The Best Indie Tracks of February 2018
I'm on a quest. A very serious one, that will bring you more guitars. I really do like guitars but after the whole dance-rock thing phased out in the mid-90s and blog house took over and nu disco and all that, yeah, they seemingly became a rarity.
I shouldn't feel like I am out of my comfort zone but it's shrouded with this tinge of uncertainty. Sort of like talking to a friend I had so much in common with so long ago who I haven't really spoken with, aside from the occasional social media post that just scrolls past.
I'm really sorry, guitars, I have mostly ignored you lately, but you never went away, and I'm finding you again.
So here we are. These are the songs that have been on repeat throughout February 2018. There are artists represented on this list that have been making music for decades, others perhaps only months. They're not all shredding strings, but it's all music I couldn't stop listening to, and definitely worth 100% of your time.
1. Bakar - Million Miles [bash*]
Bakar sounds so extraordinarily lazy when he's crooning about stars in space, yet he has that pure garage grit, and for good reason, I'm sitting here with my mouth open, listening on repeat. Taking inspiration from and going one step in the right direction from their single "Big Dreams," it's less Bloc Party and more Gang of Four. It's so satisfying and in dire need of a comeback.
Do you hear me, Bakar? You've found your sound. This is it. Refine it. We need you and your pals to flood the market with 10 albums full of this stuff.
This is one of those rockets the DJ should throw into the middle of a set to get that extra kaboom out of the dancefloor, and it's not just the tempo, the vocal intensity during each verse elevates everything. But lyrically, why also elevate the tempers of Irishmen who are, by all accounts, tired of getting whacked by knick-knacks from Englishmen? I'm in no position to understand the motive.
In 1906, the year that rhyme was published, we couldn't truly comprehend what earth might look like from a million miles away. Today we know that 1 million miles away wouldn't be a star in space as the lyric suggests (our own Sun averages 93 million miles distance from earth), and thanks to the DSCOVR satellite launch in 2015, we now have an orbiting object very close to one million miles away, monitoring solar winds and sending us awesome imagery of the moon orbiting Earth. Perhaps that's what Bakar was looking at through his telescope while pondering relationships with dance-punk in the cosmos.
2. Kero Kero Bonito - Only Acting
I've been enamored with Kero Kero Bonito since they released Flamingo over three years ago. Out with a new EP, they're surprising us with the rock side of the band and it works so well for them. For all I know, they could just be "Only Acting," ready to go back to their bubbly pop roots, but I'm looking at them.
I get what I see, and I'm applauding. This is a performance that they steal with their whole body and soul, but the deconstruction of the song reminds you of the electronic foundation of the band that is screaming to come back. I'm just going to take this moment and believe in it, embrace it, and hope they bring us the second act.
3. Only Sun - Patience
This song is for tiny bars, beer cans in the air, jumping around aimlessly, and all that. This band is such a joy to listen to, with a throwback sound reminiscent of Two Door Cinema Club. What surprises me most about this song is how dark it is. Dripping with pessimism, division, condescending queries, exposed vulnerabilities.
There is no way you would think this was such a catchy dance rock song based on the lyrics. But it's not always about the lyrics, and sometimes you want to throw a beer in the air when you're full of hate or depressed to the point of falling apart, right? It's part of the therapy. Only Sun is a band whose therapy I'll embrace.
4. Jesse Saint John - Move [We Are: The Guard]
Jesse Saint John, the songwriter, who writes very good pop songs, is now writing for himself. This is the result. Cowbell. Bass groove. Yes, absolutely my thing. But he's clearly infatuated with someone, hanging around the exits waiting, wanting to make his move, but he doesn't. He knows his place. He's just the songwriter.
Brutal honesty? Sure, but there's nothing wrong with that at all - we need great songwriters, and this is a great song! But the lyrics! I don't know, man. I need to hear more. This is why pop songs are generally classified as shallow. This is a song that needs the lyrics to match the soundtrack. That soundtrack, though. Awesome, dude. I'll ignore the lyrics.
5. We Are Scientists - One In, One Out [100% Records]
If there is any band on this list that deserves it all, has put in their blood, sweat, and tears, it's We Are Scientists. This is a band that's been around for 20 years, tours relentlessly, and is a joy to watch live. I had no idea, until I heard "One In, One Out," that Keith was such a player.
Perhaps this is all a no good fantasy, all this scanning the crowd for eye-catchers, falling in love every night, take your pick from the shelf, doubting whether or not you'll get in bed. Naughty! But really, such a catchy song, and I'm hoping to see them live this year. Their new album, Megaplex, comes out in April.
6. Gvllow - Shattered
I'm completely fascinated with Gvllow. He is historically one of those SoundCloud rappers guys with neck tattoos, the trap beats, witch house, this and that going on. Rarely my thing. But I suppose witch house, in some way or another, can be traced back to Bauhaus, right? "Shattered" is on his new album, Waste Away, that just dropped.
The song starts in a way that could go anywhere, that spooky sonar sounding whirr, and then, bam! Holy shit, we're listening to a dirtier She Wants Revenge, with very authentic sounding (sampled?) instrumentation. I like it. We need more post-punk options, sampled or not, and the vocals Gvllow throws on these beats are true to the sound, mixed exceptionally well, with great effect. And have you seen this guy play drums? He can drum.
7. Vague Scare - What Happened to You [Spiderchild]
Pairs so well with Gvllow, like gravy to the potatoes. The duo, Laur & Fred, are infatuated with dark pop and have been messing around with their synths for a few years now. They finally got the first of their sounds together, releasing on a very fancy sounding deluxe cassette tape on Spiderchild Records.
