About these ads

What matters in the world of popular music.

Posts tagged “Alternative Pop

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!

About these ads

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 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.



Chicago’s Moritat pushes the envelope while making music to chill by.

One listen to “Automatic Lover” by Moritat showcases that there’s plenty of great stuff to be done with chilled-out electronic-pop fusion. This is a song which morphs numerous times during its seven minutes, constantly shifting to keep listeners on our toes. The great thing about Clill Blanzin, which has only been out for a little over a week, is that Chicago’s Moritat, a power-trio which  clearly doesn’t like to repeat itself, knows how far to push an audience before pulling back and shifting musical directions.

As a band, Moritat consistently experiments with its sonic palate, making lazy comparisons seem pointless. “Cats,” the single off the new album, provides the most radio-worthy track on the entire LP, but even that song is a genre-bending experiment in how much depth and creativity casual listeners will put up with to find a hidden gem. Here’s hoping, as I have long believed, that listeners are far more open to new things than most industry folks give credit for. Moritat isn’t always the easiest band to love from the first pressing of the play button, but the fact that they can put out hard-driving pop-rock and grooving experimental electronic-based fusions on the same album deserves wider notice.

FEATURED SONG: The Royal Concept – “Gimme Twice”

The Royal Concept

The Royal Concept’s latest video takes infectious pop to a new level!

Stockholm’s The Royal Concept has a ripping new video for “Gimme Twice,” which features the band being forced to perform like puppets under the total control of their handlers. The song itself is so mindlessly infectious, it instantly reminds one of the Wombats’ This Modern Glitch, which was dominated by hook-filled nuggets “Tokyo” and “Anti-D.” The key to enjoying the Royal Concept, however, is understanding they’re not taking themselves nearly as seriously as Wombats lead singer Matthew Murphy. To the contrary, this is dance-infused pop to set your feet on fire. There’s no time for serious considerations. “Come on, say it out loud so they all can hear!” their lead singer howls at the chorus “I’m the one for you …” By the end of the listen, you’ll believe it, and you’ll want to hear more. Thankfully, their full self-titled EP is available to provide exactly that.

TWEET THIS: Anthony Blaine and the Barebones Orchestra – “Dear Mother Nature”

Anthony Blaine and the Barebones Orchestra

No bones about it, this is something you’ll want to hear!

There are all those songs which get the chance to go viral and there’s simply no talent behind the creation of the song, as though it was just slapped together for hits. Then there’s Anthony Blaine and the Barebones Orchestra, putting out mind-blowing clips like this one which, aside from sporting a laid back visual aesthetic, brings to the table amazingly ear-catching music. Once you hear it, there’s no denying the song’s addictive qualities. Blast this one from the speakers at your Independence Day picnic, and then blast it to all your social networking friends. Some music’s just too fun to leave gathering moss in the forest of anonymity.

FEATURED SONG: Troup – “Runaway”


LA’s Troup brings a fresh take on the 90s Alternative sound

I was gonna be a racing driver
Going hundreds of miles an hour
In a fast car around a track
You were gonna love me
‘Til the stars fell from the sky
And I was gonna love you, girl, right back

Los Angeles’ Troup has been getting a lot of radio love in the region for their debut album Last Chance For Romance, which has an alt-pop mix of Wilco and Tonic. The standout of the album is easily “Runaway,” a rich sweet nugget of 90s pop nostalgia which manages to be catchy and upbeat despite being about the woman Alex Troup let get away. Though most of the 90s rock bands I grew up on will likely be relegated to a discount bin, Troup goes after a loftier goal — bringing the alternative rock of that era into the realm of classic rock. In the end it’s all about how good the song is, and “Runaway” is a repeater — once you have the hook in your head you’ll be singing it everywhere you go. This is proof a song doesn’t need to be complicated to be a keeper.

FEATURED SONG: Clockwork Radio – “Feel It Up”

Clockwork Radio

Clockwork Radio

Clockwork Radio

Something about this new song “Feel It Up” by Clockwork Radio makes me think of a sonic alliance between Vampire Weekend and Crowded House. It’s an invigorating pop listen which builds its reputation more and more as you play it. Featured prominently on their new EP Unbuntu, which is available via purchase at Bandcamp, or for free if you choose to “Pay With A Tweet” by sharing the EP on Twitter or by suggesting the EP to your friends on Facebook.These alt-rockers, based in Wales, have had a measure of success in parts of Europe, but to this point have been an undiscovered gem here in the States. Here’s hoping they don’t stay that way for long — songs like this need to be spread around!

