Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Listen: S. Carey - "Fire-Scene"

                                                        (photo by Cameron Witting)

Bon Iver band member and a talented artist in his own right S. Carey released one of the most immersive, beautiful, and deeply felt solo debuts back in 2010 with All We Grow. It was a record that so brilliantly utilized the organic, emotive elements of folk songwriting that when S. Carey followed it up with the much less nuanced, more electronic-heavy Hoyas EP, it was a bit jarring to say the least when not unlike Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, Carey tried his hand at autotune. S. Carey's new single "Fire-Scene" for his sophomore full length Range of Light however sees a sort of return to form.

S. Carey's main strength has always been an instrumental minimalism in his songs and that's clearly on display in "Fire-Scene". Simple melodies enable Carey's tender vocals to cover a wider emotional terrain and make the eventual build up all the more effective. Carey's song construction is downright scenic in its expansiveness and he makes astonishing use of the freedom provided from non-metronomic beat keeping. In fact, it doesn't rely the drum standard and employs a much more internal sense of time. Anything resembling an obvious beat is short-lived like the piano which turns more melodic than percussive after its entrance and a upright bass which follows suit.

Listen to the first single "Fire-Scene" from S. Carey's upcoming Range of Light out April 1st on Jagjaguwar: 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Listen: Night Beds - "Head for the Hills"

If I had stumbled upon it mere days ago, I would've been incredibly surprised to get a new single from Nashville's Night Beds so soon after an album release. But after reading this spectacular and endearing interview on SerialBox featuring Night Beds' Winston Yellen, it seems just about par for the course. The takeway from the interview being that Yellen's constantly writing songs so the appearance of a non-album related single is pretty much going to be the status quo. A excellent bit of news if you're a Night Beds fan who craves instant gratification.

Stylistically "Head for the Hills" is cut from the same cloth as Country Sleep standout "Ramona" - while most of Country Sleep marinated in Yellen's soulful tenor, "Ramona" and now "Head for the Hills" breaks free from the sparse ruminative tone. Yellen's lyricism isn't any less affecting but definitely benefits from the added touches of strings and bigger, bolder presentation. This evolution makes sense - where Country Sleep was written and recorded by Yellen alone, over the past year Night Beds expanded to include a full band of actual collaborators. Yellen's still the primary voice of Night Beds but there's definitely an added grandeur to the fuller arrangements.

If "Head for the Hills" is a sign of what's to come from Night Beds, then sign me up. Winston Yellen's transformation from singer/songwriter to band frontman is certainly an interesting one that hasn't managed to dampen the effectiveness of his songwriting. If anything, it's imbued his pristine vocals and inspiring lyrics with an accessibility that'll hopefully carry his songs further than they'd go before.

Listen to Night Beds' "Head for the Hills":

Friday, January 24, 2014

All Around Sound's Favorite Albums of 2013

It may not actually be true but this year at least seemed to be extensively stacked with follow ups from returning artists rather than a year which overflowed with impressive debuts. Whether those bands/artists had essentially released an album not too long ago (Alessi's Ark, Teitur), followed the traditional release schedule of an album every other year (Arctic Monkeys, Telekinesis) or appeared after a lengthy hiatus (Basia Bulat, Johnny Flynn), 2013 was filled with an impressive series of releases from more established acts. That's not to say there weren't impressive debut records to be found this year but rather, there was deluge of excitement-stirring announcements from bands newly out of the studio or that had finally gotten the go ahead from their label and/or distributor to make this their year. This year's list, like last year's, features a collection of my favorite records released this year in no particular order other than how they came in to memory.

The Dodos - Carrier
San Francisco duo The Dodos might very well be one of the most underrated "popular" bands going right now. Around the release of their albums, there's a justifiable buzz of interest that always seems to fizzle out a week or two after the record. Maybe that's just in my circle but they're a band with an incredible level of consistency while also offering up remarkably good ideas. 2011's No Color was an all around winner and this year's full length Carrier ups the ante a bit. In part a tribute to the recently departed Chris Reimer of Women, the guitar stars on Carrier in a way that it hasn't really been spotlighted before. Sure, there's still the percussive momentum that galvanizes the duo's oddly accessible guitar rock stylings but strives to be and achieves the goal of being the duo's most introspective album. Each of the album's tracks has absolute magnificent moments of beguiling melodic work and Meric Long's expansive experimentation with different guitar tones and curtails Kroeber's energetic drumming for emotional depth and a much more lyrical focus. It's an album that takes what worked well on No Color (backing vocals and strings) and utilizes them again while expanding them and pairing them up with new ideas. Carrier perfectly balances those moments of quiet, rumination ("Relief", "Death", "The Ocean") with moments of liveliness and jubilation ("Substance", "Confidence", "The Current") sometimes doing so in the same song ("Transformer", "Destroyer").

Lucius - Wildewoman
I still remember my initial discovery of female-fronted Brooklyn pop rock quintet Lucius - it was perhaps my most visceral response to live music in my entire history of attending live shows. Normal show etiquette seemed an unfathomable burden to me. Who was this band? Where did they come from and how was I only now discovering them? How the hell were they so damn good? These are the questions I wondered aloud in a crowd of showgoers who probably wanted nothing more than for me to shut the hell up and enjoy the show. Lucius, with their 60s girl group retro rock vibe and infectious melody and head-spinning harmonies, were easily one of my favorite new bands and their live energy was unmatched. While I lamented that last year's self-titled EP failed to capture the true spirit of their live show, I had hope that when the fivesome finally put their debut album into the world all would be well. They didn't. Wildewoman, while featuring all five members as a band instead of focusing merely as a spotlight for Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig future separates the group from their electric live energy. The songs that carried over from the EP are remixed, reproduced toward a far less organic center. "Hey, Doreen", the album's true pop behemoth is a multitude of layers that's notably difficult to pull off live. And yet, even with its production choices, Wildewoman is a gem of an album. The new tracks full of Lucius' trademark smiling, winking charm ("Wildewoman", "Nothing Ordnary) or resonant emotive core ("Tempest", "Monsters").  While others like "Two of Us On the Run" "Until We Get There" and "How Loud Your Heart Gets" spotlight the ladies' ferocious and soulful vocal prowess while relying very little on the group's formidable pop chops. Wildewoman is a balanced effort which feels a whole lot more inclusive than last year's EP. It's a debut album of practically overwhelming strength even if it neglects to make proper use of the band's full potential.

