Gauntlet Hair :: "Top Bunk"

No one, and I mean no one, does looping, dreamy pop better than Gauntlet Hair. Last year's surprise jam, "I Was Thinking" was a snapping, bombastic affair. It nearly wore you out with higher-than-hi-fi guitars and a clap track sharp enough to pop a surprised ear drum. Latest single, "Top Bunk", from the band's coming Dead Oceans release steers their sound in slightly different waters, these with the distinct feeling of a very fun, very liquid stop-motion video. Placed squarely at the center are these cascading guitars, but playfully enough to sound like an M.C. Esher merry-go-round, shot from above, spinning fully to the beat. And round and round you go, a pleasant summer dizziness of too little sleep and sun blasted afternoons. The final movement provides change, bits of relief, and some final shabby guitars to say, well, we've been around now.

Listen :: Gauntlet Hair - "Top Bunk"


Air Review :: "Waiting Lessons"

Somewhere between the harmonies of O Brother Where Art Thou? and the sparse brilliance of the National, lies a new Dallas band, Air Review. First single, "Waiting Lessons" is a slow build, a traveling song about returns and the aspiration that you might find what you're looking for out there. By the time the band introduces horns over the original piano progression, replete with those signature pebbled drums, you'll be having flashbacks to High Violet or Boxer or Alligator. But Air Review is somewhat lighter fare, still aimed squarely at what feel like American problems of journey and identity. Most recent single, "America's Son" wrestles with exactly these issues of a quest for self, an ineluctable pull, with both songs set against profoundly domestic backdrops. Whether the search turns outward or inside, Air Review have their sights somewhere down the Mississippi, a raft, or across the bay at the light on some girl's dock, that age-old American problem of restlessness, longing and the desire to be made whole.


Oh Minnows - "You'll Never Know Us"

Nod your heads, people, because time is about to slow down for the next four minutes. Dealing in terms of slow-drive relativity, Oh Minnows latest single, "You'll Never Know Us" might seem a lot shorter or a lot longer than its stated run time. The song is wall of warm synths, backed by an intermittant guitar poking out stepped intervals like a teenager lazily punching holes in drywall. The arrangement glides along effortlessly, and fans of a band like Pallers will find a lot to like in this lack of friction, but eventually builds to a nearly shoegazing middle section before washing away. The band's debut record is out this week on Young and Lost Club (Noah and the Whale, Golden Silvers) and, other than the above cover art that draws too much on this, is an incredibly promising release.

Oh Minnows - You'll Never Know Us (free download) by Stayloose


Loney Dear - "My Heart"

Not surprisingly, Loney Dear, is talking about his fracturing heart. Sweden's best purveyor of sad-sack, beautiful pop, returns with a new record, Hall Music, and appropriately-titled lead single, "My Heart". What begins as a small thing, an almost forgotten riff that it seems Emil Svanagen found at the bottom of a backpack after months of inattention, grows teeth, replete with bells and a rapidly swelling sense of scale. Of course, this is what he does best, building orchestral pop from the ground up and then marveling at you marveling at it. The chord resolution at 2:04 marks exactly this type of understated brilliance, a quiet transition into a final movement full of "sadness", "disappointment" and the final insistance, "I want what I asked for." He resolves to find it, quietly, in an archetecture of his own design where the most obviously broken thing is in the center of his chest.

Listen :: Loney Dear - "My Heart"
Listen ::  Loney Dear - "I Am John"
Listen :: Loney Dear - "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl"


Long Walks On The Beach :: "Literally Crazy For You"

A wise person once told me that any good writer should only use the word, "literally" less than four times in a lifetime, making it like the "I love you" of the grammar world. It is too often used to emphasize, like a zombie version of "really" or "so", instead of its intended purpose of proving you aren't being figurative or remotely metaphorical. Making it the "love" of the grammar world. Considering that Long Walks On The Beach qualifies as good writing - and here we would footnote earlier slam-dunk single, "I Didn't Want To Make Out" - we assume on "Literally Crazy For You", he is talking about the one woman who can make you actually, clinically, insane. This is powerful no doubt, as mastermind Fritz Kramer mumbles asides about being put into a straight jacket and taken away. Now the use of, "literally" rings rye, an unblinking, "no seriously, I'm crazy for her," as friends shuffle their feet and change the subject to local sports or something dubious that happened during college. The shabby guitars turn out another glimmering piece of pop, a story in three parts: loud, quiet, and loud. The details are exact, one of the few times where it's worth saying what actually happened. Make this count or count how many you have left.