SINGLE REVIEW: Leonard Friend – “Every Woman”

Leonard Friend Every Woman

Leave it to Leonard Friend to continue to spread the funky mantle of white-boy soul in the absense of Justin Timberlake. “Every Woman” ups the ante* from what we’ve already heard on his Lynyrd Frynd EP, building on an eerily oriental-tinged melody with enough hints of Michael Jackson and Prince-inspired audio fuckery to keep even the most jaded listener pressing repeat long into the night. This is what “Hear! Hear!” was made for, and if it doesn’t convince you of the immediate hook-worthiness of Leonard Friend, nothing I ever say will. “This must be something else,” he sings, and he bloody well means it. Nothing else in today’s musical landscape can properly prep you. Just listen!


* download the mp3 for free: right click, then “save as”

ALBUM REVIEW: My Arcadia – “Stay EP”

My Arcadia, particularly on their single “Sail On,” brings to the table a particularly fresh blend of alternative pop which bridges the gap expertly between melodic punk and vocal elements as far-flung as rock and alt-country. In short, this is an EP which will surprise first, then convert instant fans.

Album Review
My Arcadia – “Stay EP” (2012, Independent)

 New York’s My Arcadia hasn’t wasted a lot of time fighting for major-label deals or other outside bullshit. Their latest EP, Stay, establishes the band as one focused fully on the music itself, dedicated to pushing their sound in a direction few of their peers have attempted. Led by the fearless, peerless vocals of Jacqui Sandell, the band merges hard-hitting melodies with vocals of surprising depth and variance. My Arcadia, particularly on their single “Sail On,” brings to the table a particularly fresh blend of alternative pop which bridges the gap expertly between melodic punk and vocal elements as far-flung as rock and alt-country.

In short, this an EP which will surprise first, then convert instant fans. “Sail On” is the immediate highlight, but the title track allows the band, and Sandell in particular, to put an immediate stamp on what their music can be when everything comes together at one place and time. “Dreamer, keep on dreaming,” she sings. “I swear we’ll press on.” This is music for a generation weaned on alternative rock, still looking for bands willing to take a risk and write music they believe in rather than playing to current trends. When the band finally gets the exposure they deserve, it’ll be for this anthem. Here’s hoping Stay is just a glimpse of what My Arcadia still has up its sleeve.

FEATURED SONG: Wintersleep – “Nothing Is Anything Without You”


Winter nothing … this is summer sunshine for your musical soul.

Hearing this song for the first time this evening has been the highlight of my day. It’s that kind of song — a testament to the power of love to lift us above even the most trying times.

If it was easier to leave it alone
Why did you come here?
You forgot your lucky day
Remember I would do anything
No one can ever take your place
Nothing is anything without you, babe

Paste featured the song today, dubbing it “… an infectious three minute song that shows that the band is back in full force.” Indeed, this is the kind of sunshine-infused pop alternative which isn’t supposed to exist in 2012. Nova Scotia’s Wintersleep has won a Juno Award, played David Letterman’s show, and produced an album, Hello Hum, which (judging by this initial single) should immediately redefine “singalong pop” in our lives when it is released on May 15.

Seriously though, if it’s alright I’m going to leave you now and hit repeat a few more times, singing along loudly at the chorus. Listen yourself and you’ll soon be doing the same.

- – – – -

You’ll soon also have a chance to catch the band live as they head out on a limited US tour this spring as headliners, having already shared stages with acts like Pearl Jam, Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade, The Hold Steady and Paul McCartney.

May 29 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echo
May 30 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
May 31 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
June 1 – Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theater
June 2 – Victoria, BC @ Phillips Brewery
June 4 – Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore Caberet
June 5 – Calgary, AB @ Hifi Club
June 6 – Edmonton, AB @ The Pawn Shop
June 7 – Saskatoon, SK @ Amigos
June 8 – Winnipeg, MB @ Pyramid Cabaret
June 9 – Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar
June 11 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern
June 12 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
June 14 – Cincinnati, OH @ MOTR Pub
June 18 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
June 19 – Brooklyn. NY @ Knitting Factory
June 20 – Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar
August 3 – Montreal, QC @ Osheaga
August 25 – Squamish, BC @ Live In Squamish

Mae – “(A)fternoon EP”folk

Mae is a band with something of an identity crisis to work through. While the world — or at least the world that remembers them — recalls a relatively adventurous pop-punk group experimenting with the boundaries of pop music, the music you’ll find on (m)orning and (a)fternoon completely shatters the idea of boundaries. Mae has created a hybrid sound which owes as much to math-rock groups like Biffy Clyro as it does to alterna-rockers in the vein of Incubus, with not a bit of pop-punk drivel to muddy up the waters.

