Northern Portrait – Pretty Decent Swimmers EP

Rating: ★★★★☆

It’s been almost three entire years since we’ve heard anything new from Northern Portrait, but this four song affair will make us forgive the gap between releases, as this is some of the most accomplished music the band has crafted to date.  The Pretty Decent Swimmers EP may only be a short little stop gap until a full-length comes our way, but fans old and new will surely find solace in the well-manicured pop of these Danes.

It’s early in the year, but you’re going to have to try real hard to find such a splendid piece of pop musical openings for the rest of the year.  There’s a casual entrance, building the listener’s internal tension, and then unleashing enchanting bliss at the 36 second mark.  You can sing along to the chorus of “Happy Nice Day,” aided by the perfect vocal control of singer Stefan, which never hurts the audiences ability to attach themselves to the music.

“Greetings From Paris” is an eternally satisfying track, full of literary allusions and a ringing guitar line that infects any pop lovers soul.  It’d be easy to take Stefan Larsen’s voice and make Morrissey comparisons, but this song demonstrates the softer quality of the vocals, stripped of the over-bearing sexuality.  I have to admit, I’m a sucker for monosyllabic lyrics sung in repetition like the “la la la las” that close out this little gem.

If you were wondering if Northern Portrait was going to pick up a little bit of the energy, then wait until you get to “Bon Voyage.”  The cutting guitar lines are extremely sharp, which provides a natural bit of pacing to the song…almost a dance floor shuffle.  But, like other pop classicists, The Lodger, there’s a bit of restraint, focusing instead on the harmony within the tune rather than force you to stomp your feet.  Closing out the song is a soaring bit of vocal melody and a tinkering it of piano…you don’t get better than that.

And it all comes to a grand close with the longest track, “I Feel Even Better.”  Larsen here seems to express a bit of solemnity, if only in the way he delivers his vocals.  Sure, the lyrics guide one to think there’s a bit of a reawakening, but you can hear the distant pain that the narrator had to live with at one point.  For me, the attached arrangements present in the background reinforce the pristine sound of twanging guitars that seek out your heart.  A perfect bookend to the whole listening experience.

If you aim to be frustrated about anything on Pretty Decent Swimmers then you’re going to find difficulty in that search.  There’s not a single misstep or faltering moment, but rather a complete collection of four songs exemplifying pop writing at its very finest. Cheers to you Northern Portrait: and welcome back!

Pretty Decent Swimmers is available now from Matinee Recordings.

Majestic Indie Pop from Northern Portrait

Finally, the wait is over! After two years, the triumphant return of Northern Portrait is upon us.  Just one listen to this new single and I guarantee you’ll be foaming at the mouth with anticipation.  The song casually opens, with a faint beat in the background and a jingling tambourine…and then we’re off at the 35 second mark.  From that moment on, my body tingled with the pleasure of listening to perfectly crafted indie pop that’s hard to match.  It’s looking like 2013 is going to be a great year for the band, starting with the Pretty Decent Swimmers EP, which is a 10″ being put out by our dear friends at Matinee Recordings.  Yep, I’m in love.

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New Hit from September Girls

I love writing about the bands on Matinee Recordings; it makes it so easy as they almost never miss.  The newest installation to their storied stable is Dublin’s September Girls, a five piece group specializing in bringing a blend of atmospheric post rock and girl group harmonies.  It’s pretty much a perfect blend of all your favorite things, uniting noisier pop with your tendency to wax nostalgic about a more pure rock n’ roll sound.  You better get your hands on it now, as the history of the band shows that there music is being gobbled up quickly all over the globe, so chances are this 7″ EP won’t be around for too long.

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The Sugargliders – A Nest With a View: 1990-1994

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Writing about a compilation is no easy task, especially when the output of said band, The Sugargliders in this case, was so limited, especially to ears on American soil.  Luckily for us, the hardworking folks over at Matinee Recordings have just released A Nest With a View, a collection of the Melbourne group’s singles and their one LP from 1990-1994.  If you’re looking to get your hands on a classic indie pop record that sounds just as relevant today as it did when it originally was released, then this is precisely the album for you.

“Ahprahran” begins our re-introduction to The Sugargliders, basically the project of the young Meadows brothers.  What struck me on this first track is how much I can see this being a vital part of any indie pop collection in the present day.  String arrangements accentuate the incredible melody, and the fact that the guitar sounds like it’s being carefully picked rather than sung only thrills me more.  It’s not the only standout track, in fact, most of these tracks hold up well on their own, but my current favorite is “Letter from a Lifeboat.”  There’s this minimal percussive element, and the guitar is carefully picked from the opening minute, almost like a classical guitar player.  Then the Meadows brothers combine their vocals to craft this fluid harmony that continues to fascinate me the more I play it.

