WOOF. – Woof (Tree Machine, 2015)

via W O O F . | MUSIC.

Every Thursday, I’ll be reviewing one local artist/release that I believe deserves recognition. This week: WOOF. – Woof.

There is something frivolous and fun about Montclair, NJ artist WOOF. The solo project of indie pop artist Kelan Bonislawski, WOOF. is all about punchy synthesizers, melodic guitar lines, catchy drum beats, and an eccentric baritone. Opening track “My Device” offers a bit of social commentary on technology today: “My whole life in the cloud/But where it is, I don’t know.” And no statement better sums up the millennial generation than this: “But my device is my whole life.” Even though Bonislawski is local to me, it feels like he came out of nowhere. WOOF. is an impressive debut EP, found right in my backyard.

Bonislawski has been compared to Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, and Beck. I can hear both, but I also hear much more, as said in my Roundup from early February. On “I Got Away”, he all of a sudden reminds me of Wavves (it’s his vocal), Grizzly Bear (it’s the guitar), and The Killers (it’s the chord change before the second verse) all at once. The song, said to be a study of repetition reflecting the routine nature of everyday life, does so both musically and lyrically. The song repeats melodies and chord progressions, and Bonislawski finally trumps this mundane life with the statement, “But I got away from an avoidable day after day.” “Cold Comfort,” another standout track here, moves along at a rollicking pace, with a driving drum beat.

Bonislawski also toes the line between stalker and lover on “Hear Me Breathing,” where the lyrics communicate this claustrophobic, uncomfortable feeling of being watched, right from the first line: “I waited on the back porch/You couldn’t see me.” Things are also incredibly upbeat on this EP. Take “Gleamed,” a bubblegum pop number. The feel is immediately reminiscent of The Strokes, but a bit lighter and more electronic. At the same time, there’s a bit of vamping and tonal electronic explorations going on here. Take closer “Apophenia.” It starts with an arpeggiated synth pad, followed by a echoing drum loop, cutting in with some synth bass stabs, a reverbed drum kit, and eventually Bonislawski’s vocals. Woof, indeed. This is an act, and a record, worth barking about (haw haw).

Key Tracks: “My Device”, “I Got Away”, “Cold Comfort”, “Hear Me Breathing”, “Gleamed”

Where to Go from Here: Spearmint – A Week Away, Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line, The Strokes – Comedown Machine

Ben Seretan – Ben Seretan (Self-released/Hope for the Tape Deck, 2014)

via Ben Seretan.

“You will be stronger tomorrow, You will be wiser tonight,You will find new love without warning, You will find new joy with every breath”

It sometimes feels increasingly rare that I find an artist I am so captivated with. Yes, yes, there is a lot of talent out there. And, let’s face it, lots of musicians know how to write a good song, hook, riff, etc. Sometimes I’m drawn to an artist simply because of one track, but other times it’s an album. One heck of an album. The kind that, right from the start, you know you’re about to dive head first into another world, escaping the one you inhabit. You disconnect from the room and belongings around you, and let the symphony of sounds fill your ears. Before you know it, you are transported somewhere else entirely. On his self-titled record, musician Ben Seretan does just that. Avail your ears this gorgeous, sprawling, and epic journey through aural space.

Seretan sounds all at once like many artists and entirely his own. I hear notes of Dan Deacon in the electronic sound effects, the discordant guitar parts, and his tenor on opening track “Ticonderoga.” Lyrically, this first track consists solely of a repetition on the song title. I hear a sliver of Justin Vernon in his vocals and guitar parts on standout “Light Leaks.” There is a bit of Strand of Oaks in the vocal on “Meadowlark.” And the shimmering guitar picking on “Blues for Ian M. Colletti” recalls the introductory bars of Jeff Buckley’s “Mojo Pin.”

