Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Listen: Bobby - "Gummy Luck"/"Potluck" (Honey I'm Home Session)

This holiday weekend two things happened: First of all, I got really into experimental folk collective Bobby after remembering they existed. Secondly, I discovered while they've yet to put out any new music since last year's debut record BOBBY that earlier this year they did stop by The Wild Honey Pie and played some new songs for them. Score!

In "Gummy Luck" and "Potluck" we get two sprawling psychedelic jams that are catchy beyond belief. Different instruments shift in an out of focus and vocals handled in a sort of hit-and-run capacity. Arcing across like lightning before disappearing with no real evidence they were there.

Overall the two song session does its job of making me all kinds of excited for a new record as I'm  having a hard time turning "Potluck" off. It's sure to be a favorite on the new record.

Listen: Lucius - "Two Of Us On the Run" (Honey I'm Home Session)

This year I was luckily enough to discover not only the ultra talented female fronted Brooklyn quintet Lucius but also their friends and frequent collaborators The Wild Honey Pie and this holiday season the two combined to give their fans a treat in the form of one of The Wild Honey Pie's amazing Honey I'm Home sessions. Not only that, we get a new song out of it in "Two of Us on the Run". It's got everything you've come to expect and love from the band as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig's outstanding vocals that intertwine so flawlessly. Understated but no less moving, "Two of Us on the Run" resembles Songs From the Bromley House's "Shenandoah" in it's acoustic ramble that gives way to controlled displays of the ladies' ferocious vocal chops.

The fact that Lucius haven't released a full length yet (as a quintet) is downright criminal. Here's hoping they're going to churn out one in the year. Until then enjoy "Two of Us on the Run". Guaranteed to warm your heart on even the coldest winter night.

Check out "Wildewoman" also from their holiday Honey I'm Home Session and make sure to pop over to The Wild Honey Pie for some free downloads of the two song session.

(via The Wild Honey Pie)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All Around Sound's Favorite Tracks of 2012

In a year that I felt was far more populated by stellar singles than exceptional full length albums, the idea of cherry-picking my favorite tracks of the year seemed more than a little daunting. While my favorite albums seemed like such a no brainer, arranging my favorite songs of the year seemed like a far more stressful but not impossible endeavor. So here's my favorite tracks of the year, arranged in no particular order. Enjoy!

Plants & Animals - "Lightshow", The End of All That
It's the track that singlehandedly dominated the early part of my year, while The End of All That was ultimately a major letdown for me in terms of living up to this fantastic lead single, to omit it from this list seemed wrong. Why? Have you ever heard a more earcatching single? That question is rhetorical and the answer is no. A track that grabs you right from when you press play, "Lightshow" manages to be rather simple in construction, featuring a pretty standard slow build incorporation of instrument but it's when these all converge together that the consuming power of the track is revealed. The lyrics? Awesome. The not too balls-to-the-wall style of rock that enables the immediate attention paid to the lyrics? Also awesome. It might very well be the single greatest song the band has written/performed and that's why even after burn after constant burn, I'm guaranteed to come back.

Lower Dens - "Brains", Nootropics
The first single from Lower Dens hot anticipated sophomore record Nootropics was a righteous jam. There's no other way around it. It's the kind of track you imagine would be twice as long live because it's pretty much neverending in it's simplicity. Chug-a-long guitar riffs with a sort of question/answer voice part. It sort of belies where the rest of Nootropics was bound to go (that is, a set of non-jams). It's catchy for its insistence and manages to avoid being annoying about it. It's a track that easily gets stuck in your head but that you make no major effort to get rid of. The lyrics may be obscured by fuzz but the track is no less enjoyable. Just thinking about the track gets the repetitive chunky lines stuck in your noggin and next thing you know you're jamming along to "Brains" on repeat and anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days have gone by. It's dangerously time-consuming but you wouldn't have it any other way.

Father John Misty - "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings", Fear Fun
In the initial cymbal crash of "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" mild-mannered J.Tillman singer/songwriter/drummer of Fleet Foxes fame was instantaneously reborn as Father John Misty. While Fear Fun remains to be an album many are trying to fully wrap their heads around (myself included), one thing is clear "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" fully justifies Tillman's Fleet Foxes split on its own merit. It shows a more honest, decidedly more creative Tillman than we've experienced thus far and it's far better for it. It also helps that it's catchy as hell. So catchy that the lyrics aren't immediately apparent to the listener. After dozens of listens it wasn't until reading an interview with Tillman where I realized the song was about graveyard sex. Cool. It's a proper departure from the songs about heartbreak and reconciliation that your standard singer/songwriter doles out in spades. The track alone was enough to ease the hurt of no longer getting to witness Tillman charming up Robin Pecknold's awkward stage banter as well as providing something new and exciting to look forward to. Father John Misty, you can stay.

