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.