Maybug :: "Slipping Gears"

Austere and crushing, Maybug's debut demo "Slipping Gears" slides along under the power of an electric guitar and a brittle tenor vocal. The hook, an obliterating downcast, "I'm not ashamed to say I've been slipping gears/ this past year," describes what the artist calls a time of "personal failure". Cribbing from the Jeff Buckley playbook, the arrangement unwinds expectedly, not delivering a third and final chorus because, we assume, even though we're listening, this isn't really about us.


On The List :: NO @ Mercury Lounge [3.22.14]

Taking the stage north of 12:30, a time that was, "the latest show [they've] ever played" according to lead-singer and part-time conductor, Bradley Carter, Echo Park denizens NO arrived in a New York market they are still in the process of conquering. Bridging the gap between Saturday night and Sunday morning, a crowd fueled by liquid courage and plunging inhibitions sang along with the band's post-National jams (what to do in a facsimile of the fake empire?) - one of those rock concerts that makes the viewer think: "Why aren't these guys absurdly famous?" and "I know why these guys aren't absurdly famous yet." in the same moment.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the music, one of the general absurdities of seeing bands in 2014, because the music itself represents a titanic slice of indie rock. NO is a six-piece, a gut feeling of one-too-many. The arrangements were tight and sizeable, Carter flourishing his hands - he doesn't play anything but in a different way than Matt Berninger doesn't play anything - as the band proceeded in and out of breaks. Carter alighted to the idea of being our David Blaine for the evening on songs like "Long Haul" and "Another Life": He knew how the tricks went, but it doesn't hurt to raise ones eyebrows and hands as if to say, "Not bad, right?" at the critical moment of the reveal.

Will the indie rock world have room for one more at the table, for a band that easily could be called Mistaken For Strangers and tour the country as a National cover band? It's an unfair metric for a good group of musicians sporting a strong crowd late on Saturday night. They should reasonably be playing at Webster Hall with the Augustines and Frightened Rabbits of the world; there is little difference in market or quality. The group vocals, and there were a lot of them, moved the audience and band together. Whatever the future holds, there are worse things to be than a hotly buzzed band from LA playing downtown in New York, and New York, as well as the rest of the country will be hearing and seeing a healthy measure more of them as the continue to snowball through 2014.


Ben Khan :: "Youth"

Sounding exactly like what he says it is, Ben Khan's latest single, "Youth" represents a yelping treatise on being young, one of the best songs of 2014 thus far. The vocals rob their hush from Vernon, but the aesthetic (other than the gun sound effect, which is, of course, all MIA) is largely an M83 universe where the synthesizers head for the sky like Icarus. Despite its rich hooks, "Youth" isn't easy, a stutter-step beat that recalls something vaguely tropical without the attendant warmth. Khan finds the best of what the indie rock R&B world is capable of producing: a lean, dark, sensual world where hope lies in the fleeting glimpses of the things themselves in our peripheral vision.


Pure Bathing Culture :: "Dream The Dare" [Challenger remix]

One of the best dream-pop songs of last year, Pure Bathing Culture's "Dream The Dare" goes further into the sky and ether as John Ross remixes as Challenger. The essential guts of the hook remain, even as Ross hollows everything else out and sends it spinning in the air. A story in two halves, the second movement crescendos on the lyric, "It's a cage, your chest", one of the best mixtures of independent and dependent clauses in lyrics about feeling independent and dependent. Ross hits us with a classic Challenger drum fill and launches the halting first idea into full bloom. By the end, we're stuck in a feedback loop again, pretty as it may be, just what Pure Bathing Culture were thinking when they sang, "Give me forward motion, love."


Night Panther :: "I Want You To Know"

With a melody in the verses that rides just outside of the austere brilliance of Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," Night Panther return with the sleek synth number, "I Want You To Know". The track is the lead song off the band's just released (and aptly titled) Kiss EP. While baiting the listener to sing, "There's so much a man can tell you, so much he can say," the band continue to sharpen their brand of nostalgic keyboard symphony. The friction coefficient nears zero as the arrangement slides along under its own power. The final movement slows before a stirring, chirping conclusion, all sunshine and synthetic horn punches into the future.


On The List :: Jungle @ Mercury Lounge [3.9.14]

This review runs first and with much better pictures on Bowery Presents House List. 

