It’s exciting to hear how ubiquitous the sound of emo has become these days in indie/alternative music. Between half-screamed, half-sung vocals, and complex rhythm structures, the general idea of emo varies from band to band. The refreshing part, however, is how each band utilizes and flexes this concept to their own sound. Wall, NJ, band Halogenscrafts a fun, flowing take on emo, combining elements of alternative rock and funk. Their self-titled EP, released on West Long Branch label Why Bother Records, is a powerful effort, one that starts the new year off effectively.
Opener “Kitchen Sink” is a headlong rush of excitement, marked with notes of despair: “I wanna be something my mother’s proud of/Never had a reason to be quite too proud of me.” Starting a new year, there is always a need to do better, to want to be better, so this track feels especially relevant to that. What is admirable is how the band doesn’t take anything too seriously, and adds enough of a playful edge to balance out the bold statements. One of the best aspects of this record is the rollicking, quick drum parts, played effortlessly by George Saives. Lead single “Ayúdame!” proves this, with no two verse patterns sounding the same. The refrain “They can’t remember what they felt, or what they felt before”, is a satisfying line, one that is sure to inspire many.
Halogens is a playful, semi-serious effort, one that blends alternative and emo in a smart, satisfying way. Look out 2016, we’re starting strong.
Favorite Tracks: “Kitchen Sink”, “Ayúdame!”, “Olive Garden, Pt. 2”
Where to Go from Here: The Front Bottoms – The Front Bottoms, Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss it All, Sorority Noise- Joy, Departed
Every year I become increasingly amazed at the wealth of good music that is out in the world. 2015 was no exception to that, and I am happy to report that many records and bands caught my ear. Here’s the list (honorables, top 10 after the jump):
Beauty Pill – Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are
Normally, I would write about a full album/EP release from a local artist, but Aleko’s music is too good to pass up mentioning. “Let You Down” is an excellent acoustic folk track, complemented well by some spare electric guitar. The southern Jersey singer-songwriter has a voice immediately comparable to Justin Vernon, one that I’m excited to hear more of. He also sounds similar to local singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall (lead singer of Montclair act Pinegrove). He’s due to release an EP this fall, so here’s another local talent to look out for!
Where to Go from Here: Bon Iver – “Blood Bank”, Pinegrove – “Problems”, Big Deal – “With the World at My Feet”
The Roundup is an occasional post compiling the latest finds in the indie, alternative, and DIY spheres. I’m going to condense the next few Roundups from 20 tracks to 10 tracks, as I’m looking to start doing similar Roundup posts for local artists as well (more on that soon!)
The Good Life – “Everybody”
This week’s post starts off with one of several returns to the blogosphere. Indie rock staple Tim Kasher recently put out “Everybody”, the latest track from The Good Life, and my 13 year-old self can barely contain it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kasher’s output (and the rest of Saddle Creek) since my middle school days, so it’s exciting to hear him still going at this project. “Everybody” has a nice, almost Lou Reed vibe to it, with a short sung-spoken segment.
Citizen – “Stain”
Another recent return comes from post-hardcore band Citizen, due to release Everybody is Going to Heaven on Run for Cover 6/23. “Stain” is a nice slosh between balanced, contained rhythm and rigid emotion. In short, it’s best summed up as an aural study of controlled chaos.
Girlpool – “Before the World Was Big”
Drumless Philly duo Girlpool dropped their latest record Before the World Was Big this past week, and the title track has become the latest song to grab my attention. They have a bratty, whiny sound, that still evokes the slow burn and sting of growing up. Similar to Waxahatchee, Girlpool have minimal guitar lines, and they harness this minimalism well in the simple A/B sectioning of the song.
Georgia – “Be Ache”
Beginning with a sampled vocal, “Be Ache” quickly develops into a fervent rush of frantic strings, looped synthesizers, and a tense break beat. Vocals recall Robyn, Sky Ferreira, or Morgan Kibby, and the track production evokes Dev Hynes, Anthony Gonzalez, or Klas Åhlund.