Steve Gunn - Time Off
I would've missed the boat entirely on Steve Gunn's excellent, excellent record Time Off if it didn't come with the highest of recommendations from Daughn Gibson when I tapped him to participate in this year's blog birthday playlist extravaganza. Steve Gunn has and will probably continue to receive comparisons to all the greatest guitar players of all time and for good reason - Gunn's guitar prowess is awe-inspiring. Not in the flashy showman way of rock guitarists but for Time Off's thoughtfully spun narratives, Gunn wields his guitar as an extension of himself - indulging in a great deal of musical world building before the first verses are even sung. His melodies are vibrant and memorable, simple in terms of their pleasant ear-catchingness but complex in the dazzling array of colors he infuses his tunes with his instrument alone. Time Off is all wind-swept sketches that fully embrace less is more and is all the more impressive for it. Gunn's smooth uncomplicated rambles are paired perfectly with his effortlessly clean bluesy guitar lines and the results are pure synergistic excellence where the journey IS the reward.

Little Tybee - For Distant Viewing
Little Tybee's third full length record is a true testament to taking your time to really allow a record to gestate. Originally slated for a release right on the heels of 2011's Humorous to Bees, circumstances caused the album to be delayed and a strong argument can be made for the positive in that. Each song on For Distant Viewing seems to take its time, stretch its legs and hang around for awhile - from its eponymous opening track which luxuriates in its rapidly shifting musical ideas and multitude of layers so much that its climactic "Get down!" is like a jolt to the system, galvanizing not only the track itself but your interest in it. Little Tybee are a band of incredibly competent musicians and For Distant Viewing probably more than any other album gives the band the space to truly display their individual talents as well as the ensemble as a whole - featuring a series of rousing instrumental breaks and intense jams.

Typhoon - White Lighter
Forgive me if it sounds like I'm gushing but bands like Portland's folk rock collective Typhoon are a rarity. Boasting a bewildering 11 member roster, they're stunningly agile - utilizing their members not only effectively but also efficiently refusing to let anyone fall by the wayside or be deployed solely as an ornament. While Kyle Morton's songwriting talents are ultimately beyond reproach, the band gathers around them like moths to a flame letting their talents mingle with his in such a way that Typhoon never feels like just a vehicle for Morton. White Lighter continues the band's life-affirming, soul-rousing brand of highly literate rock while also polishing it in a way it wasn't on previous full length Hunger and Thirst. White Lighter plays with it's own established themes, lyrics, and melodies - recalling them cyclically and climatically with greater purpose than if it discarded them when first applied making White Lighter a much more resonant album than most. It's an album of passionate epiphanous moments freely given though filtered through a rock lens so you're not really aware you've learned anything at all. But Morton's open-armed embrace of sickness, weakness, and death and Typhoon's verisimilitude make White Lighter and album that'll stick with you long after it's done playing.

Golden Suits - Golden Suits
When I heard Fred Nicolaus from Department of Eagles was working on a solo record, I was excited. When I heard Daniel Rossen was assisting with it, I was ecstatic. You see as someone who's been carrying a major torch for Department of Eagles, this was a dream come true. A potential reunion of sorts. But Fred Nicolaus' first solo record under the name Golden Suits isn't a Department of Eagles record. Not in the slightest and that is perhaps it's greatest strength. Alone, Nicolaus' talents are far more out in the open. While Golden Suits follows in a long trend of heartbreak-fueled records, it manages to distinguish itself due to Nicolaus' excellent lyrical gifts, guitar prowess, and uncanny knack for melody. Each track on Golden Suits is composed of a little memorable extra that elevate it from good to great. Considering Fred Nicolaus is no stranger to the music industry/music-making in general, it's not really a shock that the man can craft of considerable worth but what is, and pleasantly, is its subtlety and gentleness in asserting itself as such. The song Cheever-inspired character sketches frankensteined with real life inspiration that never lets itself wallow. Golden Suits is an album of half-smiles, self-aware chuckles, and the occasional frown or two but it's an album that embraces the positives of emotional devastation and starting over again. The songs are casual reflections - never ascending to "baby come back!" level of pining and reverberate with a quiet cathartic strength even as Nicolaus rattles off the occasional self-deprecating lyric. It's also features damn good arrangements that heighten everything from narrative drama to aural pleasure.

Villagers - {Awayland}
There's always talk of singer/songwriters particularly those of the folk variety of being poets but for few people is this actually true than of Conor O'Brien of Villagers. And yet, the simple, quiet resonance of 2010's Becoming A Jackal had clearly done its damage - when O'Brien and company returned late year the game was clearly renaissance. "The Waves" and "Passing A Message" with electronic-stitch sonic tapestries and grooves were a statement of purpose and yet even despite the unexpected 180, O'Brien's narrative voice - of pitch-perfect descriptive lyricism was present if not honed. {Awayland}'s songs cover a dramatically different scope of emotions - no doubt born from the live energy cultivated from a touring behind the first record but also filled with an excitement of new paths tread. {Awayland} manages to keep what has worked well with Villagers in the past while also engaging in a great deal of reinvention. O'Brien's lyricism is clearer, more eloquent, and far more visceral that comes off as a very natural progression for Villagers.

The Heligoats - Back to the Ache
The Heligoat's frontman Chris Otepka has always had a way with the English language - elevating mundane details to high revelance due mostly in part to his own fascination with them and an ability to deftly use his words to make them something of interest. While Goodness Gracious dealt with a lot of the bigger questions we ponder - Back to the Ache shrinks down the focus to a molecular level. While also taking Otepka's curious attention to the details and employing in on whole level entire - that of his band. Back to the Ache functions far more as a band record than Goodness Gracious with those songs not likely to suffer if stripped down and played solo (which Otepka has done) in the latest album, there's an feel that would no doubt be lost. The album is really good old fashioned indie rock - strongly so with the added benefit of Otepka's lyricism. That's essentially what makes the album - the inclusion of a noticeable full band sound while retaining Otepka front and center.

Camp Counselors - Huntress
I'm a sucker for a good, original concept and an album inspired by old horror movie soundtracks was certainly original enough to pique my interest. That it was another effort from Cemeteries mastermind Kyle Reigle was another. Huntress, the debut record from Reigle's offshoot project Camp Counselors manages to create a distinctive brand of accessible synth pop while staying true to its initial inspiration - the lyrics are dark and mysterious, the aura eerie and otherworldly, and the beats undeniable. Huntress is a record as methodically established and embellished as the rules of the genre it sees to emulate. It's the perfect example of how an simple idea - in this case Reigle's lifelong obsession - can flourish into something truly spectacular. A great concept album doesn't have to be epic - it just needs the right mix of ambition and excitement and Huntress is a testament to that. Tremendously enjoyable in its own right while laying the groundwork for Reigle's further experimentation distinguishing it as far more than a fun throwaway and more as a benchmark of innovation.

