Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

milk

Rating: ★★★★½

People rarely rave about records anymore. No matter what, people inevitably find themselves listening to single and hits, but don’t you dare do that with Pete Astor‘s new album, Spilt Milk. If you do, you’re likely to miss one of the purest pop albums likely to surface this year.

You can possibly separate Spilt Milk into two styles, bouncing jangle pop and pure pop balladry. Opener “Really Something” falls into the first category, while a song like “Good Enough” ends up in the latter grouping. But, what one should focus on is the central theme of pop music. To me, it means accessible and catchy, and I feel like if we were all given such options more often, then Pete Astor might be our favorite artist. But, that’s not where we live, nor where we seem to be heading, making this effort all the more outstanding.

Some bands rush songwriting, trying to push out the next hit, trying to stay relevant in a culture adhering to consumption, but within the confines of this album, you have the purest dedication to great songwriting. In doing so, Pete’s managed to craft an album that endears itself to fans of all styles, leaving you with a lesson incraftsmanship; it’s one that I can see enduring in my playing rotation for time to come (and probably yours too).

In the end, Spilt Milk isn’t a musical exercise that will hit you over the head immediately. You have to digest it slowly, which is best with tracks like “There It Goes” that will pull at your heartstrings. Still, you’ll find an inner joy (and maybe a hop in the step) when you put on “My Right Hand,” among others. It’s a listening journeyyou must dedicate yourself to, and in doing so, you’ll reap the greatest reward…a listen that won’t easily be turned off…or forgotten.

Cross Record – Wabi Sabi

BING_109_WabiSabi

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Cross Record consists of Emily Cross and her husband, Dan Duszynski. Put these two absurdly creative individuals out on a ranch in Dripping Springs, TX after living in the buzzing metropolis Chicago for years and what you get is Wabi Sabi; a stirring example of highly contemplative and carefully crafted experimental folk music. The album balances minimalism with explosive bursts of sound for thirty-five minutes that seems to last much longer in its infinite depth.

The Curtains Part is the opening number on the record, and the band slowly eases you into their eclectic folk soundings. A storm of instrumentation wells up around Emily Cross’ central vocals, hollow guitar strumming, orchestral fluttering and cymbal fills encompass this peripheral storm, hinting at whats to come. The band begins to really sink their teeth into you on Two Rings, the instrumentation here playing on the quietness that they established in the first track and building upon this with their layers of both electronic and organic sounds.

Then you get to the gale-force strength trio of tracks that starts with Steady Waves, and Cross Record completely wins you over. While the first two tracks come across as a bit of an awakening for the duo, this middle portion of the album gives you a taste of their utter power and strength once theyve come to that awakening. First off, Steady Waves is an utterly gorgeous song, an example of the precise balance between softness and ferocity that Cross Record do so well on Wabi Sabi. Cross vocals are impossibly tender and lush, contrasted by the growling guitars that buzz in and out of the mix, while winding acoustic guitar simmers underneath. The number is at once serene and unsettling, building its way to a crescendo and then petering out to a quiet ending, akin to wind chimes gently stirred in the breeze.

Next up in the meat of the album is High Rise, which takes Cross vocals to an impossibly translucent level, their whispery quality floating atop the bombastic, exploding drums that give the song its drama and such a drama continues on Something Unseen Touches A Flower To My Forehead, which forsakes the gentleness of the previous two tracks and just hones in on the violence of the folk music.

The rest of the album falls under the quieter side of Cross Records spectrum of sound, though this is by no means boring or too subtle. On the contrary, I found myself constantly enamored with the entrancing simplicity that these two have harnessed into Wabi Sabi. Do yourself a favor and savor this album, as its bound to become one that you revisit over the coming year.

 

Sea Pinks – Soft Days

0006266989_10

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Belfast’s Sea Pinks have become a staple in my listening catalogue over the past few years; its strange to think that a band who has only been around for six years has already been so profoundly prolific, but it seems that releasing a solid LP almost every year is just the way Sea Pinks roll. Soft Days is the latest of these stunning releases, and while more subdued and grounded jangly rock, the band finds yet another way to hook you and keep you interested.

This tightening up can be felt from the albums initiation. Opening number, (I Dont Feel Like) Giving In, begins slowly and with a bit of drama: some small guitar and soft building drums light up the path for a good minute of the track before the band launches in with those cutting guitar riffs and the vocals of Neil Brogan. The guitars are bleached out surf jangle to a T, interchanging with a bit of distortion on the chorus for a perfect pop arch. Immediately, youll notice the shift in focus from those orchestral elements that the band employed in the past, to the dueling guitars and their ceaseless jangle. At the end of the first number, you get the feeling that whats to come will be great.

