Category Archives: Indie Rock

Penny and Sparrow: Struggle Pretty

In January last year, I wrote a post about a band that I was completely blown away by on first listen. Penny and Sparrow is back with their second album as of Tuesday!

pennysparrowA good friend of mine introduced me to the Austin, Texas duo and on first listen, I had chill bumps. Second listen evoked tears. I knew I was hooked at that point. I’ve been listening to that album since. I follow them on Facebook and when I realized a new album was out two days ago, I bought it without a second thought. I’m just now getting  a chance to listen to it.

Serial Doubter really kicks the album off (after the intro track Jeffrey Alan) with familiar vocals deposited over increasingly dense instrumentation. The song has an easy-going tempo, but with drums that rock the hammock like a slow breeze.

Bread and Bleeding and Thunder really showcase the Mumford and Sons influence stylistically with the hyper guitars and trumpets or violins, respectively. The soothing vocals that you’re used to come in and somehow melt over the abnormally rapid instrumentation and create a totally new dynamic.

I am absolutely in love with Rattle. This was one of the first two songs the band released in the lead-up to the new album and I fell head over heels for this one. It sounds like the beautiful beginning to a thunderstorm – you know what I’m talking about, when everything gets really still and there’s just a bit of wind blowing but you know something more is on its way so you have a heavy feeling deep inside. I don’t want to rattle and I’ve got no plans to let myself be tossed away, but this muscle could never lift a thing without you anyway. This band writes such gorgeous lyrics that sometimes I’m left speechless. They’re some of the most beautiful lyrics being written in music right now.

Reeth is the song I’ve been waiting for this entire album thus far (and this is nine tracks in). This sounds like a direct upgrade of the sound from Tenboom and it’s absolutely stunning. The guitar is so delicate that it almost feels like a balancing act trying not to tip over onto the vocals. I found myself holding my breath to listen a little more intently two different times.

The album wraps up with the entirely a capella Fantine. It seems a strange choice for a last song, but the lyrics serve better with nothing to distract from their impact. They’re stark and serious and darker than I was anticipating. So before I go saying you make a bad lover, I think that I’ll let you kiss me. I can not in good conscience wear white. If I’m honest, my wedding dress needs to be black. I’ve seen too much skin in the souls that live in it, I fear I’m the bride you give back. you take and you give. You give and you take.

Penny and Sparrow are some seriously talented musicians. I have no idea why more of you aren’t listening to them. Stop everything and do it right now.

 

Key Tracks
Reeth (track 9)
Rattle (track 4)
Fantine (track 12)

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The 1975: The 1975

New release day is one of my favorite days of the week.  Is it just me, or are the albums you’re excited for all released on the same day – or at least in close vicinity to one another? Then you have a cluster of albums you can’t wait for and you can’t decide which one to listen to first. That was my morning on this Tuesday. I finally decided to have a go with The 1975’s debut album first and I was certainly not disappointed with my choice!

debutI told you guys on the last post that I was absolutely obsessed with a couple of songs from these dudes. One of my best friends sent me a track a few weeks ago and they’ve been on my constant rotate since. At that time, all Spotify was offering me was one EP – which, don’t get me wrong, was fantastic, but I needed so much more. Today, the alt rock  band from Manchester finally released their debut disc – with sixteen tracks!

The first song, The 1975, is a quiet lead-in – you’re interested, engaged, you’re in there. The band pulls you in and straps you to the roof of their vehicle right off in track 2 with The City, a song that I played on repeat from the EP. This jam is the perfect way to open up this album – it leans more to the indie rock side of the band and keeps things calm in case you still needed to get a feel for what you were listening to.

I still can’t get over what a good tune Chocolate is. If you haven’t listened to this song, please drop everything right now and get on board. It won’t get out of your head, but I swear it’ll be a fun ride.