But, for all my love of the aforementioned tracks, there’s plenty within the confines of A Nest With a View to capture your ears. I like how “Sway” opens with this wayward harmonica, crafting a melancholy time that’s reinforced by the lyrical content of a person moving on from their loved one.  You also have to appreciate the earnestness of the songwriting in “Police Me,” a song that reaches its climax when the lyric of “it’s true” is shouted amidst the intricate guitar playing of the group.  Of course, I’m always a sucker for added instrumentation like horns and strings, such as those little flourishes you find on the collections final track, “Top 40 Sculpture.”

I know that not everyone has the same fascination I do with brilliant indie pop music, but I’m glad that modern technology allows us to go back in time and expose the heart and soul of the movement.  I’m always amazed at the work accomplished by bands like The Sugargliders long ago, and although it’s nearly two decades from their time, it still sounds every bit as relevant in today’s genre.  A Nest With a View is an exquisite snapshot of a band that left us with a brief career, but one that, as evidenced here, surely stands the test of time.  You can only say that about the greatest of tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/01-Ahprahran.mp3]

Download:The Sugargliders – Ahprahran [MP3]

A Nest With a View is available now from Matinee Recordings.

Wonderful Old Pop from The Sugargliders

I hadn’t heard about the Sugargliders, though I’m admittedly ashamed of that fact.  Apparently the Australian group has a short career in the early 90s, releasing multiple singles, and one solitary album.  But, now our dear friends over at Matinee Recordings have decided that you deserve the right to get your hands on these out of print works, compiling a career retrospective titled A Nest With A View.  It’s honest indie-pop, with warming guitar lines and reflective lyrics–the things that make good pop so sincere and stunning.  I’m glad to have discovered this act, and I hope you opt to pick up their compilation on October 16th when it hits stores.

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Fresh New Indie Pop from The Hermit Crabs

Indie pop fans rejoice; the Hermit Crabs are back!  Our friends over at Matinee Recordings are about to release another four song EP from the much heralded Scottish group, which is the band’s first release since 2009!  The Time Relentless EP comes out via the label on September 4th, and the first hit from the record is beautiful.  Clearly the harmonies we all love about great indie pop are present, almost from the instant you press play.  They add a nice little touch with a wayward guitar line dancing and twirling around the vocals in the background.  Bet this is going to be one helluva release.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Stop_This_Now.mp3]

Download: The Hermit Crabs – Stop This Now [MP3]

New (ish) Indie Pop from The Lost Homeboys

Surely you’re all aware of my thirst for Swedish indie pop, and I was satiated today when a friend send me this recent EP from The Lost Homeboys.  They didn’t have to do too much  to convince me, considering members of the band are also part of The Electric Pop Group, a band in the heralded stable of our friends at Matinee.  This gem comes from the group’s Leaving Town EP (out not on Dufflecoat Records) and it’s a five minute trip down the beautiful road of indie pop goodness.  Something about that guitar sound gets me every time, and the vocal definitely found its way to my heart.  I hope you’ll enjoy this one.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/09.-The-Lost-Homeboys-S-is-for-secrets.mp3]

Download:The Lost Homeboys – S is for Secrets [MP3]

Pale Sunday – The Fake Stories About You and Me

Rating: ★★★½☆

You can put all your preconceived notions about music in Brazil to the side now.  Pale Sunday are nothing like CSS or Bonde Do Role. While I appreciate the regional flavor of those acts, The Fake Stories About You and Me seems so distant; it’s an album of pristine guitar pop in the realm of bands like Lucksmiths or Nada Surf–it’s somewhere in the middle there.

It’s a short EP, but “Happy (When You Lived Here)” is perhaps going to be one of my favorite guitar tracks of the year; it’s easiest the best track from the band that I’ve heard to date.  Luis’ voice sounds incredible here; it’s calm and cool, yet there’s a smoothness that coincides with the rest of the music.  Everyone else’s accompaniment fits perfectly into the track, from the backing vocals to the steady propulsive drum beat. So good; I wish everyone would write tracks like this.

