ARTISTS TO WATCH: Join The Dead

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Indianapolis’s Join The Dead (photo: Jonathan Sanders) — click for high-resolution

There’s already a lot of buzz building around Indianapolis melodic metal band Join The Dead, and it is well earned based on the wild performance they gave the Vogue last night while opening for Stars In Stereo and Alien Ant Farm. From the moment they began to play, the crowd rushed the stage as the band gave what I have to call the strongest performance I’ve seen from a local opening act at a show. They could have played another half hour and no one would have complained. A great deal of the credit goes to Sahar Mantalvo on lead vocals — that man’s insane, with so much energy to burn it could fuel five bands. But the supporting musicians are all top notch, as is firmly illustrated by their solid 2014 album Distorted Cognition, which features “Accolade,” this year’s strongest track you’ve probably never heard.

Dig in! We’ve got videos below of three songs (one previously unrecorded!) as well as additional photos from the show! Sound off in the comments below — how long before Join The Dead outgrows Indianapolis and goes national?

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JOIN THE DEAD – “Lost” and “Oceans”

JOIN THE DEAD – “Untitled” (Unreleased Track!)

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All photos taken by Jonathan Sanders

Click each to see a larger, high-res version!

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ARTISTS TO WATCH: Ménage

I moved upstate with a well-mannered man
He’s awake at eight, he seems to understand

Sing me a love song
Sing me a love song
It’s all I’ll ever ask

Sing me a love song
Sing me a love song
I swear I won’t laugh …

For those among us who love multi-layered pop which defies expectations, Ménage is a band worth noting. Diffuser.fm appreciated their “expertly crafted … inspiring sound weaved in and out of intense pop arrangements,” but I’d get much more specific. Imagine if Jason Isbell teamed up with Cyndi Lauper to record with One Republic’s Ryan Tedder, and you’re at least going to be on the right wavelength. Even then, there’s something ethereal about “Love Song” which makes slapdash comparisons a pointless endeavor.

EP, the second of four planned extended-play singles, features that song and three others of equal or greater value, allowing the listener’s anticipation to build throughout its length. Saving “Love Song” for last, fans can relish the Roxette-tinged pop-rock of “Our Time Is Now,” the brilliantly Chvrches-esque melodic hook of “To The End” and the stutter-step percussion of “Promises II” before reaching the aural catharsis of their strongest track. Smartly the band builds our expectations and then leaves us just quickly enough to ensure we’ll be clamoring for EP #3. This Toronto threesome won’t be obscure for long if there’s justice in the musical universe.

ARTISTS TO WATCH: Live Footage

This is something you don’t hear every day. I have to give these two serious props, because their blend of electro-acoustic instrumental pop really draws you in while creating cinematic visions from what initially start out as notes on a page. Forget Tangerine Dream — these two should be scoring movies, directing music videos, and drawing legions of hipsters under their spell as they fight to dominate the space between your ears. “Goin’ Somewhere” is exactly that, and it is no surprise that they’ve attracted the attention of luminaries Dan the Animator and Pharoahe Monch. There’s just something about electric cellist Topu Lyo and drummer/keyboardist Mike Thies that makes me hit repeat again and again while I finally understand where Mike Doughty could have taken Soul Coughing were it for that thing called full creative control. Their latest album Doyers has been out since April, and with “Goin’ Somewhere” picking up steam, look to hear a ton more buzz on these two in the coming year.

THE LIVE WIRE: Fareed Haque

No one is going to confuse me with a full-on jazz critic, but I know what I like and Fareed Haque has all of it on full display in the video below. The guitar virtuoso is world-renowned for his ability to bring together elements of classical and jazz styles with a raw jam aesthetic, which makes for the kind of free-flowing performance below: it all seems effortless, but you can tell there’s more going on behind the scenes than we can capture in even the best musical snapshot. I’ll be catching his performance at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis on November 28th, after I’ve watched “Mathgames” a few dozen times more. Join me!

ARTISTS TO WATCH: Hear, Hear

In a strange paradox, I’ve found myself falling for a band called Hear, Hear while running my music site called Hear! Hear! Music. But don’t let this confuse you. It doesn’t take much time listening to this Nashville band to realize they’re on to something. Kate Puckett and Matt Lloyd, two songwriters whose musical journeys led them from Pittsburgh and Indianapolis to the musical mecca of Nashville, front this energetic hybrid of pop-rock and modern country-tinged vocals. There’s plenty to love here, from Puckett and Lloyd’s Little Big Town-esque vocals to the strong hook of the full-on rock backdrop, heavy on melodic guitars and a rhythm section which sounds stadium ready. “Take You In” won’t have 800 YouTube views for long, that’s for damned sure!

