BIGKids :: "Drum In Your Chest"

 Watch out for BIGKids, possibly the next great export from the UK. With infectious and club-ready single, "Drum In Your Chest" and a publicist including clauses in her emails that include, "everything else is under wraps for now" (#humblebrag all around there), you can be certain to hear more from this auspicious act from the other side of the ocean. Sonically, "Drum In Your Chest" is the most fun you'll have on the dance floor this year, the finishing kick full of increasingly glossy vocals, horn squeals lifted from the Salt-N- Pepa catalog and a seemingly endless chorus, "Will you remember to take another breath/when your heart's beating like a drum in your chest." It's enough to leave you, well, breathless. Appropriate comparisons aren't necessarily obvious, but picture the sweaty center between the instrumentation of a TV On The Radio record, mixed with the house overtones that made Kele's "TENDERONI" so satisfying two years ago, only if Moby and Whitetown were manning the production boards. It's a quick pick up, a catch breath from which there can be no recovery. These guys are going to be very big, so inhale deeply before you book your tickets for Webster Hall in the fall of 2012.

Drum In Your Chest [Simon Duffy remix] by BIGkids


The Jezabels :: "Try Colour"

The Jezabels are releasing their second free mp3 off their enormous debut record, Prisoner. This cut, "Try Colour" is another one of their shuddering, spacious tracks, almost in the spirit of "Hurt Me" from last year's She's So Hard EP. Singer Hayley Mary shines again, a menacing and brittle presence, uttering lyrics like, "Stuck like the star light, you pick your own fire, baby", at once sensual and distant. The final movement brings together thundering drums, rippling guitars and Mary's confessional lyrics, "In my dreams I've been a stranger." The arrangement washes away, unsettled as a matter of course. This band will be back in the States soon enough and you will have to reconcile whether you are in the small but growing group of people who have experienced them in person or if you still haven't seen Hayley Mary turn herself into the human torch on stage. I'll bet you a whiskey they close with Prisoner-closer, "Catch Me" and the biggest 30-seconds of music you'll hear in 2011 as they storm out of the bridge. But try, "Try Colour" for now while you reason out which side you're on.

Listen :: The Jezabels - "Try Colour"


Carter Tanton :: "Fake Pretend" [feat. Marissa Nadler]

Carter Tanton's latest single, "Fake Pretend" is a spiraling web of echoes and glittering pop, showcasing the sublime vocals of Marissa Nadler. The warm tones of Tanton's strange fusion of singer-songwriter pop and electronic overtones take the sound out of the bedroom to the corner and then back again. On "Fake Pretend", Tanton resists classical structures of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus, opening with Nadler operating like some kind of half-drowned muse, before Tanton himself steps in amidst cascading guitars and sings the only hook, "I'm nobody's fool." Seemingly interested in the fragile balance between intricacies and the ways in which delicate things fall apart, Tanton lets his composition collapse before reconstituting it behind even warmer guitars and a final movement featuring the title lyric. Nadler's vocal hides at the top of the mix, like some half-forgotten and entirely beautiful thing. The final act, washing synthesizers seize the arrangement and "Fake Pretend" fades out as winsome as it came.

Listen :: Carter Tanton - "Fake Pretend" [Feat. Marissa Nadler]


Family of the Year :: "St. Croix"

While Family of the Year's latest single, "St. Croix" isn't necessarily new, it will officially come out on October 27, and the band is now offering it for free download. The slick and soaring bit of guitar pop references loose instructions like, "getting away", and rhymes "motion" with "ocean" in either the least ironic or the most winning way possible. As a bit of pop, it is undeniably defensible as a vote in favor of its soaring chorus and instantly memorable hooks, even if the lyrics leave something to be desired and the Southern Hemisphere metaphors lay, even pleasantly, a bit heavy. But, "St. Croix" isn't about higher order truths, rather it aims itself at our most visceral selves, lovers of melody and those warm guitars that seem to have a language of their own.

