It’s been over a year since I’ve done any form of post which makes me a very bad boy. The reality of the situation is that my big boy job suddenly got very big throughout 2019 and I subsequently used music to stay sane, as opposed to using it as an excuse to engage in blog based chit-chat.
2019 was also a year where I rediscovered my love of punk with a number of friends who go to more shows than I do, because they’re cooler and have their work life balance under better control. As a result, my Spotify playlists have more power chords throughout them, and the latest single from New Jersey punk outfit Mercy Union kept me sane over a long layover in one of the Carolinas this Christmas period.
I can’t think of anything witty to say, but if you enjoyed The Menzingers latest album, the new two track EP (appropriated titles II) from Mercy Union may be up your street. Released December 20th, this will be on heavy repeat throughout 2020.
American Football have become something of a cult phenomenon in recent years. Their debut record, recorded in the late 90s and released in 1999, is considered a pioneering example of Shoegaze guitar music. Less pop and more Emo-Jazz Indie, the eponymous record’s 9 tracks captured the imaginations of an entire generation of suburban kids who married the plain-spoken-lyric delivery with complex and non-self-indulgent musicianship. 15 years later they reunited for LP2, a second record that built off the original’s legacy with a poppier sensibility and an eye on recording hits. Whilst never hitting the heights of the original, it is still a wonderfully consummate record and a personal favourite.
Every Friday I have a routine of waking up to my “Release Radar” curated playlist on Spotify whilst I attempt to wash off a lack of sleep with a ferociously hot shower. In between all the forgettable 3 minute long boy-rock and overly serious electro bedroom-pop, a familiar tenor rose through the steam amid distinctive clean picked guitars weaving across frenetic controlled drum rhythyms to ask me “what’s the allure of inconsequential love”. I’ll be honest, I actually climbed out of the shower to check my phone, unwashed soap up my nose and all, to check it was indeed American Football and subsequently smashed my knee into the sink.
I’m surprisingly crap at following new releases so this made my day. I’m now writing this (sneakily) at work and have already clocked over 20 listens through. The new single, Silhouettes, is darker in tone and harks back to the original records hypnotic procedures. The lyrical delivery carries the song through the undulating musical valleys, like a drone doing filming an Icelandic geographical survey. American Football’s great strength is their unwavering sincerity in the face of emotional exposure. So many acts explore this with a 21st cynicism that verges on over-compensation. Yet when lines such as “I’m a fool for your pageantry” swing into view, there is a melancholic sharing in the familiar experience, instead of appreciating some sarcastic turn of phrase on a subject so universal.
It feels that American Football have emerged from the long shadow of the first record, produced the necessary reunion record and are now just making music simply as a band. They aren’t an old band, a reunited band or a scarily accurate tribute act. They’re just a band making some of the best music of their careers.
The full LP releases March 22, 2019 which is unfortunately at least 3 months away, and this is the most negative thing I can think to say.
Please don’t be mad baby. I’ve just not been very enthused. Ever since the passing of Scott Hutchison, frontman of easily my favourite band of all time “Frightened Rabbit”, I have struggled to find the enjoyment in being glib or enthusiastic about my listening habits. When one is moulded by an artist’s back catalog, it is devastating when tragedy befalls them. When music becomes as much a part of our self-definition as our hair colour, and as much a part of our history as love affairs great or small, artists transcend their position as producers of music. They are a best friend, confidant and inseparable narrative forces in our personal histories. A pin on a board upon which we hang our lives.
Some artists, however, you simply grow up with. They are the neighbour’s kid who you’d kick a football around the road with, who came to your Birthday Party when you were small and always seemed to be in the same class as you. Somehow always being present in the larger friendship groups, parties and get-togethers that when you find yourself inviting people to your wedding, you can’t believe how many memories you’ve shared and just how they’d managed to become so significant.
For me, “Broken Bells” fit the description. Originally introduced to my library out of loyalty for The Shins, their music began to narrate my life in non-specific ways. Instead of immediate nostalgic memories, tracks such as “October” instead remind me of the smell of my university campus, sitting on an underground train three years later and will probably continue to do so when I’m attempting to get my future unborn child to sleep. “Shelter” is the new line in that narrative of evocative melding of experience with audio.
Broken Bells, the collaboration of Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) and James Mercer from The Shins, have always felt like an unlikely marriage of brilliance. The tracks are a production of indie-pop through the sieve of a Tron soundtrack written by Neil Gaiman. All slightly digitised dreamscapes conjured by gifted musicians to send into the ether. Music made for late night festival sets and evening headphone commutes.
The new track, “Shelter” is unmistakably Broken Bells, with it’s soft nuanced production pairing with James Mercer’s relaxed vocal delivery. As the chorus hits, the similarities with the first record rise to the fore and continue onwards as it is followed by the jagged guitar rhythms that recall “Vaporize” from that very release. I missed the 2014 album release on account of not paying attention but if their back catalog is bookended by High Road and Shelter, it will be proof in the pudding in James Mercer as one of America’s most valuable pop songwriters and Danger Mouse as a world class conductor of perfect noise.
I need to get in the habit of queuing these. Work has been insanely busy and it’s just not been too easy to locate the necessary time to post every day, which is a ridiculous level on my current schedule.