This is post-punk ala Jesus and Mary Chain, Sigue Sigue Sputnik et al, influenced by dark glitter. Also loneliness, the color of tears, shadows, beauty, images, and rising fears. "What Happened To You" has that driving rhythm, spooky synth, echo chamber guitar riff, everything that makes Joy Division a band worth emulating, and deep vocals that pair so well with such established topics noted above.
8. Mr. Gabriel - Millennial Falcon
Whenever I hear songs about Brenda, I always wonder if Beck actually got with her. I'll have to revisit that song sometime to refresh my memory. Is she real? Is she a fantasy? Let's climb aboard the "Millennial Falcon" and find out. This time around Brenda is observed through a window. She's still an obsession, a celebrity now, thanks to Beck and his lust and her sister, and she travels the country with the designer handbags she makes.
I wasn't introduced to Gabe Simon aka Mr. Gabriel by his own moniker, but through a collaboration with Jai Wolf released nearly a year ago. He's also a member of the Nashville based band Kopecky. Since then, he has been releasing a song about once every 5 months, and this is his best to date.
9. The Wombats - I Only Wear Black
I, too, also only wear black. Both literally, I really do most of the time, and also in loving memory of this style of mid-00's dance rock that found its few minutes of flame and then found itself washed away by the lure of blog house. A knife in its back.
I'm glad The Wombats have kept their head up through it all because they consistently deliver. This album has been out for a few weeks now but it seems like nobody knows it, nobody's heard it, it's not getting the attention it deserves. It could rain every day on this rock parade but who cares? Stay optimistic about this sound even if it seems like it's always on the losing end.
10. The Longcut - Deathmask [Deltasonic]
Considering the instrumentalist history of this band it's a good thing I was well mesmerized by the clack of the typewriter prior to making an attempt at deciphering the lyrics. The latter is impossible, but that typewriter clack throughout the song provides this level of endurance that could easily stretch "Deathmask" into a 10 minute plus jam. For all I know, it actually is in a live setting (it'd better be), and with an introduction clocking in at almost three minutes, I'm this close to arguing for an extended edit to replace the song as pre-released.
This thing has a massive wall of guitar, and its relentless momentum drives you into obedience to the extreme of speaking in tongues. Trust me, the non-verbal vocal is absolutely necessary for this experience, but only the mess in your head is going to understand it. Who needs actual words in a masterpiece such as this, anyway? From the forthcoming album Arrows, to be released in April.
11. Mackintosh - Energy [Confidential]
This is reportedly Mackintosh's very first single, "Energy," and what a single it is. It's beautifully mixed, so catchy, and generally peppy. But who are they? There is very little about them out there, but they're so well produced. They're figuring out who they are, trying to convey and help others understand, but right now, only one gets it. Will they find the order they seek, or just that which is forced upon them? Will they settle on this sound? Will they settle on a look? It's all to be determined. For now, I'll enjoy the glimpse through these stage curtains that have yet to be drawn, when Mackintosh finds their groove and the skin that fits.
12. ELEL - Be Yeah [Mom + Pop]
Were you looking for a party song? I found you a party song. It's a repetitive, upbeat song with powerful brass, saxophones, and ass shaking. Slide your feet and move around because ELEL is here to let you "Be Yeah" and yes, I'm a believer in being yeah. Ben Elkins and his talented pals in Nashville make music that is typically much more in-depth and reserved. My go-to song from this band is "Kiss Kiss," released on their Geode album about a year ago, one of those epic slower jams that build to the end. It's awesome to hear them let loose and just go for it. Feel this one loud!
13. The Ramona Flowers - Same Sun [Distiller Music]
It seems to be a thing to mention that U2 really likes this band. So there's that. The Ramona Flowers from Bristol have a pretty good thing going with "Same Sun," giving us depths and peaks in sound with stabbing rhythmic pulses of theremin-esque stereo effects.
The lyrics lie over the sound well, exploring how we all live under the same sun, 93 million miles away. There's a lot of open space between here and there, with vulnerabilities we might not be able to protect ourselves from. Do we doubt or question? To we try to please everyone or simply hide? Or do we stand tall, embrace the open, and accept what comes?
14. Motion Studies - I Can't Do Without You
FUN FACT: The study of motion without regard to the forces or energies that may be involved is called kinematics. It is the simplest branch of mechanics, which means, in a music sense, mostly disco.
Motion Studies have come a long way in 6 years. With regard to "I Can't Do Without You" we're talking about circular disco, running around, unable to shake off that knowledge that everyone is looking at you. So you try to sleep it off, but instead, proceed to yell names into the receiver of a telephone. I really like the beatboxing and warbled synth in this song, it's really satisfying like pressing a knife into some of that swirled cake and taking the first bite. I just wish there was a bit more of that guitar riff to finish it off.
15. Her Space Holiday - Sixteen Syllables [No More Good Ideas]
Matt Bianchi, recording as Her Space Holiday, is iconic. His music has graced our ears for 20+ years, and it's been worth every moment. The Gravity EP, mixed and mastered by Grammy nominees Damian Taylor and Emily Lazar, is a next step for the band, presenting a continued evolution that also brings a bit of introspection.
For "Sixteen Syllables" we get soothed to sounds reminiscent of The Pixies and The Stone Roses, contrasted with the panic of waking up, your heart racing while you remember important words, dropping yourself back into the protection of your blankets in the silence. The song throughout has a subtle alarm - that fading in and out, pulsations in your brain as you ponder the inevitable.