Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Listen: Dream Country - "Radio"

One of the cooler things I've experienced from attending Teen Daze's past few Brooklyn tour stops aside from the shows themselves has been the realization that his backing band consists of talented musicians often with their own musical projects brewing elsewhere. From Kyle Reigle's Cemeteries/Camp Counselors to David Wirsig's self-titled solo project, the most unexpected discovery however occurred in the form of Jordan Kurtz, who held down synth duties, recently unveiling his indie pop project Dream Country.

My surprise of course isn't because I expected the project to be anything less than good but rather that Kurtz made absolutely no reference to it at all during our albeit brief time together. In fact the only reason I happened upon it was due to an unintended recommendation from Kurtz's fellow backing bandmate Simon. With a debut self-titled album set for early January, the project has clearly been a long time coming and yet slight feelings of musical betrayal aside, I'm just happy to be clued into Dream Country's debut at just the right time. "Radio", the first single from the upcoming record, is all breezy, easy listening vibes with just the right amount of pep keeping things moving. With everything on it from violin, trumpet, harmonica, banjo and a piano-synth hand off in addition to the standard guitar, drums, and bass, the most surprising thing about the track is just how it manages to keep all these instruments contained within. "Radio" is an enjoyably smooth jam that's simple in both its energy and feel in a way that betrays its various moving parts. "Radio" introduces Dream Country as a bunch of careful musicians able to team up in a way that's beautifully understated and effortlessly ear-catching.

Dream Country's debut self-titled record is out January 5th.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pitstop: Sun Club

I'm not exactly sure why I kept putting off listening to Baltimore quintet Sun Club. Maybe it's the fact that I kept getting them mixed up with Sun Drug (formerly Vanaprasta) or just the fact that I seem to have a particular knack for ignoring bands I'd probably very much like even when an increasing number of my friends and colleagues are raving about them. Who's to say, really. I only know that it took being asked to listen to them point blank that I set out to do just that and discovered that Sun Club are just the type of band I've been looking for.

The first song I've ever heard from them and arguably still my favorite after giving their recently released debut record The Dongo Durango a spin, "Dress Like Mothers" is a more than adequate introduction to the band. Sun Club's songs don't stop at being summery pop rock. No, they practically radiate with an intensity and energy that rivals the sun itself. While there may not be anything all that revolutionary about Sun Club's setup, the band's boundless fervor is sure to win you over almost immediately. I wasn't more than halfway through "Dress Like Mothers" before I had mentally committed myself to following this band wherever they wanted to lead me.

Not just in "Dress Like Mothers" but in all their songs - they charge in, ripping and roaring with a sort of barely contained chaos that's as impressive as it is endlessly endearing. The drums hit hard, the vocals are expressive and insistent even as they swing into harsh metal-reminiscent shouts (unsurprising considering Sun Club's member's metal roots), and the band is so incredibly locked in, it inspires joy and awe. Sun Club are a strong band but better yet, they're the kind of band where their enjoyment is clearly evident in the way they pour every ounce of their manic energy into their playing. The most surprising thing about Sun Club's vivacious brand of joyful rock pop with the occasionally punky vocals is just how quickly everything moves. There's no doubt each and every member of the band is enjoying their contribution to the song and yet it still moves at a relatively breakneck pace. That's not to say that the songs feel rushed or incomplete but some of their song's most memorable, infectious moments don't get to stick around all that long. And yet, even though their melodies may be fleeting that doesn't take a way a damn thing from Sun Club's jubilant performance-driven songcraft.

Sun Club's debut full length record The Dongo Durango is out now on ATO Records.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pitstop: Mal Devisa

photo by Daniel Dorsa
Well, this is embarrassing. After months of hearing Tyler from Portals emphatically sing her praises, it took actually witnessing Northampton artist Mal Devisa's absolutely awe-inspiring live set at Portals and Stadiums & Shrines' joint CMJ showcase to become a firm believer and obsessed listener. It's probably for the best that I put off listening to her music before the CMJ set as Mal Devisa's live energy isn't quite captured on record the way it should be experienced.

