a finish that structurally must exist but is no horizon line.
Matt and Kim meets Wet, or Beach House meets Mates of State: The currently unsigned Mvscles bob along with effortless boy-girl vocals and bright synthesizers on latest single "Somethin". Recently freed from a difficult label scrap, the band craft this summer jam - seasonally inappropriate but perfect for a business model like the music industry who will get around to marketing this in a few months - with more than a little reverence for UB40's upstroke Caribbean synthesizer pop. The modulated call and response "oh oh ohs" need only three notes to worm their way into your short term memory and the small cavern of your heart reserved for inappropriately brief affection.
Sounding like a Scottish version of Men At Work, Prides, one of our picks for stardom in 2014, debut their first track, "Seeds We Sow" from coming EP of the same name. Some have called them "the male Chvrches", and "The Seeds We Sow" holds all the busting ambition of "The Mother We Share" circa 2012. Relying on a titanic chant-along vocal loop, the band heads straight for the arena, channeling some of the same territory as bands like St. Lucia and Sir Sly. This is the moment before the Moment; this coming summer and fall will find this band riding an immense wave of visible and seemingly organic hype. With a 2014 LP on the way and major label deals in place on both sides of the ocean, Prides are as primed to break big as any band this year.
We're in post-Local Natives, post-Lord Huron territory almost immediately on Gold Spectacles debut single, "Steal You Away". Of course, this means we're post-post-Vampire Weekend (first album, mind you) and post-post-post-Graceland once the suggestive bass pickups launch "Steal You Away" down its relentlessly sunny path. The lyrical image is heavy-handed: dusting off suitcases, tying up boot laces, shitty Sunday mornings, the necessity of getting with and away. It's kidnapping, the title, plain and simple. But somehow this darkness never captures the dark. Even a final, grittier guitar adds only a bit of sand to the gloss, a shimmering and catchy bit of global pop.
Entering themselves into the album of the year debate in the span of three minutes, Painted Palms drive at an anachronistic Beatles psych-stage on "Forever". The eponymous track from the band's recently released LP, "Forever" storms and stutters with wet-mix drums and sea-sick backing vocals pitching and yawing with the churn. However, despite the obvious comparisons to the Liverpool foursome, it is the ebullient and hooky melody, at times a chord progression that resolves with subtle but crushing authority, that makes "Forever" a mountain of pop that would make even a band like Tame Impala pack their shit and head home. "There's so many things I can't remember", sings vocalist Christopher Prudhomme, an intimation that this creation is a monolith that feels both very old and very new at once.
Caught somewhere between gravity and inertia, Katie Marshall of Brooklyn's Paperwhite sings, "I am frozen, out of motion" on debut single, "Got Me Goin". As the title, indicates, this jam, and they could easily be the next synth-pop outfit to inherit the throne of a band like Chairlift, is about movement. Marshall sings in the pre-chorus, "Is it something new that pushes me in motion towards you?" before racing synthesizers and a crystalline vocal that holds both the cloying and intense qualities of Caroline Polachek take to the top of the room. Marshall's vocal is an immediate star turn, while her brother, dummer in Savoir Adore, Ben, takes the lead on the glittering production. It is only a debut, to be sure, but it is one of the most promising ones you'll hear in 2014, a band spinning toward the sky. As Marshall sings near the end of "Got Me Goin", "Now I'm floating in thin air", a phase change of difference from the opening, frozen stasis, a mixture of form meeting function.
Opening to what sounds like it could well be some post-Edward Sharpe faux-folksy whistle garbage, Philadelphia's Cheerleader quickly redirect, "Do What You Want" toward the sort of synth-accented Americana that holds Ryan Adams at one end and War on Drugs at the other. The whistled chorus is thankfully overrun by a more useful and pregnant question, "Would it be the same?". The plaintive acoustic guitars offset against lyrics like, "These words are haunted by you," casting an unreliability on both our narrator and the object of his affection. The final, title edict, the blithe, "Do What You Want" rings sarcastic, a modern, catch-all, fuck-it-whatever for a free bird you desperately want to regulate back into your arms.
