Posts Tagged ‘Indie’

2nd Grade

This one’s a huge undertaking. While the power pop universe of Peter Gill (Friendship, Free Cake For Every Creature) rarely lasts more than two minutes, he’s packed 24 songs onto this LP from Double Double Whammy. Gill’s approach pushes aside the dedication to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that so many of the latter day saints of power pop have adopted, almost to a dogged fault. Instead it’s clear that Gill’s heart belongs to the ‘90s school as it bled into the early aughts and he’s not afraid to wear that badge proudly on his sleeve. Snagging both ends of the decade, there are the huge hooks and that touch of sunshine with a melancholy soul that marked the works of the Velvet Crush/Mathew Sweet/Choo Choo Trains axis. Yet its clear that Gill may have had a Ben Kweller or Radish CD in his Case Logic clutch as well. Moments that recall the sorely overlooked 2nd offering from Superdrag crop up as well as an aftertaste of Fountains of Wayne.

Gill’s ability to pluck from so many different nooks of the ‘90s and still make the album feel cohesive and natural speaks to his songwriting. Shifts from winsome and sweet, to a more gnarled feel come without the jostling they might cause in lesser hands. Inside jokes that would make the Apples in Stereo blush abound. Strums that are simple and saccharine litter his work, but they land every time. The album’s a treasure trove of hooks and a ‘choose your own adventure’ volume of heartbreak and joy if the shuffle feature is employed. There’s something about the sheer volume of tracks mixed with the bite-size approach that feels like there’s no wrong way to listen to Hit To Hit. With the temps climbing this month, it feels like letting a little sun shine in is a good idea and 2nd Grade have got ya covered for any moment.





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Cut Worms – “Castle In The Clouds”

On his last album Max Clarke paid a visit to the 50’s harmonies of the Everlys, cut with a touch of twang that gave them a faded pastiche of Western Fringe and ’60s California neon humming through the night. From the sounds of “Castle In The Clouds” he’s taking the that touch of twang and turning it up a notch. The song pushes him away from those Everly Brothers swoons and into a lonesome territory that’s skewing more Gene Clark as he worked his way from The Godsins to Doug Dillard. I’ve been smitten by the current sweep of indie and folk towards an adoption of the Cosmic Americana and Country corners and Clarke has been doing it as well as most. This one leaves a lot of anticipation for his upcoming LP, which seems to have full details forthcoming. Either way, get it on the watch list and in the meantime spend a few minutes replaying “Castle In The Clouds” on repeat.

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Frank Ene – “Flesh In A Womb”

Got a taut new one from Empty Cellar today, the first single off of the solo debut from Frank Ene. The Bay Area songwriter has lately been working with The Fresh & Onlys, and for “Flesh In A Womb” he enlists bandmate Wymond Miles to play on the track as well. Like Miles’ own solo works there’s an out of time quality to the song — a frozen ether that’s hints at the underbelly of ‘80s pop, but isn’t beholden to any true set of influences. It straddles time and breathes in the smoke from past and present through each nostril. What’s most apparent about the track, though, is the numb, weary, pre-dawn quality that hints at something gone wrong. Ene admits that the song was inspired by a particular night in a Copenhagen venue, and however that night transpired, it feels like it may have sent a shudder through Frank’s soul. That shudder is passed onto the listener with raw nerve honesty that may well have come from Scott Walker, or a very narcotized Lee Hazelwood. The video reflects the vulnerability of the track well, and was shot, as Ene says, by Ron Harrell in a dilapidated and miserable motel, off Route 99. The song provides good reason to keep perked for the LP when it arrives on July 10th. Check out the video above.