The band may only be two-thirds done with their opus, but they’ve already redefined what can be done with the EP as a modern form, creating with (a)fternoon an eight-track songscape that plays just as well as a suite as the songs do on an individual level. A lot of this may owe to the fact that these EPs are almost albums in themselves — the first two combined are enough to fill an 80-minute CD. But it’s clear that the band has a strong artistic vision for where they want these three albums to go.

A few individual songs do stand out from the pack. “The Fight Song (Crash and Burn)” is an epic eight minute romp that rock programmers should be drooling over, complete with stuttering percussion that forces you immedately out of your comfort zone as you listen. “In Pieces,” meanwhile, throws time-signature expectations out the window, an anthemic song that is going to drive listeners wild in a live setting. And the instrumental “Falling Into You” is an absolutely stunning example of a band throwing caution to the wind and simply making the music they want to make, for whatever audience chooses to come along for a listen.

Once we have them all together, able to be heard as one fluid composition, it may be difficult not to put these three EPs among the most innovative efforts of the past decade in the world of pop music. But taken on its own merits, (a)fternoon is just as impressive. I can’t think of a better way to spend my musical dollar than on this magnificent effort.

Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.

Brandi Carlile – “Give Up The Ghost”

There’s something great about an artist so comfortable in her own skin that she can be this confident on a record when she’s clearly most comfortable performing her music in a live setting. In fact, she told No Depression magazine, she often feels like a caged animal in the studio and had to force herself to record at odd hours to catch her voice in the perfect conditions to achieve that ethereal quality fans have come to know as her own distinct musical aura.

Give Up The Ghost, due out Tuesday on the Sony label, is her finest album yet … and as a huge fan of her sophomore album The Story that’s hard for me to say, considering how much I admired the music she crafted, often in single takes, with producer T-Bone Burnett. But she proves on this material that even with super-producer Rick Rubin behind the board and superstar contributions including Paul Buckmaster’s orchestra (“Pride And Joy”), Elton John’s piano (“Caroline”) and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls’ lush vocals (“Looking Out”) she manages to keep this material sounding freshly original and, above all, creative.

Leadoff single “Dreams” may be the catchiest song she’s released to radio to date, and it’s the kind of song which could, and should, earn her a wider audience than even The Story‘s 325,000 copies sold and numerous TV show placements were able to provide. But the album plays exceptionally well as a whole, with what is becoming a trademark for Carlile — absolutely no filler whatsoever. She’s a smart songwriter and she’s surrounded herself with top guest musicians, but the true strength of these songs is the backing band she’s toured and recorded with for years: twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth and cellist Josh Neumann. There’s a strong sense of continuity here on Give Up The Ghost and it pays off in spades with what may be among the top five albums of 2009 when all we pretentious critics start making such lists.

More interestingly, the album decelerates from its most indulgent arrangements at the start to its barest, most elemental effort, the album’s closer “Oh Dear.” It’s a move which often fails, as today’s listeners are frequently victims of their short attention spans. However, with Carlile’s album the strategy lends the album a great deal more heft. Listeners are lured into the album by the strong songwriting and they stay for the whole ride despite the eventual stripping away of instruments from the various arrangements. The result is a great reward, one of the most Beatlesque songs not written by Lennon / McCartney. It’s almost as good as The Story‘s “Shadow On The Wall,” a personal favorite.

Get this album quickly, you won’t regret it. Buy it for yourself and get a few extra copies for friends. It’s the kind of album you’ll hear and immediately want to share with everyone you meet. But that’s Carlile’s music in a nutshell. She’s an aural bridge-builder and her music is destined to be heard by a wide audience even as she makes it abundantly clear on album three that she’s not going to succumb to pretension or excess. She plans to continue to write meaningful music, marketing be damned.

And that’s how it bloody should be.