Urban landscapes after hours are designed for the percussive imaginations of the young. It didn't take a super genius to grasp the visceral nature of M83's "Midnight City"; the lyrics didn't matter: you were downtown in the city of your choosing, the neon lights came up as you got down. You would smile wide, the cut shots would be as quick as your laughter, the rent would somehow be manageable, your friends would be good looking but not annoyingly so. You didn't have to live in a city, just to imagine that one day you might, and when you did, the person you might be then and the things that your newly imagined self might do and say. It would all be, for lack of a better term, cool. Marque Dos, a New York band who do in fact live here in New York, spin this fable of urban escapism on the obviously titled, "City At Night". Minus the weirdly empty mix in the first verse, the 1990s Club Music piano foretells the chorus, a big, dumb and undeniable burner. This song won't necessarily end up on Top 40 radio in its current form, but it isn't far away - insouciant lyrics like "Well if the lights are coming alive, alright" making the perfect mindless chanting for great times in the early hours, an imagined series of aerobic feasts. Labels take notice, Marque Dos have a mountain of non-negotiable pop on "City At Night", as silly and satisfying as punching the air.
Brooklyn's Milagres return for their sophomore LP on Kill Rock Stars, Violent Light, with debut single, "Jeweled Cave". While the record is a diverse and ranging ride, "Jeweled Cave" channels the glam-rock aesthetics of the Bowie catalog, ringing synthesizers and a pleading, pathological chorus, "We were in love!". Nothing but green lights lie ahead for the band - the first two tracks released, "The Letterbomb" and "Jeweled Cave" perhaps the most immediate and bombastic cuts on the record but not the deepest or the best. If you enjoy the first few glimpses of the new, arguably more capacious version of Milagres, wait until you hear "Perennial Bulb" or "Terrifying Sea", the type of band that uses the word "torpid" in their lyrics without blinking, a small band moving toward the top of the room.
"park that car, drop that phone". The last line, "I'm still breathing with you, baby" remains a statement of existential truth and a romantic survival instinct in a world of devaluation and needless determinism.
Sounding more and more like a 20-years-later Tom Petty, Tokyo Police Club return with second track, "Hot Tonight" from third album, Forcefield. "Hot Tonight" is a wide-open hi-fi jam, something that sounds a lot like the last Noah and the Whale record biting into a surge protector. And maybe the guitars are too treble, and maybe, in some sense, the pop isn't quite poppy enough for Heavy Rotation, but few bands in independent rock circles make songs with such ambition and singable hooks. TPC, on the verge of being a radio band, may well read back like a union of the Cars and Petty in twenty years time, purveyors of big, catchy jams for open roads, downtown nights and any other cliche that springs to mind.
NO, a bunch of guys who play what you'd have to call "post-National" rock, debut their newest self, signed to Arts and Crafts, full-length record on the way in February, with lead track, "Leave The Door Wide Open". More than a fair share of bombast creeps in here, backing call-and-response chants of the title lyric owing to the band being a six-piece, and a final movement that sends the arrangement to the top of the biggest rooms. Even the blithe lyric, "We make some noise inside a room and call it art" belies the obvious self-consciousness here. This is a rock band staring you in the face and asking you to feel something: the old Coldplay trick. It works, making NO a band who could easily break out and through in 2014.
South London three-piece, Happyness chase a college radio aesthetic on lead single, "It's On You," a veneer briefly rich enough to reanimate 1988 from the depths of the Reagan/Thatcher era. The graphic, conversational nonsense of the verses offsets against a pleasant pre-chorus - "I can't get away" - before a Lemonheads meets Sparklehorse refrain presents the most pleasant iteration of "It's On You", the best track from one of the stronger debut EPs of 2013.
Kyla La Grange absolutely dominated 2011, and she returns with the blinking neon of new single "Cut Your Teeth". The bombast of her previous work - see, "Walk Through Walls" as both lyrical and arrangement evidence - is replaced here with a winnowing synthesizer riff and La Grange's brittle and brilliant voice. The title lyric is an aphorism and double entendre for the allegedly value and definite cruelty of experience. The closing sequence features La Grange bobbing and weaving through the synths, a hall of mirrors where her last lyric, "you never knew my name", hits like a fist.
This morning we are proud to debut the video for the stunning "Ghosts of Detroit" from Fancy Werewolves. The video is a visual love song to Detroit, a majority of the footage containing a steady shot of female lead singer, Katie Whitecar, riding around the city in the back of a pick-up truck. The other stars are the humans of Detroit, a subtle attempt to salvage the humanity of the city from the world of post-1970s economics, from rumored and real bankruptcies. Like the surging chorus of "Ghosts of Detroit", still one of the best unsigned rock songs of the past year, there is triumph and beauty here instead of blight. We can smile, laugh, think our deep thoughts under Midwestern skies, even if the world is falling down around us. As Whitecar sings, "We'll be like ghosts running, scared of nothing, flying through the empty streets," presenting the listener with all the things that have been lost here and all the promise that remains.
