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I CAN BE INDIE TOO
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): It really is a beautiful thing when literature and music merge – at least, it is to me! 200 points if you already knew that the name of this 5-piece indie-pop group, Youngblood Hawke, came from a Herman Wouk novel of the same name. The LA-based band formed in 2010 and released their debut album in ’13. Wake Up showcases a plethora of songs that grab the pop genre by the jugular, such as today’s first selection, “Last Time.”
VOCALS: It seems that group vocals are all the rage these days, or at least that my ear has a proclivity for picking out and enjoying those sounds. Simon and Alice Katz, who harmonize and melodize (yep, it’s a word) seamlessly, captain most of the verses, but the most powerful allure of “Last Time” is in the choruses, where we hear a number of vocal lines converging over an enthralling melody. Lyrically, the song expands on the “wild and free” theme that we get so often from younger musicians, opening with the line: “I wrote a letter to my generation just to say / you don’t get a second chance to make the same mistakes / that break our bones.” While perhaps not wholly original, YH give the idea a wide-eyed, euphoric spin that elevates “Last Time” above most of its “live life to the fullest” contemporaries.
PRODUCTION: How do you craft colorful, elastic, indie electro-pop? Well, apparently that’s an easy question for YH to answer. First, you write a catchy melody, and record a group of people singing it in different combinations. Then you add piano, drums, handclaps, some slight guitars, background humming that parallels a Star Trek-esque synthesizer, and you’re done! The song is a delightful excursion through accomplished indie-pop that sounds much more refined than a band this early in its career should be able to produce. Youngblood Hawke self-proclaimed that they were a group capturing the sound of 5 friends in the middle of life’s journey, and it’s easy to hear that theme illustrated in the production of this track.
NUTSHELL: Youngblood Hawke’s debut album Wake Up is a good freshman effort, but tracks like “Last Time” show that the group has something more to offer than simply euphoric pop.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): All you Lana haters out there can just skip down to the next song, because I FREAKING LOVE HER, and I’m not ashamed of it. Although “Summertime Sadness” originally came out back in January of 2012, the incredibly sexy and yet heartbreaking song has had constant play on my iPod ever since. French house music DJ and producer Cedric Gervais, now residing in Florida (because that’s totally germane to this post), apparently also saw the appeal of the song, and released this dancehall remix earlier in the year.
Since this is a remix, there’s no real reason to discuss Lana’s vocals, especially since everyone in the world has a visceral opinion one way or another about her voice. Also, everyone knows how I feel, so why be sycophantic?
NUTSHELL: While it may currently be summertime, it’s easy to expel any concomitant sadness by listening to this excellent Cedric Gervais remix of Lana’s hit single “Summertime Sadness.”
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): Pina Records’ supergroup La Formula released an album back in late 2012, featuring contributions by a spate of pop artists such as Daddy Yankee, Plan B, Ken-Y, Arcángel, and, most importantly for our discussion, Zion. Zion is most famously known as one half of Zion & Lennox, a reggaeton duo from Puerto Rico. I first heard “More” this past weekend when I was at a wedding in Texas. The car I rented didn’t have an iPod hookup, so I was forced to surf the channels, which pretty much only alternated between country and Latin music. Opting for the latter, the lesser of two evils, I proceeded to stumble upon “More.” And then I heard it again about 20 minutes later. By the time I had driven the two hours from Houston to Bay City, I was a reggaeton convert – which maybe partially explains the inappropriate hip use that occurred subsequently.
VOCALS: “More” features vocal offerings from Zion, Jory, and Ken-Y, but don’t ask me to tell you which is which. I’m pretty sure Jory is the female vocalist: beyond that, it’s all Spanish to me. Although I understand some of it, I’ve learned that it’s safer not to translate, but simply enjoy. One of my favorite properties of this Autotune-laden dance track is the use of tight harmonies, which is often heard in Latin music. Other than that, there’s not much to make the vocals of “More” stand out; but, on the flip side, there’s nothing that sticks out as markedly unpleasant, either.
