FROM THE INBOX:
In theme and style, A. Billi Free effortlessly slides between the present and the future and between earth and space on her debut album I Luma dropping August 12th on Tokyo Dawn Records. Meaning “in front” in the Samoan language, I Luma centers A. Billi Free’s sincere musings on discovery and adventure in her universe over soulful, uplifting, dance-ready jams.
I Luma is backed by an electronic/pop/alternative R&B sensibility entirely composed and produced by Chicago production duo and Tokyo Dawn artists, Tensei. Interstellar jazz multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet sets the tone for this enchanted musical journey on the track “Flourish”.
Recorded in New Mexico, Illinois, and Massachusetts, the resulting magic outweighs the challenges of this type of creation as the album’s sonics are strong and richly layered, providing a solid foundation for A. Billi Free’s smooth tone and earnest message to transmit through the cosmos. Rooted in an eclectic blend of hip hop, soul and electronica, she has spent the last decade in the deserts of southern New Mexico and west Texas fusing elements of both the city and the border into her sound.
Video by Scott Iulianelli, Analog Prints.
A. Billi Free is exactly the kind of surprises I like getting in my email. Her new record is absolutely fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s just a great mix of pop, hip-hop, R&B, and soul.
A. Billi Free
Tokyo Dawn Records
Porteau – “River Song”
From the inbox:
At the time, the lyrics were simply poetry I wrote in a journal during summer evenings spent in a remote Alaskan village. We were independently writing ideas/songs that neither of us necessarily intended to combine together; we weren’t trying to write a record. This poetry was a catalyst, and “River Song” as a whole naturally revealed itself.
I found myself inspired to write “River Song” while watching salmon swim in the streams. Their journey back to spawn is magnificent – one that brings life, but ultimately ends in death. Using the earth’s magnetic field, like a compass, the salmon return to their final resting place.
I was struggling to wrap my head around accepting the natural cycle of life. Seeing the salmon’s instinctual guidance drawing them back to their place of birth helped me discover where I needed to be.
“River Song” is not a story with a concrete ending. Ask yourself – do we really have a choice? Does instinct guide us home?
Sometimes you just want to listen to a pretty sounding song. Y’know?
Computer Magic makes a kind of music that I really like, but really don’t talk about on here. I primarily focus on guitar based stuff in the indie and punk rock variety, mostly because that is the kind of stuff that is sent my way. I was really excited to get sent the promo stream of this though. Computer Magic is the stage name for Danielle “Danz” Johnson. Danz has been putting out music under this name since 2011. She has been very prolific in that time. Nine EPs and four LPs, including last years Davos. Most of these releases have been self released or on import from Japan.
Obscure But Visible is the new EP, and it is definitely a winner. It is very much in line with the music Danz has released thus far. It is reverb heavy synth pop that would slot nicely in that genre, or with indie pop stuff in general. The tone is wonderfully set by “Dimensions.” As the lead off for the records, it really embodies the dreamy sort of atmosphere that is present throughout the EP. There is also a very retro type vibe present on the EP as well. Especially on “Been Waiting” and “Gone For The Weekend.” Not retro like “it sounds old or dated,” but more in that it sounds what people in the past would assume “futuristic” music would sound. Does that make sense? It’s like an undeniable mixture of modern music and retro kitsch.
This EP is also a testament to Danz as a producer and creator. I always enjoy seeing the person creating the music also be the one producing it. Everything sounds great, and that is the reason. She knows where the vocals should sit in the mix, she knows how to get the atmosphere needed for the songs. It’s that personal touch that adds a lot of heart to things. Everything on here has passed through her hands. All the way down to it being released on Channel 9 Records, which she runs. This is the definition of DIY.
Obscure But Visible is a hell of an EP, and is definitely a melting pot of great things. It would fit in nicely in your collection, right by stuff from Broadcast, The Blow, or even Neon Indian. It’s pretty great.
Channel 9 Records
There is something about the whole aesthetic of lo-fi that appeals to me. I’m a sucker for it. All the better if it’s steeped in great pop melodies. Captain Baby deliver this kind of thing in spades. Sugar Ox is a great indie rock record in general, but it’s the fuzz and pop sensibilities that make it stand out. Captain Baby is the latest project for Asher Rogers, who is probably best known for his time in Cactus. This is a different kind of band entirely. The punk and thrash influence is gone, and Captain Baby are making something different.
