Fans of brit-pop inspired modern psychedelic rock, Elephant Stone is your new music savior with single “Heavy Moon”

Music like this virtually reviews itself. From the opening note, a long sustained organ hit with the gut-punch of Harvey Danger’s “Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the hook of “Heavy Moon” is immediate, as the band builds steadily upon a meaty layering of Kula Shaker, Oasis-inspired vocals, and the brilliantly elemental melodic structures of Elliott Smith.

The Montreal band, formed in 2009 by sitarist / bassist Rishi Dhir, won the Polaris music prize for debut-album The Seven Seas, and fans have long awaited the proper follow-up, which finally will see the light of day on February 5th. They picked a great opening single, as the video below will attest. But having heard the entire album through a few times now, I can attest the remainder of the album is chock full of keepers, including “Setting Sun,” which blends the hook of Kula Shaker’s “Tatva” with a jangle-pop melody the Gin Blossoms would have killed for in 1996. And “The Sea of Your Mind” is exactly the nine-minute progressive pop jam your mp3 player’s been begging for.

Plug your headphones in, hold on tight and get ready for the ride … but music this good is worth every second. Spread the word!

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Like the Wombats and Lighthouse and the Whaler before them, the Waylayers ride the new UK alt-pop wave with “Magnets”

If you haven’t yet heard of the Waylayers, be warned — with touches of EDM-inspired electronica blended into their ear-catching pop choruses, these East London boys focus intensely on their hooks. Like the Wombats and Lighthouse and the Whaler before them, the band fits perfectly amid the new wave of UK pop hit-makers, blending hints of electronic inspirations into alternative pop where the emphasis on strong melody and concise songwriting leads to songs which won’t easily escape your memory. “Magnets” in particular brings the synthesizers to the forefront, as fuzzed-out vocals hover just outside the frame, teasing us to listen closer as we find ourselves singing along. A yet-untitled EP awaits fans later this spring, but if there was ever a band tailor made for a steady stream of hit singles, Waylayers are it.

Alex Vans’ DJ Booth takes on modern-day cynicism via defiantly optimistic alt-pop

Based on his early press material, Alex Vans might be mistaken for a pretentious cynic who wants to overload his pop music with observational criticism. Even a casual listen to DJ Booth disproves that theory, however, as Vans confidently illustrates his ability to craft a winning pop hook. “Chase the Night” will have fans dancing in the aisles even if they choose to ignore his Ke$ha-baiting lyrics. “Financial Crisis Blues”, meanwhile, comes close to overplaying its hand lyrically, but the slow-burn blues stomp proves itself a winner upon repeat listens. And “Hide Away,” the album’s biggest surprise, saves the best for last, with a guitar, piano and percussion blast-off which echoes the best of 90′s alternative, as though reviving a long-lost Nirvana staple. The perfect album for a January release, Alex Vans’ DJ Booth may strain too hard to be culturally relevant, but he hits the mark more often than not musically, making the entire album worth the effort.

Stornoway opens the new year with a single like a “Knock to the Head” — Where’s this been all our lives?


I’m still wrapping my head around this astonishing new single from Stornoway, a band fully capable of dominating the pop music landscape any time they dare pick up an instrument. “Knock Me on the Head” announces the band’s upcoming album Tales from Terra Firma in grand style, with an epic instrumental intro melded to an all-in melodic pop single you’ll be singing all year.

You hung an albatross around my neck
When you needed to knock me on the head
And say “No! No! No! No!”

This is what great music can be when a band’s willing to push pop conventions beyond what we’ve been brought to expect. It’s refreshing to see that a band can pick up where an album as stunning as Beachcomber’s Windowsill left off and find ways to avoid that dreaded sophomore slump. This song is the perfect knock to the head needed at the start of a new year to remain vigilant, in search of pop music which can be more than just mere fluff. Though it’s way too early to start crafting “Best of 2013″ lists, Tales from Terra Firma tops my list of “must hear” albums.

Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave pushes the boundaries of audacious art-rock, the year’s first outright stunner

Alt-J

Alt J An Awesome WaveWhen I first heard Alt-J’s genre-slaughtering blend of dubstep, alternative pop and infectious art-rock, I didn’t believe my ears. I searched for these songs in as many iterations as possible, reaching for what made them so damned explosive. Clearly there’s a reason the album An Awesome Wave is a front-runner for England’s prestigious Mercury Prize — these college students turned alt-music saviors don’t care about the lines they’re about to obliterate. They’re simply out to make music that makes you feel something.

The album plays best as a whole, letting the art-rock through-line electrify the circuit. Still, for such a high-concept piece of experimentation, An Awesome Wave brims full of staggeringly infectious melodies. “Fitzpleasure” on its own serves as their ultimate example, almost Jethro Tull-ish in its ability to morph through countless genres and mini-songs in the course of a four minute pop jam. It also benefits from the dirtiest lyric ever to sneak its way into an otherwise radio-worthy hook. This is Dark Side of the Moon meets Hot Chip, and the mad juxtapositions stack the deck. You cannot listen to this and not want to move! It’s an unimpeachable imperative.

Music fans willing to subvert their expectations and delve into an album which is as much pop as artful, daring genre exploration will find much to savor about Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave. By decimating the line between art-rock and the mainstream, the band creates new horizons for every listener who confesses to give a shit about music as a creative art-form. Google around every corner, layers upon layers make this the year’s most surprising outright stunner.

The Zolas tie themselves up in knots to create amazing alt pop hooks and win hearts

The Zolas

If I’d heard this one a few months ago it could have easily been my song of summer. Okay, actually I did hear this song a month ago, but it fell off my desk only to earworm its way back in, and I’m damned glad for it. The Zolas have a distinct sound — “Knot In My Heart” opens with an oddly familiar strain akin to touches of Flight of the Conchords mock folk, but twists off-kilter keyboards and haunting vocals quickly enter the mix, crafting a pop hook as warped as anything you’ve heard this year. The band’s latest album, Ancient Mars, came out this week on Light Organ Records, and is definitely an album you’ll want on your Fall driving radar. If you enjoy music by the Wombats, with hooks taking modern techno-pop touches and merging them with 90s alt-nostalgia, the Zolas will be your new favorite.

Devil That I Know: Jason Karaban gets a little help from his friends on new album

Jason Karaban

We all trust the music we know, and from where Jason Karaban’s coming from on his new album Shift, it’s not a hard bet that this music’s soon to be permanently implanted in your heads. Trust me.

When you bring this much talent together, it’s hard not to craft a melodic alt-pop gem — or at least you wouldn’t think it’d be. Written jointly with Glen Phillips and featuring Counting Crows’ David Immergluck and Charlie Gillingham, as well as Lucy Schwartz, the song has everything working in its favor on paper. Still, it’s refreshing to hear “Devil That I Know,” the latest from Jason Karaban, off his upcoming album Shift, actually delivers on all that promise! This is a twisty hook of epic pop proportions, easily living up to the reputations of all involved.

Karaban, based in LA, got his start fronting the band Dragstrip Courage in ’97, which explains at least some of the depth of alt-rock nineties love you’ll feel when playing this new track. It’s a cross between early Counting Crows and more modern alternative in the vein of Only Son, and if the rest of the album is this good I suspect you’ll be hearing a lot more about it … from me and any of your musical friends with taste.