PRODUCTION: This track is all about the reggaeton beat – nothing else really matters. Sure, an interesting discussion could be had about how this is a new wave of reggaeton music, combining old-school drum beats with modern synthesizers and electronic additions. At the end of the day, however, the only important question is: did the song make your hips move? And, of course, your answer had better be yes, unless you are bedridden or your legs are otherwise incapacitated.
NUTSHELL: Dance, dance, dance to the reggaeton beat. The end.
SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS)
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): First of all, I think the name Snakadaktal is one of the best band names of all time. It’s just so much fun to say! Who knows what it means…maybe it’s an Australian thing? Or perhaps it’s a tribute to a Pterodactyl that likes to snack? The possibilities really are endless. Anyway, Snakadaktal is a five-piece indie-pop band from Melbourne, Victoria that, despite the incredibly low average age of its members, has crafted a mature, ambitious, and yet tranquil first album Sleep in the Water, from which I lifted “Fall Underneath.”
VOCALS: One of the many things that makes Snakadaktal top my list of electro-indie-pop bands is the excellent male-female harmony that is accentuated by poetic lyrics. “Fall Underneath” finds lead vocalists Phoebe Cockburn (I’m pretty sure I would have changed my name) and Sean Kelly sharing sumptuous vocal responsibilities. It’s impressive that these kids were given free range of a studio, with all the bells and whistles available to entrepreneurial musicians these days, and managed to show restraint, especially when it came to vocal production. Intermittent harmonies splay across the verses and permutations of the chorus, but the heart of the song is carried by the words and tone of Phoebe. “I don’t know if there’s treasure in the ocean / or if death will whisk me far away / I like to think that we live in a kind of motion / where our hands and feet are here to stay.”
PRODUCTION: “Fall Underneath” opens with an impressive minute-long instrumental intro that introduces the “less-is-more” production mentality featured throughout the track. The backing noises sound like something Explosions in the Sky would craft – at least until the vocals come in. I was thinking that an RAC remix of this would be awesome, but then I realized that this basically already has all the elements of a first-rate RAC reinvention, which are (primarily): meandering, inventive guitar lines lost in a haze of high-lonesome reverb; sputtering, syncopated beats (albeit more toned-down here than with RAC); and a dreamy yet powerfully emotionally lead vocalist. Atmospheric to a “t,” the production on “Fall Underneath” breathes a milieu of early-hours introversion, leading you on an auditory voyage that you will not want to finish.
NUTSHELL: Subtlety is king on up-and-coming indie-pop artists Snakadaktal’s “Fall Underneath,” that carries the album’s concept of (the feeling of) being underwater to a beautiful level, both sonically and lyrically.
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): Since this is only the second week I’ve had this Old Reliable category, here’s a brief refresher on what’s going on. Though I preview tons of songs every week and choose the 7 for each SoundWave from about 40 contenders, there are always songs I’ve had for a long time that I listen to and revel in the familiarity. I won’t give my usual biographical backgrounds and in-depth reviews, but simply a little information about the song, why I like it, and some suggestions for similar music.
So basically I’m being super lazy. 🙂
Paper Route might be the most underrated alternative pop group that I’ve ever found. A few years ago, when I stumbled across Imagine Dragons, I had a premonition that they would be the next big thing. I got the same feeling when I downloaded Paper Route’s most recent album, The Peace of Wild Things….but then they never took off. Sure, they get a lot of approbation from the slightly more underground alternative culture, but they have yet to break through in the way that their superstar sound definitely deserves. “Letting You Let Go” has the potential to be a radio hit (or at least it did when it was released), featuring heavy electronic drums and a melodic hook that encompasses the listener in a wave of synths and vocal hooks. Step aside Coldplay and OneRepublic! A new band is in town.