In fact, Captain Baby share more in common with bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tokyo Police Club. Sugar Ox is an enjoyable listen in the first place, but the dabbling in more experimental things makes it a very interesting listen as well. Album opener, “I Say You,” starts the record strong. It is a great piece of fuzzy production, and just a driving thump. It sets the tone really well for what will come next. Other songs, like “Climb Your Tree” and “Forest Charm,” add a faster element. They take cues from world music and dance music production. Mixing an (almost) four on the floor beat with guitar driven indie rock, they almost have a new wave feel to them.
Sugar Ox is just a great record all around. It is a strange document of the middle ground where world music (Hindi-pop in most cases, some Spanish influence though), indie rock, and dance rhythms meet. Definitely something worth exploring.
Ok. The Guru. Alright. I think I’m going to have to take off my bitter, old, punk reviewer hat for this one. I guess the first thing to mention is that The Guru are a pop band first and foremost. A pop band who draws influence from a wide selection of music. Among those influences are funk, disco, jazz, and r&b. Not too much from any single genre, but enough to be noticeable. The guitar can get a bit jangly, but not enough to sound like college rock. It is music that is more based in finding, and sticking to, a groove. To quote that one guy on on American Bandstand that time, “it has a beat and you can dance to it.” A lot of it does seem to be filtered through some indie rock charcoal tough. It’s kind of a less punk version of The Front Bottoms?
Musically, there is a lot going on here that is really worth noting. There is very intricate guitar work to be had here. It can get a little noodley in places, but not overwhelmingly so. And, unlike most modern pop with guitars, most of the hooks that stuck out to me were coming from the vocals. Eddie Golden III has a very distinct voice, and is able to express a lot just through that. In fact, the strength of his vocal performance isn’t even the strongest contribution to the record. His drumming, along with Adam Straus’ bass, really hold it down. They are a rhythm section that isn’t fucking around. Totally the star of the show, musically anyway. But that is not surprising, considering the funk influence.
My only real concern is that, save for “Buoy-U” and “Rejected Nunkie,” a lot of Pretty Things is kind of homogeneous. All the songs have a kind of sameness that kind of bums me out. A lot of that is a personal preference/ignorance though. But, in the end, maybe I’m not the guy to really critique a record with a disco song on it.
I know this wasn’t the most enthusiastic review I’ve ever written. I’m really not sure what the shelf life of this record is for me. That doesn’t matter though. It is definitely a fun, summer record. Check it out. It’s definitely worth a listen.
BandCamp / Buy It (digital release)
I’ve discussed Sunday Guts a few times already. And, goddamnit, I’m doing it again. Mostly because a Sunday Guts record is generally a great listen. Cool Music is really more of the same. I mean that in terms of quality, not in style. The guitar pop from the earlier releases is still here in force, but it’s getting colored by other things too.
Immediately there is a presence of a new wave influence. Certainly on “Get Out Of Town,” but definitely on “Wish It All Away.” It’s a sound not totally unexpected, especially after listening to the Wet Salvos EP. There are different touches that make it stand out over the rest of their catalog. It works really well. Billy Kilgannon has a very distinct voice, but it lacks a lot of range. That being said, the slightly new direction adds some great color to the songs.
There isn’t a lot I can say about Sunday Guts that I haven’t already said before. It’s just quality pop music from Lehigh Valley. Catchy guitars, nice vocal hooks, and this time around there is a new wave/power pop influence. You really can’t go wrong with that. If you haven’t already, go check it out.
It’s weird to talk about power pop in 2014. There aren’t any big names in the genre. Maybe whatever band Dan Vapid is doing now, put even that is really just pop punk. It’s a genre that has more or less faded away since it’s heyday in the 80s. Like anything else though, it has to still exist somewhere. No matter what the genre is, someone is playing it somewhere. But, without much along the line of historical talking points, I’m going to keep this brief.
Mike Bell & The Movies play power pop. Not pop punk trying to be power pop. Actual, honest to goodness, power pop. When talking about this kind of thing, people will invariably mention Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, Joe Jackson, and maybe The Jags. It’s always the same talking points. And, you know what, those are all super valid comparisons here. I could sit here and write some long winded review about Mike Bell & The Movies. It would be almost totally superfluous, so I’ll keep it short. I don’t how anyone can listen to this record without getting stoked.
Power pop, when done right, is absolutely my jam. In this case, it being made by a band that is ex-Algernon Cadwallader, Bandname, and Dangerous Ponies certainly doesn’t hurt. More than anything though, Nothing Works, as an album, is just great. There is nothing new under the sun, and this is an example of how fun that can be. It’s a record that sounds like pure 80’s kitsch. It’s simple pop melodies, songs about love, and it is fast paced. It’s a summer record in every sense of the word. It’s energetic and catchy in all the best ways.