Alt-J, "Breezeblocks", An Awesome Wave
While support of UK art-pop band Alt-J seems to be split right down the middle, one thing is clear at least to me "Breezeblocks" is incredible. It might've been the accompanying video shot in reverse but from the second I heard "Breezeblocks" I was hooked. It's a spindly, slowly-raveling tune which lurches forth with more than its fair share of mood changes. Sparse folky interludes burst into a grooving, multi-layered laid-back rock. For me, it's the most appealing song from Alt-J; the track you throw on a mix or send along when you're trying to gauge whether someone would like them or just to give them a taste of what the band sounds like when it's at its best.

Patrick Watson, "Into Giants", Adventures in Your Own Backyard
"Into Giants" is the probably the best example of Adventures in Your Own Backyard's normalized grandeur, raising a simple love song to fairy tale pleasantness. But far more impressive is Watson's song construction, properly enlisting a strong female vocal to act as a foil to his soft falsetto. It's easily the most memorable song of the album and it's not hard to see why. A lighthearted jaunt composed of various little flourishes and moving parts but plays smoothly and places melody at the forefront. "Into Giants" is Watson at his absolute songwriting best creating a track that's insanely enjoyable to listen to while also giving you that heart-clench you get from a properly emotional song. The perfect balance whimsical pop that still manages to stay grounded with a bit of seriousness.

Daniel Rossen, "Not Coming Back"
Anyone who knows me probably knows that I have a major love of Daniel Rossen's non-Grizzly Bear related projects. Department of Eagles, his solo stuff, whatever, I've never been disappointed. Even though he released an immaculate solo EP this year, the greatest gift happened when Rossen entered the 21st century and joined the social networking site Twitter. Why? Because though he doesn't tweet often when he does he does something incredible like drop a previously unreleased track from days past. Case in point: "Not Coming Back" a demo that apparently Rossen doesn't think too highly of, he's since dispersed it among Silent Hour/Golden Mile and Shields and seeing no future use for the remains posted it to his Soundcloud for curious ears. Obviously Rossen is a perfectionist of the highest order because "Not Coming Back" is brilliant. An emotive jam that seems to be establishing itself as Rossen's trademark, it's hard to believe "Not Coming Back" isn't a fully realized song ready for release.

Flock of Dimes, "Prison Bride", Prison Bride 7"
The solo project of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, I was too busy making up for lost time listening to Wye Oak's Civilian to pay any attention to Wasner's solo debut last year. In fact it wasn't until Caleb from Lands & Peoples mentioned that he picked up the recently released 7" that I was even aware Flock of Dimes existed and while she's put out a fairly sizeable amount of new tracks in the year, "Prison Bride" remains the most insistent, the most demanding of my attention and infinite listens. Perhaps its because so many parts of its overall construction seem so non-beautiful. The chunky beats and percussive effects compliment Wasner's dizzying vocals perfectly. Wasner seems to be on a crusade to elevate the current status of pop music and with tracks like "Prison Bride" she does a pretty good job of throwing her hat into the ring. I hope there's more songs like Flock of Dimes' or even that Wasner herself gets more popular (which is normally not a thing I wish on any of the bands I like) as everyone can do with a little more substance like Wasner seems inclined to dole out.

ARMS, "Summer Skills (Bump in the Night Version)"
Ah, some of you might think of this as the obligatory ARMS track that's meant to go on my list since my almost two year long obsession with them and perhaps you'd be right in that. But in addition to wanting to have one of my favorite bands represented in a year-end roundup there's also the fact that the jazzed up version of the title track off last year's incredible Summer Skills is a real home-run. Normally a slow-burning ballad, ARMS put a little bit of a groove-centric spin on the track (which actually got debuted at their record release show last year) and went about putting it to tape this year. Ace.  Not everyone is always in the mood for a ballad but everyone and I do mean everyone is in the mood for a jam and the Bump in the Night version of "Summer Skills" is a jam if there ever was one. Taking its place among other Summer Skills ragers proudly.

