Grassfight might be the gazillionth indie band referencing Joy Division in their sound, but their songs are so good that we are definitely not going to complain about that. Besides, there are a lot of other elements here that make things interesting: dark enough to be credible, noisy enough to be truly edgy and punchy enough to be entertaining, this is compelling psych-goth rock that expands on the freaky shoegazer vibe in a way Interpol never got around to. With a name based on a tragic battle during the Texas Revolution, this EP is bound to be confrontational. But don't let that scare you, singer Nathan Forster and band make the kind of lush, devastating music too catchy to keep you down. As an added bonus, lead singer Nathan can pull off some seriously high tension cadences a la' Nick Cave - something that pushes the songs' climax to thundering heights (see EP opener "Never you Mind," streaming below). The guitar work in the EP is also pretty impressive, ranging from stabs of pure noise to fuzzy walls of sound, to simple acoustic parts to psychedelic, blurred background textures. If you like some sonic horror in your music, keep an ear out for these guys. - PDG
The Hot Holy Mess
"Red Wild Eye" 7"
"Resolved dissonance" is one of the very cool things about music - Sonic Youth mastered it to perfection. But honestly I have a hard time thinking about a "clean sounding" band that uses dissonance as purposefully as Brooklyn based super-obscure (but not for long) "The Hot Holy Mess". These guys only have two songs available online at this stage, but they are both satisfying my originality AND poppiness needs at once, which happens very rarely. Most importantly, they don't sound anything like Animal Collective, which these days is a major plus for any experimental-ish indie band. The song "Focus Focus," streaming here, is some kind of zany experimental psych-pop collage that bounces from a beatles-y verse (circa 1967) to an atmospheric bridge reminiscent of French band Air, to a circusy chorus involving harp, violin stabs and almost comical falsetto parts. What's hard to convey in writing is the band's flair and overall smoothness of the operation. Bravo! The second song "Long Ride Down" develops in a folkier and more intimate direction, with acoustic guitars and hand claps. Dissonance again pays visits in the vocals and guitar parts, and later on in super-psychedelic distorted violin solos, adding layers of tension and alienation to an otherwise mellow song. These songs are available for free download here.
With their new EP "Bleed Me" the guitar/vocalist and drummer grrrl tandem Clinical Trials steps up the noise-rock formula through the addition of orchestral and industrial elements, boosted by confident performances and songwriting. In the record's highlight track, the suspenseful and almost scary "Whip It", the band takes the bold step of adding an unnerving brass section to the more traditional harsh guitar and rumble-crash drum sound. The soaring female vocals start out in a controlled manner but by song's end have progressed to throat shredding screams, in an ever-growing, cathartic tension buildup. That's what rock'n'roll is all about right there... The second track "American Girl" - as tense as the previous one - touches on middle-eastern rhythms for the verses, adding alienating low-toned synth bends to the mix. "Sweet Machine" is more bass guitar heavy, with a clean lively drum sound positioned against breathy come-hither vocals. References to "beauty queens" and "satisfaction guaranteed" completes the sex-for-whatever scenario. "White Fence" makes use of found audio vocal snippets (made to sound like radio transmissions) leading into a vocal delivery that pays homage to Kurt Cobain's more confessional moments. Rich organ textures pad the sonic space as lyrical points are made about "cyanide moments." If only Frances Bean would make up with Courtney – they would probably enjoy checking out this band together. - Dave Cromwell
There was a short period in Motown's storied history where they let psychedelic off-his-rocker producer Norman Whitfield take the wheel, producing hits for the Temptations at a time when America was still tripping from the '60s, but welcoming the funk soon to conquer the 70s. Whitfield perfectly tightwalked this delicate balance between psychedelia and soul, and The Stepkids have taken his groundwork and put it to good use for a generation that never got to take a ride aboard Parliament-Funk's spaceship. Not unlike what MGMT did for Brooklyn (or if you like, Of Montreal for Athens), this Connecticut/Brooklyn based trio is tightly pairing together the ghosts of Sly Stone and The Bee Gees together with Free Design and The Fifth Dimension. Not a small task... But considering these guys cut their teeth touring with Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and even 50 Cent, they're more than ready to step to the front of the stage. After having the good sense to sign with the legendary Stones Throw Records earlier this year, the band's already produced a handful of solid 7-inches, covering the gamut from the smooth soul of 'Legend in My Own Mind,' to the roller rink-ready 'Shadows on Behalf.' Their full-length - out on September 27 - gathers these singles (all in the first half of the record together with the super-fun "Brain Ninja" - video streaming below), adding more delicious numbers full of truly good vibes, including one our favorite tracks - "Suburban Dream," which you can preview in this live video, where it's performed with scary instrumental and vocal precision. - Mike Levine