This is a record of redemption, of overcoming hardships. The blues influence on “Meadowlark” is clear and apparent. And the lyrics, while sparse and few, speak miles. Acting as a sort of comeback anthem (“You can have it all again/Surely rivers cut through stone/Put your might in something good/Sing out with the Meadowlark”), it is one of the clear standout tracks on this incredible release. There is a hefty amount of minimalism present, right from the repeated lines throughout each song. Each of the eight tracks here feels like a spiritual experience, something comparable to a meditation. Even though Ben Seretan clearly states he does not believe in God, Ben Seretan manages to be spiritual without being religious. These repeated guitar pickings weave fascinating, nostalgic sonic textures, ones that may transport you to your own childhood. And the chorus on “the Confused Sound of Blood in a Shining Person” is incredible. What a gorgeous moment. It all becomes interspersed with the almost comical twisting of Seretan’s vocal, like he’s putting on an impression. I also love the stuttering percussion that cuts through this entire track. The traditional spiritual “Swing Low” closes out the record, and Seretan’s full band take on it is an astounding, beautiful, and epic performance. From the liner notes, it’s clear that this record is a history of life itself. And like life, as we are well aware, it is full of its own ups and downs. Behold, this is a beautiful piece of art.

Key Tracks: “Light Leaks”, “Meadowlark”, “Blues for Ian M. Colletti”, “the Confused Sound of Blood in a Shining Person”, “My Lucky Stars”, “Swing Low”

Where to Go from Here: Strand of Oaks – Pope Killdragon, Phosphorescent – Pride, Justin Vernon – Hazeltons

Blahvocado – Suck Up All Your Guts (self-released, 2015)

via Suck Up All Your Guts | Blahvocado.

Matt Pignatore has to be one of the most prolific artists I’ve met as of late (full disclosure: I’ve known Pignatore since my college days, starting a club on campus for student musicians). As long as I can remember, he has been a person overflowing with ideas and potential. In his most recent singer-songwriter project Blahvocado, these ideas all take shape over the course of nine carefully crafted songs. Suck Up All Your Guts is his most cohesive work to date, a coming-of-age album from a young artist with a lot of promise.

Musically, there’s a certain playfulness that reigns throughout Suck Up All Your Guts. Between whooshing synthesizers, distorted kazoos, and overdubbed vocals, the feel is quirky, fun, and a bit aloof. Lyrically, however, there’s also something sincere. Pignatore takes the time to deliver frank, honest lyrics about relationships, both between others and within ourselves. Whether it is about how the rest of the world sees us on the title track (“Suck up all your guts/Blow em up, show you’re tough/Is that enough?”), or how we know ourselves to be despite the opinions of others on highlight “Moptop” (“Everybody says, ‘Cut your hair!’/But I don’t wanna be gold,”), Pignatore has a lot of personal insight. The playful ambiance is especially deceptive on “Cool” where, amid an upbeat kazoo melody and some mid-tempo guitar strums, there is an envious meditation: “What makes you so goddamn good?” One of the best numbers here, “Winner”, is a redemptive anthem for anyone finding themselves as their own worst enemies (“Gloom, let me know, He’ll let me go/When I show him I’m the kind of person that can win big”).

There’s a space-y ambiance that runs throughout the record, like the hand-drawn album art. While it is as much the aural embodiment of Pignatore, there is a reverence to singer-songwriters past and present. “Lay of the Land,” an observation on a post-breakup (“It’s not like you’re dead to me/Clearly, you’re not dead to everybody else”) sounds like the perfect synthesis between Alex G and Elliott Smith. At times, Pignatore’s vocal delivery is reminiscent of Dave Benton (LVL UP, Trace Mountains, etc.), particularly on opening track “Ditchin You”. The guitar/bass arrangement on “Moptop” also feels incredibly familiar, almost like early Magnetic Fields. Altogether, Suck Up All Your Guts is an excellent addition to the growing library of DIY releases, and one that deserves many plays and replays.

