Everywhere I steady myself
I feel it burn me
It might burn you
It might make you feel
But being burned isn’t the only thing worth living for
I can always count on AbsolutePunk bands to bring the heat with their singles when they come my way, and Brooklyn’s own Sun + Flesh’s “Purge” is no different. This song is sonically as incendiary as the lyrics themselves, with Christoph Manuel leading the band in a frenetic, hook-filled search for mainstream success. The droning backing vocals hearken back to early Nirvana (“burning bright and take it slow” echoing the “all in all is all we are” mantra of “All Apologies”) but the brunt of the track is a sonic hybrid of modern rock and punk influences which manages to sound entirely original.
Their upcoming self-titled EP features “Purge” alongside four equally single-worthy tracks. “Breathe” features a more bone-crunching series of guitar riffs, along with screaming which echoes back to bands like Thrice, while “Open Flame” features fuzzed-out vocals and haunting guitar echoes to create a perfect into to another ear-bending rock hook. It all leads up to the magnificently addictive thunder of “Shades of Grey,” which breaks out the screams to all their full-throated effect. With mixing by Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Black Tide) and the deft production touches of Melissa Cross and Manuel himself, the EP is as expert a debut as you could expect from a rock outfit hitting the scene fully formed, ready to light the scene afire.
This live version of The Glass Child’s “Insanity” only has 48 views as of the time of this posting, but it’s a surprisingly solid version which incorporates the entirety of the twisty complicated arrangement in a setting which quickly proves her immense talent. Sweden native Charlotte Eriksson, who has relocated to London to professionally pursue her music, is ready and willing to get out there and complete musically with the likes of A Fine Frenzy’s Bomb in a Birdcage or Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns. With a voice like this, who could dare refuse to listen?
With two solid EPs under her belt, most recently December’s This Is How Ghosts Are Made (which features “Insanity”), The Glass Child makes a solid case for being the most interesting indie find so far in 2012. This is pop music of the highest order, a song you’ll be hard-pressed to get out of your head once you hear it — which makes this the BEST kind of pop fans can ask for!
There’s no way out, folks! No matter what you do, you’ll find yourself singing along with this one by the time you get to the finish line. “No Way Out” (officially out January 24th as the band’s new single) does a good job introducing Love and Zombies to the masses, as the brain-loving punk outlet for San Jose-based solo artist Doug Young (formerly of the Muckrukers and Pale Like You), exploring such heady topics as “growing up” while not letting go of teenage aspirations, youthful aggression or individuality, while not losing your head to the zombie hordes chasing you down the suburban avenue, lustful over your tasty appendages. Okay, there’s nothing serious about this band — just straightforward, not even close to groundbreaking, sarcastic, honest and twisted as all hell music for those who enjoy NOFX, Thursday or Jawbreaker … or any other band willing to bring the rock crunch and have fun doing it.
It takes real nerve to call Nashville home and launch a band with a modern indie-rock sound infused with grimy electronic beats. But Ugly Kids Club proves being Nash Vegas’s bastard musical stepchildren has its rewards, with “My Soul,” which is part of their self-titled debut EP. “Music is my lover, she’s a sage, she’s physical,” Aleigh Baumhardt sings as the beat backs her with frantic abandon. Music may not always be able to save our soul, but in this case it can give us one hell of a good time. It’s a sound which owes a lot to the early nineties pop trends, which frequently merged pop and grunge with hooks that resonated for days. Appropriately the band has released the EP on limited edition cassette, which in itself seems like a novel gimmick. As they say, “bust out that Walkman with pride” and give the Ugly Kids Club a listen. You might just find yourself a new guilty pleasure.
