This week’s picks are for the melancholy in all of us.
Fake Blood - Fake Blood is the bedroom project of a nineteen year old from New Jersey named Laura. The cool indifference of her monotone vocals and simple guitar tracks are somehow pregnant with raw emotion. There are a lot of lo-fi recordings on Bandcamp that sound very much like Fake Blood, but something about those three songs on lame death has me completely enamored and interested to see what other music she will put out.
Cigarette - These DC natives put out folky lo-fi psych-rock full of a melancholy that’s easy to sway to. Their album gush is an easy listen that you could get lost in for hours. The tracks are long (one nears the seven minute mark) and layered with a complexity that slowly builds. The music is beautifully sad, but with that all-important glimmer of hope.
Flashlight O - Earlier this spring, I saw Flashlight O perform an in-studio session at WMUC and instantly fell in love. Not only is he pretty cute, but his fuzzy lo-fi tracks commanded attention through the power of minimalism. The solo project of Colin Alexander of Spook Houses uses sparse production and deep vocals that remind me vaguely of Jeff Mangum. He croons from our backyard in Baltimore, and his latest album is called The Truman Sho.
Moody singer Mark Lanegan has fashioned a career out of pairing a Tom Waits growl with elements of hard rock and 90s grunge. In his new video for “Sad Lover,” he couples this sound with slowly evolving glimpses of a bleak landscape.
The opening of the video sets up a sense of steady motion, syncing drums and distorted guitar with a shot that glides over a set of train tracks. It then shifts to views of the outdoors as seen from a moving vehicle, each partially obscured. The looming clouds in the distance reflect the lover’s vision of a “looming hurricane disaster”.
As the video progresses, the visual palette extends beyond shades of gray. Lanegan’s mention of a “red sun” prompts a neat shot of that object framed in a corner of the screen between blocks of shadow. Dark blues also come in and enhance the feeling of melancholy.
Lanegan makes an appearance about halfway through, looking appropriately grizzled. He’s dressed in a black suit and shades, with a nondescript high-rise in the background. He could be a man standing with grim resolve in opposition to a harsh world, or he could just be a total badass. It doesn’t really matter which.
The video as a whole is more concerned with creating a vibe than tell a story. The gradual pace meshes well with the warm bed of fuzz laid down by the guitar and bass. The fragments of color complement the hints of earnestness that enter Lanegan’s voice. I tend to prefer when videos adopt a less is more attitude, and this one uses that to good effect.
Okay, so maybe I’m weird, at least in terms of musical taste. If you have a lot of ex-girlfriends and sing in a whiney pitch, I’ll probably like your band. Layered over noodle-y guitar riffs? Sigh, you’ve got me.
Modern Baseball is no exception. Discovered on my Joyce Manor Spotify radio station (no, it’s okay. My eyes are also rolling into the back of my head.), this Philly-based pop-punk band released Sports in 2012, followed by You’re Gonna Miss It All this year. Both completely rule; they’re ripe with nods to Say Anything, Motion City Soundtrack, and other contemporaries like the Front Bottoms. Songwriters Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewold capture what it means to be an early 20-something in 2014 better than most. Consider the first track on Sports, “Re-Do” (I’ve kindly included it for you above). In verse one, they sing “We’re pissing away our time, cause we’re pissing away these beers.” Later, it gets better: “The ‘future freaks me out’ but I guess I could just curl up in a ball and think.” Those of you, myself included, recently graduated from college should sink back and relax at this sentiment. You’re not alone in your millennial angst. No one else knows what’s going on either.
AS HEARD ON TV: “It’s Alright Baby” by Komeda on Gilmore Girls
I would be remiss not to include Gilmore Girls in this column, as it is my absolute favorite show ever. The dialogue was fast and witty, the acting was always on point, and the character relationships were identifiable to adolescent girls as well as moms of the early 2000’s. Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote a script that contained more literature, TV, film, and music references than any other show I’ve watched. As a middle school Gilmore Girls junkie, many of the allusions went over my head, for instance comments about RuPaul or obscure Henry Miller novels did not spark any sort of “Aha!” moments. However now as a more culturally seasoned person in my twenties, any time I re-watch an episode, I say things like, “Oh my god, they referenced Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I just wrote a 3,000 word paper about that for my English seminar!” Additionally, the myriad of music references and music playing in each episode prompted one of my college roommates and I to spend several hours making the ultimate Gilmore Girls playlist that contained everyone from The Bangles to Carole King to Rancid to The Shins to Beck to PJ Harvey. The playlist was titled “Oy With The Poodles Already” and if you don’t get that then I’m sorry, you may need to redo your childhood.
