Maps & Atlases :: "Fever"

When you write a conditional lyric like, "When the fever passes", you can't say it long or loud enough. Operating as invocation and explanation, Maps & Atlases build their latest wide-open, major-label-sounding "Fever" around big hooks, spacious guitars and the signature lyric, implying a moment of certain clarity, the passing of a foggy age of strange dreams and enthusiastic demagoguery. There are shades of the over-ambition of bands like Kings of Leon here, a wide-open rock song with an apparent operating aesthetic to always keep rising. But Maps & Atlases, perhaps because they haven't sold their millionth record yet, don't necessarily go the way of Icarus. In fact, "Fever" seems to have a chorus they never got around to writing, a true cloud-clearing moment where the drums would double-tap, the key would change, your car stereo melting from the speed. Inside of all this gloss, inside these big unironic drums, is a moment that never comes. As the band suggests, "When the fever passes/ when we don't know what to do," there is value in seeing our way out of these self-sick days while still being a bit knee-deep in them.


Capital Cities :: "Kangaroo Court"

As we trend closer and closer toward everything sounding like Men At Work's "Land Down Under", the Los Angeles duo Capital Cities release new single, "Kangaroo Court" replete with slamming synths and their signature trumpet interlude. The vague tribalism rings a bit distant as synth stabs fight each other like caffeinated kids on a trampoline, but the band eventually settles into a seemingly key-changing chorus of escalating and descending melody. No one is having more fun (and this is a qualitative superlative that a few bands share) than Capital Cities. If the description of a farce-laden judiciary doesn't complete the picture, it's not certain what would, not quite "Kids" on the summer-synth-hook scale but not not "Kids" either.


R.M. Hendrix :: "Summer Dresses"

A fuzzy little rock song, R.M. Hendrix unleashes a pitch-perfect treatise on the power of "Summer Dresses". Sonically, much is borrowed from twee-rock bands like Pains of Being Pure At Heart and fellow, sepia-toned, reverb dealers, Letting Up Despite Great Faults. "Summer Dresses" is an ode to tanned, browned knees, grass-stained feet and a guitar line that bobs forever in the surf like some lost, entirely fecund Robert Smith demo tape. As Hendrix reminds us from beyond the fuzz, "It's springtime again."


Carrousel :: "14"

Sometime around the 6th grade you realized there was a second layer of meaning in the universe. This was your birth of sarcasm and irony. Never again would anything mean just what it said or did. "Nice job" would no longer, necessarily mean, "nice job". A Michael Bolton t-shirt wouldn't mean that you were the type of person who liked Michael Bolton, but the type of person who mocked those who liked Michael Bolton's music. This was, at the very least confusing, this cruel pulling away of the curtain, and, if you are about my age, Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" came out a year later in 1995 and confused everyone with its litany description of unfortunate incidents, classified as irony though they certainly weren't. Did she know these things weren't necessarily, "ironic"? Was that the joke? Was she being ironic in her misuse of irony? All of this is to say, it is a profound relief when something says and does exactly what it sounds like it might. Florida's Carrousel and their rewarding single, "14" spins under its own weight, draped in bare-bulb carnival light, a bunch of flying horses chasing one another into infinity. The aesthetics are all rich baroque, a dream-pop break up song taken to the top of the room where it seems content to draw rococo designs on the ceiling under lyrics like, "You stole my love and you stole my heart." This needs no second layer. It is exactly what it says it is, a sonic tautology and a beautiful one at that.

Listen :: Carrousel - "14"


Gabriel & the Hounds :: "The World Unfolds"

Without delving too deeply into the magically real, Gabriel & the Hounds drive down the back of some serious deja-vu on single "The World Unfolds". The chorus is so familiar you would swear you had heard it before, like a stranger who happens to look a lot like someone you dated as a teenager. The central lyric recalls some of the best 1990s college rock, like an old Lemonheads A-side that replaced the acoustic rhythm guitars with electric ones, added some strings and a chorus good enough to lead with. The title lyric fronts with an eminently two-decades-old invocation, an extended and perfectly shabby, "Hey". You would swear you had this conversation before, some younger version of yourself but this same series of questions, "When am I gonna feel like a super one? When am I gonna start having fun? ... And when am I gonna be with you?" The old, familiar struggles recast as nostalgic ones, allowing the listener to embrace how much they have changed or, perhaps, how little. So, "when will the world unfold for me?" Re-read the title; something remembered, it already has.

Listen :: Gabriel & the Hounds - "The World Unfolds"


Father John Misty :: "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"

Father John Misty's "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" has the tempo of a funeral march. The drums pound relentlessly, the crash of a cymbal on every beat. Lyrics like, "someone's gotta help me dig" and "we should let the dead guy sleep" add an extra air of morbidity that mixes well with the song's other motif, the Lord's name taken firmly in vain before a comma. Singer Josh Tillman rides all over the word, "Jesus", a bit of tonal modulation that is as satisfying as it is instantly memorable. The religious imagery here is only useful for admonishment, "Jesus Christ, girl", not salvation; the burial part is purely secular, the grave a physical accomplishment of heavy lifting.

