Sarah Tudzin, as Illuminati Hotties, has made deceptively complex pop record. The sound is all over the place. There are some places where Kiss Yr Frenemies sounds like a more twee record in the Cub or Tullycraft style. It’s got a deep, ambient vibe that reminds of trip hop in a weird way in other places. The record has really sparse and tender moments that smash almost without warning into noisy punk parts. It doesn’t sound too jarring unless you’re really thinking about it. Like how the delicate, piano driven “Declutter” comes immediately after a indie/punk jam like “Pressed 2 Death.” Or how the vibey “Cuff,” which honestly made me look up Portishead to prove I wasn’t crazy with that earlier trip hop reference, comes right after “Shape Of My Hand.”
The overwhelming vibe of the record is mid-20’s ennui. Songs about love, relationships going sideways, needing more money, and just general dissatisfaction are all over this thing. If I’m being honest, the line “I’m Spending all my money at 7-11 and sleeping through the weekend” made me laugh in a very knowing way. Same with “I could probably use a fourth job.” The record kind of has a bitterness to it that offsets the more sweet sounding music in a really cool way. Like, happy sounding songs about how everything is just being kind of dumb sometimes. I feel like that is something anyone can relate to.
The elevator pitch for this record would be “wry observations of a young adult told over energetic indie pop.” It’s a great record for the summer, and I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to connect to. Also, the horn flourish on “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food)” is fantastic.
See Through Dresses released its Tiny Engines debut End of Days in the Fall of 2015, introducing a wider audience to a sound both intrinsic and environmental, with stark contrasts between its principal songwriters’ devastatingly riff-heavy jams and endearingly honest confessionals. It showcased what the band can do in spaces where guitars and rhythms rule the roost.
If End of Days is its rock record, Horse of the Other World, out June 14th, is See Through Dresses’ dreamy opus. Recorded in 2016 in two locations — ARC Studios with Ben Brodin (Pile, First Aid Kit, The Good Life) and at the band’s home studio, Little Machine, by Mathew Carroll — it signals a sonic leap into a more ethereal, soundscape-driven aesthetic.
Reverb-drenched and synth-laden, Horse of the Other World blends Carroll and Bertuldo’s masterful mood creation and technical prowess while further exploring the depths of the band’s dynamics. “Pretty Police” mixes sparkle and bounce with brood, while “Violet” cuts sharply via crystalline keys and arpeggiated chords. Bassist Alex Kirts pumps the album’s bleeding heart and drummer Nate Van Fleet is tactical and creative. Their playing shines as the foundation of songs like “Lucy’s Arm” and “Herbivore,” whose climaxes are textbook See Through Dresses.
See Through Dresses are one of the best examples of modern post-punk. They mix classic shoegaze and dream pop elements with driving punk rock. They make art without getting pretentious.
Horse of the Other World is an A+ record from front to back. “Lucy’s Arm” is a hell of a single. Those shared vocals on the verses are fantastic.
Haybaby is one of those bands that defy classification. They’ll come out of left field with something whenever you start to pigeonhole them. Blood Harvest only further solidifies that. Sleepy Kids was definitely a standout record of 2015, and Blood Harvest is definitely my favorite thing of 2016 so far. To borrow a sports journalist buzzword, this band has ridiculous depth. It’s not every band that can follow a Pixies-esque alt/indie song with a fucking hardcore rager. The beauty of Blood Harvest is there in the little things. It’s the way everything builds up great atmosphere. It’s a little sludgy sounding, it’s got kind of a sinister vibe, and it all fucking works.
My favorite thing about Haybaby is the way they’ve built this record. Like, ok. “Stupid” opens the record. It’s musically very sparse. It’s primarily being driven by Sam Yield’s bass and Jeremy Duvall’s drums. Leslie Hong’s guitar only really come into play around the hook. “Joke/Rope” has a similar vibe, but the guitar drives it a little more. It’s considerably less sparse. “Kramer/Dreams” builds further on that pattern. It employs the strong rhythm section, but it adds some very Pixies-esque guitar. Then all hell breaks loose on “What It Is.” It’s dense, aggressive, and vicious as fuck. Everything get reined in ever so slightly, and tension builds to it’s release by the time “Pig” closes the record. That is really an oversimplification though. Even the calmest and most atmospheric song can get angular and arty or disjointed and uncomfortable. It’s like a picture perfect combination of early 90s grunge/alternative and post-hardcore. The band really knows how to get that perfect rise and fall working.
Leslie Hong’s voice is totally integral to this record. She has a great range. She can sing very delicately, she can belt out, and she can yell. Anything the songs need, she can do it. I think my favorite kind of vocal on Blood Harvest is when she has this very dry, almost blasé delivery. That kind of things is on here quite a bit, on “Stupid” and “Joke/Rope” especially. Her vocals, like the band in general, seem to thrive in the genre blurring state of flux.She absolutely nails everything from start to finish.
It’s pretty easy to see the passion this band has. Haybaby just keep getting better.
“This band is maturing…” is often code for getting boring. You see it all the time, but especially with punk rock bands. It’s really has become kind of a cliché. As with any accepted rule, there are exceptions. Signals Midwest are a great example of a band maturing doesn’t always mean getting boring. On their third full length, the band has crafted a solid 40 minutes of enjoyable, complex punk rock songs. There are some growing pains, but it’s a great record overall.
