Dylan Shearer – Garagearray

dylanRating: ★★★★½

When I first began listening to Porchpuddles, the last record from Dylan Shearer, I could tell that something special was brewing in his craft.  Now, a few years later, we come to Garagearray, and I don’t even have the words to describe what he’s accomplished.  It’s an album so special at every turn that you’re not likely to hear anything of this sort this year.

“Time to Go” opens Garagearray with a piano ballad with Shearer’s deep vocal tones draped all across it.  What’s interesting to me is that despite the structure of the song appearing quite traditionally, there’s a twist to his approach.  Where others before him would simply press forward, and continue the song as normal, Dylan slows things to a crawl on various occasions, encouraging listeners to hang on every note.  The melody he creates at 2:57 is so special that it’s possibly my favorite moment in music this year. Then he brings in “Meadow Mines” to offer another intimate performance for listeners.  The recording is done in a manner that allows you to hear the buzz of the strings in the mics, while Dylan performs with his forlorn angelic voice.  Ugh. That voice.

While I typically identify with clarity in the vocals, there’s something enchanting about the way Dylan Shearer sings.  Take the track, “Garagearray Lookout,” where his vocals hold the track together.  When he sings, he seems to connect melodies together, rather than worry about proper enunciation.  It brings about an emotion that can’t easily be described, but suffice it to say, you’ll be sucked into every whispy note.  Another such example can be found in “Everyone Accept You” where it sounds as if the vocals were meant merely as an instrument, almost harmonically mumbled in the distance.  It might not be for everyone, but it works for my ears.

I think one of the possible detractors on Garagearray might be that as a listener, you’re asked to completely immerse yourself in listening to the record.  You can’t haphazardly skip through songs; each track has something unique to offer the listener.  You’ll probably waiver back and forth over your favorite, as I have, but you simply don’t want to skip ahead.  If you have the dedication, then you’ll find pop masterpieces in wait during the latter half of the album.  “Before You Know It (Its Over)” is a six minute adventure of rising and falling melodies, carefully designed to follow the careful guitar work and additional musical accents.  Shearer follows it up with another spectacular piano-laced ballad, “Barely by the Waterslide.” There’s a guitar sliding throughout too, running parallel to the pitch Dylan’s created with his voice; I’m sorry, but moments like this just don’t exist often enough. It then comes to a sublime end with “Tough on Grease (Carillon),” which might be the most pop-centric song on the album, if we’re to listen to the suggestions from the guitar.

The current musical climate often curates music that’s disposable.  You listen, you love, you discard.  But, if you’re looking for a record that’s worth sinking your teeth into for the duration of a lifetime, then I couldn’t think of a better piece of work than Garragearray.  The musical stylings are current, yet timeless.  The structure and progression of each song is dynamic, yet far from ordinary. Dylan Shearer, simply put, is at the top of his game, and that only makes you better by listening to it.


The album is available now from Castelface/Empty Cellar Records.

Sonic Avenues – Mistakes

sonicavsRating: ★★★½☆

In 2012 I was stuck with Television Youth on constant repeat; every where I went I was humming along to the melodies and playing air drums.  Suffice it to say, the arrival of Mistakes. the band’s latest effort for Dirtnap Records,  comes with a lot of anticipation on my end.  Sonic Avenues deliver, as I expected, offering up 11 songs of power-pop that are executed perfectly.

“Waiting for Change” begins with a screech of feedback, followed by some understated strumming, but then it jumps into delivery of ringing guitars and hook-laden melodies.  If you were looking for a great answer to the sorely missed Exploding Hearts, then songs like this are precisely why I consider Sonic Avenues to be one of the best acts to have picked up that torch. But, while they do nod their, they’re also making things a bit noisier, exemplified in the track “Automatic.”  It’s a faster paced banger, and the vocals, while still maximizing pop sensibility, are sung in a more hap-hazard fashion.   The next few tracks live in the same realm, with a darker guitar found on “New Vogues,” but I also wanted to see where the band mixed things up a bit.

