We're already a third of the way through the year. The music thus far has been callin' to me. While it's a hustle, the fighter in me has crushed the music feed, finding so much great music. It's like a chain reaction, how these tracks light me on fire.
We stopped to proclaim ourselves all yours on many of these tracks. Of course, there are the buzzkill tracks that make me lash out at the bullshit. It's alright, though, this always happens.
So not another word. Let's shake the tambourine and dig into this indie dance chart like a giant bowl of cauliflower mash. This month is delicious.
The 15 Best Indie Tracks of April 2018
1. APRE - All Yours
Who is APRE? I don't know, to be honest, because this song is their very first released song ever, and it tops the list of the month. It's a song about love and devotion, a subject that by nature should be apparent and inherent between two people but is so commonly complicated. Often confused within a one-way street scenario.
So here I am. I'm surrounded by sounds that swirl and twinkle, a flighty sparkle that has me in a haze until the guitar brings my brain into some focus.
It's an eye-opener. I look around. I see him in the corner of my eye, that man I know. He's pleading with me not to turn around and I can't back down, I don't want to let him down.
He starts rambling to me about how he's giving himself to me, he's mine, and then proceeds to claim me as his without my input. He's mine, and I'm his? It's unexpected. A bit aggressive. I'm confused, possibly afraid.
He asks me to climb into the car with him. He drives southwest all night, all the way to Penwith, a place we've been together before, and I have no idea what's going to happen. He looks into my eyes, he's completely lost...
Songs like these tell a story. You can fully insert yourself into it, yet remain open enough to make your own interpretation based on your past, your history, your experience. These songs are rare, and this is one of them.
The music is clear, well designed, very thoughtful. It puts me in a haze when I need to be in a haze. It brings clarity when I need clarity. It makes me wait when I need to wait. The ending, by far, is my favorite, because we are carried off to the next chapter, a place we don't yet know, with a whole new sound and theme in the piano that isn't heard anywhere else in the song. What's next? Where am I going? And then it's over.
Hey, APRE! I'm yours. I want so much more. Occasionally great songs come out of nowhere, and this is definitely the case with "All Yours." The band's EP titled The Movement of Time will be released later this year.
2. Mating Ritual - Light Myself On Fire
Any song that starts with a simple drum beat and rhythm guitar with an echo reminiscent of Bauhaus is going to immediately catch my ear. Well-mixed, gritty vocals in the style of Caleb Followill always get my attention. So here we are with a catchy indie rock song with impressive guitar riffs and punchy catchphrases like, "light myself on fire," "hit rock bottom," "turn the TV up," "beauty queen," and the rest.
It's an awesome song, but lyrically, I can't tell you if this is a song about self-immolation, a depressed long distance runner, an inexpensive pornstar, or someone who procrastinates taking their cat to the vet due to the costs involved. Interpretation is open.
I just enjoy it for what it is, a really fun rock song to enjoy without thinking. Make it your own. The Los Angeles duo just wrapped up a tour supporting Penguin Prison, one of my personal favorites. Their new LP, Light Myself on Fire, will be released May 4.
3. Alice Merton - Lash Out
Alice Merton's "Lash Out" is an ear catcher that has been added to her EP, No Roots, with a simple structure and a groove to make you move. The EP has been out for well over a year with the title track earning 84 million plays on YouTube, and significant radio airplay in Germany and throughout Europe.
While there isn't any new ground being paved with the song at its core, it's some really well-mixed pop-rock music. The entirety of the song rides a theme about bottling yourself in, keeping it all inside, and feeling the urge to just let it all explode, until, finally, you "Lash Out," demanding things be done your way.
The guitar is filtered for cleanliness, the bass is warm, and the drums are crisp, but the attention earned here is that Alice is lashing out with her vocal. She sings with such passion in her voice, opening up with a clarity we don't often find in this era of rock singers with clenched teeth and unopened jaws. Her voice is a pleasure to listen to, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from her in the future.
4. Vacances - Callin'
Vacances is the next phase in the music of Danny Lannon. The lead singer of The Frail has peppered us with a number of experimental demos and singles over the last year or so, all of them sounding a bit different than the last. One ripe with guitar and over-processed vocals, the next slathered in uncompressed synth drone.
With "Callin'," the latest teaser released from the forthcoming EP, Strangers, I feel like the sound Mr. Lannon has been searching for is finally coming into focus. While he repeats the word "callin'" a few too many times for my taste (39!?!), this is a sound that works for him. Where The Frail was more Postal Service, Vacances, and particularly this track, is more INXS. Less drum machine, less falsetto (it's still there), but makes good use of the rhythm guitar and the synth on stage.
Stale topic aside (spoiler alert: he's always the one to call, it's her turn to call him back), there is a balance in this single that his others don't have, and he should consider tightening up some of those folder-trapped demos in this production style before reissuing them. His verses are real and relaxed, the use of trumpet is a nice touch, the drums are natural, and that wood block adds a nice percussive texture to keep it interesting.