Oscar – “Beautiful Words”
I was a big fan of Oscar’s “Daffodil Days” back in February, and I’m glad to hear that “Beautiful Words”, his follow-up track, holds up well (I even enjoy it better!) It works well as a summer jam. It sits somewhere between Matt & Kim, twenty-one pilots, and Bleachers, yet his voice sounds more attuned to fans of post-punk favorites Joy Division or The Smiths, or more currently, Daughn Gibson or Cold Cave.
Sitcom – “Window View”
An acoustic track! Yes! Sitcom has a lighter vibe, immediately reminding me of Soft Cat mixed with Stephen Malkmus. The sparse percussion, coupled with the occasional horn layering and backup vocals make this song really grow into something else entirely.
Sharon Van Etten – “Just Like Blood”
Van Etten’s latest EP I Don’t Want to Let You Down is due out 6/9, and next single “Just Like Blood” does not disappoint. The follow-up to Are We There (one of my personal favorite records of 2014), this EP contains tracks culled from that album’s sessions, as well as a leftover from Tramp.
Dope Body – “Old Grey”
This is an oddity. Sounding like a noisier, more digital METZ, Dope Body craft catchy, accessible noise-rock. It’s easy to get lost in this.
Brand New – “Mene”
I’ve been so pumped to hear more from Brand New. They were one of my favorite bands since middle school, and it’s refreshing to hear them sound so invigorating in 2015. “Mene” is an excellent track, one that I hope segues well into their next studio album (which I am eagerly awaiting between constant replays of The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me and Deja Entendu).
LVL UP – “Naked in the River with the Creator”
An oddly spiritual left turn, this song (one of several written for the May 5 to 12 Songs project, including artists such as Eskimeaux) is an incredible zen study. Vocalist Nick Corbo shows an aural side that’s not commonly heard, not even on last year’s superb Hoodwink’d. Corbo feels more aligned with bandmate Dave Benton’s side project Trace Mountains, and “Naked in the River with the Creator” is a relaxing finish to an already busy week.
While most of the tracks curated for this week are from the past month, this is the first Roundup post I have completed in a month.
Let’s be honest: sometimes, life turns out to be not in the slightest like you would expect. Dreams aren’t quite as facile as you thought they were as a child. Instead, you’re thrust out into the world, forced to get by holding onto the past any way you can. In times like these, we can be thankful to have musicians like Joshua Evensen out in the world, and projects like Where is My Spaceship to escape into. Evensen heads the Hackensack folk-punk project, and has released music under this moniker since 2009. Latest release Mostly Crocodile showcases this unique cross-section of indie folk and pop-punk, recalling the brash energy of Against Me! and The Everymen on one end, along with the sparse, intimate aura and razor-sharp honesty of bedroom pop artists like Bellows and Elvis Depressedly on the other.
Right from Mostly Crocodile‘s album artwork, it is evident that Evensen is holding onto something distant. A drawing in homage to cult horror film Army of Darkness, Evensen seems to purport himself as the Ash to save the working man in distress. And that wouldn’t be further from the truth. Here are ten songs about flaws, broken dreams, breakups, growing up, and facing your darkest, innermost thoughts. “Sad Songs All Night” is a biting take on the end of a relationship, peppered with envy, yet sealed with resolved hate: “You can get lonely, and I won’t give a damn / Damns are for suckers.” “It Won’t Be Forever” is a haunting parable on how time-consuming a “temporary” work stint can actually be, and how it becomes your whole life. And “Anything” is a perfect, heartbreaking anthem instantly relatable for any nine-to-fiver out there toiling away the day. Evensen is a fascinating and brutally honest songwriter, one that I’m excited to hear more of in the future. He is just as inquisitive as the critical thinker he talks about on “Champion Swimmers”: “He doesn’t have answers/He just knows the question/And how to ask it/And that’s all that matters.” In a world as twisted and complicated as this one, speaking up from time to time is what makes all the difference. At the very least, to your own sanity.