Son Lux - Lanterns
There's something to be said of composer/arranger Ryan Lott's third outing as Son Lux. Lanterns encapsulates so much about what Lott such an interesting artist. It's no so much that Son Lux has fallen into a consistent groove as it is Lott continuously pushes the boundaries of his own creative process while offering works that are boldly experimental but still intensely engaging. Lanterns is a remarkably complex record, of that there's no question, but it's not a record that requires a lot of superfluous mythology or is challenging enough that its enjoyment isn't immediate. That's essentially my favorite thing about Son Lux and his creative process. There's a hell of a lot going on behind the scenes - as Lott cut, pastes, rearranges, and otherwise toys with the concept of linear songwriting but the end product is always something that is unquestionably beautiful but appears effortlessly so. Lott isn't the kind of experimentalist that thrives on exclusion or inaccessibility and that's always an endearing feature of his works of which Lanterns is no different; even carrying over the illumination theme of lanterns from sophomore effort We Are Rising's "Flickers" and expanding it in a whole new set of ways.

Young Man - Beyond Was All Around Me
After discovering singer/songwriter Colin Caulfield's Young Man project during the last quarter of 2012, I approached Beyond Was All Around Me, the final installation of Caulfield's Young Man moniker, with both a sense of tremendous anticipation and dread. There were, to me, so few male singer/songwriters actually discussing issues that were uniquely pertinent to a twenty-something male and I was both sad to see the project go and exciting as how Caulfield would tidy the whole thing up. One the last full length of the project, Caulfield plunges forward both in terms of his newly implemented band who imbue the album with an immediacy and spirited delivery we hadn't seen before. While Caulfield excelled at thoughtful, careful plotting on previous releases, there's no denying the excitement inducing fast-pacing. Caulfield's approach to the tail end of his saga is delighfully open ended but not frustratingly so. His future may take the form of an eternal ellipses but he does engage in a far bit of speculation. What's more, there's an incredible sense of closure gained from Caulfield's incorporation of many of the hallmarks of his other records - namely the return of string arrangements and themes. Beyond Was All Around Me is not only a perfect end to Caulfield's ruminations but also a stellar record on its own merits.

Young Dreams - Between Places
It's rare that I give in completely to total anticipation than I did upon discovering Norwegian orchestral pop group Young Dreams. Led to them by tourmate/champion Sondre Lerche, I was pretty much sold from fading strains of "Dream alone, wake together" and with each subsequent single release my enthusiasm rose and I became more and more certain that Young Dreams debut full length would be a truly worthwhile listen. Between Places exceeded all my possible expectations - expanding the sextet's tropical-inspired nostalgia-riden vibes into a full on masterpiece. On one end - it works as perfect collection of would be singles but also functions as a cohesive unit and doesn't steer clear of longform song structure - devoting a whopping 18 minutes and change towards the album's conclusion towards artistically plotted experimentations. As if the six songs that proceeded them weren't enough, Young Dreams go all out here - demonstrating their influences and overall musicianship pretty aptly. As a whole, Young Dreams' Between Places is musical escapism at is finest - recalling bright sunny days and balmy temperatures, and the optimism and thrills of youth without any of the poor decision making involved. It's an exceptional debut from a band bursting with ideas but fluent enough in pop to get them all out there patiently.  

Buke & Gase - General Dome
To say there are few bands as innovative and boundary-pushing as Buke & Gase seems a little obvious but also a bit of an understatement. Buke & Gase have essentially through pure ingenuity ultimately created a sound unlike any other, that was essentially the beauty of their debut record Riposte and General Dome proves that there's really no limits as far as the band's creativity is concerned. General Dome both manages to be completely unlike their debut while still sharing a common distinct sound - namely in the cacophonous energetic cerebral sprint that is Buke & Gase's form of music making. There is, of course, a grand arching concept to General Dome but that doesn't distract at all from it's accessibility - an accessibility that is actually rather surprising. While Buke & Gase are one of those truly rare bands where literally no genre can/will stick to them, there is no getting around the fact that their songs are distinct, memorable, and dare I say downright catchy.  General Dome expands the wonderfully psychological elements of Riposte to dramatically levels bordering on paranoia. The result is a heady rush of thrilling rise and falls - from manic screams to hushed whispers that never seems able to shake off its boundless kinetic energy or sense of unease until the album comes sputtering to is exhausted end.    

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle
It's almost bewildering how British folk siren Laura Marling manages to stay so incredibly consistent release after release. Her latest effort Once I Was An Eagle is both a more ambitious and more intimate spin on Marling's distinctive brand of narrative driven folk rambles. While just the first four suite of songs is enough to nominate it for absolutely everyone's surefire favorite, through stripping down Marling and collaborator Ethan Johns get downright creative with the accompaniment. As if her normal way, Marling's songs are both frustrating mysterious and boldly telling at the same time. As the line are further blended between fiction and fact, Marling stays true to a couple of her pre-established fascinations - water, scorned women, and all-consuming passion. In a weird way, it's by noticeably shifting the focus away from her to the super and preternatural that makes Marling's songwriting all the more curious. Despite the unecessary speculation of when/where Marling is talking about her experiences directly or in elaborate metaphor, Marling's songs maintain their simple poetry that remain as relatable as ever.

Mutual Benefit - Love's Crushing Diamond
There is a certain amount of balance and finesse that must be applied to musical catharsis. Too much wallowing and a whole album can feel cloying and claustrophobic maybe even the wrong kind of depressing. Too light and the endeavor can seem a tad bit trite. Like the problems presented aren't worth relating too if the singer themself isn't too bothered by them. But thankfully Mutual Benefit has no such difficultly. Where Jordan Lee and his collaborators succeed is not only in providing a valid and viable alternative to your standard pop in its articulately formed textural layering but in the rather small scale epic presentation. Love's Crushing Diamond is a journey, both of Lee's own experiences and through it's own bit of forward momentum. It's an album that's astonishing relatable; courageously vulnerable without sounding like entries out of a sad boy's diary. There's something to be said for the musicianship of it all - cyclical in its scope and played with pitch-perfect tenderness and managing to captivate not only with Lee's stellar songwriting but with its effortless use of space. Love's Crushing Diamond is a truly special record that manages to reach the perfect balance of rugged individualism and an endearing sense of universality.