The Tallest Man on Earth, "To Just Grow Away", There's No Leaving Now
With a large part of The Tallest Man on Earth's draw (and subsequent criticism) being that each album adds a number of songs to a steadily growing songbook, every once in awhile you have a song that really stands out among the crowd. Impressive considering Matsson balances his songwriting talent pretty evenly among his albums tracklists. The Wild Hunt's was "The Drying of the Lawns" (with "King of Spain" a very close second), Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird's was "Thrown Right At Me", and There's No Leaving Now seems to "To Just Grow Away" despite valiant efforts made by "1904" and "Revelation Blues". It's the beginning track and sets the stage wonderfully for the album's rather different take on Matsson's rambling folk reveries.
Tallest Man on Earth - To Just Grow Away by maggiemreid

AU, "Solid Gold", Both Lights
There are tons of bands that claim to be or are lauded as being energetic and then a band like AU comes around to prove what being energetic really means. "Solid Gold" with its wild, breakneck mbira is and unfettered masterpiece of unrivaled, untameable energy. Sure, there's the occasional slow down when Holland Andrews enters lovingly caressing each note but ultimately the track moves at a speed that'd be nerve-wracking if it weren't so perfectly executed. At any moment the track seems like it could burst into flames ruined by it's own hubris of flying too close to the sun but it never does. It's a musical thrill-ride, nusic as a spectacle in the best way. "Solid Gold" is catchy as hell to rival AU's artistic ambition. The track bustling and frantic but confident in its abilities. It pays off because the risk seems monumental.

Prussia - "Annie", Girl Cops single
While Prussia may (or may not) be a thing of the past, they made sure to leave us with one more nugget of sweet, quirky songwriting with the Girl Cops single. And while the single is no doubt excellent, I fell hard for the b side "Annie". Featuring Prussia cinematic scope and innovative storytelling "Annie" is one of the reasons I'm going to miss Prussia. Ryan Spencer's lyrics have a tendency to explain just the right amount to give the narrative life while making you fill in the blanks yourself and also giving more questions than answers. It's never quite clear who Annie is exactly as major of an influence as she is on the song's course - instead minor details about her shift slightly more into focus as her character hangs back in the periphery. This combined with the sort of glammy 80s synth-pop vibe that manages to stay aligned with Prussia's intimate chamber pop stylings, it's not hard for the track to win you over. Vivacious, intelligent, and weird "Annie" could very well be inspired by the messed up realm of Poor English without fitting tidily into that box.

Lucius, "Genevieve", Lucius EP
There are few bands around as good as Lucius. While band after band can and will continue to use 60s girl pop as their muse, few will do so as effectively as the Brooklyn quintet. In fact, my first brush with them turned me into a puddle of exclamation. My brain couldn't process the level of talent being dished out and that wasn't some fluke - each member of Lucius is an integral part of that effect not just Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig's tight-knit harmonies and jaw-dropping vocal chops (though they certainly do help). While the full effect of Lucius isn't attained outside of their live set, "Genevieve" is most closely captures the vivacious brassy attitudes, the sauntering melodies, the dynamic musicianship. It's short but sweet, simple but all-consuming, "Genevieve" hints at the playfulness and the rising levels of mind-shattering interplay of the band while being restrained enough that you don't utterly lose it when the track plays. Win win.

Parlovr, "Holding On To Something", Kook Soul
It was an album I was rooting for since catching the Montreal pop trio at CMJ back in 2011, the concept seemed quirky enough to work. Three Canadians find influence and inspiration in soul music - a decidedly American idiom and effective pair it with their own brand of wild, high intensity power pop. It was an idea that turned out to be far more ingenious in theory than practice. Though Kook Soul certainly was not without it's triumphs - "Holding On To Something" no doubt being the absolute best of them. It's a track much like "Lightshow" that hinted at an potential not quite reached within the confines of the album but which shines brightly on it's own. The energy "Holding On To Something" is infectious, the fellas talents for cobbling together sloshing but pristinely memorable melodies with an interesting even dance-y feel. Though the rest of Kook Soul failed to live up to the sinful pop promises of "Holding On To Something". it certain was worth the effort if only for the track's creation.

Lemolo - "Open Air", The Kaleidoscope
Perhaps it's because it's the single upbeat track in a series of brooding ones, maybe it's that it functions as the perfect showcase for Meagan Grandall and Kendra Cox's vocals accompanied purely by a piano, beat-keeping drum and a limitless sense of freedom but "Open Air" was the track I found myself returning to over and over again on Lemolo's stunning debut The Kaleidoscope. Simple lyrically as well as compositionally, it manages to grip you by putting the two ladies' harmonies fully on display unencumbered.