I can be forgiven for being a bit late to the party when it comes to singing Ed Sheeran’s praises, but that’s only because I’m not particularly plugged into U.K. pop trends. But I’ll be damned if Sheeran’s blend of pop, hip-hop and blues isn’t something that’s quickly winning a battle with my headphones, and it’s success he’s earned by fighting the hard way — touring, touring, touring, then writing his own songs to make those touring dates pay off. Bob Lefsetz just wrote a glowing recommendation today, which is how I stumbled onto “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” which sounded a bit too much like a cross between David Ford’s “State of the Union” and any Jason Mraz track. But I dug deeper, and the more I heard of Sheeran, the more hooked I became.
His first single, “The A Team,” defies all genre predictions, building on a light folk melody of guitar and vocals, painting a beautiful lyrical picture of a woman’s life wrecked by desperation and drugs, as she clings to her daydreams which seem to waste away by the minute. It’s a pop song for people who think they hate pop songs, people who are so jaded they think anything “pop” has to be synonymous with “facile.”
Then there’s also “Lego House” (starring Harry Potter’s own Rupert Grint) which speaks of “pick[ing] up the pieces and build[ing] a lego house … if things go wrong I can knock it down.” It’s a fitting metaphor for building a relationship, which requires a willingness to fail in order to build things back even stronger than before. “I’ll do it all for you in time,” he sings. “I think I love you better now.” It’s a beautiful pop melody anchored by tremors of piano meted against staccato hip-hop percussion and Sheeran’s powerful vocals. Knowing that he’s a product of his own hard work, not the brainchild of a heartless, mindless corporate groupthink mentality makes the music all the more resonant.
The coup de grace is the solo arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger,” recorded for his “One Take EP” … built on a series of loops and layers, everything here is recorded on the spot, and the raw emotion of the session pours through every second of the recording. If you can listen to this and not want to hear more from this artist on the rise, you’ve got no musical soul. I’m not sure that Sheeran will be the biggest star in the U.S. by April, as Lefsetz surmises … I’ve been burned way too many times trying to predict which artists will successfully make the cross-Atlantic trip intact (to be honest, I never thought Adele would even catch on with our fickle-minded pop tastes.) But I can say with certainty he deserves to reach a wider audience here in the States.
It only takes one listen, and you’ll spend the rest of the day diving back in for more.
Chris Merritt is back to rock your word with new music, hopefully to arrive in 2012 in its fullest form … but until then we can all enjoy it in bits and pieces. From his latest email to his fans:
What the hell is going on around here?
The economy is collapsing under our feet. Vapid tripe is blasting from radio speakers. Mass media has become a mess of bright flashing lights and unfunny sexual innuendos. Trained zoo animals have thriving political careers. Our culture seems to be rejecting progress, solutions, and interesting cranial explosions for conformity, stagnation, and cute pictures of kitties on facebook.
Wait, where are you going? Hey, come back here!! OK, ok, forget it! I’ll talk about, um, my new band, Chris Merritt And The Dirty Girls! OK, OK, we can keep the cute kitty pics…
The same four chords blasting from the speakers of your radio is your problem. Chris Merritt And The Dirty Girls is your solution.
I’m putting together my masterpiece. Chris Merritt And The Dirty Girls will have a new piano-smashing sound and a new album. Also, expect lots of shows and a tour!
I’m writing songs that are weird and new. They freak me out. There are bizarre pretty notes and time signatures and the four chords of the apocalypse are nowhere to be found. I obsess over each note. My neighbors want to kill me.
Brett has been in the lab coming up with new percussion solutions and testing them on animals. We also have a secret “new” bass player. I’ve honestly never been so excited about anything in my entire life. Except the first time I held a girl’s hand and felt the soft warmth of my first crush. Ah, to be twenty-six again!
In preparation for the new band and album, I’ve been updating the website more regularly (look at the top of this email at “New stuff to check out”) and there are tons of new features. Keep checking in for new Dirty Girls music, too. (Here’s a little demo for ya)
Check out Tit Talks featuring phone conversations with my friends and lots of new, old and rare Chris Merritt tracks.
Let’s try to do something great together. Let’s fight for reason and un-boring art. Let’s fight for weirdness. Nerdiness. Progress.