People use familiarity as an insult. As though a band that doesn’t sound amazingly original are less good than other bands. You know what is important about a band? Whether or not they sound good, and if they are good at what they do. Mike Bell & The Movies meet both points of criteria I have. Let’s try to not over think everything.
Mike Bell & The Movies
Major Bear Records
On the heels of four EPs, Ghost Thrower officially have a great full length to add to the list. I don’t want to go into a big dissertation regarding ex-bands (Therefore I Am, Shipwreck AD, and The Tower and The Fool), so I’ll just cut to the chase. This is a really engaging full length. It’s full of energy and well crafted songs.
It’s a great sound. The songs are well crafted and draw from a well of influences. Pop, punk, indie, and emo are all represented without one ever really overtaking the rest. There is some solid pop influences mixed in with touches of synths. Think somewhere between The Get Up Kids, Jawbreaker, and Tigers Jaw (with some 1960’s pop thrown in for measure). It’s biggest asset is that it sounds familiar and welcoming. No wheels are being reinvented, no paradigms being shifted. But that’s really not the point, is it?
Lyrically it skews towards the negative side of things. There some relationship stuff, substance abuse stuff, and an overall feeling of personal dissatisfaction. That doesn’t sound like an enjoyable listen at first blush, but it really works. It makes the record easy to relate to. It’s an adult angst, if that makes sense. It’s not quite Blake Schwarzenbach, but you can see it there.
What I’m saying is that it works.
Broken Circles Records
Hey, let’s take a break for a minute. I’ve been talking about so many emo records recently. I need to cleanse my palate. That said, let’s talk about Sunday Guts. They’re back with a new EP called Leave It Go. It is some really good guitar pop, and I feel like we could all use some of that.
Leave It Go is the follow up to last year’s Grey Tipi (which I looked at last September). Like it’s predecessor, it is four songs of hooky guitar pop. While “guitar pop” sounds like an easy enough classification, Sunday Guts seem to draw from various parts of the genres long history. There’s some Guided By Voices and Sebadoh in there. But there is also some British Invasion era stuff too (to my ears anyway). To the latter, I hear a fair amount of The Zombies and The Hollies.
Musically, the guitar is the star of the show. The riffs are catchy as all get out, but aren’t exclusively basic chord progressions. The songs keep your attention. The vocals are also noteworthy. The lead has some effects happening. They have a bit of fuzz and distortion. It sounds good. The backing vocals shine. Overall, it is kind of a lo-fi affair. Everything is clear, but remains far from over produced. It’s shiny without being slick.
As a two man band, Billy Kilgannon (Vocals/Guitar/Programming) and Victor Berger IV (Bass/Vocals/Keyboard) have produced some great work here. It is a natural progression from their prior EP. It is really great release, and really worth a listen
Despite the proliferation of DIY music production tools, it is still very rare to hear an unsigned band put out a “professional” sounding album. A lot of bands go crazy with the production aspects. Either things get mixed too glossy, or they don’t utilize the tools enough. That is the first thing that struck me about Stellar Young. Everything At Once sounds great. They clearly cared enough about the resulting album to get shit done right.
Everything At Once is a shiny little indie rock record. The thing is filled to the brim with hooks. The band certainly has the chops to produce great songs. The album opens with “Playing With Guns,” which is a great example of what to expect. Catchy indie rock informed by power pop. Follow up songs “Restless” and “The Universe Is A Bully” are more of the same. A little faster, but just furthering the feel. These songs feature great interplay between the guitars.
Musically, this album is really strong. The two guitars and keyboard play off each other very well. There is definitely a lot going on, but nothing becomes super overpowering. The vocals (lead and background) are the real show. The vocal interplay on the (kind of) dancey “We Own Nothing” are probably the best example of this. Everyone is playing their part to a T.
Overall, I don’t have many complaints about this record. It might be a little long? The shortest song, “As You Go,” is just this side of four minutes. The songs are certainly good, but the end product feels a bit too much for me. A 10 song record coming in at 46 minutes is a little much (for this type of thing). Granted, I don’t listen to this kind of thing with much frequency. This is a minor quibble. If you want to listen to some well made indie rock that is heavy on the pop side of things, there is little reason not to give this a go. It is an enjoyable record that will probably put you in a good mood.
BandCamp (Purchase digital or physical)