On Mistakes, “Better Days to Come” brings some respite from the energy-fueled pop that’s been coming through your speakers.  Personally, I’ve found that the guitars, building through two different sounds creates a nice effect, allowing for the group to bring you a nice little power-ballad, though not in the cheesy since.  It allows your toes to take a rest before you tap them off.  You’ll find a similar book-end to the record when you arrive at “Lost & Found.”  It’s not quite the same ballad, but the relaxed approach is very much a part of these two tracks.

For my money, I’d find yourself stuck in tracks 6-8.  My two favorite songs, “In Your Head” and “Too Late” are located here.  The first is really just an excellent jam; I love how the song breaks down just after the two-minute mark, then builds itself back into infectious churning guitar noise.  “Too Late” on the other hand pushes you into rock mode right from the get-go.  The drums are pounding furiously, and you’ll find yourself swept up in the song instantly.  Check out the rad guitar moves knifing through at the 1 minute mark.

If you want a record that makes you feel good about loving rock n’ roll, then you really need to head out and pick up a copy of Mistakes this week.  Sure, there’s a lot of bands out there doing similar things musically, but for me, the Sonic Avenues are one of the best.  From the way the songs are mixed to the unending energy contained in each track, you just can’t get much better than this.



Tweens – s/t

tweens_albumcover.134023Rating: ★★★☆☆

The official arrival of Tweens comes with a lot of fanfare, namely the endorsement of Kim Deal (Breeders/Pixies).  But, can a young band live up to those lofty expectations? Can they fill your ears with tunes that are as undeniably memorable as “Cannonball?”  On their self-titled effort, there’s room for improvement, but overall, you get the feeling that the young three-piece are on to something.

When Tweens kick things off, you can tell that they’re intent upon bringing raucous noise with just a little bit of brattiness to the table.  Bridget Battle immediately takes center stage on “Bored With This City,” belting out vocals, with the occasional hiccup to add a wee bit of sugar to the track.  And, while that song pushes forth rather quickly, “McMicken,” the following tune, is just as fast, although there’s that effortless layer of cool layered in, making the tune worthy of repeated listens.

Still, with the opening tunes on Tweens winning you over, there has to be a breather, which is why the vocal display from Battle on the next track “Be Mean” offers up a slightly different look into the band’s sound.  She discards that bratty sexpot attitude, taking on a stronger role as a powerful front woman.  This is the first track where I really felt like her vocals stood out from the meat of the song.  It’s an approach I personally feel she should take more often, as it makes that song successful, much like it does with”Don’t WaitUp” and  “Forever.”  The latter tune is possibly the standout song on the record.  Musically, the band seems to have calmed down a bit, allowing for BB to win over fans with her ability to control her pipes at various pitches.  I suppose this song appeals to me because it offers that different glimpse inside of the band, as other songs seem to bleed into each other too often.

After spending several days with the album, I can definitely see where the excitement comes from.  The songs are filled with hooks, and it’s hard to deny Bridget’s dynamism as a front woman.  That being said, there are a few songs that trip over each other, and only the smart choice of slipping in some slower tunes saves the record from being a one-note venture. They salvage that, however, with the inclusion of things like “Stoner” and “Forever,” making it clear that their future might hold more than meets the eye.  Tweens are rising stars in the music community, but only time will tell just how far that star can go.


Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right

Protomartyr-album-cover-608x594Rating: ★★★★☆

It’s weird to try to put the entirety of the Protomartyr record into any category.  For all intents and purposes, there are no true comparisons to Under Color of Official Right, though there are nods here and here.  The album’s refreshing in that it doesn’t ever seem stuck in a genre, rather it’s defined solely on the fourteen songs included in the collection.

When “Maidenhead” kicks things off there are some stabbing guitar parts that reflect the little nuances within the realm of indiepop, but as soon as you hear the voice of Joe Casey, you know that you’re in a darker world, even emphatically pushed there when the cymbals crash behind the pounding rhythm.  It’s a sign that while you listen to UCoOR you’re likely to hear bits and pieces of everything you love, just spun in an entirely original manner.  You just have to go to the next stop on the record, “Ain’t So Simple.”  Casey’s vocals steady the work of the band, but the rest of the group offer this bit of pro to-punk oddity, keeping listeners on their toes.