Illuminator - "Tangled With Bear", Soul Sister (forthcoming)
What can I say I have a real fondness for concept albums. The higher the stakes for it to be completely missed or fail completely, the more I'm interested in it. Sure, sometimes releases get bogged down with all the minute details that came from crafting a record as much more than just a musical narrative but when they really get it, it's excellent. Enter Illuminator: On paper Soul Sister (or what we've heard from it thus far rather) seems weird. Like REALLY weird. In execution though it works, surprisingly. "Tangled With Bear" kind of drops you into the middle of the action: a battle between the album's protagonist and a violent soul he's confronted through multiple lifetimes. Without the concept, "Tangled With Bear" is a rollicking blues rock jam which alternates between moments of delicate pulsating narrative-driven plotting and glorious bursting emotive climaxes. In concept, it's more than just an addictive piece of southern-inspired rock, it's cathartic and interesting to have an internal and external battle taking place with the music functioning as both weapon and battlefield. Weird, yes, but good. Normal's overrated anyway.

Town Hall - "Mary A. Longden", Roots & Bells
 If you're going to go the tall tell narrative route of folk pop, you've got to be damn good. Not just in lyrical content but in overall presentation. The tales, the arrangements, you name it they all better be pretty damn interesting otherwise you end up with a sort of "Why am I listening to this?!" sort of reaction. Because your narrative aren't grounded enough in reality to be considerably relatable. Fortunately that's not really a problem for Town Hall who released a whole album of narrative-driven songs of their own creation in Roots & Bells. One of the absolute gems being "Mary A. Longden" so good they released it twice. First on their Sticky Notes & Paper Scraps EP and then premier full length debut. They may not be doing anything genre-defying in terms of instrumentation or overall but where they do deserve some credit lies in their absolute creativity and ability to make a series of character studies into something worthwhile and accessible. Their vocals also happen to be downright crackerjack.

Johnny Flynn - "Flowers in My Garden", A Bag of Hammers soundtrack
Earlier this year, British folk singer Johnny Flynn surprised everyone with a two day jaunt across the US (one day in NY, one in LA) before retreating back to the Britain. The reason why seemed unclear. Did Flynn just miss touring after a year of theatre engagements? Yes. Was there new Johnny Flynn material on the horizon? Not quite but sure. While Flynn is still at work on his follow up to Been Listening, we did get new release from him in the form of a soundtrack he wrote for the indie dramedy A Bag of Hammers. The first track from the soundtrack out well over half a year before the soundtrack streeted, it's Johnny Flynn at his best: An updated but inspired take on actual folk music. The track sounds very much like the music used in the Shakespeare plays he's been featuring in and perhaps that's the intent. But also: The track is just plain good.

Gracie -  "Creature Pleaser", Bleeder (forthcoming)
What isn't there to like about "Creature Pleaser"? The first taste from Gracie's forthcoming full length, the track is an absolutely infectious and entirely all-consuming dance jam. If any of Bleeder's tracks come anywhere close to this one in terms of just insane catchiness, we're going to all be in real trouble. Because from the moment you press play on "Creature Pleaser", listening to anything else seems like an absolute chore. Instead you're compelled to just replay it and marvel at it's toe-tapping, body-moving splendor. Fairly certain the song is laced with some sort of high grade aural crack because one you start you're hooked and  it isn't until someone intervenes. But damn if it isn't the best 4 minute potentially life-ruining decision you've made.

Grizzly Bear - "Half Gate", Shields
Sure it's an album where each song leans slightly upon the other to support the colossal weight of the whole but for some reason "Half Gate" with wind-whipped plotting and gently unfolding piano pop stuck with it the most. More than that. It's the moment that Shields won me over completely. Before Shields, I wouldn't consider myself as a Grizzly Bear fan by any means but Shields with it's epic grandeur, it's clean immaculate twist on orchestral pop sans orchestra, has made a convert out of me. It seemed tighter and more accessible than records past while not trading in any of Grizzly Bear's notorious layered complexity. Shields seemed to me the first truly collaborative effort of the group of four musicians and "Half Gate" the best display: Placing Ed Droste's vocals with Daniel Rossen's and letting them highlight each other's strengths and fill in what the other's couldn't. Instead of just functioning as harmonic filler like times past, "Half Gate" sees the band's two main vocalists actually working together in the full context of a song. Their voices may alternate but it's the first time I felt both's vocal prowess was acknowledged and not only that - deployed together for an excellent heart-fluttering effect.  

Cheyenne Marie Mize - "Keep It", We Don't Need EP
As Cheyenne Marie Mize reaches a rather eclectic happy medium on her We Don't Need EP, the straight up feisty girl rock track "Keep It" was really what conquered me. The whole EP a charming display of personality, "Keep It" with it's rather eloquent rejection gives Sharon Van Etten's "Serpents" a run for its money with its level of casual, fiery badassery. It's as easy as that. There's no posturing, no elaborate metaphor; "Keep It" is a scorching dismissal pairing with all the rock trimmings needed to drive Mize's point home.

