A modern day Rousseau would probably reflect on our current age with, "Music is born free and yet everywhere it is in chains." Bassist and vocalist Emma Oppen sheepishly coos her response, "It was just just my nature," in the chorus of TRAILS AND WAYS' fine first single, "Tereza," seemingly liberating herself and everyone else. An awesome "shrug" of a lyric, a sort of implicit helplessness or explicit freedom, Oppen and her bandmates from Oakland seem beholden only to themselves as dreamy soundscapes ebb and flow in time with oblique lyrics like, "I made myself a shoreline without water." The genre references footnote Radio Dept. and School Of Seven Bells (with either the treble or the opiates turned way up) though the over-arching sentiment is a sort of Je ne sais quoi, an arrangement with a friction coefficient of zero, gliding from shore to shore under a force, contract and authority all its own. Oppen suggests this freedom is hard-wired, and its hard to argue as the song, quite literally, washes away in the final seconds.


Donora :: "And Then The Girls"

These days cultural critique can feel a bit like form meeting function. "Society has gotten too loud," you scream, predictably, into some digital megaphone. "Things have gotten too fractious," you note, obliquely, in between attention-deficit monitoring of multiple social networks. "No one has time for big ideas anymore," you trail off; people are done listening and you have no useful second movement. So, you double-down on your contrarianism, becoming oppositional and distant, unaware, or perhaps helpless, that this is - that you are - now the new, ever-shifting majority. And then along comes a song like "And Then The Girls" from Pittsburgh band Donora. The opening ratatat lyrics recalling Le Tigre and La Roux ("Derivative," you sigh) as synths swirl around like a bunch of drunks in the middle of 2nd Avenue waiting for the sunrise ("Lyrical metaphor, how modernist," you think). And then it comes, a chorus so unrestrained and joyful it reminds you of the way you remember your early 20s (not how they were, the romantic memory leaves the right amount out). It is instantly one of the most satisfying moments in pop music in 2012, something strong enough to silence your interior monologue, for once, making you shut up and sing along.

Listen :: Donora - "And Then The Girls"

Dan Griffin :: "Yulia" [Wolf Parade cover]

It's no long list of great songs about death in space. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and the Long Winters' "The Commander Thinks Aloud" both address this area with deft; Bowie spitting a magically real heartbreak about the relationship between Major Tom and Ground Control; John Roderick of the Long Winters documenting in the assumed first-person the last moments of the Space Shuttle Columbia, ending with the repeated and echoing lyric, "The crew compartment's breaking up." Wolf Parade's "Yulia" off their tweaking and perfect 2010 record Expo 86 addresses an apocryphal Soviet legend of cosmonauts hurriedly sent to beat Apollo 11 to the moon, their capsule shot a few degrees off course, sentenced to miss the lunar body and spin endlessly into space. It certainly adds some weight to Dan Boeckner's final lyrics, "There's nothing out here, nothing out here." On this re-imagining, Dan Griffin parses "Yulia" down to its sparest iteration, vocals and acoustic guitar later backed with a cello in the final chilling movements. It is as beautiful as it is tragic. Like Bowie and Roderick's space disasters, this is destined for fatalism, bits of aluminum spinning in infinity.

Listen :: Dan Griffin - "Yulia" [Wolf Parade cover]


Theme Park :: "Two Hours" [RAC Remix]

Theme Park's lead singer warbles, "Can you feel anything?" in the moments before his band's lead single, "Two Hours" begins getting the RAC remix treatment, a re-imagining of the original that all but destroys any chance at the opening interrogative being true.  For a band that was once derided as little more than a Talking Heads cover outfit, "Two Hours" is a remarkably clean and expansive arrangement, glittering with keyboards and melody. Of course in the world of RAC if some is good, more is better. The synths shift toward the irrepressibly ebullient, jumping at the ceiling of limits as we imagine the audio board level lights looked when this remix began to coalesce: greens, yellows and reds, more reds. The final movement is the right one, drums rolling into synthesizer whirlpools rolling melody and the song's final lyrics, "It's bringing me down." Like so many things, even the second time, it's fantastically not true.


Farragoes :: "The End Of The Affair"

Think of the Postal Service and then update Ben Gibbard's vocals with a dose of Morrisey's literacy and the moroseness of Jens Lekman. This brings you close to Farragoes, a synth-pop collaboration between Tom Avis and Jeff Craley, the parallels to the aforementioned mail-reliant project running deeper as one half of the band resides in Toronto and the other in DC and most of their music comes together in stems and pieces over file-sharing websites. But, you can't very credibly call your band, Mediafire without trafficking in a soul-sucking brand of irony; it isn't 2003 anymore. On the band's completely excellent single, "The End Of The Affair" the synth loops yelp and peak, crashing into each other with the coherence and elevation of carbonation creeping up the inside of a glass. This provides the architecture for love-sick lyrics about baseball teams that never win, songs that aren't as good the second time around, discomfort with the phrase "halcyon days" and the song's best lyrics, a rhyming couplet about Virginia Wolfe impressions in an airport lounge tied to "now I'm reading Notes From The Underground". A Dostoevsky reference is the perfect closer, ironically its second lyrical appearance, before the arrangement unwinds its parts and disappears.