On The List :: Dry The River @ Rock Shop [7.24.11]

London's Dry The River have been on stage for less than two minutes when the arrive at their finest musical moment. It is the second half of latest single, "No Rest", an explosive, three-part chorus centering on the unforgettable lyric, "I loved you in the best way possible." In the video for the song, the band members are splashed in the face with water as they scream the lyrics, either a weird appropriation of the American government's response to extremism or a dramatic, visual interpretation of this moment - quite literally their own - where the arrangement has swollen around them and they all spill their guts out.

In full disclosure, it's always a little weird for these comer bands from the UK that play their first few shows in the US. The crowds are thin. The band's equipment is either in jeopardy or isn't totally there. Case in point, Dry The River's front man will break a string for which there is no immediate replacement. The last song is played without a functional acoustic guitar. Further, Rock Shop, a venue that fire codes at 90 is well below capacity. This is no affront to the band, but rather one of those moments that later fans and listeners will look back on and think, "Holy shit, they played Rock Shop? Where was I?"

It's no one's fault really. The average, even the literate, US consumer relies on a sick combination of immediacy and repetition. They will like this when they hear it, but they will also need to hear it a few times before they fork over money to see and be a part of it. Sony Corporate will need to offer the activation energy to address the first and the touring budget to address the second. After that, and what we assume is a few commercial syncs (and here, can you whet your knives on "No Rest" for some NBC show or the conclusion of the next HBO looker?) this band will be primed to sell a lot of records in this country. We may be a little flawed, us, but we will love them in the best way possible.

Of course, these commercial asides, as important as they will be to the band's ability to pay a mortgage, are of little relivance on this evening. They can wait for later. The band plays live staples, "Bible Belt" an awesomely slow build, featuring the astute lyric, "The devil's in the Bible Belt" and first single, "New Ceremony". It would be easy to write this off as another Noah And The Whale, a group of London folk kids with exactly two card tricks, easily figured . But, "New Ceramony" confirms a different antecedent. This band rips. Even in their quiet moments, singing delicate harmonies away from microphones, a trick that Stornoway brought these shores last summer, they hold a dangerous potential energy, like at any moment they will explode into a second movement, something you may not have seen coming (go listen again to the first minute of "No Rest" and ask yourself if you had any idea what was next). And for an American audience, the few that treked out faithfully to see one of these moments before the moment, it is impossible to fully see the next thing. Dry The River will have an enormous 2012, whether you can entirely understand that or not.

Dry the River - "New Ceremony" by Dry the River


Light For Fire :: "NY (By The Hand)"

For those of us that moved to New York after college, it became a common refrain to joke about how the city could run you over if you weren't careful. It was beautiful, to be sure, but it had a sandpaper side, or maybe a strange sense of humor, that could leave you living in a rat-trap loft in Bushwick and riding the bus to your low paying job. To cite a smarter mind: You may ask yourself, how did I get here? In the context of Light For Fire's recounting of a summer in Brooklyn, and what sounds like a fantastic destruction at the hands of a girl named "Christine", our gallows humor about New York, told through the lens of later successes, seems downright tame. With sonic references to the taut, straight-faced pop of Spoon, singer, Nicholas Allard, formerly of The Village Green, wrote the body of the lyrics on the plane back to Portland, Oregon, after, we imagine, Christine hit him at highway speed and kept going. The city can do that, especially in the wilds of East Williamsburg, where Allard later confesses, "Bushwick has me by the hand." This is either a compliment or a prelude to a disaster, or both, in a city of sub-orbital highs and industrial wasteland kicks in the teeth.

Listen :: Light For Fire - "NY (By The Hand)"


A Season Of Dilated Time :: An 8tracks Mix

A few days ago the good folks over at 8tracks asked us to put together a mix for summer. Luckily for them we're not above casual, passing flattery and we quickly threw together a bunching of songs that reminded us of warmer temperatures, or, as the title stolen from Michael Chabon suggests, "a coming season of dilated time." It's streaming over at our brand new 8tracks account, where we think we're going to be making a few more of these. If you're a regular reader, you'll notice a lot of favorites from the last few months (Capital Cities, Light Vibes, Bad Lamps, Auditorium, etc.), though minus the foghorn and genre-bending beat mixes of Natty Heavy's mix of a few weeks back. Like always, it's something to do while at work, you know, if you're not already shuffling the blog to death. Check it up.


