The Underdog: August 2014
The second edition of The Underdog comes during a month that saw an abundance of releases by well-established acts: Spoon, FKA twigs, The New Pornographers, Basement Jaxx, and so forth. But for every big name that put out an album this month, there were dozens of exciting artists whose work found a much smaller audience. Check out this month’s Underdogs here, and travel back in time to July’s Underdogs for more well-hidden gems!
Adebisi Shank – This Is the Third Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank
Adebisi Shank blend chiptune, math rock, and vocoders into what could be the soundtrack to your favorite arcade action game. Their pummeling, major-key guitars are the sonic equivalent of lasers, and their retro synth sounds sound like how a friendly android might speak. And yeah, that track titled “Chaos Emeralds” is absolutely a reference to Sonic the Hedgehog; Adebisi Shank equates listening to playing, and it’s so much fun. Although their music certainly wouldn’t pass the Voight-Kampff test, it’ll remind you just how great the experience of pure, unfiltered, adolescent joy can be.
Cold Specks – Neuroplasticity
A repeat Underdog, Cold Specks’ Bodies at Bay EP last month merely previewed her elaborate, mystifying Goth-soul sophomore effort, Neuroplasticity. As with the EP, listening to the album quickly becomes a competition for how many new hyphenated genre names one can invent to describe Cold Specks’ incredibly specific, captivating sound. Elements of jazz, soul, post-rock, Gothic rock, and blues abound and fuse into an eerie, soul-sucking backdrop for vocalist Al Spx’ hefty beckon. That Swans’ Michael Gira provides backing vocal harmonies on two of these tracks is perfectly fitting; the addicting unease his band is renowned for pervades Neuroplasticity, an album appropriately titled to rewire your thoughts about genre boundaries.
El May – The Other Person Is You
El May is Australian singer/songwriter Lara Meyerratken; this moniker is how you’d pronounce her name if shortened to L. Mey. It’s a simple, whimsical method for coming up with a name, mirroring the free flow of Meyerratken’s songs. The music on her debut, The Other Person Is You, is catchy and sticky without using much more than some synth pops, tropical flourishes, a linear drumbeat, and Meyerratken’s angelic, flowing voice. Whether as explicitly poppy as “Diamonds, Girl” or as mellow as “Atlantic/Pacific”, the songs on this album offer something for everyone, and would require a host of arrogant vitriol to dislike.
Elephant Stone – The Three Poisons
Elephant Stone may not be a well-known name yet, but it turns out this Canadian threesome’s 2009 debut was long-listed for that year’s Polaris Prize. Five years later, their sophomore album arrives (although there was an EP in 2011). It’s a throwback to the psychedelic classics: in the same way that Temples and early Tame Impala specifically recall Cream and The Beatles, The Three Poisons feels like a lost Pink Floyd or drug-era Beatles album. The very first sound heard on this album is a sitar, of all things; Elephant Stone tell listeners their exact musical goals immediately as the album commences, and deliver on their aspirations across eleven tracks in forty minutes.
Literature – Chorus
Jangle pop might sometimes be associated with cheesiness, but Literature make it fun without sounding contrived and disingenuous. Their guitar lines are groovy, watery, and optimistic, all qualities that endow their sound with hopefulness, cheerfulness, and a shining, dance-like gleam. That the high-pitched, drawn-out vocals are drenched in reverb actually helps: the effects applied add a surprising amount of emotional depth to the indie party being had here. Their sophomore album is called Chorus for a reason: all twenty-nine minutes of its incredibly short runtime are as memorable and striking as your favorite song’s chorus.
Mozart’s Sister – Being
It’s totally possible that Caila Thompson-Hannant, who performs as Mozart’s Sister, will forever live in friend and musical soundalike Grimes’ shadow. Not enough people have given her full-length debut, Being, a fair chance. It’s definitely a flawed album, but the ominous, rapping beatwork and thoughtfully inane lyrics of “Bow a Kiss” will linger in your head for weeks after hearing it just a few times. “Lone Wolf”, although a tad brighter and more harmonious, achieves the same effect; “Do It To Myself (Run Run)” also achieves this to a lesser extent. Even with the minor missteps of “Salty Tear” and “My House Is Wild” in tow, Being is a solid album that suggests a bright future for Mozart’s Sister, so long as she stops being the Santigold to Grimes’ M.I.A.
Music Go Music – Impressions
Impressions is a very self-aware title for Music Go Music’s second album. Their songs come off as sharp, accurate impressions of their idols, of whom ABBA and Madonna are just a couple of examples. Their sugary, hyperactive disco-funk sound derives from their thumping bass, stellar guitars, and delicate, hefty female dancefloor vocals borrowed from the 1980s. They don’t just wear their influences on their sleeves; instead, they fully occupy them, and the music that follows is catchy, fun, and impossible to ignore.
The Outs – Spiral Dreams EP
As with Elephant Stone’s The Three Poisons from earlier in the list, The Outs’ latest EP displays these Brazilian psychedelic auteurs in a welcoming state of backwards-looking gaze. Psychedelic pop acts of decades past including The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and even Jimi Hendrix lend their legacy to Spiral Dreams’ fuzzy, blurry vision. Over a mere four tracks, it explores the same space its inspirations trekked through years ago, all while making these sounds new and refreshing.
Roadkill Ghost Choir – In Tongues
With spacious acoustics and reverberating, lackadaisical vocals, Roadkill Ghost Choir make great music in a style with which many other artists struggle to succeed. Instead of falling into the various pitfalls of country, western, and folk, on In Tongues, Roadkill Ghost Choir flavor their sound with enough vigor and resonance to capture even the most skeptical of ears. There’s even a psychedelic edge to their folky soundscapes, in the same way that Kurt Vile’s music is a bit trippy. With vocal harmonies and watery, flowering guitar lines abound, In Tongues does weird and wonderful in just the right amounts.
Rubblebucket – Survival Sounds
Fun comes first in Rubblebucket’s world. It’s not sloppy, overproduced fun, though; instead, this seven-piece Brooklyn band use clever arrangements of synths, brass, guitar, percussion, and female vocals to get listeners groovin’ and movin’. Even at its most upbeat and funky, though, the group’s latest album, Survival Sounds, is at its strongest when vocalist Annakalmia Traver takes center stage. Without Traver’s dynamic, adaptable vocals, Rubblebucket would merely record exciting instrumentals rather than playful, taunting pop anthems. That the vocals make all the difference testify that, although Rubblebucket are all fun and games, they also know damn well how to balance fervor with fury.