What’s there not to look forward to? This is going to be definitely worth keeping an eye on. Check back here for further updates as news warrants.
For fans of Alexi Murdoch and Josh Ritter, it’s only necessary to go as far as the music of Chris Bathgate to find your next big fix. Recently named one of 2011′s “Best of What’s Next” artists by Paste Magazine, this Michigander’s surprisingly evocative sonic portraits of what was one of the darkest periods of his life will dig their way into your soul and refuse to let go. This is folk-pop of the highest order. Bathgate poured every dollar he had into the recording of his latest effort Choking Down A Salt Year, but recording the album took a toll emotionally as well. Consider it a concept twin with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which proved cathartic for Justin Vernon. Regardless of how it came to exist, one thing is crystal clear: Choking Down A Salt Year is an album you have to hear — it will quickly prove to be one of the most memorable folk-pop albums of 2011.
Lest I be accused of ignoring the other great music coming from past members of the Moldy Peaches, behold the wonder that is former Peaches guitarist Toby Goodshank! His latest video for “Truth Jump Fall,” the lead single from his latest EP Truth Jump Fall, is really something you need to hear to fully fathom, but let me try to put it in words. Imagine an intro which is straight out of 60′s era Moody Blues, then add Beck to the mix, shake — don’t stir! — and enjoy, repeating as needed. “We got the generator bill in the mail today — that’s when my father freaked out,” Goodshank sings. “We are the powerless ones, indivisible by the principles passed down through apostles now, churning with the wisdom once imparted by a mutated man brought about by the union of man who are tightened at the seams in a fiber-optic dream that connected all the swingers in town.” Break out your Becktionary … I mean, your Goodshanklopedia and dive in — the water’s fine!
Tonight I submit for your approval three of the best power-pop songs to come out so far this year. Jeff Shelton, formerly of the Bay Area pop act Spinning Jennies, is working with a loyal collective of like-minded contemporaries, he brings nearly two decades and ten albums of personal music experience into the mix, proving that he knows sunny pop music like few others still recording today. These three songs are up on Soundcloud as works in progress, part of an upcoming album due out in early 2012. All three are prime examples of what sets this guy apart from the rest of the pack, and why this is already my most anticipated indie album of the coming year so far. Give ‘em a listen, I dare you not to fall under the spell these well-wishers are spinning.
From the opening moments of “This Town” I was convinced that I’ve stumbled upon the next artist ready to carry the torch of Tom Waits to a new generation of music listeners not yet too jaded to appreciate the touch of sinister imagery he brings to bear. With an eye for pop hooks to match someone like Duke Special, who has made his name with similar cabaret-pop experimentation in Belfast, Don Ryan knows he has to win listeners from the very first moments … which makes “This Town” even more impressive, since the smothering sense of doom is present instantly, yet manages to build as the song progresses. “This town is burning down,” he sings, his vocals providing hits of desperate hope even as all the music around him floats like flotsam upon the oily black bilge water below.
In other words, this is music for those of us who like our pop music with enough edge to make it worthwhile. And you can trust me on this or rely on the video below, but what Don Ryan brings to the table here is nothing short of deliciously twisted.
Ryan’s album Tangle Town comes out officially next week. Queue up!
Thanks go out to Weston, a user in the Folking Indie room at Turntable.fm, for turning me on to Michael Denvir, a California songwriter who reportedly has built a great deal of indie buzz in the region. His bandcamp page, under the nom-de-plume Beautiful Idiot Music, features four albums of sketches, demos and odds and ends which are all available for free! But where to start? I recommend the song “California Drought,” off his album “Bedroom Artist,” which skewers the music industry mercilessly, barely seeming dated despite being written eight years ago.
Not convinced? Check out “800 MPH” below on YouTube and tell me he’s not worth giving a deeper look. I dare you!