Listen :: Father John Misty - "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"


Lux :: "Coroner's Office"

Seattle's Lux set thick guitars against a bouncy little melody on "Coroner's Office" from their coming LP, We Are Not The Same. The influences aren't hard to spot, a mixture of Pavement's shabby guitar pop, the playfulness of a They Might Be Giants refrain, and the cloud-clearing halcyon of a Magnetic Fields chorus. The band offers little in the way of explanation, a sparse website and a title lyric that implies about as much fatalism as it does a play on the old corporate ladder step up to a "corner office". Like burying your guitars under a mile of fuzz, they all imply a little bit of death.

Listen :: Lux - "Coroner's Office"


NO :: "In Another Life"

The next big band to come out of Los Angeles could easily be NO. Cutting somewhere between the grandiosity of group vocals and the baritone gravel of a lead singer that eerily evokes Berninger's National, the band crafts the same kind of burnished melodies end up as well-worn, memorized hooks. "In Another Life", one of six excellent songs on the band's debut EP, builds its house out of a crystalline guitar and one of those authoritarian bass lines that has three notes and each one hits you in the chest. The second movement opens wide with chanting vocals and horns - a flashback to the last 30 seconds of "Fake Empire" - and a finishing kick that turns the title lyric into a statement of purpose and profound failure. The aesthetics revive the energy of the National in 2005 with some of the critical refinements and depth that both the original and its imitators (here think: Pela come We Are Augustines) added in the intervening years. NO plays SXSW this week and returns to LA for a free Monday show at the Echo. They are simply the most promising independent rock band this writer has heard in at least a calendar year, poised to do some absolute damage in the coming one.


Jmo :: "Don't Let It Get Away"

Something intentionally borrowed and lifted, but unalterably satisfying, Jmo's latest single, "Don't Let It Get Away" attributes to Phoenix, Richman, and the Strokes. The stuttering rhythms of the drums and guitars mix with a fuzzy, distant vocal that certainly recalls Casablancas circa 2000. As a final act, Jmo, the recording avatar of Brooklynite Jeremy Coleman of Murder Mystery fame, "Don't Let It Get Away" runs to high fret board conclusion, the title lyric cast in repeat as, of course, the song shuffles playfully to its conclusion. While Coleman urges recapture, he is in the process of retreat. Perhaps, this is an appropriate coda for a song with such an excellent list of footnotes, a desire to seize and hold juxtaposed with creation of new, green real estate. Either way, "Don't Let It Get Away" is as fun a rock song to emerge from a denizen of New York since Darwin Deez suggested similar source material on "Radar Detector". In the spirit of possession, Jmo has "Don't Let It Get Away" and its Cars-influenced b-side, "The Strangest Places People's Minds Go" for free download below.


Ghost of Chance :: "I Feel Fine"

With a dose of Murmur-era R.E.M., Ghost of Chance release a single aimed straight at the heart of college radio from 20 years ago. "I Feel Fine" represents a bit of scratchy and jangly pop from the four-piece until the disparate parts break away, the arrangement shuffles into lock step and the chorus recalls the exact moment that Michael Stipe wrote "Catapult". It feels inexorable, this progress toward a refrain. The drums seem to grant themselves greater agency, running away under Jayson Munro's tweaking and insistent vocal. This is where someone says something about "being rooted in the past" while someone else says, "but grounded in contemporary indie rock mores". We won't say either, but like most good American bands, R.E.M. included, derivative or not, Ghost of Chance manage to eliminate any useful descriptions of time.

Listen :: Ghost of Chance - "I Feel Fine"


Swim Good :: "Totally A Mess Wild"

There is something charming about the grammatical incorrectness of Swim Good's single, "Totally A Mess Wild". Like it all spilled at once, an overflow of words divorced from construction, the title only forecasts the bright melody that barely fits in the context of the arrangement. In the first half, Jon Lawless and Anna Horvath of First Rate People fame, take one of the first hooks up a crystal staircase into series of immensely satisfying falsetto breaks. Horvath is again a revelation, providing the upper tier of the duet, a slice of crystalline purity soaring over the moving parts below her. This says nothing of the many other members of Swim Good who craft a brilliant cut of polyglot, genre-bended pop. The first hook is the repeating lyric, "nameless, nameless" and the second, the second half, is the eponymous title lyric, predictably bursting out the top of the room. The closest analog is some early Loney Dear work, this being just as delicate and more fun, but suffice it to say, no one else is making pop that sounds like this, a spilling overflow of so many melodies forged into one.


Free Energy - "Electric Fever"

The first time I heard a Free Energy song I was laying on a couch that I spent a month sleeping on in Los Angeles. I immediately transcribed the lyrics and sent them to three of my friends. It was the middle of the night, the kind of thing you did when you were 26 and still felt like everything mattered some of the time. Of course, Free Energy were hopelessly and obviously derivative. They sounded like Thin Lizzy; they sounded like Bachman Turner Overdrive; they sounded like fun. On latest single, "Electric Fever", the band returns with the same post-modern pastiche of influences. The cowbell is a prominent and unironic motif. The question is, if stealing and cribbing influences is this joyful, is it still theft? Music was supposed to be fun, remember? If this bothers you, I suspect you probably don't get it, which is an irritating and circular way of saying, you should let this move you. Do as they say and, "turn it up". You should email your friends in the middle of the night; the lyrics aren't that hard to remember.