And this intuition isnt wrong; Sea Pinks trade off track after track of spunky jangle pop with more subdued tunes, but its all beachy and lovely. Of course you have stunning singles that fulfill your rock and roll needs like Depth of Field and Yr Horoscope. The former employs the luke-warm vocals of Brogan and pushes them to a new height on the chorus, and the latter reminds me a bit of The Vaccines with its quick lipped lyrics and staccato drums. These bright flamed singles are balanced nicely with slower burning tracks like Green With Envy and I Wont Let Go, on which the guitar riffs meander more than shred, reminding you of beachy sunsets with a cool sea breeze coming off the water.

Soft Days is an album that you wont tire of easily. You will reach its end and feel ready to jump right back to the beginningit has the proper amount of catchy singles and deeper cuts to keep you interested. I will be spinning this one through the seasons for sure.

 

Hinds – Leave Me Alone

hindsleavemealone

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Within the past few months it seems that this group of four girls from Madrid have been all over the news in the indie scene. Hinds(formerly Deers) have released a fair number of singles over the past year, building up the buzz around their lo-fi garage tunes and with good reason; each of these singles has been catchy and fun to sing along to, all while those slightly gritty guitars jangle on infectiously. Leave Me Alone is an impressive debut, filled with lo-fi tunes with a pop twist to them, though not much more than what the singles have been hinting at.

What’s great about this record is that it is unapologetically messy and raucous and never really too much so. Hinds reach a balance of precision carelessness, which you get on the louder, in-your-face tracks like “Castigadas en el granero, or Warts,” or any of the singles that youve probably already heard. The vocals on these track trade off between quick lipped solos and -sometimes together-sometimes not- distorted girl gang shouting. On paper, this doesn’t sound like something that would make a lot of sense, but it works alongside the tight knit guitar riffs. “Chili Town” is a prime example of how well this dynamic can shine and the band uses the variation in vocal style to give the track a tonal variety and climactic chorus associated with your favorite pop tunes.

The album ends with a succession of slower, less rowdy tracks, but the vocal performance doesnt shift: theyre sloppy-chic till the end. Of these ending tracks, “Walking Home” is the standout. With its the surfy guitar riffs and start and stop instrumentation it grabs your attention and holds you through the last notes of the record. The guitars on this song are catchy and light, while the vocals bring the lo-fi aspect to the mix.

And so at the end of Leave Me Alone Hinds have given you exactly what you came for, so you can’t complain too much; there are no bad tracks on the record. My only real qualm with this album is that these ladies dont stray too far from one style of track and one singular sound. Dont get me wrong, it’s a good one, but the lack of variety prevents excellency and lands on mediocre. Nonetheless, Hinds are destined to remain a buzz band through 2016, and I’m interested to see where they will go next for a sophomore record.

 

Salad Boys – Metalmania

TIM099_SaladBoys_frontCover__72361.1437766489.1280.1280

Rating: ★★★ · ·

We seem to be in the era of jangly rock and roll. That is to say these days have brought the indie rock scene to a point in which the norm is now those angular workings of guitar riffs in whatever genre you like; there’s the stoner rock of bands like Mac Demarco, or more tightly wound pop groups. Regardless, in order to stand out, you’ve gotta make the jangle your own, taking it in a direction different than before. Enter Salad Boys of New Zealand, whose sound ranges within the genre, from laid back to melt your face off in the mere jump of a song on Metalmania. 

This group of gentlemen open the album with a delicate sound on “Here’s No Use–” with the winding guitar work that won’t quit and the urgent yet soft vocals of Joe Sampson, the song seems fairly subtle at first. The drums are barely there, merely gentle clicking to match the rhythm of the guitar as it loops in its neat and clean sound. As the track progresses, the elements gain a bit of traction; secondary vocals join the mix and the guitars are doubled up to round out the opening track. The next song, “Dream Date,” shows the other, less chilled out, rock side of Salad Boys– the guitars are faster and heavier, drums join the mix, adding a thick layer of percussive sheen with the abundant crashing of cymbals.

These two directions of tracks seem to account for the direction of sound that Salad Boys take on this record; you get the laid back sun-bleached indie rock of the first track, or the more high-energy rock of the second track. Each style seems to suit the band’s sound fairly well, and the back and forth doesn’t feel like whiplash as it does a trip through changing terrain, soft and lush at one moment and biting rock the next.

