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I CAN BE INDIE TOO
SoundWave 16 starts off with an alternative-indie dance track from Sydney, Australia’s Jagwar Ma. The group, comprised of producer Jono Ma and singer Gabriel Winterfield, has only been around since last year, but they have already made their mark on the indie scene, booking tours around Europe and the US following the release of their first album, Howlin’.
“Man I Need” is the most recent single from their album, and it fulfills everything they set out to do with their music. Self-professed British 90’s dance reinventers, Jagwar Ma toss a plethora of throwback sounds into their mixing pot-of-a-song, including trippy electronic gunshots reminiscent of Madonna or Smash Mouth, a Moby-esque drumbeat, and a host of other British dance-rock elements.
This song is perfectly crafted and ready to be an instant indie radio hit…if that were a thing. The instrumentation is purposefully antiquated but still crisp, the verses and hook equally catchy, and Winterfield’s vocal line/lyrics are just abstract enough to sate any alt-indie listener with their slightly-south-of-normal charm.
Maybe it’s the heavy Moby sound I hear throughout the song, but I can’t stop imagining “Man I Need” accompanying the opening or closing credits of a Bourne movie. There does seem to be a preponderance of indie/electronic musicians writing movie scores these days, so my vote is cast for Jagwar Ma to do the next one – and hopefully Universal Pictures will be ready for Bourne 5 by then.
AND THE (INDIE) BEAT GOES ON
Musical quartet Scanners has been on the fringe of the indie scene for about 7 years, after forming in nascent stages back in England in 2004 and achieving a modicum of popularity after the 2006 album Raw. They have a group-vocals appeal that reminds me a bit of Walk Off the Eearth or The New Pornographers, although there is a heavier electronic touch here, which is why this track is in the “and the beat goes on” category this week.
“Control” starts off with a pulsing electronic beat that runs throughout most of the track, guiding the backing instrumentation and providing counterpoint harmony to the vocal melody. The melody is as catchy as busy, fizz-bomb pop can be, although I can’t say I know what the lyrics are in the slightest. Handclaps, filtered bells, snappish guitars, and a dancekit drum set round out the song, giving it a big, bouncy, indie appeal.
Overall, “Control” exhibits Scanners’ new and improved attempts in their music to put aside the rawer sound of (oddly enough) albums like Raw and exchange that for more lavish productions and arrangements. The result is great fun, and makes “Control” much more aurally pleasing than previous releases, and better than most attempts that fall into this genre subset.
Everyone over the age of 15 knows dancehall/reggae artist Sean Paul. Tracks like “Temperature” and “We Be Burnin’” take us right back to our youth where things like this haircut were not only normal, but also popular. Now, at the ripe old age of 40, Sean Paul has decided that no, he is not done with us yet – there are still things that this Kingston, Jamaica native has to tell us, and he’s here to continue his musical saga with “Other Side of Love.”
The Benny Blanco and The Cataracs produced track features Sean Paul spitting rhymes (or, rather, rap-singing) of a failing relationship: “Baby, you don’t have to keep looking through my phone / If something’s going on, girl, you’d already know / We can’t even say two words without a fight anymore.” The lyrical content meshes relatively well with the overall tone of the song, which oscillates between minor chord progressions and hopefully upbeat musical evolutions. It’s still classic Sean Paul in the end, including elements of hip-hop, R&B, and pop/dance.
There is nothing earth-shatteringly good or innovative about “Other Side of Love”, but I do think it is better than many of Sean Paul’s recent releases, speaks well of his upcoming 6th studio album (out this fall), and has just enough chill-dance appeal to validate its inclusion on this blog post. It’s the perfect jam for a nice early summer day, so enjoy singing and dancing along with it.
If you don’t know Sigur Rós, you are really missing out. One of the (if not the) most popular bands to come out of Iceland, the Reykjavík trio (and sometimes quintet) is known for crafting gorgeous ambient/post rock music full of classical and minimalist aesthetic elements. The band was named for frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s sister Sigurrós Elin, a fascinating detail I only just now learned and thought I’d share with you all. Huzzah!
In case you couldn’t tell by the description of their music, Sigur Rós has spanned a number of genres over its 19-year history. Most of their recent releases have been more like soundscapes than individual tracks, but the band is turning now towards “more aggressive” (as they stated) singles on their upcoming album Kveikur.
“Ísjaki”, which is Icelandic for “iceberg”, is the third track off of Kveikur. The most prominent feature of the song is the percussion, which is prominent and thundering throughout, acting as a sort of musical battle cry. “Ísjaki” is dense in its instrumentation and rhythm, but lighter and more celebratory than the other single off the album, “Brennisteinn.” Lead singer Jónsi is as ethereal and haunting as always, howling and harmonizing his distinctive way through the 5-minute track, leading the song from the ups and downs of a late-arriving climax to the instrumentally based outro.
