The City and Horses have a new album, “Strange Range”, out now via Paper Gardens Records. I’ve been playing the album opener, “Whip”, quite a bit. It’s a tongue-in-cheek neo-soul number, with a hint of that cheeky Beck “Debra” vibe to it. (“You see what happens / When I crack the whip / He won’t give me no trouble / And he won’t give me no lip.”) The Philly band build a strong groove here, but aren’t afraid to let the noise-guitar blow up some of the prettiness, keeping the track from becoming to cutesy. I have a feeling the band also knows “Whip” is one of the better tracks on the record, because it begins “Strange Range”. But you’d do well to listen to “Re-Inking” too, a song that drops some of the album’s humor and goes straight for the music: “I need to change my ways / I haven’t changed for days / It’s now more than a phase … / I need to change my head / Un-say things I’ve said / Unread books I’ve read.” It’s a sweet track. You can follow the band at facebook. – David D. Robbins Jr.
“Speak Low” is a gorgeous new single from the trio I’lls’ second EP, “A Warm Reception”. One of my favorite things about the experimental nature of largely electronic artists is that much like this song they seem to aim at creating a feeling rather than linearity. “Speak Low” is multidimensional and soothing, opening with warped sounds, a touch of elegantly ambling keyboard, a sound like a warbling frequency before lead singer Simon Lam lays his distorted high-falsetto vocals across the top of it like a blanket. I can’t understand what he’s singing, but the feel is there — sensuality, romance, seduction, and calm. It’s not too far away from the atmosphere created by artists like Poliça and Yes Please label-mates, Guerre and Oliver Tank. You can listen to the entire six-song collection at bandcamp, thanks to the band and label. Believe me, you won’t want to stop at the opening track, especially when it flows into “Plans Only Drawn”. Follow the band at facebook. – David D. Robbins Jr.
Sounds like Rivka might have something to say about the best EP of 2013. The Pittsburgh-based electronic duo of Reggie Wilkins and Rivka Rose have a new EP, “Faded”, out now. It features six dark and compressed tracks, filled with glitches, dub, dirty beats, dreampop vapors, minimalist percussion, all enveloped in a sauntering style thick as smoke haze. The record starts with the airily-named “Drift”, a song opening with a galloping clatter and a whistled tune, like the soundtrack to some weirdo cinematic futuristic tale of android love meets Western bravado. From there the track gets dark and sexy, with overlapping, distorted twee female vocals blending into warped synth, an ethereal racket of sounds, and snippets of phrases (some unintelligible, but pretty and emotive) that hit perfectly at each tempo stutter or heavy bass beat. Early in the track, the music stops for a second, punctuated by the word “goddamn”, as if the twosome can’t even imagine just how good the groove is. “Gone” builds on the opening track — slowing things down even more by adding echoing vocal aquatics, golden synth tones, and raw industrial percussion that turns the atmosphere into a kind of low sensual simmer. The song is lithe and lingering, as the whole EP is, really finding itself in the beautiful viscous drip of “Swim High” and the wonderful opening bass thump of “Better Days”. The latter is a strangely alluring combination of rhythms, bird whistles, musical transitions, blipped-out vocal samples, and opaque catch-phrases like: “I’ve seen better days / But it’s good to know you.” This record feels more concerned with inspiring a visceral response than a contemplative one, which is the nature of music that leans more toward the instrumental than the lyrical. I could hear a little Massive Attack in “Reggie Days” and its repeating drum, but it’s not as strong as the rest of the tracks. But as a whole, this is a stunning record. You can follow Rivka at facebook and twitter. – David D. Robbins Jr.
Washed Out (aka Ernest Greene) is following up 2011′s “Within and Without” with an LP entitled, “Paracosm”. It’s up for pre-sale on August 12th, but officially out the following day. Sub Pop Records posted a new video for a single called “It All Feels Right”, which playfully comes with a visual lyrics so you can sing along. The video is like a pinwheel-meets kaleidoscope of plants and budding flowers. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Waxahatchee (the name for the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield) has a new video out for “Coast To Coast” from off one of my favorite records of 2013, “Cerulean Salt”. The video was directed by Ryan Russell and edited by Josh Mikel. It features Katie miming playing an acoustic guitar on a sunny day on a pier at some backwoods waterhole with a few friends and a dog. Nothing new going on here in the video, but the free and fun atmosphere seems to work well with the track. You can follow Waxahatchee at facebook or pre-order the album at New Jersey label, Don Giovanni Records. – David D. Robbins Jr.
Neko Case posted a video on facebook and at her official website with the message “HEY, LOOK!!! IT’S FINALLY DONE!!” I’m assuming she means she finished with her first record in the last four years, the follow up to 2009′s “Middle Cyclone”. The record title seems to appear at the end of the video: “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”. And the song must be the one alluded to in a recent NPR interview. Judging by the lyrics the song is “Where Did I Leave That Fire”. The song sounds isolated, contemplative and aquatic. Apparently, the pinging you hear is actually a sample of a submarine, because the sound of the original demo sounded very other-worldly to Neko. I think it’s a fantastic teaser track, the end of the track falling away into some of those eery white-noise sonics that remind me of Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. The lyrics of “Where Did I Leave That Fire” appear briefly in written form in the video clip, but can also be heard clearly in its ghostly out-of-body desire: “A chill ran through me / And I grabbed on tight / That was when I left my body for good / I shook off all the strength I’d earned / I wanted so badly not to be me / I wanted so badly not to be me / Where did I leave that fire?” Note: Photos are screen captures from the video. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Seattle’s The Laplings (aka Sean Lane and Valerie Lane) have a new self-titled record out now, which you can hear at the band’s bandcamp page. The record makes its mark early with the experimental cacophony of the first track, “Missing Out”. It’s a cool blending of harmonic vocals, skittered beats, clickety-clacking percussion, that builds into a frenzy of overlapping orchestration. Musically, it’s like Thom Yorke threw on one of those mean beats he loves so much, and Stereolab added a touch of its eclectic imagination. The song’s weird time signatures, free-flowing melodies, and sing-song lyrical snippets (“You’re missing out”; “What must we do to prove this to you”; “Erase future with fear”; “Brace ourselves for attack / You cannot take it back”); make this a fascinating and addictive song. But it really doesn’t stop there. The second track revels in the same complex orchestration (once again with lyrics touching on the notion of time, just as the third track, “Take It All Away”, does too), this time dropping the stuttering beats, but adding a layer of backing vocals and warn synth notes. “Take It All Away” tones down the chaos, and shows a dark, elegant charm. There’s a jazzy improvisational feeling to the music on this record that keeps all the layers and textures of the tracks from feeling tight, restricted and too prepared. One of the verses on “Friend’s Like These” is meant as a comment on a relationship: “I have no idea where this is going” — but could be applied to the wonderment of listeners hearing the record for the first time. But perhaps the most important element to the band’s alluring sound is just how well the Lane’s voices complement each other, and how well the duo know how to use their abilities. On the ominous, Radiohead-esque, “I’m So”, Sean’s voice seems to play around Valerie’s, sometimes trailing her vocals like a shadow, and at other times nuzzling up to it. The soothing vocal harmonies on this record are often paired with harsher noises, like scrapes, and industrial drums — which makes for compelling listening. No doubt “Missing Out” will be added to my long-list for TBB’s best songs of the year. -- David D. Robbins Jr.