Thanks to Sam for sending me this link. Have you ever wondered about South African hip-hop? Personally, I haven’t. But Die Antwoord make some extremely compelling and seriously bizarre rap music. Go to their website and take a gander.
From the opening strings and airy snare drum cracks of the first instrumental track on Sleep Whale’s new album, “Green Echo,” to the entrance of reverb-soaked vocals on the pretty, spacious “Cotton Curls,” it becomes evident that the band may have learned a thing or two from late-’90-s indie rock – specifically, Red Stars Theory. The echoing, slightly lo-fi production, the gorgeous mixture of guitars, bass, and drums with drawn-out violins and swirling electronics… shades of the Pacific NW are definitely present here. But the Denton, Texas-based band isn’t mimicking its forefathers, it’s just giving its own take on the formula. And it does so very successfully.
Houseboat is all about atmosphere. As one song bleeds into another, the band’s skillful arrangements and ability to make airy but never wandering music engages the listener in what could otherwise easily be background music. Even a song like “Roof Sailing,” built on a simple descending pattern of picked acoustic guitar notes and cellos following suit doesn’t outstay its welcome. The band never lets its use of loops, minimal as it may be, overshadow the real meat and potatoes here – the delicate interplay of instrument and, sometimes, vocals. No gimmicks here, friends, just bewitching songwriting setting an understated and languorous mood.
Many of the members of Sleep Whale are busy working on solo projects as well, but let’s hope that doesn’t distract them too much from performing together. Houseboat is a moody and satisfying success.
Last night I had the pleasure of experiencing the chaotic/melodic, 1950s-balladeering, punk-rocking Carnivores at Cake Shop. The band hails from Atlanta (and could totally beat Black Lips in a fight), they have a record out on Double Phantom, the vocals are a wonderful mess, their bass player is really good, and all that reverb on the guitar makes perfect sense. The show was rather sparsely attended, which is a shame because this was one of the better live shows I’ve seen in a while. I hope to hear a lot more from this band.
Systems Officer is the solo project of Armistead Burwell Smith IV, better known to most as the bass player for Pinback and Three Mile Pilot. Underslept, his latest solo outing, the first full-length under this name, is a richly layered and nuanced math-pop affair. Any of its songs would feel right at home on a Pinback record. This is not to say that Systems Officer sounds exactly like his other band, but the instrumentation, production, and overall song structures are close enough to draw an immediate comparison.
Smith’s trebly, spindly bass playing anchors the songs and is often mixed to the front and center, as is frequently the case with Pinback. And his vocals, which usually punctuate Rob Crow’s verses as background or chorus helpers, capably take the reigns here. Sometimes, as on the loping “East,” the results are sort of melodramatic and near characterization as sappy, but the same emotions are rendered effective and emotive on a song like “Quan.”
Upbeat rock exists only as slightly less somber pop on the record, such as the marching “In This World,” which sports multi-layered vocals over a minor key dirge. For all of Smith’s dexterous bass playing and flair for inventive arrangement, the album feels locked into place, operating with one feeling, one mood throughout. Fortunately, Smith’s ability to write a good song and perform it interestingly fends off any monotony.
Mux Mool’s Brian Lindgren has this to say about his work: “I know it’s electronic music, but sometimes I feel like an old-timey traveling musician with an M-Audio Trigger Finger instead of a guitar.” Exactly. His new album, Skulltaste, comes out on Ghostly International on 3/23. Listen to the first single, “Lady Linda,” here.
Hm. Steve Aoki’s going “back to his roots” with Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo (Bloody Beetroots). This means screamo/hardcore/hipster punk. This also means you might not wanna like this, but it’s kind of likable all the same. Their album, Rifoki, comes out on Dim Mak. on 3/9. Listen to “Sperm Donor” here.
Hip-hop producer Oddisee made his mark in 2009 with the excellent Diamond District album (listen to some tracks over at their website). He’s making it again with the free download of a new mixtape, Odd Winter, available here.
Straight out of Palm Beach, Florida shoots the sure-as-shit contender for best album of this nascent new year, Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast. This is gonna be 2010’s Shins or Band of Horses, so mark these words. Yes, it may be a little early for such proclamations, but these boys make lofty postulations like this easy. It’s safe to assume the members of the band were raised on a steady diet of Weezer, The Pixies, Built To Spill, as well as various influences in the outer regions of indie rock. But they’ve managed to absorb all of this and more and regurgitate something all their own.
From the beginning chords of the album’s opening tune, “Floating Vibes,” the band makes its intent clear. Simple guitar lines augmented by bright and thick production will be employed, melodious and mellifluous vocals will ensue, and breezy themes of California dreams will occur. No tricks, no gimmicks will obscure the music (well, for the most part – “Take it Easy” tips its hat to Vampire Weekend, but only fleetingly). The song you’ve probably heard from this album already, “Swim,” a barrage of power chords and reverb-coated vocals ecstatically urging you to “Swim to reach the end,” is a great track, but it’s really not all that representative of the magic found on the rest of the record. “Harmonix,” after a brief guitar intro, builds into a restive number constructed sparingly of strummed harmonics (get it?) and yet another insanely catchy vocal refrain. “Twin Peaks,” as lush and expansive as anything else onAstro Coast, sports a nifty chorus of matching guitar chords and vocal melody before launching into a syncopated chorus that sounds more like a party than a songwriting convention. The record’s themes seem to revolve around personal experiences, references to band members’ relationships, and exploring the farther reaches of the United States. Yet the appeal of Surfer Blood’s music transports you right along, not an easy task for any band.
So how does this young band do it? Take a listen to “Anchorage” to fully understand what they are up to. A simple idea is made interesting through excellent recording and production – no shitgaze, this – and executed by an effusive bunch of rock musicians more concerned with quality than scoring scene points. They’ve got the chops to back up the hype, now let’s see how they handle their first year in the spotlight.
Are you sick of The Grey Album? Did you ever really like it, or did you think it wasn’t worthy of the hype? Have you been waiting to hear Wu-Tang combined with The Beatles, hoping that might be a better mix? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, listen to Tom Caruana’s mashup. Download here.
Thanks for the tip, David.
Scout Niblett has a new album coming out on Drag City on January 26, and that’s a very good thing. It sounds like she’s up to her usual tricks – simple guitar lines, loud-soft-loud over bombastic drums, uniquely beautiful vocals. Download the title track off of The Calcination of Scout Niblett right here.
Kind of Like Spitting’s Ben Barnett now goes by the name Blunt Mechanic, and will release his debut album, World Record, for Barsuk in April. Download the song “Our First Brains” here – sounds like Ben was influenced by his time playing with The Thermals.