St. Croix by Family of the Year


Small Black :: "Moon Killer"

There was a delicacy in genre, not function of Small Black's early success. Riding so hotly on the crest of ten or so "chillwave" bands, of which they were the most exemplary and easily derided, the band crafted echoing, synthesized pop that was, perhaps, not always taken seriously. It added no great credibility that their best song, "Despicable Dogs" got considerably better when remixed by other surf-side synth purveyor, Washed Out. And yet, despite the critics, there was greatness in it, a sort of John Hughes-y thing for a generation unable to claim any particular weirdness as self-definition. Recently, seeming even further down the synth rabbit hole, the band have tendered a mixtape, Moon Killer, and a title track that is as stabbing and, frankly, sad a slice of synthesizer pop as you'll hear this year. "Never make you try" and, "It's an ugly way to do things" are the sing-song lyrical modules that house a melody full of wistful heartbreak. Or, put another way, like the critical arrows that ended up embedded in the band's corpus, it was far easier to push this through to the other side, to be even more synth heavy, than it would have been to reverse course, giving us something beautiful and entirely fatal. It's an ugly way to do things, I guess, but how else would you have it?

Moon Killer by Small Black

On The List :: Gauntlet Hair, TEEN, and We Barbarians @ Mercury Lounge [10.21.11]

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

Friday night of CMJ, with everyone a little worse for wear, found Mercury Lounge as the home to the Windish Agency showcase, although it may as well have been an echo chamber. The reverberated Gauntlet Hair took the stage in the 9 o’clock slot. The latest of the blog-to-label bands, they parlayed a snapping first single, “I Was Thinking” into an album featuring their trademark high-fret guitar-board strums and slamming drums and bass. Looking a bit like kids who might have run around in a fixed-gear bicycle gang at your liberal arts college, the band played material from their self-titled debut LP, including stunners “Keep Time” and “Top Bunk,” like Dirty Projectors cuts that got dropped to the bottom of a backyard swimming pool, all glittering guitars and troubling echoes.

Up next the surprisingly charming Teen (good luck searching for them on the Internet), an all-female five-piece, claimed to be three-fifths sisters and 100 percent Canadian. Now playing in and around Brooklyn, the band was dressed to kill, eliciting drunken commentary from some grungy looking guys in the middle of the crowd, which the quintet handled and dismissed with the deftness of a stand-up comedian. Playing a tight set of dream pop, the band felt like one part Stars, one part Wilson Phillips and one part School of Seven Bells. Seeming to build converts with each passing song (the yelling dudes were now loudly proclaiming their love for the lead singer or maybe the bassist or perhaps both), the ladies in their evening wear proved to be the type of pleasant surprise that CMJ still provides.

We Barbarians, with a considerably smaller sound check and a considerably larger sound, took the stage at 11 as the most energetic three-piece of the festival. Trafficking in the kind of sound that might have kept We Are Scientists from getting kicked off Virgin/EMI, We Barbarians opened with the shimmering “Headspace,” full of banging drums and soaring guitars. Lead singer Dave Quon is a force of nature, even on the allegedly more thoughtful tracks of the band’s most recent EP, Headspace. A drummer sweating through his beard and a singer sweating through his shirt aren’t new semiotics in rock music, but there is something in We Barbarians that feels singular, loud and important. The bands would move on, perhaps to the rest of their tours or to even later showcases, and the echoes of the second-to-last evening of another CMJ would ring out without the help of a delay pedal.

Listen :: Gauntlet Hair - "Keep Time"
Listen :: Gauntlet Hair - "Top Bunk"
Listen :: We Barbarians


On The List :: Alabama Shakes and Dry The River @ Bowery Ballroom [10.20.2011]

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

That old E. B. White line about there being three New Yorks, that of the born-and-bred, that of the commuter and that of the transplant, always feels particularly relevant during CMJ, a mixture of hardened music-industry brass, New York City bands hoping to gain national exposure and regional acts making their way to the city in hopes of the same. The 8 p.m. band, Alabama Shakes, at a uniquely focused Bowery Ballroom, represent the second, commuters playing their first New York City gig. Three hours later, UK favorites, Dry the River were making their second jaunt to the city, out-of-towners, jet-lagged and in search of that crack in the US music market. These two transients, a pair of the most compelling acts at this year’s CMJ, plied their craft with a commuters’ intensity: restless, energized and ephemeral, success to be determined by the unnamed music executives and consumers in the crowd.