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): I featured a song by The Civil Wars way back on SoundWave 2, so I think it’s been long enough that I can spotlight the duo again. Their first album Barton Hollow was a raucous success, and the band’s reputation only soared higher after their collaboration “Safe and Sound” with Taylor Swift for the Hunger Games Soundtrack. Although Joy Williams and John Paul White are not a couple, their gorgeous voices blend exquisitely atop a minimalistic indie-alternative-folk tapestry of music. Their much-anticipated eponymous sophomore album dropped earlier this week, and it did not disappoint in the least.
VOCALS: There really is only so much adulation I can pour out on Williams and White for their vocals and lyrics. Imagine the greatest duet (in terms of synchronization and tonal balance) ever sung, and then imagine that musical spiration layered over a full-length album. Incredible. Almost every track, barring a few of their hard hitting country-tinged efforts, is gorgeously sung, with the male-female roles shifting seamlessly from harmony to melody and back again. “Dust to Dust” is no exception to this unadulterated pattern; if anything, it builds upon the vocal bond the two have already crafted. Lyrically, the song taps into the album’s main theme of being unable to have that which you want most, or never having it again, which takes the listener on an enthralling and heartbreaking journey that traces the contours of love’s rise and ultimate fall, as heard through the vocal chemistry of White and Williams.
PRODUCTION: The sober intensity for which The Civil Wars are famous is bountifully present on “Dust to Dust.” What makes it so incredible is that they reach these soaring emotional heights with only the use of their voices and a handful of instruments. A slightly more electronic-sounding drum kit is a new and pleasing addition to “Dust to Dust,” but otherwise it is vintage Civil Wars – pianos and guitars.
NUTSHELL: Joy Williams described this song as “an anthem for the lonely,” which pretty accurately sums up this tender, discreet, intangible gem from my favorite non-married musical duo.
PICK OF THE WEEK
SO HERE’S THE DEAL (BACKGROUND): Ryan Star Kulchinsky is an American singer-songwriter from Long Island, NY with three solo albums and three EPs to his name. Apparently he was also a contestant on the CBS reality TV show Rock Star: Supernova back in 2006. Who knew? Although Star has star-like qualities (ha-ha), I wouldn’t put him in the straight rock category, but more along the lines of Dan Black – an artist who experiments with genres and creates a distinctive blend of hip-hop and pop-rock that would be just as comfortable sounding out in a stadium arena as it would be on the radio. I don’t really understand why he hasn’t become mainstream, but I think his most recent EP Animals will change all of that.
VOCALS: Star’s vocals in the opening verse of “Impossible” immediately reminded me of Bruce Springsteen – there is something vulnerable and faintly off-key about his honest delivery that turns my mind towards The Boss. Although that is the tone of the verses, the choruses take the song in a different direction vocally, trending more towards pop anthems. Star manipulates his voice as deftly as any of the other instruments he uses, and manages simultaneously to scrape the depths of emotional fragility while also soaring to heights of melodious pop rapture. The lyrics find perfect interpretation through Star’s vocal delivery, which makes us wholly embrace post breakup lines like those found in the chorus. “I didn’t mean to make you suffer / I didn’t mean to make you cry / I just want to put us back together / This isn’t impossible.”
PRODUCTION: Like I previously mentioned, Star is an interesting enigma in that he sounds like he could be a rocker at heart, but the instrumentation and production choices on “Impossible” are decidedly more on the indie-alternative/hip-hop end of the spectrum. Looped synths fade in and out amidst a torrent of syncopated drums and electronic kicks during the verses, while in the chorus they are joined by more backing vocals and a seriously fun string contribution.
NUTSHELL: Alternatingly sparse and broody before turning lustrous and expansive, Ryan Star is a pop-rocker in the making, and “Impossible” is the perfect track with which to introduce yourself to his particular brand of outstanding music.
Thanks for readlistening!
Want to listen to all of these songs at once? Check out my YouTube Playlist for this SoundWave!