For me, I think the presence of Joe’s vocals throughout is what really makes this album something to write home about; he seems to work against the approach of his band mates, cooly releasing vocals while they offer their own interpretations of songs.  His lyrics are never rushed, even when the band’s pushing ahead quickly, as they do on the short track, “Pagans.”  Still, somehow his approach to delivery fits for Protomartyr, especially when you take in tunes like “What the Wall Said.” This is a track that feels almost as if J. Casey is singing, as his minimal melody slides nicely into the punishing drum work and the ringing guitars.

If you’re looking to pick up a single you’ve got options though I suggest you go all the way through.  The two singles “Scum Rise” and “Come and See” both are great options, thus they were chosen as the promo tracks.  Personally, I think you’d do just as well to stop at “Violent,” which is the track I think I’ve come back to most often.  This song exemplifies the band’s sound the most to me, with Casey offering a great vocal performance while the drums heavily roll in the background and crisp guitars ring out.  I’ve also taken a liking to “Trust Me Billy,” which offers up the most pop sensible music, for my two cents.

However, your listening experience with Under Color of Official Right will revolve around careful scrutiny of each lyric and each tempo change within the album. No one song stands next to a copy of its predecessor, and each movement sounds fresh, making the whole of Protomartyr sound like a well-oiled machine intent upon creating music on their own terms.  There’s no historic embellishment and no ties to their home; it’s an album living out on its own, the way a great album should.


Download: Protomartyr – Scum, Rise! [MP3]

Under Color of Official Right is available now from Hardly Art.


The Mary Onettes – Portico

The-Mary-Onettes-PorticoRating: ★★★½☆

When The Mary Onettes released their self-titled album, everyone was enthused.  They crafted those pop songs coated in dense atmospherics that created contradicting emotions; the songs were warm, yet they offered up a cold and sterile mood.  But, along the way, they’ve experienced various changes, most recently on Hit the Waves.   That album encompassed more of a direct pop feeling to it, shying away from the dark craftsmanship that was present early on.  Now we’ve got Portico.  This record succeeds in both its brevity and its return to the days of old.

“Silence is a Gun” immediately starts with this delayed effect with an occasional note thrown in, affecting the listener almost immediately. But, while the song returns to the darker aesthetic, it doesn’t mean the group has left their pop ambitions at home.  Instead, this song represents the work the band has put in since 2007, honing their sound, finally perfecting the best of both worlds. Similarly, “Naive Dream” takes the same approach, though this song goes straight for the point, offering jangling guitars from the get-go. while dreamy vocals rest atop the mix.

Then we move into slightly darker territory with “Ritual Mind,” which seems crafted to slow things down a bit in the structure of the record. You can just take the pacing alone, here, realizing that this is a song where you just let yourself go, immerse yourself in the realm crafted by the combination of guitars and keys.  But, you’ll only have brief respite as “Everything Everything” comes along to move things back into the more danceable direction.  It’s hazy house music, crafted by a tight-knit band, making it much more enjoyable than the previous approach The Mary Onettes took a year ago.

It’s all leading in one direction however, towards the opus titled “Bells for Stranger.”  Here you’ll find the band employing more of a soundtrack approach, coating the song in layers of atmospherics and sparse notes before lyrics even enter the fold.  Personally, I love how some of the notes evolve, going out of key as they dwindle in the space left behind by the slowly delivered vocals.  It’s clear, here, that the band set out on the journey of writing Portico with something in mind, something that they had planned and mapped out carefully.  And yet, they add more to that fold by using the album’s title track as an instrumental bookend to close things out.

For me, it’s a really refreshing piece of work.  I’ve enjoyed the Mary Onettes for some time, but I’ll admit that from time to time they stay in one play, musically speaking.  Portico is not that record.  Instead, it’s an album with a purpose, a statement.  All the songs have a lineage to the group’s sound, but they’re composed and organized  in a fashion that ultimately rewards the listener.


David Novick – Your Sister’s Hand

David-Novick-Your-Sisters-HandRating: ★★★½☆

David Novick is only a few years into his solo career, yet he’s already claimed a great deal of acclaim in that brief span.  His latest LP, Your Sister’s Hand, offers listeners more strong songs from start to finish, though I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more attached to the lyrical numbers that are present.