Light On The Lake is an excellent record. It showcases the maturity of the band, both musically and lyrically. It builds on the foundation of earlier records, but adds enough to keep things interesting. It would have been easy enough to remake Burn The Blueprints or Latitudes And Longitudes, but that’s not an adventurous thing to do. Especially given how much of the band’s lyrics frequently broach the topic of change (and, in some cases, the lack of it). This theme is all over this record. It’s approached as a physical thing and a mental thing. Recognizing the fleeting nature of things is kind of an obtuse thing to write songs about, but Signals Midwest make it work.
Light On The Lake is a melodic punk album, superficially anyway. There are gruff vocals, driving guitars, and killer backing vocals are abound. There is a lot more to it than that. There are some emo and indie rock influences in here. There’s also a fair amount of post-hardcore influence. This is most notable in some structural aspects of the songs. A song can begin as a straight forward punk song, but then go off into a mathy direction for a minute. Guitar leads are strong, and not generically “punk.” It’s not uncommon for a song to abruptly change and go a different direction all together.
It’s that tendency that is both the greatest strength and most glaring weakness on this record. On the plus side, it keeps the record interesting. On the other hand, it makes certain songs sound a little disjointed. “Lowercase” being an example of the former, “In The Pauses” an example of the latter. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. It just feels like sometimes ambition got out ahead of the band. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it can get distracting when a slow to mid-tempo song all of a sudden takes a right turn into quick punk song via an extended solo. Especially when it feels like it’s happening on almost every other song.
Let’s get back to the point though. Light On The Lake is a great record. It exists in a world where a punk rock record doesn’t have to be a “punk rock” record. It shows that bands can grow and mature without compromising. And, ultimately, isn’t that the point?
It seems the first talking point that most people bring up when discussing Little Big League is the collective pedigree of the members. It makes sense, but it is a little boring to do, right? It never really explains the project at hand. Let’s just sidestep that stuff and focus on the record. It’s pretty simple when we look at it that way.
Little Big League have a great LP here. These Are Good People is a great example of a band taking an almost decade specific sound, but avoiding the whole throwback gimmick. It plays primarily like a 90’s indie/alternative record. In a very straightforward way in some places, but filtered through college rock or emo in some others. Sometimes the guitar is twinkly, sometimes it jangles. The leads are simple enough, but catchy and hooky.
The most dynamic thing on the record is the vocals. Michelle Zauner’s vocals range from delicate and soft to high and powerful to rough and yelled. It adds a very diverse layer to what would otherwise be very genre normative songs. Shit, we get bits of each in the first three songs alone. The album opens with “Lindsey,” on with very powerful vocals. “My Very Own You” has moments of the more delicate side. “Dark Matter” gets rough at the end. This carries on throughout. It’s not for everyone though. Michelle Zauner doesn’t have a perfect voice. It ranges somewhere between Mimi Gallagher from NONA and Caithlin De Marrais from Rainer Maria (other people also say Karen O. So there’s that).
Long story short, everything pretty much works on this record. It may be walking down a pretty well worn path, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s a record that can be put on and enjoyed. It’s not trying to redefine a genre. It’s not trying to revolutionize a scene. It’s comfortable and a little familiar. There’s not a damn thing wrong with that.
Tiny Engines: Seriously, Tiny Engines fucking killed it this year. Eight of my top ten records could very well have come exclusively from this label. In fact, check their history, Tiny Engines have not put out a bad record in their entire four year history. This label is that damn good. I look forward to all the things that come out in 2013
Deep Elm: This year saw a great number of releases come out of the Deep Elm camp. I tend to be bummed on digital only labels, but I can’t be for Deep Elm. Back before they were digital only (and before I was a vinyl snob), a good portion of my CD collection was Deep Elm. They are home to some of my all time favorite records, and to some great up and coming bands that are going to make a big splash in independent music.
Count Your Lucky Stars: Perfect Future, Dowsing, and Joie De Virve all put out full lengths this year. That alone puts CYLS right near the top of the list, never mind the rest of the amazing stuff they put out this year. They are also ready to come right out the gates in 2013 with a new Annabel 7″ and the debut full length from Brave Bird. This label is all quality.
I know there has been a lot of people (myself including) hyping this supposed “emo revival” stuff. Dikembe is one of those bands that shithead bloggers like me will champion. The reason is because everything you want in this genre is right there on the record. Run a checklist on Broad Shoulders, everything is there. Gruff, melodic punk filtered through 90’s emo sensibilities? Check. Yelled, off kilter vocals? Check. Fantastic lyrics delivered in an engaging way? Check.
This shit rules, ok? Honestly, the review could end there. After the fantastic Chicago Bowls EP from last year, Broad Shoulders is one of those rare records that lives up to the hype. Damn near everything works here. Steven Gray (guitar/vocals) has a voice that, while not technically “great”, is perfect for this. He can go from sounding pretty straight forward to almost unhinged without skipping a beat. Rounding out the rest of the band is Ryan Willems (guitar), Kenny Jewett (bass), and David Bell (drums). Goddamn if they don’t play the hell out of this shit.
I kind of wish this record was longer. With 10 songs coming in just this side of 30mins, it is certainly over pretty quickly. But, you know, fair enough. Every member of this band is in another band (isn’t that just a like a Gainesville band?), and two of those bands both put out full lengths last year (Wavelets and Senders). This record is a no brainer for being one of the best of the year