Fusing guitar, loop pedal, and her positively soulful vocals with just the right hint of folk influence, the ingredients of Deja Carr's music seem simpler on paper than they are in actual practice. It's a simple formula that's imbued with an overwhelming emotional resonance in Carr's talented hands. I should know. I say with absolutely no hyperbole that Mal Devisa's set at its climax moved me to tears. You can tick many a genre box to try and describe what you're witnessing but when Carr's set includes everything from spoken word to nimble lyrical improvisations, there's really no use trying to pigeonhole such a distinctively original artist.

While one showgoer compared Deja Carr to Nina Simone, I found an easier (and maybe much less daunting) parallel between the responsive nature of Carr's performance and that of Fiona Apple. Particularly Apple's vocal stylings on "The Idler's Wheel...". Carr maneuvers her vocals in a way that strives to be the most viscerally effective rather than the most pleasantly beautiful. She weaves stricken groans and dissonance into her live set to accompany lyrics of heartbreak and both the black and female identity so that there's no mistaking her for a seraphic beauty but of a living, breathing human being splaying out her emotions for you to engage with.

It's rare that you accompany an artist like Mal Devisa - whose music is such an organic extension of who they are but also so readily accessible and universal without dumbing itself down for an instant. A live set that the artist's recorded input fails to live up to rather than the other way around. If you have the opportunity to catch her playing near you, I'd sure as hell take it. If not, there's a batch of her tunes on Bandcamp and a new album in the works that should tide you over until you get the opportunity.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Listen: Rubblebucket - "Donna"

Brooklyn psychedelic dance band Rubblebucket are certainly the type of band that's benefited greatly from workshopping their songs. In fact, it's pretty much exclusively how their first songs came to be. Since their inception in 2007, the band have managed to create an enviable mixture of everything from run of the mill indie rock, jazz, and infectious pop into a trademark sound that subverts all expectations of genre.

With the release of their latest album Survival Sounds earlier this year, it certainly was a surprise when  the five-piece dropped what might arguably be their best song to date - standalone single (or now) "Donna" in support of their upcoming Fall tour. But here we are and "Donna" is a positively resplendent slice of indie pop goodness. Rubblebucket's brass-centric grooves are operating at their utmost catchiest and Kalmia Traver's vocals, bold and bright as ever, achieves peak effectiveness. Summer may be over but Rubblebucket give it a proper send-off with the exuberant "Donna". While the track slips in and out of dream logic lyricism - the chorus is almost unfairly strong, an instantly memorable kiss-off that manages to excite each time it reoccurs.

It's the kind of track that has you instantly itching for repeat during the fade and the fact that it wasn't even properly part of an album is just a testament to how utterly steeped in creativity the band is. It's not their most experimental track but it doesn't have to be. In staying on course with standard songwriting conventions, Rubblebucket manage to create a track that's sure to be an instantaneous favorite to anyone lucky enough to catch this particular ear worm.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Maccabees - Marks To Prove It (2015)

If you're lucky enough to find the right band at exactly the right time it can be absolutely thrilling and rewarding to watch a band grow. The growth doesn't always have to be this massive chasm of development either; incremental steps and subtle tweaks over time, much like minimalism, can result in as equally rewarding as a band fearlessly leaping into a new sound entirely. That's essentially been the path London indie rockers The Maccabees have charted to their fourth and latest full length record Marks To Prove It.

While never quite a quiet band The Maccabees have managed to fill their sound out in a way that's a far cry from their debut Colour It In. Though they've managed to graduate to large venues and festivals in their native UK, the quintet don't quite fall into the arena rock category. In fact Marks To Prove It more closely resembles The Walkmen's most recent pre-hiatus endeavors than fellow Mercury Prize nominees Alt-J, Foals, or Arctic Monkeys more stadium ready sound. While title track and album opener "Marks To Prove It" surges forth at a full on sprint, it's a far more measured build with various ebbs and flows that vastly improves on the band's initial characteristic insistence. Or "Kamakura" with its swaggering bass-centric groove that gives way to a smoldering, slowed down coda. Marks To Prove It is an album fueled by its own momentum; its songs often driving its one varying musical moments right into the next. That said, it's not the sort of album that rushes to it's eventual finish line. The pace is comfortable, occasionally brisk but always scenic hitting moments like "Spit It Out": a gorgeous buildup leading to a effect not unlike a volume knob being slowly turned up that gives a sense of pre-established continuity. Even in their more toned down tracks like "Silence", "Pioneering Systems" and album ender "Dawn Chorus", the fivesome manage to keep just enough of a forward push that there's little room for boredom to set in. That and The Maccabees take full advantage of their musical pals - bolstering the album with string arrangements, trumpet, saxophone, and the appearances of friends like former Stricken City frontwoman Rebekah Raa on backing vocals and piano.