Mysterious London outfit Jungle, a synth-funk project that remains sonically faithful to the implied wild in its name, took the stage as none other than themselves at Mercury Lounge last night for their second-ever U.S. show. The band has remained largely anonymous and didn’t even appear in the XL Recordings–sponsored video for their debut single, “Busy Earnin’,” and their Soundcloud avatar is a collection of cartoon jungle animals. Some of this image making rang appropriate for a band about to descend on SXSW with the seemingly self-possessed knowledge that they are about to be a very, very big act. In real life, as the kids say, Jungle arrived as an actual human five-piece, hustling to the stage under the cover of darkness—their anonymity preserved for one last instant—to the sounds of the jungle over the PA, squawking birds and a recorded voice-over: “Our friends from the jungle have finally found a cure.”

It was a band doing a band. The narrative slammed backward into the counternarrative: The bassist wore a Members Only jacket with the word jungle written in lowercase across the back. The lights came up and it was time for the band to be a band. Sounding exceptionally tight and in complete control, Jungle opened with “The Heat,” a song, like many of their tracks, that features sirens. It’s a musical street drama with a 1970s filter, a blaxploitation movie as done by four dudes and a girl from London, Shaft coming to indie-rock circles. As the evening unfolded, the group’s prowess for making dance music never fought actively with this crafting of narrative, the performance-art component never obfuscating the fun. With an intro that also featured sounds of the police, Jungle played “Lucky I Got What I Want” before running through “Crime” and “Drops.”

The set closed with the stunning single “Busy Earnin’,” easily one of the best contributions to late-night people everywhere in 2014, the soundtrack for a never-was cop drama in which the audience openly roots for the criminals, and the appropriately imperial “Platoon.” The latter unwired in spectacular fashion, Jungle unleashing their technical, stylized selves with focus and intensity. The goal was to transport the listener somewhere humid, fecund and dangerous, a more committed version of the music that briefly made Miike Snow famous. Afterward, Jungle, as they slid back down the sidewall of Mercury Lounge, were headed in two directions at once: To take the listener to their terrifying wilds and to come out of the woods to run rampant through civilization.


Great Good Fine Okay :: "Not Going Home"

A relentless foot-tapper full of hooks, "Not Going Home", the latest slick electro-pop from the mysterious Brooklyn outfit Great Good Fine Okay, positions the band for a major or major-indie signing with a company like Columbia or Frenchkiss and a very big 2015. Great Good Fine Okay exists in a universe where "Sleepyhead" never died or passed through to the other side of the cultural zeitgeist, "Not Going Home", either a tacit or explicit statement of the band chasing this feeling into the horizon. An ebullient synth line (there is no other kind in 2014) that recalls the 1975's "Chocolate" provides the backdrop for a glossy arrangement that reiterates this stylistic and lyrical intransigence: "I'm not going home," which, of course, like everything, is going to the beat.


Flyte :: "We Are The Rain"

In search of directness, viscerality even, the airy indie rockers, Flyte, release latest single, "We Are The Rain". Maybe declarative statements represent freedom in a world of interrogatives and conditionals, equivocations and prevaricators. The chord progression tumbles in titular fashion, synthesizers becoming literal or figurative rain, something of the same winking forthrightness as the band's debut single, 2013's outstanding, "Over and Out" (Get it, we're called Flyte, "Over and Out"; get it, "We Are The Rain", the synths are the rain and we are the synths, get it.). This breeziness is charming, and honesty is always becoming the new irony.


On The List :: Broods @ Mercury Lounge [3.3.14]

This review runs first on the Bowery Presents House List.

Last night at Mercury Lounge you could have run directly into the future with the New Zealand band Broods making their debut New York City appearance. Two of the vice presidents for alternative and New York radio promotion from Capitol Music Group stood in the back, almost unavoidable if also hidden in plain sight. Representing the two pathways forward for the band—alternative radio and heavy-rotation at Top 40—a Capitol signee at the close of last year, these two wizards of the radio dial likely control as much of the group’s future as a major commercial act as the duo themselves. It was hard to avoid this sense of becoming from a group that by virtue of sharing producer Joel Little, Oceania and a digital snare drum, recall something of the mercurial, stupefying success of Lorde.