Listen :: Farragoes - "The End Of The Affair"


Future Of What :: "I Wait For You"

One of our favorite New York musicians is the indomitable Blair Gimma, formerly of her eponymous project, Blair. Moving to this past winter and the recordings for a new project, one that boasts "no cymbals", Gimma now fronts a group called Future Of What. The band already played their first show, opening for Free Energy last week at Rock Shop. The vibrating and breathy first taste of the band's EP is "I Wait For You", the rugged Liz Phair-footnotes of Blair's debut LP transformed into a slick and heart-sick synth jam. The outcome bubbles to the surface as a satisfying slice of pop rooted in Zoob Tube synths and the title lyric. Blair's vocals, always a mixture of the intimate and the distant, offer the perfect gloss to this bit of ebullient new wave. The band's Moonstruck EP is due out June 26, something that makes them, like the title lyric, something to wait for.


Pure Bathing Culture :: "Ivory Coast"

The children of the 1980s are in a long kiss goodnight. We grew up at breakneck speed, developing a bizarre brand of generational still birth. We knew we hadn't torn down the Berlin Wall or sat at lunch counters in solidarity for civil rights. We watched Hitler get killed in a Tarantino movie. We never had a dare-to-be-great moment. We never really stuck it to the system. It ate at us, surely, and then we aged out of wanting to do it at all. We are in the act of becoming "the establishment" to a generation of Clinton-era kids who are, quite impossibly, more confused and disoriented than we could have dreamed. (They will be the ones who have to figure out how to rebel against nothing.) But there was still this love thing, one of those ineffable capital-L things that managed to transcend a cultural malaise, that managed to connect us to everyone else by invisible wires; our struggles became common, unifying even. Pure Bathing Culture, a beautiful band from Portland, Oregon wax philosophical about this type of unreasonable affection, the kind of thing that still inspires the human capacity for wonder. Or, put another way, "Ivory Coast" possesses just enough magic to make us forget about the above paragraph, what we might have been or where we're all going.


King Of Prussia :: "Oh Me"

King of Prussia, the place, is a suburban wasteland near Philadelphia that doubles as the hometown of very pretty girls and America's second largest mall. King of Prussia, the historical figure, figured prominently in the unification of the modern nation-state of Germany along conservative political lines. King Of Prussia, the band, penned single, "Oh Me" as one of those love songs with a habit for symbolism that alternates between definitely depressing and maybe gross. And while there isn't a specific tie between girls, malls, metaphor and long-dead European autocrats, King Of Prussia and their brand of innocuous (this is, here, a compliment) and winning pop still manages to inspire each disembodied image. This is suitable for a band who declared their studio, during the recording of the album that contains, "Oh Me", the last part of the world that wasn't due for destruction, the last part of the world that wasn't melting. They declared a fake apocalypse, an untrue Rapture. The Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian footnotes are, however, correct. The band has sourced this all faithfully, images, style references and historical after thoughts bleeding together like pattern of the tile on the floor of America's second largest mall.

Listen :: King Of Prussia - "Oh Me"
Listen :: King Of Prussia - "Your Graduating Hours"


Little Legend :: "Saints"

Born under a cloud of Marlboro Red smoke and into a land of American-style lagers, Little Legend, a band from Madison, Wisconsin, unleash their debut single, "Saints", a mixture of early Cold War-era rock and big college radio hooks. Singer, Brandy Tudor reflects on this brand of fatalism in the first lyrics, "I was born with a fire in my head", before slamming drums and chunky guitars flesh out an architecture somewhere a bit grungier than Deer Tick and Dawes. Tudor later redirects this cross of birth as, "I was born a losing kind," one of those blue-collar lyrics that doesn't feel a bit dishonest when paired with a chorus about death, dying and divinity. It is as promising a rock song from a debut EP (self-titled, to be released April 24) as any you will hear this year. A final barking conclusion, colliding guitars and booming tams, forecasts an expanding funnel of choices for this young band: pastoral, familiar, and not a bit fatal.


The Cast Of Cheers :: "Animals"

A sweet intersection of the friscilating guitar arpeggios of Foals and the slam-along shouts of We Were Promised Jetpacks comes the The Cast Of Cheers and their top-of-the-room single, "Animals". The melody dodges itself along a modulating and instantly memorable rise and fall, a mimic of the guitar and the pebbled bass line. Everything is set at angles, a sort of potential energy that continues to collapse into a chorus, simple and true, about the horrifying commonalities of human romance. Not surprisingly, the conclusion is, "we are animals," a shouted and triumphant revelation. The final fade out representing that moment before we break and pass a nasty and brutish salvation around like the State of Nature, ripping one another to shreds.


