Category: Indie

Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

Courtney Barnett brings the melodramatic kink and nonchalant quirk, Kurt Vile lays the twirling twang and wispy guitar, and together combines the trans-continental power-duo you always wanted, but never thought possible. Almost as if they were meant to be siblings glued together through music, odds couldn’t have driven a bigger wedge between them than a continents-worth of land and unspeakably large body of water. But who’s one to back down from odds when the music sways in your favor? And there’s no doubt about it on Lotta Sea Lice: the music glue was working overtime.

From teeth-gritting, low-key blues-rock numbers like “Fear Is Like a Forest” to rambling acoustic plucking on “Continental Breakfast” and “Blue Cheese”, the bag of tricks was wide open for both parties. And encapsulated in a daze of unadulterated indie-rock, “Over Everything” sits like the table centerpiece for seasoned veterans of wily guitar-work and sarcasm. As the convergence between country drawl and lackadaisical indifference, it’s no secret why “Over Everything” is an original standout and a more-than-great starting point for an even better album. Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, they trade takes on leading the others song—Vile sings majority of Barnett’s 2014 song “Out of the Woodwork” and Barnett sings all of Vile’s 2011 number “Peeping Tomboy”—before tuning down a notch for the finale with “Untogether”.

Gut instinct says this duo isn’t done, because Lotta Sea Lice is sheer magic. We may have to wait a while, so best hunker down for the long-haul. Something’s saying it will be well worth the wait. Well worth it.

City Music – Kevin Morby

With a hint of bottle-up punk-like angst, folk-esque acoustics, and hand-clapping soul, Kevin Morby’s 2017 release City Music is as classic indie rock as classic indie rock can get. Soaking up the experiences of past ventures from the NYC psychedelic-folk outfit Woods and more indie-centric efforts with The Babies and solo releases, City Music rounds off the edges and narrows his aim for a guitar-heavy powerhouse. And rather than opting for the long-haired three-piece indie jam guise, Morby focuses on including all shades of composition and structure rather than heads bobbing to the drone of reverb-laden guitar over a backbeat (although, there’s plenty of quality bobbing and reverb to be heard on City Music). There’s “Crybaby” and “1234” for the punk lovers, and just damn good indie rock with a hint of harmonic soul on “Aboard My Train”, and the indie folk from Woods on “Tin Can” and “Night Time”. But nothing hits the nail on the head better than the grandiose title track, “City Music”. Speed up and slow down, harmonizing guitar, handclaps and tambourine, “City Music” is the marquee track on a catalog standout.

Pleasure – Feist

Leslie Feist doesn’t owe the world a thing. Starting out as the female vocalist in the Canadian troupe, Broken Social Scene, launching a solo career captivated by the album The Reminder and pairing singles, “1234” and “I Feel It All”, and then morphing into something else entirely, it’s fair to say she’s paid some dues and been around the block once or twice. But the Feist we have today is not the Feist from The Reminder. The artistic transformation that ensued shed light on a seemingly internalized creative output seen on 2011’s Metals that turned some heads, if not entirely doing away with the iconic indie-pop image she created for herself. Like the pearl within the oyster, Pleasure brings a deeply personal and avant-garde approach to art as the follow up to Metals, resembling another drop in the river that flows further away from her former self. With songs like “Century” and “Pleasure” that drive with a gamut of percussion and distorted guitars, the catchy hooks and bouncy, cheerful lyrics of the past gave way to an elevated and exposed inspiration. Or even more so in opting for a bluesy-guitar or soulful and jazzy organ on numbers like “I’m Not Running Away” and “Young Up” does Feist truly come into her own form. And yet in a classic ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from tree’-like fashion, Feist and the acoustic guitar just can’t seem to parse with soft and soothing tracks like “Baby Be Simple”, “Any Party”, and “A Man Is Not His Song” that dive into the melodically flowing vocals and pairing acoustic guitar.

