Matt and Andrew Como, better known as The Como Brothers Band, claim to have too many favorite artists to list on their Facebook page, but they do mention starting off with "a love of The Beatles." That influence couldn't be clearer on the brothers' debut album Baby Steps, a delightful throwback to good old-fashioned Motown pop that still feels entirely original. The band works elements of blues and rock into pop, integrating funky horns, sparkling keys and gritty guitars into classic pop song structures. There isn't a single miss among the twelve songs here, and none of them are lacking for hooks: pick one at random and there's a 99 percent chance you'll find it wedged firmly into your brain for the next few days. The lush, dark "Late Nights" has a chorus too catchy not to sing along to, while bouncy, subtly sophisticated pop-rock gems like "Only Me" and "Make a Move" abound. It's the duo's vocals, though, that wrap the whole package up. They may win you over with their charming boyishness, but in darker moments you can hear hints of maturity following heartbreak: it's that implacable undercurrent of sadness, intimate and personal in a way that transcends the music's pop leanings, that elevates Baby Steps to one of my favorite albums of the year—and The Como Brothers Band to one of the bands I'll be keeping a close eye on. Stream Baby Steps below:
Weight On The Brain, the latest EP from Portland, Oregon's Battleme, is described by the press release as "a new era for the band," and even without that context it still makes quite a statement. A straightforward take on psychedelic rock, with groovy rhythm guitar licking away and cymbal crashes and thundering toms ready to lead an assault on many an innocent pair of eardrums. Though the sound is wild and sloppy ("I Know" practically disintegrates into a long stretch of guitar feedback halfway through), the songwriting here is on-point. Throughout the EP's four tracks, the band never loses focus, but it also finds places to throw a few curveballs. Even on a ballad like "Cobweb Portrait," there are piano progressions lifted from Sara Bareilles' songbooks and gnarly post-rocky guitar solos from God Is An Astronaut's basement. Weight On The Brain appeals on a primal level: it's a ball of groovy, earth-shaking energy, but it's also clear Battleme is making its music with plenty of brain and heart. Take a listen below:
At the risk of having my Indie Blogger Credibility Card suspended, I'll go ahead and gush: please, please, please listen to Yell For Help. With its EP Love Will Keep Us Together, this duo from Los Angeles has come out of nowhere with one of the most polished, creative and fun pop releases of the year. Unlike many of their indie peers, Mike Pappas and Fann (whose vocal prowess earns her the right to drop the last name) make no pretenses about their desire to play in the big leagues. Their sound is gritty yet suave, evocative of everything from CHVRCHES to Muse but also undeniably one-of-a-kind. The title track is engineered to explode: in its verses, Fann pushes against massive dubstep blurbles with cool confidence before Pappas steps into the fray in the chorus, grounding the song's titular declaration with his earnest conviction. It's a hard act to follow, but damned if the next three don't give it a run for its money. "Rice And Beans" finds a happy medium between its robotic vocals and thick walls of synths and its more country-flavored instrumental flourishes, "Winter Sun" sounds like the Jason Mraz/Passion Pit collaboration nobody knew they wanted, and "Trigger Happy" is an ineffable blast of cheerful folk-pop by way of Daft Punk and snotty Ke$ha-approved rap breaks. Perhaps Yell For Help's greatest strength is how it both caters to today's tastes and plays with them, reconstructing pop's basic components into seemingly endless permutations. Love Will Keep Us Together may tap right into the heart of the zeltgeist, but its yields are far more promising. The entire EP is available to stream below—and it's free to download, too, so you have no excuse to be out of the loop when Yell For Help takes over the Billboard charts next year.
Swedish indie-rockers The Sounds may be fifteen years old, but on its new album Weekend the quintet sounds as fresh-faced as could be. Member Jesper Anderberg describes the process of writing the album as looking for a "groove based on five members who have been playing music together for a long time." The result is a collection of songs that feels both remarkably cohesive and expansive, exploration seasoned with experience. Opener "Shake Shake Shake" kicks off an LP's worth of butt bumpin' with tight syncopated rhythms and an immediately winning chorus, but later cuts like the smoky "Take It The Wrong Way," the electronics-heavy "Too Young To Die," the elegant "Panic" and the fierce "Outlaw" add dimension to the band's sound. The entire album is awash with buzzy excitement: it's hard to know where The Sounds will go after each song, but you'll probably be bopping your head along to it. Stream and download "Weekend" below, and stream the full album here:
As Caleb Stull puts it, his past few years were spent struggling through "gypsy travel, heartbreak and a mini-loss of innocence." Feverland, the debut album from his new project Field Study, plays like the secret soundtrack to his misfortunes. The scrappy indie-rock songs here blossom into atmospheric, brooding soundscapes Grey's Anatomy will be more than happy to use. Yet even as they dip into darkness, they defy wallowing: "Lost & Found" and "New Sun" are too bouncy to mope to, and surprises like the blistering rocker "Stuff You Break" and the super-poppy "Come Find Me" keep the album's pace going. Stull, for his part, grounds the melancholy with sincerity and the slightest hint of urgency, suggesting that even if he hasn't quite found peace, he's just fine with where he is now. In that light, Feverland shows him at his most vulnerable—and perhaps also at his most courageous. Take a listen below:
Little Suns' debut Normal Human Feelings is a globally-minded take on folk as adventurous as it is heartfelt. Though many folk acts have taken on influences from outside the States, what's truly impressive about the album is how fluently it works Eastern European sounds into American ones: neither receives short shrift, and they complement each other wonderfully. The band is just as likely to spin an accordion melody into a dance party as it is to wind down the other way. One need look no further than the first track to realize this: "Sunboat" opens the album with an eight-minute romp through pastoral fields, rowdy marketplaces, and darkly-lit ballrooms. By song's end we have scribbles of piano cutting into galloping rhythms that bring Gloria Estefan to mind, trumpets soaring like banners over night skies, and subtle bass licks keeping track of the song's pulse amidst the chaos. In a month that's been rife with outstanding releases, it takes a lot to stand out, but if you listen closely enough, you'll find it here. Stream Normal Human Feelings below:
Experimental pop artist Lisa Papineau has created music for the darkest haunts in our souls with her new album Blood Noise, a haunted forest of twisted orchestration, sinister synths and vaguely psychedelic foliage (for the video game buffs, imagine your favorite Nintendo soundtracks getting the remix treatment from Silent Hill's Akira Yamaoka) over which her voice reigns. Papineau's performance is an exorcism of sorts: she recorded much of the album in one take while recovering from cancer surgery, and throughout the nine tracks here it sounds as if her wispy, emotive soprano is grasping at strength. Somewhere and somehow, she manages to find it: on "Out For A Swim," her voice floats above the choppy instrumentation like a foghorn, and though it's scratched and pained, it never stops pulsing. "And now I cannot face the water, but it's too far to turn back," goes one line, encapsulating the subdued but ferocious spirit that breathes unexpected life into Blood Noise. Stream the album below:
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