R&B aesthetics in alternative circles may well be a bubble, but Capitol has already doubled down on brother-sister-act Broods. Although for the 200 new converts packing the room, theirs was a different sort of business, a chance to buy low on—to buy intimacy from—a band seemingly about to head for your radio dial and living room. This was like listening to Chvrches in Glasgow two years ago or Lorde in Brooklyn last spring. Everyone arrived chasing some form of the future. Broods opened with “Never Gonna Change,” Georgia Nott’s vocals oozing fecundity if not outright sex, a mixture of footnotes from Dido to Imogen Heap. The sound registered somewhere between the aforementioned Ella Yelich-O’Connor and James Blake—slow-dance music for kids who hate to slow dance. Broods moved through “Pretty Thing” and “Sleep Baby Sleep,” the first owing much to Moby’s Play, the second featuring stirring vocals that would easily be at home on No Angel.

The closing movement of the set, a pithy eight songs, was highlighted by “Taking You There” (think: Avicii’s “Wake Me Up filled up with cold medicine), “Coattails,” another Dido-indebted jam, and “Bridges,” the song that earned the Capitol Records signing. “Coattails” featured the lyric of the evening, “a hit between the eyes,” before the whirring downbeat engaged, one of those literal and figurative direct hits that lays the foundation for buildings like Capitol’s 5th Avenue headquarters. Despite only one more day in America, Nott said they loved it here and would return. The feeling proved mutual, this much was obvious. Nott and the audience were both right, the set closed with a quiet new number, the future lying inside for a moment before it moved out there to Houston Street and into the American commercial night.


Small Wonder :: "Until I Open My Wings"

For this, you will have to work. Aptly titled Small Wonder, a Brooklyn band fronted by Henry Crawford, build a miniature metamorphosis on "Until I Open My Wings", the lead single from the band's coming LP, Wendy. The track opens to the brittle dawn of a vocal from Susannah Cutler - the first layer - the singer intones, "Each day my heart grows fonder / so one day I'll be you small wonder," name-checking the band in question and unleashing the idea of tiny brilliance that carries the arrangement to its crashing finish. The lyrics describe all states of becoming: moss growing on stone, rocks paving roads, butterflies, lovers in bloom, a song that snaps itself to full posture and then breaks into a run after the five-minute mark. It recalls the best parts of Loney Dear, a world where everything waits for a moment before being what it will be.


On The List :: Skyes @ Cameo Gallery [2.28.14]

It is both metaphor and cold reality to be the 8:30 band on a Friday night. You're just starting out, and everyone knows it, whether they know you or not. Skyes, a Brooklyn four-piece, with ambition that easily outpaces their current Q-rating, took the stage at Cameo Gallery without saying a word. Singer DA Knightly would thank the crowd after the night's penultimate song, introducing the band for the first time, maybe unnecessarily. The set spoke for itself.

Any discussion of the rising stock of a band like Skyes begins and ends with Knightly. Toting what may well be the best voice in Brooklyn, she is a mixture of mad scientist - punching keys on one of the two iPads on stage while also playing a keyboard - and organic sprite, seemingly possessed by the nature and power of the band's arrangements, maybe even by her own voice. Opening with the propulsive, "Secondhander", this writer began to do the math: This is likely their second or third best song in their own estimation, still with hit-in-waiting "A Girl Named Jake" saved for the latter portion of the set. Labels should sit up in their seats and take notes. To my eye there weren't industry people in the audience (always look at the back: too well dressed, maybe a leather jacket if they're in their 40s, usually talking through some part of the set), but there will be in the future. The sound that came through the admittedly splashy acoustics of Cameo proved big enough to fill far larger rooms, a throwback to industrial pop bands like Garbage and Metric, a stadium-sized aesthetic playing in room that fire codes around 100.

The middle of the set dragged a bit, and the band should look to free Knightly from her keyboard duties, but the closing three songs would evangelize anyone. Running through "A Girl Named Jake", "Burden" and an as yet untitled closer large enough to sink Williamsburg into the East River, the band announced its arrival with its departure for the night. On record, "A Girl Named Jake" sounds like a Kate Bush research project, updated for the 2014 listener. In person, the sound is bigger and more ambitious, Knightly hitting intermediate pitches with deftness and sophistication. When she finally introduced the band, a bit of superfluity when you're playing mostly to friends and friends-of-friends, the scattered audience of beards, shoulder bags, and asymmetrical hair cuts already knew. It stood as an introduction nonetheless. She and the band should get comfortable with this part, the introduction; they're going to be meeting a lot more people.