Key Tracks: “Ditchin You”, “Cool”, “Suck Up All Your Guts”, “Winner”, “Lay of the Land”, “Moptop”

Where to Go from Here: Elliott Smith – Either/Or, Alex G – Trick, Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

The Roundup – 3/6/15

via The Roundup – 3/6/15 

The Roundup is a weekly curated 20-track playlist, highlighting the best finds from the blogosphere in indie, DIY, and beyond. Scroll to the bottom for the full playlist, and read on for the track-by-track!

Pope – “Let Down”

We start this week strong with brand new music from New Orleans indie rock band Pope, who just dropped their debut album. Deemed by Noisey as “Your Older Brother’s New Favorite Record”Fiction is streaming in full over there. “Let Down” is a choice cut from the record, drenched in lo-fi ambiance and the dust of nostalgia. It really feels like an unearthed gem from yesteryear.

Shilpa Ray – “Pop Song for Euthanasia”

I’m no stranger to weird female-fronted pop, and Shilpa Ray certainly delivers in that genre. Ray has an incredibly powerful voice, sounding somewhere between the yearn of Sharon Van Etten and the force of Debbie Harry. “Pop Song for Euthanasia” is a taste of what’s to come on Last Year’s Savage, due this May. 
Bop English – “Sentimental Wilderness”
Definitely for fans of Woods, Youth Lagoon, or Foxygen, Bop English knows how to craft pop songs that feel retro and current. The project of White Denim artist James Petralli, Bop English is due to drop his debut Constant Bop on 4/14. The songwriting is strong, and one of my favorite lines here is a rumination on leading or following: “If you couldn’t afford a constitution, would you write one of your own?”
Speedy Ortiz – “The Graduates”
The next single to be dropped for this Massachusetts band’s upcoming sophomore LP Foil Deer, “The Graduates” is a new favorite. Sounding like a follow-up to the incredible “No Below”, the track recalls past images of school infringing on current states. One of the best lines comes in the chorus: “I was the best at being second place/But now I’m just the runner-up/ At being the second one you think of every day/ Before you go back to one.” Unfortunately, the release of “The Graduates” comes timed with the sudden loss of singer Sadie Dupuis’ father. Dupuis wrote a touching tribute to her father, highlighting his career in the music and entertainment industry, and his brilliant humor and advice. I offer her and her family my most sincere condolences, and with the addition of “The Graduates”, Foil Deer is shaping up to being one of my most anticipated releases of 2015.
Hailey Wojcik – “XO Skeleton”
Speaking of Speedy, here’s an artist with a voice similar to Sadie Dupuis and Annie Clark. Brooklyn-based Hailey Wojcik released her self-produced EP Book of Beasts this past week, which can be streamed right here. Wojcik released the video to “XO Skeleton” last month. This is an incredible, spidery, melodic adventure, one you’d be wise to take.
Passenger Peru – “The Best Way to Drown”
Brooklyn psych-rock duo Passenger Peru recently released the video to the track “The Best Way to Drown”, and it’s a strange one. With a sound that feels like the walls could come crashing down any minute, “The Best Way to Drown” is a choice track from the recently released LP Light Places
Ava Luna – “Coat of Shellac”
More excellent arty soul rock from this brilliant Brooklyn act! “Coat of Shellac” is the next track to be released from the upcoming Infinite House (due 4/14 via Western Vinyl), and it features solid vocals from singer Felicia Douglass. Douglass sang lead on “Prpl”, one of my favorite tracks from last year’s Electric Balloon, so I’m glad to hear her back on the mic for this cut. Check out the cool lyric video above!
Vetiver – “Loose Ends”
Folk-pop vets Vetiver are back with “Loose Ends”, from their upcoming LP Complete Strangers (due 3/24 via Easy Sound). The song is nice and jangly, almost reminding me of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or The Traveling Wilburys. It has a nice, vintage feel. 
Pupppy – “Beans”