M83 :: "Midnight City"

People used to joke, and maybe I mean "say seriously", that M83 tapped into a new Breakfast Club pathos. It was surely, "Kim And Jessie" that did it, all covered in glittering synths and a kind of crushing, downcast gaze that disenfranchised kids found uniquely appealing, while the enfranchised kids were charmed for an entirely different set of reasons. In essence, you can be Judd Nelson or Emilo Estevez, but you both can't stop looking at Ally Sheedy. Cool meet Weird, and Weird meet Cool; now try to forget who is who. This democratic appropriation of the children of the unremembered John Hughes-era was only the beginning. Latest single, "Midnight City", within four seconds one of the best songs of 2011, ports a metronomic synth yelp on the way to a shimmering tribal explosion. There is nothing in here about your lunch or your dad or detention. Forget the distant vocals, muttering truth and nonsense like, "the city is my church", and just keep your focus on the modulated sample from the opening and its screaming, beautiful, final iteration. This rings late, dangerous and certainly after curfew. Calling M83 anything close to a reference to a pop-classic about teenagers from nearly three decades ago is insulting. No high school library will be left standing in the wake of the dark neon of high noon night in the city. This weird beats that kind of cool.

Midnight City by M83


Theme Park :: "Wax"

Theme Park, a very new foursome from the UK, are in that strange, liminal stage of half-notoriety. They exist and are great and yet, it seems no one knows them. In defense of the listening public, Theme Park only have three songs that anyone has heard, and one of these we wrote about, "Milk", was either so good or so unmixed (it's 2011, and these things are hard to parse) that it was taken down from their Soundcloud page almost immediately. Now, those of us who follow things like very young bands from overseas that have a serious chance to wobble the knees of American indie rock kids 18 months from now, know that hurriedly taking songs down from the Internet is about the best sign possible for a band's future success. It means someone is advising them or they have an innate sense of their future earning potential and, well, these guys could be worth a lot of money. Theme Park is sitting in the nexus of great songs, good representation and an excellent niche sound. With their first proper single, "A Mountain We Love" due in August, the band releases B-side, "Wax", a song that sails along under its own mysterious power. Poised as the next big export from the London scene, Theme Park wait, halfway between being the band you've never heard of and the band that's about to bigger than you can even imagine sitting where you're sitting right now.

Wax by Theme Park


War On Drugs :: "Come To The City"

It was a traveling song, an idea, or maybe a notion of space that caused four Irishmen to write one of the best records of their generation. This is surely the beginning of a hackneyed comparison to U2, and their wide-eyed, neo-Tocqueville trip through the American landscape, but War On Drugs latest single, "Come To The City" follows similar paths to the ones Bono found in an American national park just a few hours drive east of Los Angeles. "Come To The City" even features an unmistakeably Bono-style yelp at the 1.45 mark, but the hook just precedes this eruption, a candid lyrical motif,  "I've been rambling", with the last word later interchanged for "moving", "drifting" as the band tries on different valencies of the same idea. An admission without being an apology, War On Drugs drive at the root of this wanderlust, the kind of thing every American reasons through at one moment or another: This place is just so damn big, how can you expect us to narrow, to focus, to turn down our ambition? Bono saw the problem from the outside in, but War On Drugs wrestle with it inside, where issues of space magnify and escape is illusory.



Letting Up Despite Great Faults :: "Sophia In Gold"

The latest from Letting Up Despite Great Faults, "Sophia In Gold" is the second track off the coming Paper Crush EP. A buzzy, slow-drive electro-pop cut, the song showcases upfront synths and warm guitars over the top of buried, whispering vocals. This is the kind of summery music that invented the term "summery music", or the kind of music that Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello ordained when they starting shipping DAT to one another in 2002. With heartsick lyrics like, "But I can't say your lines", and here the assumptive metaphor is that we're all actors and this all has the distinctive scent of cruel fiction, Letting Up seizes the emotional conch that typifies the best bedroom and laptop pop. Of course, like the best bedroom pop, "Sophia In Gold" is available for free download and Paper Crush drops officially on August 2.


The Jezabels - "Endless Summer"

Big news from the Jezabels, one of the best bands on the planet, now officially set to release their debut LP, Prisoner, on September 16. The first peak at the contents of the record is first single, "Endless Summer", opening with the band's trademark rolling drums and menacing keys. The signature is still the mercurial voice of singer Hayley Mary, an instrument with which she rages through the middle of the band's arrangements, pushing out to the edges of her range and modulating between distant pitches with absurd ease and aplomb. Everyone (this writer included) says Kate Bush, but a more refined comparison might make Mary the darker, less-British cousin of The Sundays' crushing singer Harriet Wheeler. And this is the trick,"Endless Summer" appears both dangerous and vulnerable, at once ready to kill and be killed. Come September, I suspect those tables will have turned and the target will be the American music public, set to get absolutely run over by The Jezabels and Prisoner.