Most signs point to Metalmania to be a grower of an album– while each track is pleasing to the ears and begs for you to play it outside at a barbecue or driving around in your car with the wind blowing through, there aren’t clear standout tracks. Originally, I thought it was when the band ripped into the rockier side of their sound, but those with mild tonality seem to grasp my attention just as much. Perhaps in time, these numbers will be apparent, or perhaps the tunes on this album are a little too mild. Regardless, I look forward to hear what Salad Boys have in store for us next.

Beach House – Depression Cherry

z55yu23xkykt2kghwnuw

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Beach House and Dream Pop have become essentially synonymous these days, and rightly so; Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand have been cranking out the dreamiest tunes for a little more than a decade and Depression Cherry marks their fifth full-length release. 2010’s crescendoing and huge Teen Dream solidified their place as Dream Pop masters while 2012’s Bloom showed them exploring choppy percussion’s effect on their hazy and soaring tunes. So what does Depression Cherry have in store for us? In a press release written by the band, they called it “a return to simplicity,” but later mentioned their disdain for uttering those words. While they may not think fondly of this sentiment, it was a prematurely apt descriptor for the album.

Starting off with, “Levitation,” Beach House doubles down on this sentiment right off the bat. The familiar synth sound, fluttering guitar and Legrand’s whispery yet substantive vocals declare: “I go anywhere you want to” while the track warms up, making it feel like the band is reintroducing themselves to us. It’s far from a ‘simple’ song, but it’s mild in that each element seems to share the limelight with the others, soloing when appropriate and then blending back in. Near the end, Legrand urges us to follow her and Scally into the rabbit hole of Depression Cherry, repeating, “There’s a place I want to take you,” before the track slowly dissolves and folds in on itself and into the next song, “Sparks.” From this first song, what’s noticeably different is the smoothness and warmth of the sound here. The guitar is a little buzzier than before, filling the space with yet another hazy texture; Legrand’s vocals are there-and-not-there, fog illuminated by headlights, simultaneously lush and hollow; the drums are even and tempered, the synths ubiquitous. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to close your eyes and just listen to the subtle magic unfolding and its subtlety marks the rest of the album.

As I mentioned before, the last two albums from this band took definitively clear paths, so what may seem unsettling to listeners at first is the lack of this strong inclination as to where we’re going. Sure, there are strong numbers that you’ll immediately latch on to, but it may take a little while for some of the numbers to really hit you. For me, these initial winners were “Space Song,” and “Bluebird.” “Space Song” is third up, and it features sharp and emotionally cutting guitar riffs that just slice and float through the mix, screaming through the hypnotizing haze of synth and vocal. Later, “Bluebird” is a bit more of a groove, still sleek and simmering, but the guitar is tight and close to the rhythm in a darker fashion.

Even though this album doesn’t seem to strike a clear directional path like their last two albums, this seems to be part of the allure for fans of Beach House. Depression Cherry doesn’t aim to be anything other than dream pop and at the end of the album, you can’t fault Beach House for doing more of what they do so well. Upon first listen it may seem underwhelming, but over time it trickles in to your psyche song by song akin to waves lapping against the shore—instead of choosing a direction, it seems this album is bent on getting lost and not wanting to be found, suiting the dreamy genre perfectly. Spend some time with this album and you’ll find yourself in the same position.

Gardens & Villa – Music For Dogs

sc320

Rating: ★★★ · ·

When Gardens & Villa’s Music For Dogs initial sounds flood through your speakers, immediately you get the impression of an electronic system booting up; “Intro” is almost a minute of futuristic synthetic sounds waving through your speakers. The level of anticipation swells with the beginnings of the huge sounds, all of which point to what’s to come next. Now, this is not the kind of entrance that the band really needs to make—Music For Dogs marks their third full-length record, following last year’s Dunes. And yet, the band amps you up for this collection of songs all the same, properly ensuring you’ve transitioned into the right frame of mind before you begin the album.

And when you do enter the first real track, “Maximize Results,” the band hits you hard with their synth pop: pulsating synths create a constant harried motion to the song, all while the vocal performance doubles up on this mood. Underlying this borderline paranoid feeling there’s a groove to the song in the distorted guitar riffs and the handclap beat. This then transitions quite abruptly into the light and airy “Fixations,” which strikes quite a bright note after the heavy opening number. Here, the synths are still buzzy and drone-like, but not as oppressive and dark as the first number. The piano also helps to brighten up the song, with its bouncy notes joining the mix with flair. It’s a catchy contrast to its predecessor before the band jumps back into the overall darkness that seems to coat most of the record.