With a scene that brought out incredible acts like Mitski and LVL UP, I’m glad to see the Purchase, NY continue on with Pupppy. With an upcoming debut entitled Shit in the Apple Pie (due 4/21 via Father/Daughter), and lyrics like “I puke truth all over you”, there’s an uncomfortable, almost stomach-churning insecurity present here. Songwriter Will Rutledge is able to effectively turn these uncomfortable feelings into affecting aural moments.
Mitski – “Francis Forever (Ryan Hemsworth Remix)”
The latest remix from electronic producer Ryan Hemsworth, Mitski’s “Francis Forever” translates well in Hemsworth’s hands. It is invigorating to hear this track with more of an electronic edge, and Hemsworth’s production choices really make it feel like a sort of meeting of the minds.
Young Rapids – “Melt”
“Melt” is a standout from the upcoming Pretty Ugly, the sophomore release from DC act Young Rapids. The band sounds like something for fans of Tame Impala, or Thee Oh Sees. I am instantly impressed by this psych-pop band, and eagerly await more. You can stream their LP now over at Noisey.
Bosse-de-Nage – “A Subtle Change”
How about a not-so-subtle change, shall we? Black metal is a genre I rarely dive into, but acts like Deafheaven and Liturgy tend to pull me in, from the distraught vocals to the thrashing percussion. Bay Area act Bosse-de-Nage makes some oddly catchy, driving, and intriguing black metal, and “A Subtle Change” is a track that will certainly pull you in to the genre if you haven’t dipped your toes already. The band is set to release their third record All Fours on 4/14, via Profound Lore
DM Stith – “Imperial Leather”
Another strangely engrossing cut this week, “Imperial Leather” comes from former Sufjan Stevens piano player DM Stith. The voices jump around jubilantly between your speakers, and there is much to gleam from the production on this track. Personally, I was roped in from opening line, “Who invited her highness down to frighten us all again?”
Lucern Raze – “Stockholm Syndrome”
Here’s some catchy lo-fi garage rock for fans of King Tuff or Ty Segall. Developing out of a move from London to Stockholm, Lucern Raze is the new project of Sex Beet artist Luke Reilly. It’s a fresh, invigorating take on garage music, and the synth/vocal doubling towards the end is pure icing.
Blood Sister – “Ghost Pussy”
Time for some scrappy indie rock. San Francisco act Blood Sister combines a slew of guitar sounds together, from a clean reverbed guitar to distorted leads. The whole thing feels ghostly and somewhat haunting.
Outfit – “Genderless”
Sounding straight out of the new wave/post-punk era, Liverpool act Outfit make some hypnotic electronic music. “Genderless” is the first single from sophomore release Slowness (due out 6/15 via Memphis Industries). Things remain pretty calm and grounded for the most part, up until the last quarter of the song, where some distortion and noise set in like a fog to an already dark and stormy night.
Native America – “Dance with Me”
More vintage, please! Native America have a scrappy breed of psych-garage rock that is just immediately catchy. “Dance with Me” is a great cut from this New Orleans band’s latest release Grown Up Wrong (out now via Inflated Records). Dig it!
Boxed In – “All Your Love is Gone”
London producer Boxed In sounds somewhere between Kevin Drew, The Cure, and a wee bit of of Montreal. “All Your Love is Gone” bridges the gap between post-punk and indie pop. The track is complemented well by some driving percussion, and a retro guitar breakdown reminiscent of Rush.
The Rotaries – “On the Outs”
Here is some more local indie rock from New York band The Rotaries. “On the Outs” sounds similar to anthemic alt-rockers The Gaslight Anthem, but it has its own promise. It’s a catchy number from the band’s upcoming On the Outs EP. 
American Wrestlers – “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either”
We close this week’s edition with the heartrending track “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either”, from lo-fi pop act American Wrestlers. The project of music industry veteran Gary McClure, this track is one of several to be included on American Wrestlers, the eight-song album originally released to the world last fall. American Wrestlers will be out 4/7 via Fat Possum.
Until next week, keep your ears open!

