For some folks, indie is a sound. For others, it’s a business approach. For still others, it’s an attitude. For me, it can be some of all three. Ultimately, indie is a lot like art (or porn): You might not know how to define it, but you know it when you come across it. Here are the best indie releases I heard in July, listed in alphabetical order. Click on the cover picture to go to the original review page (where you should also be able to listen to the album in full):
The dance floor is closed. But you can still get down with your bad self at home thanks to the latest EP from the veteran dance-punk weirdos of !!!. Certified Heavy Kats, the followup to last year’s Wallop, hits you with another collection of freaky jams, left-field lyrics and eccentric grooves that are aimed between your ears as well as below your waist. Step right up, all you cool cats and kittens.
I’ve never been a big fan of artists who write about how tough it is to be a touring musician. But in this case of New Zealand’s The Beths and their homesick sophomore album Jump Rope Gazers, I’m willing to make an exception. Solely because of the fact that between singer-guitarist Elizabeth Stokes’ dulcet tones and fluid melodies, and the band’s buoyantly zippy songs, they manage to sound a little like Joni Mitchell fronting a scrappy pop-punk quartet. I don’t know about you, but I don’t come across that too often in my travels.
Plenty of bands are easy to pigeonhole. Thankfully, Dream Wife aren’t one of them. On this sophomore album, the London trio crank out some noisy post-punk nuggets to let you know they can play rough. Then they soften you up with some kinder, gentler, pop and new-wave ditties to make it clear they can play it cool. And finally, they rein in the fun and games and get down to business with serious, topical tracks about gender politics that show you they can play for keeps. But here’s the thing: Either way, they pack their songs with seductive grooves, earworm melodies and hooks till Hell wouldn’t have ’em. And that’s what you call playing it smart.
“If you wanna rock out tonight, I can pick you up in my Ford Taurus.” So begins Eric Hutchinson’s Class of 98 — and he means it. This 10-track throwback finds the singer-songwriter revisiting his adolescence — and channeling the sounds of classic alt-rock and power-pop outfits like Weezer, along with more contemporary nostalgists like Fountains of Wayne. Either way, you oughta take him up on the ride.
“I’m always letting everyone down,” claims studio rat singer-guitarist Sarah Tudzin midway through the latest release from her band Illuminati Hotties. I beg to differ. And I predict the same will be true for anyone who lends an ear to the sweet melodies and scrappy pop-rock and self-described “tenderpunk” nuggets found on the L.A. ensemble’s tellingly titled FREE I.H This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For. Tudzin calls it a mixtape — apparently it was written to get them out of a contractual obligation before they can get around to putting out their much-anticipated ‘official’ sophomore set. I don’t know about all that. But I can tell you this: If these corkers aren’t the songs we’ve been waiting for, I sincerely can’t wait to hear the ones she’s been keeping under her hat.
Louis Jucker & Coilguns
Play Kråkeslottet (The Crow’s Castle) & Other Songs from the Northern Shores
Near as I can tell, singer-bassist Louis Jucker and his bandmates in Swiss noise-rock outfit Coilguns have about half a dozen different bands and musical configurations between them. Some are louder and grittier. Some are softer. Some are more experimental. This one is a muscular guitar-rock monster that revs up Jucker’s solo folk-rock numbers into thundering, rangy guitar cyclones with echoes of everyone from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Sonic Youth and Superchunk to Led Zeppelin. Best of all: They’re giving away the album — along with every other title in the absurdly vast and varied catalogue — on their Bandcamp page. You’ve got nothing to lose. Except a few years of your life.
Nope, it’s not the first holiday album of the year. Not by a long shot.In case you were wondering or confused, Merry Christmas is not the album title. It’s the name of the band — and they’re every bit as unique as that handle. Based in Tokyo and featuring a co-ed lineup of British and Japanese players, the veteran quintet fashions a fascinating, free-flowing synthesis of sounds and styles that deftly and daringly mixes, mingles and melds indie-pop, math-rock, psychedelia, freak-folk, prog and more — often over the course of a single shape-shifting song. On top of that, the dozen-song disc is apparently a full-length concept album set inside the mind of a female coma patient. Jingle Bells it ain’t — but don’t be surprised if this intriguingly inspired hybrid leaves you scratching your head and wondering: Do you hear what I hear?
If you’ve ever been keen to hear quirky, surf-tinged indie-rock played by an all-female trio that hails from Lilthuania, you’re in luck. And even if you didn’t know there were quirky, surf-tinged indie-rock bands fro Lithuania, you’re in luck too. Because you’re about to experience the enchanting, infectious blend of sugary sweetness and crunchy grit found on Shishi’s sophomore album Mafitishei. And trust me: It’s going to be love at first listen.
Fads come and go. But creativity and craftsmanship never get old. You’ll find plenty of both in the debut full-length from Dublin quintet Silverbacks. Despite its 900-pound gorilla of a title, Fad is far from trendy, eschewing vogue sonics and styles in favour of old-school college rock, groovy pop, noisy no wave and twitchy post-punk. Sometimes reminiscent of everyone from Pavement and Tom Tom Club to Bowie and Iggy, Fad keeps you guessing. And keeps you coming back for more.
There’s an infinite amount of music out there supposedly designed to help you relax or meditate or drift off to sleep. But how many albums do you come across that are apparently intended as the soundtrack for a good walk? And one made by two members of Chapel Hill indie-rock vets Polvo to boot? Assuming that guitarist Dave Brylawski and multi-instrumentalist Brian Quast aren’t just staging some elaborate joke, their new concept album Music For Walks is purportedly designed to be just what the title states. And truth be told, even if they are just kidding, the disc handily fills the bill anyway — thanks to lengthy, flowing tracks anchored by midtempo beats and topped with appropriate lyrics, melodies and vocals that hold your interest without distracting you enough that you end up walking into traffic.
Full marks for perfect timing with that title. And that’s just the beginning. Melbourne-raised, Brighton-based singer-guitarist and songwriter Suzie Stapleton earns bonus points for dropping one of the most transfixing and terrifying debut albums to come along lately — a pitch-black, relentlessly intense collection of primal indie-rock and gothic post-blues fuelled by her exceptional bare-bones songwriting and topped with vocals that move from a husky haunted rasp to a shivery lament to a feverish force-of-nature howl. Once she worms her way under your skin, there’s no getting her out of your system.
Indie-emo pop-rock bands are plentiful. Indie-emo pop-rock bands that hail from Ireland but sound like they’re from New Jersey or Philadelphia — and are fronted by a ragged-throated brother and his angel-piped sister who trade yin-yang vocals on their buoyantly surging anthems — are a little rarer. And definitely worth a listen, assuming you’re talking about Dublin’s The Winter Passing and their intriguing and invigorating sophomore album New Ways of Living. It may not change your life, but at least it offers a new way of approach the same old songs.