Year of the Album — #051
Ian Lawler – “Future Nostalgia” (2010, Independent)
Ian Lawler is a veteran songwriter who has toured and recorded with bands in so many genres it’s baffling how he’s managed to be so deftly versatile while crafting an album like Future Nostalgia. This is music from a songwriter who confidently balances his main influences, crafting a unique adult contemporary sound which relies on his strong sense of melody and structure to succeed. And it’s that sense of songcraft which elevates this among anything else I’ve heard from an independent artist this year.
A few weeks ago I dubbed Ian Lawler as an “Artist to Watch” for “Hear, Hear!” His skills as a songwriter are beyond reproach, as a single listen can attest. And that he’s a teacher of music as well, imparting his skills on a new generation of talent, bodes well for the future of pop music on an independent level, I’d attest.
Future Nostalgia is a perfect name for what is essentially truth in advertising. Lawler’s focus is on the concept that everything eventually becomes tinted by rose-colored glasses as we create nostalgia, false or otherwise, around the music we love. In turn, he takes his many influences, from jazz to pop, and fuses them into a fully modern sound which at the same time sounds like it could have been a part of any number of musical eras. If this is the future of nostalgia, the musical world truly is cyclical, and Ian Lawler has a unique ability to take what in lesser hands would have been a Frankenstein monster of musical dross and turn it into pop gold.
The title track is the album’s centerpiece, a song so simple in its execution that it could be a hit for just about anyone who calls himself a fan of pop music. The sensual horn opening quickly evolves into an upbeat examination of pop conventions. Time passes on and off, he says, but fate’s truly uncharted. You may not know the way, but if future nostalgia has anything to do with it we’ll all find happiness. Or at least that’s what I took from it.
If there’s one great thing about the emergence of the Internet as a tool for disseminating music, it’s that music like Future Nostalgia can find an audience, now that everyday music fans can become gatekeepers and promoters. The bottom line is that this is sunny pop music for lovers of the genre, all of us who have been disappointed with the cookie-cutter nature of what radio and the fickle print music media want to shove down our throats. Now it’s our job to spread the word and make sure Lawler’s music gets a chance to dig in enough to motivate future nostalgia in all of us.
Surely that’s not too much to ask …
Though they claim more hip influences such as prog-rockers Muse and RX Bandits, one listen to “Sweet Banana” by Brooklyn’s Great Caesar (viewable below in all its wonderous, horn-filled glory) and you’ll be thinking more along the lines of a modernized Cake … or what Cake might sound like if John McCrea had any interest in time-traveling beyond what worked well in 1995. All comparisons aside, however, and the one fact which matters is that these guys have serious chops. The video is fun as hell, and the rest of their music is up to the challenge of keeping your interest after such an auspicious, attention-grabbing debut.
You can name your own price on their Bandcamp page for their debut EP (simply titled Great Caesar EP), along with two singles, which include the aforementioned “Sweet Banana.” Trust me … you’ll want to hear this band; their music’s tightly constructed and creative, while maintaining a fun, quirky sound that surely makes for a fiery stage show. They’re definitely worth keeping an eye on — I’d suspect, if they’re given the chance to record a full-length, that we’ll be hearing a great deal more from them now that they’re pursuing their music full time.
For those of you who enjoy yourself some jazz-pop fusion with more than a fair touch of McCartneysque pop flair, Ian Lawler’s got music which will leave you breathless. I submit for your approval a live recording of his song “Lullabye Suites 1 & 2″ from YouTube, but will have a full album shortly to give a more detailed opinion. But I know good music when I hear it, and this guy’s talented. I’d expect you’ll hear a lot more from him in the short term.
Check out his official website for a full stream of the album, Future Nostalgia … the title track will definitely get stuck in your head, and that’s a good thing!
It’s been a long time since I’ve been left nearly speechless by a songwriter and his guitar, but this is one of those moments. Joe Pug is the real deal, one of those true lyrical greats in the making. He’s all but certain to be one of those American songwriters who will stake their claim on what it means to be a truly expressive musician. He’s already built a name for himself touring with Steve Earle and others of that ilk, but what’s so mindblowing is how effortless it all seems. He’s crafting pure moments of Americana eloquence, a rare combination of honesty and grit, which few other artists can match. And he’s barely breaking a sweat. Imagine what he’s still yet to create, and the possibilities are endless.