Your Sister’s Hand starts off with “Gate.”  If you’re one to read into the title of the track, then perhaps this tune is your careful entrance into the world of Novick. The careful guitar work demonstrates just how talented he is; I particularly enjoy the buzz of the strings as they echo through my speakers.  It serves as the perfect opening to the record, leading you right into what many might consider the best tune on the album, “Beneath the Line.”  Musically, the song’s filled with quiet guitar balanced against a discordant solo, at least during the opening moments.  You’ll probably find this track pretty good, but you’ve got to wait until about 2.5 minutes for the song to truly blow you away. Claire Plumb enters here, giving you a gentle whisper of a vocal performance that elevates the song to perfect balladry. These are the sorts of songs where David Novick finds his groove.  For instance, the following track, “Inside the Eye,” brings with it this forlorn vocal that rides along the music.  My favorite bit is how the guitar strumming is accentuated by the careful percussive work at each turn; it’s a special touch for sure.

For me, there are some missteps, but that’s just my personal taste.  I think on “Until You Show” that there are great gifts, but I felt like David put too much on this number, perhaps cramming a touch more than he needed to into this one.  However, it’s a stark contrast to “Ash,” which follows.  This tune has a stark nakedness to it, in both the style of recording and the composition itself.  I imagine the musicians carefully sitting around a campfire quietly singing atop one another.  In doing so, the song is both powerful and subtle.  It’s not going out there to blow you away, yet it does, perfectly.  It helps lead to the bookend of the record, closing in a fashion that reminds you what a unique talent we’ve got here.  Put side by side, “Carry Home the Light” and “Memory” are perhaps the strongest ten minutes of Your Sister’s Hand. The former is one of those tracks that seems so simple and obvious you can’t understand how a track wasn’t written exactly like this before, but further listens allow you to see beneath the surface to the careful touches that make the song mesmerizing. The latter is a 7 minute opus that you’ll have to listen to fully in order for you to really grasp what has been accomplished here.  Rather than rush everything into the first few minutes, the song unfolds effortlessly, taking its time to warm you over. Together, these two tracks close out a wonderful collection of songs from David Novick that only careful listeners will truly appreciate.


Download: David Novick – Beneath The Line [MP3]

Withered Hand – New Gods

14191-new-godsRating: ★★★★☆

If you’re looking for a record that’s going to give you an immediate connection, then you should stop all you’re doing and find a way to listen to this new album from Withered Hand, the project of Dan Willson.  New Gods is brimming with reflection in the lyrics, the kind that one finds when coming to terms with growing up and getting old. You’ll find yourself repeating so many of these tunes that you’re likely to burn through your first copy in a matter of hours.

“Horseshoe” begins your affair with an acoustic strum and Willson’s voice, which occasionally has a Wayne Coyne affectation to it.  The song becomes fleshed out through drums and a backing electric guitar.  Throughout my listens I can’t tell what I’m more in love with, the intimacy of Willson’s voice or the eruptive chorus that gets better with each; they’re both incredible dammit. It’s a beautiful tune that opens the way for the more introspective lyrics of “Black Tambourine.”  I’d hate to say I know what Dan’s thinking, but my interpretation revolves around the idea of evolving from your youthful outlook only to find that you don’t necessarily have to redefine your life and your goals. You’ll find a similar sentiment in the lyrics of “Fall Apart” later in the record. But, while the lyrics often turn to internalizing the process of adulthood, New Gods is often just about the abilities of a great songwriter.

As I alluded to earlier, there are some songs that have immediate connection with the listener, and “King of Hollywood” is one such song.  Willson incorporates varying styles from a rocking singer-songwriter to a more country influences songwriter within this tune, but it still holds tightly to a core wrapped around pop sensibility.  There’s a positivity exhibited in the mood of the track, which sets you up for the more solemn number that follows, “California.”  The majority of this track is built on the simplicity of a strummed guitar and the vocals, which are joined on occasion by a female backing part. Still, there’s a raised element during the chorus, and while it might remain louder in your speakers, it brings with it a sentiment of solitude that fits in nicely.

