Ulrika Spacek – “Silvertonic”

This Friday, Berlin-based quintet Ulrika Spacek will release their sophomore album Modern English Decoration, just a little over a year after their hypnotic, emotional debut The Album Paranoia. Their music is a moody, delicate concoction of 90’s indie rock (drawing inspiration from Pavement, Television, and even Sonic Youth), with sharp, indulgent specks of shoegaze, lo-fi guitars, and the two of the most addictive, relatable underlying concepts in music – angst and sadness. “Silvertonic,” along with the vast majority of the new album, shows those two ideas brilliantly and mercilessly, to the point where you need multiple listens to truly appreciate the amount of effort placed in balancing them out. The instrumentals are aggressive and brooding, then dips out towards the chorus save for bouts of swirling guitar and synth, in order to show frontman Rhys Edward’s soft, impassioned voice – as if finally succumbing to his own emotions.

Modern English Decoration will be released on June 2nd, but in the meantime, you can stream it here.

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TENDER – “Nadir”

With their addictive new single, London electro-pop duo TENDER have officially initiated my quest to find every half-pure pop, half-brooding track for the upcoming summer months. “Nadir,” the newest addition to their already impressive repertoire, begins with synth resembling plucks of sharp metal, then explodes into a multi-textured soundscape, the vocals provided by James Cullen soaked in reverb. Though it explores the emotions felt during a separation, the melancholy adds to the vibrancy, finding immense power in sadness.

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Alt-J – “Adeline”

Early next month, Alt-J will release their third and highly anticipated full length album Relaxer. The trio have already shared two stunning tracks from the record – the sensual and evocative “3WW” as well as the glitchy, horn and synth heavy “In Cold Blood.” Today, they’ve shared “Adeline,” a soft, atmospheric addition to what might be their most experimental album to date. Much like their entire discography, the track tells a specific story in carefully chosen, tender language, this time according to the band about a Tasmanian devil who falls in love with a woman after watching her swim. Of course, the lyrics can be taken literally or metaphorically, the latter perhaps easier to relate with considering that at its core, the track is about a lost or never realized love. Amidst swirls of mesmerizing, sorrowful piano, the Tasmanian devil, communicated by Joe Newman’s soft voice, wishes his love well, and watches her swim away, his inconsolable, bleeding heart expressed through the slowly expanding closer.

Relaxer will be released on June 2nd.

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photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

TOPS – “Further”

Soft funk group TOPS have always made music that’s a little lost in time, a jangly menagerie of guitars that make your head bop, your fingers tap, and your heart a little warmer, though many of their tracks make use of heavier themes like nostalgia and wistfulness. “Further,” from their upcoming third album, follows the already released tracks “Petals” and “Dayglow Bimbo,” showing another side of their unique aesthetic –  a saccharine sweet breakup track that refuses to let the breakup happen. Jane Penny’s mournful, flinty voice expresses her simultaneous desire and distaste for moving on, as whispers of guitar and bursts of buzzing synth swarm her like a shoulder to cry on.

Sugar at the Gate will be released on June 2nd.

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Album Review: Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Over the years, Mac DeMarco has become a series of contradictions; he’s either the talented slacker, the goofy sentimentalist, or the rich bum, titles so securely attached that even the mention of his name triggers the smell of cigarette smoke. Being the extremely confident, carefree person that he portrays himself to be, he finds ways to make his cartoonish media derived image work in his favor, or, even better, disqualify his so called “slacker” persona entirely through his skillful, complex melodies and genuine, poetic lyrics. His first three albums almost perfectly follow the growth and maturation of a human being, complete with the musings of young suburban life, the idea of newfound fame, and the concept of love as well as all of its derivatives. His newest full length This Old Dog follows that succession with the deeper thoughts and desires that come with growing older, and expresses in more muted tones what seems to be DeMarco’s final form – his inner self, free of outside opinion.