Revel in “Hymn 101,” the best song Townes Van Zandt didn’t write:
Josh Garrels has released his latest magnificent effort, Love & War & The Sea In Between, and for a limited time you can hear the entire thing as a free download via Noisetrade! If you pass this chance by, you’re officially ready to retire from music-listening … like a mad hybrid of Brett Dennen, Antony & The Johnsons and Ray Lamontagne, Garrels is a free-flowing poet on his latest effort, a mind-blowing 18 tracks of astounding folk-pop tinged with elements of neo-soul and raw singer-songwriter innovation. It’s his finest album yet, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around just how much creativity is expressed here.
If you haven’t heard of Garrels yet, trust me … he’s worth knowing! Download this album and make a donation if you’ve got the means. Whatever you do, at least listen. This is one of those leaps forward in a creative sense which defy words. This album is simply sublime. And Garrels deserves to be a household name beyond the confines of the Pacific Northwest.
Check out “Farther Along,” off the new album, below via YouTube:
Mike Peralta has been making music ever since he first heard Nirvana and got a used guitar courtesy of his mother. And like any true songwriting talent, he lives by the credo that a writer must write, above all else. As a few moments spent perusing his official website shows, this is a guy who spends his time milking a few successful songs. He’s got more than 150 to his credit, and he’s a power-user on Twitter, using his wide base of fans to get feedback on his newest music and spread the word.
The good news is that Peralta’s music lives up to all the hype. While he’s experimental, and not every song fits into any easily defined mold — his latest, “Fosner,” has a deep grungy vibe, while “Dark Over Here” opens up with a sound reminescent of “Streets of Philadelphia”-era Springsteen — fans can always tell that there’s going to be something to get them talking whenever Peralta’s name is attached. The hook is always going to be there, even if the trappings are different.
Check out one of this strongest singles, “Wasting All My Time,” below in music video form. I expect we’ll all be hearing a lot more of Peralta down the road.
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Brian Bethke, my first real discovery on new indie-music site Bandwith.org, really deserves to be getting his music to a wider audience. The Osseo, Wisconsin, singer-songwriter reminds me immediately of another obscure indie songwriter, Chuck Coleman, whose 2003 album People, Places and Flings was an indespensible part of my music collection for years. Bethke’s crsip, clean delivery and unobtrusive guitar melody makes his songs immediately accessable, and “I Have A Dream,” his free single on Bandwith, is so instantly likeable and memorable you’ll be repeating it before you even realize you’re hooked.
Bethke has been playing music since his teen years, and says a love of folk, Americana and country rock have forged his musical identity. His debut album, Auberdeen, can still be found on Amazon, but he remains unknown outside the Chippewa Valley region of Wisconsin, where he was named 2008′s Best Solo Performer. His latest effort, “The Silence,” actually won a spot on the trailer for Dwight Yoakum’s film “The Last Rites of Ransom Pride.”
To learn more, you can visit his official website: http://www.brianbethke.com/
Me Talk Pretty draws you in from the word “go,” sounding like Regina Spektor if she’d joined a pop-punk band and added some wild Romanian flair to the mix. Move over, Hayley Williams, because there’s a new woman in town ready to take the genre hostage one vocal at a time. Julia Preotu is the real deal, and it makes sense — they are coming up in the same NYC scene that developed Spektor, among many many other amazing artists of the last decade.
I’ll admit their name had me skeptical, but a few songs and I was as addicted as anyone! This is exactly the kind of hybrid pop radio could use a hell of a lot more of, and if the Internet’s going to have anything to do with it, live vids like this one won’t have 2,000 views for long.
Check out their latest EP We Are Strangers at Amazon!
EDIT: Sorry for the misspelling in the address on this one. I’ve corrected their name throughout the article to Me Talk Pretty.