Let me know what you think, and subscribe to get new music updates emailed to you every week! → → → → → → → → → →
I CAN BE INDIE TOO
BACKGROUND: Bear’s Den is a London trio comprised of Andrew Davie, Kevin Jones, and Joey Haynes. After touring with the likes of Mumford & Sons and Daughter, Bear’s Den is off to a good start with their first official release, the EP Agape. (Not agape, like if someone’s mouth was agape with excitement over this week’s SoundWave, but “agape”, the idea of spiritual love.) There is a sense of devotional, familial reflection on the EP that is well reflected by the title, and makes this indie rock/pop something singularly special.
VOCALS: Lead vocalist Davies starts off the song with the title line – “Agape, please don’t dissipate.” There is a certain emotionality communicated through the lyrics that is perfectly balanced by Davies’ voice: he manages to lay bare his soul without diminishing his vocal control. A cross between Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and X Ambassador’s Sam Harris, Davies sets the tone of “Agape.”
PRODUCTION: A heavy bass accompaniment leads the song through its journey of catchy rhythms and chorus permutations. The upbeat tempo and cheerful banjo beat plays contrary to lyrics about love and loss, but somehow the two work perfectly together to highlight the other.
NUTSHELL: “Agape”, the standout track on Bear Den’s freshman EP, is a fresh and folky outing that manages to inject new life into a somewhat somnolent genre that has seen an influx of sub-par efforts of late.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON
BACKGROUND: Hellogoodbye is back! While that may sound redundant, it’s really exciting for fans of the group or indie pop in general, for Hellogoodbye have been at the experimental forefront of the genre ever since their hit “Here In Your Arms” took off around the globe. In preparation for their fall release of LP Everything Is Debatable and a tour supporting Paramore, they are here with their first new single in three years, “(Everything Is) Debatable.”
VOCALS: Forrest Kline, frontman and band former, is back and up to his usual indie hipster tricks on this track. His slightly speech-impediment styled vocals (that wasn’t meant as an insult…if you listen to the verses, you’ll get what I mean) soar across alternatingly slow and fast sections. Layers of his voice cascade over one another during the chorus, where a backing track of “doo-doo-doo”s support a bouncy, descending, highly harmonized vocal line.
PRODUCTION: ‘80’s styled synths, a la St. Lucia, replete with electronic quirks, an electronically manipulated cowbell, and an explorative bass guitar line, set the tone of this track. At times minimalistic, as in the verses, and other times guitar-heavy, like in the chorus, “Debatable” is a crossbreed of genres, ranging from throwback pop to hipster indie rock.
NUTSHELL: Although quite different from their standout track “Here In Your Arms”, “Debatable” harkens back to Hellogoodbye’s sophomore album, and intimates exciting new things for their third album, out October 29th.
BACKGROUND: Two words: Cher Lloyd. If you don’t know who she is, check this out. If you do, then I don’t need to explain any more. Britain’s favorite love-to-hate rap-singer-diva is back with a bang, teaming up with hard-hitting T.I. for a throwback hip-hop-qua-pop jam that is a perfect outro to this year’s summer hits.
VOCALS: Cher Lloyd wowed everyone on the X Factor a few years ago with her vocal versatility, which is back in full force on “I Wish.” She alternates between cutesy girl pop and her signature, harsh rap-yelling that sounds like a British Avril Lavigne on uppers. T.I. lends an inoffensive and somewhat uninspired (raunchy) verse, but overall the track is all about showcasing Lloyd’s quirky singing range and power.
PRODUCTION: The track opens with a brass-powered intro that makes an appearance throughout “I Wish” interspersed between hip-hop beats and electronic skitters. The chorus is the strongest part of the song, where syncopated throwback rhythms cower under Lloyd’s high-pitched “kiss me, boy”s and other stirring lyrics.
NUTSHELL: Although not the embodiment of polished pop, “I Wish” is a fun mid-tempo pop romp showing us that Lloyd is hardly a one-album wonder, and is here to make her mark on the pop world.
SWEAT DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS)
BACKGROUND: I’ve talked ad nausem about The 1975 on this blog, so if you want to know more about them, look back at one of my two posts where they’ve been featured. “Chocolate” has taken off slowly but surely around the country, mainly through concerted airplay on Sirius Radio (and, of course, my oh-so-influential reviews), and finally The 1975’s self-titled full-length album has dropped for our enjoyment.