Key Tracks: “Snake Juice Anthem”, “Sad Songs All Night”, “It Won’t Be Forever”, “Lemon Heart”, “Anything”, “Roll Away the Stone”
Where to Go from Here: The Front Bottoms – The Front Bottoms, Bellows – Blue Breath, The Dundees – Malice
There is a novelty embodied in the truly weird. Personally, there has always been this tendency to embrace and relish music that deviates from the mainstream, that will mostly certainly evoke disconcerted reactions from most people. This is why it is important to listen to all kinds of music, because each and every genre has its own quirks, motives, and characteristics that make it truly lovable. So when I received contact from Will Wood to review his debut LP Everything is a Lot, it seemed very happenstance. Wood has a piano-rock, honky-tonk bar crawl feel that tethers somewhere between the genuine yet sarcastic songwriting of Randy Newman, and the kooky yet honest sound of Tom Waits. As a debut record, Everything is a Lot, is a lot to take in, but like anything else, absolutely worth it.
For starters, this record is absolutely insane. It’s a bipolar mix of crazy carousel antics and dark, sobering piano pop. At times Everything is a Lot has a snarky tone, reminiscent of My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. Among this dark, circus-esque ride, there are some gorgeous indie pop melodies that recall the sound of Jon Brion. “Lysergide Daydream” is one standout that tackles dreams and getaways: “Ooh, I wanna be in a place I can call a place to get away from it all.” Wood also confronts the darkness underneath living, on “Jimmy Mushrooms’ Last Drink”. He best summarizes his life journey and remaining time in a succinct and affecting manner: “I might keep looking for nothing to find”. The title track is an incredible album closer, bringing to mind Randy Newman’s “Sail Away”, Jon Brion’s “Get What It’s About”, and Tom Waits’ “Lost in the Harbor”. Everything is a Lot is, most certainly, an impressive debut. It will undoubtedly turn some away, but if you are one of the lucky, patient listeners, you’ll be much the warmer, and the wiser.
Key Tracks: “Skeleton Appreciation Day in Vestal, NY (Bones)”, “Thermodynamic Lawyer, esq, G.F.D”, “Lysergide Daydream”, “Jimmy Mushrooms’ Last Drink: Bedtime in Wayne, NJ”, “everything is a lot.”
Where to Go from Here: Shayfer James – Counterfeit Arcade, The Dresden Dolls – The Dresden Dolls, Randy Newman – Sail Away
R.L. Kelly became a favorite of mine in the Orchid Tapes crop, particularly from her split with Alex G. The first time I heard “Everyday”, I was immediately hooked to the simple yet affecting songwriting. Sure, the chords and lyrics are not flashy or technical, but they communicate sentiments of loneliness, longing, isolation, and pain so well. That’s the strength of this Los Angeles singer-songwriter, the ability she has to make her thoughts and feelings so accessible. It’s what consistently keeps me coming back to her body of work.
Her music is a study of songwriting as catharsis, as a necessary purging of an ever present evil (her Bandcamp tagline communicates this succinctly — “gotta get that sad out”). And there is quite a bit of evil looming over Life’s a Bummer. Whether it’s a negative personality (“You’re Not the Only Monster from Hell”), growing up (“Woke Up Feeling Sad”), or the dangers of your own head (“Familiar Haunt”), Kelly proves there are many ways for suffering to manifest itself in detachment.