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Carved out with years of dedication and keen-eyed teamwork (and a hell of production lineup to boot), Portugal. The Man’s 2017 release, Woodstock is one to be reckoned with as a powerhouse release and catalog standout. With flavors spanning from hip-hop and pop to wheelhouse PTM, it certainly kicks it up a notch for a progressive endeavor while never turning face from the carefree, joyous sound that got them here. No bones about it, Woodstock is the most pop-rock-focussed effort by the Pacific Northwest outfit-“Live In The Moment” certainly attests to that, but songs like “Rich Friends” and “Easy Tiger” are as classic PTM as 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud (just with a contemporary twist). The hit single “Feel It Still” really bolsters mainstream appeal (let alone, it’s a tidbit out of left field) and falls right in line of a more radio-friendly effort with a heavy dosage of dance. With bouncy horns, catchy hooks, and an Austin Powers-like quirk, “Feel It Still” goes miles for shaking hips and bobbing heads beyond preceding highlights like 2013’s “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and 2009’s “People Say”. And in true PTM form, the band swaps in their traditional instruments for the good ol’ beat machine to kick off the record with the Danger Mouse-produced “Number One”, which features samples from Richie Havens’ “Freedom” (counter culture anyone?). Winding down the second half of the record, the group morphs into a full-fledged hip-hop group with tracks like the slow-grooving “So Young”, the beat-centric “Tidal Wave” and “Mr. Lonely” (featuring The Pharcyde’s Fat Lip), and the resistance anthem in “Noise Pollution” (produced by The Beastie Boys’ Mike D).

The verdict?

For PTM fans both new and old, Woodstock contains all the good ingredients of the past while mixing in dashes of newer, poppier nuances. It’s a different band that put out 2008’s Censored Colors, and with that some find nostalgia (note: they have a truly astonishing catalog). Woodstock is a fresh reminder that music can be contemporary without abandoning the past.

A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs

As their fourth full-length release and follow up to 2014’s monumental Lost in the Dream, the Philadelphia outfit takes another step further along the path that is characteristically “The War On Drugs” with A Deeper Understanding. Meticulously crafted with a magnifying glass over 80’s and late 70’s-esque synth orchestral, Adam Granduciel and team willfully pinpoint ambience over the manifest of sounds that got them here. From the long stretching ballads like “Strangest Thing” and head-bobbing drives with “Holding On”, A Deeper Understanding contains all the cast of characters you adored about the group from their previous releases, but look no further that the kickoff song, “Up All Night” for the primary differentiator. Substituting trashcan snares over a piano bedrock, it certainly seems to come off as contrary to their rooted manuscript, but the song hits home as it carries on (in layman’s terms, it’s fair to say the band won’t be going full-electronic any time soon…). And with their knee-jerk tendencies of throwing in a ripping, reverb-laden guitar solo over the melodic drone of acoustic guitar on “Pain”, or anthem-like luscious synth-layering on “Strangest Thing”, A Deeper Understanding couldn’t be more of a classic The War On Drugs release. Slight and menial differences aside, prop this release next to Lost in the Dream on the record shelf, because albums like this don’t come around very often (in fact, The War On Drugs albums don’t come very often), and it’s a fantastic starting point if you are unfamiliar with the group.

Capacity – Big Thief

A starkly somber and humanizing reminder of the feckless struggle between yin and yang, man and woman, child and adult, and body and society. And without the slightest sense of regret in self loathing or pity, Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and co. recount anecdotal lyrics to the hum of a band ever-so present in the backdrop of the grand scheme. Frail and soft vocals up front, folk and lo-fi pop behind, and cast in an ethereal demeanor, Capacity is the glowing light that spans from melodramatic realism to avant-garde acoustic folk. With 2016’s Masterpiece in the backseat (and rightfully dubbed a masterpiece), songs like “Watering” and “Great White Shark” display perfect dynamics between melodic vocals, driving instrumentals and ambience. And as if seasoned musicianship wasn’t on display before, “Shark Smile” casts a light in case there were any doubts.

Little Fictions – Elbow

As the release that separates itself from the pack of brewing angst and lost loves, Elbow’s release in Little Fictions makes ground on the integrity it’s predecessors sought. A concoction of intertwining rhythms, melodies, and moving instrumentals, Little Fictions displays individual talent within the confines of a group setting. And where heartache bent for musicianship on previous releases, newfound love makes way for years of creative and raw exertion that spans from the microphone and guitar parts to the clinging percussions and backing string ensembles. As undeniably one of the most diverse and expansive releases for the group, and quite possibly for the year, Little Fictions sits as the sweet reminder that great things comes with time.

Relaxer – alt-J

Isn’t it tragically mundane to approach art with the same emotions and outlook time and time again? This piece fits here, put that there, and screw the lid on tight as if art is an assembly line pumping out nostalgic, bite-size morsels for the public to reminisce on until another comes out a few years down the road.