If I did have to pick a track that stood out to me above the rest, it would surely be the album’s title track, “New Gods.”  This song combines the lyrical content discussed earlier with the excellent songwriting I’ve come to realize Dan Willson has to offer.  This song also utilizes all these little hidden brush strokes that add to the tune.  There’s a strummed guitar, light drum touches, deep bass buzz, piano and even backing vocals; he throws in everything, yet still holds the center of the song around himself.  But, each of us are affected differently, so who knows what you’ll find as your favorite when you give this a listen.

Withered Hand might just be the ideas of one man, but it seems like it encompasses the life of men in general.  The songs are personal, and even though they take on serious tones, there’s still an element of playfulness, which I’ve found endearing.  You’ll be wise to rush out and find your hands on New Gods.


New Gods is available through Slumberland Records.




The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt

The-Coathangers-Suck-My-Shirt-608x608Rating: ★★★★★

Honestly, I didn’t expect this from the Coathangers.  The group’s always been a blast to jam to, but in no way did I expect these ladies to offer up such a complete record as Suck My Shirt.  Four albums into their career and this is far away their best record, and for what it’s worth, the best thing I’ve wrapped my ears around.

From the opening moments of Suck My Shirt, the album offers a bit of gritty rock n’ roll that’s juxtaposed perfectly with tiny bits of pop.  “Follow Me” features drummer Stephanie on vocal duties, offering her gruff rasp over a precision drum beat.  But, the simple entrance of “whoas” in support give that catchy touch that makes the group so endearing at the moment. Personally, I love the way Stephanie’s vocals battle back and forth with her counterpart, Julia Kugel.  Take, for instance, “Adderall,” which pops up later on in the album.  The vocals are strained while the guitar work slides up and down the scales.  It would seem like the drummer has the key with her performance, but then Kugel slides in with just a the slightest yelp of “yeah” or “what” during the chorus; it completely takes a good song to the next level.

But, one thing remains the same with this modern version of The Coathangers: the ladies still bring bubbly fun to their tunes.  Sure, there’s a dark edged propulsive rhythm on “Springfield Cannonball,” but as the cymbal crashes and the guitar knifes through like a siren there’s still an element of frivolity to what they’re doing.  They’ll even get you bouncing and moving when you go ahead to the next track, “Merry Go Round.”  High-hat work coordinating with the way the guitar’s played would be enough to get you tapping your toes, but the vocals are both bratty and driven by an inherent hook.  Just imagine yourself rocking to a surf-pop act, only this time it’s fueled by ladies with a sinister sense of humor and fun.

Still, it’s not all pop spun on a knife’s tip; there are some generally sweet songs lurking throughout.  For one, you can take the quieted effort on “Zombie,” which has one of the most gentle vocal displays the band has to offer.  Even when they jump the pace up a bit, there’s an element of enchantment coming through your speakers. It works well with a song like “I Wait,” that offers almost a jazzy crooner feel to it, though done in the vein of an evil temptress.  It’s just a sign that the group has it all at the moment.

I’m not generally one to fawn too much over a record, but I don’t know why anyone would have anything negative to say about Suck My Shirt.  It’s playful in all the right spots, yet filled with ballsy rock n’ roll moments that will please any listener. For what it’s worth, The Coathangers have been building toward this for a long time, but it feels like this is the culmination of all their hard work coming together perfectly. I dare you to disagree.

Warm Soda – Young Reckless Hearts

warmsodaRating: ★★★★½

When a musician steps away from a well-followed act, it’s difficult to say where things will end up.  But, in the case of ex-Bare Wires member, Matthew Melton, his move to form Warm Soda seems to be paying off immensely.  The band’s first album, Someone for You was spot-on power-pop, and Young Reckless Hearts picks up where that album left off, smoothing out the edges towards perfection.

“Going in Circles” starts the album off, indicating that while the riffs still maintain their crunchy edge, they might be polished up just a bit. The track offers a smoother delivery than previous Warm Soda tunes, though it still has that powerful driving rhythm prompted by the pounding drums.  Then you’ll move right into “Postcards,” which employs more of an angular guitar cut.  Personally, I love the way that Melton moves in and out of different vocal ranges within this number. You can then push forward to the record’s title track, “Young Reckless Hearts,” featuring a guitar part that our parents would have happily air-strummed at their favorite arena-rock show. However, there’s still an intimacy with what Melton and his cohorts are crafting; there’s an inherent warmth to the way vocals are delivered and how the pieces all fit together.