There are few groups who have the range and yet consistent appeal of Sigur Rós. I highly recommend you take some time to listen to “Ísjaki”, and then go and explore some of their older releases (including Jónsi’s solo work!). You won’t be disappointed.
MANCHESTER HAS EVERYTHING
First of all, it’s getting to be a bit ridiculous how many huge things are coming out of Manchester these days. I feel like half the time I discover a new musical group I like from the UK, they’re from Manchester! Not to mention the fact that two of the richest clubs in soccer are based there (though I dislike both pretty immensely, and yes, I will fight with you about this).
Add to the list British alternative rock/pop band Everything Everything, who has been recording and releasing music since 2010. The group garnered wide critical acclaim after their first release Man Alive, and it looks like the hype is only going up with 2013’s Arc. With regards to their sound, the band falls somewhere in the crosshairs between Vampire Weekend, The Presets, and Two Door Cinema Club. They are extremely eclectic and dynamic in style, using pop styling alongside production and rhythm approaches closer to those of glitch pop and electronica.
The most mesmerizing facet of “Don’t Try” is assuredly the falsetto crooning of Jonathan Higgs. His voice is all over the place on this track, doing things that don’t sound possible at times. There are ska elements in the quick and rhythmic vocalizations scattered throughout the verses, which make for an entertaining sing-along. Other entertaining parts of the song include fascinatingly dissonant guitar riffs, random shouts, stuttered drumbeats, and the instrumental crash of a piano about two and a half minutes into the song that is picked up and supported by a jazz band and organ. Yes.
Arc as a whole album may bear the marks of a group going through some sort of identity crisis, but it has borne fruit such as “Don’t Try”, so I’m not too concerned. I enjoy hearing what Everything Everything has to release in its future, and hope it is more of the same found here.
*Addendum: I feel obligated to say that I myself did not discover Everything Everything. That honor goes to my good friend Bridget. Muchísimas gracias por la recomendación.
INSERT SAD/SLOW SONG HERE
Matthew Mayfield, an American singer-songwriter from Alabama, started out in the group Moses Mayfield, which disbanded in 2008, and has since moved on to a solo career. If it were up to me, Mayfield would be one of the most well-known indie singers out there – he’s one of the best.
His most recent release, the EP Irons in the Fire, contains a host of gorgeous tracks, one of which, “Follow You Down”, I was hoping to include on this week’s blog. Due to a variety of factors (namely the scarcity of information/resources available online with regards to Mayfield’s music), however, I’ve decided to go with one of his slightly older (but equally exquisite) releases, “Take What I Can Get.”
There aren’t many artists out there right now who have the vocal power and emotionality that Matthew Mayfield does. There is a rawness to this track, and throughout all of his music, that is captivating; after previewing one of his songs on iTunes, I just sat back and listened to the entire album, reveling in the sound. The fragility of the broken falsetto notes scattered throughout “Take What I Can Get” is beautiful.
There are other aspects of this song that are worth appreciating besides Mayfield’s voice, such as the intricately plucked guitar lines, fabulously haunting chord progression, and other staples of indie singer-songwriter tunes, but really, those things can be enjoyed on your own. Put some headphones on, go to a quiet place, and let this song wash over you.
PICK OF THE WEEK
If Imogen Heap had a male counterpart, it would be Frankmusik, the stage name of fellow Brit Vincent James Turner. Frankmusik writes and produces an interesting type of music that is termed synthpop, although I’d put most of his releases under the electronica heading.
I fell in love with Frankmusik after 2009’s Complete Me, which featured awesome songs like “Confusion Girl” and “Time Will Tell.” What really made me a huge fan of Vincent’s music, however, was when I found that he had released a completely acoustic version of Complete Me, called Re-complete Me, that solely featured his voice and piano accompaniment (which he wrote and is incredibly complex and lovely). Turner is an extremely talented musician, and showcases this skill throughout his new album, Between.
“Chasing Shadows” is a soaring powerhouse synth-ballad and the lead song off Frankmusik’s new album. There are two main aspects of the song that make it incredible in my book: the production and the vocals. Vincent’s production prowess is obvious on this track, as pianos, strings, electronic instruments, and thundering beats converge seamlessly, complementing without overpowering each other. Vocally, Frankmusik is unrivaled in tone, power, and range in the pop world. He hits high-reaching falsetto notes during the chorus that actually give me goosebumps, and knows just when to add a line of harmony or when to leave the melody exposed and raw.
This third album by Frankmusik returns to what fans of his music fell in love with in the first place – dazzling electro-pop songs with classical roots, an intoxicating vocalist, and beguiling melodies. Frankmusik shows, on tracks like “Chasing Shadows”, that he is here to stay.
Want to listen to all of these songs at once? Check out my YouTube Playlist for this SoundWave!