The Best Indie Tracks of January, 2018
When the calendar flips to the new year, we tend to do a little bit of soul searching and evaluate what we're doing to get the best from ourselves. With that comes the motivation to eat better, exercise more, or in my case, improve the way I discover design, environment, and music, and seek out the means and methods to gain a greater audience to share those discoveries with.
I'm here to make good on the latter and bring you the best indie tracks of January 2018, helping you discover the music you've wanted to hear this month but just haven't had the time to find yet.
1. Jesse and The Wolf - Find Your Dreams [Fools Gold]
Holy $#!+! Jesse and The Wolf's drop of the "Free Love Mixtape" on Soundcloud and YouTube was the most unexpected, most genuine surprise of the month. Residing on A-Trak's Fools Gold, an outfit I actually took the time to unfollow in recent years (which I have now subsequently re-followed, thanks to this release), I'm excited to hear the label embrace music that includes simple soul and funk samples combined with a powerful big beat backdrop. It evokes the creativity of Baz Luhrmann and revives the energy we got from Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers back in the 90s. I dearly miss this sound, and truly needs a revival. This (and the whole album) is a must listen!
2. Mildlife - The Magnificent Moon [Research]
I'll admit, I have a soft spot for jam bands. Jam bands in space. Jam bands in space with a very funky bass guitar. Improvisational psychedelia. And while Mildlife might not want to call themselves that, they should embrace it because, for one reason or another, they totally remind me of The New Deal. This is the kind of nine minutes long stuff that makes me smile, sway, close my eyes and enjoy the journey. Everyone needs a moment where you envelop your senses with this kind of music on the dance floor under the largest disco ball imaginable. The remarkable thing about this track is that it would also be just as a beautiful thing to enjoy in an Eames chair, whiskey on the side table, Nag Champa burning, and those LED lamps set to red.
3. Penguin Prison - Keep Coming Alive
This is a band I've been following since their breakout single "Don't Fuck With My Money" dropped over six years ago, and if there's anyone who consistently puts together well-considered pop songs with the groove and clarity that I really enjoy, it's Penguin Prison. This is the kind of song that pairs perfectly with jams like "When The Night Falls" by Chromeo, and in beer terms I'd call it that 80's funk mouthfeel with the crispness of the finest rocky mountain water, except in Chris Glover's case I guess it would have to be ozonated and chilled post extraction from upstate New York reservoirs. Perhaps a Cream Ale from Rochester. Either way, refreshing and thirst quenching, the kind of stuff that will keep you coming alive.
4. ionnalee - Dunes of Sand feat. Jamie Irrepressible [To whom it may concern]
I recently watched a version of this song, featuring ionnalee standing alone over the pews of a church, backed by an organ, filling the building to the brim with her voice, and it was marvelous. This is a song that I'd like you to picture me, let's say 15-20 years ago, personally hand to every person dancing to the falling leaves at ethereal coffee bars full of cherry Ghiradelli mochas and purple velvet curtains (walls painted black, of course), on a 10x overdubbed cassette tape. Would I be a renegade pirate? Perhaps. Vaporwave prophet? Absolutely. But ionnalee, the current artistic alias of Swedish singer Jonna Lee, of iamamiwhoami fame, has one of the most impactful voices out there right now. The album version posted above, recorded with Jamie Irrepressible, only makes the song that much better.
5. Dita Von Teese - Rendez-vous [Record Makers]
How do I even write about Sebastien Tellier, the designer of this masterpiece soundtrack, or Dita Von Teese, who in her own right is an icon? This collaboration released on the Record Makers label is sweaty. Not the kind of frantic sweaty you get from jumping with your hands in the air or staying on the floor for that entire eight hours of Richie Hawtin marathon, it's the sweat of sexual tension that leaves you, your partner, and everything around you coated with perspiration. The technical nature of the song only compliments Dita and her vocal expression, and with Sebastian Tellier being the master of the exotic holiday, we receive the rendezvous with Dita Von Teese that we've always dreamed of.
6. Fischerspooner - TopBrazil [Ultra]
Everyone knows "Emerge," and if you don't, why not? I'm so glad Fischerspooner is back after nine years off. Not just because I'm a fan, but because there is so much more to Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner's body of work than the song that so excellently defined them as they burst into the scene way back in 2001. This time around the band has brought in the production talents of Michael Stipe, and we certainly have a lot to look forward to. "TopBrazil" asks the hard questions about where this band has been, where it is going, and is no exception to their exploratory nature of songwriting and the desire to do it all the way, even if everything is just a game.
7. Eld - Every Girl for Herself [Lyckholmia]
In 2016, the Swedish electronic pop band Eld (defined as an ancient Nordic fire) from Göteborg, Sweden, opened doors with a dancefloor filler called "Everything That's New" featuring Robert Leiner. It highlights persistent arpeggiated synth and tempos to bring the dancefloor to maximum pace. Fire, indeed; they know how to write a song. Their latest single, "Every Girl for Herself" bursts into the playscape, soaking in knowledge from far and wide, and finds her independence while navigating the wild. It is a bit of Editors, a bit of Coldplay, and a sprinkle of Night Drive. The fire burns hot within this track, not with tempo, but fully envelops you with its sound, creating an aural landscape of innocence and discovery.