Honorable Mentions:
Brazos - Saltwater

Chris Holm - Kilos

Emily Reo - Olive Juice

Friend Roulette - I'm Sorry You Hit Your Head

Genders - Get Lost

Radiation City - Animals in the Median

San Fermin - San Fermin

Secret Mountains - Rainer

Wild Ones - Keep It Safe

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pitstop: Wintercoats

I'll admit I have a tendency to take music suggestions with far more than just a grain of salt - an unprovoked suggestion is regarded with the most intense of suspicion. I prefer to discover great music at my own pace so when someone tries to lead me there out of the blue completely unwarranted, it tends to be a bit jarring and I quickly throw said suggestion into the farther reaches of my mind until I am ready to deal with the potential consequences. That's essentially why it's taken me over a year to warm up to Wintercoats. Awhile back Rafael over at Heart & Soul recommended Wintercoats most likely based on my love of all things orchestral pop and my response was all suspicious arched eyebrows instead of open ears. There might've also been some yelling.

Melbourne violinist James Wallace aka Wintercoats' reliance on ethereal electronic incorporating sounds isn't what you'd normally think of when you think of orchestral pop but there's no denying that in addition to the delicate care in which Wallace crafts his lush layers, there's definitely ear catching quality. Wintercoats' tracks aren't all gorgeous, ambient free falls, although they do tend to be the musical equivalent of elaborate ice sculptures. Tracks like "Blood Prints" and "Halogen Moon", combine their intricate construction with the necessary forward push of a good pop song.

Wintercoats songs contain multitudes within them. One part dazzling atmospheric instrumentals, others included beguiling sincere vocals, Wallace creates tunes that are chilly but not inhospitable, dreamy but with reality firmly in the periphery. In a world where a pop-oriented violinist will either be compared to Andrew Bird or Owen Pallett, it's nice to hear an artist who casually and rather inoffensively defies not only that instance of pigeonholing but also surpasses any hard genre classification.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

All Around Sound's Favorite Tracks of 2013

While 2013 turned out to be an off year for many of my favorite bands, there was surprisingly no shortage of new music from them anyway. While every year I seem to lament the decline of the album as a cohesive narrative and more as a home for a single or two, 2013 proved me wrong in that regard - many of my favorite songs (the songs that stuck with me long after I put down my headphones, etc.) happened to be from my favorite albums but when making this list I have only two rules: 1) No songs from my favorite albums should be on the favorite tracks list. 2) No repeat appearances by the same artist. This year more than any other it was harder than ever to stick to these rules (I've broken them in the past but not this year! I promised myself.) So without further delay, here's some of my favorite tracks of this year in no particular order other than release date.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)", II
I'm ashamed to admit that I essentially forgot all about this tune/this year's latest UMO record until right around Best Of season. While the majority of II sounds rather like it could've easily been included UMO's self-titled debut, "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)" stuck out as one of those tunes that's so remarkably distinctive. Much of Unknown Mortal Orchesta's songwriting aesthetic involves such heavy repetition that it's hard to remember that it's actually pretty damn inventive. Take "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)" whose lyrics I never really took note of until UMO released their acoustic Blue Record - manages to spin a whole delicate yarn out of a fun fact about sharks. It also really highlights Ruban Nielsen's vocals in a way I never appreciated them before - soft and supple, even as the track pulses forward unrelentingly.

Local Natives - "Breakers", Hummingbird
It's no coincidence that my favorite track from Local Natives' triumphant sophomore effort is the first single. While Hummingbird is unfettered emotional flood, "Breakers", curtails a little bit of that in favor of a subtle build and noticeable pop sensibility much like a port in the storm. It's no coincidence that it's smack dab in the middle of the album either. It's a refreshing breath of exactly why you should like Local Natives and delightfully so. The swooping, craning vocals, the intense drumming, the surging melodies and atypical songwriting structure, these are all undeniable parts of not only what makes "Breakers" work but also Local Natives' own strengths. "Breakers" is Local Natives operating at peak performance. Maturing between albums but still creating something not wholly unfamiliar with just the right influx of new ideas, "Breakers" is a track that has dominated an insane amount of my time since its initial release and rightly so - it's an utterly captivating piece of pop songcraft while serving an important purpose in the context of its album. It's great - no ifs and or buts about it.  

The Cave Singers - "Have to Pretend", Naomi
A very special (one-sided) relationship formed between the Cave Singers and I when they opened for Fleet Foxes at United Palace. Despite being absolutely incredible, when they played a dancier number ("Black Leaf" and invited the audience to leave their seats to rock out with them, no one did. It was tragic and in retrospect I should've gotten up and made a total goof of myself if only to validate the band's awesomeness. "Have to Pretend" is essentially another go at infectious dance music for the folk rock band and it's a rather valiant effort. The kind of song that'd probably move a venue full of jaded/lazy New Yorkers easy that manages encapsulate what makes Cave Singers so damn enjoyable. The band continue to demonstrate a charming familiarity in creating ear catching folk rambles and Peter Quirk remains a consummate front man his rasp adding a bit of grit to easy breezy melodies of "Have to Pretend".

Night Beds - "Ramona", Country Sleep
My introduction to Nashville based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen aka Night Beds was in "Even If We Try", a emotive little ditty that made ample use of the man's golden immaculate falsetto. Little did I know a song like "Ramona" could come from such a man. That's not to say the two songs are that remarkably different - Yellen's lyricism is still top notch as are his vocals but "Ramona" far more faster paced than I expected from the man whose vocals flourished at such a slow crawl. Unsurprisingly, "Ramona" marked the end of Yellen's sole proprietorship of Night Beds and shift towards that as band leader, lead vocalist, and songwriter. "Ramona" is an entirely different breed of song but one that ultimately still finds displays what's so endearing about Yellen. Even finding room for his falsetto at the song's apex.

Born Ruffians - "Needle", Birthmarks
In terms of a contender for outright best track from an indie pop group released in 2013, Born Ruffians would win that coveted honor. There really is no arguing that fact. In addition to being an absolutely brilliant album opener, it's got big pop hooks which is sort of casually slides into. It's not big from the get go. No, instead Born Ruffians perform a magnificent slow build that cements the track's complete and utter pop decimation. The band is firing on all cylinders after the triumphant return and it shows. "Needle" is a pretty much immaculate piece of songcraft that pretty much transcends Birthmarks. Normally that might be a bit of a bad thing but here's it's quite good and hopefully a sign of things to come. The bar has been set and Born Ruffian pretty much have only themselves to beat.

Night Panther - "Fire", Shaking Through Vol. 4
It's always a good sign when the live version of a song is favored above the recorded version and that's the case with Night Panther's "Fire". Already a favorite cut on their self-titled debut record they released this year, there's a certain magic of the group that's thankfully been captured by those dedicated engineers over at Weathervane Music and their Shaking Through sessions. "Fire" is perhaps the best introduction to Night Panther for the tragically uninitiated featuring their trademark sassy dance pop and creamy falsettos which is guaranteed to make you want to dance - unless you're dead.