Lands & Peoples, "I Tried", Pop Guilt 
If an album is featured on one of my favorites list I try not to feature it on the other (try being the operative word because last year didn't work that way) but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. To not feature "I've Tried" would not only be the biggest slap in the face to the uber talented Baltimore lads but also to the idea of a favorites list. "I've Tried" has gotten a hell of a lot of play from me. Maybe more so than any other song on this list? Why? Well it takes Lands & Peoples "there's actually a buttload of complex things happening here but listen to how fluid it all sounds" method of song construction that I had become enamored with and put it in a decidedly more poppy context than I was used to from the band. It's also one of the few songs on their record that really shine a spotlight on the vocals. Sure there's singing all over the album but really "Ukulele", "Ghosts", and "I Tried" show Lands & Peoples at their best vocally. While "Ukulele" and "Ghosts" are more emotional fare, "I Tried" is more guilt-free pop (if you can really even call anything Lands & Peoples that), which manages both a showcase for Lands & Peoples creative accompaniment (there's a part from Terminator thrown in there!) as well as Caleb Moore's vocals. There's even a bit of that trademark L&P harmony. Just a small taste but it's a nice touch.

Secret Mountains - "Golden Blue", Winter Sessions/Rainer (forthcoming)
While Secret Mountains are certainly known for taking their time in all things, this year's tide over release Winter Sessions -  a collection of 3 songs from their upcoming full length debut Rainer saw Secret Mountains turning over a more immediate leaf. Their songs are still pleasantly lengthy but there's less build up, less pacing, and more here's what we can do as a group of tight-knit and talented musicians after we introduce you to the main idea. It's like knowing the destination but electing a new way to get there. The scenic route if you will. On "Golden Blue" Secret Mountains sure give you a lot to see too; offering winding, curling passages of subdued, tasteful pyrotechnics while deploying Kelly Laughlin's dynamite vocals, their biggest explosive of all.

Sea of Bees - "Broke", Orangefarben  
You'd be hard pressed to find a more earnest artist than Sea of Bees and her latest album Orangefarben certainly doesn't disappoint on that front especially in lead singler/album opener "Broke" as Sea of Bees lets her hearfelt feelings bubble out of her fitting considering the song's about attempting to keep your feelings bottled up. Her vocals are sincere, her feelings a very special type of raw; not quite heart-breaking but moving, gripping, and intense. I suppose that's always been Julie Bee's ace in the hole. Girl's got a hell of a lot of heart and she's not afraid to bare it. Despite what the actual lyrics of "Broke" might want you to believe. 

Sharon Van Etten - "Leonard", Tramp
It's not my most shining moment but for some reason I had never really gotten around to giving Sharon Van Etten a proper listen until I heard the fiery vitriol of "Serpents". It seemed like such a different take on the heartbroken lover shtick your most basic singer/songwriter resorts to and I was intrigued as hell. But there's a reason "Leonard" is here over "Serpents" though each song would be more than welcome on this list. My preference for "Leonard" started superficially at first a "listen to those harmonies!" moment as I watched the acoustic version featuring Sharon Van Etten and Heather Woods Broderick for i-D. But as I watched the video more and more and Tramp eventually made its way into my hands, more of it appealed to me. Sharon Van Etten's always been a profoundly honest songwriter but "Leonard" to me seemed to marry the idea of the spurned lover while also acknowledging her own faults in the mess while featuring Van Etten's uncanny knack for downplayed moments of lyrical brilliance.  

Fiona Apple - "Hot Knife", The Idler Wheel...
Perhaps it's place after a set of high intensity, emotional, catharsis-seeking moments on The Idler Wheel... but by the time Fiona Apple reaches the album's terrific conclusion with sultry pop "Hot Knife" is shined my absolute gold. Only the kicker was that it held up pretty incredibly on its own. That discredits that theory. But for all her trouble singer/songwriter-y ways, Apple is a gifted popsmith rewarding those that listened to her air of her life's various grievances, moments of pain, heartache, and ugliness with a simmering ode to sexual need. While that might sound like something you'd expect to hear on Top 40 radio and just grimace at until it was over or change the station over, lest we not forget Apple's gifts. Primitive drums beat out underneath a fugal masterpiece of layered vocals and damn if it isn't the catchiest little thing. For all her songwriting-as-therapy methods, Apple really shines when she takes on a simple truth and runs with it in a rather significantly fun way. 