Now, some artists (even really great artists) can ride the wave of their niche for years, decades or more without getting stale, but hitting repeat or fitting art creation into a tried-and-true mold doesn’t always work for everyone. Ditching the past and solely looking forward isn’t necessarily the best approach either in certain situations, but what alt-J does on Relaxer is certainly exploring uncharted territory considering their catalog. Even for a group that’s relatively expansive, Relaxer takes that notion a bit farther. From casting a crew of blaring horns on “In Cold Blood”, adding an avant-garde twist to the folk classic, “House of the Rising Sun”, to a hip-hop-esque number with “Deadcrush”, Relaxer is undeniably the groups most ambitiously diverse effort to date. And as the characteristically black sheep of it’s forebears, “3WW” couldn’t be more of a peculiar song to kick off Relaxer. Dynamically falling with exquisite delicacy and rising to the top with a blasting chorus, “3WW” epitomizes the ebbs and flows of Relaxer and stands as one of the most unique songs ever released.

Semper Femina – Laura Marling

As one of the great contemporary acoustic artists to come out of the United Kingdom, Laura Marling’s release in Semper Femina focuses her efforts of a career dedicated to the genre of worldly folk. In theory, it seems difficult to refine a craft release after release, but Laura Marling’s effortless ability to stay true to the track while avoiding the slightest sense of redundancy is just one of her notable attributes. Semper Femina is necessarily a cataclysmic or polarizing release from her catalog (if you haven’t heard any of her previous releases, they’re worth a spin… or a bunch), but it comfortably fits into the soothing and softly sweet frame she’s created for herself. And all while dissecting femininity within society (see latin translation of semper femina), Laura never shies from laying down a soulful track like “Wild Fire” and “Nothing, Not Nearly”, a classically folk song with “Always This Way” and “Nouel”, and a more contemporary number like “Soothing”.

Everything Now – Arcade Fire

Oh the peculiarity in stature, aura, and idiosyncrasy. Is it a paradox? Or is it the tantalizing mystique that sets it aside from the majority of releases to hit the streets in 2017? Why would one of the greatest indie acts of the past decade release such an enigmatic record that has its core fan base wondering what’s it’s chewing on? And rightfully so. Chew away.

In fact, since they are one of the few starlit acts to break the scene since 2004’s jaw-dropping “Funeral” is exactly why this new release isn’t “Funeral.” It’s nothing like any other release from the group, and it’s a statement. No, you’re right, it’s definitely nothing like “Funeral” “or “Neon Bible” or “The Suburbs”. It’s a statement of nothing less than progression; a note in the annals that says, ‘Here’s where the group’s been, this is what we’ve done, and this is what we have to say… now.

With the great James Murphy (see LCD Soundsystem) behind the production helm, the 2013 release of “Reflektor” brought a hint of changing winds for the group. Win Butler and co. branched out and dipped their fingers into genres that weren’t necessarily, oh how do you say, characteristic? Yes, that’s the word (see LCD Soundsystem). Fast forward a few years, tag along some uncharacteristic ventures, enlist the greats of Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk, Steve Mackey of Pulp, and Geoff Barrow of Portishead and you get something a little more characteristic. Sure, Everything Now is certainly not of the earth-shattering, physics-defying, mammoth of a release like its predecessors, and its progressive nature undoubtedly highlights that assertion. But does that discredit its intrinsic value?

Let’s break it down, shall we? The title track is undoubtedly on par with the “Arcade Fire” sound. The harmony is characteristically French in nature, there are little-to-no electronic aspects, and hell, it’s even driven by the strum of acoustic guitar. So, how’s that for characteristic? Moving on… The next point that needs to be made is the change in scenery the band went through over the years leading up to making this record. Bands do this for a number of reasons of which we won’t get into other than to primarily revel in the atmosphere that translates into sound (see “Here Comes the Night Time” from Reflektor). Now, this isn’t a down and dirty, chicken grease, or stand-up-and-slap-your-grand-pappy kind of funk record, but New Orleans is historically renown as a melting pot of genres. Taking all this in stride, songs like “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry” start making a lot more sense. Take the history and progression of the band in strides, and Everything Now starts making a lot more sense. See?

The verdict?

It shines in certain areas moreover others. “Infinite Content” is probably one that could use a buff (or maybe some attention?), but it’s not a ball and chain for the whole album. In fact, “Infinite_Content” sounds a lot like that Arcade Fire core, doesn’t it? The bottom line is this isn’t like any previous Arcade Fire releases. It’s a new(ish) sound, the imagery and packaging are aligned as well, and it’s a bit of a stepping-out for the group. Does that discredit the intrinsic value? Decide for yourself.

It sound like…

Arcade Fire came out with a new record that’s their first attempt at making a fun album. They added a pinch of party to where they left off on Reflektor, and the result sounds very different from 2004’s Funeral.