Empress Of - "Tristeza", Systems EP
Empress Of's "Tristeza" is a testament to how you can be completely consumed by a piece of music by feel alone. The emotive gem is in Spanish and yet is so beautifully sung and played that you don't even really understand what she's singing to be utterly captivated by her words. There's very little else to focus on besides the words but even despite the language barrier - enough of its meaning can be gleaned from tone. That and Rodriguez's brilliant vocal choices as she mimics the intense intakes of breath that occur during an extreme cry session.

Thin Hymns - "Lady Mountain", Black Water EP
While Thin Hymns had essentially won me over with their Logic & Theory EP, this year's Black Water EP was beast of an entirely different breed. Where Logic & Theory was more experimental than it was pop, Black Water carried no such distinction. That's not to say that they hung up their tonal shifts and textural interplay entirely but Black Water took Thin Hymns propensity for complex soundscapes and pinned them to melodies whose poppy tendencies were far more immediate. "Lady Mountain", arguably the most stellar of Black Water's four tracks, is the perfect blend of Thin Hymns experimental proclivities and a noticeable forward momentum. It's expansive - clocking in at 6 minutes and change but never suffers even an instant of lethargy. It rolls forward pretty much unceasingly while the band interlocks in a multitude in an interesting array of formations.

BRAIDS - "Amends", Flourish//Perish
While Montreal art pop trio BRAIDS create the kind of albums that not only follow a cohesive flow but seems to take organic songcraft to its very limits, there's always a song tucked in their that I manage to love more than the others. On Native Speaker it was "Plath Heart" and on Flourish//Perish, it turned out to be the very first single "Amends". While not officially a dance band everything about "Amends" lends itself towards that reaction. From its steady (though syrupy) pulse, to its wide expanse, it's not only serves a dance fodder but it's also one of those tracks (especially live) where BRAIDS sophisticated polish is entirely responsible for that effect. Each layer is regarded with an exceptional amount of care like the assembly of a stain glass window and the combined effect is way more impressive than all of its various moving parts.

San Fermin - "Sonsick", San Fermin
If I'm being completely honest, almost any off the San Fermin record featuring the lovely ladies could probably ended up on a list like this. While San Fermin in its whole is a complicated, varied, and potentially polarizing record there's no doubt to anyone who hears say "Crueler Kind", "Sonsick", "Oh Darling", or even "Daedalus (What We Have)" that while Ellis Ludwig-Leone is a talented composer, he can write an exceptional pop hook. And yet, the success of that is certainly due in part to the appearance and delivery of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. Their vocals are bold, brassy, and immaculate. What separates "Sonsick" from San Fermin's other brushes with pop however is in the just-so way everything comes together in it. The brass, the lyrics that resonate outside of the album's concept, the way that slowly rises into triumphant splendor - not as an ebb and flow but as flood of heartwarming emotion.

Son Lux - "TEAR Part 1"/"TEAR Part 2", TEAR
Son Lux has a had a pretty exceptional year. Working with yMusic on their new album, as well as with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti on their collaboration Sisyphus (formerly s/s/s), it's hard to imagine Ryan Lott has any time for his own music and yet, he certainly has. While 2013 saw the release of another full length in Lanterns, Lott's experimental piece TEAR is more than worthy of its own praise. A song in two parts, TEAR does precisely what Son Lux does so well - takes a song apart at its very foundations and plays around with all the various combination those parts can make when paired differently. It's a nifty enough idea in theory but even more impressive is how Son Lux can pull such a thing off without revealing his hand. By inviting you into to his creative method somewhat, he shines a light on his own brilliance but also obscuring the truly important bits of what he's doing by music sleight of hand.

Mister Lies - "Magichour" ft KNOWER
While the summation of his debut record Mowgli did very little for me, "Dionsyian" and the constant almost unrelenting praise from mutual friends has essentially insured that I approach each Mister Lies release from now until pretty much forever with an open mind and a trusting heart. This approach was rewarded quite quickly with "Magichour". Featuring Los Angeles duo KNOWER's Genevieve Artadi on vocals, "Magichour" is like a rocket ride. Slow and methodical as the gear is checked and everyone prepares for lift off before everything gels in the most magical way. It's the kind of track where absolutely everything about the track works to its favor. Mister Lies' own touches in the form of the arrangements and construction and even the little experimental flourishes create a unique and engaging path while Artadi's vocals light and feathery serves to illuminate that path and all it's wonderful curves and bends.

Hop Along - "Sister Cities", Shaking Through Vol. 4
Frances Quinlan is the kind of frontwoman every rock band should have - articulate both in her songwriting and vocal delivery, openly emotive with a punky edge "Sister Cities" spotlights all Quinlan's strengths without sidelining the rest of band.  Probably Hop Along's best song thus far, "Sister Cities" takes everything that worked so well on Hop Along's 2012 debut Get Disowned and distilled them into a single song. Quinlan's narrative voice is clearer and sharper, the band tighter and fiercer when the need arises. There's none of the genre-suspension of Get Disowned but that's hardly necessary. Instead " Sister Cities" is content to be the sort of intelligent rock song that keeps you coming back over and over again. In that it succeeds in spades.

The Shakin' Babies - "Easy Meal", Stoked Casual
While I was almost instantly charmed by Minnesota doo wop/garage rock hybrid The Shakin' Babies at this year's FMLY Fest Brooklyn, it wasn't until I was home curled up with their excellent debut record Stoked Casual that I realized just how many levels the band operate on. Songs like "Mary Wants to Rock" sounded like your standard rock 'n roll jam but as I listened to deeper cuts The Shakin' Babies revealed themselves are clever and occasionally humorous songwriters hiding tales of devil worship and drug addiction under sugary sweet melodies. "Easy Meal" just happens to be my favorite of those dual operating tracks. Lyrically describing a shark attack I was at a loss for whether it was an elaborate metaphor or if it was really just that. The correct answer may never be known (I suspect it's both) but the track is downright infectious - a perfect demonstration of the bands 60s inspired garage pop.  

North Highlands - "Halo", "I'll Do My Best"/"Halo" 7"
When news that Brooklyn indie pop outfit North Highlands had new songs in the works I could hardly contain my excitement. Their debut album Wild One was a surefire favorite and an eclectic blend of styles that converged into this interesting folk-inspired dance-pop played on rock instruments. No one could accuse North Highlands of copying their style. On their latest release the "I'll Do My Best"/"Halo" 7", North Highlands didn't pick up where they left of. No, instead they turned their sights toward surf rock. But North Highlands are nothing if not creative and their dip into summery beach pop was anything but typical. "Halo", surprisingly doesn't sound like North Highlands jumping the shark and trying a new genre on for size. Instead "Halo" (and "I'll Do My Best") is their own take still featuring their sweetly sung, dance inducing brand of indie pop goodness. A slightly new look for North Highlands sure but not one that incredibly far removed from their Wild One days.