While the album starts out quite strong with these two solid tracks, it seems as though the energy is a little difficult for Gardens & Villa to maintain through the duration of Music For Dogs. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great and memorable tracks on the record, as there are numbers like “Alone In The City” and “I Already Do” that tack onto the aforementioned tracks as standouts. Oddly enough, where this synth pop group seems to shine the brightest on this record is not when they’re grooving hardest, but when the songs push into a tender emotional level. “Alone In The City” is a bit of a tender ballad type track that puts the vocal performance of Chris Lynch at very focal point. His voice is raw as it honestly professes lines like “Stay away from me tonight/I’ve had enough for once and it felt alright” and “This place is a nightmare/if I can’t be right there in your arms.” The sounds are subtle, and the nuance of sound that the band brings is glorious via the soft chimes that softly unfold amidst the gritty guitar and gently floating synth sounds. Same goes for the last song of the album, “I Already Do—” the band strikes this balance of groovy tune with tenderness in the mix of premature nostalgia in both the lyrics and bouncing piano sound.

Music For Dogs hits hard at first listen, but then slowly fades into a different tone, but still shows a band that’s come a far way from their debut album of 2011. The tracks that float to the surface upon further listening are evidence of their growth and movement into a balance of harsh electronic sound with real human emotion.

 

 

Totally Mild – Down Time

a1517592540_10

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Totally Mild are a four piece outfit who hail from Melbourne, Australia and create lush and soft sounding indie pop. What started out as the project of front woman, Elizabeth Mitchell, became fully fleshed out with the help the collective creativity of the band as a group. The result is Down Time the debut album from these folks which will have your ears begging for more of the heaven-sent indie pop.

The first thing you’ll notice when you sit down to listen to this record, and what will bring you back again and again to certain tracks is the impossible crisp and delicate nature of Mitchell’s vocals. Half-falsetto, half simply so sharp they sound practically other-worldly in their effortless perfection, Mitchell’s vocals are easily the star of the mix, or at least the star that shines the brightest in the indie pop. Totally Mild’s sound is a mix of straightforward indie pop with hints of sun-bleached surf guitars and a dash of shoe-gaze. The guitars edge between jangly and clear and are always perfectly spliced into the mix, resulting in a concise and careful quality to Down Time.

In the crisp and pure sound of the vocals in combination with the instruments to make simply divine sounding pop, an interesting dynamic spurs in the middle part of the album in which these gentle sounding melodies make for some pretty dark tunes. In the three track knockout span that includes “Nights,” “The Next Day,” and  “Work It Out,” the band combines their sweet sounding pop with the spinning of morose lyrics: “All my nights end with all my friends dead,” “I’m in bed and I never want to go outside again,” “Lately I’ve used up all my faces of disdain.” But each of these numbers bring in the blacker notes to the tracks in different ways. The first out of the trio, “Nights,” adds a hint of sinister sound in the guitar licks, which are even and slow, while the other two of the tracks act as two parts of a whole. “The Next Day,” is about exactly what you’d expect it to be about and is a slow, somewhat self-deprecating track whose center break down is tragically filled with nostalgia, and longing. This leads seamlessly into “Work It Out” which brings in the darker elements with the cutty guitar parts and the sectionalized bits of the song. These three tracks alone are simply great, and show the kind of promise this band has.

For a debut album, there is a ton to appreciate about this release; it’s brief, filled with some great tracks that will pull you back time and time again. However, in the brevity, it seems to lack a bit of meat to its core. On a few of the numbers, the band seems to be getting to a build, or starting to build up, but then the song just ends instead of going in a different direction. This flatness isn’t a huge detractor from the enjoyability of the record, but a little more dimensionality would have pushed it from good to great. I look forward to hearing a sophomore release from Totally Mild.

 

EZTV – Calling Out

EZTZ-Calling-Out

Rating: ★★★★ ·
Sometimes the best creations happen out of happy accidents, which may be the case for the origin story of EZTV. What started out as the project of Ezra Tenenbaum was only able to come to life via the meeting of other band members Michael Stasiak and Shane O’Connell at an audition to be part of J. Spaceman’s backing band for a Spiritualized tour. Luckily, these gentlemen didn’t make the cut, but kept meeting as a band to flesh out the tracks that Tenenbaum had already made a dent in; enter EZTV’s Calling Out.