Key Tracks: “You’re Not the Only Monster from Hell”, “Familiar Haunt”, “Woke Up Feeling Sad”, “Life’s a Bummer”
Where to Go from Here: Alex G – Rules, Infinity Crush – When We’re Snow, Long Beard – Holy Crow
“Open the curtains./Singing birds tell me, ‘Tear the buildings down.’/You felt blessed to receive their pleasant sound”
It is a beautiful thing when you know, right from the opening line of an album, that the experience you are about to embark on is going to be life-changing. And that’s exactly what happens on the first few seconds of “An Introduction to the Album”, the aptly titled opening track for Home, Like Noplace is There, the sophomore effort of Worcester, MA band The Hotelier (fka The Hotel Year). An album that stands head-and-shoulders above many counterparts in the emo revival, Home is a new classic that can easily sit next to …Is a Real Boy, and The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.
The entire opening of “An Introduction to The Album” runs like a seamless thread, with every chordal return to the tonic making way for a lyrical continuation. Almost like free-association, or stream-of-consciousness. It feels incredibly authentic, and iconic. The band sounded somewhat derivative yet entirely energetic and engaging on 2011 debut It Never Goes Out, but I have to say that Home, Like Noplace Is There is a game changer of a record. There is some fitting musical and lyrical interplay on “An Introduction to the Album” (unless I’m reading too much into something). After the lead singer says, “I recoil at every new beginning,” the song prophetically returns to the tonic chord, and the opening chord progression. The tone quickly shifts to desperate, sounding like a guttural cry for help (“So if I call, should I beg?”).
This is a near-perfect record that successfully beckons in the “emo revival”. Now, I never really got emo growing up. Sure, as someone who grew up in suburban New Jersey, emo music seemed to be a rite of passage, a way of coping with life in adolescence. It was so ingrained in teenage culture, that it should have really held an important place in mine. But apart from a handful of bands (Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Bright Eyes, Sparta, Brand New), I didn’t really see the point. The hair was too long (and too straight), every song sounded the same, and after a while every band began to sound more like caricatures of each other over time. Between whiny vocals and cookie-cutter breakdowns, nothing really stood out. As a musician and a human being though (who has some life experience under his belt, but still figuring things out in his early twenties), I’ve always been drawn to sadness. I can’t really explain why, but sometimes I believe the closest I can get is to state that it is in my blood. So it’s especially fitting that, timed with my college graduation and subsequently leaving the first post-graduate job I had, Home, Like Noplace Is There was to become my soundtrack during this frustrating time.
The guitar lines and parts feel razor-sharp, cutting back into your mind, all the way to your middle and high school memories (especially those on “The Scope of All This Rebuilding”, and “Among the Wildflowers”). It has a way of making you nostalgic, but a little more pained than wistful (note: this is a good thing — it means the record is opening you up and making you feel realthings). At the same time, much of the lyrical themes here deal with death, depression, suicide, coming of age, and self discovery. One of the most affecting numbers (and really, it’s difficult to pick just one) is “Your Deep Rest”, a heartbreaking, dismal number about someone who succumbed to the throes of depression. Between lines like “And I found the notes you left behind/Little hints and helpless cries/Desperate wishing to be over”, and “They diagnosed you born that way/They say it runs in your family,” it is a devastating parable for a generation that’s still suffering from this despicable disease. In an age where many different teens are still turning to suicide as a permanent answer to pain, “Your Deep Rest”, along with the rest of this record, helps to start a conversation we all seriously need to have. When depression really gets the best of us, we do ourselves in. How we get the best of depression is by art, by music, by creating. Depression blocks creation. Creation trumps depression. At least, that’s how I see it. And, like the changing, overlapping call-and response-vocals on “The Scope of All This Rebuilding”, depression isn’t a single actor. It doesn’t affect just one victim, it affects millions. It’s a reminder than you’re not alone in this. An entire genre has been based around this idea, embracing all of the sad kids in it.
What fascinates me most about Home, Like Noplace is There is how it is simultaneously comforting and haunting. Closing number “Dendron” communicates this immediately, as a meditation on loss amidst growing up. Citing friends passed, and a return to a home that wasn’t there, the album closes with the powerful line, “‘Tell me again, that it’s all in my head.'” It is a sad thing to hear when others trivialize internal sorrow and suffering, when in fact depression is a very real thing. Much like the album cover, this is a recording distressed in sadness, and it’s one that everyone needs to hear.