Salt Cathedral - "Fields", Salt Cathedral EP
Arguably one of my favorite discoveries of 2013, Salt Cathedral are a band that appeal to virtually ever part of music-loving ways - a fantastic live band with intricate yet accessible song composition and real sense of original vision, Salt Cathedral (formerly il Abanico) are hopefully destined for big things. To the great benefit of the Brooklyn via Columbia band, pretty much any song from the sextet's EP could've ended up here but "Fields" with its radiant, sunny sheen just happens to properly articulate what's to love about the band. The progressive rock recalling layering, the rhythmic complexity,the soaring emotive and deeply felt vocals - it's all there, masterfully doled out and interlocked into a heady rush of pure elation that is "Fields"

Kishi Bashi - "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!"
There really is no denying Kishi Bashi's unique talent for layers. Which seems unsurprising considering it's the main method of his song composition but K. has an ability to exceed above and beyond your expectations there. Another one of K.'s fantastic psychedelic trips, "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It" takes flight almost immediately with its vibrant, soaring melodies. Kishi Bashi always seems to be at his most innovative when dreaming up unique ways to dress up love songs and there's certainly no shortage of creativity here. "Philosophize With It! Chemicalize With It!" is a wildly enjoyable flight of fancy that finds the perfect balance between its high energy and an emotive core. K.'s words ring true but they also shimmer and glide while they do so. They're a fresh take on an age-old idea that Kishi Bashi finds a way to make extra resonant.

Gracie - "Jackson II"
Gracie is anything but a conventional artist and that's probably most apparent on "Jackson II" a track for the mixed media project for Kai Flanders' novella 'The Red Bicycle'. Inspired by/accompanying the novella's first chapter Gracie makes pretty inventive use of the chapter's two most important elements - a plane and the titular red bicycle. But they're subtle touches - not utilized to excess while the track bops along at it's leisurely pace on just the right side of dance-y. It's the kind of track the even separate from 'The Red Bicycle' soundtrack manages to be delightfully engaging and charmingly clever.

The Debauchees - "I've Got Energy", Big Machines and Peculiar Beings
What can I say about The Debauchees that I haven't already said before? I've written about them a bunch of times in their rather short band life and they continue to amaze. On "I've Got Energy" they put their absolute best foot forward allowing their music to speak for what could've been an agonizing/annoying gimmick. Teaching themselves their instruments after deciding to be in a band, being young with clearly classic music tastes, the single ahead of their excellent debut album Big Machines and Peculiar Beings combines fiery intensity with Sydney Chadwick's cool purr. The Debauchees offer up the kind of tunes that'd make any rock purist proud and rightly so.

ARMS - "Sleepwalker", EP2
Truth be told, a large part of my excitement concerning the release date of ARMS Summer Skills follow up EP2 was purely based on my ability to own and listen to "Sleepwalker" whenever I damn well pleased. I had spent over a year hearing the track at every ARMS show I attended (which happened to be A LOT) and it always stuck out to me the best display of Todd Goldstein's pop chops and my new favorite ARMS songs. That's not to say the other songs weren't enjoyable in their own ways but "Sleepwalker" was at the forefront of my memory and the wait for their EP to find a home was made all the more laborious due to its absence from my collection of dangerously repeated tracks. While Goldstein set out to tell stories outside/separate of ARMS supernatural thriller Summer Skills, "Sleepwalker" delivered where no other EP2 cut did. Invoking a visceral reaction due not only to Goldstein's intelligent, descriptive lyricism but also the track's moments of pop mastery. When Goldstein sings "I want you always", it's evidently the track's climax, the tipping point where the track finally lets loose all its built up energy and the result is nothing short of deeply enjoyable. It doesn't barrel forward to the end like such a dam burst is to wont to do but there's no more build up, the track unravels and marvelously so. "Sleepwalker" succeeds where no other EP2 track does because it pairs arresting musical moments with the frenetic energy ARMS reserves mostly for their live sets. Goldstein still retains the knack for building these engaging little worlds but the charm of "Sleepwalker" is in its domino effect as Goldstein's meticulous world building crumbles in ts frantic finish.

Chris Holm - "Sealed", Kilos
Chris Holm's solo record Kilos, his first stepping out from bands Young Dreams and Bloody Beach (and a multitude of others, I'm sure), happens to be an album of experiments. That sounds a little like Holm putters around unsure of what he's doing but he does that much is exceptionally clear. The album is a blend of Holm's varying influences and inspirations that somehow managed to be stay moored by his passions in them. From the sort of tropicalia hip-hop hybrid of "H.A.A.R.P." to the psychedelic rock stylings of "Raleigh's Peak", it's an album of unprecedented musical exploration. Each song is special and good in its own way but, and forgive me if I'm gushing, "Sealed" is a real standout. It's Chris Holm's try at singer/songwriter pop game like pals Sondre Lerche and Matias Tellez but it's uniquely his own, making extensive use of layers and textures and this sound and that in a way that embellishes not distracts from Holm's songwriting. There's some poignant lyricism crafted here that definitely establishes Holm's solo talents and not just his talents are an ensemble artist. "Sealed" is the moment I realized Kilos would not be enough. Holm's needs to make more solo music and often. Here's hoping he does so.

R. L. Kelly - "Feels Real", Angeltown
Since being introduced to R.L. Kelly's empowering brand melancholy pop at Orchid Tapes' Brooklyn showcase, it's been my utmost pleasure to keep taps on her, watching and hearing her grow her small but powerfully engaging collection of songs. While there's been no shortage of great R.L. Kelly songs this year, my favorite might very well be "Feels Real" which was featured on Orchid Tapes Los Angeles show compilation tape Angeltown. Not quite sparse as "Life's a Bummer" but not as crunchy as "You're Not the Only Monster in Hell. It's a pleasant little number that engages in some absolutely earcatching musical moments with not only the vocals but its guitar melodies.

Lapland - "Metal Lungs", Lapland
Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Josh Mease underwent a bit of a renaissance, reemerging under the moniker Lapland. It takes a particularly gifted songwriter to have not only a song but a whole album engage bases on songwriting talents alone but that's precisely what Mease does with Lapland. "Metal Lungs"combines normal singer/songwriter heartbreak fodder with a rather uplifting take on it. Invoking dusty Midwestern plains, "Metal Lungs" sounds like a rallying cry as Mease's moving, creamy vocals are employed like a cleverly concealed weapon.