“About Your Life” seems a little bit more straightforward in the vein of classic pop songs.  The guitars aren’t quite as clean here, and the synths provide an extra element to the background. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this song so familiar, but I put it all down to Luis Gustavo’s voice.  In contrast to the casual cool of the EP’s opener, here he sounds a bit softer, yet more distant in the mix.  It might seem like I’m not enthused by the difference, but I assure you that I’m having a hard time not playing this track over and over.  Screw it. I’m playing all four songs constantly.

Pale Sunday gives a bit of a bouncing drum roll on “That’s the Way,” giving the third track a bit of swagger and swing.  It’s a song about getting high with a friend or loved one, feeling lost in an emotional sense.  Towards the end of the song it sort of careens with guitar work that sort of bursts into a solo…perhaps providing the listener with that feeling of taking off into the far out realms of one’s mind.

When The Fake Stories About You and Me came to a close with “The Winter Song” I was taken aback at first.  It’s a song focused on strummed guitar, and a different pop appeal than the previous tracks. For me, it seems a lot more thoughtful, as if the band intended to leave you with a departing note about how we should go on with our lives. I like the way there’s a musical emphasis from the rest of the group that seems to arrive just after the 2 minute mark.  It’s a gorgeous track, and one that’s a fitting end to this EP.  Just as it ends, you want more, which might be my only detractor here, but with songs this good, Pale Sunday isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I’m grateful for that.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Happy.mp3]

Download: Pale Sunday – Happy [MP3]

The Fake Stories About You and Me is available now from Matinee Recordings.

 

New Pop Number from Pale Sunday

It’s already been a great year for our friends over at Matinee Recordings, having released the new Cats on Fire and several great EPs.  And they’re at it again with a new EP from Brazil’s Pale Sunday.  The title for the release is The Fake Stories About You and Me, and you can grab it from the label right now.  Gentle pop music seems to be the group’s specialty, and you can see similarities to the great Teenage Fanclub, but personally I think that things on this listen are a lot softer–in an endearing way of course.  Find yourself falling in love with this new track…it’s easy to do.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Happy.mp3]

Download:Pale Sunday – Happy (When You Lived Here)  [MP3]

Bart and Friends – There May Come a Time EP

Rating: ★★★★☆

Bart and Friends is an Australian supergroup of sorts, fronted by Bart Cummings.  The group features members of the Shapiros and the Lucksmiths, to name a few, so you’re probably going to have some lofty expectations.  Luckily for us all, There May Come a Time lives up to those expectations, and in fact, it surpasses them.

Opening the EP is “There May Come a Time,” which features the wonderful Pam Berry on vocals.  She’s talking about writing songs, but suggests that there are some words/songs she’ll always remember (those of a love when she was young). I love the brightness of the guitar sound here, not to mention the precision drumming which helps accentuate the depth of the track.  You’re going to be hard pressed to find a better album opener on a pop record than this one.  But, then they move into some extremely familiar territory with the much covered track, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  I know the song was originally done by Elvis, but as a kid of the 80s, I think back to UB40 (unfortunately).  However, twenty listens into this EP, I will forever think of Berry’s performance here; her voice seems to be perfectly crafted to sing this track.  Definitely a special song.

From here you’ll get into the middle of There May Come a Time, featuring two of my favorite tracks, though one is the record’s shortest.  “A Kiss You Won’t Forget” encompasses everything I’ve come to love about the sound of pop music that’s been carried over from Australia.  Sharp dueling guitars, careful bass work, and some of the best vocal performances.  It’s one of those songs you want to put on a mixtape and play for all your friends.  There’s only one thing wrong with “There Are So Many Things I’d Like to See,” and that revolves around the 50 second song length.  It’s a completed track by Bart and Friends, but I completely wish they’d have pushed it even further; it’s got the makings of becoming one of my favorite tracks every.  I’m just going to loop it over and over on my own to reach the desired effect. The group does approach similar territory on “These Words Are Too Small,” but Berry seems a bit more rushed here, so it doesn’t have that drama in it.

Closing out the EP is “A Summer’s Dream,” the most chilled out track on There May Come a Time.  Here, while Berry again sounds great, it’s the sound of the guitar that really shines.  It’s as if each note was carefully picked for maximum melodic power; there’s a carefree mood created by both the band and Berry.  It’s a relaxing feeling, the way every summer dream should be.  The ending is perfectly fitting for this EP, as the band have bookended both sides of the EP perfectly.  But, don’t think that the middle is just filler; you’re likely to find some of the most special pop moments of the year hiding in there. Go see for yourself.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/There_May_Come_A_Time.mp3]

Download: Bart and Friends – There May Come a Time [MP3]

There May Come a Time is available now from Matinee Recordings.

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