5. Mr. Gabriel - Tambourine
Gabe Simon of Nashville knows how to make people shake it. This is the second single from Mr. Gabriel (which also includes Mark Pontius of Foster the People) included in my monthly charts this year ("Millennial Falcon" was the first), and a well-deserved inclusion. This is upbeat jangly dance rock with steady garage grit and audio production reminiscent of 60's psychedelic jams.
If you've been waiting your whole life for an indie dance version of "Tax Man" by The Beatles mashed with The Byrds version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," your day has finally come. It's a song about being shaken and spun to have your hard earned cash taken from you by the man. The song is so catchy, it's easy to glaze over lyrics like, "change in your eyes, money in your pocket, ain't nobody can stop it," because we'll all be blasting this song on the road with the top down, singing about shaking like a tambourine in the sunshine.
Now that a half-album worth of music has been released in this project, it's coming into focus that this is a for-fun project based on drums, bass, simple guitar riffs, and unconventional song topics, earning positive attention from music critics like me and Grey's Anatomy (S14 E19) producers alike. Don't stop doing what you're doing, guys. I'm along for this ride and loving every minute of it.
6. Ward - Crush
This is a stripped down dance-rock tune with very clean bass and percussion and an emotional vocal that doesn't feel as genuine as I hoped it would. Believe me, it's a good song, a catchy song, but Christopher Ward's technical past might be getting the best of his music. The song initially feels like you're going to get an LCD Soundsystem banger but winds up somehow feeling like a great performance by a decent midwestern U2 cover band.
I don't mean to be harsh. Ward personally reached out to thank me for merely reposting his song. There is so much potential here, and that's why it's on this list. The first twenty seconds are fantastic. The twangy guitar adds a unique texture. The use of the heavy breathing accent track as a repeating instrument, however, is an unnecessary, overused distraction. The lyrics are about escaping the monotony of life, and Ward sings with clarity and openness. His amplified drama leaves you in traffic a bit, but I'll get over it.
I bring light criticism on this one because I can so clearly hear each individual drum, guitar strum, and vocal inflection. Typically I praise this kind of clarity, but It sounds just like it would sound if he went into the local sound-isolating room, recorded each part individually, and then forgot to do any post-processing, production, or other finishing to the recordings other than set them all at the same level and call it a day. The fact that this was mixed by Darrell Thorpe surprises me. On a brighter note, all proceeds from the song will be donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so buy away if you love it.
7. Someone - Chain Reaction
It's been a while since I've had a good dose of turn-of-the-century art pop, so I really couldn't contain my excitement when I hit play on "Chain Reaction," a song by Someone aka Tessa Rose Jackson, an Amsterdam-based composer of music for film and TV. This is the title track from her five-track EP.
What's remarkable about the Chain Reaction EP isn't just the fact that every song is completely different, but that, true to her roots in film, every few months she releases a film for each track. The film for this song, released March 15, is in the style of a silent film, where an author, searching for ideas for a book, finds a button on her head that creates duplicates of herself. We are then entertained watching how she manages her clones.
"Chain Reaction" as a song is a Stereolab-meets-Goldfrapp wonder that has so much going on you have to listen to it on repeat a dozen times and you still won't gather everything the song has to provide. This style of pop is by nature an overload, a needle in a haystack type of work that is such a joy to hear.
8. We Are Scientists - Not Another Word
We Are Scientists new album Megaplex is out now, and one of its most danceable tunes is "Not Another Word." This is pop for pop's sake, a feel-good soundtrack with not-quite-so-feel-good lyrics about skirting conversations you don't want to have with others.
I know the feeling. Not everyone likes to talk it out, but intentions also need to be made clear, and that isn't always laid out and understood ahead of time. I think some of that comes through in lyrics about being tested, mixed messages, and subliminal messaging.
I haven't seen the band live on this tour, but moments like the guitar solo three quarters into the song have significant potential to grow and expand. This is where this band excels, and this song could use a few more expression points where the band breaks up the monotony of the song, and the stage show is an opportunity to expand instrumentally with the emotional pull of the lyrics.
9. Cold Fronts - This Always Happens
The immediate attraction to this song is the vocal delivery. Craig Almquist has this song perfected in this regard, with a delivery reminiscent of The Cramps and a garage quality post-punk backdrop, combined giving me that feel-good quiver that makes me smile and shake.
It's a song about the complications of relationship building. Meeting people, being turned on, thinking it's going well, getting that inner obsession. In return, you get the cold shoulder with unanswered calls. "This Always Happens."
The percussion kit is tuned warmly, providing a nice pillow of rhythm that keeps the song comfortable. Aside from the amazing lyrical delivery, the guitar work on this track stands out, pulling from the topic, at times synching in tandem with the ebb and flow of emotion, pairing with the vocal perfectly.
10. Dantevilles - The Fighter
It's certainly not "Eye of the Tiger," but the song's introduction to "The Fighter" has a similar intention. The percussion makes a statement that brings your attention, and the guitar strum invokes a feeling that this fighter is lighter on his feet, perhaps a bit more grounded than the majestic fighting anthems we get from other songs with similar themes.