In a semi-annual feature on this website, we predict bands and artists who are primed to erupt in the following calendar year. In terms of critical batting average here, we've been both too early, too late, and also not at all. This game is more art than science. What follows is a list of acts that have a chance to make a major impact in 2014, though if you end up reading this after the fact, you've already heard them on the radio or in a commercial/film sync - most of these bands already have or will have publishing deals in the near future. The game isn't what you know, but when you know it, a fractious pseudo-celebrity culture as limited as it is stupidly exciting. Indie rock is a weird term, and an even weirder world as some bands get held aloft, Simba-style, as the next heirs to some brief and silly throne. But all of this is a bit inside baseball, and more importantly, the following bands and artists represent what pop might well sound like in the coming months.
This is less prediction than absolute certainty given their aesthetic odes to the Killers and Passion Pit's arena-sized hooks. Already toting a deal with a Columbia Records imprint and a respected publishing outfit, Magic Man's 2014 LP is going to be everywhere. With the right push, these guys will be doing some version of the Capital Cities game this year, achieving Top 40 ubiquity based on strong, memorable pop songs. If it happens in March, it will be one year to the day they played for about six people in our mutual hometown of Providence, RI. If indie rock was a stock market, and I were your stupidly exuberant broker, I would be encouraging you to leverage yourself to the hilt on Magic Man this year.
With a newly inked deal to Polydor in the UK and Capitol Records in the US, and this was largely based on the strength of one song, Broods is poised to transcend the slow-drive, neon burn of even a popular Internet band like London Grammar. Sure, at some point consumers are going to short the living life out of the R&B market in indie rock, but for now majors are attracted to the sound and will push the world James Blake built three years ago on unsuspecting music consumers in the United States. None of this takes away from the strength of "Bridges," a sexy parabola of a chorus and all the fecundity that producer Joel Little (of Lorde fame) marshaled with shrewdness on a track like "Ribs". If slow jams make a break this year, it could well be in the body and sound of Broods.
Sounding like a consecrated combination of Foster the People and Local Natives, Thumpers, a recent Sub Pop signee, craft life-affirming pop-rock almost type-cast for a filtered Levi's ad. On breakthrough, "Unkinder (Tougher Love)," the band stutters and leaps toward a spinning chorus. The implications: We are all young, and yes, life is hard, and, sure, love is harder, but we're all going to be fine in the end. This combination markets equally well to the young and the not. As long as the sparklers light our lives, forever around this fire in our skinny jeans, shirtless with boundless energy for the next thirty-or-so-seconds until we arrive, breathless, at a beach at sunrise. Wilderness, wild, life, youth and love, Thumpers provide a lyrical and sonic image of this self, and this self sells as beautifully as it sounds.
Prides was the male version of Chvrches in 2013 and find themselves poised to make a break in 2014. With UK and US label deals in place or in the works, Prides could well come storming out of Scotland with as much energy as the purveyors of "The Mother We Share". "Out of the Blue" likely isn't the song that will break them in 2014, though it was an absolute burner in 2013, which means it all comes down to their next single, tied to their forthcoming EP, setting the stage for an LP later in the year. As they sang on their only single of this year, "You break the surface, take the lead" which is about what we expect them to do in 2014.
Rainy Milo charmed with "Deal Me Briefly" in 2013, and though she doesn't seem to make it into the conversation with the other would-be starlets of 2014 - and here Chloe Howl comes to mind, someone already famous enough not to make a list of this type - Rainy Milo has the vocal chops and connections to make a big impact on the coming year. In our year-end list, the comparisons to Lorde are there, though it will take a mountain of organic momentum, or a song like "Royals" to seize blogs and heavy-rotation radio alike. She may seem like a reach for 2014, but the A&R gut says otherwise.
Easily the hardest of this bunch, Wolf Alice, seem more interested in making great rock music than achieving popular fame. For instance, their decision to include topless cover art on one of their 2013 singles indicated a cavalier approach to commercialism that may hamper their ability to crossover into mainstream circles - though it didn't hurt Sky. Wolf Alice, we suspect, doesn't care. "Bros" proved enormous in 2013, "Blush" and "She" backing the initial offerings with 90s alternative radio sonics. If it works for Wolf Alice in 2014, it will be a mixture of the Joy Formidable and the Silversun Pickups plan, a big single sometime in the early part of the year that begins to crest by the summer festival season, just in time for major media outlets to pick up on their sound as an "alt-rock revival". The most optimistic view has them on Alternative radio by the end of the year if they can pen their "Lazy Eye" to riches.