Key Tracks: “An Introduction to the Album”, “The Scope of All This Rebuilding”, “In Framing”, “Your Deep Rest”, “Among the Wildflowers”, “Life in Drag”, “Dendron”
Where to Go from Here: Touche Amore – Is Survived By, La Dispute – Rooms of the House, Title Fight – Floral Green
A Buzz in My Earshas been going on a temporary hiatus at the moment, but I’m working to bring 3-5 posts to you weekly. I’m hoping to keep consistent posts on new releases, local releases, and albums I feel are important to indie, alt, and DIY spheres. Read on!
Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovanni, released 5/5)
“Why is it that we never have enough with just what’s inside of us?”
Here is one of the greatest punk records I’ve heard in years. I love the insane melding of riffy guitars, booming saxophone lines, and shouted vocals in both English and Spanish. The Rhode Island sextet is greatly committed to social and political change, and that makes much of the dialogue on Full Communism jarring and razor-sharp. Singer Victoria Ruiz is a powerful voice in the indie punk scene, and the band writes songs “in direct response to institutionalized injustices.” This is a headlong, radically charged 23-minute rush, one that takes a few listens to really absorb, though it’s a record that’s sure to inspire repeated spins. Bonus: an incredible cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” as the record closer.
“None of this is gonna happen to me within my lifetime.”
Philly quartet Hop Along return to the indie circuit, signing to Saddle Creek for sophomore LP Painted Shut. Lead singer Frances Quinlan (some of you may recognize her here) has a vocal timbre reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, a voice that can communicate a gentle coo as well as a grisly growl. Painted Shut works best when it isn’t quiet — the loud, full band rushes of “The Knock”, “Waitress”, and “Texas Funeral” (the last becoming one of my favorite tracks this year) are what easily make this record — though there are still some nice subdued moments. I appreciate the gentler indie-pop-tinged “Horseshoe Crabs”, and the largely acoustic “Well-dressed”. This record has, without a doubt, some choice tracks that will remain in play good through the summer.
Key Tracks: “The Knock”, “Waitress”, “Happy to See Me”, “Texas Funeral”, “Powerful Man”
Where to Go from Here: Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer, Big Scary – Vacation, Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
Elvis Depressedly – New Alhambra (Run for Cover, released 5/12)
North Carolina artist Mat Cothran has been releasing music as Elvis Depressedly since 2011. Seventh release New Alhambra, his first signed to Run for Cover Records, is a dreamy dose of indie bedroom pop much needed in the blogosphere. His voice recalls a cross between James Iha and Orchid Tapes contemporary Alex G, and the sound is similar to same-label head Warren Hildebrand (Foxes in Fiction). The 20-minute Alhambra is chock full of affecting pop melodies, woozy atmosphere, and an altogether experimental vibe. While this is incredibly brief to be named an album (at least by traditional terms), it’s full of some of the best indie pop writing this year. And when it comes to music, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?
Key tracks: “Thou Shall Not Murder”, “N.M.S.S.” “Bruises (Amethyst)”, “Rock n Roll”, “Ease”, “Wastes of Time”
Where to Go from Here: Alex G – DSU, Foxes in Fiction – Ontario Gothic, The Magnetic Fields – i
Eskimeaux – O.K. (Double Double Whammy, released 5/12)
“Nothing in this world is holier than friendship.”