Honestly, the greatest thing about listening to Young Reckless Hearts is that you’re not going to find a single track that you’ll want to skip over, even though we’re all guaranteed to find our own favorites.  My last few rounds I’ve really been enjoying “When Your Eyes Meet Mine.”  It has a call-and-response backing vocal that really adds some pop-sensibility (as if much more was needed) to the song; it also has Melton working with my favorite vocal inflection. “Things That We Said” is also another winner, in my book.  If you jumped into the track just prior to the 1 minute mark, you’ll hear exactly why I love this tune; there’s this swirling pop sensation that’s crafted by multi-part vocal harmonizing backed by a twangy guitar sound.  Just don’t think that the group can’t still deliver a killer punch amidst all this shimmering pop.

The closing tune, “Stranger to Me,” is one of the songs on the record that’s most reminiscent of the band’s earlier works.  The sound of the guitars is much more forceful, providing a nice discordant ring through your speakers. You’ll also find it filled with lots of guitar solos allowing for the band to demonstrate some of their fine musicianship; it even includes a nice little jam session before pushing forward to wrap up the track with a final explosion of glittery garage goodness.

You’re going to find it hard to dismiss Warm Soda nowadays.  There lives shows have garnered huge responses, and it seems like the hits from this group just keep on coming.  Young Reckless Hearts is a record you’ll enjoy at full volume, making it perfect for your entrance into Spring…or you’ll just be glad these guys released another batch of kick ass songs.  Either way, I’m happy.




Each Other – Being Elastic

eachRating: ★★★½☆

It seems over the last few years that a great deal of the bands I’ve taken a liking to have put less emphasis on the meaning behind the title of their completed works.  I can’t, however, say that about Each Other.  Their newest effort, Being Elastic, fits entirely in line with what one might think when reflecting upon the album’s name; it stretches all over the place musically.

“About the Crowd” begins with this fuzzy bass line lurking beneath the vocals.  The pacing seems like a mild stutter-step, until you reach the 1.5 minute park, where the guitars begin to chime in with more of a euphoric circle pit direction that perfectly meets the vocals.  From here Being Elastic moves into the more post-punk driven “Send Your Signals,” which is driven by the tight percussive quality and angular musicianship.  At times, the band slows things down to a more drawn out tempo, finishing off the track with this soaring pop vocal that’s indicative of the band’s efforts to move all over the place within their tracks.

Throughout the listen, Each Other moves in and out of varying genres.  “You or Any Other Thing” is one of those tracks that encapsulates precisely why the group’s so intoxicating.  The tune drifts in with dreamy folk harmony, but at various points, things are flipped upside down as the song takes an approach that seems like the obvious clash of influences like Q and Not U and The Wrens.  To me, it seems like the perfect way to make a nod to past greats, while still showing a progressive attitude in the songwriting. It seems like an easy enough formula for success, but I like how the group is capable is switching the approach, as they do on “Fine Time.” This number has a softer opening moment, then it jumps off into a jangling romp that is bound to pick up the spirits of listeners.

You do have to be careful where you skip around on Being Elastic, as you’re likely to get the wrong impression if you land on certain tracks.  “Seeing Doubles Dreaming Troubles” is dominated by an upbeat chugging that only slows down long enough to suck the audience in before bounding off in an enjoyable fashion.  It’s a complete juxtaposition to tracks like “The Trick You Gave Up” or “Or Else,” both which rely upon an extremely mellow mood to deliver their message.  Your best bet is just to enjoy the diversity from start to finish.

And there you have it folks; you have a record that’s as diverse a listen, sonically, as the name would imply.  Being Elastic offers a glimpse into the life of a band that’s not sold on one dynamic, and in taking that in stride, Each Other have released an album that demonstrates the vitality that comes with maximized creativity.


Download: Each Other – Your Ceiling is My Floor [MP3]

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