I decided today that this band sounds like lace if it were crumbled up, melted down, and transformed into a sound. Talk! is the perfect explanation of that. Sometimes there are spaces that feel so airy and peaceful, like you’re drifting along a cloud, and then sometimes the chorus kicks in for denser parts that are the real meat of the sandwich. Sometimes there’s a scratchy feeling, but the overall composition is glorious.

Settle Down is one of my favorites on the album that really shows what this band is capable of reaching. There’s a fun, funky vibe to this song that monopolizes everything else going on in your life at the moment that this song is playing. If you don’t drop everything just to listen to this song, you’re lying. The lyrics are particularly captivating in this one: You’re losing your words, we’re speaking in bodies, avoiding me and talking about you. You’re losing your turn, I guess I’ll never learn, cause I stay another hour or two.

I was completely blown away by She Way Out. The guitar on this track gave me chills throughout and everything meshes together so well. If this song isn’t part of their live show, there’s a problem somewhere.

Pressure is rocking my world. This song almost feels like you’re hearing it from behind a curtain, but it’s so perfect with everything that’s going into the song and the lyrics are just minimalistic enough to not overpower the music or vice versa.

The album wraps up with Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You, an eerily soothing song with nothing but incredible vocals and a divine backing piano. This song is haunting in the most beautiful of ways. I know it’s me that’s supposed to love you, and when I’m home, you know I got you. Is there somebody who can watch you? Is there somebody who can love?

This album is wonderful. Hands down the best album I’ve listened to in a long time. And don’t forget, this is the band’s debut full length. I can’t wrap my mind around it. There is not a single song on this album that I want to skip over. The only down side to the album? I just found out the release from Target has five bonus tracks. Looks like I’ll be buying it a second time…

 

Key Tracks
Chocolate (track 4)
Settle Down (track 9)
Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You (track 16)

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5 Songs I Can’t Get Enough Of

1. Sweater Weather by The Neighbourhood

This song has been on repeat since I discovered it. I literally cannot play this enough. At home, in the car, at work, in the shower. I love all versions of this song. It’s a slow, seductive beat with just a slight bounce in its step. It’s soft enough to jam to if you’re feeling mellow, but there’s enough to the song that you can sing it at the top of your lungs if you’re feeling it (which I usually am). I love the whole album (I Love You), but this track has stuck out to me since day one.

2. Chocolate by the 1975

Upbeat and poppy, this song brings some beautiful English blokes to the forefront. I’m going to be honest – most of the time I have no idea what the lyrics actually are (even after Googling them),  but you better believe I still sing along in a slurred, lisp-ish kind of way. This jam reminds me of what Oasis would be if they were thrown into a blender with some obnoxious bubble gum pop and what resulted was the best smoothie you’ve ever tasted. I’m anxiously awaiting their newest album.

3. Explode by Patrick Stump

When FOB went on their hiatus, I was angry and resentful, so I mostly ignored all of the members for a good time. That included the time period when Patrick Stump went solo. Spotify recommended the album to me a few days ago after I’d been listening to some questionable tunes and some Fall Out Boy and I gave the album a listen and this song nearly made me fall out of my chair I was dancing so much. The rest of the album is all right (Patrick, you’re better with the band) but dude, this song blows the roof off of the building.

4. The Mother We Share by CHVRCHES

I know this is total hipster stuff, but really, this jam is hard to shy away from. There are some sick beats happening and then this slightly Ellie Goulding-ish vocal comes in and all hope is lost for you resisting this jam. I usually don’t like music like this, but something about this song is too catchy for its own good.

5. Electric Feel by MGMT

I always freak out when this song comes on Pandora when I’m in the shower and I never actually listened to MGMT in excess until a few days ago. This is the one song I keep coming back to, though. When I’m not listening to it, I’m thinking about it. When I’m not thinking about it, I’m listening to it. This is a perfect song to turn on at 4:56 when you need that little extra boost to get through your work day. You’ll be lost in the solar beats and and soothed by the gentle rocking motion until you’re ready to walk out that door in peace after a long day. Seriously, I love this band.