The above line, found on single “Broken Necks”, speaks so well to the essence of Eskimeaux. The musical project of Gabrielle Smith, Eskimeaux is but one of several groups connected to music collective The Epoch, which includes fabulous acts like Bellows, Small Wonder, and Told Slant. On O.K., there are feelings of warmth and catharsis, fear and danger, and in its 35 minutes the experience is intimate and enveloping. There are plenty of powerful builds (par for the course for Epoch artists, but still), including gang vocal climax of “The Thunder Answered Back” (“You coward, you wrecking ball”). Despite the warm feelings of early songs on the record, there is still plenty of murkiness beneath. “Pocket Full of Posies” has a booming bass synth that punches along, like the boogeyman to Smith’s honest inner child: “I know what being scared is, but not how to be scary.” Here’s to another strong find this week, and quite possibly this year.
Key Tracks: “Folly”, “Broken Necks”, “I Admit I’m Scared”, “Alone at the Party”, “A Hug Too Long”, “That’s OK”
Where to Go from Here: Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See, Frankie Rose – Interstellar, Hospitality – Hospitality
Spirit Club – Spirit Club (Ghost Ramp, released 5/12)
“I don’t really wanna know what life would be without.”
One of my most anticipated releases of the year has finally arrived, and I couldn’t be more pumped. Spirit Club, the side project of Wavves’ Nathan Williams, Sweet Valley brother and collaborator Joel Williams, and Andrew Caddick. The debut self-titled record, released on Williams’ Ghost Ramp label, is an infectious DIY-pop record, flecked with notes of Williams’ punk ethos and dark, drenched melodic textures. Between pitch-shifted vocals, looped synthesizer lines, and scrappy guitar strums, Spirit Club are just as ready to soundtrack your summer as Hop Along. Anthems “Eye Dozer” and “Still Life” juxtapose effortlessly with atmosphere-heavy experiments “Carousel” and “Dream On”.
“Lay off me, would ya? / I’m just trying to take this new skin for a spin…”
Mackenzie Scott is a captivating talent. That is immediately evident when considering her success since 2013. She arose almost out of nowhere (as indie artists so often do) with her self-titled debut, including standouts like “Honey”. This grabbed the attention of several media outlets, including Pitchfork and BuzzFeed. Scott’s latest release, Sprinter, is an excellent, moving meditation on things both dark and light.
Sprinter is a mature, fuzz-drenched, doom-folk record. I say that almost facetiously, but Scott herself stated that she wanted a record that came from places both abstract and familiar. “I wanted something that very clearly stemmed from my Southern conservative roots but that sounded futuristic and space-y at the same time.” At its core, Sprinter feels as folk-based as work from contemporaries Sharon Van Etten and Laura Marling. The atmosphere around this record, however, is dark, murky, tense, and anguished. There are definitely traces of post-rock, shoegaze, and grunge throughout this record (Scott points out that Nirvana was a key influence).
Most songs here have a clear, punchy backbeat. The title track is one example, complemented by a squealing Southern-influenced guitar in the second verse. Scott doesn’t shy away from sonic exploration on Sprinter, and “Cowboy Guilt” has a driving electronic thumping beat, accompanied by gorgeous harmonies. It feels somewhere between St. Vincent and Sharon Van Etten. It’s bizarre, yet enthralling. “Ferris Wheel” is a gorgeous, heartbreaking slow-burner. One of the best lyrics on the album is found here: “There’s nothing in this world that I could show you that I’ve got the sadness too.” The sparse, minimal drum parts here add an atmospheric layer, not unlike the drumming of Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo (see: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out). The seven-minute closer “The Exchange” is purposefully minimal, just Scott and a guitar. There are some important meditations here, even though the track goes on a bit too long. At one point, Scott rips off the bandage: “I am afraid to see my heroes age.” Like many contemporary indie artists, Scott struggles with her own coming of age. Sprinter is an important work, one that offers insight into personal insecurities, fears, and hidden desires.
Key Tracks: “Strange Hellos”, “New Skin”, “Sprinter”, “Ferris Wheel”, “The Exchange”
Where to Go from Here: Sharon Van Etten – Tramp, Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle, She Keeps Bees – Eight Houses