Ultimately Marks To Prove It is an album that synthesizes everything that works well with the band from Orlando Weeks' lilting vocals and the band's familiarity and maturity, and pairs them with an abundance of musical ideas that are carefully utilized and inventively deployed. It's the rare record that plays very much like a full piece of music throughout regardless of the singles' very real staying power and even manages some moments of understated but effective lyrical excellence ("River Song" springs immediately to mind). Marks To Prove It is a testament that The Maccabees broader audience appeal isn't synonymous with broader approach in sound. There's a lot of grab onto on Marks To Prove It but it's achieved by focusing inward, not outward, for inspiration and presentation.

The Maccabees' fourth full length record Marks To Prove It is now out digitally in the United States on Communion Records with a physical release hopefully soon to come.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Listen: The Lost Cavalry - "Fine Afternoon"

After exploring abandoned arctic observation stations, archaeological digs, and big top circuses, The Lost Cavalry's Mark West turns his feats of lyrical grandeur inward. "Fine Afternoon", the latest Lost Cavalry tune since their debut full length Three Cheers for the Undertaker was released back in 2013, forgoes the fantastical elements West is fond of for a bit of far more intimate place-setting. It's a break up song but one that's true to West's songwriting proclivities and is anything but expected.

"Fine Afternoon", with its delicate finger-picked guitar and swelling melodic flourishes, concerns itself with that rare instance where a breakup ends amicably on both sides. It's a slice of upbeat but not quite exuberant folk pop that proceeds at the pace of it's thematic rationalizations. Nothing is at all rushed and even when the rest of the band enter to join West in stirring harmony, there's a gentleness that keeps it from coming across as a overwhelming surge; a sweeping sense of happiness. "Fine Afternoon" doesn't paint with enough sadness to be full on bittersweet but it doesn't allow itself to ascend to stratospheric highs either. It's happiness is measured but still deeply felt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Listen: Saintseneca - "Sleeper Hold"

photo by Nick Fancher
One of the most popular misconceptions in music seems to be the expectation that the space between albums is reserved almost exclusively for an extreme reinvention of a band's core sound. True, there's something refreshing about an artist who continuously pushes themselves to incorporate elements to keep challenging themselves but most of the development of a band's sound happens in slight increments not leaps and bounds. Columbus' Saintseneca has been slowly evolving their group sound for years and years from member to member. As the figurehead of the crew and arbiter or its creative vision, singer/songwriter Zac Little has had

In a sense "Sleeper Hold", the band's latest single from their upcoming album Such Things continues on a path charted as early as their 2013 debut full length Last. But ultimately "Sleeper Hold" focuses in on the poppiest moment of Dark Arc and both isolates and expands them. That's how you end up with these galvanizing, bliss-inducing harmony laden choruses. Zac Little and Maryn Jones tag team the vocal duties and in doing so provide the band's normal timbre play reserved for their multitude of stringed instruments.  In the same way that it's almost more of the same, it's a different approach to the band's absolutely infectious brand of folk pop as the group intentionally try to build on those elements. And with the focus being on these knee-jerk moment of pop euphoria, it's easy to miss the fact that Zac Little's songwriting remains at an absolute high able to embed these complicated philosophical questions into his song while drawing little attention them. It's smart lyricism that doesn't insist on how smart it is and is all the more better for it. Instead these little phrases pop out at you in a way that's exciting enough to make you deep dive into the song's less surface elements.

Saintseneca's forthcoming record Such Things is out October 9th on ANTI- Records.