Sondre Lerche - "Rejection #5", Public Hi-Fi Sessions #01
Despite the fact that 2013 held all the faint whispers of a full length record in the works from Norwegian popsmith Sondre Lerche, sadly it was not meant to be. Instead it seems like in 2014, Lerche will be doubling down on releases and that suits me just fine. However 2013 wasn't completely without its fair share of Lerche jams and in addition to takes on Scott Walker's "The Plague" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball", Sondre Lerche let two songs free from his majestic pharaoh's tomb of an archive in the form of Two Way Monologue era "Rejection #5" and "Screen Door" for Jim Eno's Public Hi-Fi Sessions. The twist being of course that "Rejection #5" was unfinished until recently and was recorded with Eno taking part for the release. Though written around Two Way Monologue it's got a very Phantom Punch era sassiness thrown in for good measure. The fact that it's basically a new track at this point shows that not only has Lerche not lost touch with his roots but that his genre-bending ways aren't long forgotten. "Rejection #5" is a funky little number which manages to bring the past 5 years or so of Lerche's musical career full circle with a clever little reference to George Lazenby. Unexpected collaborations and inspirations abound and the result is a song of pretty much boundless confidence. The kind of song that'd soundtrack Travolta's cocky strut if Saturday Night Fever was remade with modern music for some weird reason. A jam in every sense of the word that's a more than suitable placeholder for Lerche's forthcoming 7th full length.

Honorable Mention:
Alex G - "Joy"

Conveyor - "Pushups", "Mammal Food"/"Pushups" 7"

Daughn Gibson - "Kissin on the Blacktop", Me Moan

Gracie - "Creature Pleaser", Bleeder EP

Hiss Golden Messenger - "The Serpent Is Kind (Compared to Man)", Haw

Incan Abraham - "Tuolumne", "Tuolumne"/"Whidbey" 7"

Monday, January 20, 2014

Genders - Get Lost (2013)

Portland indie rock quartet Genders' journey began long before their first demos emerged back in April of 2012. Back when half of its members were in the tragically short-lived Youth and its summery jangle rock. In fact, several of Genders first tracks recalled those beach rock jams in "Show Me" and even EP/Get Lost track "Golden State". However, as the foursome offered up more and more tunes saw the light of day, it was clear there was more to the band than sunny surf-friendly melodies and as the band incorportated darker textures and developed the art of the longform jam, the development of a full length of unique and worthwhile tracks became not only an inevitability but also cause of anticipation. 
On "Something to Get You By", their full length's heavy album opener, Genders pull absolutely no punches. Sure to be most people's introduction to Genders, it starts right out the gate featuring the full band in a display of shoegaze-y fuzz before the portentous stormclouds disperse to reveal Maggie Morris as the guide for the tumultuous journey. Her vocals are light but seem incapable of drowning in the sea of haze as the band weave a complex web of intense jams around her. 

While not everyone is likely to have followed Genders from the start (both its own and its past-life as Youth), it is precisely this that enables the band to function so effectively. Their guitarists' (Stephen Leisy and Maggie Morris) familiarity aids in the intricacy of their impressive clustered jangle. Most of Get Lost's tracks feature the band's instrumental prowess and for a band that was less tight-knit, less precise, less practiced, and less engaged it would be sure to be their downfall - creating an album that not only seemed overly long but dragging and painfully so. This isn't the case with Genders on Get Lost - who even revisit previously released tracks to give them whole new context. "Twin Peaks" is a whole new beast, less oppressive but with a far more ethereal edge as Morris' vocals are given a ghoulish glow due to its altered production. Her shouts of "don't want to see, don't want to hear, you love me" ring out like warnings with higher stakes than discomfort. They're even able to fit a purely instrumental track on the album in "How Long Can I Wait?" that's interesting in its own right and not just as a bridge between the brighter and darker-tinged album cuts. 

A vocal supporter of Genders from the start, it's amazing to see the band's transformation. Get Lost plays like an true rock album from a group of talented performers. Ones that don't need a crazy amount of studio time to get it right. Get Lost's greatest achievement is in it's duality - part shredfest with an emotional resonant core. Its tracks are definitely jams but mindfully so - the band's talents are fully on display without the need for any excessive spotlighting and the cohesiveness not only of the tracks themselves but the album itself is an impressive feat. It's a worthwhile placeholder for what's sure to be an utterly incredible live experience. Here's hoping it's not too long before Genders get to make tours a regular part of their lives. It's certainly a must for a band this good at what they do. 

You can stream/download Genders' full length debut Get Lost:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Listen: Jessica Pratt: "Game That I Play"

                                                           (photo by Henry Diltz)

Stop the presses, hold the phone, and be prepared to drop pretty much everything else that you would otherwise be doing - San Franscisco singer/songwriter Jessica Pratt has another new song. "Game That I Play" is another in growing list of completed tracks that hopefully signals a follow up to her self-titled debut record. Like "Fortuna" and that other unnamed ditty that Pratt recorded for All Our Noise, "Game That I Play" arrives similarly without much ceremony, through the joint efforts of a Belgian Soundcloud account and the detective prowess (Google alert perhaps) of Gorilla vs Bear.

"Game That I Play" follows along in Pratt's beautifully somber 70s recalling folk stylings. From its carefully spun narrative to its perfectly utilized bits of dissonance, Pratt continues to operate on an entirely different plane than your standard singer/songwriter. Pratt doesn't resolve herself to merely lyrical feats of brilliance but instead pairs them with musical moments that stun with their simple beauty. Pratt rises to meet her poetic lyricism with beauty of its own - that of her own voice which outperforms her guitar here. Almost poppy vocal riffs answer as Pratt employs practically every part of her register. The result is a tune that's textural dense but delicate so. Filling each necessary inch with something terrifically worthwhile.

Jessica Pratt is currently on an European tour after which she'll play a set at Brooklyn Night Bazaar on February 21st. So if you're not lucky enough to be a European, you can catch her if you're lucky enough to be a New Yorker.

(via Gorilla vs Bear)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Watch: Wild Beasts - "Wanderlust"

To say I've been waiting for a new Wild Beasts record since the released their last record Smother back in 2011 would not be an understatement at all. But the English art rock band needs time to create and I suppose their fans have no other course of action but to wait. Recently the band has started to drop several hints as well as appear in collaborations that the new record was not only done but coming. And soon. Today, instead of their normal website, was a full screen video player of their latest single "Wanderlust".

Where do I begin? How do I love "Wanderlust"? Let me count the ways. While one of my favorite things about Wild Beasts was the juxtaposition between their obvious sophistication and the not so classy subject matter (Sex. I'm talking about the Wild Beasts talking about sex.), they're not one-trick ponies and they have other things to sing about.