I have these songs on a playlist to themselves on Spotify and I just listen to them over and over again at work. You’d think I would get sick of em, but they’re just that good.

What song(s) can you not get enough of right now?

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The Apache Relay: American Nomad

I think sometimes, everyone gets lost in the hustle bustle of life. Things are pushed back in place of seemingly more important things, or important things lose their meaning because of unforeseen circumstances. I’ve had such a hectic schedule at work lately that I haven’t been able to write on the blog as much as I would like. I apologize for that – hopefully after today, things will calm down again. But what really led me to thinking about that was my day yesterday. I had the pleasure of attending the Bristol, VA/TN Gentlemen of the Road Stopover that was organized by Mumford and Sons. When I first heard rumors that they were coming to town (I live near Bristol), I couldn’t believe it. When they announced the Stopover was going to be here, I really couldn’t believe it. While it was a long, hot day almost entirely in the direct sunlight, it was bliss. At one point while Mumford was playing, I looked up at the lights and realized that was what I loved most in life. Nothing compares to being packed in a crowd of people who are fans of the band you’re seeing and you’re screaming the lyrics together as one.

If you don’t know much about the Stopovers, it was basically a let’s roll into town and invite all the local stores, vendors, restaurants, etc. out to one hell of a day where we bring 15,000+ people into one small area. It was fantastic. It also meant that Mumford needed bands to play the other slots during the day since it was set up as a festival of sorts, which also gives added exposure to other bands. My friends and I got to Stage 1 and had the pleasure of hearing The Apache Relay play first. And while it was a change in schedule and they were originally slated to play Stage 2, boy am I glad they played Stage 1. With a thirty minute set, they had excellent, unique sound and a phenomenal stage presence. They were also very kind as a whole – I got to meet a few of the members and they were gracious and took time to speak to us and thank us. After this experience, I knew I had to listen to their album. And this is what the real point of this post is.

Their 2011 disc American Nomad starts off with Can’t Wake Up, a song they played live when I saw them yesterday. It’s a slow starting track that has all the potential for an explosion on stage that has an even better end result than the build-up. The song is easy going, but chock full of beautiful noises. Michael Ford Jr.’s voice was so captivating live and translates just as well on recording. His voice is gentle and smooth while remaining powerful when the time comes. He has incredible control over his vocals in the live show, even when the song takes over and major rocking out is required.

Mission Bells slows it down in the most delicate of ways. This band has a great knack for using the tambourine to their greatest advantage. It was busted out many times yesterday during the two sets I saw them do. I also should mention here that Kellen Wenrich’s fiddle playing is superb and this song showcases that (also the man has mad dance moves).

Lost Kid was my favorite song that I heard them perform and it remains my favorite on the disc. The drumming really kicks it up a notch in the beginning of this song before the song really comes at you full force with an array of instruments backing the drumming creating perfect harmony and a wonderland in my ears.

I also had the fortune of seeing Watering Hole performed twice. This song shows real blues influence at the core. Ford’s vocals are as spot-on as ever in this track. Maybe it’s the influence of seeing it twice live, but I think this song out of all of them may perfectly show the band’s pure talent from every corner. Everything is so wonderfully meshed together in this song that it takes a couple of listens to really hear all the instruments working as one and as a whole.

The album wraps up with Some People Change, a slower song that is a beautiful wrap-up to a great album. This track is calming and peaceful and again makes excellent use of a good tambourine. The guitar and the fiddle stand out in this number, lulling so quietly and perfectly it was almost as though to put you to sleep.

As I expected, the album was as great as the live show that these guys put on. I was impressed yesterday after I saw them, and I remain impressed right now after listening to this album. There’s something special in this band that needs to be noticed. Incorporating folk, indie and blues styles into a rock music blender, The Apache Relay create some tunes that you won’t soon be able to shake. I’m going to be listening to this for a while. (And here’s an incentive: Amazon has this record for $5!)