The Roundup – 2/27/15

via The Roundup – 2/27/15

Hello world! The past week has been a busy one, so I haven’t had time to provide this week’s batch of posts (but I did scrounge up a ton of ideas). Anyhow, the past week had so much good music to discover, so I couldn’t pass up another Roundup. That being said, here is a curated playlist of 20 of the best finds from the past week. And yes, you can expect another Roundup at the end of this week. Score! Scroll to the bottom for the full playlist, and read below for the track-by-track:

The Wombats – “Greek Tragedy”

The Wombats are back stronger than ever on “Greek Tragedy”, a track that sounds more like The 1975 than anything else. That’s not a bad thing either, as the extra polish adds a lot to the band’s sound. This is an especially poppy number, with an extra-creepy NSFW video involving the band and their “number one fan”.

Naps – “Floral Mattress”

Sounding somewhere in the female haze of Waxahatchee and Yours are the Only Ears, Tallahassee four-piece Naps craft fabulous twee-pop that begins somewhat slack and sleepy, but sounds more urgent towards the distortion-laced end (“I hope this scares you sober”).

Leon Bridges – “Lisa Sawyer”

This man manages to sound vintage and current all at once. The steady R&B here is parts Otis Redding and Frank Ocean, and I love every part of it. The doo-wop backup singers, the linear melodies, and the lilting 6/8 beat are just parts to a much greater sum: this incredible track.

Death Cab for Cutie – “No Room in Frame”

The latest from indie rock veterans Death Cab for Cutie is also the opening track of their upcoming eighth record Kintsugi, and if “No Room in Frame” is any indication, this is shaping up to be a great album. With clean guitar sounds fresh out of “A Movie Script Ending”, the whole thing feels like trademark Death Cab. Be right back, eagerly anticipating this record in the corner.

Wet Leather – “Astral Projection”

Coming off as a more soulful and less arty Ava Luna, Wet Leather craft great indie rock (or as their Facebook page says, “anxiety pop”). The band recently premiered the video of their new track “Feel” over on Tiny Mix Tapes, so go ahead and treat yourself. You’ve earned it.

Blind Mice – “Nervous”

Massachusetts pop-punk/emo outfit Blind Mice recently premiered their Sunday Songs EP (due 3/17 on Animal Style) over at BrooklynVegan. Opening track “Nervous” is chock full of angst, anger, and tension.

Honeyblood – “No Big Deal”

Scotland duo Honeyblood create 90s-tinged indie that most readily sounds like EMA meets Waxahatchee. With swooping vocals from Stina Marie Claire, and a clean comping guitar, the whole thing feels older.

Alexei Shishkin – “Goodbye Chile”

A DIY artist sounding close to Alex G and Real Estate,  Portland’s Alexei Shiskin is a promising new artist. “Goodbye Chile” is an insular and minimal bedroom pop track, but one that creeps into you. There is a multitude of sounds here, and it feels crafted with much care. The track is part of Shiskin’s upcoming release (the dog tape) (due out 4/14). Keep your ears peeled for this one.

PURPLE – “Extinction”

Berlin producer PURPLE makes music that feels like Blood Orange meets Rhye. “Extinction” is an incredible example of this artist’s range, from spoken word segments, to recurring R&B vocals (“There’s a sin in my heart”). PURPLE’s debut release Silence & Remorse is due out this spring via WeDidIt.

Spaceships – “Woodz”

Here is another slice of indie-slacker-rock-DIY that feels sloppy but lovable. Los Angeles rockers Spaceships sound like they’re paying homage to The Velvet Underground a bit, between the slightly ranty vocals and the similar chord progression. “Woodz” is the opening cut from Little Buddha (out now), a collection of previously unreleased tracks now seeing the light of day. Dig it.