VOCALS: Manchester’s favorite alternative rock singer, Matt Healey, does what he does best on “Menswear” – croon unintelligibly but intoxicatingly. Every once in a while words pop out of the accented blur, such as “amaretto” and “6 foot three”, but overall the vocals are there just as another instrument on the track, and should be treated as such.
PRODUCTION: Together with the vocal lines, the production and instrumentation on “Menswear” are fascinating. On their previous four EPs, The 1975 have experimented with genres, mainly sticking to either alternative rock pop or a subset of chillwave electronica. On “Menswear”, we get an interesting blend of the two. The first minute and a half is an electronic intro more in the style of their “Heads.Cars.Bending”, but when the singing comes in, we are reminded of triumphant, drum-driven tracks like “The City.”
NUTSHELL: Ingenuitive in style and aurally pleasing, “Menswear” is a fascinating “filler” track off of The 1975’s debut album, and, though not a standout single, shows the band’s depth and character in ways that other songs do not.
BACKGROUND: Bastille has blown up of late in the US, so it’s probably unnecessary to give background info about them, especially since they’ve already featured prominently on this blog. Suffice it to say that their upcoming US tour is already near selling out, and I’m first on the list of hoping to get tickets before it’s too late!
VOCALS: Dan Smith has a superb voice. He is really what makes Bastille so successful – not only does he sing, but he also writes almost all of the music, both lyrically and instrumentally. “Flaws” is the first track of theirs that I heard, and I immediately fell in love with the skipping rhythm of the melody and the chorale-esque vocalizations. Check out this acoustic version of the track for a more focused view of Smith’s vocal prowess.
PRODUCTION: “Flaws” is, at heart, a simplistic song. A few guitars, drums, and electronic flavors comprise the entirety of the instrumentation, and yet they are layered in such a way that they come as being quite complex. Itinerant roaming guitar lines add an intriguing touch to the indie pop track, while the roaming backing track steals the show with electronic, exploratory runs.
NUTSHELL: “Flaws” is just one of the fabulous standout tracks off of Bastille’s first album, just released in the US, and augments their already impressive spate of well-crafted pop outings.
BACKGROUND: Australia’s RY X, who now resides in LA, has burst onto the musical scene with a stunningly beautiful three song EP titled Berlin. The titular track is the strongest, and is featured on this SoundWave as my singer/songwriter selection – a.k.a. where I get to play my somewhat emo male vocalist music.
VOCALS: RY X is what Bon Iver would be if you could understand what he was saying. Emotional to an “e”, RY X walks the tightrope of heart-wrenching yet beautiful music. It’s like the good kind of painful of a cathartic cry. “Berline” is velvety smooth and gripping from start to finish, which is mainly due to the stunning vocals.
PRODUCTION: There isn’t much going on here beyond a guitar and a singer. It’s the kind of music you can easily imagine being incredible live, which is a lost art for most musicians these days. There is a reverb aura about “Berlin” that adds to the song’s passion, but besides that it’s really just RY X singing with a guitar at his fingertips.
NUTSHELL: A cleanly gorgeous song, “Berlin” ripples across you with silky audio caresses.
PICK OF THE WEEK
BACKGROUND: A Silent Film would be an incredible band to have actually score a modern-day silent film. Cinematic and bold, this Oxford UK group has yet really to take off across the ocean, but they have all the components of a stadium-filling pop-rock band, and are one of my favorite undercover finds of the year.
VOCALS: Lead singer Robert Stevenson (who else hopes his middle name is Louis?) stands out above the rest of “Anastasia” with a clear and controlled voice reminiscent of Keane’s Tom Chaplin. Light on harmonies, “Anastasia” rather focuses its artistic lens on one melodic line, which gives Stevenson’s already pure voice an exaggerated importance and clarity.
PRODUCTION: Strings, strings, strings! Why don’t more bands realize that there’s nothing as intoxicatingly stunning as string arrangements splayed atop beats and drumkits? Maybe it’s only intoxicating to me, but if you are of a similar ilk, then “Anastasia” will more than satisfy your classical and electronic cravings. A steady drum beat and rather crunchy electronic guitar lines throw their voices into the mix, making “Anastasia” a fascinating blend of genres, sounds, and emotions.
NUTSHELL: Underappreciated thus far, A Silent Film is one of my favorite new under-the-radar bands, and tracks like “Anastasia” should and will catapult the band into the public’s consciousness before too long!
Thanks for readlistening!
Want to listen to all of these songs at once? Check out my YouTube Playlist for this SoundWave!