Alabama Shakes looked comfortably out of place, a warm slice of rustic rock with none of the pretense of NYC bands that traffic in the same influences. There were moments that feel channeled through Otis Redding’s seminal “Try a Little Tenderness” and others where vocalist Brittany Howard—and you simply won’t hear a better voice this year—yelped and pitched with the seasick sublimity of Janis Joplin, broken and perfect and gritty. The band remains largely introverted, save for Howard’s spinning movements around the stage, even on a second-to-last roots-rock jam played for nearly seven minutes. But it’s this band’s more explosive moments that had SPIN magazine name them one of the 25 bands not to miss at this year’s CMJ. Perhaps most important, the e-mail exchange on the Blackberry of a somewhat disinterested gentleman at the upstairs bar. The addressee: Norah Jones. The subject line: Alabama Shakes.

Dry the River, a different form of New York transient, shuffled to the stage to considerably less fanfare just after 11 p.m. and with the baggage of being a major-label act overseas but a beginner to music fans here. Playing their best song, “No Rest,” first, they carried the audience, showing the scatter and wear of day three of CMJ, to the top of the room with the biggest chorus you’ll hear in 2011. Screaming “I loved you in the best way possible” has all the potential to be cloying or overwrought and yet, amazingly, never was. Another single, “New Ceremony,” in a kinship relation to this broad-scope refrain, chilled the crowd with the aplomb of a tour-toughened band with a penchant for the grandiose. But it was “Bible Belt,” a song about troubling contradiction, that tied together a UK folk-rock act wistfully reflecting on the American red states and an American red-state original (yes, Alabama Shakes hung around, watching from the front row), a shared vision of having come here for a very specific reason.
Dry The River - New Ceremony by lucidonline


Turf War :: "For The Last Time"

Scuzzy rock and roll never seems to go out entirely of fashion, like brick architecture on American college campuses or suit jackets for dinner. But, Georgians, in geography not style, Turf War spit a no-nonsense version of rock that has largely been cannibalized in independent music by something allegedly more esoteric or thoughtful or market-driven. This type of unfiltered, whiskey on a sore throat, frustrated, splitting the seams music is only kept alive by bands like Dead Confederate and Henry Clay People. Suitably, Turf War called their record, Years Of Living Dangerously, and "For The Last Time" serves as a shout-along statement of existential reality. The chorus figures as a churning and depressing resolution to never get this hard up again. The final lyrics: "Now I'm goin' home" paired with the earlier "I'm runnin' out of the man in me" reflect an exasperation, we presume, perhaps stereotypically, from late nights, cigarettes and enough downers to pacify a small island nation. If this is hard living, we also presume there is no way that Turf War is serious about walking away from it. Especially not if we all scream-count "one, two, three, four!" into the final chorus.

 Listen :: Turf War - "For The Last Time"



The young and brilliant First Rate People are back with a new single, "Summer Job", a wistful look over the shoulder at a season past. It backs recent one-off release, "Someone Else Can Make A Work Of Art", also available through the band's bandcamp. On "Summer Job", FIRST RATE PEOPLE are in top form, ebullient poly-rhythms bouncing under a melody so infectious that whole song feels like a chorus. Really just a two part exploration of summer pop turning from green to red, gold and brown before dying away with the fall. Jon Lawless and his crew continue to churn out bubblegum lyrics like "You could get a summer job/but it would to be summer again/'cause it's not" side by side with crushing resolutions like, "there are vultures that pick at your thoughts." As the song breaks into its second part, a harmonium and the sweetest female vocal you'll hear in 2011 chime around the lyric, "I don't want to say it will be different" before the male vocal returns (Mike Harloff this time) with the final hook, "Our debt will always unpaid". The final lyrics are echoed by the female counterpart, like a non-tragic version of Postal Service's "Nothing Better". Even with a happy ending, the song fades away like the restless, uncaptureable pop that this band makes so easily and well. If you can catch it, even for a minute (or three and a half), ephemeral and immediate, it is a season gone, but not forgotten.