8. Leyya - Heat [+1/Las Vegas]
Heat is a song that, on its surface, seems nonchalant, but it's not all blue skies and rainbows. There is some serious business happening here, like questioning self (am I tall enough?), and sinister statements (burn it all!). This is a track about feeling pressure, taking risks, setting sails, and putting your feet to the fire. The tug and pull of emotion exemplified in the lyrics are remarkable, but you wouldn't know it without paying attention. Entering their fourth year as a band, Leyya, the Austrian duo of Sophie Lindinger and Marco Kleebauer, create clear, simplified beds of pop music with a contrasting, yet relaxed singing style that is a pleasure to hear.
9. Thea and The Wild - When a Kiss Becomes a Habit [Propeller]
Day-to-day, the routine, hellos, and goodbyes. Relationships are complex, and it's typical for them, particularly in long-term relationships, to get redundant and habitual. Glenton Raknes, aka Thea of Thea and The Wild, is aware of this, and its this worry that brings us her Propeller Recordings released emotional plea, "When a Kiss Becomes a Habit." While the topic at its core is about bland interactions with your significant other, the music, and the singing, in particular, is far from being as lackluster as the inaction contained. You hear the true passion in her voice as she sings over thoughtfully placed string arrangements, desiring to dance with her partner again.
10. Patawawa - Humpback [Splinter]
I must emphasize how this Splinter release is an indie song, not just a disco song. Patawawa is a full-on band that's been around a few years, featuring Rory, Sam, and Beth of Matlock, Derbyshire, and are a trio that, if I lived in a town with a population under 10,000 that had this band playing in the bar every week, I'd be there. All the time. Not that I know whether or not they do that, likely not considering the new EP is titled "Bedroom," I'm just saying. They write great pop songs. This is a trio that loves their NYC disco and plays it very well, while still being fresh enough to have a SoundCloud following below their town population yet get coveted store play at H&M retailers throughout the world.
11. The Golden Age of TV - Beast
The compressed bass guitar and drum treatment in songs like this always transport me back to 1998, sitting in the studios of WUDM in Detroit, listening to Flin Flon's album, Boo-Boo, for the first time and being completely jaw-dropped. I could go into that experience in detail, and I might another time, but lets set the distraction aside. While the band uses terms like "whip-smart" and "gloriously fuzzed" to describe their music, The Golden Age of TV bring their best work to date with "Beast."
Bea Fletcher delivers her story passionately, while stellar "disconcertingly swirling" guitar riffs build throughout the song. The production clarity I crave in a good dance song is accomplished well in both stripped down and built up chapters of the song, and comes to a completely satisfying climax, with that memory-inducing compressed bass guitar and drums at the end, just for good measure.
12. Ariel Beesley - Slower Than Usual [Young Writers]
I love the song, I love the sound, it's so catchy, but oh, the questions raised! Who is this person, what makes him or her so great other than being one who dances sweetly? Where is this dancing? Eyes shifting. Smoking. How slow are we talking about? Are you even dragging on that cancer stick or is this an actual stretching of the time-space continuum as the glow of the tip increases its intensity? Is this a paper-wrapped or electronic cigarette? Alas, nothing happened! Ariel Beesley is using the mental force, hard, determined to reconnect, with the passion of a lost connections ad on Craigslist. She wants him tonight, again.
13. Dylyn - Wolf [Home Music]
Straight and to the point with this one: there's something about this style of arpeggiation that ropes me in every time. I'm such a sucker. If synthesizers cried wolf and I believed them every single time, this sound would be it. A bit of background for this stance: the creme de la creme for songs in this style is the 2000 release of "Wasted" by German synth band And One. Naturally, as a result, I wish Dylyn's vocals had a bit more aggression, because songs about warning and alarm, false or real, should be aggressive anyway, right? But that arpeggiation! It is what makes the song work, it scuffs up that vocal polish just enough to make Dylyn convince me to believe her, even if I really shouldn't.
14. Oklo - I Climatize [GodEatGod]
Just over a year ago the EPA released a study, "Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply," which discussed the dependence on the climate by fisheries. Polar melting and warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems. Overall, climate change could make it more difficult raise animals and catch fish in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past. How will we climatize from these effects, and modernize our ways to reverse the crucifying effects of old habits?
15. Priest - Our Time Will Come [Nordic]
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, Madeline Priest's time will come. For an inspirational indie pop song, this is headed in the right direction. While I'm pleased to include Priest and producer David Kazak's music on the list for the month, I'd get more gratification if the message discussed working together and truly making it, as the music implies.
You can't run a marathon with a ball and chain on your ankle. Granted, I don't know the situation. We all have those times when we have failed, we are broken, we need that shoulder. That is reserved for our lowest point. The saddest of songs. To make the aforementioned time come, and bring the lyric up to the sound, to the resolution I was hoping for, Priest needs to not just hold her hand out and drag them along, but pull him or her up and walk together, perhaps sprint together, to accomplish what needs to be done.