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Leah Senior – “Evergreen”

Aussie enclave Flightless Records has long been an enclave of explosive psychedelia, but the less raucous nooks of their catalog also hold some excellent folk and soft-psych releases that are no less affecting. Grace Cummings, The Babe Rainbow, pre-2020 Traffik Island, and Leah Senior occupy this space well and nod to a lost-era of folk that’s faded around the edges. The latter has just announced her upcoming third LP The Passing Scene, out June 12th and the first single from the album seems to be hitting the same Kodachrome crush feelings as Weyes Blood, Drugdealer, or Bedouine. An airy ‘70s Laurel Canyon quality inhabits “Evergreen,” making it nostalgic, but also familiar, like it might have always been creeping around the stereo. “Evergreen” is indeed a perfect title for the song. Check out the Renaissance-draped video above. No purchase info is lurking about yet, but as with the limited editions of Flightless releases, probably better to snap this one up quick when it does post.

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Weak Signal

I’ve been enjoying the arc traced by Weak Signal over the last couple of years, scraping out of the skeletal bones of their 2018 debut through a very solid split with Endless Boogie earlier in the year. Keeping us all on our toes, they lobbed a surprise album out last Friday and it thickens up the gravy they’ve been stewing over the past couple of years. Bianca amplifies the guitar growl that’s been festering beneath the floorboards of their sound but doesn’t discard the sinewy, sly bass work that’s marked their work as well. What they’ve mastered on their second album is a sense of heaviness with an appreciation for pop. There’s a wasteland scuzz that buzzes behind Weak Signal, sickened and malcontent, but the band doesn’t growl on top of the turbulence. They preen and linger, they find the quiet cool and bring it bubbling to the surface before skimming off a few indelible pop hooks.

While still sounding like a band that’s completely contemporary, Weak Signal funnel a certain brand of familiarity into their work. Bianca sounds like it could have existed in the verdant valley between SST and Touch and Go as ’89 wafted into ’90, or at least like it’s found solace in those catalogs during its conception. The album chews on the gristle of post-punk and post-hardcore, but it’s beyond them both, merely using the genres as fuel for a more noxious and yet intoxicating mix that gets into the blood with ill intentions. As with their past records, Weak Signal seem to only exist at night. The pre-dawn hours fuel their impulses. Streaks of sunlight could only dim the glow of their tube-lit saturnine souls. As the dawn decorates the horizon, Bianca dissipates into the ether with a static crackle of feedback and a reverberating hum. The band’s been aching for a breakout and with Bianca that moment seems like it may finally be here.



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Silver Scrolls – “Walk Two (I – Nature’s Promise)”

Offering up a new cut today from the debut album from Silver Scrolls. The band is the latest work from David Brylawski (Polvo, Black Taj) and Brian Quast (Polvo) and centers around a meditation on walks, and their connection to free association and waking dreams inspired by The Christopher Bollas Reader. Gnarled and inherently rhythmic, the songs beat like an internal metronome, but spiral off into vibrating tangents of sound, both tense and amniotic. While some songs lean on the idea of walking as an escape from inner turmoil, some let that turmoil spill out into the streets and back in again. Honestly, its a rather prescient concept for a record in a time when movement is coupled with anxiety and allowable space has become a constant force in so many lives.

For this particular track, Brylawski explains, “The overall conceit is a person who goes for a city walk then anxiety comes in and (he) decides that a nature walk is what is called for – Nature’s Promise, a ‘Doom Blues’.  However, he realizes anxiety has entered this walk as well – nature does not guarantee tranquility, so (he) must seek something else.   This part of the album, the nature walk, was influenced by an actual walk my family took in Montana a year ago.  There was a sign saying ‘last bear sighting 5 days ago’ and someone had crossed that out and wrote ‘three days ago’.  My family started on the walk but as the path became more narrow and the forest became dense – my wife and I at the same time became worried about our kids and literally running into a bear so we turned tail and got the heck out of the trail.” The album lands July 10th on Three Lobed.