The Nomadic Firs :: "I'm A 99"

Without getting overly political or doing a critical analysis of what it might mean to be "the 99 percent" or a comprehensive inventory of what is an increasingly consumer debt driven economy, we're prepared to say we're interested in the people hanging out on Wall St. at this writing. It isn't SDS and this isn't Vietnam, but something about post-adolescents sleeping outside to protest income inequality and corporate person-hood feels like our generation grappling with - or is it needing? - a dare-to-be-great moment. We don't have a Dylan, nor did Dylan end the war; Nixon did. But, this generation has a broader musical culture, thousands of digital releases and Bandcamps and Soundclouds and Garageband bards, prepared to offer their voice to something that might matter. Protest music isn't less relevant now, it's just a brilliant sun fractured into a million bare light bulbs. Nomadic Firs, a band with a handle on downcast pop, take a stab at codifying the movement with their sing-song raison d'etre cut, "I'm A 99". The chorus rings instantly singable, a repeating statement of self, one of those collective, existential cries, in this case: "I'm a 99." This only matters if you tell people; it only counts if you are a partial part of it.

Secret Pilot :: "Lucy"

Manchester, England, one of those post-industrial towns that still finds meaning in difficulty, sends us gritty rock music in the form of Secret Pilot and their instantly memorable single, "Lucy". The vocals recall what US Royalty did so well in 2008 or early Kings Of Leon, that approachable, gravel-toned pop - this version with a vague sensation that the time signature has been lifted from a Vampire Weekend cut. On "Lucy", the guttural evocation, "I am letting go" leads into the chorus, a series of stepping pitches that are the sonic equivalent of an old telephone switchboard with wires slipping in out of different extensions, a heartbroken operator desperately seeking the correct connection. Each note of the refrain is willfully discrete, just one point on a terrible regression. And though this sounds soaring, it is not just some tropospheric rock song, and the lyrics are far more interested in the depths than whatever happened at altitude. But, the chorus is so rife with hooks that these notes will catch your eye like the side of a darkened building, office lights on different floors flicking on and off in time.

LUCY (official single) by secretpilotuk


El May :: "Pleasant Experience" [Small Black cover]

The resplendent El May offers up a free cover of the drowned in reverb single, "Pleasant Experience" from chill-wave purveyors, Small Black. This version, substantially cleaned up, like a close shave and a clean shirt, rings with plinking keyboard chords and El May's haunting, detached vocals. The melody, at once listless and catchy, sticks to the hippo-campus with adhesive, sing-song qualities modulating between only a few pitches, exactly the type of refrain we are so hard-wired to enjoy.

Listen :: El May - "Pleasant Experience" [Small Black cover]


PAPA - "I Am The Lion King"

No one said you haven't heard this before. In fact, all of these probably seems familiar. Big, tight guitars that feel like they're ripped out of a Free Energy studio session power the breaks in PAPA's "I Am The Lion King". The lyrics are those confessional kind, said with arched eyebrows, a shrug and one of those tautological resignations like, "It is what it is." And for existential questions, PAPA isn't particularly concerned with breaking new ground, rather punching up old semiotic studies of rock. The final push is a rush of guitars and big backing vocals, expanding on the theme of those early guitar lines with a richer (or is it wry?) understanding of the cultural and artistic derivatives. These are tropes, to be sure, but plot lines tried and true, like the cliche in the preceding clause, at once meaningless and entirely comfortable with how much fun you can have when that pressure to feel new lifts and the critical sky clears.
PAPA: I Am The Lion King by Hit City USA


Dreamers Of The Ghetto :: "State Of A Dream"

"State Of A Dream", the effective album opener from Bloomington, Indiana's Dreamers Of The Ghetto fantastic debut record, Enemy/Lover boils down to one wailing guitar riff. The pounding drums and the synths that wash over the record add up to less than that one original guitar, so insistently down-stroked in the first verse and so full of fervor in the the chorus. All of this has an edge, crackling drums and big shouting refrains, a quite pathological search for tangible reality. If "State Of A Dream" provides the bands thesis statement, it mirrors the album's closer, "Tether" which suggests that beyond this - whatever "this" is - lies another door, and another and another. But this is the just the first opening for a band with a very bright future, and full knowledge that no one is making independent rock music this big or this bold. Just listen to the guitars first.