The first thing you’ll notice about This Old Dog is that it is considerably quieter than DeMarco’s past work, both in the technical sense as well as an appropriate extension of what the album represents – wistful emotion, steady maturation, and coming to terms with things you’d rather just forget. It’s also necessary to point out how much of the album utilizes acoustic instruments and simple composition rather than purely relying on complex guitar melodies and atmospheric synth. Each track feels unbelievably somber yet strangely hopeful, a combination of emotions that never quite existed in DeMarco’s repertoire until now. The giddy, frivolous demeanor he assumed throughout the years which brilliantly offset the hazy, languid sound of 2, Salad Days, and Another One now also appears to have been a wall he built to put off writing about the demons that haunted him, one of which being the strained relationship with his father.

“My Old Man” expresses DeMarco’s fear of becoming his father as he grows older, his voice hung in a surreal, dreamlike state that contradicts the nightmare he explains. Closer “Watching Him Fade Away” is perhaps the single most heartbreaking song DeMarco has ever written, and it’s incredibly difficult to listen to his voice sound pained and teary-eyed as he explains just how hard it is to watch his relationship with his father dissolve into nothing, though he assures us that they barely knew each other. He sounds tired more than anything, as if he faced reality far too late, which makes it the perfect closing track. We all have to face our innermost demons eventually, and DeMarco shows us that its better to do it now rather than later. “Still Beating” even proves to fans of his goofy demeanor, carefree antics, and wacky behavior that “honey, [he] cries too/ you better believe it.”

Needless to say, the honesty embedded DeMarco’s composition and songwriting is the highlight on This Old Dog, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  “Dreams from Yesterday” is tender and delicate with a strange familiarity, his voice expressing through muted guitar that no amount of sadness can bring back your youth, nor the dreams you once had. “One More Love Song” utilizes the crackling falsetto croon of “Still Together,” and “One Another” is Jim Croce like, with upbeat vocals and colorful guitar plucks.” The title track assures us that DeMarco, now 27, isn’t about to forget all the wonderful things that will happen in the future.

It’s a far cry from singing about cigarettes, that’s for sure.

8.0/10

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photo by Coley Brown

Fleet Foxes – “Fool’s Errand”

Next month, indie folk group Fleet Foxes will share their third full length album Crack-Up, their first official release since 2011’s stunning album Helplessness Blues. They’ve already shared the sprawling, masterful “Third of May / Odaigahara,” which was just as thoughtful and euphoric as everything they’ve ever created. Late last week the group shared the equally majestic second single “Fool’s Errand,” perhaps one of their most beautiful tracks to date. The instrumentals, full and robust, simulate galloping horses, while Pecknold’s enamored voice reverberates freely within them. He expresses his mistake in waiting for his “sight dream” – whether that be fulfillment, love, or some other otherworldly phenomenon – while simultaneously reveling in the time spent in limbo, explaining that he “can’t leave until the sight comes to mind.” The big, swooping instrumentals periodically dip down and settle into the shimmering chorus, like a soaring desert bird that lands into what it thinks is an oasis. Pecknold’s voice is almost prophetic, the large sound pointing towards a more thematic and stylistic approach for the new album.

Crack-Up will be released on June 16th.

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photo by Sean Pecknold

Cloud Control – “Rainbow City”

Australian indie group Cloud Control have returned with a new single, their first since the departure of bassist and founding member Jeremy Kelshaw. While still technically riding the line into dream pop, “Rainbow City” evokes a far different sound than anything in 2013’s Dream Cave, swapping out hazy, even borderline psychedelic melodies and echoed vocals with something more gritty and unrefined. Alister Wright yelps out his vocals as if tortured by something threatening and inexplicable, then mellows out during the chorus, where Heidi and Ulrich Lenifer provide haunting background vocals, and a silvery guitar solo burrows itself between chords. There’s a surreal quality to this part in the track, as if you lose your space and time and wander the world Cloud Control has created.