 

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Mixtape: Young Hearts Unite

There have been a lot of genres that have given support through the lockdown juggling act over here – Sunshine Psych (done that one), jangle pop (ditto) but I locked into a specific branch of latter day power pop and it all started to coalesce into a new mixtape. The formative years of power pop are captured endlessly on comps, often with the same tracklists shuffled and reshuffled, but there’s less documentation on these past ten years to be sure. Now, while that period of time might not be known as a heyday of power pop, you’d be wrong in that assessment. There’s a lot of high-profile, excellent stuff that crosses boundaries and digs out earworms (see: Ex Hex, The Bad Moves, Martha) all great but not what I was looking for in this regard. For this mix I focused on a strain of power pop that was derived directly from those late ’70s, early ’80s types that populated the comps circulating my youth. There’s a certain loose, edge of punk, but more lovesick and soft strain here. I find that sunny days and power pop go hand in hand, so this just seems like fortuitous timing. Hope it brightens someone’s day and sends you riffling back through the stacks of the last decade.

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Woolen Men – “Alley Cat”

Always good to hear a new one from those cats in Woolen Men and the start of a singles’ club coinciding with a revenue share day on Bandcamp seems like a damn good reason to get over and pick this one up. “Alley Cat” is a straightforward chugger with a lightly toasted twang that ought to get your head noddin’ and the grooves stuck squarely in your head. Northwest indie goodness filling up the speakers on a Friday afternoon. Can’t ask for too much more than that these days. Nab this one and keep an eye out for the rest of the series.





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The Stroppies

The Stroppies pulled themselves out of the home recording hunker and into the studio for their debut album, a shambolic yet homespun record that had hooks to spare. They wrote the follow-up with a less measured approach — forged on the road and then recorded quickly at home. Though unlike their pre-album EP, this one has hallmarks of the musicianship that developed throughout Whoosh!. With a melancholy streak threaded through the songwriting they trade pianos and jangles in tandem to create a record that’s built to close down the bar in your basement any night of the week. There’s an intimacy to their songs. The hours spent curled in the backseat of the van come gushing out, but there’s a comforting melodicism that can’t help but turn these indie snippets into eagworms that tug at the brain in an uncommon fashion.

The whole EP is built on a tug-o-war between the down and out dourness of much of their contemporaries and a giddy hook cavalcade that looks to The Clean for inspiration and comes out succeeding nicely. Look to standout track “Holes in Everything” and its easy to see how the band has picked up the same seasick sway that their predecessors hooked into and they seem comfortable in the buoyant bobble through pop’s unsteady waters. The band’s been building steam for some time, and last year’s full-length solidified them on the watchlist for good, but Look Alive! proves that the album was no fluke. This is a nice hinge piece, a transition that’s refined and rambunctious, bittersweet and blustery. Aussie fans get in on this now, it feels like they’ll only soar from here on out.




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RVG

The debut from Aussies RVG (Romy Vager Group) came a bit out of the blue, at least around here. The album was short, precise, and poised, but its polish was offset by its equal attention to emotionally bare and ravaged lyrics delivered by Vager as impassioned pleas for understanding. As the band gained traction and eventually the backing of UK indie Fire Records, they’ve proven that a larger scale doesn’t diminish the impact of their delivery in the least. Feral slides onto the speakers like an instant classic – boiling the bones of the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, Siouxsie, and The Go-Betweens into a haze of jangle, crushed velvet harmonies, and sneered sincerity. Between the heartbreak that haunts the bulk of these influences, Vager sets her sights on larger picture topics that give the angst a heft that reverberates throughout the album. Mental illness, transphobia, family estrangement, and the gnawing realities of modern living all find their way into Feral, molding it into a staggering work of modern misery and resilience that could easily have haunted the radio a few decades prior.

While baring the soul has become requisite in many genres lately, the band’s combination of 80’s jangle and a lived-in grandiosity is unmatched in rock of late. Bands can preen and pretend, but they can’t command a chorus the way Romy can. The magnetism of the band’s figurehead is unshakable. She’s a force, a fire that fuels the band. Her hurt marks the soul of the listener, leaving an impression that doesn’t fade soon after the last notes fade away on the air. Anguish, rage, depression, repulsion, resilience, redemption — they all play a part in the tapestry of Feral — and each new listen opens the laceration wider, but lets it heal harder the next day. For whatever knocks you down, RVG is there to lift you back up and put the pieces in order, or at the very least let you know that they’ve been rendered asunder and are still around to show the scars. This is a vital album for 2020, or any year for that matter.



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