Possibly my best musical discovery from Gilmore Girls, although it’s hard to choose, was Komeda’s “It’s Alright Baby.” I don’t know much about Komeda aside from I love this song a lot, they’re from Sweden, and the band’s music was in an Old Navy commercial. “It’s Alright Baby” was featured in the episode when the guidance counselor condemns Rory for being antisocial, which then leads to her briefly joining a scary almost cult society, but thankfully at the end she resumes spending lunch alone with her Walkman (remember those?), listening to this great Komeda song. The video is strange, the lyrics don’t totally make sense, however the chorus is a solid reminder, “Woo hoo, it’s alright baby/ It’s a crazy world, it’s a bit absurd.” So yeah, chill, things are nuts and you’ll be fine… maybe.
How can you tell that a band is growing up? I promise this isn’t a dumb joke where the punch line is “they start getting AARP letters.” To me, it’s the use of negative space – embracing the idea that silence can be just as much of an instrument as anything turned up to 11. Why do you think Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is widely considered one of his greatest songs? It’s all about restraint as a show of force.
So by that metric, The Antlers must be mature as all get out. Their June release Familiars is less guitar-driven than their past work; there’s room to breathe. Even the song titles (single words, as with their 2009 offering Hospice) tell just enough of the story to make you press repeat. But don’t mistake their breathy sonic cosmos for a lack of complexity – drummer Michael Lerner adds texture by giving his many rhythmic tools all a shot, similarly to the infamous Kings of Leon tune “I Want You.” Darby Cicci works overtime playing not just Beirut-tinted trumpet, but bass, keyboards, and synths, which range from swirling spaceship to Sunday church. And Vocalist Peter Silberman is no stranger to diverse instrumentation, pairing his powerfully conservative vocals with heavily reverbed, slightly jazzy guitar work.
This record is full of regret and hard-earned advice given to a blurry audience, culled from lonely years on the road. Take “Hotel”: “When I check out / It won’t matter how my name’s spelled / Cause when you pass through / You only keep what you can’t sell” croon-wails Silberman, whose sexy, mournful falsetto gives the songs just the right touch of wintry soul. The stilted piano “Doppelgänger” has a fun house effect, only strengthened with the mirroring of Z-era My Morning Jacket “ooh”-ing. “Surrender” sounds like a super mega chill Vampire Weekend. “Refuge” sounds like a slightly less sad Shy Girls. Pretty much all of the songs borrow from the xx. You get the idea – these Brooklyn boys have perfectly captured a lazy, weary Manhattan afternoon. The genius of these hooks is not in their Top 40 brashness, but in their subtlety; instead of boring the listener after spin #4, they get settled in and truly stick.
In a post-Random Access Memories scene, electronic music has leaned towards a groovier, old-school dance feel, almost returning to the simple, danceable purity of before the dubstep invasion. To many of his rapidly growing fanbase, Saint Pepsi makes music that does what Daft Punk’s latest could have achieved: return to an old-school feel without losing the cutting edge of modern electronic music technology. The rising Boston DJ and songwriter incorporates elements of funk and disco into his sleek, deeply catchy electro-pop while maintaining a fresh feel on “Fiona Coyne,” his self-described “single of the summer” and new fan favorite. Unlike many modern DJs, Saint Pepsi sings the words to his own song, keeping the vocal delivery melodic without overuse of reverb. He leaves the effects to the music, adding up to an irresistible beat that will get you moving without feeling like you should be twenty years older.
Here are some recent-ish things I’ve been listening to lately and wanted to share. I start it off with soon to be everyone’s favorite indie electro pop group, Sylvan Esso, and finish with a group that I discovered because the band name is just so rad, Chamomile and Whiskey. There is no theme per say, aside from these are ten tracks that if played in sequence can make a Monday more than tolerable, maybe even cheery. Enjoy!
So, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to business: how’s the music? Well, if you’ve been looking for a new folk-pop/rock fix while Of Monsters and Men and Mumford and Sons are off doing whatever it is that they are doing, then look no further. Their debut album Run River North was released in February and, trust me, it will scratch your folk-pop itch. It’s got everything: raging acoustic guitars, beautiful harmonies, and, most importantly, those oh-so singalong-able choruses we’ve all come to know and love.
They’ll be touring the east coast this fall, opening for the also fantastic Boy & Bear, so keep yer eyes peeled.
Sharon Van Etten gets very intimate in the video for “Our Love,” a track from her newly released standout album, Are We There. Many people would not be able to execute a video that is equal parts sexy and tasteful, but this lady succeeded. Shot almost entirely in black and white, the video is full of rustling sheets, tattoos, and Van Etten singing straight from the soul. The song is called “Our Love,” but despite the quick flashes of tender interaction, the woman in the video is strikingly alone. At the end color is restored as she bursts through a pool of water, signaling a sense of resilience rather than rejection. Sharon Van Etten has established herself as an artist who writes emotional lyrics, however this video is one of the most vulnerable and raw performances I’ve seen from her thus far.