Beach House :: "Myth"

Beach House returns with a bullet in first release, "Myth" from coming May 15th LP, Bloom. It goes without saying that Teen Dream was one of the best records of 2010 and the band brings back their specific brand of heart-sick, echoing pop on "Myth", this time a downward progression with an elevating, made-for-television-montage final movement. The scope is a little bigger and a little cleaner, the same moment in the final act of "10-Mile Stereo" that brought you to the brink of something. The arrangement reverberates with real space, a place where someone can resolve chord progressions with this level of absolute satisfaction.

Mirror Talk :: "Choose Life"

A half-haunted and precious thing, Mirror Talk took to the backyard to bury their synthesizers and melodies. Heavy-handed metaphor though it may be, the first moments of the band's single, "Choose Life" are muffled and blurry before a cloud-clearing burst of sound, soaring synths and drubbing bass lines. The hook is very much reminiscent of Future Islands, a slice of fuzzy and slightly off-kilter keyboard orchestra. While the fuzz indicated a hidden self, the topical thrust is even more fatal. Underpinning the whole thing is a terrible interrogative lyric, "Is it true, love?" followed by the most mournful, "ohs" you'll hear this week. A long-form projection, "Choose Life" unfolds over nearly five minutes, ebbing and flowing between verse and chorus with a tidal certainty. The central question, whether "it" is true, is left parenthetically unknown. We are left to assume, yes, and the worst, our options to dig a hole or explode upwards.

Listen :: Mirror Talk - "Choose Life"


Scout :: "So Close"

If 1994 were still alive today it would be scratching lottery tickets, voting in the coming Presidential election and buying unfiltered Lucky Strikes to go with pornography and the ability to be drafted in the next terrifying World War. It would be a walking, talking, legal adult. But on Scout's "So Close", a song that could easily pass for an entry on the aforementioned calendar year's Reality Bites movie soundtrack, it feels like no time has passed at all. That year never got old, never thought hard thoughts or sent in, somewhat reluctantly, its Selective Service registration card. In fairness, Scout has been around awhile themselves, this long player, All Those Relays marks the first new material from the band since 2003. "So Close" is a glimmering slice of 90s girl-rock, like a darker version of Juliana Hatfield's "Spin The Bottle" with better production value. The most durable lyric on Scout's return, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass/I won't be looking back", a statement of relationship independence that couldn't be further from the band's methodology, rooted so solidly and enthusiastically in the past.


Maps & Atlases :: "Winter"

Setting guitars racing off to lead the melody is a good start for Maps & Atlases latest single, "Winter" from coming LP, Beware and Be Grateful. Proving something of a competition, the disparate parts of the arrangement flirt and flick off one another like little droplets of mercury. Backing vocals chase the lead guitar line, a tumbling and ebullient affair, the effect being a pebbled surface of so many notes bubbling to the surface at once. For a point of reference, think of Phoenix making a more organic and folk-driven slice of pop. All in all, it represents an architecture of elevation, a hopeful construction about the most dire of seasons.

Listen :: Maps & Atlases - "Winter"


Amanda Mair :: "Sense"

Amanda Mair represents a unique blend of precociousness and mercurial talent. After two fantastic one-off singles, "Doubt" and "House" where the Swede channeled Kate Bush and a blend of soaring, Gothic pop, Mair releases, "Sense" - still favoring one-word, five-letter titles - the first single from her upcoming self-titled, LP. On "Sense" the aesthetic values are freed from the rarefied and thin air of her previous work. This latest work represents a more organic and, at times, almost cute, Mair, perhaps appropriate for an artist that attracted the attention of the taste-making label Labrador last year at just 16 years old. If the melody feels a bit childish, even in places too precious, this is both natural and needed. Mair risked sounding a bit too old for herself last year, reduced down to something a bit more comprehensible for her debut record. Either way, "Sense" marks another impressive stroke of songwriting from the young talent and a harbinger of a great record to come.

Listen :: Amanda Mair - "Sense"
Listen :: Amanda Mair - "Doubt"
Listen :: Amanda Mair - "House"

PS I Love You :: "Sentimental Dishes"

The heirs to the Wolf Parade throne, PS I Love You prepare to release sophomore LP, Death Dreams with the rip-roaring "Sentimental Dishes". Wailing guitars set themselves against tweaking vocals, all colliding in one of the most fun, chant-along choruses of the year. The coda is a gigantic 80s hair-metal progression that PS I Love You have dragged, heels dug into the ground, out to the garage where they've fuzzed it up and turned it loose. The result is a scary good chorus and a breathless rock song, something to scream along with whether you thinking screaming is useful or not.