 

Key Tracks
Lost Kid (track 6)
Watering Hole (track 7)
Can’t Wake Up (track 1)

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Beautiful Small Machines: The Robots in Love EP

Pandora really is one of the best tools for finding new music. Lately, I’ve had a hard time switching from the Indie Dance station (take a listen to this one if you haven’t before, it’s so much fun). I was listening the other night and found a song I instantly had to seek out so I could listen to it over and over. The song was by a band called Beautiful Small  Machines –  made up of Bree Sharp and Don DiLego, who met up ten years ago while working on a solo album for Sharp. After scrapping the tunes they were working on for her fourth solo album, they formed Beautiful Small Machines. We’re going on a trip with The Robots in Love EP.

Counting Back to 1 is the song that begins the EP and the song I fell in love with on impact. This number is so up tempo it’ll be hard to contain your feelings and energy. Even on my first run through this song, I couldn’t resist swaying and singing along. For the first time in months, I Googled this one for the lyrics. There are electronic sounds used, but they’re used so sparingly and only used to really enhance the music that’s already there. The sounds aren’t used to block out any lack of talent – in fact, the drumming is amazing and the vocals from Bree Sharp are just as soft as you would expect in any indie song. It’s fantastic and I am obsessed.

Robots in Love follows in the same vein. Great fun lyrics, music that you have to move to. There seem to be less electronic sound effects placed into this track. The band remind me of a female-fronted Hellogoodbye when they were still putting out quality tunes.

Super Conducter is so much fun it almost rivals the first track. The drums are so heavy in this number that it feels like you should constantly be clapping. Right before the triumphant end of the song, the band blasts into a brass ending that feels like robots are controlling the sound in your world. The lyrics live up in this one, too. I’ve got the frequency to turn you on.

So Long to U slows things down a bit, showing Sharp’s vocal talents in raw form, backed only by slow drumming, acoustic guitar, and sound effects. This band proves not every electronic act is completely void of any actual talent.

The EP wraps up with Servo Manual Chapter 1 (Mandroids on Whiskey), a track that really feels like you’re at an outdoor concert somewhere on Mars. This song seems to take on a robot as first person singing or making music. It’s an interesting song, probably something that won’t lose your attention any time soon. It’s very different, as one would expect considering it largely sounds like a robot singing I want to be in love with you. As different as it may be, it remains on track with the album and is a great way to end things.

I was impressed when I heard Counting Back to 1 on a whim while listening to Pandora, but this EP only makes me more excited for this band and for the music that they’re producing. It’s unlike a good majority of what I listen to on a regular basis and it’s something I can plainly hear the talent in and enjoy it all the while.

 

Key Tracks
Counting Back to 1 (track 1)
So Long to U (track 4)

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Gotye: Making Mirrors

When something so out of the norm catches on to Top 40 radio, my curiosity is too much to for me to handle. I can appreciate music from all walks of life, but I know how fickle Top 40 radio usually is and when an artist like Gotye manages to crack the catacomb, I’m intrigued. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song that’s flying through everything right now, and the performance on SNL was spot-on, but I can’t quite figure out why Top 40 has caught on to something actually musically decent for once, so I’m going to take a listen to the album in full and attempt to figure out the riddle.

Making Mirrors kicks off with the title track, a mostly instrumental ease into the album that’s reminiscent of a lullaby. Easy Way Out steps in and is a lovely mid-tempo song with some really interesting techniques and effects going on in the background. It’s a short song that I was surprised to hear end after a minute and fifty-eight seconds.

It quickly gives way to Somebody that I Used To Know, which I guarantee you’ve heard by now. It’s a beautiful track with some really interesting staccato notes happening from what I suppose are stringed instruments. The passion in this song is the thing that first blew me away. You can really tell when a song hits home with a musical artist/band. There’s a completely different tone when there’s so much passion behind the words. This song exemplifies that so much that the pain transfers through the vocals.

I Feel Better feels like some music from the 60’s was sprinkled over modern musical innovations and the vibe of Gotye was hand-tossed in. It’s an upbeat track that will have you snapping your fingers and wishing you knew a synchronized dance routine you could break out into.