Enough of the excuses let’s get to the good stuff. I was hiking around The Hype Machine, sick of my recent Spotify playlists, when I came across this track by lo-fi bedroom pop unknown Christian Alexander. After a quick google, there is no discernible label or significant web presence and yet here is a gem of bedroom love songs, sang to a cracked ceiling in some mopey flat-share and accidentally leaked out into the world (potentially, I thoroughly have no idea, I’m just imagining). The track is mournful and surrenders the agency of ourselves to external forces whilst attempting to maintain the connections with others that makes life worth living.
Simple guitar rhythms accompany a fragile and delicate vocal procedure that is not dissimilar to the vocals only Bon Iver tracks “Woods” and “715 – CR∑∑KS.” But instead of building to lush production values, Christian Alexander roots in a shared millennial experience with lines such as: “I know I’m not what you needed but you came through anyway” and “Show me you’ll fill all the spaces a pill couldn’t do for me.”
It’s brutally honest and wonderfully melancholic. One of the best hidden gems of the year.
Whenever I start posting with any legitimate regularity, my trusted email sources start to peak their heads over the trenches that are media email inboxes and sling some more class acts my way.
I normally don’t care for the moniker of “psychedelic rock.” Not only is it obscenely popular with young up-and-coming bands but it also seems to mean nothing. Does it refer to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd? Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s copper-plated rhythms? Fuzz boxes and colourful album sleeves? Incomprehensible noise? Nobody knows. So, when I received an email about an upcoming psych band I was apprehensive.
Turns out I had nothing to be worried about. GRDNS (gardens, get it?) latest release “Roulette Love Gun” is a jangly indie-pop tune dialled into a fuzz box and twisted through blues rhythms. As a track it almost feels as if two bands have collaborated on stage as distorted guitar solos fabricate themselves within the layers of dreamy shoegaze. Leeds is a northern hub for rock and roll, boozy life decisions and early 20s shenanigans. GRDNS successfully soundtrack the chaotic, symbiotic between stage fantasy and intelligent pop structure to create an excellent summer starter track.
Produced by James Kenosha (Pulled Apart By Horses, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Rhodes) the single is out today and is available on all platforms.
Whenever I get back into this, it takes me forever to start scrolling through the Hype Machine and my own listening habits until I find something that I’m actually in to and want to share. Inevitably I end up posting stuff already in other places, sorry if I’m simply an echo chamber for the time being.
London continues to be grey, miserable and horrifically busy as we slowly slide towards summer but that has yet to dampen my optimism for the coming season. Every spring, like clockwork, I hit a nostalgic turn in my listening habits. It may be Britpop and it’s attendant connotations with a mid 90s Steve, all big forehead and Thomas the Tank Engine toys; or it could be 70s classic rock and my teenage aspiration to be the next Jimmy Page. This year however, I have delved into the last time indie music in Britain was huge, the NME playlists of 2007-2009. In between organising through my desire to be a Libertine or a Franz Ferdinand backup dancer, I spent those years relentlessly copying the single stringed riffs into my own songs on adolescent heartbreak, sadness and sorrow.
Wilderado are a callback to this era of musical endeavour, with a decidedly US flavour. The LA based four piece in their single “Sorrow” dance around simple single string combinations before building into the large choruses that befit the era once it crossed over into the mainstream. It may not be the new Jeff Buckley or Radiohead, but a thoroughly enjoyable callback to when guitar music was the pop genre de jour. Whilst simple and unpretentious, the track gains a maturity via it’s delicate control of volume and degree of restraint. Whilst undeniably uncomplicated, the track’s control of euphoria throws me back to my late teens, where all I wanted was to be in a band that people wanted to listen to.
For fans of Paper Lions. The new EP is out May 25th if this tickles your pickle.
Two days in a row! I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this productive or capable.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of”growing up” lately. For many, it’s a cynical rejection of our personal passions, infatuations, hobbies and identities for the eventual embracing of ‘adult responsibility.’ For others, it can be the distillation of these things into something we can use to interact with the wider world. Almost like constructing a plaster cast of ones own face to then interact with society. The single inevitability is that we outgrow the state of adolescence in which our identity is our primary priority. Whereas the child wonders “who am I?” the adult questions “what the fuck am I doing?”
The narrator in Flora Cash’s single 18 Dollars is wondering something similar but through the air of perfect hindsight. “What the fuck were we doing?” Although some of us look on heartbreak with a nostalgic kindness, so often we chastise ourselves and are subsequently embarrassed by our naivety. Flora Cash excellently capture the moment of recollection through the opening line “I can still remember just the way you tasted // pack of cigarettes in a basement.” Taking the narrative back to a period of instant recollection, swooning arpeggio-ed guitars drop the listener delicately into the misery that is our formative memories. For all the youth in the world can’t mitigate the utter misery that early heartbreak can render when all you are is all you identify with.
Amongst laughing at ones own history “I can still get high just thinking about us wasted // 18 dollars for a case kid // It’s all we had… it’s all we knew” a listener becomes part of a world in which youthful heartbreak is ancient, immature and evidently still incredibly poignant. Because the last time you truly identified solely with your identity is when someone can really hurt it the most. Lines sung in a suggestive scoff are offset by highly polished crescendos of harmonies that slice through themselves with heavy piano drops, encapsulating defining formative moments.
Shout out to the entirety of the Hype Machine’s contributors for getting to this one before me.