Calling Out  is a collection of twelve songs that each span about the length of three minutes and provide a piece of the puzzle that the band’s crafted of indie rock, glam rock, and hints of punk rock all packaged neatly for you in the form of nifty pop tracks. There’s a lot of good things going on here in this debut album and a lot of it has to do with the easy-listening style that EZTV spin onto the tracks. “Bury Your Heart,” the first track up for your ears is a testament to this. Tenenbaum greets you with the perhaps stoic proclamation of “You’ve got to bury/ bury your heart now,” in his warm, sun worn vocals. Meanwhile, the instruments on this song take what you’ve heard in regards to breezy pop and thread it with the subtle darkness of glam rock. The electric guitars are twangy and distorted, foiling the sweet sounding vocals. Percussion wise, the drums fill the rest of the sound space with airy lightness and the faint tinkle of tambourine so the track doesn’t float too high, but dips and soars evenly. At first listen the darkness may not be hyper audible, but upon further listening, you can hear the way it creeps in via the guitars.

Another style of track that you’ll find on this album is that which employs pop hooks in the best fashion. “The Light,” does this exceedingly well, and the vocals almost sound jazzy in fashion. Something about this track reminds me of early tracks from Ra Ra Riot, and the band leads you into the catchy chorus with the ease that’s omnipresent through the duration of the record. Later tracks evoke some sort of urgency in pace and tone, but still neither rushed nor harried. Take, “Dust In The Sky” or “Long Way to Go,” as examples of this: the former of these two has a bassline that pulses at the bottom of the mix, but then the guitars still meander in and out of the track. The latter of the two lets the guitars propel the track with speed but then there are percussive clops and those mild lyrics to bring it back to the subtle rock you’ve come to love on the earlier tracks. Subtlety and pure sound are the meat of the album, and with these at the core of the record makes listening to it feel as though you’ve rediscovered a long lost classic favorite.

If you were looking for a record filled with novelty– that is to say, one that gives you something that’s never been done before, then perhaps Calling Out isn’t really for you. Rather, these gentlemen have crafted an album that plays on the genre of indie rock that’s been done a thousand times and make it fresh with the melding of storytelling and bright pop instrumentation. There’s a reason straightforward indie records have been done so much, and here is an example of just why that’s the case; there are still things left to be said, and well said at that.

 

 

White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again

White-Reaper-Does-It-Again

Rating: ★★★½ ·

White Reaper’s claim to fame first began after their explosive live act started turning heads and ears in Louisville, which led them to take off on a little tour in which the live act caught the attention of crowds nationwide. A little time has passed since this tour, and the four piece of young 20-somethings have used this bit of experience to craft this bombastic and raucous full length debut, White Reaper Does It Again. This record, though on the short side, is a rambunctious and explosive first album with select tracks that will surely be jammed in your head for a long time in the future.

The record’s start is explosive and immediately gripping: the first track, “Make Me Wanna Die” has enough fuzz on it to give you imagery of tv static all while you jam along. The instant you press play on the album and this song comes rapidly flooding through the speakers you can hear the band’s direction and genre fairly instantaneously— they waste no time in getting to the meat of their material. As I already mentioned, the electric guitar is ferociously fuzzy, raging through the track at high volume, the vocals from Tony Esposito are also heavily distorted and yet they crisply resound. Meanwhile, one element stands out quite cleanly from the mix, and that’s the intermittent organ sounding keyboard riffs which pop away from the mass of reverb and grit, acting like a cool wave of water to splash you in the face from the white hot guitar, vocals and cymbal-heavy drums. It’s a bright start to the record, and surely one of the bright stars on White Reaper Does It Again.

As the first track suggests, this album is a blistering shot of adrenaline to the heart from the beginning to the end and the band doesn’t ever really slow it down or pause for a break. Even in the middle of the album, where one might expect a lull in the garage rock, White Reaper give you the killer back to back duo of “Candy” and “Sheila.” The first of these two tracks centers around the rapid fire vocal delivery from Esposito, which is at once sweet and fierce. His voice, perfectly distorted, snarls and spits verse after verse, matching the guitar riffs and playfully bouncing around. These vocals are pushed to a new level on the next track, “Sheila,” on which I’m reminded of the vocals from Surfer Blood. This track simmers at the beginning, and the vocals serve as almost an agitator to bring the song to full volume. When the band bursts into the chorus, they truly shine, and all the elements come together for a buzzy whirlwind of garage rock.

While this is quite the impressive full length debut, I’ve found that some tracks simply stand out a little brighter than the rest. This is not to say those that I haven’t singled out here aren’t good or worth spending time with— on the contrary the whole record is quite gripping, but with further extended listening, there are certainly numbers that will stay with you for longer than others. Figure out which ones those are for you and spend some time with White Reaper Does It Again.

 

1 2 3 98