Endless Summer by thejezabels


Ohnomoon :: "Sleeping Limbs"

New York's Ohnomoon evoke something lush, dark and rich, a haunting series of whispers and lilting guitars. Somewhere between the atmospherics of Warpaint and the sparse guitar work of minimalist outfits like the xx, "Sleeping Limbs" perhaps follows even more of a narrative arc, introducing the chilling central lyric, "Protect me from what I want," before eventually collapsing into a sea of shoegazing guitars near the conclusion. This wouldn't feel out of place sound-tracking a montage in 1996 stalker classic, Fear, where Wahlberg would issue blistering, vaguely crazy stares and Reese Witherspoon would be blinkingly naive, if stronger than we originally give her credit for. This is to say, Ohnomoon are in the business of generating a dark pathos with this smoldering female vocal set over and against these small and then very present guitars.

Listen :: Ohnomoon - "Sleeping Limbs"


On The List :: Washed Out @ Bowery Ballroom [7.11.11]

This review runs live and in color on Bowery Presents House List blog.

Ernest Greene of Washed Out had already defeated more than the odds when he took the stage at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom on Monday night. As a part of the chillwave explosion of 2009, Greene immediately made a name for himself with an excellent EP and at least one transcendent remix of Small Black’s “Despicable Dogs.” However, pursuant to any excellence in a narrow vein, the question was never was Washed Out good? It was would Washed Out last? In this way Greene was the greatest deflector: a Sub Pop deal and an excellent LP in stores, proof that genre labeling was as curly and foppish as his haircut. Washed Out, a project that came to define, if not necessarily completely encapsulate a genre, had become more than that.

Greene played a mixture of old and new material, perhaps resisting the urge to play all the songs of his recent and critically acclaimed debut LP, Within and Without. Its sexual cover art aside, fans were treated to the album’s best track, “Amor Fati,” late in the set, the kind of slow build that both reflected and didn’t entirely embrace the found-art projections retreating behind the band and up into the rafters. This took place between the antihistamine version of older single “Feel It All Around” and the encore, “Eyes Be Closed.” It was the kind of thing that could easily be taking place in a Ridgewood, Queens, factory loft, but instead, Greene clapped his audience into rhythm, played his delicate creations against an arty backdrop and, perhaps, reflected on how talented you need to be to transcend a passing fad. And, with that, he retreated backstage.

Listen :: Washed Out - "Eyes Be Closed"
Listen :: Washed Out - "Amor Fati"


DJ Natty Heavy :: "32ft/second June/July Mix"

DJ Natty Heavy and I go back more than 10 years now. And though my career only took a weird and brief trip through the music industry, he made his life there. Currently you can find him producing a top-rated morning radio show in Charleston, South Carolina and spinning the hottest records (check his Fashion Week video above) at Charleston's most exclusive clubs. On a recent visit I asked Heavy if he'd be up for putting together mixes for the blog based on some recent and challenging songs I sent his way. Now, this kid spins hip-hop, freestyles against Common, but you're not exactly going to find the new Cults record in his whip. But he agreed to the challenge, and the first edition mixtape is hot off the decks and ready for stream and download below, along with a track list. This might be the least hip-hop thing he has ever done, and it is absolutely perfect for all your plug-and-play summer circumstances. He even threw in some extra fog horn for me. Check it up or check it down.

1. Cults - "You Know What I Mean"/Common - "The Corner"
2. The Vaccines - "Norgaard"
3. French Films - "Convict"
4. Gauntlet Hair - "I Was Thinking"/Lady Gaga - "LoveGame"
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen"/ Tupac - "Changes"
6. Coldplay - "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall"
7.Theme Park - "Milk"
8. Tom Vek - "A Chore"

Natty Heavy - "32ftsec July 2011 Mix" by 32feet


Pallers :: "Come Rain, Come Sunshine"

There is something equitable, or perhaps carefree, in Pallers' latest single, "Come Rain, Come Sunshine". The Swedish duo, with the coming single on Labrador to go with a full length LP in September, craft a sort of languid electro-pop, rife with chiming keyboards and haunting vocals. Existing in a world of non-existent friction coefficients, Pallers seem happy to glide off towards some vanishing point, not necessarily apathetic but with a shrug, something awesome on the wind and the sun (or, we suppose, rain) in your eyes.

Listen :: Pallers - "Come Rain, Come Sunshine"