The Tallest Man on Earth – “Sagres”

Kristian Matsson is back, and sounding more polished. “Sagres” is the first cut from his upcoming record Dark Bird is Home (due out 5/12 via Dead Oceans), and while the feel is cleaner and refined, it still feels like the talented artist we have come to know.

Ben Seretan – “Light Leaks”

Sometimes, there are artists that come and go, and sometimes there are ones that really blow you away, reminding you why you listen in the first place. Ben Seretan is, without a doubt, in the latter camp. “Light Leaks” is a sparse, sprawling 7-minute sonic trip, containing solely an electric guitar interspersed with great vocals. But man, does this guy fill that sonic space up. The artistry on here is brilliant, and Seretan’s guitar chops are incredible. The guitar lines flow almost effortlessly, ebbing and flowing, coming and going. Most powerful is the mantra that fills the final third of the song, acting as words to live by for anyone losing faith: “You will be stronger tomorrow/You will be wiser tonight/You will find new love without warning/You will find new joy with every breath.”

Fred Thomas – “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II”

Saturday Looks Good to Me member Fred Thomas takes it solo to make music that reminds me of Andy Sadoway. There are some great stream-of-consciousness lines here, namely this bit: “Life is so incredibly long/Like a kiss on a bridge between two nervous-ass kids/Terrified of doing everything wrong/Fickle, belligerent, fully existent”

Pillow Talk – “Room”

Proving that there is an emo sound for every era, Pillow Talk are to the 80s what Adventures are to the 90s. This Memphis, TN group are due to release their latest EP What We Should Have Said Was Nothing on 3/3, and “Room” is a solid cut. There is a lot of reverb on this track, but there is also a lot of atmosphere in general.

Eartheater – “Homonyms”

Easily the strangest, quirkiest, and most intriguing find this week. The psychedelic, R&B-tinged solo project of Guardian Alien’s Alexandra Drewchin, Eartheater sounds something between Grimes, Little Dragon, Sharon Van Etten, and Ava Luna. Just a bit artier than all of the above. Check it out!

Battle Ave. – “The Sun”

Here is another outstanding find: Upstate NY band Battle Ave. are due to put out a split with Arkansas group The Coasts this week, and “The Sun” is a great taste of what’s to come.The whole thing is powerful and moving, but also feels fragile, like it could break at any second. The wistful, weeping guitar lines are what stand out most to me, amid the worn, raw freak-folk lead vocals. This is a song in three parts: a clean guitar and vocal waltz-y intro, submerging into a tense, melodic middle, finally winding and building to a final anthemic instrumental segment.

Mumblr – “Got It”

When I was really young, I remember jumping around on my sister’s bed to random songs on the radio. One memory in particular was soundtracked by The Offspring’s “Come Out and Play”. Philly band Mumblr don’t necessarily sound like The Offspring, but they have a similar jump-around-on-your-sister’s-bed feel, right down to that punky chorus.

Little Wings – “By Now”

Some more good folk from the folks over at Woodsist. Little Wings is singer-songwriter Kyle Field, and “By Now” is the first track to be released from his upcoming LP Explains (due out 5/26). This feels right in line with other Woodsist output (Real Estate, Woods, Kevin Morby).

Doe the Band – “Late Bloomer”

This female-fronted indie rock feels most immediately like Speedy Ortiz, but not for the guitar parts. It’s more about the muscular, rhythmic feel. And is it just me, or does that backup vocal sound eerily similar to Amanda Palmer? Bonus points all around.

Beat Radio – “Invisible Cities”

Going to close this mix with a track from a local artist you should be aware of. Bellmore, NY artist Brian Sendrowitz creates solid indie pop as Beat Radio, and the production on this track is incredible. Sendrowitz’s vocals sound a bit more auto-tuned than usual, but that adds to the fun of this track. It feels breezy, and summery. “Invisible Cities” is part of a split release with Kid in the Attic (due out 3/10 via Sendrowitz’s own label, Awkward for Life Records).

Mix is below. Until next time, keep your ears open!