Listen :: Dreamers Of The Ghetto - "State Of A Dream"


Phantogram :: "Don't Move"

With as much bombast as you've heard since Matt and Kim's "Daylight", Phantogram's surprise new single, "Don't Move" rises and falls, heaving with energy and possibility. The band's trademark guitars - here, think of the warmth of "Mouth Full of Diamonds" - creep in the back of the mix while a buzzing, snapping downbeat maintains a benevolent dictatorship amongst horn punches and vocal samples that spill from every angle like MC Escher free-hand drawing a waterfall. The edict is about stasis, a laughable prospect as the song comes out of its final break with the lyrics, "all I know how to do is shake, shake/ keep your body still, keep your body still". The arrangement swells and moves with a force of nature, your head now part of the equation, moving up and down in time.

Listen :: Phantogram - "Don't Move"


Capital Cities :: [Tonight @ Rock Shop]

Synth-pop dealers Capital Cities descend on Rock Shop tonight after their New York debut last night at Pianos. The band's self-titled EP, featuring the best unsigned song of the year, "Safe and Sound" is a sharp slice of pop, rife with buzzing keyboards and glittering arpeggios. More importantly, perhaps, is the horn (recorded live) on "Safe and Sound", officially helping 2011 be the Year of Brass Instruments In Pop along with M83's "Midnight City" and the Rapture's "How Deep Is Your Love". And the fact that "Safe and Sound" is, and should be, considered in the same breath as those other singles tells you something unmistakable and serious for an unsigned act. Tonight, you have a chance to see a band in the beginning stages of lift off in a room that has the same square-footage of your apartment (this is not a compliment to your apartment).

Listen :: Capital Cities - "Safe And Sound"


The Nomadic Firs :: "Vines"

The Nomadic Firs' new single, "Vines" inspires a gliding, effortless visual imagery. A slow-motion time lapse between the diving board and the surface of the water, the vocals are buried in an unmistakable haze but there is an equally hard to miss arc, a narrative even. The band suggests for you to get outside behind a bouncy loop that would remind you of what might happen if Len remade "Steal My Sunshine" as an indie rock seven inch. As for that same "sunshine," they tell us we deserve it, a languid half-rapped, half-sung reminder about the value of earning your place somewhere out there. The rhetorical flourishes touch the edges of grandiose, but this is bright, shimmering youth, not something that purports a heavy dose of pragmatism. To boot, the aesthetic is burnt out, bright midday sunshine, a type of malaise that unexpectedly inspires something hopeful. It's so lazy, you can almost see it turning into something else.

Vines - off the upcoming album slated for this fall. by Nomadic Firs


Caged Animals :: "Teflon Heart"

You wish you could be so casual. She is downright breezy in the way she says, "talk to you later", the inverse of how you struggle to find a suitable way to end a rapidly protracting voice mail on her phone. Nothing sticks to her as she drifts in and out of your life like a mid-afternoon bee in a half open kitchen window. Caged Animals, a Brooklyn bedroom project, poised to reflect on these young, professional heartbreaks, wax philosophical about Zip Cars, off-beat Tom Cruise movies and the terrors of being labeled bourgeois. But this is the window dressing on this song's sad little center. Mournful organ chords hold up the architecture while clapping beats and sharp guitars frame the hook. It is Jape's, "Floating" with less Beta Band influence, a sad ending and no clear signs of substance abuse. Her heart is teflon, they tell us, the implication being, obviously, you are not.

Listen :: Caged Animals - "Teflon Heart"