Your average record reviewer would ideally always (and only) write about incredibly original, mind blowing bands whose music will change the course of rock history. Until a group like Widowspeak comes along to remind him a few things. The Brooklyn based trio isn't putting on our musical table particularly mind blowing or esoteric ingredients: Mazzy Star's dreamy folk, Cowboy Junkies' spare, blue atmospheres, some good old Paysley Underground psychedelia, and the unmissable pop element. But they do it so darn well that we can't help to remind ourselves (for the thousandth time) how uniqueness isn't all that important when you have a bunch of great songs, spot on arrangements, and a voice that somehow hits you. Speaking of which... Molly Hamilton's cheerless and child-like soprano is adorable and engrossing at once, and her simple but always interesting melodies are a crucial element in what's noteworthy about this band. Robert Thomas and Michael Stasiak - on guitar and drums - create the perfect balance of intriguing but not over-powering parts to support her talent.
Uuuuuh... we like this combination of words: "playful psych pop with an experimental edge". That's our attempt at describing the music of Brooklyn based band Celestial Shore. These guys follow on the bizarre and elaborate "avant-pop" steps of acts like Dirty Projector and Deerhoof, with a slightly "mathy-er" approach, and vocal melodies and harmonies that will get Beach Boys fans excited. The way "Pals" - a perfect pop gem - gets truncated and pretty much sacrificed as a "song" to the god of experimentation might irritate the many pop purists out there. Instead, it makes us smile with complicity. Boring song structures are for later in life... "Lost" opens with a placid two ways, almost jazzy harmony , only to develop into something that could be described as 30 second of musical algebra. A similar conflict also affects the two closing tracks, "16" and "Pets," but these guys quirkiness cannot hide an uncommon melodic and songwriting talent. Keep an eye on them!
Answer Voice the Child
Illuminator and their debut album "Answer Voice the Child" (released in January) confirm our suspicions that NYC bands with a mellow sound currently have an edge in terms of originality over rocking/shredding ones. This guitarless up and coming Brooklyn group often sounds like a crazier but also more laid back version of french duo Air, with some added psych/experimental influences reminiscent of artists ranging from Pink Floyd to Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projector. Their soulful melodies also bring to mind early TV on the Radio. In "Hey Crazy (Cough)" and "You Are Overgrown" - two of our favorite songs - electronic percussions, often distorted, introduce an interesting industrial element, but are confined to the background, while sweeping, heavily effected vocals take center stage.
The ancient Greeks thought that at night you could hear the music of the universe while staring at the stars. Nobody ever heard that music, but if it existed it would sound very much like this record. Cosmic.
Shenandoah and the Night
Self Titled EP
Shenandoah Ableman has the rare ability to turn any genre into a voluptuous experience. Comfortable singing in front of styles ranging from German cabaret to doo wop, her quintet Shenandoah and the Night are bringing sexy back... one sultry style at a time. The band's new self-titled debut EP showcases this sensuality with deep confidence through a series of songs steeped in the tradition of American folk, but featuring a very un-American, almost overwhelming, nostalgic power - in the most literal and decadent definition of "romanticism". These songs ("So Fine" and "All The Beautiful Ladies" deserve a honorable mention) make us flirt with "dangerous" thoughts like the fragility of love, the desire for the lost past, the unreachability of perfect happiness, our vain but primary quest for beauty. They might not make us jump or feel happy - but the do make us feel alive. Can you afford to ignore it?
self titled EP
I've noticed a consistent theme in much of Brooklyn's music over the last decade. A rediscovery of ritual, where the music is meant to be understood as an event in and of itself. No external references or signposts needed. Bands like Animal Collective, Yeasayer and Tanlines have adopted this minimal, repetitive style as their own, reducing an internet's worth of ideas to a tribal, almost religious "primalism."
