The Underdog: July 2014
Welcome to The Underdog, a new column here at Way Too Indie! Each month we’ll collect and highlight the best new indie releases. Our aim here is to expose readers to great new music they may not have been aware of otherwise. We intend to cover music that we believe doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, hence the title of this column: The Underdog. With that in mind, let’s begin!
Bell’s Roar – Bell’s Roar EP
Sean Desiree alternates her home between New York City and Albany, but there’s no wavering in her music. As Bell’s Roar, she creates eerie, R&B-infused dream pop that will affect any listener with even a semblance of a soul. On her debut EP, guitars sparkle and emote, drums pitter and patter, and Desiree pours her very essence into her gorgeous, unequivocally moving vocal performance. “In my heart, I’m feeling sore,” she laments on “Ancestors”; that she’s already this emotionally invested on merely her debut EP suggests that this singer-songwriter only has more greatness to offer in the near future.
Boytoy – Boytoy EP
Name every modern rock trend you can think of: garage, surf, power pop, lo-fi, and so forth. Boytoy have synthesized their own brand of music from all these themes; rather than sounding like a rip-off of past successes, they advance a rockin’ approach that makes the band’s debts clear without explicitly copying them. “Shallow Town” is a throwback to garage and surf, and a riotous, undeniably catchy anthem; “Blazed” is the world’s millionth stoner anthem, but it’s also a sticky earworm of a jam. In an era where so many garage and punk bands find themselves stuck in their forebears’ shadows, Boytoy have their own wonderful charm.
Cold Specks – Bodies at Bay EP
Post-punk and post-rock are established genres, but what about post-soul and post-jazz? Cold Specks make a case for both these labels (although, concession, more genre labels are most certainly not needed). Vocalist Al Spx sings with a lounge-imbued, soulful tone, and her smoky, subdued brass arrangements and jazz-indebted percussion and atmospherics aid in outlining just how haunting her voice is. “Absisto”, a highlight from her recently released Bodies at Bay EP, showcases her strengths boldly: trombones, watery keyboards, and wispy percussion bolster fervent vocals. A bit more than halfway through the song, a brief period of silence precedes an instrumental explosion, a moment that’s a nice metaphor for the joy of listening to this EP.
Field Mouse – Hold Still Life
Shoegaze’s three-decade-or-so run has succeeded in no small part because the genre’s guitar-vocal interplay provides an innate emotional connection. Field Mouse know this all too well, as they craft nearly every track on Hold Still Life with roaring six-string attack and vulnerable, ductile, high-pitched female vocals. The biggest complaint an album like this will inevitably receive is that it’s too familiar and repetitive, but tunes as pointed as “Everyone But You”, “Bright Lights”, and “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” excuse some of the flaws. An imperfect listen, but a sprawling and enjoyable one nonetheless. Check out our review of Hold Still Life.
Junk Riot – Headache
“Excuse me?” would be an appropriate initial reaction to the following true statement: Junk Riot sound like Savages and the Rapture. Surely, a band comparable to these completely distinct acts must have an intensely unique sound; in that regard, and in many others, they don’t disappoint. The hyperactive, shrill synths and guitar-bent dance-punk of The Rapture and other mid-2000s DFA acts meets the outsider female post-punk ferocity and darkness of Savages and their obvious ancestors (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Patti Smith). Complete with a blatant Stooges interpolation on “How It Goes”, this is the most harrowing and hardcore dance-punk has ever sounded.
Kestrels – The Moon Is Shining Our Way EP
I’m not sure whether constantly referring to Loveless when I write about shoegaze is merely lazy journalism, or if it’s genuinely inevitable since it really is a seminal record for the genre. Either way, it’s utterly necessary to mention it when talking about this EP by Kestrels: in the twenty-three years since Loveless‘ release, arguably no other act has so perfectly pinpointed Kevin Shields’ guitar tone and Bilinda Butcher’s vocal dreariness. It’s almost like Shields lent his pedalboard to Kestrels, and it actually sounds incredible. That constant flange and whammy tone pervades The Moon Is Shining Our Way, a direct, searing document whose only true flaw is brevity.
Ladi6 – Automatic
“Electrosoul” is a term that’s been bounced around in recent years to describe acts as diverse as Frank Ocean, Jai Paul, and even Matthew Dear. Yet none of the artists to fall under this umbrella have quite sounded like Ladi6, whose Automatic amounts to little more than classic soul redone with psychedelic synths. Erykah Badu’s legacy smiles widely over this record: deep, raspy, low-pitched female vocals meet the past half-decade’s advent of bedroom-produced trip-hop, resulting in an unexpectedly specific sound. It’s a style you have to hear to believe, and Automatic will hook you from the first listen.
The Muffs – Whoop Dee Doo
The Muffs are surf punks, sweet and simple. Their strong, overdriven power chords and power pop melodies instantly gratify over the course of the standard two to four minutes per song. But what sticks out the most about this band (and a sweet spot is helpful, maybe even necessary, when dealing with such a tried-and-true style) is how obviously bad their vocalist is. Many of the most memorable vocalists are remarkable partly because it’s near-certain they’d sound terrible without music backing them: Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Julian Casablancas, Dan Bejar, Britt Daniel, the dudes from The Rapture and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Add The Muffs to this list of acts that rightfully get away with murder.
Toasted Plastic – TP/ST EP
In the summer of 2011, Ridgewood, NJ’s most successful act, dream pop wunderkinds Real Estate, returned to their hometown for a free show featuring the town’s resident math punks, Toasted Plastic. At the time, they couldn’t have chosen many groups with a sound so diametrically opposed to their own; three years later, Toasted Plastic are looking a bit more melodic and straightforward with TP/ST. Their usual bouts of mathy spasms persist throughout this EP’s four songs, but there are also plenty of calmer passages guided by warm guitars and steady rhythms. It’s not an album for those who suffer musical vertigo, so to speak, but the dizzying thrills presented here will spin anyone right ’round.
The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
A self-described “surf psych” band, England’s Wytches adorn slowed-down garage rhythms with classic post-punk shades, surf swagger, and lo-fi recording techniques. It’s the sound of a surf-punk haunted house, equal parts harrowing, thorny, groovy, and brash. “She took all of your mind!” shouts Annabel Dream Reader‘s opening track, “Digsaw” (or maybe it’s “money”, not “mind”?); by the end of this album, The Wytches will have taken the same from most of their listeners.