The video for "Wanderlust" takes four very different characters and linked by a common thread of being on the run and kind of goes to town with that. Two very much have reasons to be: The Quarterback and The Thief run as part of their jobs while The Good Lady and The Girl are on the run from others. Let me back up. Because Wild Beasts aren't the kind of band to drop you in the middle of the action and hope you pick up on whatever the hell is happening. The protagonists don't start at a run, just like the Wild Beasts don't start at the climax. It's a slow build, a steady climb, a graceful surge as the floodgates of adrenaline and emotion burst wide open.

Wild Beasts' use of synth are nothing sort of elegant, the drums clean and polished, and Hayden Thorpe's vocals are stunning immaculate. Wild Beasts continue to create music with a watchmaker's precision which is even more captivating giving the songs' messy subject matter. Welcome back Wild Beasts, we missed you.

No word just yet on the new album but a new single is incredibly good news so stay tuned for some news on that hopefully very soon in the future.

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Palindromes"

Sondre Lerche has been teasing a new album he's been recording for some time now. Described intially as an ambient/experimental project, Lerche's only recently finally let the cat out of the bag. Rather than a proper record which we're just a due for (and Lerche promises is most assuredly on its way), the project was the recording of a soundtrack with longtime collaborator Kato Adland for the forthcoming indie thriller The Sleepwalker and while the trailer featured a chilling version of "You Sure Look Swell", "Palindromes" is our first taste of original content.

Beginning with a jog-like intro (aided in part by Dave Heilman's drumming skills) "Palindromes" manages to keep enough of Lerche's trademark pop chops while submerging it in a great deal of eerie that makes the track's alternate purpose quite clear. Unlike Lerche's work for the Dan in Real Life soundtrack, "Palindromes" doesn't sound like it could just be another album cut which is an exciting thought if you really think about it. Instead of disguising a potential track from his upcoming seventh album as a background noise, Lerche gets to flex his experimental muscle for a spell. "Palindromes" maybe be one of the soundtrack's five vocal tracks but allows itself to set a good deal of the ambiance, its not as unsettling as the updated "You Sure You Look Swell" but its not sunshine and rainbows either.

The Sleepwalker promises to be weird and creepy and I can't wait to see how Lerche's soundtrack helps articulate that. Here's hoping the wait isn't too long before its starts showing in theaters.

You can pre-order The Sleepwalker soundtrack now via Lerche's own Mona Records before its January 14th release date. Check out the trailer:

The Debauchees - Big Machines and Peculiar Beings (2013)

My first cursory listen to Louisville rock trio The Debauchees, recommended to me by Zach at We Listen For You, rather quickly established them as a band to watch for me. Both their singles the incendiary "I've Got Energy" and the sauntering "Rancid Dancin'"scratched itches I wasn't even aware I had and when news quickly spread that their debut album was coming and coming fast, I was giddy with excitement and happily marked the date down on my calendar.

The album's starter track, the eponymous "Big Machines and Peculiar Beings" leads you into a false sense of security. Considerably down tempo from the first two singles "I've Got Energy" and "Rancid Dancin'", "Big Machines and Peculiar Beings" is as yawny as a sunning cat at least initially. It engages in a bit of playful mood swings as intensity mounts and then disperses seemingly at the drop of hat in a way not wholly unlike "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Sidney Chadwick's vocals are a gentle stretch, a slow drawl, and a soft purr before its escalation, splitting in two- one part still sultry alto the other high-pitched chattering. While owning her uncoolness, a lot of the Debauchees' and by extension the album's exceptional moments occur right before tempestuousness when Chadwick is the epitome of relaxed cool.

That's not to discredit the trio's fiery, energetic delivery. Most rock bands try and succeed there, The Debauchees however prove that when slowed down they can still not only maintain your interest but stimulate your sense and blow your mind. It takes a sort of maturity to exercise the restraint necessary for Chadwick to establish her quirky songwriting chops and the band rallies accommodatingly around her, ready to dial things up when the opportunity calls for it and they certainly do so and often. But for the songs' short lengths there isn't the light-speed rush towards the finish.

Ultimately and thankfully, The Debauchees' isn't just about Chadwick though she is the most spotlighted member as their singer. The Debauchees handle themselves with equal-tempering, creating their tumult with an even hand and egalitarian showcasing ability. Big Machines and Peculiar Beings is a fun and riotously enjoyable affair. Its songs are mostly self-contained tales but manage to stack up with peculiar connectedness. An album where just about each song is a highlight for its own score of delightfully offered musical moments. Big Machines and Peculiar Beings is a record that rocks and rocks well, a scrumptious debut from the trio of charming misfits.

Big Machines and Peculiar Being is out now on sonaBLAST! records. You can grab it digitally or on CD via Bandcamp here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Listen: Wilder Maker - "Song for the Singer"

Introduced to Wilder Maker - the work of Gabriel Birnbaum and friends from his cover of Will Stratton's "The War is Over" on the Will Stratton's benefit album. I was pretty taken with his take so when it was announced that Wilder Maker were releasing a new album - their sophomore record Year of Endless Light, I was completely on board. It's an album of considerable length and complexity. So much so that I've only recently been able to digest it in full.

It's no secret that I'm a lover of longform pop music. If you can stretch a song out longer than 3+ minutes while still maintaining my attention, you're a better songwriter than most in my eyes. Wilder Maker's "Song for the Singer" is a 12 and a half minute sprawl worth each and every minute. Anchored by Birnbaum's smooth baritone, it pairs patient folky narratives with forward-pushing pop convention and rock interludes. That's essentially how Birnbaum and his collaborators go about gathering your vested interest in its subtle creep. It's an tuneful ebb and flow - the melodies memorable and lovingly arranged while there's a significant amount of instrumental breakdowns and solos that you're essentially always hearing something almost entirely new. It's not a cheap grab at your attention or a series of different songs stitched together under one title, "Song for the Singer" is delightfully cohesive, the push and pull utilized to highlight the talents of Wilder Maker's band members while also pushing the narrative forward.

I'm the first person to cry foul if a song is unnecessarily long but that's clearly not the case here. It all gentle rises towards a shout-sung climax which subtly reveals the genre-straddling past of Birnbaum and friends. It's a bit of a time investment but one that ultimately rewards with just how madcap the delivery is. "Song for the Singer" succeeds not only due to Wilder Maker's talents but also its commitment to form. It's a strongly recommended highlight of their sophomore record Year of Endless Light.

Listen to "Song for the Singer"now, listen/buy/download Year of Endless Light here.