Brooklyn's Yvette channel this tradition, but they do it like badasses, carving out their tribal energy with religious devotion and knife-like intensity. Their debut self-titled EP is a primal meditation without all the psychedelic trappings. Making no apologies to analog originalists, their construction of LOUD, grinding, sawtooth synths is all digital; which works well for them. Yvette's approach is so immediate, I doubt anyone will mind how they've built their saturated, washy textures. The same can be said of their vocal chants. Most of the time when duo Noah and Rick are singing, you really can't make out any of the lyrics, but really... what does it matter? The way the earsplitting drums, laptops and vocals are thrown into the fire, the need for narrative detail is entirely discarded. The four songs on their EP weave an intense journey without using verses, hooks, or even chord changes to tell it, trading in these usual placeholders for a deeper sense of continuity... one droney shout at a time. In a town blanketed in beach bands, Yvette is a much needed wake-up call. Stream and purchase all tracks on their ">bandcamp, and see them play live as part of the Deli's NYC Best of Emerging Artist Fest next Wednesday, May 25 at Glasslands. - Mike Levine
Yellowbirds is the latest musical expedition, the “solo” debut, of Texas native Sam Cohen (guitarist/songwriter/vocalist in the psychedelic collective Apollo Sunshine). To Cohen, Texas was not the home of the Bush family or Big Oil, but rather the home to Buddy Holly and the Space Program. New York then, the city Cohen now calls home, is the epicenter of modern art, the home to Charles Mingus and the Velvet Underground. The music of Yellowbirds is full of double-speed auto-harp glissandos, bubbling echo and fuzz guitars played underneath the extistensial lyrics, a place where, as Cohen says, “only the purist tones can be heard.” Yellowbirds has released two singles, both in 2010, “The Rest Of My Life” and “The Honest Ocean” and “The Color,” both featured in his full-length album The Color, which came out in February 2011. "Beneath The Reach of Light" marries Ennio Morrcione Spaghetti Western drama with just enough subversive undercurrents to intrigue the listener. "The Rest Of My Life" continues the big cinematic effect as jingle-on-highhat-and-snare drum shots dominate the sonic spectrum. "Rings In The Trees" further emphasizes the bands vocal sound, which takes from where Roy Orbison began, through what "True Blood" theme song vocalist Jace Everett presents in these modern times.
The music Cohen creates within the moniker Yellowbirds is, in three simple words, idealistic, dreamy and beautiful. - Leah Tribbett and Dave Cromwell
Religious to Damn
Like many current bands, Afghan-American singer Zohra Atash's project Religious to Damn is inspired by the sound of the 70's and 80's. However, the influences on this record are far from typical. Religious to Damn's music doesn't have anything to do with those dancey Motown tunes, glam rock, or electro-pop. Instead, their album "Glass Prayer" references dark and sophisticated artists like Japan, David Sylvian, Siouxsie & The Banshees and (in the poppier choruses) queens of cool Blondie and Kate Bush. The best songs on the album are "Drifter", a track built on a super simple bass line that develops quite surprisingly towards celestial openings and the title track "Glass Prayer" (in the video), which alternates a verse that's almost a tribute to late Japan with a chorus as beautiful and voluptuous as Kate Bush's best songs. Infused with exotic sounds and atmospheres, the record features a good number of ballads and mid tempo numbers, but things seems to get more interesting whenever the BPM go up, as evidenced by the Morriconian "The Wait", and the tense and apocalyptic "Let The Fires Burn".
Sister Wife EP
I have one question about Alex Winston. Where does she hide the helium tank? Don't get me wrong, Sister Wife (download link under the video) is a light and fun jaunt, with soaring melodies and satisfying hooks...but I'm serious about that helium thing. Winston's soprano is so ethereal and high, that I feel like she's sucking birthday balloons dry before recording each track. Kate Bush fans, rejoice! Title track "Sister Wife" catches you with the "ooooh," so hard you don't even realize it's about bigamy. And let me say, it's one of the best songs about bigamy I've heard since...a while. Her debut EP is consistently filled with breathy girlpop dreamscapes that lets your mind wander, with enough of a backing beat to keep you from floating away – "Choice Notes" and "Fingers and Toes" especially. "Sweet James" is a stand-out, a sweet and pretty nostalgia-infused Motown crooner, conjuring visions of summer love and picnics in sunny parks. Put that one on your make-out playlist. And add "Sister Wife" too...y'know, if you're into bigamy. - Allison Levin