This fighter uses a steady, reserved, and controlled soundtrack, but with a vocal delivery that doesn't quite align with the cleanliness found in the instrumentation. There are times when sloppy vocal works with a clean backdrop, but its as if the band wanted the vocals to have a crisp delivery with the music, and only achieved half of what they were trying to do.
The back and forth delivery of the vocalists is the question here. I don't know if they intentionally used a muffled effect for one vocal and not the other, or if it is a discrepancy in microphones, but the band needs to work on normalizing the differences between this back-and-forth vocal play. If a grittier delivery is the goal, they should loosen up the instrumentation as well.
Technical nitpicking aside, it's a great song, and I'm really looking forward to hearing what the band has to offer on their self-titled Dantevilles EP that releases on May 11.
11. Teddybears - Hustla feat. Ward 21
Teddybears are a band that I most associate with the mid-00's, but they are back again with a happy sounding new single, yet another song consisting of Jamaican dancehall and Swedish pop music, this time featuring Ward 21 on vocals.
The band's 2006 album, Soft Machine, was a defining moment, featuring Mad Cobra on a reggae-garage rock hybrid called "Cobrastyle," paving the path toward 2010's "Get Fresh With You" featuring Laza Morgan, then 2014's "Sunshine" featuring Natalie Storm, 2016's "Marathon Man" featuring Cutty Ranks, and it's what we're still hearing from the band today in "Hustla" featuring Ward 21. Believe me, this is a catchy song that belongs here. The band writes great music. But at this point, I'm ready for the band to focus on some of their other established sounds, find some new ones, and let this direction go.
Teddybears are more than a one-trick pony. Prior to all this, back in the 90s, they were a hardcore rock band called Teddybears STHLM, a play on themes considering most Swedish metal band names are as extreme as possible, but now their sound has evolved to fit the name. They are cuddly and lovable and utilize a variety of sounds in their music. Every album they release feels like I'm attending a vaudeville, and I'm looking forward to hearing their future material.
12. Danny Goffey - Buzzkiller
Danny Goffey of Supergrass fame is here to revive spooky rock and roll jams on his new track "Buzzkiller," which keeps mystery in full effect until we get to the part of the song that just explodes in energy - you know who you are - the buzzkiller!
This song has an initial burst of energy reminiscent of Fujiya & Miyagi that completely satisfies and announces its dance music intentions. It wraps me with this enveloping creepy vibe, making me want to throw up the thriller hands thinking about blissfully unaware lovers walking among the night creatures.
While a serious song about an unprovoked attack, it is so well-crafted. The sound design keeps you in anticipation of what's coming next. A lot of great electronic accents that don't overpower the primary statement that this is a fist in the air rock and roll song. His new LP, Schtick!, will release on June 22.
13. Look Vibrant - Cauliflower
Look Vibrant is is a band from Montreal that has just released their latest LP, The Up Here Place. These are guys that continue to mature over the course of their music making, starting as a band with over-distortion and a lack of musicianship, progressing into thoughtful song-crafters that keep you on the edge of your seat.
"Cauliflower" as a song is such a unique creature. There are turns and twists, very colorful lyrical descriptions and a vibe that is very reminiscent of Animal Collective. The song has moments that harken back to the noisy roots of the band, then travel back to these lush dreamscapes that take you into another world.
14. Lenin Was A Zombie - Bullshit
What we have here is some Russian disco trash that draws from the grimier genres of the last few decades and mashes it all together into a simplistic cartoon of its past self. What is disco trash? It's Lenin Was A Zombie's self-coined term for their music, and I like the sound of it as a genre more than I like the German rave band of the same name.
This song has a minimalistic, over compressed big beat structure that has an Oizo-like synth speak repeating throughout. The Prodigy influence is there, a bit of Lords of Acid without the vulgarity, and a 90's rap-rock attitude that was present in a lot of music prior to the whole Incubus/Limp Bizkit era of embarrassment.
"Bullshit" is from the band's new album, Enough, which was released April 12.
15. Brazilian Girls - We Stopped
I'm so happy Brazilian Girls are back with their new LP, Let's Make Love, their first collection of new music in ten years. It's an album decidedly more consistent and electronic than past offerings, exploring relationships, making love, making love some more, and what revolves around the requirements for making love. Also sleeping (and sleeping together).
"We Stopped" is the result of a fast, passionate affair that happened so quickly that it ended nearly as instantly as it started. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album, featuring a warm, driving bass guitar, a satisfying, stabbing Hammond organ solo, and some really engaging accent textures in the intro and outro of the song, giving it a memorable wrapping.
I love Sabina Sciubba's vocal style, and she keeps my interest on this record just as well as her others. She is so direct and to the point. With lyrics like "you dropped me like a wet umbrella," she really gets her message across without using cliche phrases so many other artists lean on. The album was released April 13 on the Six Degrees label.