Watch: Hundred Waters - Caverns (Live for Yours Truly)

Fun fact about Hundred Waters: Nicole Miglis, the collective's enchanting lead vocalist is a gifted classically trained pianist. This wouldn't really be important information except that on their first ever tour through New York the band sat down and created two alternative takes of two of their self titled debut's most beautiful tracks. One of them is Miglis' solo on piano and vocals on "Caverns" while the other is arrangement of "Visitor" involving 8 musicians (think brass, etc.).

While the upcoming 7" to be released on Small Plates Records will be all that is necessary for me to lose my god damn mind, in this one moment of non Hundred Waters induced hermitage I wanted to share this live video shot by Yours Truly of the alternative "Caverns" version. It's beyond gorgeous. Miglis playing contains little jazzy flourishes that elevate the already mesmerizing new take to Hundred Waters standard levels of unbelievable unpredictableness, differentness, and breathtaking beauty.

I have no idea when the 7" is set to come out but I want it. I want it so hard. Please, somebody make it so.

Watch Nicole Miglis breathe new life into "Caverns":
Hundred Waters "Caverns" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pitstop: SoftSpot

A few months ago there was a week where Caleb from Lands & Peoples more or less had full control over what I posted on the blog. It wasn't a blog takeover or anything like that he just kept suggesting bands to me that he thought I'd be really into and he happened to be right. Brooklyn psych-rock trio SoftSpot was actually one of the first bands Caleb suggested to me. Earlier during the year Lands & Peoples played a house show with SoftSpot and when I saw Caleb the next day he had nothing but good things to say about them. 

When I finally pounced upon the recommendation and listened to the Nous EP I couldn't help but notice a definite similarity between SoftSpot and Secret Mountains. Laid back, slow burning jams wrapped up in psychedelic fuzz? The bands seemed almost too similar for me to compare. How could I describe a band as being almost exactly like another band while urging you to listen to both bands? The answer: Don't. I'm glad SoftSpot's debut full length Enso was exfm's album of the week last week as it allowed me to see the band in a whole new light. While Soft Spot shares Secret Mountains patient gently unfolding delivery, there's far more to them than that. Sarah Kinlaw's vocals are much more in line with BRAIDS' Raphaelle's Standell-Preston and her quiet coquette-ish coo than Kelly Laughlin's mighty roar. 

But SoftSpot are a band of their own design not just a composite of other arty bands you know and love. Their songs are insistent and ear-catching even despite their occasionally labyrinthine construction. In fact, a lot of their songs, especially on Enso, function as extensions of each other sliding effortlessly into the other. SoftSpot's songs feature reoccurring sonic themes and structures that fall anywhere from a repeated inflection to a continuous winding guitar riff. Ultimately Enso as well as all of SoftSpot's releases are intensely interesting listening experiences where the longer tracks capture and maintain your attention and the shorter ones make you crave for more.  They're a balance of dark, mysterious brooding jams with a rather underplayed pop sensibility deployed stealthily to keep the track aloft and coasting on its occasionally meandering path. 

Listen to SoftSpot's excellent debut record Enso now.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Watch: Jamaican Queens - "Kids Get Away"

Earlier this year we got our first taste of what Detroit synth-pop trio and former Prussia bandmembers Jamaican Queens were brewing up with a two song release. One of them (and the best of the two, in my opinion) was "Kids Get Away" and Jamaican Queens were nice enough to give us a video for it. The video, directed by Andrew Miller, finds a diner patron becoming more and more infatuated with his regular waitress. From his nervous tick to low-intensity stalking and mannequin decoration, the groundwork is laid to have you absolutely creeped out by the guy. And yet one thing Jamaican Queens are not is predictable and the video takes a pretty unexpected twist. I won't ruin it because it's pretty damn clever. So watch the video.

Jamaican Queens are also going on tour early next year so stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Listen: William Tyler - "Cadillac Desert"

If you're anything like me, you like maybe even prefer absolute stunning instrumentals over clever lyricism atop rather simplistic arrangements. There's just something so incredibly great about the rather revealing quality of a song that needs to bring it all melodically. Ultimately that's what I'm most drawn to even when there's words attached. What's happening musically?

Well for those like me, you're in luck. Taking his place among instrumental acts like Delicate Steve, Collections of Colonies of Bees or Phil Cook & His Feat, William Tyler is releasing a brand new album with Merge and if idyllic scorcher "Cadillac Desert" is anything to go off off, it's going to be an absolutely amazing collection of melody-laden guitar rock. On it, Tyler goes more places thematically in it's mammoth open air sprawl than most albums do while maintaining a smooth, clear timeline. It's minimalistic without being laboriously so and Tyler's ability to recycle themes while still moving the track along is rather incredible. It's the kind of track that could go on forever and you wouldn't hear a single complaint. It's a wind-swept pastoral reverie without any need for words and you wouldn't have it any other way.