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From Indian Lakes – “Sunlight”

Late last year, dream pop group From Indian Lakes – the project of Joey Vannucchi – released their debut album Everything Feels Better Now, and they’re back with the new video for their shimmering track “Sunlight.” The instrumentals are intricate and complex, all wonderfully faded and awash with synth effects like an overly enamored garment worn by the sun, creating something even more beautiful as a result. The track is delicate yet passionate, as Vannucchi wishes to be “the dream you see at night” and “the one who could save your life.” With vocals like those, he just might be.

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photo by Marshall McKinley

Album Review: Hoops – Routines

More than anything, Indiana-based indie trio Hoops seem to understand the euphoric feeling of summer, considering their warm and addictive chillwave aesthetic perfected over the past few years. Their self-titled EP released just last summer featured moody, lo-fi guitar powered gems, all remarkably smooth and clear despite the fact that it was recorded primitively in their homes. Routines is the result of of that same aesthetic mixed with the wonders of a proper studio where that sun-drenched sound gets the depth and richness it deserves, and the boys get a chance to better flesh out their wistful narratives.

Considering that genres like chillwave pride themselves on being carefree and loose, Routines slyly attempts to sound perfectly imperfect at times. Even though being a perfectionist with a such a finicky genre might be detrimental with other groups, Hoops seems to pull it off mainly because its members are dedicated to constantly discovering their own sound through constant experimentation, with this group as well as their own projects – founder Drew Auscherman explores garage pop in his side project Permit, and bassist Kevin Krauter recently released one of the most gorgeous, delicate EPs we’ve heard in quite some time – allowing that time spent tinkering on their music to come off as charming rather than unnecessarily tedious.

Hoops are at their absolute best when a strong, vibrant guitar melody weaves itself through the rest of a track’s instrumentation and takes the helm by force, with electrifying opener “Rules” leaving the listener no time to think about anything other than the rambunctious medley of instrumentals that drive the sound. As if the echoed effect on the opening melody wasn’t enough for unyielding attention, the distorted, sour effect during the bridge triggers nostalgia, a feeling that’s always underrated in our book. “On Top” has its own delightful guitar morsel after the chorus, the bouncy guitars almost changing color as they play on. One main grievance, however, was the number of tracks that sounded like filler, a mere derivative of the ones that came before or after. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do before that same hazy sound can start to appear gratuitous, with the softer, more emotionally powered tracks rudely left in the minority. Tracks like “Underwater Theme” add to the band’s versatility, considering emotion is one of those concepts incredibly hard to fake – and the band does it so delicately that we wished there were more moments where that vulnerability was more potent. As if Hoops read our minds, closer “Worry” succeeds in being the most sincere track on Routines, based on the sultry, metallic sounding synth chimes as well as the guitar twangs reminiscent of dream-pop past. The deep throaty vocals offset the smoky vibe of the instrumentals, but also introduces the equally hazy saxophone shrieks that perfectly seals everything inside flawlessly.

Summer is often thought to be this euphoric, carefree time of the year, filled with nothing but sunshine, happiness, and the occasional fling, but many forget the lonely side – where the constant warmth, once exhilarating, can quickly turn commonplace. With Routines, Hoops do their part to soundtrack both of these phenomenons, and the result is wonderfully inviting.

7.0/10

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The Drums – “Heart Basel”

A few weeks ago, The Drums shared the soul-baring, bouncy new single “Blood Under My Belt,” the first teaser for their upcoming fourth full-length album Abysmal Thoughts. The album was written and recorded solely by frontman Jonny Pierce, who explains that during the creation of the new release, he had recently gone through a devastating but undoubtedly necessary breakup, and therefore, at his most vulnerable. While that narrative was explored briefly in the first official track, “Heart Basel” has Pierce expressing his frustration with a guy who treats him well at first, then turns ugly once he gets what he wants. The opening guitar melody is strong and striking, the bass and drums even simulating a thick heartbeat right before the smooth, vocally vibrant chorus – as if he’s building up the courage to bare his soul to someone who simply doesn’t care either way. The track is both upbeat and emotional, heartbreaking and beautiful, and, enjoyed more knowing Peirce’s love and respect for himself now.

Abysmal Thoughts will be released on June 16th.

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photo by Moni Haworth/Anti- Records