Giving Me A Chance is my favorite track of the album. It’s soft and full of movement. All of the music and the vocals feel like they’re wrapped in luxuriously soft blankets.  It almost sounds as cheesy as one of those easy listening compilations they’ll advertise to you on a Time Life special, but with some kind of sophistication that makes it all okay. It also slightly reminds me of the song that’s playing when you’re driving the Rainbow Road course in Mario Kart 64.

Bronte wraps the album up with some interesting drumming techniques, proving Gotye can keep the interest twelve songs strong. This is a strong track, while remaining calm and steady. The lyrics on this album are intriguing, and this song making you feel safer than a few of the others.

I don’t think this album is quite what I expected. I’m not sure if I expected purely indie, or some kind of weird hybrid indie-folk-pop, or what. But it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s an easy record to listen to that surprises you at all the right times. It’s predictable at times, and totally out of the ordinary at others. For those reasons, Gotye has successfully cracked the Top 40’s interest. I hope he can ride the surge in popularity into another song. I’d love to see something like Giving Me A Chance hit the radio airwaves.

 

Key Tracks
Giving Me A Chance (track 10)
Somebody That I Used To Know (track 3)
In Your Light (track 7)

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Ron Pope: Whatever It Takes

Spotify is such a beautiful thing. Not only is there a ton of music readily available at my fingertips, but by far, my favorite thing is sharing music with friends. I have two friends who regularly keep my inbox flowing and I adore it. They both have such great music taste that I’m sure to have an eclectic mix of songs in my inbox at all times. One of my favorite finds as of late is Ron Pope, a New York based singer-song writer-guitar player triple threat. He has the vocals of an angel and the lyrical abilities that are sweeter than Taylor Swift. It’s big. We’re going to listen to Whatever It Takes tonight.

Ron Pope opens the album with the incredibly beautiful If You Were a Stone, a more poetic version of a song like Blake Shelton’s Honey Bee. Pope’s voice has enough weather damage sound to it to make things interesting, but keep it melodic at the same time.

I Believe comes in strong with more movement than it’s predecessors. The vocals and pickup in this song remind me remotely of The Spill Canvas in early days.

There are some people who are just better love song writers than others. From the limited taste that I’ve gotten of Ron Pope, he’s on that list. A Drop in the Ocean is a beautiful song with some beautiful things going on musically and lyrically. It’s just a drop in the ocean, a change in the weather. I was praying that you and me might end up together. It’s like wishing for rain as I stand in the desert, but I’m holding you closer than most cause you are my heaven.

Home Again dredges up beautiful images in the listener’s mind as Pope displays his beautiful talents with emotion and imagery. The feelings are so intense, it’s sure to conjure up a smile from the most cold-hearted of us. This song is more uplifting and about the support of love or from a loved one than necessarily love itself. Pope’s guitar skills are also quite present in this one with an electric stringed for a change.

Whatever It Takes wraps the album up on a softer note with an acoustic guitar once again in hand. Gentle lyrics step in one last time, asking a lover to stand by your side no matter what happens. I miss your face whenever you’re gone. Whatever it takes, tell me you’ll stay with me forever. Don’t turn away – tell me you’ll stay cause when we’re together I see stars from the headlights – they don’t seem so far away.

This album is far more beautiful than the three tracks I had previous listened to of Ron Pope’s. This man has a gentle take on music, both with his vocals and his guitar playing. While you can tell he’s talented, he remains accessible and something that you could put on to please a wide variety of listening tastes. Sometimes he picks up an electric guitar, sometimes acoustic. One thing I cannot deny are his beautiful lyrics – sickeningly sweet on some occasions, but oddly enough, they always come off as sincere. Wouldn’t you like to be the person they were written about?

 

Key Tracks

Tightrope (track 11)
If You Were a Stone (track 1)
A Drop in the Ocean (track 5)

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