William Tyler's Impossible Truth is out March 19th on Merge Records. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Listen: The Voluntary Butler Scheme - "Quinzhee"/"That's How I Got to Memphis"

Two months ago, we were gifted with the first sounds from The Voluntary Butler Scheme forthcoming third album A Million Ways to Make Gold in "Brain Freeze" and in the wintry second single "Quinzhee (Building Us A House Out of Snow)", Rob Jones appears to be returning to form; stitching back up the visible seams of The Grandad Galaxy and recalling the retropop stylings of After Breakfast, Dinner, Tea. In fact he's taking the brass-laden sounds that composed both albums best tracks and seems to be making them a permanent addition. Not a bad addition in fact as "Quinzhee" and b-side "That's How I Got to Memphis" ( a Tom T. Hall cover) are filled with buoyant horns as well as Jones' impressive multi-instrumentalism.

Get a listen to the latest single "Quinzhee" and b-side "How I Got to Memphis" here.

Also you can order a signed 7" copy of the single here if you're so inclined. The Voluntary Butler Scheme's A Million Ways to Make Gold will be out March 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Patrick Watson - Adventures in Your Own Backyard (2012)

While I was introduced to Montreal singer/songwriter Patrick Watson earlier this year in name alone through Andrew Bird, it was actually the excitement of Nashville singer/songwriter Justin Branam to see him in concert that really made me take notice and dig in. The result being about a intensive 4 hours listening session of everything I could get my hands on from the man. All worth it.

From the airy piano intro of "Lighthouse", Patrick Watson manages to easily transport you to a world of his own creation: where the mundane is elevated and infused with a sense of wonder and awe. Where wild-eyed innocence is paired with Watson's emotive power and aided infinitely by Watson's feathery light barely there vocals.  Songs like "Words in the Fire", "Into Giants", "Small Crooked Road" transform moments like a campfire hang, falling in love, or just going for a walk are given magical, life-changing significance.

What appealed to me most about Watson in general is the core of what makes Adventures in Your Own Backyard work so well. Watson makes genuinely interesting music that has all the complexity of a seasoned multi-instrumentalist while also appearing to be rather simple at least in delivery. Compositionally, Watson's songs are works of art that anyone can enjoy. The rugged experimentalism of albums past (Wooden Arms in particular) is subtler and less obvious and turned more toward inventive songwriting than innovating song construction. That's not to say there's not anything impressive about Patrick Watson's songcraft this time around but rather the main focus is the lyrics and rightly so. Adventures n Your Own Backyard is a series of songs grounded in reality but given tall-tale like stature - artfully arranged into giant lush masterpieces bursting at the seams with effortless beauty. A stunning display not only of Watson's own talents but those of his gifted comrades.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Leigh Jones - Worth Wild (2012)

When I was first introduced to Brooklyn singer/songwriter Leigh Jones in a joint concert with John Craigie and Olivia Quillio it was almost impossible not to compare the two females. Olivia Quillio singing raw, sultry songs of heartbreak and frustration, Leigh's songs hopeful, sweet, and caressing love ballads. Subconsciously I started pitting them against each other - a friendly competition of course - to see who would win out which now seems a little unfair. The two had more in common than I initially realized: unexpected powerhouse vocals explode effortless from their rather diminutive statures, real relatable lyrics based on their actual lives, and impressive amounts of musical talents that caresses each verse and musical phrase.

Leigh Jones' debut album Worth Wild is certainly a good one. Reminding me of Sylvie Lewis with its ability to convey intelligence while also remaining accessible and catchy featuring unexpected rhymes and a noticeable folk-pop flair. And Jones' changes gears rather impressively, there's exuberant romp "I Know You Know" and more ballads than you can shake a stick at ("Old Guitar", "Half Mast", "How is California?") there's also soulful highlight "Time Zone" which is probably the album's best track (but not my much). 

While Leigh Jones is rather obviously a girl in love, she does a good job of harnessing it in a way that makes you root for her and not just roll your eyes and hurry along. Long distance relationships are the recurring theme on Worth Wild but each time she visits it, Jones has something new to say about it. She celebrates the moments spent together rather than just prattling on about how terrible it is that they have to be apart. Overall, Worth Wild benefits from Jones' ability to handle her love affair with adult sensibility instead of just schoolgirl infatuation.  There's a balance of somber seriousness and tracks that are just plain fun just the thing you need to need to get through what could easily have turned into something unnecessary repetitive.