Lost Lander :: "Cold Feet"

A vaguely dissonant and withering vocal chord gives the distinct impression of early TV On The Radio, quickly includes a hooky, hopeful melody from Lost Lander on single "Cold Feet". It is a buzzy and spacious arrangement featuring the most lyrical bass guitar of 2012, an instrument very nearly speaking its own language and on its own accord, an insistent and monosyllabic tongue. The synths, loops and layers glitter, a credit to the production of Brent Knopf incorporating some of the twinkling architecture of bands like Clock Opera. The final analysis, we assume in response to the title and its implicit reticence, is vocalist Matt Sheehy repeating, "You gotta turn it off," one of those simple denials of the impossible creeping of doubt. It is surely beautiful, these hesitations, uncertain and strikingly fragile moments, a vocal chord held until its layers come apart at the lung capacity.

Listen :: Lost Lander - "Cold Feet"
Listen :: Lost Lander - "Afraid of Summer"


Henry Clay People :: "25 For The Rest Of Our Lives"

"We're never gonna settle down/we never settled for anything," scream the Henry Clay People in the middle and then again, louder, at the end of latest single, "25 For The Rest Of Our Lives." Lyrically, the song is one of those old never-grow-up, die-before-I-grow-old narratives, only here and now the age of the protagonists shifts. It long seemed that teenagers held the monopoly on counter-culture; you were 18 and refused to become your father, an old and losing battle. In an era of unprecedented unemployment for the American post-adolescent, an era where this demographic has been more than encouraged to never grow out of an infantilized, perma-teenage state, the teenager has become infinite. Henry Clay People, a band who do blue-collar confessional music for the mouths and tastes of upper-middle class kids, resolve to stay, well, the title says it. Those in search of greater generational clarity can turn toward the chunky guitar line and see more clearly both the malaise and reclamation project that is the specific challenge of babies born under Reagan.


Hallelujah The Hills :: "Get Me In A Room"

If bad times make great art, what do good times make? A loose bass line and no-nonsense drums melt into something milky in the swirling glass of Hallelujah The Hills' latest single, "Get Me In A Room", a song about songwriting referring obliquely to the real difficultly of singing the blues and the powers of disaffected youth. A thudding, menacing piano progression builds into a chant-along chorus, the kind that you want to sing louder than the volume of your stereo will go, louder than the number of friends you have in your immediate postal zip code. The salvation depicted here is, as the band reflects in the refrain, "TBA", the title lyric offering a solution in geography if not qualitative breakthrough, "just get me in a room." The unsaid and ineffable, something that must eat at all rock and roll musicians: am I dark enough to make the music I need to make and how dark would things need to get for me to make it? And then you mutter something about when you stare deeply into the abyss, the abyss stares into you; everyone you know read Nietzsche freshman year.

Listen :: Hallelujah The Hills - "Get Me In A Room"


Work Drugs :: "Lisbon Teeth"

Philadelphia's Work Drugs unleash a new single, "Lisbon Teeth" concerned with a listing and sun-blasted summer in Europe. The kind where you wake up on a roof in Seville and drive to Portugal because it's within your reach and there's nothing else to do. The kind where you end up swimming in the Mediterranean at 7am not because you rose early but because Barcelona's clubs turned you out with the rising of the sun. Work Drugs take this pan-Europeanism at full volume, lilting and washing synthesizers backing an attractive melody. It's falling asleep on the lawn across from Buckingham Palace; it's sleeping on the streets of Berlin and in the commuter parking lots of Swiss train stations. It's waking to the border patrol and their dogs. In short, it's fun, an ode to that unique mixture of youth, travel and disposable income, a cocktail as confusing and sweet as it is ephemeral.


The Echo Friendly :: "Worried"

The Echo Friendly possess one of the better stories of any band who once doubled as a romantic couple. This is no Mates of State circa 2003 love story. Singers Jake Rabinbach and the Chrissy Hynde-inspired Shannon Esper made their music to come to terms with their terrible, long distance break up between Brooklyn and Memphis. They are now best friends. On 2011 single, "Same Mistakes," the band explored the crushing depths of screwing up and each other. They passed lyrics and melodies back and forth though and built beautiful duets all while falling in and out of love. On "Worried," the couple, now separate, appear communicative, if not optimistic. As they confide to each other in the chorus, "Pessimistic as it seems, sleep will never come that easy," before unleashing the final, repeated conclusion, "we we always have bad dreams." The sound is hooky and bass-heavy like a lost contribution to a mid-90s movie soundtrack compliation. For Esper and Rabinbach, we are the beneficiaries of their mutilations, dark and pretty pop coming out of an impact crater made in slow-motion over years and 1,100 miles.


Reptar :: "Orifice Origami"

Past the graphic title of "Orifice Origami" is the first chord of summer. Reptar, a band about to rise somewhere between Givers and MGMT circa 2008, unleash an absolute burner behind the lyrics, "Something's not alright here" as synths buzz and shiver as if they were struck with a gigantic, youthful gong. The rest proves a summertime anthem with little doubt that this will be one of the breakout bands of the next few months as they tour with GROUPLOVE and make their way into the hearts of thousands of relentless, face-painted youth. Stream below, like the band on Facebook for a free download or, just click here.