FEATURED SONG: She Keeps Bees – “Radiance”

Brooklyn-based duo She Keeps Bees knows how to build a song through quiet swells and subtly-menacing grooves. Their latest, “Radiance,” heralds the coming of Eight Houses, due out September 16th, via a carefully layered track built on melancholy chords of piano against mild percussive rhythms and the sultry-sweet vocals of Jessica Larrabee. Four albums into their career, they’ve yet to rise beyond “best band you haven’t heard,” but the material here suggests they deserve a great deal more.

Give the track a listen via the streaming link above, and feel free to sound off in the comments. Their tour dates are below as well.

UPCOMING SHOWS:
8/29 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon

8/30 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre Lounge

9/3 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall

9/6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Satellite

9/7 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar

9/8 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Rhythm Room

9/10 – Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar

9/11 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court

9/12 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater

9/13 – Kansas City, MO @ Czar bar

9/14 – Lincoln, NE @ Duffy’s Taver

9/15 – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews

9/16 – Milwaukee, WI @ Club Garibaldi

9/17 – Detroit, MI @ PJ’s Lager House

9/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern

9/20 – Athens, OH @ The Union

9/25 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs

9/26 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie

9/27 – Washington, DC @ The Lot (Atlantic Plumbing)

11/12 – Bristol, ENG @ The Lantern

11/13 – Manchester, ENG @ Gullivers

11/15 – London, ENG @ The Lexington

ELROY WAS HERE: Cruise Elroy’s gauntlet-dropping EP pair leads the pack

For Chris Merritt, Cruise Elroy has been a labor of love years in the works, built on the solid foundation that was the song of the same title, a seven-four exercise in pop-jazz perfection. Daring continuously to push the envelope of what great pop music can and should be, he’s existed on the fringes of pop, building melodies of the Ben Folds ilk while taking his lyrics in the vein of a less snarky Jonathan Coulton. There’s always been more to Merritt’s music than easy comparisons may make clear, but it’s a good start. Now with the arrival of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy, the full spectrum of this sound is immediately evident.

While the first EP takes the opportunity to update early Merritt faves “Tarmac”, “Feminine Mind” and “Rain King” via a cleaner studio veneer, it also provides us with the songwriter’s strongest pop contribution yet. Via “The Fever,” which speaks to the search for truth between what we can see, smell or touch versus what we sense might be true on the fringes, Merritt hits us with his catchiest chorus while peppering the musical arrangement with his trademark odes to video-game music and off-kilter kitsch. Shorty” opens the EP with an extended 5/4 disco-funk breakdown, then segues into a surprisingly straightforward dose of keyboard-tinged nostalgia complete with the best fuzzed-out bass outside an early Ben Folds Five effort. And even the new studio recordings of Merritt classics shine as examples of remarkably astute songwriting, particularly “Feminine Mind” for it’s twist on Billy Joel’s “She’s Only A Woman To Me” — “She’s a killer but she’s always on time; she’s brutal but she’s never unkind,” Merritt sings without the dark edge of Joel’s misogyny tainting the proceeding. And “Rain King” softens the edges of the lo-fi gem via a pair of extended instrumental interludes at the song’s center and conclusion while heightening the contrast between the bare melody with the trio’s deftly layered vocal harmonies.


But if
EP1 introduces you to the sounds of Merritt and Cruise Elroy in a non-confrontational setting, EP2 becomes positively revolutionary, evident from the moment you crash ears-first into “Sisyphus.” Thirty seconds in and you’ve thrown out any comparisons to Ben Folds as the band embraces prog-rock leanings much more in tune with bands like Wax Fang. Quite unlike anything else I’ve heard on any pop album this year, “Sisyphus” takes everything that’s great about Merritt’s songwriting and encapsulates it within a melodic structure that demands a schizophrenic arrangement. All but demanding headphone listening, the song features layers upon layers which, peeled back, illustrate an artist coming fully into his own. And four minutes in, the Chris Martin-inspired harmonic breakdown seals it, making repeat listens compulsory.


And if you weren’t already sold, the EP’s closer, “Ghost,” which opens with the best rock intro not composed by Styx, will cement you as a lifelong fan. A freewheeling pop masterpiece, Ghost reminds one immediately of the more experimental side of Weezer (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”), a symphonic synthesized sensation which aptly showcases why I’ve argued for years that Merritt is the best pop songwriter you’re not yet listening to.


These two EPs make it tantalizingly clear that great pop music won’t be denied. With the tease of a full-length still on the horizon, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the sonic world of Cruise Elroy. Nothing else this year comes even remotely close to this, and you ignore it at your own peril.


Elroy was here, and he’s thrown down the gauntlet.