Give Leigh Jones' debut album Worth Wild a listen now:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Listen: The Cave Singers - "Have to Pretend"

Ever since seeing them open up for Fleet Foxes, I've been eagerly awaiting news of a new tour from Seattle folk rock trio The Cave Singers which pretty much waiting until they finished up a new album. And considering they had just released No Witch that year, that could've meant years of waiting. Thankfully, that's not the case. Cave Singers retreated back to their native land to work on some new tunes, occasionally venturing out into the Northwest and Midwest for the occasional show/mini-tour while working on that new album.

But with the release of their fourth full length imminent and just from the first single off of it, all those months of East coast neglect seem entirely worth it. "Have to Pretend" is like a more laid-back "Black Leaf", inspiring dance but less frantically so. Instead it rolls on with a rather simple, charismatic beat, some harmony play, and Peter Quirk's trademark rasp. And despite it's rather simple structure, Cave Singers prove they're no amateurs occasionally deviating from the track's casual plod.

Welcome back Cave Singers, I expect a tour immediately. Listen to the new track "Have to Pretend":

The Cave Singers' fourth studio album Naomi is out March 5th on Jagjaguwar.

Teitur - Let The Dog Drive Home (2012)

Sometimes one of the worst things to happen is a region-based releases. Sure, with a foreign artist it make a lot more sense since making your music available everywhere involves significant hoop-jumping but it can cause a brilliant album to fall by the wayside. Case in point is Let The Dog Drive Home, the fifth studio album from Faroese singer/songwriter Teitur. Those abroad had the album for almost an entire year before it arrived on US shores at the very beginning of this year which almost made me forget about the album entirely. And what a real shame that would've been.

Since my first listen to Poetry & Airplanes, Teitur has held a special places as probably one of the most underrated songwriters plying their trade. Maybe that has to do with Teitur Nordic residence but there's been plenty of Scandinavians and the like who've been equally talented and properly successful despite not living here. Sondre Lerche for instance. Or even First Aid Kit. No, the reason Teitur isn't more beloved can only be because he hasn't reached more ears. Hopefully Let The Dog Drive Home can change that. It's a sort of return to form for Teitur, reaching levels of charm, emotiveness, and lyrical poignancy that I hadn't really felt since his debut (the aforementioned Poetry & Airplanes). Tracks like "Waverly Place" and "Freight Train" are almost classic Teitur, featuring the sparse instrumentation and emotional stirring tenor present in his most powerful tracks without sounding like rehashing of whatever worked last time. The stories are new as "Freight Train" percolates with barely concealed regrets, "Let the Dog Drive Home" cruises casually by steeped in metaphor, and the wide majority of Let The Dog Drive Home's tracks slipped into crisp pop dressings of an entirely different beast than albums past.

Melancholic but not depressing, On Let The Dog Drive Home, Teitur shares the kind of life lessons it takes considerable ages to learn. Considering Teitur's rather youthful countenance, it'd seem almost disingenuous if the man weren't the picture of sincerity. That and he grounds this rather big life-changing realizations in a relatable manner whether they be in the form of stories of drinking ("All I Remember From Last Night Is You" or even cozy Bacharachian arrangements ("Very Careless People") allowing Teitur's ruminations to feel more like sound friendly advice than professional, sagely opinion.

Get a taste of Teitur's excellent album with the music video for "Freight Train":

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pitstop: Neighbors

There's something incredibly liberating about attending a show stacked with bands that you don't really know. Sure, I suppose you make a pretty strong argument for scoping out the bands ahead of time to really know what you're getting yourself into but I find the idea of just going and experiencing a band for the first time live to be a far more appealing one.

Enter Neighbors. The brain-child of singer/songwriter Noah Stitelman, the quintet's live set was easily one of the most appetizing of the four band lineup. While I went for ARMS, Neighbors sure were a nice bonus - covering the audience with toe-tapping 80s-leaning synth-pop goodness and throwing in a little bit of 60s girl pop for good measure in the form of backing vocals provided by female members Steph and Julie. The result is something that sounds surprisingly familiar even when you might not have heard the band before. That's not to say that Neighbors don't bring anything particularly original to the table or even that Stitelman wears his influences a little too noticeably on his sleeve, rather Stitelman paints with the rather broad strokes of synth-pop masters and fills in the little details with his own (and his band's) personal touch.

With two EPs and a recently released debut full length (Good Luck, Kid) under their belt, Neighbors have found a sound that seems to work for them. While you could throw any track from Good Luck, Kid on an 80s playlist and have people be none the wiser, it's still a rather enjoyable collection of danceable tracks. A sure sign that 80s nostalgia is here to stay and can be utilized to great effect.

You can listen to Neighbors debut full length Good Luck, Kid on Spotify and buy it digitally.